The Session #137: Where I try to figure out what happened to German Wheat Beers in Northern California

For this month’s Beer Blogging Session, Roger Mueller of Roger’s Beers…and Other Drinks asks us to write about German Wheat Beers in some way or another.  (Don’t know what the Beer Blogging Session is?  Then check out this.) I have to confess not knowing a lot about German Wheat Beers. The last time I was in Germany was in Munich in 2005, where I was travelling on business to the Laser Munich Trade Show, as the Germans are every bit as talented at building lasers as they are brewing beer. That was a couple years before I had any real appreciation for beer, German or otherwise.

I rarely drink German imports, but spent the last couple weeks sampling a limited selection of a few German Hefeweizens found in my local grocery store as “research” for this post. I found it interesting how each different brewery had their own small, but significant riff on the style. Other than that, I really don’t think I can say a lot about authentic German Wheat Beers. While ignorance on a subject is hardly a reason for a blogger not to write about it, I’m going to go in a slightly direction. Since plenty of Northern California brewers release Wheat Beers which they claim are brewed in the German-style, I can drink those Northern California variants and write about them.

SCVB HefeHefeweizens are hard to find around here, and sometimes are a bit underwhelming.  One I like is Alviso Mills Hefeweizen from San Jose’s Santa Clara Valley Brewing (SCVB). On the can, SCVB states it’s brewed in the Bavarian-style. It’s got a tingly carbonation, a dry but substantial malt heft, a little wheat tang, and noticeable banana and clove esters to round out the flavor, hitting the usual Hefeweizen notes. Nice beer.

Of course, if I’m going to talk about German Wheat beers brewed in Northern California, Gordon Biersch Hefeweizen has to be in the conversation.  Gordon Biersch Brewmaster Dan Gordon studied brewing at the Technical University of Munich in Weihenstephan, Germany, so you have to figure he knows a thing or two about German Wheat Beer. As for Gordon’s Hefeweizen, it’s got a light pillow-like mouthfeel with a noticeable tartness from the wheat. It’s medium dry and I found the spicy clove character dominant over the banana. One of those beers that is pretty refreshing if that’s all you’re looking for, but interesting enough if you want to pay closer attention.

IMG_1837
Dan Gordon, the Gordon of Gordon Biersch

Briney Melon GoseLet’s move to the Gose style. When Northern California brewers discovered this style a few years ago, each had their delightful play on the yin-yang balance of salt and sourness, with each brewery offering up their interpretation of the style.  But after maybe six months of that, brewers around here grew impatient and couldn’t resist the temptation to “innovate”, breaking out the guava paste or the blood orange concentrate and dumping that in the brew.  The Goses in Northern California no longer became interesting studies of balance, but tired fruit-infused Wheat Beers. A notable exception, in my opinion, is Briny Melon Gose from Anderson Valley Brewing.  I like the deep, pucking sourness matched with a light funk, a little saltiness and coriander spice, with the melon adding depth and bringing everything together.

Finally, there’s North Coast Tart Cherry Berliner Wiesse. It’s more sweet than sour, with a fizzy carbonation and the cherries just take over everything. Frankly, it tastes like a sophisticated alcopop. I get that the Berline Wiesse is usually served with sweet syrup in its homeland and this is an attempt at replicating that. Maybe this beer is true to the way a Berliner Wiesse is served in its homeland. I just don’t think it worked particularly well.NC BW

After sampling these and many other German-style Wheat Beers in Northern California, I’m struck with how poorly the German styles have translated here compared to English-styles (Stouts, Pale Ales, and of course, IPAs). Northern California brewers also seem much more comfortable looking to Belgium for inspiration. German brewing, with it’s focus on tradition and strict technique, just doesn’t seem to fit with the more freewheeling Northern California culture. It’s our loss.

 

 

The Session #100: Why has the Gose re-emerged in United States?

One of the more unexpected developments in America’s brewing landscape is the re-emergence of the nearly discontinued Gose style. With its odd sour-salty balance, this obscure German style seems like quaint historical brewing artifact rather than a modern commercial hit.  Yet a few breweries in the United States have found success reviving this style, two of the largest being Northern California’s Anderson Valley Brewing and Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing. So when Reuben Gray asked us to write about resurrecting lost beer styles for this month’s Session, it got me asking:  Why has the Gose style come back in the United States?

