Here, There, and Everywhere

Believe it or not, I travel less than a lot of my friends in the craft brewing industry.  My friend Shaun over at 21A and I have been trying unsuccessfully to get together just to play some records for several months now, but he’s always jetting off to sell beer in far-flung corners of the country—and he has to.  Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn brewing is a globe-trotting legend in our industry, continually speaking and doing chef’s appearances on every continent except maybe Antarctica—maybe. Nor am I judging either of those two guys when I say that I’ve considered it pretty important to stay close to home, keeping up with the challenges we have just in our two locations, as well as weighing in on a much smaller, exclusively California and mainly just Bay Area distribution footprint.

That having been said, I can’t resist reporting just a bit on a few trips I did take recently, the result, for the most part, of having promised a long time ago to participate in this conference and that judging opportunity.  They just all happened to fall in a pretty rapid-fire way between late September and late October. And I did manage to intersperse them with stretches of home and brewery time, lest it seem that I’ve forgotten where either of those things is.

SEABREW might sound like a holdover from my Northwest brewing days, but what it actually is is a conference, in its fourth year in 2019, of brewers from Southeast Asia.  I was invited to speak last year when it was held in Manila, but deferred until this year as an act of workaday conscience. The scene this year was Bangkok, a place I’ve been several times over the years, first a couple of times with my kids, then with my friend Fal (of Anderson Valley Brewing, who back then was brewing for Archipelago Brewing in Singapore), and later with my girlfriend Kim and our collective offspring.  The food, and the temples, of course, are incredible, as is the traffic which flows, like water, pretty much wherever it can. I was happy this time to see a number of the little TukTuks powered by propane, but even so, the air quality there is not great. I did enjoy getting around by various means of public transport, including several times by extremely democratic river ferry.

The conference was great, extremely well organized and peopled by brewers and allied tradespeople from Southeast Asia and beyond.  I met and hung out with brewers working in Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan, Indonesia, India and Australia.  I was one of the keynote speakers at the conference, and I took the opportunity to talk about the two chapters I wish I had included in my book from several years ago—The Brewers Association Guide to Starting Your Own Brewery—one on crafting a mission statement and core values and beliefs for your fledgling business and the other on the importance of some kind of exit strategy to be employed down the road.  It’s always hard in a group of that size—there were probably 500 people in attendance—to get a decent read on how a presentation is being received, but I had some good questions from the audience and got lots of positive feedback afterward. One of the extra-conference highlights was a little festival showing off the beers of a bunch of non-licensed breweries doing a sort of grey market business. Nearly every beer I had was outstanding, and enormously inventive, many of them using native Thai ingredients.

Following a week in SF, Kim and I were off to Belgium to help oversee the annual New Belgium sojourn of co-workers of five years’ standing.  To say I had anything to do with its organization would be a vast overstatement, but having been to Belgium quite a few times over the years—and on this particular trip nine times alone—I pitch in where I can, plotting directions and helping make sure people make it onto this or that train or trolley.  Each year the trip is a bit different, paying varying amounts of attention to Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp and Ghent, with lots of stops at breweries in the countryside, a couple of them gotten to by bicycle. As always, it was a fun group, and this year it was a pretty big one—52 people all told. One of the high points for me was the day we trained into Brussels, made a quick stop in the Grand Place to eat some sandwiches on the go, trolleyed over to see my friend Yvan DeBaets at Brasserie de la Senne, pressed onward to the Brussels Beer Project and finished up with a stop at a down-to-earth beer bar recommended by Yvan.  This we headquartered entirely in Ghent, an often overlooked city on many peoples’ trips to Belgium, but a great combination of the various aspects of what Belgium has to offer—historical architecture, a lively night and student scene, and canals. Who doesn’t love canals?

Me and Kim with our new friends, Jaime and Rodolfo, in Mexico City.

Another week at home, and I was off to Chihuahua to judge the Copa Cerveza de Mexico, which is the equivalent south of the border of the GABF.  There were about 40 other judges, quite a few of whom have been doing this one for years (and I could see why), tasting and evaluating about 1100 different beers.  We spent four days judging, lounging and sampling Chihuahua’s street food and then boarded a plane all together for Mexico City, where we attended the competition’s awards ceremony and festival.  Kim joined me in Mexico City, and while we did get to knock around a bit beside all the beer-related stuff, we also mainly resolved to come back when we’re able to stretch out and take a better look around.  I hadn’t been there since 1985–and Kim not much more recently—and my memory of a big, smoggy, charming sprawl of city was pretty well borne out. We stayed in a great neighborhood and had a really good time.

