Ten Reasons to Attend the CA Craft Beer Summit ’16 in Sacto

Last year, I hopped in my silly Scion and drove eight hours north to sweaty Sacramento. After three big gulps, ten rest stops, and two cups of spicy Frito-Lay bean dip, I checked into my $139 Residence Inn by Marriott, not expecting much.  My room was spacious and few steps away from the event in the heart of downtown. Surrounded by nightlife and eateries, reason #1 to go is easily the inexpensive beer travel. 

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#1: Inexpensive beer travel is the best beer travel. Residence Inn Marriott for $139/night!

If you come in early for the educational sessions, the next thing you can expect is a Friday morning filled with fresh faces of the industry.

#2: David Walker and Natalie Cilurzo address the media with concerns about CA’s drought in the state of beer. These guys were everywhere during the event for questions, selfies, and hugs. 

Educational sessions where you actually learn things. Here’s a bunch:

Don Barkley

#3: This is Don Barkley. His Q&A taught me about CA Beer history. He made beer at New Albion, America’s first craft brewery since prohibition in the 70’s. He is now the brewmaster of Napa Smith and has a big bellowing voice, and told great stories.

Vinnie Cilurzo and Ken Grossman

#4: Vinnie Cilurzo and Ken Grossman. They spoke about inspiration from Don Barkley (above) and Jack McAuliffe of New Albion. 

Tony Magee

#5: Speaking of tap talks, Tony Magee of Lagunitas gave a great one just days after announcing the sale of 50% of his brand to Heineken.

Julian Shrago and Tony Magee

#6: If one wanted to get pointers on buying/selling breweries, one could simply go up and ask. Julian Shrago of Beachwood BBQ & Brewing was probably doing just that, as they recently took over Beach City Brewing in HB this summer.

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#7: Hop sniffing at the expo. People walked away with hops on their noses like deranged hop heads. 

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#8: The guilds pouring beer at the expo. LA, SD, SF…pretty much the best of the best! The expo was also like a mini-CBC with vendors of all sorts. 

#9: The Fest to close things out. 150 CA breweries pour on the State Capitol mall.75 on this side, 75 on that side. No huge lines!

#9: The Fest to close things out. 150 CA breweries pour on the State Capitol mall.75 on this side, 75 on that side. No huge lines!

Actual brewers and brewery owners poured their beer, which was rad to ask questions and snap photos!

#10: Actual brewers and brewery owners poured their beer, which was rad to ask questions and snap photos!

Sold? I hope so. I will be there with the Four Brewer’s show from Thursday-Sunday! Come support California beer and have a hell of a road trip!

Check out the site for full schedule, tickets, speakers, and travel info!

 

Three Frenchs | One Short of 100, 2015 Brewery Visits

GNAG4047One of the hardest parts of beer travels is keeping track. I did a pretty decent job in 2015, however. Google Maps and Untappd made beer hunting around the country a snap.

Being a bit indecisive, I have a hard time creating my own “Best of” or “Top 10” lists, so I thought it best to highlight a few of the stops that made my travels memorable.

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2015 included 99 different breweries in twelve states. I can’t believe I missed 100, by just one. 49 of those breweries were in SoCal alone. Since you’re reading this blog, you most likely have your own solid opinions about our local brewing scene, so who am I to correct you. So with that, my highlights do not include any local SoCal breweries.

Portland Maine! Yes, I know this City has been creeping up the beer destination lists for the last few years, but dammit if it’s not true. And not just beer, the whole fucking City. Great beer, food and people.  A perfect example, while getting a coffee at a local roaster. I asked the barista, as one would do, for some pointers on the local beer scene. After a quick back and forth on his favorites I went to go sit down with my wife. I few seconds later a young woman got up and walked over to our table. She overheard my conversation and proceeded to write a complete list of recommendations, including breweries that were so new that they did not show up on any map or listing. She also provided guidance on times and locations. For the remainder of our stay, we reference that list. Now that’s the way to support your local beer scene. Portland also just happens to be home to Allagash Brewing and the not too far away Maine Beer Company (see below).

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Maine Beer Company Look, if you’re going all the way to Portland Maine, make the extra drive to the Maine Beer Company. I’ve had a few Maine Beer Company beers in the past and I had high expectations. They did not disappoint. All the beers I tried were super clean, refreshing and on the dry side. The overall quality of all the beers were outstanding. Lunch IPA and Peeper Pale Ale were two of my favorites that were on tap. Their tasting room is a clean, minimalistic space  and overlooks a very organized brewery. This is a must stop if you find yourself in the area.

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Maine Beer Company

5 Rabbit Cerveceria – (see my previous post) In short, loved their take on beer styles.

Amador Brewing Company – This brewery opened in 2015, and is tucked away in the small town of Plymouth, Ca. Yes these guys are new and only time will tell, but I was impressed.  Great vibe in the tasting room, with both inside/outside seating. Solid beer selection and great staff. Amador is worth checking out. On a side note, they are located in Amador County, which is winery region in Northern California (just in case you needed a another reason to stop by).

VictoryVictory Brewing Company – I’ll be honest, I don’t drink much Victory beer. We were staying outside of Philadelphia, and figured we need to give Victory a shot.  After an hour+ drive into the country we arrived at their Downingtown location. Not much to look at from the outside, and the place was packed. When we walked into the brewery/restaurant, it was not what we expected. Great menu and over 20 beers on tap. Headwaters Pale Ale, was my favorite and would be a go-to beer for me if I lived close by. At 5.2% ABV and hopped with citra – simcoe, it’s hard to go wrong with that combination. I was really impressed with the beers that don’t make it to SoCal.  A perfect reason to not to always judge a brewery strictly on what is easy to get at home.

