I’ve received a couple of bottles of the 2019 Anchor Christmas Ale courtesy of Anchor Brewing, and decided to pop one open for review tonight.
First off, let me say that it is a pretty beer. It has a big tan, rocky head. It appear dark brown and opaque, but when held up to the light a beautiful dark, deep garnet hue comes through.
Following on that impression, it is also a beer that can fool one a bit. Due to its dark hue and big tan head, one might allow oneself to expect a robust beer like a porter or stout. In other words something with a very malt-forward character. However, the 2019 Christmas Ale is actually surprisingly light-bodied, and the first impression upon tasting is one of smoothness, almost as if it had been dispensed on a nitro system.
It has a malty nose, with a light hop aroma, with some subtle conifer notes in the background. As it warms and the head subsides, some caramel or invert sugar aromas come forward.
In the taste, I got some spice, some coffee, and baking chocolate up front, backed up by some malt or caramel notes. It finishes dry, with the bitter chocolate flavor lingering, and some more of that pine at the back end.
It is a good, tasty beer, but to be honest, I’m not as partial to it as I have been to previous years’ iterations of the Christmas Ale. The recipe changes every year, and taste is subjective, so that is to be expected from time to time. I guess I just miss the more robust mouthfeel of those other versions.
However, because it does have that lighter mouthfeel, it is more drinkable than a lot of other seasonal ales that come out at this time of year. This is one that one can have more than one of in a session.
When one operates a small craft brewery the vicissitudes of barrel-aging beers means that one cannot foresee with any great anticipation when a such a beer will be released. It will be ready when it is ready, as they say.
Well, yesterday was the release of this year’s batch of Nightshade by Epidemic Ales. I was reminded of why I so much look forward to when this beer comes out.
Nightshade is a 10.3% abv vanilla stout. It is released on tap at the brewery in Concord, CA, and in 22-oz. bottles, about once a year, after spending, if I recall correctly, up to six months or so in Bourbon barrels.
It is a gorgeous beer; intensely dark, with deep mahogany tones, and a moderate head. It doesn’t have any harsh coffee notes or overt bitterness. Instead it is rich and smooth, with notable sweetness, and plenty of vanilla -some undoubtedly contributed by the oak.
With its high alcohol content, Nighshade does pack a punch despite not having any alcoholic or Bourboney “heat”. So, while it goes down easily at any time of day, a 22-ouncer of Nightshade is particularly nice shared as part of a dessert course; specially at this time of year.
On Monday, Oct 7th, Fort Point Beer Company will open the doors to its brand new beer hall at 742 Valencia St., in San Francisco’s Mission District.
Fort Point Beer Co. was founded five years ago by Tyler and Justin Catalana, who had previously operated the Mill Valley Beer Works. Today it is San Francisco’s largest independent brewer.
However, despite its beers being found in bars and retailers throughout the city and beyond, and having a toehold in the Ferry Building market hall, Fort Point remained a production brewery and not open to the public. The company was thus wanting of a space in which to show off its beers the way it wanted, while having the opportunity to interact directly with the public. Enter: Fort Point Valencia.
As founder Justin Catalana explained at a media preview soft opening event on Friday evening, opening a place such as Fort Point Valencia had been kind of a dream for them, and that they’ve striven to make it a space which invites customers to feel free to move about the hall, meeting people and enjoying its different areas.
A lot of care and thought went into designing Fort Point Valencia. It certainly does not have the semi-industrial look that is somewhat typical of brewery taprooms these days. While keeping the open ceiling and exposed beam timbers, they’ve eschewed the all-too-common black paint in favor of a pleasant tan or off-white base with vibrant accent walls.
Near the entry is a sort of front room, painted blue, which houses a low, sit-down bar with its own line of beer taps. The main space is populated with round tables of varying sizes with bar-height chairs. There follows a cozier space at the back with tables for two and booths for groups, with red accents and dimmer, more intimate lighting. The anchor for it all is the 40-ft standing bar.
The bar has recesses which accommodate the taps and leaves the bar top uncluttered, freeing customers and servers to interact without having to duck around a forest of towers and tap handles.
According to head of brewing, Mike Schnebeck, all of Fort Point’s regular lineup of beers will be available full-time, along with seasonal offerings and a few guest beers from other craft breweries. Beers from the Black Sands brewpub, which Fort Point purchased last year, will also be available, as well as experimental brews and one-offs which will be served exclusively at Valencia. (A selection of wines and cider is also available.)
As for food, of course one cannot aim to be a proper beer hall without some food on offer. In this regard, the menu at Fort Point Valencia does not disappoint. It is certainly a cut above typical pub grub fare.
Chef Eric Ehler -who was pulled in from Black Sands- explained that he drew on his Korean heritage and on having grown up in Illinois (I’m pretty sure he said Illinois; maybe it was Indiana?) to create the range of flavors and dishes -from the cheeseburger to the dungeness crab rangoon, to the #00 on Rye open-faced egg salad and corned beef tongue sandwich. One of my favorites was the”pork chop bun” (think schnitzel sandwich) which, by the way, pairs really well with Westphalia red ale.
There are also plenty of genuinely tasty vegetarian options, from a crudités plate, to a luxed-up artichoke, to a lovely “hand salad” of endive, quinoa, pickled cauliflower, and black garlic.