While I’m afraid I can’t give a comprehensive answer to the question, I did talk with Anderson Valley Brewing and Boulevard brewing about the origins of their Gose beer and made some interesting discoveries along the way.
I first spoke with Anderson Valley Brewmaster Fal Allen about his brewery’s Gose and learned the beer was largely a product of serendipity.  “We really didn’t set out to brew this beer in the first place”, described Fal Allen of its origins.  “At the time, we were experimenting with a sour mash and someone suggested we try brewing a Gose.”  Everyone around the brewery liked it, and after tweaking the recipe four or five times, they released it to much success in 2014.  Anderson Valley has since followed-up their regular Gose with a Blood Orange Gose. Anderson Valley has another Gose with a different spice or fruit addition in the works to be released within the next 12 months which Fal Allen was not ready to talk about it yet.


Then I gave Jeremy Danner over at Boulevard Brewing a call, Jeremy being one of Boulevard’s Ambassador Brewers.  He told me Boulevard’s Hibiscus Gose started as an employee Christmas present at the end of 2012.  “We usually brew a beer for the employee Christmas present that normally does not have much commercial potential, but something we want to drink,” explained Jeremy of this brewery tradition.  Not only was Hibiscus Gose a hit with Boulevard’s employees, they took a couple kegs to the brewery tap room and to local beer festivals and discovered it was a big hit there, too.  “We knew we liked it, but it was cool that the public liked it too,” exclaimed Jeremy. Boulevard released Hibiscus Gose in 2014 and it’s been one of their more successful new releases.

It’s only a couple data points, but notice a couple trends.  Both breweries were engaging in an esoteric brewing experiments that seemingly only a brewing wonk could love, yet discovered the general public also enjoyed it.  The other thing to note is that both beers rely on novel, non-traditional ingredients to stand out.  In Boulevard’s case, they added Hibiscus to make the beer pink.  Sure, the Hibiscus gives the beer a nice light citrus and cherry character but they wanted to brew a pink beer. Cranberry was considered and discarded because Boulevard had concerns about the sugar content and how it might re-ferment in the bottle.  While Anderson Valley brews a straight Gose, they’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of their non-traditional Blood Orange variant.  While the Blood Orange adds great flavors and aromas to the beer, Brewmaster Fal Allen wasn’t very bashful when he exclaimed “It gives the beer a cool name!”

(Photo from Boulevard Brewing)

My hunch is that we’re going to see a lot more long dormant historical beer styles resurrected in the United States for three reasons.  The first reason is none other than most of these old styles taste pretty good in their contemporary revision.  I’ve sampled all three of these Gose beers as well as other resurrected styles and enjoyed every one of them. All were made by skilled brewers, which certainly helps, but there was a reason why these styles were popular at some point in history, and all these reconstructions made that seem obvious.

The second reason is because information simply travels faster than ever before. In the 19th century, it would take months for a Gose recipe to reach the United States.  In the 20th century, that time reduced to a few days.  Today with a simple mouse click, any enterprising brewer can find a historical recipe in seconds.

Lastly, let’s admit that most of the 3,000+ breweries in the United States are looking to do something new and original to stand out from the rest. Only so many beers can be brewed with bull testicles  or smoked goat brains before those gimmicks get pretty stale.  So why not go into the past and find some fresh and original from a centuries old forgotten style?

As the modern brewing revolution continues to push the limits of what beer is, a fortunate by-product is further discovery of what beer was.

Anderson Valley’s Fal Allen Talks About Highway 128 Gose

Fal Allen of Anderson Valley Brewing
(photo from Anderson Valley Brewing)

One of the more unexpected brewing success stories of the past year was the unlikely popularity of Anderson Valley Brewing’s “The Kimmie, the Yink, and the Holy Gose”, released last year for package sale as part of their Highway 128 Session Series.  If it wasn’t surprising enough that a Gose, a nearly extinct German style would be a hit, its odd combination of sour and salty flavors is also not something that immediately sounds like a winning combination. Yet, somehow, the light malt, sour and salty flavors coupled with a low 4.2% alcohol by volume all came together to create a novel and highly refreshing brew. A little later, Anderson Valley added blood orange to the mix and scored another hit with their Blood Orange Gose.