 

Arizona Wilderness Brewing – Interesting and unique beers, although the selection wasn’t quite the best when I visited. A very cool spot and the staff was very welcoming and over the top friendly. They were in the midst of an expansion, so I’m looking forward to getting back there during baseball spring training.

Out of the 99 breweries, it’s nice to say that there were only a few truly bad experiences. The majority of the breweries had nice selections, quality beer and friendly staff.

 

Follow Robert French on Twitter @ThreeFrenchs

3 Floyds Brewing – Beer Travels with Three Frenchs

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Robert French is our beer travel corespondent

Here’s what I knew before my visit to 3 Floyds Brewing:

  1. Intimidation factor: Metal themed, aggressive hop forward brewery.
  2. Dark Lord, people go crazy for the Dark Lord: Had it, did not go crazy.
  3. Lines: We are getting there early, but how early?
  4. Limited distribution: Finding a 3 Floyds beer in Chicago is not that easy.

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Located in Munster. Indiana. 3 Floyds (or is it Three Floyds?) is about 45 minutes (no traffic) from O’Hare Airport, at least with my wife’s lead foot at the wheel.  The brewery is in a warehouse flanked by a large water tower with the word MUNSTER boldly emblazoned on it. The brewery, restaurant and retail space are basic, no frills. However the distillery and expansion they are building (not open) looks to be a really cool space.

We got there 30-minutes before they opened and found both a line for the restaurant and retail store.  Both lines were about twenty people deep and both at least tripled in size before the doors opened. While in line for the restaurant, I asked everyone close the same question “is there a special release today?”. There was no special release, this was a normal Saturday. Regardless of what you think about the beer, that is impressive following.

The restaurant is a cross between a dive bar and a coffee shop…a really cool coffee shop with metal music as it’s soundtrack. The menu is diverse, from duck fat popcorn to burgers to sweetbreads.  We stuck with a burger, I would highly recommend it. They offered a beer flight of the day which included:

  • Robert the Bruce  a 7% Wee Heavy
  • War Mullet 8% Double IPA
  • Moloko 8% Milk Stout
  • Alpha King  6.66% Pale Ale

23776977650_122e8683e4_oNot sure if they stick with the same beers, or just these were just the beer choices of the day. They were however, a nice sampling of what they had to offer.  Even though they only offer one set sampling flight, they do offer small tastes of other beers at no charge.

Besides the flight, I did sample Wigsplitter, 7.7% Coffee Oatmeal Stout infused with espresso. This is a dark roast coffee beer that is not shy on coffee. This is one of the best pure coffee beers I have had.  The next sample was Amber Smashed Face 6.66% Red Ale (a collaboration with the band Cannibal Corpse). This was an in your face beer with massive bitterness. These two beers were the highlights for me and even brought bottles home.

I also brought home a bottle of Deesko!, an 6.5% Berliner style weiss beer (their words) that had a great funky aroma with hints of stone fruit and sour tarts. A fairly clear beer with the color of hay. The initial taste had jaw clenching tartness that hit you right on the sides of your tongue. Not overly sour, but more tart and funky.

If you’re a beer lover or nerd, 3 Floyds is a must stop. Regardless about what you think about the hype (Dark Lord), the image or the over the top artwork…they brew quality beers with upfront flavors. Truly unique beers.

Follow Robert French on Twitter @ThreeFrenchs

Beer Travels with Three Frenchs – Chicago – 5 Rabbit Cerveceria

Guest writer Robert French gives tips on beer travels and a review of a Chicago’s 5 Rabbit Cerveceria. GNAG4047

Beercations (I cringe a little at the title) don’t need to be whole vacation. Adding a day to a trip is perfect.  While at a wedding in Chicago, what’s one more day? With a rental car and an understanding wife, we had great food, met nice people, and managed to hit five breweries. Success! 

A key in my beer travels is having a partner, in my case my wife Julie.  She (who doesn’t drink beer), not only helps, but inspires much of the planning. This is a wonderful thing. Whatever you do, make sure you get to and from your stops safely. Be nice to the driver.

beercastionWhere to go? Everywhere. Having one or two “must” stops is important. Checking when they are open is critical.  Once you hit the ground, start talking to locals. This is a perfect way to find one of those new spots that has yet to make it on your radar. Plus most locals are excited to share their city.

When you set out on your travels, your expectations can play a huge part in the experience. Knowing exactly what to expect vs. being 100% surprised…what is your preference? I’ve been disappointed by some of the breweries I love the most and fell in love with breweries I had never heard of.

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5 Rabbit Cerveceria

Here’s what I knew about 5 Rabbit before my visit.

  1. Latin inspired brewery: Not quite sure what this really means to me, but hey.
  2. Not a hop forward lineup: As a fan of the hop, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.
  3. Randy Mosher has a stake in the ownership: Cool-factor 100
  4. Not a fan of Donald Trump: (Read)5rabbit2

Their brewery is located in Bedford Park, Illinois in a grass lined commercial business park. Their building is nondescript. When you walk in, you’re greeted by a large warehouse brewery with ample room to grow. High ceilings and wide open.  You are also greeted by an extremely friendly tasting room staff. The tasting “room” area is in the warehouse and is delineated with wood barriers and decorations that let you know you’re in a right spot. I was taken aback by the size of their space, knowing that they were still on the smaller side, but i think they will be growing into it just fine.

