It’s the Great Pumpkin!

Cantwellian Dystopia - Pumpkin beer brand imageOn its own, pumpkin tastes kind of bitter and astringent.  That’s why it’s most often seasoned with something else, such as the holy pentad of pumpkin pie spice.  It can also be good when paired with some of the seasonings of cuisines that appreciate pumpkin, such as Indian, or Mexican.  But bitter and astringent is pretty much the way I felt when walking away from my previous brewery in Seattle and the pumpkin beer-related ridiculousness we cultivated there.  The less said about that the better (20 different pumpkin beers of our own, with an additional 80 or so from other breweries for an annual pumpkinfest), and in fact I vowed that after ten years of seasonal obsession with the gourd I’d never brew pumpkin beer again.  My friend and former co-worker Steve at Cloudburst Brewing in Seattle, in fact, made a pumpkin beer two years ago called Cantwellian Dystopia. A picture of its branding image is enclosed.  He even gave me a T-shirt.  I’m a little shamefaced to report that it’s only one of three pumpkin beer-related T-shirts on which I’ve appeared over the years.

Fast forward five years later, however, and I was ready to brew pumpkin beer again.  The setup at the Haight Street pub is perfect for it—a modest fourteen kegs of beer per batch, just the right amount to keep it around the two Magnolia locations for most of a month.  With that batch size you can get a little silly and not have things hanging on your hands for too much time.  Still, you can’t get too esoteric.  Anyone who remembers Fennel Face, the Belgian-style Dubbel flavored with fennel juice we made a couple of Novembers ago for BRU-SFO knows what I’m talking about.

A word or two about pumpkin pie spice and its limits.  Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and allspice.  This time of year it’s like saying the rosary, and as we all know, it’s everywhere.  It’s too many places, in too many things, and that includes pumpkin beer.  Back when I used to curate the beer for my former brewery’s festival, I would turn away many a beer spiced with the Big Five.  People would call me or email me, saying they wanted to send beer to the fest, and I’d always ask them what they had in mind.  A sour pumpkin beer? Great.  A barrel-aged strong pumpkin beer? Great. A pumpkin beer made with nettles, or saffron, or gin botanicals?  Fabulous.  But the last thing I wanted—and I would use those words—was 75 beers spiced like pumpkin pie.

I don’t like pumpkin pie, to be perfectly honest.  I don’t even really like pumpkin in any application. But pumpkin beer has its place in colonial brewing history, and more to the point, its season extends beyond the two or three weeks people are at all interested in Oktoberfest beers.  That’s the primary reason I originally stopped making the latter and concentrated on the former.  In addition, pumpkin beer offers an opportunity, as I’ve also often said, to show how as a brewer you can be both serious and ridiculous—serious because you have to come up with a clever and delicious concept riffing on some aspect of brewing tradition and expectation, and ridiculous because it’s pumpkin beer.  It’s like being asked to make a fresco using crayons.  Along those lines, in fact, I once made a version of the classic Burton Union system of fermentation using conjoined casks by arraying a line of goosenecked gourds filled with actively fermenting beer, flurping yeast into a trough made out of Delicata Squash.  Ridiculous, for sure.  I called it my Tim Burton Union.

Followers of the Gourd will also recall the pumpkin-conditioned beers I used to offer at our fest.  Year over year the pumpkins got bigger and bigger, but the process was the same: cut the top off and scoop out the guts, char the inside with a torch to synthesize the interior of a Bourbon barrel and mitigate (somewhat) the swampy taste of raw pumpkin, fill with beer and prime with unfermented wort, seal it all up with beeswax and broach, when the time is right, by hammering a tap into the side of the pumpkin and pouring it until it’s gone.  Here at Magnolia we did a couple of those at our pumpkin release parties a couple of weeks back.

Dick Cantwell at Magnolia Brewing’s Pumpkin Palooza on September 18th.

So what did we make this year?  First up was a Belgian Farmhouse-style Table Beer called Brother Gourdo, spiced with coriander and orange peel.  Next was a kettle-soured pumpkin-peach ale.  This one we called Insult to Injury, referencing the Super Bowl ad run by my former brewery’s overlords the week after the acquisition, making direct mock, on national TV, of a beer we had once made. “Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale,” the voice-over intoned, as a ludicrously moustachioed hipster twirled a fussily stemmed glass beneath his over-attuned nose.  Then there was Trendy Trainwreck, a pastiche of concepts combining hazy IPA, Blood Orange and pumpkin beer, all in one sticky glass.  We haven’t even actually brewed the final entry yet, as we’ve been waiting for this year’s sugar pumpkins to be harvested.  It’s one from the Magnolia archive, a dark, spiced (yes, those five) pumpkin ale called Barking Pumpkin, after Frank Zappa’s record label.  In fact I brewed a beer with the same name during my previous incarnation as a brewer of pumpkin beers.  And we’re planning to send a couple of kegs of Insult and Trainwreck out to the pumpkin fest which these days carries the torch of ridiculous authenticity, run by my friend Will at Cambridge Brewing Company, held in the town in which, as it happened, I brewed my first batches of homebrew.  All four beers will be on at the pub as long as they last.  Come check them out, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Dubs Golden Ale — By the Bay, For the Bay

When the possibility was presented to us of brewing and branding a beer with the Golden State Warriors, we got excited.  There were a lot of details to be worked out, for sure, but mostly what we thought about was having our beer pour at Chase Center, literally just up the street up from Magnolia Dogpatch, and getting co-branded cans of Dubs Golden Ale out and about in the market.  With the transformation of the neighborhood due to the Warriors’ move back into The City, we also figured we’d see a fair amount of pregame and postgame action, so to have a signature beer co-branded with the team seemed like a great move.  And to the Warriors’ credit, they really wanted to work with a small local brewery.

