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SF Beer Week Opening Gala

Last Friday I got to attend the SF Beer Week Opening Gala again, courtesy of the SF Bay Area Brewers Guild. Once again, it was a blast; a true showcase of the greater Bay Area’s best brews and breweries, and a testament to why the Bay Area is a leader in the US craft beer scene.

Of course, every participating brewery strives to bring their biggest and best, often SF Beer Week -specific releases. One such is the excellent Tres Diablos triple IPA, from Danville Brewing Company, brewed by my friend Matt Sager.

Another awesome big beer was Cataclysm triple IPA by the good folk at Concord’s Epidemic Ales. The bitterness is balanced by a pleasant sweetness, and a surprising note of strawberry!

Another brewery I was pleased to run into was Ocean View Brew Works from Albany. I met them last year, when they were about to celebrate their first anniversary. Well, on Sunday they celebrated number two with a big party at the brewery. I’m happy to hear that things are going well for them.

As last year, I made an effort to get to know breweries I had not heard of before, and I was not disappointed. I had some lovely beers and met some awesome, passionate, dedicated brewers.

I’m sure that many have heard of East Brother Brewing, Barrel Brothers Brewing, and even of Asian Brothers Brewing. Well, now there is the other brother: Other Brewer Beer Co.! Other Brother is a 15-bbl brewery located in Seaside. They’ve been open just 3 months. They brought All That the Grain Promises (and More…), a tasty 6.8% abv red ale. As they told me, “Hoppy is in our blood!”

Another pleasant encounter was the 1-year old Kelly Brewing Co. from Morgan Hill. They are still relatively small, at 7bbl kettles, but they are putting out some nice beers. I quite liked their Kelly Light, an almost lager-like golden ale that would come really nicely on a warm day.

Since I left Santa Cruz in the mid-1990s, the then incipient craft beer scene has exploded, particularly in recent years. One of the newest additions, I discovered, is to be Woodhouse Blending & Brewing , on River St in downtown. Woodhouse is 10bbl brewery run by Mike Rodriguez, formerly of Lost Abbey Brewing in San Diego. Mike said their tap house is scheduled to open in March and that he is planning on starting a barrel program in the near future.

Not too far away, in Scotts Valley, is Steel Bonnet Brewing Co. They produce, they said, “about half and half” English and American styles. They brought along the tasty, and cleverly-named, Kiss Me, Hardy, a 7.7% English IPA made with malts from Alameda’s Admiral Maltings and, of course, British hops. They told me that though they are currently a 7bbl-capacity brewery, they will soon be expanding to 30bbl.

And, a special treat was hanging out and talking with the guys from Cloverdale’s upcoming Wolf House Brewing. They’ve been brewing quite a a bit, but are in the midst of putting in the hard work of getting their pub into shape for an opening in the next couple of months. Hopefully by the end of March, or April.

When the pub opens, Dwayne Moran, will run the kitchen. Kevin Lovett, who has been in the industry for years, including a stint at the Mendocino Brewing Company, is running the brewhouse and turning out some tasty beer, as evidenced by their Gala offerings.

And, of course, this year there was the added treat of seeing the original Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. brewhouse cobbled together by founders Ken Grosman and Paul Camusi back in 1980. That brewhouse was sold to Mad River Brewing in 1989. In 2018 Grosman bought it back from Mad River, moved it back to Chico, and had it reassembled on a truck bed. Having read Grosman’s book on the history of Sierra Nevada, Beyond the Pale (Wiley, 2013), seeing it was particularly cool.

SF Beer Week Preview

Last week I had the pleasure of attending an SF Beer Week media preview event in Berkeley. Present were Sierra Nevada, Fogbelt , Henhouse, East Brother, Third Street Aleworks, Almanac, Drake’s, Seismic, Original Pattern, The Rare Barrel, Cleophus Quealy, Trumer, Ghost Town.

There’s some exciting stuff brewing for Beer Week -figuratively and literally!

Santa Rosa’s Henhouse Brewing will, of course, be debuting this year’s edition of Big Chicken DIPA. In addition, one of their newest and more interesting additions is Juiced!, a gose with passion fruit. What makes Juiced! unique, though, is that it is made with that genetically-modified ale yeast that produces lactic acid, which you might have heard about. It was quite good, albeit a bit less salty and more sour than your typical gose.

Ghost Town Brewing debuted Geister Holz, the first beer to be fermented in their brand-new set of foeders. At the SF Beer Week Opening Gala, also look for their pouring of two barrel-aged versions of their Old Trepanner barley wine.

Seismic Brewing is planning to release a barrel-aged version of their Grounds for Termination coffee oatmeal stout. Look for that one at the Gala as well.

Almanac brought samples of two beers that they plan to release during Beer Week: Barrel-Aged Hypernova Volume II, and Bourbon Barrel PĂȘche. The PĂȘche is particularly nice. Look for those to be released at the brewery on Feb. 8th (though maybe also at the Gala?)

In addition, there will be the five one time-only collaborative beers brewed with malts from the Bay Area’s own Admiral Maltings, by each of the Bay Area’s beer regions. Those will be officially released at the Gala, but there was some of the East Bay’s offering, Rice Stratasphere IPA to be sampled at the preview.

Created by Original Pattern, Ghost Town and Shadow Puppet, and brewed at Drake’s, Rice Stratasphere was brewed with Admiral pilsner malt, rice, and Strata, Citra and Denali hops. It was rather tasty; light, clean, crisp, and with a dry mouthfeel thanks to the rice.

A special treat at the Opening Gala this year, I was informed by the Sierra Nevada rep, will be the appearance of the original brewhouse put together by Ken Grosman and Paul Camusi back in 1980. That brewhouse was sold to Mad River Brewing in 1989. In 2018 it was bought back from Mad River, moved back to Chico, and reassembled on a truck bed. Now it will make the trip to San Franciso to be displayed at the Gala on Feb. 7th.

Exciting news from Russian River

Well, the news that has gotten the local beer internet’s attention is the announcement that Russian River Brewing Co. will start bottling its famous Pliny the Younger triple IPA.

Pliny the Younger, as you may know, is a triple IPA, actually brewed with almost triple the amount of hops of a regular IPA, with a starting gravity of 1.088 and a finishing alcohol content of 10.25%. It was first brewed by Russian River in 2005 and has been brewed seasonally since then and released only on tap at Russian River’s pub and at select locations in California during a two-week period each February. Pliny the Younger is one of the most eagerly awaited beers, with people arriving from every state and even from abroad to sample it, often waiting in line for hours.

Last year, with the opening of its new production brewery in Windsor, Russian River was able to more than triple the production of Pliny the Younger, thus reducing wait times and being able to supply more off-site accounts. Clearly taking advantage of that increased production capacity, and seeking to “find ways to add to … guests’ experience”, Russian River will, for the first time, bottle Pliny the Younger.

According to the announcement made by Natalie Cilurzo on Dec. 23rd (though her blog post is dated Dec. 24th), in 2020 Russian River will offer 510 ml. bottles of Pliny the Younger for sale at their brewery in Windsor and the pub in Santa Rosa. However, each guest will be limited to two bottles, and in order to be eligible to purchase them, guests must “come for the full experience in our brewpubs”, which will be tracked via the wristbands each will receive upon entering.

Pliny the Younger will be available from February 7th to the 15th 20th at Russian River, and offsite draft distribution will start the 2nd week of February. Like last year, pours of Pliny the Younger will also be offered to those who book brewery tours during the release period.

2019 Anchor Christmas Ale

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.

Nightshade by Epidemic Ales

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.

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