The beer line-up of that day:

  • 5 Vulture Oaxacan
  • 5 Rabbit Golden Ale
  • Gringolandia Super Pils
  • 5 Grass Hoppy Ale
  • Yodo Con Leche
  • Lulo Galactico Telefantastico DIPA

5Rabbitbarrels (1)Great names and solid beers to back them up. A beer that really impressed me was Yodo Con Leche, a coffee infused double porter. These guys actually went to Costa Rica looking for the perfect bean to blend with this beer. Yodo has great coffee flavors without beating you over the head with the roast. Drinks very smooth and creamy, almost like a dessert coffee. So good, I had to bring a bottle home.

The Lulo Galactico Telefantastico juicy double IPA has great hop flavors without an over the top bitterness. This Galaxy hopped beer also incorporates Lulo, a fruit which I had no idea what is was. Lulo translates to “little orange”. in doing some research, people say the flavors can have elements of lime, lemon, pineapple and rhubarb. Not sure what flavors I got in the beer, but it was one of the most unique flavors I have ever had in a DIPA. I can totally see a hophead not thinking it was hoppy enough, but it crushes on overall flavor. I failed to bring on of these home. I must go back.

5rabbitbottle (1)I went on the $10 dollar tour (literally).  A pint of beer, a cool logo glass and a non-scripted tour with one of their brewers.  Well worth the time and money.   After the the tour I got a chance to speak to the Founder/CEO Andrés Araya for a few minutes. A quiet and unassuming guy that was very appreciative that I made the effort to visit his brewery.  If you want hear more from Andrés, he was on Good Beer Hunting podcast. Totally worth a listen.

courtesy 5 Rabbit facebook page

courtesy 5 Rabbit facebook page

I think you can figure out this brewery is one of my new favorites. With so many new breweries popping up, you need to ask, “what is this brewery bringing to show?” I’m very happy to say 5 Rabbit Cerveceria a unique and refreshing brewery that is not afraid to bring interesting and fascinating flavors to beer, while still not forgetting you’re drinking a beer.  Check this place out. 

Any tips for beercationing? Like 5 Rabbit Cerveceria? Any other must-try Chicaco breweries to check out? Leave a comment on facebook!

Follow Robert French on Twitter here!

The Fest Inside the Fest | GABF’s Farm to Table Pavilion (Now “PAIRED”)

With SAVOR behind us, let’s rewind to an unexpected pairing at the Farm to Table Pavilion inside the Great American Beer Festival – or – I can’t believe I typed 1700 words about what?

Photo credit Davis Tilly Photography http://www.davistilly.com/

The Kitchen Denver – Photo credit Davis Tilly Photography http://www.davistilly.com/

Within three hours of flying into Denver for the Great American Beer Festival, I witnessed someone nearly choke to death. “Don’t fucking give him the heimlich! He’s taking in air!” yells travel buddy/media compadre John Holzer at the bar. The hostess speed dials 9-1-1 as the poor bastard horks air, bent over like a jackknife. His buddy, jaw agape, starts lumberjack-pounding him on the back. “He’s choking worse than John Elway in the 1990 Super Bowl,” I say while looking around…wondering if I’d effectively trolled any locals.

Holding his curly hair under the bar, ‘Choke-man’ makes one last gasp as his buddy jabs at his back. He must have found the secret eject button, as a distinct splatter-noise on the ground preceded the sound of his lungs filling with air all at once.

The restaurant, now completely standing while watching, sighs and sits like they witnessed a healing at church.

“I’m okay…water just went down the wrong pipe,” Choke-man says, stroking moisture down his beard, purple-faced, dripping with sweat and embarrassment. His buddy plops down a fifty at the bar and they both leave in a hurry. “Thankfully I didn’t have to see a dude die right before GABF,” I say to the bartender. “Indeed,” she says, polishing a glass, nonchalantly, “who the hell chokes that bad on water?”


 

As with all great travel-stop traditions, I always stop in The Kitchen Denver for a lamb burger before the Great American Beer Festival. This practice started the year I sat next to Dave Chichura, the “HBIC” of Oskar Blues Brewery (now at Eddyline) at the time and split some littleneck clams over canned beers and fishing stories. The burger, dolloped with roasted red pepper relish and bitter greens, is a call to Denver, and more importantly, a great base to lay before drinking fifty-or-so 1oz beer samples in an afternoon.

The Kitchen Denver is sort of an odd duck with the beer crowd during GABF week. Nearby places like Freshcraft or Euclid Hall are packed to the gills with ninety-minute waits. At The Kitchen, there’s always an open spot at the bar and the food/beer situation always warms my post-flight gullet. Their beer selection and proper glassware is always on point.

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The Colorado Convention Center – Reverse trashbear juxtaposition

Back to the splatter at hand, my appetite has completely vanished. Good thing too. I scored a Farm to Table Pavilion ticket inside the GABF for tonight. Think for a second about the odds of getting a ticket to GABF that sells out in minutes, then nabbing an elusive Farm to Table ticket. It’s a fest inside the fest, except filled with award winning beers paired with James Beard nominated chef-driven food. It’s akin to finding the winning lottery numbers on Wonka’s Golden Ticket, then winning free beer for life, naked.