Naturally, the first thing I thought about was the beer.  It had to be approachable, easy to drink, satisfying and not too hoppy.  Craft brewers that we are, we also wanted it to have some character, some flavor, and just enough bitterness to keep the drinker coming back for another sip.  Off the top of my head, the fact that the Warriors are the only team in the NBA to start their name with a color made the style and look of the beer fairly obvious.  It would be golden, at any rate.

And so we set to work.  We wanted the beer to be a pale golden color, so we used a blend of Pilsner and regular 2-Row malt, with a little bit of wheat to lighten the effect and keep the flavor brisk.  For hops, we chose a unique blend of German and American varieties—Hallertauer Mittelfruh and Amarillo, respectively. As a nod to the team’s five-straight NBA Finals appearances, 5% abv seemed just the ticket, and we settled on 18 IBU for a level of bitterness we felt would be balanced and yet nominally noticeable.

In truth, Dubs didn’t spring out of our heads—or our breweries—full-grown and completely developed.  We brewed a couple of slightly different versions at the pub brewery before committing to a recipe and brewing it on the 30-barrel Dogpatch system.  And then we brewed more of it.  And more.  For those of you who might already have enjoyed the beer, either at one of our pubs or in the 12-ounce and 19.2-ounce cans we released last week, this is the final version of the beer we intend to continue brewing for the foreseeable future.

The development of the label was every bit as involved as the recipe for the beer.  We worked with our friends at Gamut on this; they’ve already done past Magnolia can labels as well as a lot of our in-house graphic look.  They’re also developing new artwork for cans of Kolsch and Narrow Universe, and have done the labels for past one-off 16-ounce releases such as Cloud Cover, Cistern Circles and Hella Extra.  We landed on a can design with a really cool retro jersey look, with an ambitious and speedy lean to the lettering and an upward sloping band of gold and white stripes.  We’re super excited about how it looks in the cold case, or in your hand, and how it will look racing around digital screens at Chase Center.

As mentioned, Dubs will be available at quite a few spots at Chase Center, at the two Magnolia pubs, sports and regular bars and restaurants around town, and in SF stores, including some chains.  Once we’re able to crank up production distribution, Dubs availability will expand to the rest of the Bay Area as well.

So keep your eyes open, check out our new Dubs Golden Ale, and as soon as you can, enjoy it at Chase Center.  The first concert is September 6, and the first Warriors preseason game rolls around a month later, against the Lakers on October 5 at 5:00 p.m.


It’s Always Hazy IPA Season, Right?

Many mornings lately have begun with fog, usually giving way to some sunniness later in the day.  Our house on Scott Street is somewhat protected by the eminence of Buena Vista Park, so I’m often unaware of the encroaching shroud until I either go for a run into Golden Gate Park or walk up Waller to Haight and the Magnolia pub.  The funny paradox is that it’s the open spaces of pavement that are dry, where beneath the trees condensation has formed and dripped from above. And up the hill the view to the north may or may not show the piers of the Bridge, orange bases giving way to, well, nothing but white. It’s July as I write this, but August is right around the corner—or, as San Franciscans sometimes sardonically call it, Fogust.  It’s part of the City’s unique charm, you might say, to have a particular and perverse take on summer. I’m also well aware of this kind of meteorological ambivalence, having before lived nearly thirty years in Seattle, where summer pretty generally doesn’t consider showing its face until at least the Fourth of July. It’s somewhat different here, but the resignation is familiar. It’s a bit less surprising here to find peaches in stores when the weather seems somehow incapable of growing them.

But this is not just the season but the age of fog, isn’t it, where pale, hoppy beers are concerned?  Especially IPAs. The word most often used is hazy, and we’ve dipped into all that with Ha-Z-Boy, which should be out by the time you read this, a hazy IPA redolent of Azacca and Ekuanot (the hops formerly known as Equinox), with a wonderful, peachy aroma.  Another turbid offering from us is Cloud Cover, an IPA just strong enough at 8% abv to call double, in which we pioneered our use of Oregon Strata, combined with Citra, another favorite of ours. Some of our other pale beers have a bit of a cast to them as well.  It’s all that hop material, and the fact that we don’t filter anything.

I find it a little amusing—and certainly somewhat mystifying—the controversy that’s sprung up about hazy IPAs.  Quite a few of my old guy brewing friends openly decry them, and on the other side I find the heedless embrace of just about anything turbid to the point of tawny opacity just as surprising.  One of these aforementioned old guys, who runs a long-respected brewery a hundred or so tortuous miles north of here, actually once told his boss he’d quit if forced to brew something in the category.  To this I suggest that what we’re all trying to do is sell beer, right? I mean, I too have my hesitations where brewing certain styles is concerned. Outside of a hoppy porter—which I believe is more to the point anyway—I’ve never brewed a so-called Black IPA.  I generally don’t like them. And of course there are others. After a fifteen-year pumpkin beer joyride, I’ve been heard to say over the past few years that I’d never brew another one. But stay tuned as fall approaches for a small group of them to appear—one from the Magnolia recipe vaults and a few others riffing on styles and flavorings not “traditionally” associated with pumpkin beer.  More on that later, as the appropriate season approaches.

