In this issue
Chef Paton's Dinner with Brewmaster Vinnie Cirliuzo
Toronado, the world's best craft beer pub
Brews in the News:
New beers I discover in California
The Brew Crew:
Great beers at the Fishmarket Taproom in Numazu
Why can't Americans get the izakaya style of drinking?
AIDS Walk Auction - World Burp Beer & a Brews in the News 6-pack!
Book Review - Tokyo Pub Crawler: a his & her bar guide
Beer Over Here
Chef Paton's Dinner with Brewmaster Vinnie Cirliuzo
Dinner with the Brewmaster by Executive Chef Bruce Paton, Cathedral Hill Hotel, San Francisco. June 21, 2002. The unique and well-crafted beers of award-winning brewer Vinnie Cilurzo (Russian River Brewing Co., Guerneville, California) inspired Chef Paton to create a full-on French bistro style dinner to match the three Belgian-inspired ales and one hopped-up West Coast style ale Russian River Brewing sent down for the meal.
As guests were arriving, we were treated to some hors d'oeuvres with Russian River Hop 2 It, a hoppy ale with a medium body. This would be the last of anybody would see of so-called "normal" West Coast microbrew. The remaining three varieties would be beers affected to some degree by yeast containing Brettanomyces (those interested should do a search on the Internet), which gives beer a strongly acidic tartness, and when the beer is too cold, it offers up hints of a flavor I can only describe as like aspirin. This is also a major flavor component of lambic beers.
The first course was a seared Skate (kind of white fish) filet with brown butter and capers, paired with Russian River Damnation Ale, a tart malty extravaganza which would prove to be the evening's mildest of the three.
Second up was a Hangar Steak with Potato Gratin and Roasted Shallot Sauce, accompanied by an abbey style beer called Pliny the Elder, who apparently was the man who first recognized hops.
Dessert was an assortment of French Cheeses so generous that I took the remainder home and my family and I schmeared the cheese on bagels each morning for the better part of a week. We had a triple cream ripe cheese, a slightly firmer cheese with a moldy ash streak through it, and then an even harder cheese on the border between Limburger and Gruyere. With the cheeses was Apple Fennel Walnut Salad. The beer was the sweetest of the three, Temptation Ale, which seemed to have an extra dose of "Brett" to counteract the powerfully sweet malt in a high-wire balancing act of flavors.
The cost of this feast? Just $60 per person, including tax and tip. Put that in yen and you have an evening of just beer at Brussels or Belgo.
All I can say is that if you happen to be in San Francisco on July 19th, make reservations now for Bruce Paton's next Dinner with the Brewmaster, with beers from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Bruce says he's been saving a keg of last year's Celebration Ale in his huge walk-in fridge just for the occasion.
The dinners are held at the Cathedral Hill Hotel at the corner of Geary & Van Ness. Dinner patrons are eligible for rooms at drastically reduced rates on the evening of the dinner, so you only need worry about the elevator ride afterward. For more details, e-mail email@example.com or phone the hotel office in charge at +1-415-674-3415.
Toronado in San Francisco - The World's Best Craft Beer Bar
Okay, call me biased. For the past 13 years, I have been spending two months in San Francisco every summer. (It's a great city, as is Tokyo, so don't ask me to choose one over the other.) Just as Sasagin in Yoyogi Uehara is my favorite place on earth to drink sake, the Toronado is my favorite joint in the world to drink microbrew beer on tap. Okay, life's rough - big deal.
When it comes to taps, Toronado's current list numbers 46, and while several places in SF have more taps, nobody but nobody has a better selection. All great brews, and no crap. When you see taps for Anchor Brewing's Old Foghorn Barleywine and Boonville Boont Amber, Schneider Aventinus and Ayinger Celebrator, Sierra Nevada Pale Bock and Marin Brewing Mt. Tam Pale Ale, Chimay White and Kasteel Dark, and both Drake's Real Ale and Cantillion Apricot Lambic on handpump for chrissakes, you gotta know you're in the right place. Owner Dave Keene is to be congratulated for choosing the best of the best.
And that's just what's on draft. The bottled beer list is close to 100, with about 80% of those from Belgium, with maybe half of the rest being Belgian styles from Canada, France, Holland, and the U.S.
