Dear beer community: Slow your roll?

This has been on my mind for a while now (those of you who think I’m a big ol’ ball of uncensored opinion have no idea what I hold back!) I keep thinking “now’s not a good time for this” but I could find a reason not to publish it every day forever and that’s no way to live. So, here is my latest jumbo think piece. I’d say “like it or not” but I don’t particularly “like” it myself. It’s not all rainbows and kittens and free samples here in the beer blogging world…

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We’re a country founded by Puritans, and in some ways it still shows.

Once, just out of curiosity and a behavioral double-check, I took an alcohol use survey online. It asked me my age and gender. I answered the questions honestly and it came back with an alarmist “YOU DRINK MORE THAN MOST WOMEN YOUR AGE!” message. Well, okay…is it saying much to say you drink more than most 30-something women? Aren’t most of them too busy being moms to go to the pub? Many of my female friends are pregnant or breastfeeding right now, and I’m not.

I tried another quiz, this time from a different English-speaking country (I believe it was England, but it could have been Australia). It did not ask my age or gender. I answered honestly. It shrugged and said I was a social drinker and as long as my health was okay to not sweat it.

Where am I going with this? I think an effect of our culture is that the Americans who’ve claimed some sort of alcohol as a hobby — be it beer, wine, whiskey, other — get unjustly criticized and scrutinized by people outside their hobby world. I know I’ve endured stupidity like “you make your own beer? are you an alcoholic?” and worse. People who share a hobby often find each other, but beer people have even more incentive to band together: we understand that our enthusiasm is not the same as a disease, and it’s also not what you saw in that Beer Fest movie. The beer community is pretty much a judgment-free zone where consumption is concerned. You can have a beer with lunch without raising eyebrows (never mind that a beer with lunch is standard in many countries). You can post a photo of fancy beer on the Internet without anyone thinking it’s weird. You can have a breakfast beer on a special occasion like a yearly beer fest without getting handed a pamphlet.

Problem is, there’s a difference between “I understand that having two beers a day doesn’t make you Arthur” and “having 6 beers a day seems normal to me.” There’s a difference between “it’s Boonville, who wants a breakfast stout?” and drinking starting at 9am on a random Tuesday. There’s a difference between beer being an interest and beer being your only interest.

How can we as a community share a passion for something that CAN be harmless…but also not encourage people who are hurting themselves? I have no answers, but we can start by talking about it instead of sweeping it under the rug.

Let’s start with weight, because that’s not a loaded topic at all…

Alcohol has calories
Obviously, beer has calories. But as with most things weight-related, people overreact in one direction or another.

  • People drink light beer, or no beer, to save calories. Blech.
  • Well-meaning people exclusively blame beer for any non-skinny person’s lack of skinniness. (“You could lose so much weight if you gave up beer!” is something I’ve heard more than once. Hey, who says I even want to lose weight?) Thing is, many people who are into beer are epicureans in general and are also into food — beer has calories, sure, but so does BBQ and tacos and cheese and….
  • Of course, not all beer people have equal enthusiasm for beer and food. Whether they’re trying to save calories or have something else going on, this forms the basis of another overreaction for some. I’m tired of hearing people justify skipping meals because “beer has food value but food has no beer value” or “eating is cheating.” It’s not funny and it’s not healthy.

In the end, you can lose weight (if you want to! and not everyone does!) by drinking fewer beers or drinking smaller portions of them. You can also lose weight by exercising and eating healthier. Your weight is really none of anyone else’s business. But if you have an existing health issue that is exacerbated by your weight, and you’re still not cutting down on beer, that’s something to think about. It’s true that overweight people can be healthy. It’s also true that some medical conditions are going to go a lot easier on you if you lose a few.

The game-ification of beer drinking is not good for every personality
Untappd is fun. I use it. But I don’t agree with giving out rewards for drinking a sheer quantity of beer. If you’ve got a competitive streak, getting badges is going to encourage you to drink too much. It’s an unpopular opinion and I’m not going to dwell on it, and I’d be the last person to blame a silly phone app for anyone’s unhealthy decisions, but if you’re drinking more beers just to get an online cookie then uninstall that shit.

“I need to slow down” isn’t the same as “I need AA” (except when it is)
I think some beer enthusiasts are afraid to admit they’ve been drinking too much because it seems like such a slippery slope. We’ve tied in “drinking too much” with “problem drinking” with “alcoholic” with “needs to never drink again.” I believe it’s a spectrum, not a binary.

I think of it this way: sometimes I go through periods where I eat too much, because it’s fun and it’s easy to do and it makes me feel good when I’m stressed. Then I gain a few pounds and I realize I should back up and eat right again. That doesn’t make me a compulsive eater. That doesn’t mean I need a support group. It means I’m an adult taking responsibility for my behavior. (That said, compulsive eating is a real condition, and should not be ignored or minimized if you have it.)

My relationship with alcohol — another substance that’s enjoyable but not physically addictive — is remarkably similar. Sometimes I realize I’ve been drinking too much, because it’s fun and it’s easy to do and it makes me feel good when I’m stressed. Then I gain a few pounds (or have an ugly hangover) and realize I should back up and drink right again. That doesn’t make me an alcoholic. That doesn’t mean I need a support group. It means I’m an adult taking responsibility for my behavior.

