Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Family matters required our presence in Southern California over the weekend of January 26th and 27th so we decided to make the most of it and started our trip off with a much anticipated stop at Sequoia Brewing. Terri and I have been making stops at this outstanding brewery in Fresno for over four years now, virtually every time we drive down to Southern California to attend bicycle races or visit friends and relatives.
Sequoia's fine brewmaster Kevin Cox has been working at the Olive Street facility since the 1980's when it was known as Butterfield Brewing. Kevin is a bit of a legend to us having brewed two of my favorite all time beers. Both, of course, are seasonal beers.... Log splitter, which is a big smooth Imperial Red that runs over 10abv and a double IPA called Buzz Saw that is also so big, hoppy and drinkable that you'll need to get a motel room in Fresno's tower district for the night if you have as many as your taste buds will demand. Although you may have trouble finding it if you indulge in either of these immaculate hop monsters. Unfortunately neither beer was available which I suspect is at least partually due to the hop shortage and Sequoia's huge commitment to their Moto-Brew bottling line requirements.
The standard beer menu is naturally stellar as well topped by an exceptional Pale Ale that our server told us began life as "Hop Fest", which I had previosly thought was merely a seasonal fresh hop offering. Learning that they had adopted the Hop Fest as one of their house beers was good news indeed. Only 5.5 in abv with an outstanding floral aroma this beer is a perfect session beer to be enjoyed year round.
Terri went straight for the General Sherman IPA while I ordered the Pale and an IPA so I could do a proper comparison. Our server explained to me that the General Sherman IPA was created when Kevin tweaked the old Mineral King IPA to better suit the bottling line.
My brewing and/or bottling expertese, which is to say my total lack of knowledge leaves me wondering about that significance... but it is really of little matter to me because both are outstanding West Coast style IPA's.
We had only an hour to spend in Fresno and had to soon be on our way after a sandwich and a couple more IPA's. We also tried sample of the seasonal Imperial Stout (which if we were fortunate enough to be staying one of those Fresno motel rooms I would have had a pint of) and filled our growler with the Hop Fest. I also couldn't resist purchasing a one gallon growler of the IPA since I knew the demand for good beer would be high in the desert where we were headed.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Total Wine?

I took Rick's advice and stopped in this evening to check out the new alcohol mega store on Fairway Drive in Roseville. The place is huge and impersonal to be sure but doesn't really feel much differently to me than our local Bev-Mo's. Until of course you look at the beer's sticker prices.
Rick indicated to me that he thought the prices must be low due to some grand opening introductory gimmick but that idea was shot down by the friendly alcohol matron that seemed desperate to quiz me in the single beer aisle. I told her "With these prices your going to smoke Bev-Mo" and she just smiled and said "That's the Plan". She assured me that the tags reflected their typical, normal, everyday, run-of-the-mill, stock pricing.
I was starting to like this store more by the minute.
She also showed me the generic six-pack carriers on the wall that could be custom mixed and matched with any of the beers on the shelves. Most all the beers I saw in six-packs in another aisle were available individually in that area.
I gotta admit I kinda liked that idea.
I've often wanted to try beers from unknown (to me anyway) brewers but lacked the fortitude and the cash to splurge for an entire 6 pack of beer of unknown quality.
I didn't have a lot of time to spend looking over the place...but then that's no real worry...The Hop Hunter can always find time in the future to seek out cheaply priced quality hop beverages.
2.69 for a 22oz bottle of Racer 5? A 6-pack of Big Daddy IPA for 6.99? Or how about Green Flash Imperial for 3.69? That's what I'm talkin about.
I suspect that the elevated grain and hop costs this year will eventually drive the cost up....but then that's going to be happening to every brewer across the board.
Well...we're off to have lunch in Fresno tomorrow....at sequoiabrewing of course....a mere three hour drive.......