On Monday, June 24 I was lucky to be at the Toronado when they celebrated the arrival of Chimay White on tap. That evening, the Chimay U.S. importer Manneken-Brussel Imports (check out their cool website at www.mbibeer.com) sprung for a seemingly endless supply of hot sausages from the highly acclaimed Rosamunde sausage shop next door (see http://come.to/rosamunde).
Toronado pours a 250 ml goblet of Chimay White for $4.75 - rather expensive for SF; but add a small tip for the bartender and it's still less than 700 yen. On the other hand, most draft pints at are around $3.50, or $2.50 during the Happy Hour(s) between 11:30 and 6 p.m. If you're a beer lover coming from Tokyo, you've come to paradise.
No food is served at Toronado, though customers are most welcome to bring in their own food. You can hardly do better than the Rosamunde sausages next door, but many of the other take-out restaurants on the block are also pretty good.
547 Haight St.
San Francisco CA
Brews in the News
Beer from the U.S. West Coast, Quebec and even Germany!
Exceptional, among the best of its type in the world.
Highly recommended, without hesitation or fine print.
Recommended as being good, interesting, worth a try.
|| Some people may like it; otherwise close but no cigar.
We don't think you'll like it, but there's some reason why we mention
it. You're on your own with this one.
We recommend that you avoid this product.
Despite what the teaser title says the only real "discoveries" in this batch are the Russian River India Pale Ale, Big Daddy India Pale Ale and Clausthaler Golden Amber (non-alcoholic). The others are old favorites I head straight for when I arrive in San Francisco.
La Fin Du Monde (Unibroue, Quebec) - 9% abv, triple fermented, all malt with hops and wild spices. Bright golden, short but dense white head, lovely Belgian Tripel aroma of sweet wheat and barley malt, candy sugar and yeast, yeast, yeast. Juicy fresh tropical fruit flavors backed by a triumvirate of tartness, hops, and just plain high alcohol. This awesomely power-flavored blonde ale just kicks butt, and ranks right up there with the best Belgian tripels. Viva Quebec. We in North America should be so lucky. By the way, the name means "the ends of the earth." www.unibroue.com
Fred (Hair Of The Dog Brewing Co., Oregon U.S.A.) - 4.5% abw, all malt. Hazy deep golden hue, thick off-white head, and more aroma than you can drive a truck through. That may also be an apt description of Fred Eckhardt, the dean of American beer writers and the totally swell guy that this beer was named after. What more can be said about this beer, which I believe ranks as one of the world's classics. What more can you say about a beer the label describes as incorporating "ten hop varieties from five different countries. Through the use of aromatic and rye malt, the beer achieves a unique balance of flavors." What we have here is a giant of a brew; enormously unique, hugely complex flavor, and a massive wall of alcohol to lift all of this taste and aroma to a higher plane (in the same way that alcohol is added to ginjo-shu to make the aromas jump out. I have written about this beer before, and the only new observation I can make is that the larger 50 ounce bottles contain a much more mellower, softer version of Fred than this little 12 ouncer. If you're fortunate enough to have experience the difference, consider yourself an expert. www.hairofthedog.com
Pranqster Belgian Style Golden Ale (North Coast Brewing Co., U.S.A.) - 7.6% abv, brewed with a mixture of antique yeast strains and flavoring elements, other ingredient information unavailable. Glowing golden orange with a faint bit of haze, very light head, subdued malty aroma. Solid malt structure, with some hop counterpoint, while tartness and spice stay in the background, with just a faint echo of hops lingering in the finish. This tastes quite different from the Pranqster I had last year, so apparently the recipe has been changed to make this a heavier, more solid beer with a less yeasty and fizzy character. While this new version is closer to the Belgian ale Bush than the Orval it more resembled before, it is every bit as wonderful. www.northcoastbrewing.com
