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What’s on Tap: 21st Amendment Brew

July 29, 2008

By William Brand, Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif.

Jul. 29–SHAUN O’SULLIVAN AND NICO FRECCIA, who together own the 21st Amendment brewpub on Second Street in San Francisco near the Giants ballpark, have glimpsed the future of craft beer — and it definitely includes canned beer.

Cans? O’Sullivan, the head brewer, toured the Oskar Blues brewery in Lyons, Colo., maker of the acclaimed Dale’s Pale Ale, about the first craft beer sold in cans. “It was like being struck by lightning,” O’Sullivan recalls. “The whole idea of craft beer in a can was awesome.” So they invested in a small hand-canning kit in 2006. They came up with the slogan “Take back the can” (from the big American brewers of light beer). Then they began canning their Watermelon Wheat and 21st Amendment IPA; the cans ran out the door. Shaun recalls that they’d can another batch and they’d be sold out shortly.

Now they’ve taken the next great leap forward; they had 300,000 cans labeled at the Ball Corp. in Milwaukee and contracted to brew the two beers in volume at Cold Spring Brewing in Cold Spring, Minn. The cans are here and they’re on sale at BevMo stores throughout California, $8.99 for six.

They got new names, too: Hell or High Watermelon Wheat HHHï¿Â½ and Brew Free! or Die IPA HHHHï¿Â½ are our, er, Cans of the Week.

Hell or High Watermelon’s made with real watermelons, packed in 55 gallon drums from Sundia Corp. in Oakland. It’s a blend of pale barley malt and domestic malted wheat.

Bittering hops are clean, earthy Magnum. The beer’s finished with spicy Hallertau. It’s 5.2 percent alcohol by volume and just 17 International Bitterness Units. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, by comparison, is about 40 IBU.

It’s a cloudy gold color with a nose of spice and, yes, watermelon. The taste is decently full and malty, with a rush of watermelon in a rather spicy finish. This is no “chick” beer. It’s darned refreshing, about perfect for a hot summer afternoon, and the can keeps it light-free and in perfect shape.

Brew Free! or Die is, simply put, India Pale Ale dynamite. I love this beer. It’s 7 percent ABV, about right for an American IPA, and 70 IBU.

The pour into a glass is beautiful. This is a tawny copper beer with a big head of rocky white foam that lasts and lasts. And please, do use a clean glass. Let the light lager drinkers swill their watery brew straight out of the can. This beautiful IPA deserves a glass.

It’s got an enticing nose: sweet malt and spicy hops. The taste is full and satisfying, with a fine hop-malt balance that lasts into a long, drying finish.

The beer’s a blend of pale barley malt, Munich and light caramel malts. There’s a mighty hop package: Warrior, Centennial Simcoe and Amarillo. It’s dry-hopped in the fermenter with pine-like Simcoe, floral Ahtanum and fruity, spicy Amarillos. Whew.

They can abandon their mantra. They’ve taken back the can. Several other craft brewers are canning beer, but the only other Bay Area brewer is Uncommon Brewers in Santa Cruz. For a roundup, check my blog.

ONWARD: There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight to the buzz about Belgian beer and American craft beer made in the Belgian style. The Commonwealth Club of San Francisco Bay Gourmet sponsored a Belgian beer and cheese tasting and panel discussion earlier this month, and filled their auditorium on Market Street with Belgian beer fans and people interested in beer.

Cheese came from Sheana Davis of the Epicurean Connection, Sonoma.

The panelists — Aaron Porter, co-proprietor of the Trappist, Oakland; Rick Mitchell, owner of Luka’s, Oakland; Mike Azzalini, owner of La Trappe, San Francisco; and Sinead Carey, area sales manger for Star Brand Imports, a major importer of Belgian beer — each brought beers to share with the crowd.

They brought some interesting stuff: Porter, along with co-founder Chuck Stilphen, brought Blanche de Bruxelles, a Belgian wheat beer similar to a hefeweizen with a light cirtusy taste, and another Belgian, St. Bernardus Prior 8, which Porter described as a heavier, malty beer, sweet with a dry finish.

Mitchell brought Le Merle Saison from North Coast, Fort Bragg. He explained the history of saisons as beer brewed in the spring and served to summer farmhands. “Le Merle is 7.5 percent alcohol (by volume) with a surprisingly light feel,” he said.

Azzalini brought a keg of Rodenbach Grand Cru, a Flemish red, sour beer. “When you taste it, don’t think of beer. It’s very acidic. Think of it more as a Burgundy wine,” he said. It undergoes a regular fermenation, then a slow secondary fermentation in huge wooden vessels, Azzalini said. “I used to hate them, but you can really acquire a taste for them,” he said.

Carey brought Affligem Blond from a brewery taken over by the Heineken Group in 2002. “It’s a golden ale, 6.8 percent, a lovely honey-spice of a beer and definitely a personal favorite of mine,” she said.

He didn’t take part in the panel, but Joshua Charlton of Pacific Libations (Castro Valley) brought Three Philosophers, a heady, dark, strong beer from Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY, and Duvel, the delicious Belgian elixir from Duvel Moortgat, owner of Ommegang.

For the cheese pairings, check out my blog: www.ibabuzz.com/beer. Try the beer and cheese and post a comment on the blog. See you online.

Reach William Brand at whatsontap@sbcglobal.net or call 510-915-1180 and ask for his Retail Beer Store List or Good Pub List. Read more by Brand at www.ibabuzz.com/beer.

RATINGS HHHHH World classic. HHHH Don’t miss it. HHH Very good. HH Good beer; no defects. H Demand a refund.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif.

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