I leave half of my lamb burger uneaten, carefully chug the rest of my Blind Pig and walk straight to the Colorado Convention Center a few minutes walk away for press credentials. Denver’s gusty winds sweep me down the busy 16th street mall towards the giant blue bear on 14th and Stout.

This year, GABF’s Farm to Table is going to be farm…to table…to hand….to mouth…to….uh…hotel bed, to early morning jog. Badge around neck, I speed walk past the sick kilted ducks blowing bagpipes to get my appetite back. The fest starts in fifteen minutes.


P1060722The Great American Beer Festival is exactly how it sounds. Four sessions of the event sold in a measly thirty-two minutes (in 2014); 48,000 tickets in all. 3,500 beers are poured from over 700 breweries. The Farm to Table event inside is host to 450 and costs an additional $140  per person – 14 tables in all.

Denver itself buzzes during GABF. With beer events from 8AM til 2AM daily, the festival can almost seem like a side-show. Some show up to the city and get crazy at the many walkable breweries, taprooms and brewpubs.


P1080585Just like a kid running to the lunch line in junior high, I’m the first guy at the Farm to Table Pavilion. A brief memory of raspberry coconut zingers and fruit punch-stained lips flashes through my head. I was totally that dork years ago. Crazy to see thirty years later I’m still that kid, now entrenched in the beer world doing the same shit, except now it’s a tart Raspberry Berliner Weisse, or an earthy CoCoNut Porter.

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I do have to admit, I’m a cynic when it comes to big food pairing taste events like this. Out of the fourteen tables set out today, I bet seven will be some kind mediocre slider with way too much bun. Four will be some kind of poké/wagyu/whatever on a partially stale chip. The rest? A plastic salsa cup with pork belly, short rib or some other wild game some hip new chef shot in the wild, cleaned and rubbed with grannies famous ten-spice blend. Bonus points if there’s some duck confit, terrine, or foie. At basically $10 a table, anything is possible and I hope for the best.

P1080613In before the beer-soaked horde, it’s fun to watch chefs putting the final touches on food prep. Beer bottles at each station are poking their necks out of buckets looking like refreshed kids at a public pool…perhaps saying, “hey guys, what’s going on inside this GABF?”. The hall smells vaguely like bacon amid the voluminous high ceilings. I circle the hall quickly and see where to drop anchor first, then chuckle as my statement quickly turns into a stupid pun.

P1080588Two guys, possibly twin brothers in their forties unload a mesh bag of oysters on a bed of dark, moist seaweed right in front of me. I pause as they slice it open. The twin with the sideburns grabs an oyster from the pile, shucks it and slides it over to me on a cocktail napkin, grinning. Without saying a word, I sip the liquor off the top, tilt the shell back and chew it up…naked. My GOD. Do I whip out my phone to take a photo? Do I ask for another? What’s the fucking protocol here, man? Who knew my first sip of liquor inside the GABF would be a dash of briny oyster juice.

P1080589The table sign reads, “Terrapin Rye Cubed Triple Rye IPA 10.7% ABV paired with Marin Miyagi Oysters on the Half Shell.” I grin and nod, thinking the pairing is a joke. “Pairing contains shellfish,” hahaha!

“A 10.7% Triple Rye IPA paired with oy-oysters?” I stu-stutter like my car is being towed. Terrapin’s beer rep bats her lashes and grins, “I know, right?”

Is she implying that the pairing might possibly be terrible? Does she know it’s crazy good? As I witnessed the bag opening, I assume she doesn’t actually know…right?

I’ve had oysters with fresh Murphy’s off the coast of County Cork, Ireland. I’ve had oysters with an old fashioned cocktail in Los Angeles. In Georgia where Terrapin Beer Company makes beer, do they prefer 125 IBU palate-wreckers to wash down delicate bivalves?

P1080587Tom Montgomery, one of the guys behind Monterrey Fish Market in San Francisco, turns the key and unlocks my second Miyagi shell, scooting it my way for another spin. I’ve always found that eating oysters is like kissing someone for the first time. With beer? It’s like kissing someone for the first time while drinking beer, which makes it exponentially more titillating.

P1080611The first oyster a mere peck, my goal for number two is to get to second base. I lick my lips and bite the corner of my lower lip while lifting up the green marbled-patina shell, making eyes with it. Edging closer, I admire its plump-pearlescent body shining back at me, eyes now crossed as I sip the liquor off the top and swish it around my mouth. My salivary glands burst as I take the slightest sip of beer to chase: rye spice, sweet malts, juicy hops and salty oyster brine coat my mouth as I swallow…eyes rolling as I lick my teeth clean.

Making eye contact with the beer rep, I pour a little bit of her beer into the deep oyster shell and nod, replacing the brine now in my belly.

Flicking the raw beast around my mouth, I bite down, noting its firm body. The slick texture exudes a subtle melon-cucumber note with a slight metallic twang; similar to tasting a Moscow mule in a copper mug. Sea salt washes over my memory banks and causes a good three-second daydream of me duck-diving a wave while body surfing back home in Newport Beach. Before gulping it down, I add a sip of the triple rye IPA to the cement-mixer that is my mouth and pause with Denver’s sunset suddenly blinding me outside the thirty foot tall glass windows. Wow, I can see the Rockies from here.

The silky spa like flavors implode into a super salty umami bomb. Chewing slowly, I swallow every last drop. My phone vibrates in my pocket. I don’t bother.

