Cervezaría de MateVeza

Sitting on the NW corner of Mission Dolores Park in SF, the Cerveceria de MateVeza is a quirky gem of a tiny local brewpub with a very unique selling point – its beer is brewed with Yerba Mate, a caffeine-rich, aromatic herb from Argentina, usually consumed as a hot tea-like concoction drunk through a metal straw in a hollow gourd. In the offerings of this establishment, however, it is also used as a part or full substitute for hops. More information on the beer can be found here, but suffice it to say, it is really nice and unusual!

They have also recently teamed-up with Samuel Adams on a collaborative saison, detailed here. Jim Woods, the founder of MateVeza, benefitted from a loan from Sam Adams, “Brewing the American Dream” micro-financing initiative – I really like the idea of the big beer company giving back to the little guy. The beer itself is really easy drinking but I have to confess that I did prefer the Evil Morpho that The Canadian opted for – a sour version of their dark pink hibiscus and yerba mate number (no hops so technically this is a gruit).

Much of the beer is brewed in a small, 20-gallon set-up in-house, giving it a homebrew-done-good feel, which is both refreshing and endearing. Accompany one of these bad boys with an empenada and you’re all set. The pub is basically the downstairs of a corner house with cushioned benches by the windows, a central table with room for about 6, two large fridges with beer for take-out or stay-in and stool seating by the bar and the far wall. The bar itself has a tiled wall and the 20-gallon steel fermentors sit behind the bar on the right-hand side.

We’ve only been here twice but it is our favorite bar in SF, as it is truly unique and hosted by far and away the best event during 2013’s San Francisco Beer Week:

“MateVeza IPA Sails the 18th St. Seas from Cervecería to Kasa Indian Eatery 
Join us in reenacting the original voyage of India Pale Ale as we embark from Cervecería de MateVeza (England) down 18th St (the Atlantic / Indian Ocean) to Kasa Indian Restaurant (India). We’ll meet at Cervecería at 6pm and then we’ll ferry you and the precious IPA keg through the treacherous seas of 18th Street. Once we safely arrive at Kasa, you can celebrate your scurvy-free journey by sipping on a MateVeza IPA with your Indian feast (coincidentally a delightful pairing).”

Seriously good fun – and as I was the only Brit there, I had to sing especially loudly in the renditions of, “Rule Britannia” as we sailed the boat down the street! Photos below but go check this place out for yourself – and let us know when you’re going so we can join you!

The good ship MateVeza
The good ship MateVeza
Powdered wigs and British flags!
Powdered wigs and British flags!
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Did you miss me?!

…and we’re back! This blog is a good idea but like many things in life that are good ideas (exercise, healthy eating, staying organized), it’s much easier to get out of the habit than it is to get back into it. Also, like those other good ideas, it’s best to start small! Today I’m just going to give a brief overview of all the homebrew fun since the last time I blogged, many moons ago. No photos, alas, because The Canadian is back in her motherland and has taken the camera with her, along with her laptop (repository of all the good snaps). My old-skool cell phone is also no use for pretty pictures – it has a camera but I have never used it and given the fact that it doesn’t even have predictive text, I don’t hold out much hope for the photo quality! Enough of this digression and back to the beer briefing!

Homebrewing: Now this is a fun hobby! Our first effort of the year with my 1-gallon set-up was the White House Honey Porter (WHHP). We opened the box, puzzled over instructions, steeped the specialty hops like a tea-bag, boiled up our malt extract and hops (hey presto, wort!), cooled it down, whacked in the yeast, let it ferment, added the priming sugar for secondary fermentation to add carbonation when we bottled and waited… so, how did it taste I hear you ask? Well it was easy-drinking, dark and, erm, dull. Not enough depth of flavor, not enough body, just not enough. Sorry Mr Obama sir, I’m sure they brew it better in your kitchen!

Not to be deterred, we cracked-on with our next effort, an Oak Aged IPA. The kit came in a hessian bag (nice touch) but the real fun was adding oak chips half-way into the fermentation. The resulting beer is slightly more amber than your typical IPA (either a result of the malt extract or us steeping the specialty grains too long!), hopped more like a Pale Ale and with more balance from the malt than an American IPA. The oak really does add a mellow, slightly sweet twist. Better than our WHHP for sure!