That said, alcoholism is a real condition, and should not be ignored or minimized (or joked about or celebrated) if you have it. And that’s where the beer community trips over its dick.

If you can’t eat like a healthy person or you can’t drink like a healthy person, maybe it’s time to do something about it. Maybe it’s Overeaters Anonymous or maybe it’s just a nutritionist. Maybe it’s AA or maybe it’s just…a nutritionist (or Moderation Management). I suspect most of you know, deep down, whether you’re killing yourself or not.

And if you’d never hassle an obese person for eating a healthy, reasonable portion of food in front of you — and I hope you wouldn’t — let’s also be careful teasing drinkers for cutting back. Let your friend get the half-pint, the water, the session beer, the root beer, in peace without joking or name-calling or exhortations to drink more. You don’t know what’s going on, and either way, 7th grade-level peer pressure is best left in 7th grade.

“Everything gives you cancer” vs “Stop drinking or die”
Eggs are good, eggs are bad, eggs are fine. Carbs are bad, carbs are fine, now gluten is bad. Coffee’s bad, green tea’s good, caffeine’s bad, coffee’s good but only if you’re a man…fuck it, I give up.

Joe Jackson was basically right: everything gives you cancer, if you count “everything” as “living on this toxic planet.” So yes, drinking beer increases my risk of breast cancer. So does living on earth. So did, I suspect, growing up in a town where a disproportionate number of my classmates’ parents seemed to get tumors when I was in school. I’m not going to give up a delicious beverage because it might piss off the wrong cell someday. Driving a car is hazardous to your health, and I do that, too. You gotta live.

But if you have an already-existing health condition that drinking is going to make a whole hell of a lot worse?

THEN STOP FUCKING DRINKING.

There’s no good way to segue out of that so I just will
This concludes the first and, I hope, only installment of Tough Love With East Bay Beer. Please do believe that it comes from a place of love, not of shit-stirring or paternalism. Take care of yourselves, friends. Peace out.

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Save the date: FraggleFest 2014

Someday, I will write an epic post about Fraggle and file it under “Beer history.” For now I file it under “it’s complicated” and “too soon.” But I would like to tell you about an event that he bloody well should have been at.

First, some background for those who don’t know. Fraggle — the one-named Oakland institution known to most in the beer community for co-founding Beer Revolution and being seen at pretty much every beer event ever — had a massive stroke at the end of June. It was like a neutron bomb hit Facebook: a fund was set up for his medical bills, fundraisers were planned, frequent updates were posted. We thought he’d be facing a long, tough, expensive rehab. Instead, on July 3 we found out that he had too little brain function to possibly survive. He was pronounced dead on Saturday, July 5.

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At Beer Revolution’s 1-year anniversary party, February 2011. Photo: Brian Stechschulte (http://www.alloverbeer.com/lend-hand-fraggle/)

Ale Industries was in the middle of a fundraiser at its Fruitvale brewery when the news broke, and the assembled group toasted him with Underberg shots (a Fraggle favorite). Commonwealth Cafe in Oakland went on with its fundraiser already planned for the next day — an emotional, raucous roof-raiser of an Irish-by-way-of-the-East-Bay wake.

There’s one more planned fundraiser that will march on as a memorial, FraggleFest 2014 at Linden Street Brewery on Sunday, August 24. It’s an apt venue, as it’s somewhere Fraggle worked and helped out both before and after his time at Beer Revolution, and he and Linden Street’s Adam were close. Some details are being shrouded in secrecy for the element of surprise, but it’s looking like a helluva beer fest and punk show, worth attending even if you never heard of Fraggle before just now. All the details are here.

This will be a large event and volunteers are needed. Email Marlene at mlsironi@gmail.com if you are interested in helping out. Give your email address, phone number, and whether you have beer pouring experience.

One last thing: Fraggle was an organ donor. Some of his donations reportedly saved several lives last week and others went to medical research. If this inspires you, and it should, register here.

To be continued, someday.

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Imagine a brewery here. Part 4: Temescal

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the adventures/frustrations of tracking down old East Bay breweries is trying to nail down the exact locations. Phone books and other documents of the pre-Prohibition era often gave only intersections (or less). Sometimes we could narrow it down to a corner and sometimes we took our best guess. Once, we guessed, then stumbled on some hard proof!

Kramm’s Anchor Brewery: Shattuck & 49th/50th

I’d read that Anchor Brewery (no relation to the one we know today in SF) had been at the corner of 49th & Telegraph in Temescal.

49thShattuck

Photo credit: Eric Pietras

Lacking any additional info, we guessed it was where the post office is now.

Photo credit: Eric Pietras

Photo credit: Eric Pietras

Eric took some pictures, then got a spidey sense about heading a little bit north and found this!

Photo credit: Eric Pietras

Photo credit: Eric Pietras

THERE WAS MUCH REJOICING! It turns out the brewery was actually located where this row of ticky-tacky dwellings is now.