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Saddest Hop news

Last night Terri and I decided that after a full week of hop deprevation we owed it to ourselves to seek out some fermented beverages to quell the pangs of under indulgence. After careful consideration of all the possible destinations in our practical driving range we realized we both have been really missing The Ale House in Auburn and a visit with Brian Ford.
When we got there the place was packed and a seat at the bar, or anywhere aside from the outdoor patio for that matter, was in rather short supply. We hung around the kitchen area talking to Luise the chef and waiting for a spot at the bar to free up when all of a sudden Brian appeared next to me. Just about that time a couple at the stand-up-bar got their reservation call and we quickly assumed their position that happened to be directly across from the glass window to the brewery proper. We'd never sat in this region of the bar nefore but it is a great spot. Brian thoughtfully dashed upstairs to get us some stools and I noticed that right against the otherside of the wall, sitting on the floor, was a wooden barrel with it's bunghole facing skyward.
After Brain returned with the chairs he told us he had placed some of his 'Old Prospector' Barleywine in the Oak Barrel about two months prior. He asked us if we wanted to try it. Well...you know the answer to that question and from the size of his grin I think Brian did too. He went and tweezed us all out a couple ounces through the bunghole (yes, I just love that overused by Bevis and Butthead term) and we had a go at it. The effect of the oak barrell in the aroma was underscored by the uber alcohol aroma that struck me as nearly Cognac in intensity. The smoothness was such that Terri was smitten with it despite her claim of typically not be the biggest of Barleywine fans. This is one huge beer. Brian likened it to sherry and considering the complexity of this beer I think if we sat around and drank anymore of it we'd continue to note any number of favorable attributes. I look forward to my next sample after it spending even more time in the barrel.
The greatness of the Bourbon barrel Barleywine sample gave way to a story from Brian that still makes my stomach ache this morning. A couple mornings ago Brian opened up the front door to discover the building awash with a huge hop aroma. At first he was pleased that the usual kitchen and food smells had been replaced by an even more friendly brewery smell until he soon discovered that the source of the aroma was the fact that he could hear a beer tap running and that the entire floor of the building was a few inches deep in liquid. And I hope you are sitting down for this one.......the liquid in question turned out to be his latest and freshed batch of IPA.
Apparently sometime during the night the overstocked pint glasses dirrectly behind the IPA handle toppled and somehow landed a direct hit opening the beer flow all...night...long.
Brian estimates that he lost more than 75% of the contents of the tank. The fullest tank in the building of course. Not the Plae Ale that was on it's last week, or the Stout that was hooked up to a 15.5 gallon keg...no....it had to be the new batch of IPA.
Fortunately we were able to sample some of the remaining IPA and yes of course Brian has done it again. What a great beer. I'd almost hoped it was an off batch or something just to ease the pain of the loss.
After bidding Brian goodbye we sampled a few more pints, shared a plate of spicy pub house fries for dinner, filled up the growler we brought and bought two more to take home.
Now it's time to go get a ride in before rooting for The Chargers to somehow beat New England.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A good week

Although I have absolutely no hop intake to report for the week I do have good news for my cycling trip. After a week of daily one hour rides and skimpy yet mostly satisfying meals I have managed to drop 6 more pounds. That's a total of 9 since the new year dawned.
Today Darek and I are going out in the cold morning to ride 30-40 mostly flat miles. Hopefully next week will continue this weight loss trend and I will actually make my goal of 270 pounds before the June 1st starting date.

Monday, January 14, 2008

January 14th

Can it actually be Monday January 14th already, nearly halfway through the first month of 2008? Indeed it is and I can hardly believe how time is flying. Seems like Xmas just happened and I can even still remember the great Thanksgiving festivities quite vividly.
The real reason for all the fuss is I am truly under pressure to become something much less than I am at the moment.
All the holiday's, weddings and idle days off the bike, due to injury or mechanical breakdowns has seen my weight balloon up nearly 30 pounds above what it was mid summer. Even in a typical year this would be annoying at the least and down right unacceptable in reality.
But this isn't just any year...this is the year that on June 1st I will be joining some of my favorite and closest relatives and friends for a nearly 500 mile one week bicycle ride down the California Coast. A trip that was announced in a previous blog entry.
Yep..the pressure is surely on and finally the rains have at least temporarily subsided so I can get out there and drop some much un-needed tonnage.
So if Hop news seem to take a back seat for awhile I'm sorry but I just can't be hauling a bunch of extra weight up and down those Northern California hills for no good reason.
Can I reach my target weight of 270 pounds before we depart???
I guess we shall see. I know my bike sure hopes so.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