Emboldened by our first efforts we decided it was time to cross the frontier into All-Grain. For this approach, you actually extract all the fermentable sugars plus other malty goodness direct from the malt itself. To do this, you end up making a hot malty porridge for an hour (mashing) then you circulate hot water through (sparging) to make sure you have all the good stuff. Problem #1: mash for a 1-gallon brew = quite a lot of wet grain (boy am I glad we didn’t get the 5-gallon set-up!). Problem #2: it may fit in the colander, but all that grain doesn’t necessarily drain easily! OK, let’s try two shifts in the sieve. Sorted. Problem #3… what temperature was the sparging water meant to be again while we messed with all that?! Despite all this we had a great deal of fun brewing a Chocolate Maple Porter from the trendy homebrew start-up Brooklyn Brew Shop. The chocolate came from chocolate malt while the maple syrup was added to the wort and also as the priming sugar. So, how does it taste? Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm, MMMM! Lusciously dark with a tan head, the smell and taste delivers roasty goodness with a sweet, maple tang. I could do with a little bit more body but I’m really splitting hairs here. First beer I’ve made that is actually better than some I’ve bought. Result. 

All-grain is clearly the way to go, so now we have a Jalapeno Saison just bottled and a Coffee & Donut Stout fermenting in the cupboard. Can’t wait to drink the first one on a hot day by the BBQ and the second one for breakfast after dinner sometime! The next challenge? Designing our own recipe. In the words of a successful modern movie franchise – Bring It On!

Let’s Get Brewing! – White House Honey Porter

Today marked my second foray into homebrewing, this time with my new Christmas/Birthday present, the 1-gallon brew kit from Northern Brewer. The idea with this kit is that we’ll have plenty of room for it in our apartment and (if our first brews aren’t that good) we won’t be stuck with 10s of bottles of mediocre beer – unfortunately, that’s what my first brew turned out to be… but it was great at getting me to take the first step into the adventure of homebrew!

Out of the options available as a starter brew with the kit, I chose the White House Honey Porter – an obvious choice given my affection for porter plus I really liked the elevated profile to craft brewing given by the release of the recipe (the timing clearly had nothing to do with the 2012 campaign trail targeting the drinking-class of the US!).

First step – put everything on the table:

Beer Kit

Second step – crack open a couple of beers to go along with the journey. Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast 7.5% ABV oatmeal stout brewed with coffee and Brouwerij de Molen Kopi Loewak 11.2% ABV ale brewed with civet-cat-processed coffee beans are two amazing breakfast beers from Denmark and the Netherlands respectively that I definitely recommend – drink them if you can find them!

Breakfast beer - mmm!
Breakfast beer – mmm!

Third step – get brewing! The Canadian was a great help as we steeped the grains, brought it to a boil, added the malt extract and Chinook hops, boiled for 45 mins then added honey and aroma hops (German Hallertau). The tricky part was playing with the yeast, which we decided to rehydrate first as we cooled the wort. Eventually, all the ingredients were present in the carboy, the airlock was on and the would-be-beer was hidden away in the cupboard. Fingers-crossed for the fermenting and in a couple of weeks we’ll be bottling. For now it’s back to my bottle of Unibroue’s La Fin du Monde (9% ABV triple golden ale), a slice of cake and the Golden Globes on the telly-box!

Steeping the grains!
Steeping the grains!
Stirring the wort!
Stirring the wort!
Ready to ferment - fingers crossed!
Ready to ferment – fingers crossed!

2012 Round-up and hello to 2013!

So… it’s been awhile dear blog, this year I promise to pay more attention to you! I’m going to kick-off 2013 with a look back on my 10 favorite beer related moments and revelations of 2012 (in no particular order!). If anyone reads this, please let me know what your favorite beer moments were last year and what you’re most looking forward to for the year to come.

1.  Brewing my own beer: …gonna be cracking open the bottles of my first brew (a Dunkelweizen) later today for The Canadian‘s birthday celebrations. Even more excitingly, look what I got for Christmas/my birthday! More posting on this to come.

2.  Fresh, wet-hopped beer: one thing that has become whole-heartedly apparent to me is that Americans, particularly on the West coast, absolutely lurve hops… they can not get enough of them! American IPA is a less malty, hoppier and stronger version of an English IPA but if that is not enough for you, try a double IPA! While you’re at it, why not go for a Black IPA, a Red IPA, a Wheaten IPA or even a Belgian IPA? After a year and change here, The Canadian is even grudgingly starting to accept the citrusy-piney American hops that get in the way of her love of malty goodness. One thing that I have really enjoyed here is the phenomenon of the wet-hopped beer, where brewers rush to bring the first fresh-hops of the harvest straight to their beer. Chucking in the hops without drying and pelleting them appears to impart an earthy, musky, vegetal overtone with less overt bitterness than the dried stuff and really celebrates a pivotal ingredient in modern beer.

