Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Brewery profile - Russian River Brewing Co.

When one thinks of the Russian River area north of San Francisco, the last thing that comes to mind is a cutting-edge, Belgian-inspired wild brewhouse. The story of how this good but relatively unremarkable Northern California brewery became so unique is an interesting one. Prior to 2002, Russian River Brewing Co. was owned and run by Korbel Champagne Cellars, a well-known sparkling wine vintner in the Russian River Valley appellation. When it decided to sever its connections to the brewing facility, head brewer Vinnie Cilurzo bought the company and opened up a new brewing facility to cater to his somewhat mad concepts which involve integrating his knowledge of brewing and winemaking. Barrel aging, wild yeast and bacterial strains, méthode champenoise - these are just some of the techniques being experimented with in their newest bottlings. If you do manage to get your hands on a bottle or two, you can even check their online bottling log for information about the specific batch you've got your hands on.
The pub's apparently worth a visit, too. Consider for a minute some of the awards it won in the 2005 North Bay Bohemian reader's poll: Best Free Entertainment and Best Spot for Mindless Chatter.
I, for one, and a huge fan of free entertainment and mindless chatter, believing that the former can often derive from the latter, and am an equally huge fan of their deliriously inventive wild brews. Since I can't comment appropriately on the first two, I'll just go ahead and give a quick run-down on a couple of their recent efforts, beautifully bottled in champagne cork-stoppered 350 mL bottles.
Supplication - Brown Ale Aged in Oak Barrels with Cherries Added

Yum. Refermented in the bottle. Aged for 12 months in used Pinot Noir barrels, and it shows. The bret shows through in a lactic sourness that, combined with the aroma of cherries, displays many of the same characteristics as the finest kriek you can get your hands on here in the states. This is a dry, crisp, delicately effervescent, and vinuous brew that's maybe just a little heavy on the oak. Considering it's bottled with a few years of aging in mind, I imagine that the oak flavor would mellow as it marries into the rest of the palate.
Temptation - Blonde Ale Aged in Oak Barrels

Yum yum. Again, refermented in the bottle. This batch, compared to the other, was aged for 12 months in used Chardonnay bottles. And, again, it shows.Predominantlyy oaky, with vanilla on the front end and coconut on the finish. On their site, they say it "needs some age to mellow out some of the wine flavors that were contributed from theChardonnayy barrels", and I would tend to agree. Both of these beers would benefit highly (unlike most beers, mind you) from being kept in a cool cellar for a few years.
If you're a fan of lambics or Flanders red ales, you would do best to search these out, or order them online direct from the brewery. You may even want to stock up. Considering the amount of risk Russian River is engaging in by tying up their storage space with niche beers that take a year to age before bottling, it's hard to say how long they'll survive in our B-to-the-E world...

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Another new old beer

Sam's done it again. The man who seems to have quite the relationship with the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has one-upped his reincarnation of the 2,700 year old Midas Touch recipe with the 9,000 year old Chateau Jiahu. What's next, modelling for Levi's and Abercrombie & Fitch? Oh wait, he's already done that, too. No wonder Rikki Lake had a crush on him. We beersnobs think you're pretty dreamy, too, Sam.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

If not young, at least it keeps you looking alive.

"Consumers need to know that the formaldehyde in beer is a different type from that in household chemicals." That's great! Phew. And here I was thinking that was gross.
Notice how he says it's a different type than found in household chemicals, yet mentions nothing of funeral parlors...

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Left coast jealousy

Anybody looking to take a friend to Cooperstown this weekend? I'm a pleasant, relatively quiet and humourous companion. I'll even treat for a tour of the baseball hall of fame. C'mon! Anyone?

Monday, July 11, 2005

Unorthodox pairing suggestion #1

It's becoming quite the industry standard these days in the print media world to include a weekly, monthly, or "whenever Ziggy's on vacation" column about beer. The new beer, that is. The gourmet, flavorful, sipping beer that "goes better with cheese than wine does and that's why this article is in the wine section", not to be confused with that stuff they sell at ballparks, or *gasp* that stuff they sell in cans.
In these articles, there's the inevitable rules for pairing with food, culled from the somewhat antiquated guidelines concocted by the wine industry to cement the snobbery of the grape. It seems odd to me, that in its bid to win more of the foodiesnob share, the brewing industry (Garrett, are you listening?) has taken to such literal parallels: "Think of Ale as Red Wine and Lager as White Wine", or "Hoppiness in Beer = Acidity in Wine". Oddly, the only wine/beer comparison that I'm willing to make is one that gets no attention from these reviewers, and that's the idea of regional tastes and terroir. Wine experts would argue that with the vast majority of beers lacking distinct vintages, brewers have no right to include terroir in their profiles (avoid making that comment around lambic brewers). On the other hand, there is something to be said of beer and food produced in the same region as pairing well together in a sort of psychic way, usually deviating from the rules a bit as well (think oysters and stout). One could think of these neighborly pairings as a great argument for beer terroir - I mean, why would you bother making a beer that doesn't set well with your diet, anyway?
So why am I droning on about this? It just seems to me that a broader concept of pairing needs to be investigated, including the time-tested method call experimentation. As one who could go on at length espousing the vibrancy of the "peanut M&Ms with chardonnay" pairing, I think I'm a valid resource for such experimentation. Thusly, I bring you the first in my thoughts on unorthodox pairings: Gueuze as a picnic beer.
It gueuze with everything.
Thanks to the rise of brewery seasonals, wheat beer has become a commonly accepted summer staple. Consider, for a moment, replacing your standard hefeweizen with a wild Wallonian wheat beer of the funky persuasion, like the Hanssens version pictured here. Why does it work?
1) It has a crisp mouthfeel and quick finish, making it nicely thirst-quenching.
2) It goes splendidly with fresh fruit and berries. Don't believe me? Can you say peche? Framboise? Kreik?
3) Stinky cheese demands stinky beer.
4) It's got the best aspects of champagne - highly carbonated, slightly tart and slightly sweet - which in turn makes it really romantic. And horse blanket: don't forget that the really expensive champagnes you can't afford smell like horse blanket, too.
5) That same combination of high carbonation, tartness and crispness lends itself very well to clearing the palate of fat from dry-cured salamis and the like.
Give it a try. If you're concerned, bring along a bottle of witbier or saison. If you find that you agree with me, though, the spare beer will at least be there to satisfy your guest while you enjoy this somewhat unorthodox pairing.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Yet another chance to save lives with beer

First off, you've got to admit that the raffle prize at this year's "Fermenting Change" is pretty bitchin'. And, of all the things going on in Larkspur this summer, it's the only event where you can get your paws on samples from about 20 local breweries. Good thing they'll have bike valets, 'cause with all those free tastings, you probably won't wanna drive. My personal weakness will likely be exploited if Russian River shows up with some of its new wild beers. Oh, the temptation!