“Spitters are quitters” I think to myself, tossing the shell in a trashcan and downing the rest of the beer. I exchange cards with Terrapin’s beer rep. “I had my doubts, but goddamn that was memorable.”

“I know, right?”

“What are the odds that two things fly from California to Denver, meet in a huge beer fest and one eats the other?” I ask, innocently trying to keep the conversation going.

“I’m not from California,” she says.

I choke-cough and move on to the other thirteen tables, then step out into the main festival, joining 11,999 of my closest friends. Damn. GABF is awesome. Farm to Table? Not to be missed.

All the Barrels Roll Out for Firestone Walker’s Micro-Fest

Event in San Luis Obispo County Has only barrel aged beer, wine and booze at historic ranch. – By Greg Nagel

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The Historic Santa Margarita Ranch Barn – courtesy their website

IMG_9215With an event like From the Barrel‘ by Firestone Walker, irony sets in quickly as I realize we’re all just a bunch of booze sitting inside wood. At the historic wooden-planked Santa Margarita barn (in San Luis Obisbo County), every beer, spirit and cocktail has spent time in a wooden barrel. The guests? Dressed to the nines in prohibition-era fashion and, well, also surrounded by staves of lumber.

Session beer drinking since noon, my suspender-hooked suit pants and bow tie are providing some gentle, yet pleasant asphyxiation, I feel like this thing could all burn down with one careless flick of a cigarette.

Twinkly lights strewn across the dusty floor guide my way to the first beers of the night. Societe and Russian River are sharing a table like nephew and uncle at a roadside farm stand. Societe’s The Highbinder (American wild ale) next to Russian River’s Beatifiation? As a man of constant sorrow, I take a sip and whistle dixie. It’s hard to see the color in the low lights, but it does appear to have blushed from touching my lips. What a tart! The Highbinder gives me subtle wood; French oak wine barrel I presume. I pucker. It’s wet and unscrupulous. I get to the bottom and go for thy neighbor. Temptation sets in as our eyes meet. Does The Highbinder stand up next to Russian River’s bottled seductions? Absolutely. Beatification nearly blows my wad, so grab a smoke outside to relax.

Credit - CA Brewmasters Book

Credit Nick Gingold – California Brewmasters Book

The walkways are tight as I politely move about the barn. Rock steps tunnel the side entrances and juxtapose the gams propped up by throwback stems. The gentle plucking of a stand-up bass rhythmically blum-blum-blums throughout the night causing a few bleary-eyed people to dance. Outside, a bonfire flickers light across the way, highlighting cloche hats, pearls, fur and sparkled gowns. I flick my smoke safely and head back in.

“There’s no better way to feel like you’re back in the 1920’s than when your phone has zero bars.” – Overheard near the bonfire

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Guy on the right did the ‘reelin’ you in’ move at least three times to random ladies before Billy Idoling it.

 

The little devil on my right shoulder whispers something about rye whiskey and I tell him, “just one.” Three Highspires and a Templeton Rye later, the angel on the left whispers something about “food.”  Thankfully, there’s an abundance. I’m not much of a fan of sliders, so I sure as hell heist four or five ahi-poki chips and some sort of seafood bruschetta near the back window (completely surrounded by cats, by the way).

P1080906Wanting desperately to avoid a hangover before a long weekend, bourbon barrel aged beers are being avoided at all costs. Why drink a beer that had sloppy seconds with a bourbon barrel? As I get older, my craving for bourbon instead of bourbon tea-bagged beers continues to grow. It’s all about the blend and this event has the best…but I’m still not biting.

As the night fiddles away, the crowd grows thin. Ladies get loose enough to smoke some robusto-sized cigars. Suspenders are snapped, violently. 10 P.M. comes, and so does my bus to Paso Robles. Where did the night go? Angel’s share, I suppose.

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From the Barrel is now in its fifth year. It’s a great event with some heady drinks – only way to conquer it is to divide, sip and dump what you’re not thrilled with. Firestone Walker puts on some seriously great events and this ads to their line up. I’ve long been a fan of niche-type events (hello, firkfest!) but this sets the bar pretty high. I’d guess 95% of the people here are dressed up! It was classy, tasty and unique! I will be back! Thanks Firestone Walker and LA Beer Bloggers!

Disclosure: This was part of the LA Beer Bloggers Trip, FW paid for a bus full of press to attend a weekend of educational experiences. From the Barrel kicked off the weekend.

How Sour is Your Sour Beer?

Total Acidity vs pH by Jeffers Richardson at Firestone Walker

by Greg Nagel @OCBeerBlog

Back on an old episode of Four Brewers, we sampled some Barrelworks beers and noted something we haven’t seen before on a beer label, “Total Acidity.” We cracked jokes at our ignorance, “how much more acidic can it get? Uhhh, like 7.”

Over twitter, we got some response from Firestone Walker, but we shrugged it off as Barrelworks seems to be the only people using this format in the beer world. (Here’s the show for reference! )

[Download here if player is flakey]

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Recently, Jeffers Richardson, director of brewing operations at Firestone Walker Barrelworks, tied me to a chair at 10am on a Saturday in their cannery dungeon and forced his acids in my mouth, 10cc’s at a time. With a cooler full of Barrelworks beer sitting nearby, I put on my trust underpants and went with the flow.