I dissemble just a bit.  The rank and file of hazy IPAs—I mean the really hazy, milky and grapefruit juice-looking ones—often lack the bitterness, in my mind, to engage and beguile the palate.  There are those that are artfully done, with a sequence of flavors which, while possibly unexpected and off the standard IPA rails, one can find interesting and engaging.  But there are others—and these are legion—that crowd nearly all their hop character into the finish, leaving the early flavor span flabby, and which sit on the tongue like an insistently sleeping child. Some of these also bear an unpleasant load of yeast-related phenols, further twisting the tongue.  Plus they’re flat, absolutely headless, thereby further challenging the lively and sprightly nature of beer as we know it—or used to.

But there I go, beginning to sound like my crusty compatriots.  For in truth there are a lot of these beers that I like. I pretty routinely order them in sequence when in a watering hole such as the Toronado, and I buy Crowlers and 16-ounce cans of them to take home, both from stores and when I’ve visited the taprooms of some of the breweries particularly known for such things.  I do have standards—and my favorites—but I’m often disappointed, too. This is why with the hazies we’ve done at Magnolia, we’ve made sure to build in enough bitterness to keep the drinker eager, wanting to take another sip without needing a sip of water for refreshment. For that’s what beer should do, correct? Haze is fine.  Lots of late hops are fine. Fruit-juicy flavors and aromas are fine, absolutely fine. But beer should have bitterness in balance as well as enough carbonation to present, again and again, as it is incrementally, enjoyably consumed.

Would it be appropriate at this point simply to say “Cheers?” I think so.

Check us out on August 2nd at Off the Grid’s second annual Fog Appreciation Night at Fort Mason Center. This is one of their big blowout events of the season and we’re looking forward to an awesome variety of fog-themed specials. Our very own Cloud Cover double IPA will make its Off the Grid debut, so be sure to check out the event’s full lineup and head over to Eventbrite for tickets.

It’s the Summer of Love, Again

I was ten years old during the actual 1967 Summer of Love, yearningly watching from afar in the not-so-counterculturally engaged town of Northfield, Minnesota. I used occasionally to hang out at the local college where my dad taught German language and literature, and from a couple of students there I got the address of a spot on St. Marks Place that sold buttons, posters and other more purposeful paraphernalia through the mail. I would mark the buttons I wanted on their mimeographed sheets and send off money I’d earned from delivering the evening Minneapolis Star and Sunday Tribune. There were a lot of variations on peace signs as well as clever slogans, and my list was occasionally excised by my dad. “LSD: Better Living Through Chemistry” was one that fell under his veto action. One of my favorites was of Uncle Sam pointing a revolver. That one I proudly wore.

TIME Magazine, Nov. 7, 1969

There was an inevitability in those days to California. I remember the cover of the November 7, 1969 issue of Time magazine which arrived at our house. “California: Here It Comes!” a banner announced across a colorful Peter Max-like collage of iconic images: a surfer, a sleek car, a bathing babe, a bunch of grapes, some funny psychedelic glasses and even (I know now, but didn’t then) the spires of Simon Rodîa’s Watts Towers. I read the articles chronicling various aspects of the California coolness of it all, and pined for a trip, preferably a relocation, to the West Coast. I first visited in 1975, following a summer of orchard work in Washington State, driving the length of the state, north to south, in a Ford Pinto with a couple of friends. I was driving when we entered San Francisco from Marin, with the sun breaking through and suddenly vanquishing a morning fog. We stayed with my friend’s family in Santa Clara and rode the brand new BART trains into the City. We ate abalone in Chinatown, rode a cable car without paying, and of course visited Haight-Ashbury.

Well who knew that one day I’d actually be living here, operating a brewery a Willie Mays toss from that storied intersection, and brewing a beer paying homage to the summer of 1967, the Summer of Love? It promises to be a tasty brew, an IPA bursting with Chinook and Strata hops. And it’s an absolute natural for the neighborhood. I’ve come to really enjoy sitting, on days when I’m not brewing—and even during breaks when I am—at the end of the communal table, just watching the world of the Haight slide by. It’s always interesting, the mix of people you see, many of whom pop in for a beer or some lunch: tourists foreign and domestic, families with adolescent kids walking ahead or behind their parents, and of course the neighborhood denizens—crusties from Buena Vista park with their dogs, and the wearers of brocade and leather, sequins, feathers and embroidery, a whole lot of whom would have fit right in—or in some cases clearly probably did—back then, fifty-odd years ago, when the whole thing happened.

It’s a groovy aside worth mentioning that the very name Summer of Love has brought about a nice little bit of cooperation between us and our friends at Victory Brewing, way out in Pennsylvania. It’s kind of surprising to me that Magnolia, given its original location in the Haight, hadn’t brewed a beer called Summer of Love until just a couple of years ago. Seems to me it should have been one of the first things out of the gate, but whatever. Victory brews a beer called Summer Love, and anybody who’s been paying attention knows that in recent years the name wars have intensified. Breweries are falling all over each other with beers named for various cultural references that occur and recur, resulting in some cases in a bit of bad blood as one player or another claims prior use, trademarks notwithstanding, and takes another to task. But anyway.