So why did Anderson Valley even think about brewing the obscure Gose style in the first place? How was unlikely flavor combination of sour, salty, and blood orange discovered?  Are there more riffs on the Gose style in the works?  I spoke for a few minutes with Anderson Valley’s Head Brewmaster Fal Allen to discuss both the genesis and future directions of Anderson Valley’s Gose.

“We didn’t really set out to brew this beer in the first place, ” explained Allen.  “At the time, we were experimenting with a sour mash and someone suggested we try brewing a Gose.  Only a couple breweries in Germany were brewing this style at the time.  So we tried that and we all liked it.”  Of course, with most beers, there’s a process to tweaking the recipe to get the final brew.  “It took us about 4 or 5 months and 4 or 5 test batches to finally get the recipe,” recalls Allen.  “It wasn’t too difficult figuring out the grain bill and hops for the beer.  The bigger challenge was determining how sour or salty to make it, and what level of “funkiness” it should have.”

Fal Allen takes a highly democratic approach in the development of all Anderson Valley beers, soliciting input from all of his brewers to determine the final recipe.  “I find it important in getting all the different points of view so the resulting beer appeals to wide spectrum,” explained Allen.  “If it were just me doing the tasting, I’d end up brewing beers I like, but maybe not a lot of other people would.”

The Gose gets is light sour taste from lactic acid bacteria, which is not something a brewery would usually want in its brewhouse infecting all the other beers.  So Allen is careful to create the sour flavor in the brew kettle using a long, eight hour process and then thoroughly boiling the wort to ensure all that bacteria is killed off.

As for how blood orange found its way into Anderson Valley’s Gose, with the success of the original Gose, Allen started experimenting with other additions.   He tried different spices, and had high hopes for a tamarind Gose, which turned out to be a disaster.  “Tamarind is also sour, and sour on sour is just too much.”  He also tried tangerine and grapefruit, but found blood orange created better flavors and aromas.  And as Allen enthusiastically added, “It gives the beer a cool name!” In case you were wondering, Anderson Valley does indeed have another version of Gose in the works to be released within a year from now. They just aren’t ready to talk any more about it yet.

One of more exciting revelations from America’s recent brewing revolution is that the seemingly simple beverage of beer has been taken new and unexpected direction.  Anderson Valley’s Gose and Blood Orange Gose are simply recent proof of that.

(It should be noted the author enjoyed an Anderson Valley Blood Orange Gose while writing this article.)

Is Anderson Valley’s Hightway 128 Gose Better with Blood Orange?


One of my favorite new beers this year was Anderson Valley’s Highway 128 Gose, a nifty session beer (4.0-4.5% abv) with a slightly bracing sour tang, some lemon citrus character and a pronounced salty finish.  (OK, its real name is
“The Kimmie, The Ying and The Holy Gose” but most people I know call it Highway 128 Gose.)  It’s a little hard to find around here so I pick up a six-pack nearly every time I see it.  Now Anderson Valley has added some tangy blood orange to the mix.  Does it work?

This version isn’t quite as bracing in its sourness, more fruity, the saltiness doesn’t come through as much.  The flavors are little more complex, but each component is a little more muddled.    Is it better?  I keep leaning one way or another but never make up my mind which one I like more.  What do you think?

Touring Four Innovative California Breweries

(An edited version of this post was published in the Oct/Nov 2012 issue of Adventure Sports Journal.)



This isn’t a museum.  It’s Anchor’s Historic Brewhouse
(Photon courtesy of Anchor Brewing)

There’s revolution going on in this country, born largely in California that has nothing to do with music, politics, or some insanely great gadget.  It’s a revolution in beer, a beverage that’s existed for over 5,000 years of human history that continues to be reinvented to this day.    Large breweries run by multinational corporations producing unoriginal light, flat tasting yellow lagers are dramatically losing market share to a growing fleet of smaller independent breweries concocting a wide variety of rich, flavorful, and unique brews.   People are enjoying the endless flavor combinations and possibilities of beer and becoming more aware about where their beer comes from.  California breweries are major pioneers of this movement.