People often mistake aroma for taste. Acidity is just the measure of acid in a solution (or soil). There’s two ways to measure that, pH and tactile acidity. In terms of tactile-wise, it’s a sourness on the tongue. One reason we use TA instead of pH is pH can be affected by buffers, so you don’t get a true measure of taste of acids. Just think of our bodies, if we eat all acidic foods, we don’t become acidic as we have buffers to break that down. PH is literally the measurment of hydrogen ions. Every time a free hydrogen ion goes into solution, pH lowers.  – Jeffers Richardson of Firestone Walker

In front of me is a place mat with four taster glasses filled with clear liquid. “Don’t drink!” yells Jeffers, as I secretly sniff each one. “Taster glass one is lactic acid, taster two is acetic acid and number three is citric acid…we couldn’t get Malic acid so use that fourth for water,” he continued.

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Dropping Acid Breakdown

Lactic Acid – This is what gives most sour craft beers their sourness. It is created by lactic-acid creating bacteria such as lactobacillus and pediococcus. At low levels, it’s soft and not really harsh (no burning sensations). I noted aromas of wet sugar and raw baked goods prior to baking. On the sides of the tongue and back of the throat, it is perceived as tart and sour. Plug your nose while swishing it around your mouth to avoid aromas: you can taste the sour sensation. Some mentioned it tasted like Greek yogurt, which is interesting as lactic-acid bacteria is also responsible for creating yogurt. Someone else noted it tasted buttery.

Acetic Acid – More harsh and punchy when found in beer. This acid is caused by acetobacter, which needs oxygen to survive.  At any level, it smells like vinegar or pickle juice. It is quite rough on the palate with noticeable burning sensations while swishing it around and swallowing it. Breweries consider acetobacter a spoiling agent. Some Flanders-style beers, such as Duchesse de Borgogne have small amounts of acetic acid to perhaps mimic properties and complexities of wine.

Citric Acid – More of a wine or mead thing, but it has a Sweet-Tart candy character. In homebrew shops, you can typically buy an “Acid Blend” that contains Citric, Mallic and Tartaric acids which can adjust acidity in wines. Not harsh.

Tasting Three Total Acidity (TA) Levels of Lactic Acid

Measuring sourness with three T.A. Levels as reference points

tongue_mapLevel 4 TA Lactic Acid: Slight tinge of numbness to the gums and roughness to the cheeks and big sourness on the sides of the tongue.

Level 8 TA Lactic Acid: Felt like my tooth enamel was coming off. Rough cheeks, mouth wateringly sour.

Level 12 TA Lactic Acid: Instantly caused the inside of my mouth to feel dead, like rubber. So sour I couldn’t taste it due to its offensive nature.

Next: I was presented with three Barrelworks beers and tried to guess the Total Acidity of each (at gunpoint).

AgresticBeer 1: Agrestic Ale (2014): Starts out as DBA (minus the barrel union) and undergoes primary fermentation at Barrelworks in Buellton. Once complete, it undergoes secondary in 87% French oak / 13% Freedom oak with Brettanomyces and two strains of Lactobacillus. My perception was a nice tannic/oaky beer. I plugged my nose to taste the sour and focused on what it did to my cheeks, teeth and gums. I thought it was in the middle of 4-8 and I picked 6. Actual TA? 6.6. 

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 Beer 2: Lil Opal (2014): One thing I love about Barrelworks beers is the level of oak. It’s a definite calling card for their beers I’ve tried thus far. Lil Opal is a truly wild Saison with juicy notes of citrus and tropical fruit like pineapple. Are the flavors and aromas yeast or barrel driven? Regardless, It’s a refreshing beer with a sourness that cleans up your teeth nicely with a little bit of gum tingle. I picked 5. Actual TA? 4.01.

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Beer 3: SLOambic (2014): Olallieberry jam and oak all up in your business. I find it hard to say Olallieberry, so I just call it LOL-Berry. The berry itself is blackberry in appearance and grows in Central CA. I’ve long-loved the Framboise style of Belgian beers (raspberries) but this may dethrone it! Tons of jammy berry character with an aggressive sourness that bites at my teeth enamel and roughs up my cheeks. I thought it was a little bit less than the TA 8 sample and I chose 7.8. Actual TA 8.7. LOL-Berry! 

After all that acid trippin, I was fed crackers as they untied me and forced me into the Firestone Walker barrel room. After fifteen minutes smelling boozy wood at 50 degrees, I was left to fulfill a life of religious consciousness.

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Thanks LA Beer Bloggers and Firestone Walker for this unique opportunity! Disclosure: FW provided food, beer and transportation to the event, but wasn’t required. Hotel and take-away items were all purchased at full price on my own.

Gallery: Bagby Beer Co. – Oceanside CA

P1080836Placed perfectly between Orange County and San Diego, Bagby Beer Company opened it’s doors 2014. Expecting a small brewpub, I was shocked to see they converted a car dealership to an expansive maze of bars, indoor/outdoor seating and open air indoor halls. A short walk from the train station and the beach, Bagby Beer Company makes a great stop for a South OC crawl around San Clemente, lunch on the way down to San Diego, or a late night stop on the way back up.

The beer? I sampled twelve house beers with a wide spectrum of west coast, Belgian and British styles. All beers presented were unique with varying yeast, body, color and bitterness profiles. One common thread was a high ester profile across the beers. Guest taps are also available with many great choices.

The food? Moderately priced, fresh and something for everyone, including the foodiest of foodies.

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Blog Hard – BBC14 Wrap up

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This dump bucket contains Kosmic Mother Funk.