When we wanted to brew Summer of Love again, and possibly eventually put it into a package, I decided I’d better float the idea to my friend Bill Covaleski at Victory. To my mind the mere addition of the word “of” to the name gives the two beer names a completely different sense, but you can’t assume that others will see it that way, especially if they have a trademark and might be able to just say no. Victory is a national brand, and we’re just a locally distributed mark, with nothing at all available outside of California. I won’t bore you with the steps, but I will say that I very much appreciate their willingness to allow us to proceed. It’s a good thing, too. It’s a delicious beer.

This isn’t the first time I’ve overlapped, name-wise, with Bill. Years ago, when I worked at Big Time Brewery and Alehouse in Seattle—an offshoot, it happens, of Triple Rock—we brewed a Red IPA called Scarlet Fire, conceived by my assistant at the time, a confirmed Deadhead, referencing the sequence of songs in “the shows.” Well, Bill’s version was a smoked beer, and there were others, everybody concerned flying their flags, content to let it all flow where name use was concerned. And we’re all still friends.

So love, it turns out, is what keeps us in Craft together. Come by either location for a pint of Summer of Love. We’ll be releasing the beer on July 16th at the Haight Street pub, with beer specials and the hope that sunshine will favor us. There’s nothing quite like a seat outside at Haight and Masonic. Time stands still, and even turns back, for just a little while.

Into and Out of the Mouths of Babes

When my daughter Lucy was born in 1988 in Boston I had only recently started homebrewing with three friends.  In the evenings I was working in a nominally fancy French restaurant as a waiter and wine steward, in order to keep my days free for what I really wanted to do, which was mainly writing fiction.  Money was tight, and we didn’t have the resources for any babysitting help, or daycare; in fact, my then-wife and I cleaned house and did the shopping for our landlady, who lived upstairs, in consideration of a reduction in our rent.  So where childcare was concerned, the balance we struck involved my staying with Lucy during the days, thereby pretty much putting a stop to the long, unbroken stretches of time during which writing inspiration would either strike, or not.

But as a new creative outlet, there was homebrewing, and as a lot of its endeavors involved short bursts of activity—transfers, bottling, cleaning, and researching whatever it was I wanted to brew next.  Even if she was up and awake, I could keep up with a lot of my brewing-related chores while Lucy played, or sat watching me.  Every other week we drove across the city to the only shop that sold homebrewing supplies, and Lucy would sit on my back in our Gerry backpack as I crushed two batches’ worth of grain on a hand-cranked flour mill.  It’s safe to say that she was pretty closely on hand for the critical early stages of my incipient career as a brewer.

By the time my son Nap was born, a little under five years later, we were living in Seattle and I was working in a small brewery there.  It would be another three years before I started my own brewery, Elysian, and as the brewery I worked at mainly produced a single beer, those of us who worked there remained active homebrewers, trying out new things and brewing styles we weren’t able to do at work.  Generally I let the kids taste not just small amounts of some of the beers I brewed, but the ingredients that went into them.  Lucy, in fact, had a common memory with Nick, the younger son of my girlfriend Kim (who of course started New Belgium with her ex-husband Jeff back during approximately these same years), about eating some of the spelt that their dads were using in their respective home breweries to brew some rarified and exotic beer.

It turned out Lucy could tell good from bad.  I remember a time when during my next brewing gig I brought home a growler of a new lager I had brewed, a Dortmunder, and she asked first of all what it was I was drinking and then whether she could taste it.  It was good, she said, with only a little hesitation, and then that she thought it tasted a little like corn.  Well, for those in the know, a corny taste is an earmark of a fairly common flavor flaw in beer, and in lagers in particular.  Dimethyl sulfide, or DMS, can be the result of an insufficiently vigorous boil or a shorter than optimal period of lagering.  Think Rolling Rock and you’ll know what I’m referring to.  Well, at age five, Lucy was able to pick it up in my beer, even if she wouldn’t yet have been able to identify it by name.  I was both bursting with pride and a little discontented that the beer I was proud to have brewed wasn’t quite right, its off-ness evident to a well-trained child.

Naturally my kids developed preferences, based on the sips they were allowed, and we also had rules.  At parties, for example, they were not to help themselves to partial beers sitting out unattended—none of that surreptitious tottering for them—if there was to be any tasting at all, it would be authorized by me.  Honestly it never became an issue.  But as I say, they did have their preferences.  Lucy’s tastes were fairly broad-ranging, while Nap seemed to like things with a touch of difference.  He liked Guinness, and he liked Saison Dupont.  He often liked things with a touch of tartness.

One afternoon a couple of years later the kids were swinging on a rope swing on the pear tree in my backyard.  I was—go figure—sitting on the steps drinking a beer.  Lucy, who at that point was probably about eight, came over and asked me for a taste.  I gave it to her and when she put it to her lips she became visibly excited.  “Nap!” she called out, clearly feeling herself onto something special, “Rodenbach!”  My kids were both clearly fans of the Flemish reds—or at least the best of them.  I’m pretty sure Nap at the time was not much more than three.

I spent nearly every Fathers’ Day during those years at a particular beer festival held just outside of Seattle.  While dads and their families constituted most of the attendees, I never felt particularly inconvenienced by missing out on a day with my kids.  In truth there were plenty of others of those, and my family had never been particularly devoted to the lesser holidays.  And of course I could rest reasonably assured that where beer was concerned I had passed on some important lessons.

