“Almanac Beer Brings a California Terroir to Alameda” in Edible East Bay

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Almanac co-founders Damian Fagan (l) and Jesse Friedman

What a couple of interviews I had with Almanac Beer co-founders Jesse Friedman and Damian Fagan!  In March, Jesse showed me around the brewery and gave me a clinic on brewing beer the Almanac way. Of course, that mean he spent a lot of time talking about the crafting of sour ales and infusing them with local fruit. I spoke with Damian a couple months later on the phone, who filled me more on the business end and Almanac’s central mission to bring a sense of community to their California tap room and support local farmers who provide the fruit they showcase in their ales.

The article was a few months in the making, and it all came together nicely in the Fall Harvest Issue of Edible East Bay.  You can check it out here:

Almanac Brings Brings a California Terroir to Alameda

Rambling Reviews 3.19.2018: The Sour Edition

You might say I’ve been in a sour mood. I’ve been savoring tart brews these days, whether soured by the yeast used to make them or by the fruit added. Let me tell you about three that have particularly caught my fancy.

We’ll start with Rubaeus Raspberry from Founders Brewing.  The beer kind of sneaked up on me. At first sip, I’m thinking it’s not very tart, there’s a moderate sweetness and then pow! Lots of fresh raspberry flavors blew through my taste buds, ending with a soft earthy finish. Brewing this with a neutral, light underlying malt was a wise decision by Founders, as it let all those big raspberry flavors shine. One of those rare beers that work both as a thirst quenching lawn mower beer, or something to slowly sip and contemplate.

hermitage flower sourMoving along, there’s Flower Sour from San Jose’s Hermitage Brewing. Hermitage brewer Greg Filippi ages a blonde ale for up to 24 months in French oak barrels and flavors it with a bunch of flowers including rose, hibiscus, lavender and chamomile. Yep, there’s a real depth of floral character to this moderately sour ale, which reveals a little white winey-ness. Sorry, I can’t really tick off of a bunch of flavor characteristics, I was just enjoying this one too much to get into all that.

We’ll end with the 2017 version of Almanac Beer’s Farmer’s Reserve Blueberry which uses four, count ’em four pounds of blueberries in each and every gallon. So as you might expect, it has a lot of blueberry flavors, rounded out with a little sweetness, a slight tartness, a noticeable peppery spiciness and a barely detectable earthiness. It’s a fascinating composition that screams “blueberry” but it’s all those different, barely noticeable accents surrounding the blueberries that really makes this one work so well.

 

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Scenes from Almanac Beer’s new brewery in Alameda

It’s pretty amazing how much Almanac Beer accomplished as a contract brewery, borrowing brewing equipment at a few locations to create their unique, farm to bottle style. So it’s pretty exciting to see what they’ll accomplish now that they have their own brewery that’s just opened in Alameda in a World War II area warehouse they share with Admiral Maltings.

Perhaps the best thing about writing about beer visiting breweries, talking with brewers and learning their craft. The hour I recently spent with Almanac’s Jesse Friedman was a top notch clinic in that respect. Behind the farm-to-bottle ethos is a lot of careful process coupled with science, and it really pays off in beer infused with all sorts of character from the meticulously sourced ingredients, many from California farms.

You’ll be able to read all about it in an upcoming issue of Edible East Bay.  For now, here’s a few shots from inside Almanac’s new brewery.

(The top photo is from Almanac Beer, the ones below are mine.)

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Almanac’s Damian Fagan (l) and Jess Friedman

Beers Wars: A War Worth Winning You Probably Didn’t See

“Beer Wars Live” is Michaell Moore-esque movie documentary on the beer industry in the US, where the huge industrial brewers you all know, Anheuser-Busch, Coors and Miller goliaths takes on hundreds of much smaller craft brewers. It’s one of those event films, that only plays for one night all over the country. There were only about 10-15 people in the theater, and I suspect attendance all over the country was similar.

To no one’s surprise, the big corporate brewers flex their economic and political muscles to keep the craft brewers small. It’s also an interesting tale of Sam Calagione, a craft brewer who happily chases his passion, and Rhonda, a former Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams) executive, who appears to lose her soul and her family trying to create the next big thing with a slightly weird sounding Craft Beer/Energy Drink hybid me-too knock-off product.

I enjoyed the movie, and Linda and I talked all about on the way home, which is a sign of a good movie. But in some ways, it was a bit of a disappointment. There were a lot of tired cliche’s about big corporate power and money funding the three-tiered system of distribution, a relic of prohibition that gives the larger industrial brewers and unfair advantage over craft breweries but zip, zilch, nada about what alternative system would be fair. And I have no problem finding small California craft beers in the Midwest, or even the East Coast. Somehow, the little guys are finding some way to get some good distribution, but the film has nothing to say about how that’s been accomplished.

It’s really a business movie, and so the “war” comes across as a fight for the almighty buck, but I view this battle as more than that.

It’s a war about American Entrepreneurship being stifled by pointless regulation and near monopoly power. I love that fact that the craft beer industry was set into motion by Jimmy Carter signing a bill legalizing home brewing. Imagine, good ol’ Democrat Jimmy Carter eliminating government regulation to create free market economic growth. Entrepreneurship makes this country great, but in the beer world, it is suffering under the current system in America.

It’s also a war about what we decide to taste and put in our bodies. We can choose to drink industrial beers which basically all taste the same, and are made from cheap ingredients. (There’s a great scene in the movie where loyal Coors Light, Bud Light, and Miller Light drinkers cannot tell which is their favorite of the three, in blind taste tests.) Or we can choose to drink a variety of distinctve beers, that are skillfully made, and while do cost more, are intended to be appreciated, instead of something just to fill you up or get you buzzed or drunk.

You can probably get this on Netflix soon. If these things matter to you, this movie will definitely get you thinking. I also ask you to vote with your pocket books the next time you buy a beer.