Archive for August, 2009

burger bar las vegas

Monday, August 31st, 2009

view from the back bar

view from the back bar

In Las Vegas for a close friend’s bachelor party, I happened to stumble across Burger Bar in Mandalay Place on the strip.  Well, more like “actively seek out as a result of BeerFly research” than “stumble across,” but you know what I mean.  This place emerged as an oasis in a desert of aluminum budweiser bottles and foot-tall plastic margarita glasses.

  • don’t fret if mandalay place (the building between mandalay bay and luxor) seems far.  a tram at excalibur drops you off less than a 5 minute walk from where you need to be.
  • when I got there, the place was packed, and there was a line to get in.  however, bar seating is first come, first served, and there were open bar seats the entire time i was there, so if you are in a group of 2-3 I would recommend that option.  they are also open until 2am on weekends, so you can always go in at an off hour to avoid the rush.
  • if the front bar is packed, check out their back bar – it seemed less crowded to me and was where I got a seat the first time I was there.
  • over the course of the weekend, I visited this place multiple times.  I started off with a favorite, stone’s 13 anniversary, while picking out a burger.
  • they also have an impressive dogfish head selection here, bigger than I have found in SF.  I had a DFH raison d’etre with my burger, and had them pour a draft DFH 90 minute IPA in a cup to go.
  • later that weekend, I rolled in for another burger.  I started off with another favorite, Cantillon Iris (in a 375ml bottle), and left with a DFH 120 minute IPA in a cup (ask for it, I don’t think it’s on the menu).  I think I can safely say that I was the only guy rolling through the casino with that beer in his hand.
  • Everyone working at burger bar was very friendly (and incredibly busy).  I had a good conversation with Dean, the resident “beer guide” at burger bar.  He’s the guy to look for for good beer stories and recommendations.

Also, another burger bar will be opening in the city in macy’s sometime soon, so hopefully theire beer list will come with it and we can all enjoy yet more beer variety here in SF.

p.s. for some decent shots of the interior of burger bar go here.



pannepot old fisherman’s ale 2007, grand reserva 2005

Friday, August 28th, 2009


last night I cracked open a bottle of de struise’s pannepot old fisherman’s ale 2007, a great belgian quad.

  • this beer was impossible for me to find for years, nobody carried it.  I talked to Dave over at Healthy Spirits and he initially said it couldn’t happen, but one day I rolled in and it was on the shelf.  before I knew it city beer store was carrying it as well.  I grabbed the bottle off the shelf so fast I’m surprised it didn’t break.
  • I think this beer is definitely slept on, it’s one of my top quads but I’ve seen it on the shelves for many months.  maybe there is just a huge supply of it in SF these days?  either way, I’ve got a couple tucked away for safe keeping.
  • the 2007 was great, awesome carbonation and aroma, with a thick, boozy taste that is smooth but kicks your ass at the same time.  you definitely know you’re putting down a 10% beer with this one, but it’s not harsh.


sipping on this quad brought me back a year to Brussels, specifically Delirium Cafe, where I ordered an oak-aged pannepot grand reserva 2005 downstairs in the bottle room.  when the bartender came back with the (last) bottle, dusted it off, and cranked out an expert pour, all while I was thumbing through their inches-thick beer list, I was stoked.  the beer was great too, one of my all-time favorites, loaded with fruit flavors and unbelievably complex.


wort chilling

Thursday, August 27th, 2009
as you can see, sanitation is crucial in my cooling setup

as you can see, sanitation is crucial in my cooling setup

When i first started brewing, my solution for cooling the wort was to dunk my brewpot in a sink full of ice water and stir occasionally over the course of an hour (or two) until the wort got down to a temp where i could pitch the yeast.  After one too many trips for ice during brewday I decided to consider wort chilling alternatives.

