Almanac Beer’s Summer 2010 Vintage beer just dropped in bottles last Thursday at City Beer Store and it is hands down one of the nicest beers I’ve had the pleasure of drinking (just look at that bottle design). I had the opportunity earlier in June to go to the industry release party at Local Mission Eatery and it was a great event. Great food, got to meet a lot of the Bay Area Beer Bloggers in person and hear from Jesse and Damian about their philosophy and their beer.
From what I gather, the Almanac Beer philosophy is simple: take a great base beer, add locally sourced seasonal ingredients and let the two meld together over a long period of time in oak barrels. Farm to Barrel is the motto. What could be better? Oh right, elevate that beer to the dinner table, be it at home or at a white tablecloth restaurant. The beer, as Almanac sees it, is a snapshot of the harvest. Because Almanac collaborates with the great farms we’ve got here in and around the Bay Area, their beer has the local terroir, something modern craft beer has lost in my opinion. That terroir carries over to the dinner table, where the beer will pair better with seasonal dishes sourced from ranchers, fishermen, and farmers around the bay. This is something I can really get behind. It makes sense on every level, more people should be doing it, and it’s a direction I see craft beer moving towards in the future, especially with the work of people like Sean Paxton (The Homebrew Chef), Jamie Floyd of Ninkasi, et al, pushing towards using beer not only as a pairing for fresh, local food but also as an excellent ingredient. Almanac Beer’s Summer 2010 certainly fits the bill and you don’t even know what it tastes like yet.
Really quick, scroll back up to that label. How rad is it? Quite rad, indeed. It’s a shame the foil lettering is tough to bring out in a photograph because it’s absolutely killer. Damian (above) is responsible for that, modeling it after 17th & 18th century whiskey labels. Some of the best design work on a beer label around, full-stop. Anyways, on to the beer.
Almanac Beer’s Summer 2010 is a Belgian-style Golden Strong Ale with an American kick. I think Jesse described this to me as an American Tripel. With Magnum hops for bittering and a huge charge of Citra near the end of the boil you’d expect this beer to be incredibly hoppy. Instead, it’s pleasantly bitter, balancing well with the malt bill. The wort was then fermented with the Duvel yeast strain and was then pumped into California red wine barrels (I was told seven Zinfandel, two Merlot, with some barrels resurfaced so that fresh oak interacts with the beer) along with 250lbs of four varieties of blackberries from Sebastapol Farms: Cherokee, Marion, Ollalie, and Boysen. This aged out for 11 months, giving a subtle tartness and acidity to the beer and not an excessive fruit flavor. The barrels contribute subtle oak and vanilla notes without being overly tannic. The extra sugars in the fruit helped the beer dry out a little bit more, making this a nice alternative to a drier white wine at the dinner table (mission accomplished). It’s also a tad fruity, making it an even better substitute for, say, a Chardonnay perhaps. These barrels were then re-blended with a fresh base beer to bring back some of the bitterness and aroma that dropped out with the aging. All in all, a fantastic beer. By the time I finished one of my bottles the beer was flat, at room temparature, and still fantastic. Jesse & Damian also kept a barrel innoculated with the Rodenbach yeast blend and extra blackberries. Not an over the top sour like some of Russian River’s beers but a nice tartness that was complemented well with the fruitiness and tartness of the extra blackberries. That keg kicked in under 2 hours at City Beer if I’m properly remembering.
I suppose then that the food is the test of their success. At Local Mission Eatery I was impressed by the head cheese & mustard in combination with the beer. It was a nice complement but we were drinking “pre-production” samples of uncarbonated beer. Damian opened a couple bottles near the end of the event though and the carbonation really helped this pairing by cleansing some of the stronger-flavors off the palate. Local Mission Eatery also had a pâté available that didn’t really work as well IMO, but there were pickled carrots with that dish that were A: delicious in their own right, and B: supplemented the tartness in the beer nicely.
This just about did it for me though. Vanilla ice cream made with the Summer 2010 beer and blackberry honey with sour cherries and blackberries on the side. I just about died. The pairing was phenomenal and I can’t eat normal ice cream anymore.
I think that about wraps it up. You can find Almanac Beer at this location, see photos of the entire brewing process here and here, and check out their nifty little pamphlet, too. Go support a couple of great local SF brewers and buy a bottle or two. I hear City Beer Store just got more cases in as well.
I try to throw in some photo stuff every post so here goes. In the top shot, the light is coming in on 60-45 degrees left of the camera. I really wanted to get the shimmery foil effect from the foil on the label but it’s probably impossible with one light. Two or more from multiple angles would probably be able to do it but my other flash doesn’t have a slave function and I only have one wireless trigger. I think it works with your eyes under normal light because there is naturally light bouncing from all angles to really make it pop. As a result, I only got some of the texture of the foil but not the reflective properties. Oh well, go buy a bottle to see it for yourself. Second, shooting at Local Mission Eatery (on film) was a nightmare. Not a whole lot of ambient window light to count on and everything else is mixed cool flourescent/warm halogen. On daylight-balanced Provia (100F, pushed to 400) I had to correct the color for the skin in Photoshop CS3 and hope the ambient background light on the walls wouldn’t look like a close encounter of the third kind. Worked out well, but could have easily been horrid. Third, shooting meat is pretty much the hardest thing in the world. With controlled lighting it could have been really pretty but being cramped for space & time really wasn’t beneficial. Also, I was there for the beer; the food was just a wonderful bonus. Lastly, the product shot. It’s the first I’ve done in my new ‘studio’ since I moved last week and I’m a bit more happy with the side light than straight behind, as my old shots have been. However, it’s a damn shame the Almanac glasses have frosted logos instead of solid white silk screened. I love the typeface but you just can’t see something like that through a golden beer. If this was a Belgian Dark Strong it’d stand out, but I just don’t know how to do that with a lighter colored beer.
Also going on this month: Local Brewing Company is still working on their Kickstarter project, so if you haven’t donated yet please do. They’re working on getting their brewery off the ground and could use the help. Plus, they make great beer and are nice people. *guilt trip* More to come from TWO trips to San Diego (why do I keep going there?) so stay tuned. かんぱい！