Photo credit: Eric Pietras

Photo credit: Eric Pietras

That plaque is the only historical marker we found while searching for the area’s bygone breweries. Who do we petition to get a plaque in every one of these locations? So many projects, so little time…

Anyway, “Anchor Brewery” is difficult to google for all the obvious reasons — to make it more confusing, most of the breweries of that time made steam beer™. (Here’s a groovy blog post on that subject). But we do know a thing or two about “Kramm’s Anchor,” partially because the Kramm family was a hot-ass mess.

First, the beer community in the early 1900s was a small world, as it arguably is today. George Roehm worked at Anchor before founding Independent Brewing Company. Beer baron Joseph Raspiller invested in six breweries and Anchor was one of them. Finally, Anchor was one of the four breweries to merge and become Golden West.

As for the family drama, let’s start with Charles Kramm Sr., an immigrant from Hannover, Germany. He owned the Oakland Brewery with his next door neighbor Joseph Dieves. (More on Oakland Brewery later). Most reports place the founding of Kramm’s Anchor at 1894, but Charles Sr. died in 1892, of bowel cancer, at 56 years old, so I’m thinking the brewery must have come before that. He left a wife, Augusta, and four sons.

Charles Sr.’s widow Augusta was the turn-of-the-century Oakland equivalent of tabloid fodder. She remarried a mining industry guy, Anthony Simons. Her sons liked to say he married their mom for her brewery fortune, and son Henry got arrested in 1897 for socking his stepfather. (The straw that broke the camel’s back? “Henry and his brother Charles called at the Simons house and asked to see their mother. Simons told them that the ‘person’ for whom they were looking was away. To hear his mother spoken of as the ‘person’ angered Henry” and POW. Settle down, son…) After that, stepdad Simons went off to Alaska for 8 months to try and make some more money, and when he got home Augusta slammed the door in his face and told him off.

So, in 1899, Anthony Simons filed a “sensational divorce suit” against the brewery widow, charging her with cruelty and desertion. It might not have helped that she commissioned and installed a bronze bust of the late brewer Charles Sr. in her house the same month she got remarried. (Creepy…) Simons also accused the sons, then between 16 and 22, of being “physical giants” who conspired against him.  “The trial of the suit promises to create a stir in the German colony,” said the San Francisco Call.

Charles Sr.’s  “giant” sons stayed involved with brewing. His son Joseph Kramm brewed at Anchor until 1902 then bought the plant and helped run it until 1910, when he co-founded the Golden West mini-empire. Charles Kramm Sr’s son and Oakland city councilman Charles Kramm Jr. also got involved. All four brothers co-owned the brewery and it seemed like Charles Jr. and Joseph had the most involvement, at least until Charles Jr. died of tuberculosis.

Councilman/brewery owner Charles Kramm Jr. Photo credit: Oakland Wiki

Councilman/brewery owner Charles Kramm Jr. Photo credit: Oakland Wiki

Oakland Wiki says “After [Charles Jr’s] death, his widow and executor of his will sold Anchor Brewery to Augusta Simons [Charles Jr’s mom, Charles Sr.’s widow] for about $18,000. It appears he had already mortgaged the business to her and that the business was insolvent. No one else would buy it.” This was 1900-1901.

The brewery somehow lasted another 10 years as an independent entity before getting folded into Golden West. It would appear Augusta sold/gave the brewery back to son Joseph Kramm at some point, probably 1902. It was all over by 1911, so the photo at the site labeled “1918” is, in the end, a little less exciting than it could be.

Augusta married a third time, getting hitched to her first husband’s former bookkeeper at the brewery. Some people never learn.

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Free beer review: Ninkasi at Corners

I’m rocking the suburbs, just like Ninkasi Brewing did…

For today’s edition of the Free Beer Review, let’s talk beer dinners. If you’re the type of drinker who goes to beer dinners in the Bay Area, you’d probably say that six paired courses for $65 is a relative bargain. Based on attendance I’ve seen at Ninkasi Brewing events, I’d say the Oregon-based brewery has a lot of local fans. So a six-course Ninkasi beer dinner for $65? BART accessible to boot so you can get sloppy if that’s how you roll? Why wasn’t this sold out?

Because it was in Walnut Creek, not the beer-soaked playgrounds of SF or Oakland.

*sad trombone*

Well, all the better for me, because at the last minute the nice people at Ninkasi treated me to one of the remaining spots. (I know, with friends like these, any suburb can achieve instant greatness). I’d been meaning to check out the site of the dinner, Corners Tavern, because several of their awesome staff drink down the street at my workplace Øl. What a fine excuse to finally go!

I was mostly just having a good time rather than taking legit notes, but in defense of The Other Side of The Tunnel, here’s (roughly) what you missed:

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1) hors d’ouveres with Pravda Bohemian Pilsner: this was a new beer to me. Czech style pilsner isn’t a go-to style for me, but it was real nice to have one that hadn’t suffered from 6000 miles of shipping. The appetizers were of the fancy charcuterie and pickles variety, most if not all house-made. I am a fiend for pickles and cured meat but “Pace yourself,” went the self-talk. Five more courses (and beers) to go.