Blogging about blogging is probably the dumbest snazziest thing I’ve ever done. Why would I attend a conference devoted to blogging about beer? Because you read this stuff, that’s why. Get up and grab a towel because a healthy dose of amaze-juice is about to be doused all over your computer/phone screen (ewww).

<cracks knuckles> Going back to 2011 when I started this dumb awesome website, I wrote silly stuff about beer with no fucks given. When I saw there was an actual conference for like-minded people, I registered and went. My mind was blown. After BBC12, I networked, set goals and promised myself to still write with no fucks given (for this site at least). I also travelled to Boston for BBC13. Since that conference a year ago, here’s some crazy shit I did that was pretty awesome:

I don’t think I would have done any of that had it not been for the Beer Blogger’s Conference. By going, it helped me understand that anything is possible. So here I am, typing on my couch with my cat curled up next to me in the wee hours of the night, thinking back on BBC14, with some fucks given. Here’s a brief look at some photos and fun stuff we did. It really was a blast and can’t wait for next year in Asheville, NC. Highlights:

Stop 1: Golden Road previewed here. 

Stop 2: Taking the freight elevator to Angel City Brewery’s roof, only to be greeted by hop vines and a spectacular LA Sunset. My beercamp 94 brew-bro Keith McEly manages the tasting room there, which is rad. Their IPA, Angelino was fun on cask (dubbed Dirty Angelino) as was their Avocado beer, which tasted like a pils with a slick mouthfeel.

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Stop 3: Bruery Terreux. Lets just say I got a mouthpour from a Sour in the Rye barrel; squirted in my mouth like a cat on a farm while the cow is getting milked. It tasted like Pinocchio’s pee; slightly woody and acidic, yet still somehow delicious. The Bruery is classy as fuck, putting out a table of all the cheeses and charcuteries with all the super rare beers. I went nuts on the Oude Tart w/ Cherries, stopping mid-sip to order my maximum allocation via the Reserve Society.

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*sound of barrel peeing*

Stop 3 and 4: Smog City and Monkish Brewing in Torrance. Arriving at 11 PM or so, someone quipped, “Smog City is like the Motel 6 of breweries, they’ll leave the light on.” Indeed. One car in the parking lot and the lights on inside, 45 bloggers were treated to Smog City’s Coffee Porter and other delicious treats. From there we walked a few minutes to Monkish Brewing and was treated to even more awesomness. If you haven’t been to these breweries, make plans to go this weekend. Both are doing some really great beer.

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Late night Trousdale chinrest action.

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Laurie Porter and Chris Walowski talk about Smog City’s history at 11PM.

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I watched Henry Nguyen of Monkish Brewing crawl in here and go to sleep. It was after midnight, after all.

Friday morning, the actual conference started with a keynote from Julia Herz of the Brewers Association. The first panel of “San Diego Craft Brewers” couldn’t have been better! From left to right is Tomme Arthur, Chuck Silva and Peter Zien, arguably three of the worlds top brewers and pioneers for craft beer.

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For dinner, we went to Karl Strauss‘ original brewery for street tacos and super fresh Tower 10, Red Trolley and Wreck Alley Stout. Every time I rediscover a Karl beer I’m more and more impressed. I think Karl Strauss is one of California’s most underrated breweries.

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Co Founder of Karl: Chris Cramer explains in detail the difficulty of opening SD’s 1st brewery.

Day two: Breakout Sessions. Shit got real when people read this quote from Modern Times’ Jacob McKean. Being in a room of pros, nobody’s feather’s got ruffled. It was an informative panel and happy to hear this blog doing things the right way: legit as fuck.

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We ate at Yard House for lunch and got a slathering of various food bites. I had to beg some guy to get a half yard of Firestone Walker Easy Jack with all of my drink tickets. Most out of towners picked The Bruery’s Oude Tart instead of the hundred taps of San Diego beer which was awesome. Their house beers were a thing as well, the Belgo Tripel being my favorite of the bunch.

beer bloggers conference bus tour through san diego

credit Cambria Griffith @thebruery

We picked up Ken Grossman along the way. He gave the keynote speech; highlighting their summer Beer Camp tour and new brewery in NC. I could listen to him speak all day. He was cool enough to sign my Beyond the Pale book and my last bottle of beercamp 94. I want to try and get all the brewers to sign it at some point.P1080490

Beer Speed Dating is a thing at the Beer Bloggers Conference. Brewers have five minutes per table to sell their wares. Highlights were Kosmic Mother Funk Grand Cru from Samuel Adams and Deliverance from the Lost Abbey. Rogue brought a Pepto Bismol Braggot, which aided everyone’s hangovers .

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I sat at the blonde table.

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I pictured Jim Koch dancing to funk while sipping this, which made me smile.

Meanwhile, at Stone Brewing World Gardens & Bistro – Liberty Station: More small bites and super delicious beer was served. I chatted with Head Brewer Mitch Steele while inhaling fried olives, ribs and various flatbreads. Not only did the BBC get treated to a special roped off area, we also had dibs on guest taps. I drank a Black Wit. I had a Board Meeting from Port Brewing. I had fresh Ruination. I also got a private tour of the “hot-chicks room” above the dining area. Wooden abbey-doors open up to this view:

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Kip Barnes, Brandon Hernandez, Jemma Wilson, me and mister Zephyr Adventures himself!

Various bottles in the ‘hot chicks room’.

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Photo roll!