Blending with Friends

There’s a quote attributed to Isaac Newton, invoked by our friends over at The Rare Barrel in Berkeley for their collaborative series of beers paying tribute to those who have gone before, which comes to mind as I begin to lay the groundwork for the wood-aged and sour beers program we at Magnolia will be pursuing once we get Magnolia Hall, the space adjacent to the Dogpatch restaurant and brewery, up and running. “If I have seen further, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants,” he wrote, presumably with such figures in mind as Ptolemy, Archimedes, Aristotle, Copernicus and Galileo. The Rare Barrel has done a nice job of homage with contributions from such Craft Beer luminaries as “Wicked” Pete Slosberg and Lauren Limbach of New Belgium, and as we prepare to install our beautiful old foeders and shiny new coolship it must be acknowledged that we won’t be going it alone.

First off, Lauren will be involved with our efforts as well, especially as she heads up the wood program of our Colorado parent company, and as it happens is the most recent winner of The Brewers Association’s Russell Schehrer Award for innovation and excellence in brewing.  She has already provided extremely valuable advice as I’ve prepared to buy foeders and have our coolship manufactured, and as we contemplate the kinds of projects that will kick things off, wood-wise. She and I have talked about bringing in some of New Belgium’s wonderful wood beers, first for blending with things that we produce, and later for kick-starting our foeder inoculation program.  

New Belgium works with two basic wood beers, the pale Felix and darker Oscar, with which they produce nearly all of their blends.  Oscar is probably best recognized as the heart and soul of La Folie, while Felix has laid down the law in such beers as dry-hopped Le Terroir and the lovely peach of a beer, Eric’s Ale.  Kim and I also used Felix a number of years ago when we collaborated on a sour pumpkin and cranberry beer called Kick. Once we get the foeders in place we’ll think about filling a couple of them with live beer from our friends at New Belgium, in order to complement some of the other things with which we’ll be feeling our way.

Meanwhile—and not to be putting too many eggs in a single basket—we’re also working with some other friends to the south, down at Firestone Walker’s Barrelworks in Buellton.  I recently accepted an invitation from Jim Crooks, blendmaster for all the wonderful Barrelworks beers, to drive down and taste through several dozen barrels in anticipation of doing the same kind of thing (blending and inoculating) with beers of a bunch of different makeups.  Barrelworks handles a number of different inocula, with varying amounts of microbiological this and that, and with which they produce such artfully blended favorites as Agrestic, Sour Opal, Bretta Weisse and Krieky Bones. Parenthetically, I like to think I had a mainly passive influence years ago on their decision to produce El Gourdo, a wild roasted pumpkin ale.  In any case, Jim and his gang laid out a wood beer feast of individual barrel samples, intended to display the unadorned characteristics of beers they blend together to make the wonderful bottles with which many of us are familiar.

A couple of weeks later all the Magnolia brewers got together at my house for paella and the opportunity to taste through these beers in blended and finished form, thanks to the box that Jim sent up for us to sample.  While not on the surface surprising, having tasted many single barrel examples so recently it was eye-opening and wonderful to have the immediate experience of seeing what Jim and his crew had made of the building blocks that is barrel-aged beer.  It certainly got us all thinking.

The plan?  Bring totes of wood-aged sour beer from both New Belgium and Barrelworks to fill a handful of our foeders, hoping that what takes up residence in the wood will eventually provide a palette of variation for us to play with into the future.  In the meantime, we’ll produce beers of our own—and not all of them sour—with the idea of blending delicious hybrids we’ll perhaps bottle and also serve across the bar. The coolship? I knew you were wondering about that.

I have to be honest. Where the coolship is concerned we don’t at all know what to expect.  As soon as we can—and damn the torpedoes where the weather is concerned—we’ll start experimenting with producing wort and cooling it in the coolship, allowing whatever microflora is resident in the Dogpatch air to inoculate the wort prior to running it into either a foeder or a straight-up stainless steel fermenter.  And then we’ll see. We’ll see how it takes off and how it changes. We’ll see if it combines well with anything else we have on hand, either from other foeders or with more conventionally produced beers. We’ll see if it’s any good at all. Once again reverting to honesty, I’m sure we’ll put a fair amount of it down the drain.  In any case, we are all looking forward to the experiments that—with help from our friends—will take us into our next creative phase. It’s hoped that whatever route we follow, delicious will be the destination.

Guest Blog Post: Seth Wile, Head Brewer

Earlier this month, we sat down with Head Brewer Seth Wile to talk beer trends. With two new types of aging vessels about to be put into action – the city’s only coolship and a dozen oaken wooden foeders – Seth and his team are looking forward to exploring new ways to ferment and experimenting with unique flavors. Here, Seth shares his thoughts on hazy, juicy IPAs, spontaneous fermentation, pastry stouts, and more.

Q: What type of beer do you think will be trending this year?

A: “The hazy, juicy trend hasn’t gone away and isn’t going away. That flavor profile is still at the forefront of what a lot of breweries are doing. Now, however, they’re putting their own spin on it by adding fruits or making it more bitter-forward.”

Q: We’ve heard of chocolate beer, coffee beer, and even Lucky Charms beer. What do you think will be the next big infusion trend?

A: “The basics – such as fruit, vegetables, spices, and wood – will always be on the table. However, brewers are now doing stranger things like brewing pastry stout: a thick, viscous stout meant to have the texture and taste of biting into a pastry. People are becoming more and more comfortable with adding more and more – for lack of a better word – shit – to a beer. It used to be looked down upon by purists, but now all of the popular breweries are adding everything but the kitchen sink to their beers. As far as what we’re willing to do, the creativity is there, but we know when to rein it in.”

Q: What are you most excited about at Magnolia in the coming months?