As of now, the menu doesn’t have anything very sweet on it, but if you’re in the mood for a dessert, I’d recommend ordering the “party bread”, which is a really tasty sweet-and-savory fry bread (it was a crowd favorite at the event on Friday).
Fort Point Valencia 742 Valencia St San Francisco, CA
On Friday night I attended the San Francisco Beer Week Opening Gala for the first time, courtesy of the Bay Area Craft Brewers Guild, and the first descriptor that comes to mind is “Wow!”
With nearly 130 breweries represented, and almost 400 beers on offer, the Gala is an amazing experience. As very brewery brings their best beers, many of them brewed specially for Beer Week, the event is truly a showcase not only of the breadth of the Bay Area’s craft brewing community, but of the quality and skills that make it a leading force in craft brewing nationally.
I was, of course, happy to find my friends Luis Castro, owner and brewer at Del Cielo Brewing Company, and Matt Sager, head brewer at Danville Brewing Company, pouring their beers side by side. Another friend, Craig Danielson, head brewer at Shadow Puppet Brewing Company, was also nearby.
Luis was pouring one of the IPAs that he makes so well, along with Guava Dreams, a kettle sour, and Coffee State, a coffee-infused blonde stout.
Matt was pouring three beers that I really like a lot: his GABF medal-winning Chux double IPA, Tres Diablos, a triple IPA brewed specifically for Beer Week, and his amazing Oatmeal Raisin Cookie. I swear that that one tastes just like the oatmeal raisin cookies my mom used to make!
Craig, for his part, shared Livermorium, a really nice collaboration IPA produced at Shadow Puppet by brewers from all the breweries in Livermore.
Although all the big-name players in Northern California craft brewing were, of course, represented, and I did sample some very tasty beers from them, after a while I opted for hitting the booths of smaller breweries and ones I was unfamiliar with.
That strategy led to some pleasant highlights.
One such was finding Blue Oak Brewing Co., from San Carlos, present and serving their excellent Cordilleras Kriek.
A nice discovery was Ocean View Brew Works in Albany. They’re a fairly new brewery, and were having a great time at the Gala. They poured me a very tasty brut IPA, Mosaic Fizz. The brewery’s first anniversary will be celebrated with an event on Feb. 10th.
Another pleasant discovery was Woodfour Brewing Company, from Sebastopol. Woodfour was pouring bottles of their Sour Farmhouse Ale. John Roberts, the brewery’s Bay Area sales manager, explained that the beer is produced via spontaneous fermentation in oak barrels that are not isolated from the external environment, and then blended in what he described as a “reverse solera” method. He also pointed out that they are producing other beers in open-topped wood foeders, and are the only brewery in the region that practices spontaneous open fermentation year-round.
All in all, having attended, it amply clear why the Gala is one of the most anticipated beer events in the local beer calendar and why people come in from all over the country to attend it and SF Beer Week.
Every year Russian River Brewing stages what is arguably one of the most anticipated events in the Beer Geek Calendar: the release of one of world’s most famous beers, Pliny the Younger.
It probably hardly needs mention by now, but Pliny the Younger is a triple IPA -the world’s first, in fact- which means that it has more of everything that goes into an IPA. It clocks in at a bit over 10% abv, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 90-100 IBU. It is released only once per year, for a two-week period. It is served on tap at Russian River Brewing, only for in-house consumption, and only until each day’s allotment runs out. Only a very small amount goes out in kegs to select accounts.
This year Pliny the Younger will be released on February 1st and be served until the 14th.
In years past, people have been known to wait in line for up to twelve hours in order to get into the pub, and sometimes the day’s allotment ran out before the line cleared. However, with the opening of the new brewery in Windsor, Russian River is hoping that things will be different from now on.
First of all, there is the obvious advantage of having the beer released simultaneously at two different locations: the original brewpub on 4th Street, in downtown Santa Rosa, and the Windsor brewpub.
Then, there is the increase in output. Not only is the Windsor brewhouse’s capacity triple that of the 4th Street brewhouse, but Russian River’s brew staff pulled out all the stops and ran four back-to-back brews of Pliny the Younger, in a marathon, 24-hour brew session! This year’s batch of Pliny the Younger is 300 barrels.
With that amount, Russian River will be able to provide, not only full allotments to both pubs, but also larger allotments than have been available in the past. The hope is that thus they will be able to lessen wait times for guests and not have anyone go away disappointed.
This year will also provide other contrasts with those of years past. For one thing, no one yet knows what the effect will be on the yeast and the beer of the much larger batch size. Nor, does anyone really know what, if any, difference being fermented in open-top fermenters instead of closed-top fermenters will make. Russian River employees that I spoke to last week were intrigued and excited to find out
While no one knows precisely what to expect this year in terms of lines and wait times, the staff’s recommendation is to skip downtown, and head for the larger pub in Windsor. Not only should its greater capacity help move people through faster, but its 2 acres of free parking will save you from the worry of feeding the meter and having to move the car every two hours.
Another thing to note: This year, Russian River will be serving Pliny the Younger to guests on the guided tour at Windsor between Feb. 1st and Feb. 14th. Booking a tour will not get one into the pub any faster, but it is a way to get to get a taste of Pliny the Younger without standing in line. Weekend bookings are pretty full, but as of now there are still plenty of spaces on weekdays, specially in the second week. Go to Russian River’s webpage to book.