Blog Hard Part 1 | Beer Bloggers Conference 2014 – Precon at Golden Road

IMG_6880Glendale, 1:02 PM in the home of Randy Clemens (blog sponsor —->)

A dripping wet Randy “Sir RachaClemens is probably the best way to kick off the 2014’s Beer Blogger’s Conference. “Here, try one of these and shoot the other”, he says handing me a small plastic foil-topped cup reading “K+ probiotic drink” and a glass of (fully legal) B-Vitamin dietary supplement. “Do I get a colonic too? You fucking LA dudes are hippies,” I reply, swinging my Pabst-glasses to the top of my head and swallowing it all down in one nervous gulp.

“I find it ironic we’re doing shots of health food made with lactobacillus and a fermentation process similar to beer.” I say, burping loudly. “Can I get you a beer Mr. Nagel?” “Nah, I’m waiting to see if these shots explode my butt.”

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first beer of BBC14: 329 Lager and a Carry On Taster

The conference pre-excursion that kicks off at Golden Road is a short walk from Casa de Clemens, but my baggage has ‘UBER’ written all over it. Just on the other side of the train tracks, we arrive at a packed ‘Pub at Golden Road’; many people dining al fresco under the blue summer sky. Beer happens quickly as two cold 329 Lagers arrive frothy, yet head-scraped. I admire its clarity, take two whiffs and get my mustache frothed. This beer is effortless to drink, lightly floral with a wisp of grass and LA sunshine.

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credit Anne Marie who texted me this pic from LAX

I order the messiest BBQ Chicken sandwich ever and a new beer called Carry On – Citrus Ale; a beer made and sold for Airport terminals. The bitterness seems surprisingly arrogant and the orange flavor brings me back to my childhood when I actually enjoyed Flintstone Vitamins. “Is this infused with Airborne®? That would actually be quite handy pre-flight,” I mutter while using every napkin on the table to clean my sauce-covered digits. I seriously look like I bathed in a vat of BBQ sauce. Thankfully LA has no bears.

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@brewdad and I are admired by the bartenders at Golden Road

After lunch, I identify the first blogger speed-walking up the ramp to the pub. A busload of beer bloggers is possibly the easiest thing in the world to observe in their natural habitat. Their plumage includes cargo shorts, brewery shirts, glowing smiles and cameras held up past their heads as they snap photos of whatever. Someone should compile all of the bloggers shots and make a David Hockney-style photo mosaic. I greet a few familiar faces and join the gang on the side patio near the defunct Aunt Sally court; taken down thanks to subsequent baby seal clubbings, or perhaps bad parenting.

P1080384P1080389Co-owner/President of Golden Road Meg Gill steps out to greet the gang with her curly blonde hair pulled back, snappy black dress and flats. “Welcome to Los Angeles! We’re really excited to have you guys come from all over the county to be here!” she says as I sip beer three: Berliner Weisse with raspberry syrup. After the speech, I chat with Meg and compliment her dress. “Thanks, it’s easy,” she says, blinking her deep grey-blue eyes grinning a surfer-girl smile. “We’ve got a new beer on the canning line right now I’m excited for you to try, it’s our new seasonal India Pale Lager called Might As Well IPL,” she says smiling bigger, batting lashes a few more times. I opt for the first tour while the other half works through a tasting flight of the core beers, 329 Lager, Hef, Get Up Offa That Brown and Point the Way IPA.

P1080394The tour starts off in Chloe’s, a clean yet divey-type speakeasy in back of the pub. “Is this where Boogie Nights was filmed?” I ask. “This is the pub, behind the pub, behind the pub,” someone replies in their best Vince Vaughn voice. Laurel Brooks, coolest chick ever (and Marketing Coordinator), smiles and takes the group through the history of how Meg met Tony Yanow, owner of several LA beer bars including Tony’s Darts Away; a pub serving only California-brewed craft beer and many vegan delights.

P1080396Golden Road has three brightly colored buildings; yellow, red and blue. Yellow is where you eat, drink and pee, red is for the office-types and cold storage, blue is where the sausage is made. I spy several interesting things in the cold box, one of which nobody can comment on, even though it’s been printed in the LA Times.

P1080397The brewery has changed vastly since my last visit only five months ago. The first thing I notice is the pilot brewhouse sitting deconstructed outside between buildings. “If anyone knows someone looking for a 15 bbl brewhouse, let us know!” says Laurel. Outside we’re greeted by brewer Tim Harbage, recent recipient of the Matt Courtright Memorial Brewing Scholarship. Pink laces flopping about on his brew-boots, Tim escorts us in past a 200 bbl fermenter named Phil as the smell of beer being brewed fills the nearly Yuma-hot air on the brewdeck.

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P1080407The new canning line is the pièce de résistance. Before: one can at a time was filled, sealed and hand-packaged. Now: a modern canning line zooms through a pallet of cans in minutes. As production is up from 15,000 to an expected 30,000 barrels this year, it’s only a matter of time until this new system will need a friend.

P1080398Taking a can of the new IPL off the line had me singing the theme to Laverne & Shirley, and the ultra bright hoppyness of the beer had me sniffing the can-hole like a weirdo. With all the beers we are about to embark on throughout the day, one more surely won’t hurt. “Should I drink the whole thing?” Might as well, motherfucker…Might as well.

Thanks for the hospitality, hugs and awesome beer, Golden Road. See you soon.

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This post is part of Greg Nagel’s Beer Blogger Conference coverage. Check back for more posts! #bbc14