A: “I’m looking forward to working with our new coolship. Back in the day, before refrigeration, coolships were the only option brewers had to cool down the wort (a.k.a. unfermented beer). Now, they are predominantly used for spontaneous fermentation. The coolship enables you to spread the wort out across a large surface area to cool, while also exposing it to wild yeasts and bacteria from your specific environment. This creates an entirely unique, funky flavor. There are only a few U.S. breweries with coolships; most are located in Belgium, where lambic beers originated.”

Q: Are you seeing any trends in packaging?

A: “Mostly differences in volume rather than any new types of packaging, like you may see with wine. 750 ml bottles are getting downsized to 550 ml and more beers are going into 19.2 oz, 22 oz aluminum cans. The most impactful part of the packaging, however, is the branding. So many people these days make their buying decisions based on the label, despite what’s inside.”


Come by to explore a tasting at either our Dogpatch or Haight Street locations. We’re about to get even more creative with our new coolship and foeders out on the floor!

Very Scary—Lots to Look Forward to in Early 2019

As I write this our containerload of foeders sits, awaiting shipping across the Bay, in the Port of Oakland.  Today had been floated as a possible delivery day, but now we’re hoping for tomorrow.  Once they arrive we’ll have to see first whether they’ll all fit though the door, and if not, where we’ll stick them temporarily as we await the fashioning of a large enough opening into the upcoming event space along 3rd Street.  And then, a bit farther down the road, there’s where to put the coolship—it’s finished and ready to ship, we just aren’t quite ready to receive it. But enough about difficulty.  Once everything is here, the funky fun begins.

In the meantime, however, we’ve also got to get ready not just for SF Beer Week (Feb. 1-10) but the antecedent event jointly put on by Magnolia and 21st Amendment, Strong Beer Month.  This year, for starters, we’re kicking off a new theme (imagine I’m holding a flashlight shining upward below my face in the dark): Monster Beers.  It’s kind of a no-brainer (as they say), given that all the beers are big and strong, many of them 10- or 11-per cent monsters in their own right, but where the poster is concerned (and hats off to the graphics crew at 21A, I must say) it’s actually a three-brainer, a sort of earthbound King Ghidorah, if you’re hip to the Kaiju canon.

Check this out.

A couple of Magnolia favorites have surfaced from the deeps and lagoons from whence they first arose, and while the potential effect of overindulgence might prove a scary prospect, their names are like the idyllic beginning of the movie before the monsters escape from the lab or arrive from outer space.  Promised Land Imperial IPA is back, in a version very similar to last year’s re-think of the longstanding classic, and a hefty blend of Old Thunderpussy barley wine and sour beer called Queen of the Underground will also be on offer beginning, along with all the rest, on February 1.  And then there are the featured creatures: King Koln Imperial Kolsch, Cucumber Constrictor Double Eclectic IPA, Brute Cocktail Imperial Tropical Eclectic IPA, Stop Motion Amburana-aged Imperial Stout and the collab we’re throwing together with our buds at 21A, a hazy and lightly smoky Imperial IPA called Smog Monster.  All these beers will pour as long as they last into the month, and once again devotees will have the opportunity either to buy or earn free a bitchin’ commemorative glass.  And as a special treat we’ll have a showing of a couple of classic monster movies we’ll decide on later on Wednesday, February 20th at Dogpatch. And since it was so much fun during Eclectic IPA month, we’re doing a beer school event on February 17th at 21st Amendment, mainly to showcase Shaun’s and Dick’s badinage.

And then (pause for breath-catching), there’s SF Beer Week.  We’ll be bringing back a couple of tried-and-trues, partly because people always show up in reasonably well-mannered droves, but also because we love them just for ourselves.  So yes, Oysterfest is back, on Tuesday Feb. 5, with oysters offered both on the half-shell and in various ways that chef Roque comes up with.  Oyster Head Stout will be nip and tuck, so we’ll see about that.  And on Thursday, the 7th, we’ll be doing Festival of Firkins, with a bunch of Magnolia beers served the natural way, alongside a hand-picked array of some of the Bay Area’s best real ale producers.  Nor will Dogpatch be left out of the fun.  On Wednesday, the 6th, we’ll do a lobster vs. crab head-to-head with East Coast buddies Allagash Brewing—can’t wait to see what Laurance comes up with for the menu.  And on Friday, the 8th, we’ll throw down with our local Brut IPA brethren for the first-ever (as far as we know) Brut IPA fest, called (you could have thought of this, but we did) Et Tu Brut.

There’s other stuff we’ll be up to, of course, at other accounts and in various combinations.  There will galas and tap takeovers, food-paired things and rare releases.  And when it’s over we’ll all be exhausted.

Reporting Back and Looking Forward

Heading into 2019 brings all sorts of excitement and interesting projects—foeders and coolship likely arriving later this month, and a bunch of fun collaborations, to say nothing of embarking on the conversion of the new event space next door at Dogpatch—but before I go there, I can’t resist reporting back on what I was up to during part of the month of November…

After various invitations, demurrals, schedulings and determinations, Kim and I headed south to São Paolo, Brazil to join our friends at Tarantino Brewing for some long-anticipated projects.  The brewery is the brainchild of a trio of guys—two Brazilians and an American—one of whom, Gilberto “Giba” Tarantino hosted a BA group I was a part of back in 2013, during his days as a beer importer.  In the intervening years he had asked me to come down and brew pumpkin beer at another brewery with which he was associated, but that never worked out.  But now he has a brewery of his own, and when I saw him this year at the Craft Brewers Conference in Nashville, he renewed the idea.  Rather than pumpkin beer, we would brew some beers more along the lines of my most recent book, Brewing Eclectic IPA.  We’d source Brazilian ingredients, the kinds of things that have beguiled me during judging the Concurso Brasileiro de Cervejas in Blumenau, Brazil over the past couple of years.  We would have fun coming up with things on the fly.