2) roasted asparagus and cabecou goat cheese, radish, pickled onion with Spring Reign Pale Ale: this was the first course that sent me to google (“cabecou?” Ok, I am not a cheese expert) and the first pairing that sounded wrong but totally worked. A west coast citrus-and-weed bomb of a pale ale wouldn’t make sense here, but the more gentle flavors of Spring Reign played surprisingly nicely with the asparagus. But really, you had me at “asparagus.”

3) lamb tartar, preserved lemon, olive, creme friache with Believer Double Red Ale: cowboy up, Walnut Creek, yer gittin’ some RAW LAMB! This is not your mother’s suburban restaurant. This course was hearty enough to punch Believer — which was tasting fantastic — right back in the face. Possibly the highlight of the meal for me. a) it was delicious beyond belief and b) I enjoy any meal that carries a credible threat of foodborne illness.

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4) charred yellowtail in its own broth with gently cooked spring vegetables with Total Domination India Pale Ale: I like yellowtail, though I’ve most often experienced it in cheap sushi. I like vegetables. I like IPA. I like being four beers in and chatting with cool people. What were we talking about again?

5) veal short rib braised with Parmesan, black trumpets, and peas with Tricerahops Double India Pale Ale: focus! you’ve got two more courses and they’re going to be fucking insane. This course exemplifies why fancy restaurants give small portions: any bigger a serving of something this rich and your mouth might explode. Throwing an IPA down my gullet with it kept me from total palate collapse.

6) chocolate and vanilla stout tart, granola, stout anglaise with Oatis Oatmeal Stout: I am Thanksgiving full. I am tipsy. I cannot possibly eat or drink any more. Oh. Yes I can. While the previous few pairings were based on contrast (fat vs. hops), this one was based on sweet chocolately harmony. Oh man.

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I’d forgotten that I do really enjoy beer dinners, especially the part where you’re geeking out on beer and food with like-minded people. But it was time for a week of simple home cooking after this. And yes, I’d love a ride back to BART, because I can barely walk.

If you’re not too cool to eat at a tablecloth restaurant down the street from a Maserati dealership, do yourself a favor and have yourself a meal and a beer at Corners sometime. They made magic with this beer dinner, including one pairing that won me over for a beer I previously hadn’t liked. (I ain’t tellin’.) And if you want to stop by Øl afterwards and tell me what a great beer blogger and all around delightful human being I am, hey, I won’t stop you.

You can follow Ninkasi Brewing on Facebook and Twitter and Corners Tavern on Facebook

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The year Ale Industries changed everything

When I arrived at Ale Industries’ new Oakland brewery space last week, owners Morgan Cox and Stephen Lopas were red-faced and squatting in the brewing area. Though we hadn’t set a specific time for my visit, I arrived at a momentous moment: they were making the final steam pipe connection for Ale Industries’ new biofuel boiler. The guys whooped a little at the completion of the task, then Morgan started to offer me a handshake before realizing his hands were covered in grease.

2014 may go down as the year Ale Industries changed (almost) everything, but the DIY ethic running through the brewery is the same. These are the folks who moved a commercial brewery from Concord to Oakland, one piece at a time, in a pick-up truck. The place that employed me last year bottling beer homebrew-style, with a counterpressure filler and a butterfly capper. The brewery whose new Concord taproom was mostly built by staff and friends. I suspect Morgan and Steve will always be willing to grab a toolbox and get in there, but they’ve also got bigger plans.

The Fruitvale Fermentation Factory is underway

Ale Industries had a good few years in the former EJ Phair space in Concord, in the same complex as MoreBeer. For various reasons, however, it was time to go. After a few locations near Jack London Square didn’t pan out, a space in Fruitvale did. They’re now in an old 6000-ish square foot factory at 3096 East 10th St.

Look at those high ceilings!

Look at those high ceilings!

The building has been around since at least the early 1900s, and has had past lives making things like tin brackets and license plates. It’s surrounded by the lofts, studios, and other factories of the Jingletown community. “Jingletown” sounds like a name made up by real estate agents afraid to say “Fruitvale,” but it’s been the name for this district within the Fruitvale neighborhood since most of the residents were Portuguese cannery workers. It’s going to be a fun place for an art-loving brewery to be. For one, some of the neighboring artists build big, bulky sculptures that are hard to display in a traditional setting, but they can be simply forklifted into a brewery.

The brewery is being divided into four quadrants. Obviously, there will be a brewing area and a fermenting area. One quadrant will hold barrels, lots of barrels — good news for fans of Ale Industries’ sour projects. The last fourth of the brewery will be a bar (we’ll get to that in a minute).

The desk, forklift, and hand-me-down Beer Revolution kegerator won't be there forever

The desk, forklift, and hand-me-down Beer Revolution kegerator won’t be there forever

And let’s not forget the new bottling line! As I said on Facebook when it was unveiled, “When I’m an old beer geek I look forward to the ‘I bottled for Ale Industries back when it was all by hand’ story. I may add that the walk to Detroit Ave was uphill both ways and snowy.” Three cheers for technology.

All I want for Christmas is a bioenergy flamethrower

Ale Industries has long employed biofuel to run the trucks that deliver its beer, not to mention Morgan’s house and his wife’s vehicle. One of the things they’re most psyched about in the new space is their biofuel boiler. While it’s impossible to know what every brewery on earth is doing, Ale Industries just might be the only brewery brewing this way.