Ruth "All American Ale" (Hair Of The Dog Brewing Co., Oregon U.S.A.) - 4.5% abw, all malt. Hazy light yellow, thick sudsy head, with a funky and unmistakably Belgian yeast aroma overpowering the rest of the bouquet. This carries over into the taste, which is squarely in Belgium. We have sweetness punctuated by a pungently tart and in-your-face yeastfest. There seems to be wheat malt, tons of actively flocculating yeast, and plenty of bittering hops. More specifically, this reminds me of the many saison and 'farmhouse' Belgian ales one often finds at the Brussels beer bar chain. Sorry, but for as much respect I have for this brewery, "All American" is all wrong for Ruth. However, this is one good and interesting brew, and I plan to take a bottle to Yamada-san at Bois Cereste and see which Belgian HE thinks it tastes like. I will also lay down a few more bottles in the fridge for an 18-to-24-month chill-out, which I believe will smooth out all the rough edges in this brews. www.hairofthedog.com
Sierra Nevada Summerfest (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., California U.S.A) - 4.5% abv, all malt, bottom fermented. Beautifully clear medium yellow, coarse sudsy white head. Powerful malt aroma with floral and herbal hop notes. Welcoming juicy and tangy malt flavor with a rather quick finish, leaving only the hops to linger. I drank this not as cold as people here normally drink it, and believe that is the way to enjoy this well-crafted lager the most. Far more interesting than most German lagers, but just as refreshing. www.sierra-nevada.com
Russian River India Pale Ale (Russian River Brewing Co., California U.S.A.) - 6.5% abv, all malt, 72 IBU. Deep yellow, fine thick head, intense hop aroma. The original India Pale Ales brewed in England were apparently lighter in color, so this may be more accurate to original style. But what makes the most difference is how it tastes, and this one stands out among all the other very good IPAs one finds on the West Coast these days. We have a light yet complex malt flavor, and some sort of clever method of hop additions during the boil to give this beer high bitterness, but very little of the harshess which normally accompanies high bittering levels. At 72 IBU (International Bittering Units) it has tons of fresh hop aroma, but is smoother and more agreeable than other beers in this range. (For your reference, Budweiser is about 11 IBU.) This well-crafted beer is all the more amazing when you consider that the man who brewed it, Vinnie Cilurzo, is not quite 30? When I was his age I could hardly comprehend the quality of the kind of beers he makes, much less try to make them myself.
Clausthaler Golden Amber (non-alcoholic) (Binding Brewery, Germany) - less than 0.5% abv, all malt and brewed according to the German Purity Law). While I seldom drink non-alcoholic beers, I have a strong appreciation for those made well in much the same way as I have a deep admiration for vegetarian cuisine, even though I am not a vegetarian. Since my favorite N/A brew of all time is Issumer Alt N/A from Dusseldorf, which was so flavorful and well made that I couldn't believe there was no alcohol in it, and my other favorites are also from Germany, when I spied the new amber version of Clausthaler, I was fairly certain I would be impressed. Since I'd only encountered the Issumer Alt N/A once, back in the early 90s, I normally go for the regular Clausthaler lager type N/A when I'm after a tasty N/A beer. So what's the review? Golden amber, dense yet short-lived head, grainy "corn flake" aroma. Sweetness comes on strong and stays there, lingering until it clashes with the hop bitterness, since the malt and hops here just don't mesh. This was at a moderately chilled temperature, so later I tried another which was deeply chilled, which showed a general overall improvement in the flavor profile. It was sharper, brisker and showed better flavor integration, though all this occurred at the lower flavor levels unavoidable with colder temps.
Big Daddy India Pale Ale (Speakeasy Brewing Co., San Francisco U.S.A.) - 6.5% abv, all malt. Light golden color, forward hop aroma, with malt in the background. Thrillingly complex malt profile, quickly met by a nice blast of hops. They sort of do a tag-team wrestling match on your palate for about 15 seconds. By the time the finish comes around, you'll realize how cleverly balanced this beer is. This is a relatively new San Francisco microbrewery that has its beer pretty much all around town these days. They have a fairly complete product line, with some great names and labels. Check out their not-so-modestly named website at www.goodbeer.com
Great beers at the Fishmarket Taproom in Numazu
From left: Bay Steam, Biere du Mikan, Three Sisters Pale Ale, and Rising Sun WPA.
From left: Teikoku IPA, Angry Boy Brown Ale, Kurofune Porter.
I don't care how much someone says they love beer, in Tokyo it's only the hard core beer enthusiasts who will commit to, and actually join, the 2-1/2 hour Beer Trek to one of my favorite brewpubs anywhere, the Fishmarket Taproom in Numazu.
