A Symposium on Beer. Really?

By | October 12, 2009

After tasting my way through many beers, though a fraction of the total, at Dimond Oaktoberfest in my hood, I made my way over to Cal for 99 Bottles of Beer, a beer symposium, fair, workshop and exhibit.

After getting the lay of the land at the beer fair, I started at the back with an Eel River Acai Berry Wheat Ale. Very light wheat ale with a (surprise) subtle berry flavor. Not my favorite, but maybe good for weaning someone off American industrial light lagers.

While I missed the workshop on beer packaging, I’m sure that the person from 21st Amendment was talking about their canned beers. Proper canned beers these days use an inert liner that does not impart a metallic taste to the beer. The aluminum cans’ opacity obviously is even better than brown bottles for preventing reactions between isohumulones in the beer and blue light that produce skunky flavored mercaptans. Okay, I’ll put the book down, now.

My next taste was about half a can of 21st Amendment Brewery Hell or High Watermelon Wheat. The watermelon taste was not subtle. Being a Southerner, I looked around for salt. I would absolutely drink this on a hot summer day. Unfortunately for 21st Amendment, their hometown of San Francisco has about four of those a year. I bet they could sell a lot of this in Texas.

Dan was drinking his IPA at the Bison Brewing booth, so I decided to follow his lead. Great aroma hops perfectly balancing the malt. Just what my palate needed.

Symposium Time. First up was Charlie Bamforth, a malting and brewing science prof at UC Davis. He was a fantastic speaker, combining a high speed history of beer with hilarious anecdotes and comments. I could listen to him for hours. I now wish I had purchased his book Grape vs. Grain while he was signing books before the symposium.

Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing then spoke mostly about the effort in 1989 to produce a beer very much in the brewing style in ancient Sumeria over 5000 years ago. Clearly, he loves his work. They’re cooking up a big new project at Anchor, but Fritz wasn’t ready to reveal what it is. Fritz was also a great speaker.

Bruce Paton spoke briefly about food and beer pairings. The Cathedral Hill hotel is closing very soon, so there is only one more food & beer dinner on schedule with Rob Tod from Allagash. He said he will be a “free agent” after that. Bruce said he refers often to Garret Oliver’s book The Brewmaster’s Table, which I have been busily reading along with Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer. I was hoping Bruce would talk more about how he chooses beer for food, but he mostly works in the opposite direction. I guess that makes a lot of sense when the beer dinners often feature the beers of a particular brewer. I asked him more about this during the Q&A at the end. He had talked about complement, contrast & cut (cut as in clearing the palate) when choosing pairings. I asked if he favors one approach over the other. He replied that he first looks to complement food with beer, but if he can’t find a good complement, he looks for contrast. I think that’s very useful advice.

Finally, Christine Hastorf from Cal talked about the archaeology of beer, mostly in Egypt, the Middle East and the Andes. Her talk tied together very nicely with Maytag’s talk. She showed off a small kero that is typical of the tumblers used to drink chicha, a corn-based beer, in the Andes. My father-in-law gave us a carved wooden kero that he acquired while they lived in Bolivia and he was going on digs at Tiwanaku with Ponce. Christine guessed that it was from the Colonial period based on the photos I showed her. We really should get it dated. The wood has a really well-worn patina that makes it look fairly old.

I caught the tail end of the tour at the Hearst Museum. Ira Jacknis was telling interesting and amusing about some of the 130 or so beer-related artifacts on display. I’ll have to go back when I have more time, because,…

… it was porter and stout time for me during the closing minutes of the Beer Fair. First up was the Triple Rock Stonehenge Stout. Very dark and chocolately, but perhaps only faintly druidic.

I also had what I think was a porter from Butte Creek. I wasn’t taking any notes, so after a day of tasting, my memory may be a bit off, though I definitely liked it. Damn, next time I bring a notebook, or walk around with a voice recorder saying “Note to self, …”

A fine day of beer tasting came to an end with the Bison Brewing Chocolate Stout. Loved the cocoa flavor and the rich mouth feel of the beer. I’d put it somewhere in mocha-land.

2 thoughts on “A Symposium on Beer. Really?

  1. Daniel Del Grande

    Thanks for attending the fair and trying my organic beer. By today’s definition, I guess my beers are “un-traditional”; Honey Basil, Gingerbread Ale, and the Chocolate Stout, all use historic drink/beer ingredients, yet are done to be drinkable on today’s palate. The IPA is hopped not too “over the top”, still with a nod to the original style. I hope you and readers of this seek out unique craft beers where ever you live!!!


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