Call it “biofuel,” “bioenergy,” or “biodiesel” — it usually starts with used vegetable oil that can be scored from restaurants. Basically, the boiler combusts vegetable oil to create steam to boil the wort. “It’s basically a huge flamethrower,” said Morgan. A carbon-neutral, clean-burning flamethrower. I’d say “economical,” but while biofuel is cheaper than traditional fuel, the boiler itself was expensive.

Morgan and the long-awaited green boiler

Morgan and the long-awaited green boiler

Rye’d Piper and burritos are in your future

The Fruitvale brewery is still a work in progress, but later this year it’ll be a place for growler fills, pints, music gigs, and art showings. They’re also tossing around the idea of having speakers come in to talk beer (with accompanying beer tastings, naturally).

The nearby Aloha Club claims the longest bar in Oakland, so Morgan said the Jingletown Jazz Room (the aforementioned fourth quadrant of the brewery) plans to have the second-longest bar in Oakland, in the second production brewery in post-Prohibition Oakland, at the second-coolest place to drink a beer in Oakland. The first post-Pro brewery in Oakland was Linden Street — what’s the first-coolest place to drink a beer in town? Morgan smiled and shrugged. “Up to you.” Fair enough.

Ale Industries will later pick up its old Concord practice of inviting food trucks to the brewery — both Fruitvale-based trucks and the newer guard trucks like Fists of Flour they’ve grown to love. In the meantime, there’s an excellent truck, El Novillo, parked a stone’s throw away in the parking lot of a sit-down restaurant. Ask for green onions along with your salsa and jalapenos.

The Fruitvale BART station is ridiculously close, but if you must drive, BART can probably still help you out with its parking lot, which is free after 3pm and on weekends and cheap other times. I can’t tell you how comfortable to be in this or any other neighborhood, but I will say if you are accustomed to urban areas such as SF or other parts of Oakland, you probably won’t find this part of Fruitvale intimidating (unless you’re scared of tacos).

Take BART!

Take BART!

Meanwhile, back in Concord…

Ale Industries moving its brewery to Oakland was bittersweet: Morgan is raising his family there, Steve spends a lot of time there, and it’s an exciting place to be right now. But they didn’t want to leave their Concord taproom regulars in the lurch. Enter The Pig & The Pickle Ale Industries Marketplace. The crew wanted it open in time for SF Beer Week, but having seen the space in December and January I was a little skeptical — plus, how many times have we heard “by SF Beer Week” as an (unmet) goal before? Surprise! They did it.

Steve and his girlfriend April hustling hard to build The Pig & The Pickle in January

Steve and his girlfriend April hustling hard to build The Pig & The Pickle in January

The goal is to make this a Concord showcase for what Ale Industries is doing in Oakland, plus offering locally-produced and sometimes house-made pickles, charcuterie, bread, and other goodies. Think one-stop shopping for a picnic with a growler and easily transportable chow. As of this writing, it’s all guest taps and bottles while the Oakland brewery gets up and running, but Ale Industries beer will be back on tap as soon as possible. In the future look for 8 taps, always a Two Rivers guest tap for your cider-loving friends, other guest taps if space allows, and bottles.

The Thursday open mic nights at the Detroit Ave brewery are now a thing of the past, but The Pig & The Pickle has picked up where the brewery artists’ markets left off with local art on the walls and a Meet the Artists night in mid-March. Manager, bartender, and all-around ass-kicker Maureen Gibe feels strongly about supporting local creative types — and seems to know every human being in Contra Costa County — so I expect cool things from this space.

This pallet-turned-planter may be Ale Industries in a nutshell

This pallet-turned-planter may be Ale Industries in a nutshell

The Pig & The Pickle is at 1960 Concord Ave, next door to the Old Hang Out and an easy stroll from EJ Phair and the future home of The Hop Grenade. There’s a little parking in the back but it’s also walking distance from Concord BART. For now, it’s open Monday – Thursday 4-10, Friday 3-10, Saturday 12-10, and Sunday 12-8. Hours will be extended to weekday lunch later on (and, disclosure, I’ll probably start pulling a shift there at that point).

February, before the AI beer ran dry...

February, before the AI beer ran dry…

I’ve seen the future, baby, it is thirsty

Even though the new brewery isn’t even fully functional yet, Ale Industries is looking ahead to its next one. “I see this as a five to seven year answer,” said Morgan. He envisions moving the stainless steel part of the operation into a bigger space later and keeping Fruitvale as a barrel-aging facility. The beer is doing well in Oregon and Southern California, and getting more beer to those markets and others is a goal (as is keeping Bay Area accounts happy, of course.) In the meantime, they have interesting projects in the pipeline like brewing a house beer for Burma Superstar.

We’ll have to wait and see what the next decade of Ale Industries holds. For now, Concord and Fruitvale are getting that much more beery and fun.

Follow Ale Industries on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

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Oakland beer ads, 1890s

First off, if you’ve been enjoying my beer history tidbits, you’ve got to check out what my friend Brian is doing over at BygoneBeer.com. Those old beer labels and drinking postcards are a trip!