End of the Year Run

Well...officially it wasn't the FINAL day of 2007 but hell....it was close enough for an end run....end of the year run anyway.
Terri and I headed out to San Ramon on Saturday December 29th with a Mini Cooper full of Russian River, (and other assorted growlers) with and an expectation of big hop fun on Sunday December 30th. Oralia, my wonderful new daughter-in-law (I have two don't cha know) had never been to Russian River so we figured it was the perfect opportunity to remove that ugly moniker from her resume'.
My son Zack, who is on a mission of bicycle fitness this time of year, naturally choose to ride his Wilier from San Francisco to Santa Rosa. He teamed up with his good buddy Dan, while Terri Oralia and I partnered up for our rides and drives to the hop promised land.
Truth be told The Hop Hunter would have loved to accompanied the lads of the 30 speeds from The City to the Grail but his oldness and beerness prevented such an excursion at this point in the year.
Zack head out to ride BART to SF just after 7am while Terri, Oralia and I loaded into her new Honda just prior to 11am and set our sites on getting across the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge. Due to the time in the morning and the season we literally flew across the bay and found ourselves running a bit early in our estimated arrival time to meet Zack at RR in Santa Rosa. Hmmmm....whatever should we do?
Of course The Hop Hunter had a back up plan that included a much overdue visit to Marin Brewing in Larkspur, which coincidentally just happened to be right on the way!!!!!
We cruised into the overgrown commercial center at Larkspur Center and quickly found the brewery for which we seeked. We were a couple minutes early but the door was open and the brewery was alive with activity.
We ordered some IPA and The Albian Amber and then filled a growler with the IPA which we found to be quite drinkable at 11am in the morning. The Amber, as Oralia reported, was excellent and she insisted (rightfully so) that it should be noted as such herein.
We knew Zack and Dan were probably flying along on the Marin County roads so we figured we better cut our excellent Marin Brewing visit short and make our way to Vinnies on 4th Street in Santa Rosa.
We pulled in the back just 15 minutes prior to my youngest sons arrival. Oralia ordered a Sanctification while Terri and I went straight for the bacon...the Blind Pig IPA. I must admit that I have a major love affair with this hop concoction.....I mean ...what's not to love...6% alcohol and 70 friggin IBU's!!. Holy crap (as Rick might say) that's just an outstanding ratio of drinkability, aroma and sessionality.
After several hours of growler filling (only 10 this time), Blind Pig and Pliny The Elder worshiping Zack rightfully figured we needed to move on (he already had visions of the Toronado).

We threw the bike on top of the car and headed down Highway 101. About 20 miles South of Santa Rosa is the town of Novato, home of Moylans Brewery and a splendid monster of a beer "Hopsickle". I grabbed a growler out of the trunk and took a place at the bar to sample the latest batch of what I consider one of the finest examples of California extreme hop brewing. Moylans, which is the brother of Marin Brewing offers a wide spectrum of fine beer styles and some really excellent food as well. But we were on a mission and quickly drained our Hopsickles, grabbed our growler and were headed South again. Our next stop was to be found in Fairfax...
We had a bit of trouble finding Iron Springs Brewery but once there found it to be a friendly and impressive small town brewery/pub. They offered a wide selection of house brews including a real nice "Czech" style pilsner that we enjoyed with a couple of appetisers. I had hopped to fill my growler (actually Ricks growler) with their Casey Jones double IPA that I had samples on a previous occasion somewhere...but alas after sipping on a pint I found it to be a bit off...suffering from a poor pouring line or perhaps some mysterious oxidation., oldness or indeed it could have been attributed to my ripped up taste buds. Whatever the case we went with a growler of the Pils instead.
By this point in the evening most of our discussions and focus was on the Toronado so we headed out towards The Golden Gate Bridge and a too rare visit to what has to be one of the most interesting tap houses on the entire West coast.
On the way we made one quick detour around the neighborhoods just North of the Gate so I could see what was in store for me on the last day of our Epic Redwood Bicycle tour down the California Coast this coming June that terminates just a couple hundred yards South of the toll booths. We crossed the bridge looking for Divisadero Street which would lead us to Haight St and a date with the ever present parking monster that is SF.
Finding a place to park ones vehicle near the Toronado generally has to be one of the most difficult things to pull off and that evening was no exception. Eventually we got lucky and managed to park merely a couple blocks away.
We spent a couple hours on stools near the doorway drinking Franzenkaner, Alaskan Smoked Porter, Blind Pig and El Toro Brewing Deuce. A half dozen Russian River employees, including Vinnie himself made their way through the crowd that evening as well. A very pleasant time was had by us all.
I noticed the next day we had collected 13 growlers from 4 breweries in our travels that day..a pretty decent haul for the Hop Hunter...not bad at all.