Unlike most businesses with tightly protected company secrets, many breweries happily throw open their doors to let you experience their sights, sounds, and tastes.    You can tour four of California’s leading breweries changing the way our nation experiences beer, and here’s what you’ll find.

Go to Anchor Brewing and you’ll see a piece of San Francisco history.   The brewery is housed in a four story Depression-era brick building in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood.  Visitors meet in brewery’s tap room, with its classic carved wooden interior and old brewery photographs, which include Janis Joplin happily enjoying an Anchor Steam.    The brewery itself, with its old copper kettles and brick interior, looks like something out of a museum, but is where all of Anchor’s beer is brewed today.

The tour starts with recounting of the tumultuous history of Anchor Brewing.  It’s one of the oldest breweries in the United States, dating back to the Gold Rush-era in San Francisco.  It survived the 1906 Earthquake and Prohibition, but nearly went out bankrupt in 1965 before Fritz Maytag, a recent Stanford graduate from a Midwestern family of prominent dairy farmers (think “Maytag Blue Cheese”)  learned of the imminent demise of his favorite beer and purchased 51% of the business.

While saving the brewery, Maytag carefully studied brewing methods from the brewery’s earliest period, when San Francisco breweries were known for their “Steam Beer” fermented in open vats often on roof tops with the cool San Francisco climate providing natural refrigeration.  It’s a brewing practice that had long been abandoned, most likely due to the likelihood of wild yeasts and other airborne microbes ruining a batch. 

Maytag developed a system of open shallow vats in a more controlled environment to replicate brewing technique, and today every drop of Anchor Steam slowly ferments in these vats.   A highlight of the tour is catching a glimpse of these vats, which had long been a brewery secret.     As brewery spokes person Candice Uyloan describes, “These fermenters are an important part of our unique brewing history and represent a marked difference from the vertical tanks found in other breweries. Except for the occasional hot day, we still simply use the naturally cool air from San Francisco’s foggy coastal climate.”

After viewing the brewing equipment and bottling line, the tour concludes back in the brewery tap room where visitor can taste between 6-8 Anchor Beers, depending on the season.   Uyloan adds “We would like visitors to leave knowing that every Anchor beer comes from the hands of people who love and are dedicated to what they do.”

Tour Information

The brewery offers two tours a day on Weekdays.  Tour reservations are taken up to six months in advance and dates fill up quickly, often weeks in advance.  Call 415-863-8350 for more information and to make reservations.  Admission is free.

 

Tiny, rustic Booneville, with its 1,000 residents, looks like a typical small town, but is like no place on earth.  It’s home to an eclectic group of artists and some of the finest Pinot Noir growing land in all of California.   It’s also the source of Boontling, a quirky, folk language of the region that sprang up in the late 1800’s.  Boontling is largely defunct, save for a few dedicated local practitioners keeping the language alive.  This includes Anderson Valley Brewing, located on the Southern edge of town, which names their beers after Boontling phrases and place names. 
Don’t let all those controls in the Anderson Valley Brewhouse fool you,
none of them actually work.

 Anderson Valley’s current brewery went online in 2000 after outgrowing its previous location in central Booneville.  The open 30-acre brewery grounds also include a Frisbee golf course, a tap room, a field of hops growing up a series of a vertical support lines, and eight goats used to “mow” part of the grounds.

The Anderson Valley Brewery tour meets in the tap room and proceeds into the Brew House, where the first thing you’ll see are three gleaming copper brew kettles recovered from a defunct German brewery.  There’s an equally impressive looking old world control panel that looks like something Captain Nemo used to pilot the Nautilus, but if you look carefully, a smaller, more modern electronic controller is actually used to control the brewing equipment.

“We like to educate people on the brewing process,” explains Rebecah Toohey, Anderson Valley’s Tap Room Manager.  “During the tour, we go over the history of the brewery, as well of each step we take to brew our beer.”   This includes a trip to the hop freezer.   There’s nothing more stimulating the walking into the cold air of the hop freezer and deeply inhaling all the fresh, piny hops Anderson Valley uses for beers such as their Hop Ottin’ IPA and Poleeko Pale Ale.  Visitors also get to go up on the brewery roof and see the solar panels which generate about 40% of the breweries electricity, while learning about the many other environmental initiatives that are part of Anderson Valley’s commitment to its unique region.