Today’s local beer history comes to us from reader Aram Cretan of Oakland brewery-in-planning Federation Brewing. I haven’t run into this guy in a year; I love how beer history brings its relatively few devotees out of the woodwork. I enjoyed his email so much I’m just going to quote it in its entirety as a guest post. Enjoy this page (literally) out of 1890.

“I’m an Oakland history geek myself, and reading Beth Bagwell’s book sent me scrambling not just to the Oakland History Room at the library, but to the fantastic Betty Marvin, whose office in the rear corner of the Planning Department is just overflowing with awesome stuff–books, newspaper archives, plat maps, possibly some bodies. I actually had a permitting question for her, but after quickly dispensing with the boring stuff, we got down to the business of pinning down the exact location of the church my great-grandfather had been the pastor of (demolished, as were so many wonderful things in Oakland, for a freeway.) While I was poring over old phone books, she found the attached newspaper clipping, from the Oakland Daily Evening Tribune, Wednesday January 15, 1890.

OakTrib_1890_1_15

(click to zoom in)

“On the bottom right, there’s an ad for Kramm and Dieves Oakland Brewery, corner of Telegraph and Durant, which is now Berkeley. They claim to be the largest brewery in the county, an important distinction when contrasted with the ad further up the page for John Wieland’s Celebrated Lager Beer, which claims to have produced 122k barrels in 1888. (I presume that’s not a 31gal BBL, because that would be crazy.) John Wieland’s Lager was later produced by Pacific Brewing and Malting in San Jose, which was at the time known as San Francisco Breweries or perhaps Fredricksburg Brewing Company. (http://www.taverntrove.com/brewery.php?BreweryId=1906)

“You might also note that the DRUNKENNESS caused by all of this beer can be Positively Cured by administering Dr. Klaines Golden Specific, and that Hood’s Sarsaprilla seems to have pioneered the “Head On! Apply Directly To Forehead!” approach. Love these old newspapers.”

Thanks Aram! Look for Federation Brewing as soon as the Oakland commercial real estate gods smile on ‘em.

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Why I don’t call it “craft beer”

There’s a reason this blog isn’t called East Bay Craft Beer. Part of it is that I’ve been around long enough to remember when beers I liked were called “microbrew,” and if I’m still running this site in 15 years I don’t want to have to change the name. But beyond my big-picture musings about the evolution of industry jargon, “craft beer” is generally not a phrase I use. Increasingly, it’s not a phrase I like.

This isn’t an assault on anyone with “craft beer” in their organization name, Twitter handle, etc. Caring if you use the phrase “craft beer” would be quite a self-inflicted first-world problem. This is an explanation of why I don’t often use the phrase “craft beer” and why I’d like to see our language and beer culture evolve past the point where it serves any purpose.

So what do I like to call it? “Beer.” Here’s why.

“Craft” has become an unregulated marketing term, not a real adjective
Any restaurant can call itself “authentic.” Similarly, though it’ll result in uproar on the Internet, anyone can use the word “craft.”

Exhibit A: Everything Sold At The Yankees’ New “Craft Beer” Stand Is Owned By MillerCoors, And Half Of Them Aren’t Actually Beers

Abracadabra! You're craft beer!

Abracadabra! You’re craft beer!

The closest thing we have to an “official” definition of craft comes from the Brewers Association. They’ve (several times) changed the definition of “small” and more recently changed the definition of craft to include some popular adjunct lagers. Does this latter move make Yeungling better than Budweiser? No, it does not. The Brewers Association does a lot of great work for the industry, but craft or crafty or who cares.

Some say a different definition of craft would help. Personally, I’d rather ditch the word than regulate it. I’m done with the amateur beer industry sport of arguing about what “craft” means.

Why should I have to change my name?
In the movie Office Space, the character Michael Bolton (“no, it’s just a coincidence”) is asked why he doesn’t go by “Mike” instead of “Michael.”

He replies, “No way. Why should I change? He’s the one who sucks.”

I call it beer. I don’t see why I should change it, because my beer doesn’t suck. (Not all macro beer sucks, and some craft beer does, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.) Belgian and German and English beer of all styles existed long before American beer culture got screwed up by Prohibition and our beer ceased to have flavor for decades. Trappist monks didn’t need to call it craft and I don’t think we do either.

I like to be specific
What do you like about “craft” beer? That it tastes good? That the brewers and/or owners are our friends and/or neighbors? That it’s “small”? (or smaller than a company you don’t like?). That it’s creative? That it’s family-owned with a succession plan in place? That it has ethical business practices? Does it need to be low-budget and DIY? Does it need to be strongly flavored or high in alcohol? “Craft” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I like to say exactly what I like about a beer instead of using a blanket term that implies that an entire business category is better than another. “Local,” “small” and “yummy” aren’t perfect either, but they get closer to an actual description.

Lessons_from_the_Hundred-Acre_Wood_-_Use_Your_Words

It sounds like an ad
I know, time is money and sometimes you’ve got to take a shortcut to get your point across succinctly: “20 craft beers on tap,” “craft brewed in [insert city here],” whatever. But I find that most of the time you need a quick soundbite, it’s an ad. If I’m giving free advertising it’s going to be for a brewery or beer I like, not for an entire business sector.

