Beyond the Bottle: The Magic Tap

high-water-brewing1I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Steve and Barri Altimari—creators of this month’s featured Aphotic imperial porter with cacao nibs—for nearly a decade now. Steve’s previous brewing work at Valley Brew crossed my radar while I was still living back on the opposite coast, and I’d been actively trading for limited releases like Effinguud (a tart strong ale aged in French- and American-oak port barrels), Überhoppy Imperial IPA, and Decadence Grand Cru 2007 (a Belgian-style quad blended with “pomegranate lambic”) long before I met their makers.

Here’s what I remember of that first meeting. My wife and I were traveling in from northern Nevada, scouting out possible places to settle down along the way, and Steve’s brewing spot at the time was our first major stop in California before heading farther north. We hung out at their production facility, sampling through a surprising number of stellar beers from a tiny brewery, many pouring through what was readily deemed “the magic tap.” This consisted of one single stainless-steel faucet mounted to the outside of a gigantic cold-storage room—and every half hour that tap would be changed to pouring a different beer from Steve’s stockpile of barrel-aged offerings. One fellow taster was a snake geek, and I learned firsthand there’s a challenge to drinking with a ball python on your head. The beers were precise. The company was kind. And I’m grateful that that initial stop set the tone for our time in California since.

We drove up to Ashland, Oregon afterwards—my wife driving safely, while I snoozed in the passenger seat—and by the time we would finally settle in NorCal for good, Steve and Barri would already be in the process of transitioning to their next venture. High Water’s proven a far better outlet for them—it’s been refreshing to watch the creativity they generate together. While I prefer High Water’s lack of snakes, I still dream of having my very own magic tap.

Super Bowl Foods & Craft Beer

When preparing for Super Bowl Sunday, it’s important to make sure you don’t forget the craft beer! If your house is anything like most of ours, there’s going to be plenty of food around – so what craft beers make the best pairings?

When choosing a craft beer to accompany a certain dish, it’s often best to aim for a complementary flavor, but a contrasting one can work too. For instance, hot & spicy foods usually go great with IPAs, whose big, spicy hops match the heat and intensity of the food. But, a sweeter, maltier craft beer like a bock can help tame the heat while refreshing the palate.

Just like with food and wine pairings, you want to make sure you don’t have one member of your pairing dominating the other, so try to match the intensity levels of the craft beer and the food. For example, a barleywine will stomp all over a celery stick, and a bowl of 5 alarm chili will kick the butt of a pale lager – so keep the character of each of the components in mind.

Here’s a little guide we made with some of our suggestions for popular game day foods:


Chips & Dips: Pale Ale, Kölsch, Blonde Ale, & Helles Lager
Veggie & Fruit Trays: Witbier, Hefeweizen, Pale Ale, Gose
Pizza: Vienna Lager, Pilsner, Saison, Schwarzbier
Chili: Amber Ale, Märzen/Oktoberfest, Porter, Sweet Stout
Buffalo Wings: IPA, Pilsner, Bock, Belgian Pale Ale
Burgers & Hot Dogs: Brown Ale, Dunkel Lager, Dry Stout, Scotch Ale
Chocolate Desserts: Imperial Stout, Fruit Lambic, Barleywine, Belgian Dubbel

Beyond the Bottle: This Year’s Beers

beer-lineupI tend to avoid annual predictions because they tend to sound like they could have been true last year, at least in beer. Every brewery’s done an imperial stout, double IPA, an oaked beer, some form of questionable sour, and (soon!) a series of hazy IPAs. Most ingredients that are even remotely acceptable in brewing have been used. Every non-technical hop pun has been taken. Things doing well get piggybacked quickly. Exhibit A: fruit IPA. Exhibit B: hard soda.

But! In the spirit of the new year, some looks forward: Hazy IPAs are blowing up, inevitably. Kettle-sour approaches will probably also hit a peak in 2017, with knowledge of the practice spreading to anyone who wants to have a go, though I doubt most are in it for the long haul. These beers have a rough lactic edge more often than not, and complexity usually isn’t there. For producers of more traditional sours: a kettle-sour fallout likely can’t come soon enough. A friend works with South African hops, and (from everything I hear) they’ll be popping up more frequently next year, with strong debuts in beers by folks such as Firestone and Bottle Logic. Interest in newer varieties—and awareness of hop-variety relevance—have probably never been higher. I’d prefer to see hard sodas fizzle. 2017 won’t be the year of the dunkel.

If we haven’t already, we’ll likely reach Peak Tropical in 2017, as we’ve had so many inroads in that direction as of late: lots of breweries with fruit IPAs, tons of interest in new tropical-inclined hop varieties (from New Zealand, Australia, etc.), beers that emphasize ‘tropical’ in their marketing (with or w/o fruit additions), countless new IPAs named via some tweak of the words “juice” and/or “juicy”, etc. We’re all looking for our tropical beach somewhere.

Beyond the Bottle: In Search of Haze

hopfenweisse-croppedI touched upon some of the highlights from this year’s Great American Beer Festival in my last column—but left out one of the main side missions. Like many of you, I’ve been tasting examples of hazy IPAs (aka “Vermont-style IPAs”, aka “New-England-style IPAs”, etc.) as I happen to cross paths with them. But I hadn’t had a chance to seriously go down that rabbit hole until recently. My upcoming Trending column in our January issue of All About Beer will be focused entirely on those hazy, murky, milkshakey incarnations of IPA, as well as whether or not, you know, brewing IPAs that look like grapefruit juice might trigger the apocalypse.

Short answer: Maybe.

The Great American Beer Festival happened to have half a dozen or so serious takes on the trend, like the yeast-hazed Green Acres from Virginia Beer Co., the heavily dry-hopped Sun Temple IPA from Colorado’s Yak and Yeti, or the high-protein Mass Riot from Prison City in upstate New York. Folks are using a variety of techniques to generate haze in their IPAs, from minimally flocculating yeast strains to high-protein malt bills—to just dry-hopping the bejeezus out of it—following in the footsteps of hazy-IPA trendsetters like The Alchemist, Trillium and Tree House. While many drinkers are completely against the trend of having a hazy/murky version of IPA gaining ground, others (like me) are finding them engaging and, often, an exceptional way to focus on juicy hop flavor and aroma. Presuming they’re fresh.

Have you been diggin the haze? Loathing it? Seeing more examples locally? NorCal’s seeing tons of breweries getting on board, and everything suggests 2017 is looking ever more hazy.

Limited Offering Smokey and the Bois


The day has come. We’ve made the call to part with the last 67 bottles of our highly coveted Smokey and the Bois, a very special blend of three different barrel aged beers that was crafted for us nearly 3 years ago to celebrate our 20 year anniversary. I’d be hard pressed to part with it if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve already got 5+ cases stashed in our in-house beer cave! We’ve been sitting on a small portion of our remaining inventory with the intent of releasing it to our members after it had been laid down for a few years. The holidays seem like the right time to do it. It’s available only to active members of The Rare Beer Club and you will be limited to just two bottles.

Smokey and the Bois was crafted from three different Bruery beers: Black Tuesday (The Bruery’s famous ~20% ABV imperial stout), Bois (an exceptional, bourbon-barrel-aged old ale), and Smoking Wood (an imperial rye porter brewed with beech- and cherrywood smoked malts). And, for even more dimension and complexity, the final blend was aged with vanilla beans and Ecuadorian Nacional cacao nibs.

This is the last of it. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, so if you haven’t already grabbed a bottle or two, now’s your chance.

Merry Christmas from me to you.