So we went.

The first thing we did, of course, not long after Giba picked us up at the airport, was have a caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail.  I had one made with cashew fruit, the reddish orange pulpy mass that’s attached beneath cashew nuts.  Who knew, right?  Well, I did, from previous trips.  In any case, not long after that we sat down for a tasting of beer aged on about a dozen different woods.  Wood, of course, is another one of my areas of interest, and one thing that’s unique about wood-aging in South America is that since after the last major geologic upheaval in the Americas, oak was unable to migrate very far south of the Isthmus of Panama.  As a result, if you’re aging spirits, wine or beer in or on wood, either you’re buying oak or you’re using something else.  Probably the most popular wood is amburana, which throws earthy and spicy aromas—a little cinnamon, a little nutmeg—and a bag of which I happen to have, given me by Wicked Pete Slosberg (look for some kegs of this upcoming!). We tasted Jaquera (yellow jackfruit wood), castañera (Brazil nut tree, pollinated only by two rare types of Brazilian bee), Ipe (which I think my deck in Seattle is made of!), balsamo (minty and eucalyptus-like) and a number of others.  Our choice for aging a brown ale was Putumuju, which was reminiscent of strawberry, and especially fruity when burned.

Our education in Brazilian fruits was twofold.  On one day we tasted around a dozen different fruit purées, things, once again, pretty much unknown up here.  Oh sure, we know maracuja, but by a different name—passion fruit—but the maracuja they grow down there, and which you can buy in any decent supermarket, are as big as baseballs.  We also tasted such things as jabuticaba (which I happen to know Peter Bouckaerdt has been trying to get his hands on), cajamanga, jenipopo, seriguela and a bunch of others, not all of which, to be honest, were entirely pleasant (Kim thought mangaba tasted the way latex paint smells—and she was right).  In the end we chose Cambuci (lime, mint, light pepper) and Umbu (tart, again peppery, and green) to put in an IPA.  Fruit for another beer we would choose from something we found on the next day’s journey to the fruit farm.

Yes.  The fruit farm.  Alexandre, the head brewer at Tarantino, has over the past few years cultivated acquaintance with folks who back in the nineties converted some pasture land near a town called Paraibuna, about midway between São Paolo and Rio near back to jungle, but with a bunch of indigenous fruit trees worked into the mix.    It was quite a rainy and muddy day, especially when we got off the main road and made much of the trip on unpaved roads in Luciano’s (another Tarantino partner) Land Rover, eventually arriving at Sitio do Bello.  Kind of expecting trees planted in rows, we were pleasantly surprised by the wildness of it all.  The idea, after all, had not been to plant an orchard as such but to help the land convert back to jungle, albeit with perhaps a higher concentration of native fruits than might completely naturally occur.  The first ones we encountered with our guide Cintia were pitanga, which we had also seen growing on the streets of São Paolo.  Looking like a tiny heirloom tomato, they are sharply berry-like and have a pretty big seed.  We kept going, and shortly had my favorite fruit of the day, garcinia, which look like limes when they’re immature, but ripen to yellow, a bit larger than a golf ball and kind of tartly mango-like in flavor and texture.  I ate the whole thing.  And in the course of our further wanders we saw uvaia, grumixama (looks kind of like a purple rose hip, tastes vaguely cherry-like and has lots of seeds) and another whose name translated roughly to “furry little guy,” but which escapes me now.  When we were done roving we tasted some juices for fruits that weren’t then in season, and chose coquinho aceda to make another pale ale with later in the week.

Tho folks at Tarantino were terrific, and their brewery was a pretty nice setup—a 30 hectoliter main brewhouse with a little 1 hL test brewery with four fermenters.  Alexandre’s crew was diligent and helpful.  KiKa coordinates all the behind the scenes action, with her oversized T-shirt and requisite groovy hat, and the other guy, whose name eluded me at first and subsequently reintroduced himself as Douglas, took care of milling, sanitizing and making sure everything was kept in trim.  The one member of the ownership triumvirate I haven’t yet mentioned is Isaac, an American guy from Maine whose wife is Brazilian, and who was midway through the tricky process, despite still running aspects of the brewery, of moving to New York.

One other detour we made was to the Coffee Lab, a place I’d actually been before, a place that takes coffee very seriously.  It’s important to point out that while Brazilians love and produce a lot of coffee, there isn’t all that much of a café culture—people mostly drink it at home.  We ran through a number of coffees and eventually chose a blend of Yellow and Red Cataui, which we ended up putting in a pale ale, both on the hot side and as a cold bean addition late in fermentation.

If I seem at all vague about all these beers, it’s because (of course) they weren’t ready by the time we left São Paolo.  I’ve gotten reports as they’ve come along, and I’m hoping that one of these days some cans will arrive (that was the plan).  In any case, I have to chalk the whole thing up to a wonderful, un-reproduceable adventure.  None of those fruits, as far as I know, are even available in this country.  Hence there will be no beers brewed reminiscent of latex paint—or the wonderful juiciness of many of the others. I did bring back some little bags of cubes of some of some of the woods we tried, so we’ll likely be running some small-scale experiments with those.

