Monday, February 08, 2010

SFBW'10 - Funky Fairfax

One of the more popular bumper stickers of the "local pride" variety refers to Fairfax as "Mayberry on acid". It's a town that prides itself on waving its freak flag high, and, to the extent that it's possible in a place like Marin county, being a funky little joint.

How appropriate then, that today, the first Monday of SF Beer Week 2010, marks the release of Iron Springs' first foray into the funky and freaky world of brettanomyces-influenced beer, with a somewhat unexpected choice from the house line-up as the guinea pig: their Chazz Cat Rye, an amber, mildly spicy rye beer that's been a mainstay on the draught list since the pub's inception. Dubbed "Rye the Funk Not", the name nicely sums up the degree of experimentalism the brewers invoked in putting this batch together. Head brewer Christian Kazakoff explained it thusly:
I was impressed with the flavor of a Rye beer I did in a firkin with oak chips soaked in Chardonnay; so, I decided to purchase a Zinfandel barrel from a local winery in Oakland and fill it with a new Rye beer I brewed that was in the pre-chill conditioning stage. It took a little over two barrels of Rye to fill the barrel. I inoculated the beer with some brettanomyces and buried it in "The Brett Farm" at Drakes brewery in San Leandro for seven months. When the secondary funk fermentation finished out in October, Persimmons were just being harvested and I love Persimmons. I added twenty pounds of chopped Fuyu Persimmons to the barrel and let it stand for another three months.
He describes the result as a pale, 7% alcohol, oaky beer, with rye spice contrasting with a slight sourness, and a lingering sweetness from the fruit. Besides the limited run RTFN will have on tap at the pub as part of their barrel-aged beer month, there are a dozen or so cases of 750ml bottles that were hand-corked and caged in the Belgian style which are conditioning with champagne yeast and awaiting label artwork for a small release in another month or so. Compared to its second cousin twice removed, it's drier, fairly stronger, and plays its hops much further in the background, letting each of its unique qualities come out to play in distinct order: a spicy, leathery aroma leads into an initial taste of old barrel, ceding to hints of the rye and West Coast hops before the fruity persimmon finish (which I wouldn't have been able to distinguish if it hadn't been for the multiple sessions of a friend's persimmon wine I've had the joy to experience over the past year) cleans up the palate, dryly, with that slight sourness that stirs the appetite and warrants a second taste.

It's warming to see experimentation such as this taking place so close to home (even if the intentional "infection" occurred in Contra Costa), and with today's news that Mill Valley Beerworks got their brewer's notice from the TTB, it might not be long before we're seeing the first spontaneously brewed Marin beer. Perhaps I'm fantasizing a little. But it's a fun fantasy to harbor when enjoying something as wickedly complex and time-consuming yet blithely titled Rye the Funk Not.

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SFBW'10 - The Younger and the rest of us

The sign says it all.

"I can't imagine getting in line for a beer," came one slightly tongue-in-cheek comment from the small assemblage of local beer writers huddled beside a table overflowing with Ryan Farr's chicharrones, as we discussed the completely unforeseen mad dash that had occurred earlier in the day up at Russian River, where demand for their annual February release* had formed, to say the very least, a "line". Even Natalie Cilurzo's own estimates on the lifespan of this year's batch of Pliny the Younger ("I don’t know how long it will be available at the pub. However, I venture to guess less than one week and more than one day!") turned out to be quite generous, as by 6pm Friday afternoon, after about 7 hours of being poured, the 600 gallons on tap at the Santa Rosa pub had already dried up. Even Mario, a Santa Rosa native and stalwart supporter of all things Russian River chimed in to say (unbeknownst to all of us that just as we were making the rounds at the SF Beer Week gala, the atmosphere up in Sonoma had already turned somewhat grim) had he would have been happy to wait until Saturday to get his share, had he been able to foresee the unprecedented crowds that had appeared well before the door's had even been opened. After all, last year there'd been no crowds at all, no lines, not the slightest bit of fuss - that easy, relaxed Sonoma pace had been shattered this time around, the pub apparently having fallen victim to its own success, the obsessive completists monitoring the ubiquitous top ten lists, and the ease with which social networking tools can amass armies of beer fanatics like blinkered, hops-driven flash mobs.

Not that it mattered entirely on my part, thanks to Mario having stashed my very own growler of the stuff by the gala entrance. And as we departed into the early evening, someone perched outside the event noticed the bottle I was casually swinging from my pinkie and called out, "Hey, is that Younger?", forcing me to glance over my shoulder the whole way back to the parking garage in fear that we were being followed...

Despite all the hype and a reputation it couldn't possibly live up to, it remains a wonderful treat of a beer, and one for which I'm happy to say that I didn't have to stand in line. A fortuitous way to begin SF Beer Week 2010, indeed. Expect it to make some further, albeit brief appearances over the course of the week, in your finer Bay Area drinking establishments.

* And as for that other February special release, the darling Valentines' Day black Belgian ale dubbed "Rejection", expect that one to make an appearance at Toronado tomorrow night.

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