  • I decided on an immersion chiller.  Truthfully, it doesn’t chill as fast as i would like – it still takes at least 30-45 minutes to get my wort down to pitching temps.  maybe my ground water temp is the problem (or maybe I should adjust my flow rate)?  Also, the first time I used the chiller the copper looked (and smelled) pretty funky, even after a couple rinsing sessions with PBW.  I was definitely hesitant to lower it into my boiling wort, but the brew turned out fine (I just had a pint of it last night).
  • you can build an immersion chiller yourself to save a few bucks if you want, it’s pretty simple.
  • also, you can incorporate a pre-chiller into your setup to further lower chill times, but this brings back the ice dilemma for me.  Not a bad idea if you have an ice machine and some extra tubing though.  As explained in this article: “begin cooling [your] wort without the chiller, then dunk the pre-chiller in ice water once the outside of my kettle is cool enough to touch.
  • another option I plan on investigating in the future is a counterflow chiller such as the therminator.  It gets good reviews and cools 10 gallons of wort to pitching temps in less than 10 minutes!  Here’s a good comparison between immersion chillers and counterflow chillers that explains both pretty well.
  • some day, i hope to rock the ultimate chilling solution: sabco’s chill-wizard.  it is a CIP therminator with a built-in oxygenation stone, temperature gauge, and pump.

On another note, maybe wort chilling isn’t the way to go.  I recently read an article (in celebrator or beer advocate, i forgot) about a brewer at the Grey Parrot in long beach, WA that spontaneously ferments his wort.  To do so, he cools his wort slowly without chilling, thereby creating a vacuum in the fermenter, which is connected via a ball valve to a tube leading to the roof of the brewery.  One tug of the ball valve and the outside air is sucked into the fermenter, creating a truly spontaneous fermentation, and evidently, some great beers.  Although this technique isn’t exactly in stride with my reading on spontaneous fermentation, I have definitely kept it in mind for the future.

image compliments of

image compliments of

westvleteren blonde, 8, and 12

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009


So a little over a year ago “a friend of mine” scored a hat trick while visiting Brussels on a honeymoon stop.  He rolled into one of the many bottle shops there and, in a crate tucked under a beer rack, uncovered a mixed case of westvleteren blonde, 8, and 12 bottles.  Anxious to try these fabled beers, he scooped them up and stuffed them in his wife’s suitcase, but upon reaching home he had a change of heart and donated his entire stash to me.  He wishes to remain anonymous for fear of monk retribution, as sale of these beers outside of the monastery is frowned upon.  A year later, I dug these guys out and cracked em open.

  • For those out of the loop, the Westvleteren story is an interesting one, the hotlink is definitely worth a quick read.
  • FYI, these beers, although surprisingly somewhat difficult to find in belgium, were spotted in several bottle shops in amsterdam, so if you are ever out there, it might be worth your while to go on a hunt.
  • the westvleteren blonde was great – a flavorful yet easily drinkable blonde without the spiciness i personally dislike from many belgian blondes.
  • the westvleteren 8 was a big surprise and my favorite of the bunch – big cola flavor that i love in quads, but this is a dubbel!  it reminded me of a smaller, super-drinkable rochefort 10.
  • the westvleteren 12 was awesome too – great complexity and unreal drinkability.  a great beer? yes.  one of my favorite quads? yeah, I guess.  worth the hype? maybe, but not at the prices these are going for on ebay.



presidio blackberry kölsch

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009


Although the majority of the recipes I do (at the moment) are partial mash, when it comes to my kölsch recipe I do full extract.

  • to make matters worse, I get the kolsch ingredient kit from williams brewing.  I love william’s, but some people give them crap for not disclosing their ingredient proportions in their kits or labelling their hops.  It doesnt bother me much with the kolsch, i mean with one type of LME and two hop additions, it’s not that hard to reverse engineer.  I’ll figure out a comparable all-grain recipe when I switch over next year.
  • plus, williams has good prices, and best of all, they ship the same day for orders before 3pm pacific.  since they are located in san leandro (a quick shot north of SF), i get my packages from them next day for a flat rate (usually $6 or $7) ground shipping price.  they’re a great option if you’re located in the pacific northwest.
image courtesy of

image courtesy of

I feel i have a special connection with kölsch.