While a handful of people said they'd join, by departure time on Saturday morning my only fellow traveler was Mike Kubiak of Tokyo Brewing Company (www.tokyo-ale.com), which offered their Tokyo Ale No.3 to thirsty palates around town until the brewery which supplied their beer was forced to close earlier this year. Tokyo Ale is currently in "reset" mode as they consider various options to continue their business.
We arrived at the Fishmarket Taproom in mid-afternoon, and drank Bryan Baird's superb beer creations until just before 10 p.m., when we had to cab it to the station to make the last train back to Tokyo. We'd planned on leaving hours earlier, but...you can imagine the rest of the story. So let me tell you about the beers.
Bay Steam - Reddish amber. The hops are full on in the aroma, and carry over into the flavor. Rich malt flavors, yet a comparatively light body. This is a superbly crafted beer that will capture the hearts of hopheads.
Biere du Mikan - Cloudy tan. Fruity acidity with a nice tartness, though not so much a citrus taste as a citrus vibe. But c'mon, mikans are about as mild as citrus gets, so it's natural it would get completely lost in a beer. However, since Numazu is in Shizuoka, which is famous for its mikan, it's easy to see why brewer Bryan Baird gave this one a shot. From what he tells me, though, the locals are coming in and drinking this stuff down.
Three Sisters Pale Ale - Whoa, is this beer good. Mike says it is "Nutty, almost like peanut butter, you know, creamy." Very smooth malt structure, balanced by a floral hop aroma and complex spicy hop notes in the flavor. Way good.
Rising Sun WPA (Wheat Pale Ale) - Dusky aroma with faint tartness, low bitterness in flavor, with brisk wheat malt flavor.
Teikoku IPA (India Pale Ale) - Amber orange, heavy malt aroma. Deep rich malt flavors on first taste, which give way to a long and lasting bitterness.
Angry Boy Brown Ale - Deep brown color with red highlights, very little aroma, mild flavor and very easy drinking. This is a great, well-balanced session beer.
Kurofune Porter - Kurofune means "black ships" and that's exactly what this stealth masterpiece is. We have an opaque black brew that is astonishingly smooth and velvety, but the complex dark flavors - toffee, flinty, mineral, deeply roasted coffee - all merge nicely on the palate and unfold gradually in polite layers. If I was a chess master, I would sip this sparingly during a game. Plenty to ponder, and enjoy. Here's to you, Mr. Baird.
Join the Brew Crew - Readers are encouraged to volunteer! Drop a note to firstname.lastname@example.org telling what kind of beers you like to drink and when you are available. Our next Brew Crew tasting will be on August 24th.
Why can't Americans get the izakaya style of drinking?
Bringing a lamb sausage in an artisinal bread bun with all the fixings from Rosamunde next door into the Toronado to wolf down with my goblet of Chimay White I thought that going out for a beer couldn't get any better than this. Yet this was a freakish exception in the U.S., where a night out drinking beer is done after the dinner, and practically never with it unless you happen to be lucky enough to be in a brewpub with good food.
It's an American cultural thing, I suppose, which seems to have puritanical bent on separating alcohol from daily life whenever and wherever possible. Oh, I know, there's good wine in restaurants, but that ends when dinner does. Doesn't anybody know about the grand yet plebian practice of enjoying bits of really good food while enjoying a night of drinking with friends?
Those familiar with Japan's yakitori and izakaya cultures will know well of what I write about. Tasty but thankfully small morsels of diligently prepared food to accompany your drinks, not during "dinner" but all night long, as you wish.
But this is not just Japan - it seems to be the way of every country I have been in except for the U.S. and Canada, bastions of North American puritan correctness.
Separating alcohol consumption from everyday public life is to create a special haven that is particularly friendly for alcohol abusers, while making more moderate consumers less comfortable by removing the comforts of good food consumption.
The other night I was in a snazzy, fashionable bar on the upper part of Polk Street in San Francisco. An upscale Russian Hill neighborhood with great restaurants of its own, but just blocks away from Chinatown, North Beach and Fisherman's Wharf. I dropped into the bar a bit before 11 p.m. to have a pint before going back to where I was staying.
Sadly, the bar was just a "bar" and the only food to be had was in small paper sacks on the rack. Right, potato chips. This is what they had to eat with my pint of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, one of the world's great brews.