So now I’m back, making beer and planning Magnolia’s next stages.  If you haven’t made it in yet for the Eclectic IPAs, word on the street is that they’ve surpassed even last year’s lineup in tastiness and creativity.  They’re going fast—my favorites are probably the Acid Test Sour Session IPA; Mr McGregor’s IPA, made with carrots, parsnips, ginger and turmeric; and the Pink and the Green, the watermelon/cucumber IPA collab we did with our pals at 21A.  But as of this writing we haven’t even released the last one—also tasty, since I’m in a position to have tried it off the tank—Uncle Jo Vietnamese-style Coffee IPA, finished with several gallons of Ritual cold-brewed coffee. Shaun and I had planned to get together the other night to try some of the ones they put out at 21A, but he had to head off to Atlanta to sell beer.  He may stop by on Thanksgiving…

There’s a Certain Eclecticity In the Air…

Visitors to the Magnolia pubs are well aware of our propensity to put a lot of crazy stuff in our beer.  Oh sure, we like the classics, too—within the past couple of weeks we’ve offered as many as four old-timey recipes from the archives—but especially when it comes to IPA, we just can’t resist combining various hop characters with fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and whatever else.  Especially in November, when Eclectic IPA month rolls around. We had such a good time last year teaming up with our friends at 21st Amendment for a whole raft of innovative and delicious IPAs that we’ve decided to do it again.  Many of the beers are already underway, awaiting further treatment and the addition of radical ingredients.  In fact I’ve just been texting with Shaun O’Sullivan about watermelon. But I’m getting ahead of myself.  

A sample of ingredients from my kitchen.

A sample of Mr. MacGregor’s IPA ingredients from my kitchen.

Like last year we’ll be staggering the release of the beers, tapping three on November 1st and another each week, including—for the first time—a canned collaboration. We’ll have punch cards again, but this time around the reward will be a party with the brewers on Dec 2 at 6pm for everyone that’s completed all 11 stamps on their card. This will be at Dogpatch in Magnolia Hall, but onward to the beers…

Remember Shiso Fine from last year?  Well this time around we’re putting out a hazy double version we’re calling Shiso Thicc.  That’ll be out at the beginning of the month along with Mango Chili Rok, a Mexican candy IPA brewed with Mango purée, fresh Fresno chilis and dried guajillos. What we’re shooting for is the effect of those mango Mexican popsicles— palitos de Michoacán—dusted with chili.  Joining those two will be a beer I’ve been dying to make ever since I came up with the recipe for my Brewing Eclectic IPA book, Mr MacGregor’s IPA, combining Cascade and Mandarina hops with carrots, parsnips, ginger and turmeric. As I write this, in fact, I’m working on the proportions of those four ingredients—too gingery so far, but that undefinable, peppery contribution from the parsnips is pretty amazing.

 

The following week, on November 7th, we RELEASE THE HOUNDS, er, the cans of The Pink and the Green, a 7% abv IPA made with watermelon and cucumber.  We figured it was kind of cute to offer a nod to a couple of beers for which both breweries have become somewhat known—more than somewhat for 21A’s Hell or High Watermelon—and our Cucumber Squeeze.  In fact, the main image on this post is of the brewers from both companies “relaxing” after pitching cucumber purée into the fermenter. We’ve got our guys at Gamut Design working on some groovy can art for the 16-ouncers we’ll be offering for sale in 4-packs alongside the draft pouring at all of our pubs.

On the 14th things will get all trippy with Acid Test, a kettle-soured, Session-esque IPA of 5.5% abv finished with lots of Citra.  This beer was inspired by a sour IPA I enjoyed with my friend Ron Jeffries at Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales. And on the 21st we’ll round out the offerings with Uncle Jo, an IPA inspired by Vietnamese coffee—Jo, Jo, Jo Chi Minh!

It’s a fairly pleasant bike ride from Magnolia Dogpatch up to the 21A pub, once you’ve negotiated the construction on Illinois and skirted the bay past Chase Center (Go Dubs! And Dubs Golden Ale!) and dealt with a little iffiness on the 4th St bridge just before Oracle Park.  I’ve ridden it more than a few times, and I plan to again, in order to check out the brews that Jaron and Dogger—no doubt with very close supervision by Shaun and Nico—have coming up to correspond to ours.  I like our lineup, of course, but the variety they’ve got on the horizon is riveting. Nitro Hazer is a hazy IPA on nitro; Brut Punch brings mango, papaya and tangerine peel; and the obvious choice for brunch, Michelada IPA, with tomatoes, citrus and salt.  Those are the offerings for kickoff on November 1st.  They’ll be co-releasing the collab on the 7th, and then following up with Pumpkin Spice Latte IPA on the 14th and Global Cooling, an IPA lager with adjuncts on the 21st.

Okay, so I think I’ve got the proportions right for the Mr. MacGregors.  We’ve got six cases of cucumbers and 20 cases of watermelons coming in next week for The Pink and the Green.  We had a little trip-up when the produce company sent shishitos instead of shiso, but that’s been straightened out now.  We’re thinking we’re going to stem and seed the guajillos and then steep them in hot wort before puréeing them up in the blender; the Fresnos will go in chopped at the same time. Seth will be coming in this week super-early to make sure the pH on the Acid Test doesn’t go too low, and the coffee…  Coffee is easy.

Eclectic IPA Month Header

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.