  • Specifically, kölsch can technically only be called such if it is brewed in Cologne, Germany, where my maternal grandfather’s ancestors hail from.
  • It is the perfect session beer and is a very social beverage, being served in small, narrow glasses called  “stanges.”
  • It is also an interesting beer in that while it resembles a pilsener, it uses ale (top-fermenting) yeast and is lagered after a relatively warm primary fermentation.
  • as for the pronunciation – some places say it is “cole-sch,” others (including the bartender at suppenküche) say it is “cool-sch.” whatever.

to mix this batch up a little bit, I wandered around the Presidio picking wild blackberries.

  • according to a pamphlet i read some time back, the Presidio recommends against eating any growth in their park except for wild blackberries.
  • i ended up with a couple pounds of the fruit, enough (hopefully) to add a little color and fruit aroma to the beer.
  • additionally, i was hoping some wild yeasts on the fruit would kick off a secondary fermentation, but so far i don’t see any activity worth mentioning.

the kölsch has been in primary for about a month, with the fruit added after 2 weeks.  i am going to wait a few more weeks (to hopefully get some more color/sugars out of the fruit) and then keg the batch.


pyramid ale house at OAK

Monday, August 24th, 2009

On a different note, I had the honor of trying out the Pyramid Ale House while waiting for a flight in the Oakland Airport on the way down to LA.  Knocked down a thunderhead (truthfully, not my favorite IPA) while AP had an alehouse amber (an unfiltered amber “exclusive” to pyramid taprooms, pretty decent) .  not great, but not a bad option if you’re stuck with a delayed flight and have greatly diminished expectations.

  • great bartenders, but the beers were (predictably) pricey.
  • only prepackaged food from what i could see, not lookin’ good.
  • crowded as hell, but what do you expect on a Friday afternoon at the airport?



father’s office

Monday, August 24th, 2009

stone 13th and friends at father's office

stone 13th and friends at father's office

More specifically, I guess I went to Father’s Office Santa Monica, since there is now another (evidently bigger) one a little ways away.  A few years back, FO surprised me with some great beers and burgers, as well as an enormous crowd.  Well, the place didn’t disappoint in any of those areas on Saturday.

  • I forgot that you order both food and beers at the bar, so have a friend claim a table (if there are any left) while you order up.
  • this place is both small and popular, so try to come at an off hour.  i came with some friends at 3ish on a Saturday and my buddy grabbed the last table in the joint.  also, parking is a pain in the ass during the week, FYI.
  • evidently, the bartenders pride themselves on beer recommendations.  One of them recommended a tripel to my buddy after he told her he liked his first pint of new belgium’s dandelion beer.  I found the recommendation odd at first but now i guess it was accurate enough.
  • I started off with RR’s perdition.  Pretty decent, I’m not really a biere de garde fan but i figured i would give it a shot.  One BA review of this beer i relate with: “Like I can turn down a RR tap I haven’t had yet?… Those RR guys make very good beers, and really craft them. This was certainly not one of my favorites, but it’s still very well-made” (callmescraps).
  • I finished off with stone’s 13th anniversary.  I LOVE this beer, it’s the quintessential “california beer” to me.  they should do like sublimely self-righteous and make it seasonal instead of a one-time deal.  time to stock up at bevmo in case that never happens.
the bar at FO
perdition, etc.


la trappe

Friday, August 21st, 2009
bar lineup at la trappe

bar lineup at la trappe

Rolled over to La Trappe last night with CB and Dave.  As of late, the place has been getting super crowded, to the point where I actually walked away a couple weekend nights when it was shoulder-to-shoulder and rolled over to Rogue instead.  I like La Trappe though, great belgian selection on draft and in bottles, and the staff is usually pretty friendly.  Oh yeah, the food is great here too.  Overall it’s always near the top of my list when I’m in North Beach.