I stayed about 15 minutes. But I would have been there for 90 minutes, and would have spent a lot more money, if they would have replaced the four large screens of the sports channel with a small one-man yakitori operation.
Do you think that America will ever learn to drink and eat like the rest of the world does? Will Americans ever get the izakaya style of drinking?
AIDS Walk Auction
World Burp Beer & a 6-pack of this month's Brews in the News 6-pack
By now you've been asked enough to sponsor me at this year's AIDS Walk in San Francisco. Several readers have been kind enough to offer donations, but the one from Phred Kaufman was a bit out of the ordinary. So I decided to make an offer myself, and now there are two different beer items on the auction block.
World Burp Beer (three cases) delivered to your home
"I'll send three cases of my World Burp Beer to the highest bidder, with the money going to sponsor you on the AIDS Walk" is his offer. That's a whole summer's worth of beer, 72 cans, with a retail value of about 10,000 yen, and you don't need to carry it back from the store - it will be delivered to any Japan address. Best of all, the beer has just ceased production, and the cans are certain to become collectors items. Hoard all 72 empties, and ten years from now you could sell them and have a tidy sum. Beer can collectors are totally nuts, I know. Starting bid is 5,000 yen.
Premium 6-pack of this month's Brews in the News
In the spirit of Phred's offer, I will offer a six pack of this month's Brews in the News to the highest bidder, with the money going to sponsoring me in the AIDS Walk. Of the eight beers reviewed this month:
1. La Fin Du Monde
3. Pranqster Belgian Style Golden Ale
4. Ruth "All American Ale"
5. Sierra Nevada Summerfest
6. Russian River India Pale Ale
7. Clausthaler Golden Amber (non-alcoholic) (
8. Big Daddy India Pale Ale
I will hand carry any six of them back to Tokyo in August and present them to the highest bidder after August 25th. Starting bid is 2,000 yen.
How to make a bid:
Send your bids to me at email@example.com Tell me which beers you are bidding on and what your bid is. DEADLINE is Friday, July 12th
1. Bids on the World Burp Beer must be at least 5,000 yen.
2. Bids on the Brews in the News 6-pack must be at least 2,000 yen, and you must specify which six beers (of the eight) you want.
Bidders will be notified after July 12th on their rank in the bidding process and will be given until July 18th to make a higher offer.
Tokyo Pub Crawler: a his & her bar guide by Dan Riney & Gia Payne
First of all, this is not really a beer book, a wine book, a cocktail book or any book specializing in any kind of drink. Secondly, I don't concur with some of their ratings of bars in Tokyo. Dan and Gia give high points to places I wouldn't be seen dead in, while they really hammer places I think are some of the nicest in Tokyo.
But that's precisely why it's so good - Dan and Gia call them as they see them, and pull no punches. This much honesty, irreverence and just plain hilarious description is a breath of fresh air amidst the ordinary English-language books published in Japan. It's by far one of the most refreshing, realistic and uninhibited books about Tokyo life I've read since coming to Japan 25 years ago. They pull no punches as they rate and give succinct and spot-on descriptions of drinking holes ranging from Gas Panic, Wall Street, Bar Isn't It? and Castillo to nice places even I go to, such as Mother, Belgo, Frigo and The Pink Cow.
Tokyo Pub Crawler couldn't be more user-friendly. It's well organized, small enough to fit into a jacket pocket, and costs only 1,000 yen, less than the price of two drinks, making it certain to pay for itself with the first lousy (yet highly advertised in the English-language press) pub you manage to avoid. Wisely arm yourself with a copy, even if you aren't going out, because it's such a fun read. And get copies for your friends living back in wherever.
Tokyo Pub Crawler is available at English-language bookstores around Tokyo. Or, you can get a copy direct from the publisher, Alexandra Press, by contacting Caroline Pover at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hop Pellets, 13 varieties from Cascade to Willamette, with alpha acid ratings. 100 yen for 30 grams, plus shipping.
Contact Chris at email@example.com
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Our Next Issue
Beer Over Here - More from San Francisco
Bar Beat - Bay Area beer spots
Brews in the News - More U.S. brews
The Brew Crew - Doing a San Francisco classic
Spouting Off - All that Ale's ya'
Brews News copyright (c) Bryan Harrell and contributors.