The foeders, the coolship, the collaborations with Fal from Anderson Valley (Yuzukosho Gose) and the folks from Barebottle (a hazy IPA with grapefruit, Meyer lemon and retro hopping)?  I’ve gone on so long about Brazil that’s going to have to wait.  Stay tuned.

Punch Your Ticket (and Collect Your Glass) for Eclectic IPA Month!

For many years now we’ve teamed up with the folks at 21st Amendment during November for BRU-SFO, bringing out six Belgian-style beers from each brewery in an annual masterpiece of brewhouse coordination and creative abandon.  We loved BRU-SFO, and while we also love the styles of beer inspired by that teeny little country these days struggling to keep its head above the increasingly insistent lapping of the North Sea, we’re putting it on a Sabena flight to posterity.

But our November partnership with 21A is by no means over—and, by the way, no, in case you’re wondering, it wasn’t last year’s Fennel Face that constituted BRU-SFO’s last straw.  In fact, this year we’re doubling down on the creativity, sort of inspired by the publication of my book, Brewing Eclectic IPA back in May.  This November we’ll be co-celebrating Eclectic IPA month with six beers from each brewery—two of them collaborations—three of them to be released at the beginning of the month, followed by one more each week leading up to just before Thanksgiving.  We’ll also be hosting events at our newly reopened Dogpatch brewery and at the SF 21A location to give attendees an exclusive sneak preview of the last beers, along with food, talk and merriment.

Shaun O’Sullivan of 21A and I have shared a fair amount of all those things over the years, and in some ways took similar vines—er, paths—to brewing distinctiveness and hilarity: think watermelon and pumpkin.  Now we’re poised to raid the spice and produce markets to come up with a dozen new beers—new IPAs—for the upcoming month.  It’s going to be fun.

The whole concept of Eclectic IPA revolves around the interplay between hops and other ingredients in beer, kicked up a notch or two by the extreme treatments of brewing embodied in IPA.  The past thirty years or so have seen a parade of new hop varieties presenting bold, fruity, herbal and distinctive flavors and aroma previously unknown in the history of brewing.  Not surprisingly, these bold varieties, beginning with Cascade, then followed by Centennial and Chinook, onward to Amarillo, Citra, Mosaic, Simcoe and all sorts of crazy stuff with Maori-sounding names from New Zealand, have along the way been embraced by craft brewers in this country and elsewhere to make some pretty radical beers.  But the hops are only half the story.  Other ingredients, things like fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices, coffee and chocolate can be manipulated to tie into the essential aromas and flavors of hops carried by the essential oils—or terpenes—inherent in them and individually identified by both analysis and just plain sensory appreciation.  Turns out terpenes are in things other than weed; in fact, they are part of pretty much everything that grows in the ground, and even in such things as the excretions from some insects.  That’s the base concept inherent in Eclectic IPA: flavor combinations that just work, whether because they play so well together or because they present a contrapuntal combination that is beguiling and delicious.

So onward to the beers—and by the way, no once more, there will be neither fennel nor the excretions from insects in any of the IPAs we’ll be offering in Novemeber:

We haven’t settled on the order of things, but these are what we plan to produce at Magnolia:

Red Spruce—IPA made with currants and spruce tips

Shiso Fine—IPA made with shiso leaves, added three times

South Island Hiss—IPA made with gooseberries and New Zealand Nelson Sauvin

Theabelgo—Belgian Black Chocolate IPA (brewed with Recchiuti Chocolate)

TukTuk Tea—Thai/Vietnamese Iced Tea-inspired IPA, made with Cha Dem Yen tea and lactose

Our collaboration with 21A will be Henna Tattoo Double IPA, brewed with Buddha’s Hand fruit purée and pink peppercorns

21A’s beers:

Hazy Imperial Passion—Imperial hazy IPA with passion fruit

Imperial West Coast Pine—Imperial IPA brewed with pine and lemon verbena

Brut Fruit—Mango-strawberry brut IPA

Pancake Syrup—Maple IPA brewed with toasted fenugreek seeds

SuperNatural IPA—brewed with Peet’s Ethiopian Super Natural and Etolie coffees

And Urban Forage, which we’ll all do together. This collaboration should be fun.  On October 29, a bunch of the brewers from both breweries will rove through Chinatown in San Francisco and select things on the spot to brew with.

As in the past, we’ll be issuing punch cards, in order that motivated maniacs can try all the beers in the course of the month and be rewarded with a commemorative glass.  Glasses will also be offered for sale at any time, and will be given away at the two brewery events.  I will be presiding at the Dogpatch event on November 19th and I’ll join Shaun at 21A on the 18th, along with various other brewers, in order to talk about the beers and enjoy the paired bites created by our respective chefs.  The bites will also be available at both the Haight Street and Dogpatch locations and at 21A throughout the month and as each beer is released, riffing on the great pairings that Chef Roque Mendoza dreamed up this past February for Strong Beer Month at the Magnolia pub, and enlisting the inspirational expertise of Laurance Gordon, our new chef at Magnolia Dogpatch.  Ticketing information will be forthcoming for the events, at which attendees will also have the first crack at the last releases, to be unveiled for the general public on that last Monday before Thanksgiving.  Our Dogpatch event will also be a chance for anyone who hasn’t yet made it to the newly reopened Magnolia location to come and give it a look.  Stay tuned.