  • the place was full underground when we walked in, but we managed to get a table within 5-10 minutes.  note to self – come here on weeknights, screw the weekend crowd.
  • busted out Temptation on draft – great as always, dunno how vinnie does it.
  • followed by Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze – awesome, super dry. it was interesting to follow temptation with this one.  a discussion ensued as to whether any american brewer would sack it up and start exclusively doing geuzes/lambics/spontaneously fermented beers.  more on that topic later.
  • finished off the night with  Gouden Carolus Cuvée Van De Keizer. great belgian strong, a year or two more in the bottle and it would be out of control.
a round of temptation

a round of temptation

geuze: my favorite style? hard to say...

geuze: my favorite style?

great way to finish up the night

great way to finish up the night

homegrown hops

Thursday, August 20th, 2009
vojvodina cones

vojvodina cones

Finally tried my hand at growing hops this year.  For those out of the loop, you can buy hop rhizomes and plant them (preferably in the ground, but also in pots).  I don’t have a backyard, so after reading this BYO article i went out and got myself 2 large (>5 gallon) pots, along with about 10 pounds of potting soil and 5 pounds of potting “mix,” which i mixed 75/25 respectively in both pots with some dry fertilizer. I then got some rhizomes at freshops (they sell great whole hops too) – note that rhizomes are sold seasonally (march/aprilish), and sell out quick.

  • i water almost every day, and fertilize with a liquid fertilizer once every 2 weeks.  they get about 6 hours of sun a day.
  • i have 2 varieties of hops planted – zeus and vojvodina.  the vojvodina is a lesser-known aroma hop variety, but i was told that it grew “vigorously.”  understatement of the century – the vojvodina took off immediately and is now over 25 feet tall with a ton of cones (see top photo).
  • after a couple weeks my zeus plant stopped growing, then withered.  i snipped off the 6 or so inches of growth and chalked it up as a loss. after a month or so, new shoots shot out and now the zeus is closing in on 15 feet.  this leads me to believe that some hops plants set a root bed before shooting up.  this was confirmed with fellow grower CB who had similar results with his plants.  some might spend their entire first year setting up a root system, so be patient.

although the cones are looking good, they are still green and wet, and don’t contain that much lupulin.  according to some reliable information, there is still a little time before harvest.  stay tuned!

hop pots

hop pots

flowers starting to show on the zeus

flowers starting to show on the zeus

vojvodina going bonkers up the twine

vojvodina going bonkers up the twine

russian river beer revival 2009

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

image courtesy of

For the second year in a row we headed out to Guerneville, CA for the 7th Annual Russian River Beer Revival.  As usual, the venue was Stumptown Brewery‘s back lot on the Russian River.  The spot was awesome as usual, with tons of BBQ and beers to be had.  Some notes:

  • high-five for the guys at new belgium. although they didn’t repeat this year with eric’s ale, they cracked some lips of faith bottles (kriek, la folie (now in bombers!)) and gave out some generous pours.
  • even though the event instructions stated that beers started pouring at 1, we got there at 12:30 and it was already going down. however, apparently there was a line going down the block to get in at 12:00, so keep that in mind.
  • biggest bummer for me was russian river brewing, and it wasnt even beer related. vinny was pouring, so i got all stoked and rolled by to say whats up.  homeboy brushed me off like i had a can of coors in my hand or something.  plus, even though they had pliny, hugelarge, and redemption on draft, they only had about a 2l of temptation on ice and when they popped it it was like they were handing out cash behind the pour table, the crowd was enormous. screw that, i’m sippin on la folie watching fools claw their way to a half pour.
  • another high five to moonlight brewing, i couldnt get enough of their “working for tips,” plus brian was way cool.
  • dont drive, parking looked like a pain in the ass, and cops were crawling the place afterwards. we stayed near Johnson’s Beach and walked over.  last year we canoed over, you just park it right on the beachfront.

who's that random chick in the middle?