From Oktoberfest to Mocktoberfest

Codified in 19th century Bavaria as an official 17-day beer-fueled celebration, Oktoberfest has been imported and contorted by innumerable celebrants as an excuse to do go on bender. Most forgo the traditional sausage, pretzels and steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick) and concentrate on the beer. This is wise, if you’ve even seen steckerlfisch. More to the point, when armed with a rhyming dictionary and a couple pint, a guy could fill up his calendar with -oberfests. Here are a few to consider…
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Sunset Magazine Forgets Napa, Sonoma Wine Country – Beer to Blame

Most periodicals, whether they’re online or in print, annually produce what’s called an “editorial calendar.” This isn’t for the benefit of those who produce the editorial content of a given newspaper, magazine or blog so much as it’s a reference for prospective advertisers and their marketing notions.

Holiday gift guides come to mind as a perennial feature of such a calendar. Ditto the dads-n-grads coverage that comes every spring. According to Sunset magazine’s editorial calendar for this year’s October issue, readers could expect coverage of “Napa and Sonoma Wine Country.” Instead, however, we got something about an “Ale Trail” and no Napa and Sonoma write-ups as such. This means that some other trailing and ailing sap will have to write up Napa and Sonoma for those whose need for wine country ink is tantamount to their need of wine. Don’t worry, I got this: Continue reading “Sunset Magazine Forgets Napa, Sonoma Wine Country – Beer to Blame”

Tipply Tributes: Celebrity Beer Names

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For your typical celebrity, it’s to be expected that one day someone is going to name a sandwich or some other edible after you. Every deli menu in Hollywood boasts some kind of transubstantiation of stars into grub. In the world of cocktails, oddly, they’re usually of the non-alcoholic variety (“Shirley Temple,” “Roy Rogers”).

On the Isle of Beer, however, it’s becoming customary to borrow the names of the well-known—if often deceased—for the sake of branding a brew. Topping the list is Samuel Adams, the American statesman and founding father who is fourth down the list on his own Google search.Number one, of course, is Boston-based brewing behemoth Samuel Adams. It also numbers two and three, though I think competing for search engine optimization with a dead guy is no real triumph. A more obscure naming reference is Pliny the Elder, a super-hoppy double IPA that packs a whopping eight percent alcohol. It’s named for Gaius Plinius Secundus, which is Latin for “Unpronounceable After a Couple of Beers.”

Better known as Pliny the Elder, the philospher was quite the gadfly about ancient Rome who penned an encyclopedia of natural history and is the uncle of, yep, Pliny the Younger. Exacty why Santa Rosa-based Russian River Brewing Co. named their concoction after a dead Roman was probably lost with the brain cells spent during its first taste trials. Perhaps in an attempt to out-Ruskie the Russian River Brewing Company, Fort Bragg’s North Coast Brewing Company poached the name of Siberian-born “Mad Monk” Rasputin, ostensibly to honor the tradition of “18th century brewers who supplied the court of Russia’s Catherine the Great.” Hmm.

Though the story is about as frothy as the tan head of its Old Rasputin Imperial Stout, it certainly extends the cult of personality the creepy mystic has enjoyed since the days of the czars. The brew itself extends one’s appreciation for imperial stouts—great beefy beers that top out at nine percent alcohol and handily kick populist stouts (read: Guinness) to the floor.

Then there are the dead musicians. North Coast has a Brother Thelonious, named for Thelonious Monk, and Delaware’s Dogfish Head Craft Brewery rolled out an homage to a boundary-breaking jazz legend last year with its Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. (The name had been waiting to grace a beer label since Davis’ album of the same name was released in 1970.) Petaluma’s own Lagunitas Brewing Company mounted a similar effort with a series of brews named after classic Frank Zappa albums. Of course, when the Boss croaks, we’ll raise some Bruce SpringSteins in his honor.

A Toast to Prohibition

Today, Dec. 5, should be declared a local holiday. No, it is not “a date that shall live in infamy,” nor is it the day “Happiness is a Warm Gun” became sadly ironic for the man who sang it (those dark days are Dec. 7 and Dec. 8, respectively). This, the 339th day of the year, marks the 75th anniversary of the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition. Pop a cork – it’s not that often the government returns a right it has wronged, let alone a right revoked with a constitutional amendment. In this case, the 18th Amendment, otherwise known as the Volstead Act, named for Andrew Volstead, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee (though it was penned by Wayne Wheeler and the Anti-Saloon League – a name, were it not for Wikipedia, I’d assume was a 1960s psychedelic band).

For help imagining Prohibition-era Sonoma, take a peek into Plaza Liquors, which recently emptied its shelves of the demon-water due to a licensing ballyhoo that somehow involved a sting or police, or better, Sting and the Police, which means live music is indeed thriving on the square.
From 1920 to 1933, the powers-that-were enforced a national moratorium on booze, which led to oceans of bathtub gin, the invention of the speakeasy and the inevitable rise of the mob (though a romanticized version of the mob has done good by those Hollywood artists whose names end in a vowel, generally, the Mafia is considered a bad thing – no offense Coppola, Pacino, DeNiro, Gandolfini, etc.). And locally, Prohibition led to the devastation of our wine industry. Prior to the amendment, there were 256 wineries in Sonoma County, but by its repeal, fewer than 50 wineries remained. Not until this year, have winery numbers finally crept back to their pre-Prohibition peak. Yes, Sonoma Valley wine was once an endangered species; now one can’t throw a tasting without hitting a negociant (just a wee jab for those who recall the brawl). Continue reading “A Toast to Prohibition”

The Digerati and Me

Last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine theme, “How We Watch Stuff,” compelled me to log into the Netflix community page and summon data for what Sonoma is watching. Yes, you can do that. It’s kind of wrong, but it’s also kind of cool – like looking at your ex’s profile on Facebook. ­At present writing, the flick climbing through most of Sonoma’s Netflix cues is “Life Before Her Eyes,” which appears to be a metaphysical-drama about the “15th anniversary of a tragic high school shooting,” wherein “Diana (Uma Thurman) flashes back to a time when her teenage self (Evan Rachel Wood) and best friend, Maureen (Eva Amurri), dreamed of leaving their small town.” Suddenly, I’m wary of the class of ’93.
The Times arrives on our doorstep in printed form for reasons the Contessa has yet to satisfactorily justify. As someone who reads the majority of my news online (including SonomaSun.com), I find the notion of dead-tree media irksome. My wife likes to cuddle up with coffee, the Times and while away Sunday morning – occasionally dispatching me for toast. Meanwhile, I’m trying to wet-wire my frontal lobe to my laptop.

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