 Tour Information

Tours start Daily at 1:30 and 3:00 pm, except between January and March, when they only run Thursday-Monday.    The tour costs $5, and include two beer samples from the tap room, and a $5 coupon for any purchase over $10 in the brewery gift shop.  Call (707) 895-BEER for more information.

Lagunitas is first and foremost about having a good time.  And everyone working at Lagunitas seems to be having one, as all the staff at the Lagunitas Tap Room and Beer Sanctuary has an genuine, infectious  enthusiasm for the place.  The Tap Room and Beer Sanctuary serves food and often features live music.  Tours guides announce the start of each tour by clanging a bell and waving a small, crudely written card board sign above their head.  Anyone who wants to join simply follows them out into the brewery.
Ryan Tamborski discussing Lagunitas’s Barrel-aged Brews

Brewery tours typically have the aura of a high school science field trip, but as tour guide Ryan Tamborski tells the story of Lagunitas founder Tony Magee, he works the room like a stand-up comic.  “In the early days, there was a problem when Tony Magee flushed yeast into the community septic tank.  Does anyone know what you get when you flush yeast into septic tank?  Coors Light!”  Indeed, there’s plenty of entertaining stories behind many Lagunitas beers, and most involve either marijuana or owner Tony Magee thumbing his nose at various authorities.   The tour guides are master story tellers, and the Lagunitas Brewery tour is the most entertaining hour I’ve ever spent at a brewery.

But behind the goofy humor, one also witnesses a relentless capitalism. Lagunitas is one of the fastest growing breweries in the United States, available all over the country, and commanding high prices on the black market overseas.   Ryan happily showed off the shiny state-of-the-art equipment Lagunitas recently invested in to meet this exploding demand, and well as telling us Lagunitas’s plans to open a second brewery in Chicago at the end of this year.    Sure, Lagunitas is a place to have a good time, but touring the place also reveals how much hard work and commitment must go into creating the good times.

Tour Information

Mondays-Tuesdays 3:00 pm, Wednesday at 3:00 and 5:00 pm, Saturdays 1:00, 3:00 and 5:00 pm 

Call 707-778-8776 for more information

Sierra Nevada is where to go to learn a lot about beer. 

“We have a very technical tour, “explains Marie Gray, Tour Coordinator for Sierra Nevada.  “We get a lot of questions from beer craft drinkers who really want to know more about beer, so we do our best to answer them.  It’s a lot of fun, and we meet a lot of great people out there.”
The dignified splendor of Sierra Nevada’s Brewhouse

The tour takes over an hour and carefully goes over every step of the brewing process.  It starts in the mill room, which prepares the malted barley for brewing.  Next in the Brew House,  large room with impressive copper brewing kettles, visitors can peer into to see the mash through glass windows.  You can actually sample a taste of wort, the liquid full of extracted sugars from malted barley, used in Sierra Nevada Pale Ale to understand how the hops and fermentation transforms the sweet liquid into beer.  There is also an invigorating trip to the Sierra Nevada hop freezer room as well as overhead views of the bottling and canning lines.

 In addition to brewing, visitors learn plenty about Sierra Nevada’s legion of environmental practices.  Climbing up to a catwalk above the brewery, you’ll look down on no fewer than 10,763 solar panels adorning the roof.    Guests also discover that hydrogen fuel cells provide approximately 50% of the brewery’s electricity needs and that Sierra Nevada actually paid to extend a railroad line a few miles to so that rail cars could roll right up to the brewery, eliminating the CO2 emissions from trucks transporting supplies those last few miles.

At the end, there’s a tasting of eight samples of different Sierra Nevada beers at the brewery tap room, and even this is used as an opportunity to educate.  “We try to make it an educational tasting, where people learn to enjoy the different aromas and flavors of beer,” explains Marie.  “In the end, our guests walk away with a really good experience.”  

For those more interested in Sierra Nevada’s environmentally sustainable practices, the brewery hosts Sustainable Tours on Fridays, Saturday, and Sunday the focus on Sierra Nevada’s environmental initiatives.  There is also beer tasting at the end of this tour, but is held in an outside garden, weather permitting, and consists of four samples.