I can’t speak to what the value of the word “craft” is for a brewery or a bar that has a brand involving that word. I only know that as a bartender I’ve never once been asked if a beer is craft or not, and as a consumer the phrase “craft beer” does not roll trippingly off my tongue. I’m gonna ask my husband if he wants to grab a beer after work, not if he wants to grab a craft beer. And I personally enjoy writing the way I speak.

Wishful thinking
There’s a bit of utopianism going on when I call both Natty Lite and 3 Fonteinen Gueuze “beer.” For too long in America, “beer” mostly meant one flavor. I think we should get that word back and have it mean all flavors. When most Americans think “beer,” they think the lite yellow stuff that still dominates the market. I want to do my part to change that. Won’t Joe Macro Drinker be more likely to try one of our beers if we don’t make it sound all fancy and different?

It’s yet another image problem beer has but wine doesn’t. Wine is generally called “wine.” It’s subpar (or perceived to be subpar) wine that gets an adjective, like “cheap wine,” “box wine,” “jug wine,” or “chateau de screw top.”

And in 100 years we’ll all be dead anyway
In short, I’ll know what you’re talking about it if you call it beer. I think I’ll also know what you’re getting at if you call it craft beer (or microbrew). We could argue about it all day, but enough of this and let’s drink one! Cheers.

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Forty more taps coming to downtown Berkeley

It’d be a decent question for a Bay Area beer trivia game: name all the bars Chuck Stilphen owns or co-owns. The Trappist, Mikkeller Bar SF, Trappist Provisions, and ØL (where I work), right? Get ready for a fifth one.

Downtown Berkeley’s already good beer options are going to get even better when Chuck and Mikkeller SF executive chef Mike O’Brien open Perdition Smokehouse. It’ll be at 2050 University Ave, which has seen several businesses come and go (Amadeus, Zaika, Meridian…) since I moved to the Bay Area in 2009. The new building owner has already taken a step towards breaking the curse by fixing up the previously unused outside space. Perdition will be installing outdoor seating for about 50, on top of the indoor capacity of about 80.

The future site of Perdition's beer/BBQ garden. Stolen from Facebook.

The future site of Perdition’s beer/BBQ garden. Stolen from Facebook.

Expect forty taps, mostly American craft (this ain’t the Trappist) and some serious BBQ. They’re having a smoker built in Texas and Chuck is in Austin and Lockhart this week checking out the local flavor. The space has two kitchens, and one of them will be a commercial kitchen for making Mikkeller sausages and hot sauce to sell to other retailers.

Like all businesses involving alcohol, delays are inevitable, but with any luck Perdition will be open by June. You can follow its progress at its Facebook page. 

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SF Beer Week (the little I saw of it)

That’s it. Stick a fork in SF Beer Week. I had some good times and some good beers, and I also worked harder than I have in a long time to serve up beery delights to the masses. I didn’t have a lot of time or energy to explore, but I do work at a beer bar and have an Internet connection, so I have some observations nonetheless. Here’s what I saw from on the clock and on my phone…

The eastward suburbs are thirsty: I thought SF Beer Week might not be so crazed for me because I work all the way out in Walnut Creek — nope. I had some of the most hectic shifts of my life last week. Maureen over at The Pig and the Pickle, Ale Industries’ new Concord taproom (holy cow, it’s open! yay!) says it was nuts over there too. The opening of new places like Hop Grenade and Sunol Ridge (more on those soon) and the continued popularity of the BN Winter Brews fest in Concord will only push things further along. There is life outside SF and Oakland, and it’s getting beerier all the time.

Iron Springs is now a rock star brewery: I’ve been complaining forever that one of my favorite local breweries, Iron Springs, is criminally underrated. I went to an Iron Springs event at Barclay’s last year that looked like a normal Tuesday. Those days are at least temporarily gone since Iron Springs Compulsory took first place in a blind judging of triple IPAs at the Bistro DIPA fest this month. Have you seen people frantically gathering around the bar half an hour before the event asking when you’re tapping the Iron Springs beers? I have, and you will. It’s about time.

Obligatory boring brewer-with-the-tanks pic

Obligatory boring brewer-with-the-tanks pic

Cellarmaker is still killing it: Have you been to visit these boys in SF yet? Go now. Solid line-up all around. IPAs, sours, funky brett saisons, dark and roasty beers — all on point. A little something for almost everyone and not a loser in the bunch. They’re raising the bar for what to expect from a new brewery.

Barrel-aged Calicraft beers? Barrel-aged Calicraft beers. I’ve got barrel-aging fatigue, but sauvingnon blanc-aged Buzzerkeley was my favorite of Calicraft’s tap takeover on Saturday. C’mon and open that Walnut Creek taproom, Blaine…

Free at noon? Go to Triple Rock: I went to Triple Rock at lunchtime two days last week, once for an event and once just to drink some Dimmer Switch, and it was lively but not insane. Jesse and Kurt ran a tight ship as always. If you dismiss this place because it’s near Cal or you had a bad beer there in 1989 or whatever bogus reason some of you apparently still have for dismissing it, you’re missing out.