Tour Information

Tour Hours:
Monday – Thursday: 11:00am 12:00 pm, 1:00 pm, 2:00 pm 3:00pm & 4:00 pm
Friday and Saturday: 11:00am 12:00 pm, 12:30pm, 1:00 pm, 2:00 pm, 2:30pm 3:00 pm, 4:00 pm, 4:30pm & 5:00 pm
Sunday: 11:00am 12:00 pm, 12:30pm, 1:00 pm, 2:00 pm, 2:30pm 3:00 pm, 4:00 pm
Phone:  530-899-4776

 

 

 

The Session #59: When I Don’t Drink Beer, I Prefer the Wines of Anderson Valley

Inspired by a Dos Equis commercial, Mario Rubio of Brewed for Thought  asks us to write about what we prefer to drink when not having beer,  for this month’s Session.  As the world’s 2,643,459,882 most interesting man, here’s what I have to say.

If I had to put a date on my so-called “craft beer epiphany”, it would be Memorial Day Weekend 2007.  That weekend I took a trip with Linda, my girlfriend of about a year, to California’s Mendocino County where we visited both Anderson Valley Brewing and North Coast Brewing.  While I was already leaning in a craft beer direction, these visits not only opened my mind to realize the endless variety and possibilities of beer, but also made me aware of how connected beer can be to the place where it is brewed.

For the first time in my life, I went wine tasting as we also visited a few of Anderson Valley’s wineries in central Mendocino County.   I discovered many of the different varietals and nuances of wine, and while recognizing that although wine is a rather one-dimensional beverage compared to beer, it can still be tasty.

And most importantly, after an effortlessly enjoyable weekend with Linda, I realized we had something pretty special going on, and today, Linda and I have been married for over a year. 

You might say I hit the epiphany trifecta big time that weekend

What can I say about the wines of Anderson Valley beyond the warm fuzziness of that weekend?  The area is known for luscious Pinot Noirs, my favorite varietal.   But the best part of Anderson Valley wine country is how genuine the people are at the various wineries you meet.  Linda and I have done the Napa Valley thing, which is basically like going to a  foodie amusement park.  In smaller, more isolated Anderson Valley, you’re more likely to meet the wine maker or at least someone highly involved in the operations of the winery in the tasting room than most of California’s other wine regions.  The wine is every bit as good as you’ll find in Napa, and costs about $15 less per bottle.

But the best thing about this wine growing region is once you’re done wine tasting, you can drive just a few miles south and take the Anderson Valley Brewery tour.

The Session #51: Stumbling Through the Session Beer and Cheese Pair-Off

For this month’s Session, Jay Brooks of Brookston Beer Bulletin fame has asked us to find our best beer pairings for three different cheeses in the great Session beer and cheese pair-off.

Asking my opinion about beer and cheese pairings is like asking a blind man about sculpture. I just don’t have the senses and faculties to describe the complete artistic experience, only bits and pieces of it. Beer has never really interested me for its culinary value. Instead, it’s the history, economics, geography, and sociology surrounding beer drives me to write about it, not to mention I like to drink it. But of course, plenty of people write authoritatively on stuff like history or economics despite barely understanding those subjects, so I probably shouldn’t hesitate to write about beer and cheese pairings, even while hardly knowing what the hell I’m doing. And this Session seems to embody the egalitarian nature of beer, where everyone can contribute and there’s none of the negative elitism that seems to surround other beverages, most notably wine. (Which I also like to drink.)

So here goes. And I’ve enlisted my wife Linda to help with these pairings who often provides helpful advice when my thoughts go astray. In fact, she often advises me on all sorts of subjects, whether or not I’ve actually asked her for help. So what I did was pick two similar beers to pair with each cheese. I read a little about what the “experts” had to say about what beers pair well with the cheeses Jay selected for the Session. Then I picked a couple beers in the recommended style, and then Linda and I spent three evenings trying each cheese with their respective beer pairings, picking the winning beer in a head to head comparison. Here’s the results.

Maytag Blue: Anchor Brewing Old Foghorn vs. Lagunitas Gnarleywine

The general wisdom seemed to be that blue cheese pairs well with barleywines. So it seemed obvious to pair Maytag Blue Cheese with Anchor Brewing’s Old Foghorn. After all, if there was no Maytag family, there would be no Fritz Maytag, and if there was no Fritz Maytag, Anchor Brewing would likely be out of business decades ago. And it fairly safe to say if there was no Fritz Maytag to rescue Anchor Brewing, there probably wouldn’t be Lagunitas Brewing either.

I couldn’t taste much of a difference between the two pairings until Linda noticed the Gnarleywine being sweeter, contrasted better with the tang of the blue cheese. Then I began to notice that the more intense tasting Lagunitas barleywine held up better to intense flavors of the Maytag Blue than the Old Foghorn, where both the beer and the cheese just tasted flatter by comparison. So I had to admit my wife had a good point. I just hope that doesn’t go to her head.

The verdict: Lagunitas Gnarleywine

Three Year Old Aged Wisconsin Cheddar: Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA vs. Bear Republic Racer 5

I went to at least five high end grocery stores looking for Widmer One Year Aged Wisconsin Chedder and came up empty, so finally settled for something from my neighborhood grocery store cheese section labelled “Three Year Old Aged Wisconsin Cheddar”. Choosing two beers to pair with an aged Wisconsin cheddar was even a bigger challenge. It only seemed logical to pair a Wisconsin cheese with beer from Wisconsin, but it is not easy to find Wisconsin beers in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since the Green Bay Packers won this year’s Super Bowl, I contemplated some sort of football pairing, but really couldn’t come up with anything that made sense. Then I figured since Wisconsin is in the center of the United States, it would only be logical to test how cheese from the center of the country would pair from beer on the East and West Coasts. And least logical to me.

Since a few great beer culinary minds suggested IPA’s go well with cheddar cheese, I picked an IPA from each coast. While the IPA is a hoppy beer style, East Coast IPA’s tend to be more balanced, with the malt contributing to the flavor and the beer having a more rounded bitterness, while IPA’s brewed on the West Coast tend to be unbalanced, with less malt and more hops with intense floral and citrus flavors. And thus over time, IPA’s from the East Coast and West Coast gained reputations for their distinctive styles. It’s a lot like East Coast and West Coast rap music, except no brewers have gotten shot over it.

Speaking of rap, Dogfish Head owner Sam Calagione is known to grab the mike and bust a few rhymes. And yes, his awkward raps on beer, which take unfunkiness to stratospheric levels are amusing when taken in extremely small doses. Thankfully, he’s a lot better at brewing, and Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA is one our favorites, a great example of the East Coast style with rich, slightly sweet maltiness balancing plenty of smooth bitterness. Challenging from the West Coast is Bear Republic’s Racer 5 IPA, brewed with whisper of malt that’s no match for all its piney, grapefruity hoppy goodness. So who wins?

We both found the sweetness of the Dogfish Head IPA contrasted well with the tang of the cheddar cheese, and while the cheese also blended well with the beer’s rich, smooth character. One the other hand, the intense hop character of the Racer 5 clashed against the cheddar’s tanginess, the resulting conbination not working particularly well. The East Coast and bad rap prevails!

The Verdict: Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA

Cypress Grove Humbolt Fog Goat Cheese: Anderson Valley Brewing Brother David’s Tripel vs. 21st Amendment Monk’s Blood

I suppose Humbolt County should be known for its towering redwoods, breath taking coastal vistas, and vibrant artisan community. But mostly, it’s known as a place that grows some pretty good dope. So it seemed natural to pair cheese from this region with a beer from a place also known for good dope, Mendocino County, and a beer from where a lot of dope is consumed, San Francisco. And since fruity Belgian Ales are often recommended beers to pair with goat cheese, Brother David’s Tripel from Anderson Valley Brewing and 21st Amendment’s Monk’s Blood figured to be good choices.

At first, I found the Brother David’s Tripel to be the better pairing, as its aromatic crispness really seemed to intensify with the goat cheese. But while Linda preferred the Brother David’s Triple over the Monk’s Blood straight up as a beer, so found the Tripel overwhelming the cheese, while the fruitier Monk’s Blood matched the cheese’s intensity, and created the classic fruit and cheese combination. She declared the Monk’s Blood to be the better pairing. And you know, after further consideration, my wife was right. Admitting that in writing can be dangerous.

The Verdict: 21st Amendment’s Monk’s Blood

Even though I barely knew what I was doing, this was a lot of fun. I might even stick around for Session 51.5.