Good morning sunshines

Good morning sunshines

This Pliny the Younger shit is seriously out of control: I know, I know. It’s been out of control for years. But you used to be able to go up to the pub in Santa Rosa on, say, 11:30am on a Monday for lunch and a beer without waiting in line stretching down the block. Based on what I heard this year, those days are gone. Russian River is a favorite brewery of mine and always will be, but enough already. Wake me when it’s safe to go back there.

On the other hand, I feel like this year saw the full release of “Pliny the Backlash.” I’m guilty because I’ll be the first to say I’m not going to wait in that kind of line for beer. Apparently if you’re *really* cool, the thing to do is say the Younger sucks this year. (For extra beer hipster points, say it’s always sucked or that Russian River sucks.) Dude, it’s Russian River…I’m sure it’s delicious. But as I like to say, NO beer is THAT good.

Coming out of SFBW without a single hangover is weird: SF Beer Week is over — I’m ready to drink some beer! ;) The rest of you, enjoy SF Water Week. Cheers.

If your Wii Fit looks like this during SF Beer Week, you may be a bartender...

If your Wii Fit looks like this during SF Beer Week, you may be a bartender…

Disclosures: I work part-time for Ale Industries, and my biased love of all things Triple Rock and Iron Springs is not news to anyone.

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SF Beer Week in Review

SF Beer Week 2014 ended for me Saturday night. SF Water And Health Food Week begins presently. All told, I managed to carve my own little festival out of the huge number of events, and had a damn good bit of fun while doing it. SF Beer Week is always a good reminder that I am extremely privileged to live amidst one of the most creative and vital craft beer cultures in the world. It makes the fact that it costs an arm and a leg to live here more palatable, at least for ten days. With renewed sobriety at the end of a bout of functional alcoholism comes some reflection, so here’s a few personal thoughts I’ve had from the week:

Beer Talks: Almanac’s beer tends to fall outside of my price point, so I don’t get to enjoy it very often and find the ‘Farm-to-Bottle’ and ‘Beer is Agriculture’ branding to be a Portlandia skit in the process of writing itself. These critiques notwithstanding, Jesse Friedman co-founded a successful business based on high-quality beer, and he did us all a big solid this year with Beer Talks, and he deserves our absolute respect and thanks for putting together what I think was one of the best events of the week. Alternately informative and entertaining, the speaker lineup was perfectly curated to appeal to anyone and everyone who cares about beer. Whether it was the detailed yet accessible discussion of barrel aging by FiftyFifty’s Todd Ashman, the hilarous and incredibly pertinent observations of HenHouse’s Collin McDonnell on the craft beer industry (if SFBW 2014 has a tagline, it’s ‘alcohol is fucking magical’), or hearing Mark Carpenter talk about Anchor in the 1970′s the audience was engaged, things were learned, and we’re all better for it. Also, there was beer (one for each speaker) and a nice assortment of snacks. In relative terms I sense it’s logistically easy to add another tap takeover, food pairing or another sour event to SFBW’s event roster. Indeed, Beer Week now contains hundreds of these. It takes a much greater amount of care to put together an event of this caliber where SFBW becomes gathering of an interested community instead of another line for Pliny. Thanks Jesse, and more next year please.

East Bay Brew Fest: If Beer Talks was an example of the best of Beer Week, this year’s East Bay Brew Fest just didn’t quite measure up in my view. I remember in 2012 the Fest had 13 breweries; despite the growing number of East Bay brewers since then this one only had nine (or was it eight?) and the space looked and felt empty. Look, I understand that it’s a long week and not everyone has enough staff or beer to be multiple places at once, and yes, sometimes a day off from events is necessary just for the sake of preserving mental health. But if there’s going to be an event to celebrate the unique take on brewing that sets the East Bay apart from the City or elsewhere, then my pony request is that the breweries that make up this group are invited/wrangled into the event, pour their beer (and maybe something other than just the flagships to help make the night special) and take advantage of this extra chance to interact with the people who buy their beer but can’t get to (or afford) the opening gala. A bit of extra effort here would be nice, folks. Just sayin’.

Meanwhile, back in SF: It wasn’t widely publicized and was not a SFBW event, but Magnolia held a sneak peek party at their Dogpatch restaurant location on Saturday, which will in a few weeks’ time be up and running. They’ve been brewing out of this early 20th century warehouse/industrial location for a time now, which obviously has added to their overall capacity. The party was fun: beer was poured, conversations ensued and what has been a years-long saga of delays looks to be nearing an end. I’ve always been a fan of Dave, Ben and Magnolia beer in general, and I’m happy to see this project finally nearing its close. Triple Voodoo’s new taproom is two blocks away on 20th, so a short stumble connects them both and puts the neighborhood firmly on the beer map.

I think from my perch, the bottom line is that SFBW is at its best during events that bring out a sense of community and interaction between beer fans and the people who make their beer. There will always be shitshow-y lines and crowded bar events, and while it seems there are more of these every year, I look forward to an expansion of thoughtfully planned opportunities like Beer Talks where we can get to know one another better as well.  Hope you all enjoyed the week as much as I did. I’m sure I’m leaving some other thoughts out, but for now it’s time for another glass of water.

Collin

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