3.  San Francisco beer week: This is an exciting idea – last year we ended up in Beer Revolution in Oakland, a fantastic pub, drinking some English style beer at a release party for Dying Vines Brewing. Can’t wait to see what we’ll do this year!

4.  Drinking back in England: I had a real fear that after a year here, I would return to Blighty and find that the beers were too warm, flat and not hoppy enough. To allay this fear I decided to take a tour of some of London’s small, back-street pubs and have a half in each. Yes, the beer was a little warmer and flatter and not hop forward but it was a masterclass in quaffability, with a simple balance and restraint that I have not yet found in a US beer. ABV was under 5% and more often than not hovered around 4%, delivering eminently sessionable pints (proper 20 oz ones!). After a while though, I found myself looking forward to getting back to the US as I’m convinced that here is the most exciting place to be drinking beer at the moment, with brewers constantly innovating and challenging established traditions… if only they’d start doing this more often with low ABV beers that could actually be drunk in a session or quietly after work, that would be awesome!

5.  Saisons: these hard-to-define but refreshing beers were a joy to find in the summer here and something I’d never encountered before. I’m looking forward to more this summer to come as apparently SF is one of the best areas to find them.

6.  Supping from the local source: After my first 5k and The Canadian’s PB half marathon in San Leandro, we relaxed at Drake’s Barrel House; for New Year’s Eve, we sat in the restaurant/bar of 21st Amendment Brewery. Both great experiences. This year we need to track down more local breweries and drink there – simple really 🙂

7.  US beer festivals: are a very different beast from British ones but still fun so bring on some more in 2013!

8.  Finding ‘Real Ale’ in the States: Real Ale as defined by CAMRA (the CAMpaign for Real Ale in the UK) is unpasteurized, naturally carbonated by secondary fermentation in the container it’s dispensed from and in a pub, makes it’s way directly to you, the drinker, from the cask. After lots of cold, fizzy beer we actually managed to find cask beer in a couple of local pubs and it went down sooooo easily! “Please sir, can I have some more?”

9.  Beer education at Ol: Ol is a fantastic little “Beercafe & Bottle Shop” in downtown Walnut Creek that is best visited on a quiet afternoon or evening where you can sit at the bar and sample an exotic beer or two from exciting brewers both near and far (e.g. Denmark and Norway). The overall emphasis is towards Belgian beer styles but the diversity is high, the beer quality always excellent and the staff hugely knowledgeable about the products. They also have a great bottle shop full of exotic beauties (e.g. from Mikkeller and Nogne O). pricey (not an everyday indulgence) but worth it. In 2012, we attended a “Meet the brewer” and learnt how Calicraft Brewing used oak chips to impart flavor to their Oaktown Brown. Great stuff.

10.  Writing this blog! Although I’ve been a bit slack, choosing to write a blog has really made me think more about beer and enjoy it on a whole new level – let’s hope I write more this year and perhaps others can share my excitement too 😉

Brewing My First Beer – Part 1

THE EXCITING DAY IS FINALLY HERE!!!!!

Today I started making my first beer…with the help of a friend (C) who’d done it before and had most of the kit and accessories needed. Since he was missing a few items, our beer-making odyssey started yesterday with a trip to MoreBeer to pick-up bottling gear (a siphon, tubing, bottling bucket, spigot, bottles and caps)  and choose our beer kit. It was a crazy new world for me, full of fun gadgets and many excited men (yes, plus the occassional lady) getting supplies as it was 15%-off-everything day! To aid us in our shopping, we were even given free donuts!

After much deliberation, we settled on a Dunkelweizen as our inaugural beer. Neither of us had drunk one before but we wanted a style that we could enjoy cold in the Californian sunshine and would suit all of our friends’ palates. The darker malts should hopefully make it more exciting than a standard Hefeweizen. The ingredients come in a kit, then we bought malted wheat extract separately and choose our liquid yeast from this amazing fridge full of different yeasts, specialized for different beer styles.

Back to this morning, we quickly popped back to (a decidedly quieter) MoreBeer for a thermometer, started sterilizing our gear and then realized we needed a third trip to the beer supply store as C realized his fermenting bucket’s lid had been damaged and thrown out sometime in the three years since his last brew and relocation to the west coast. While C was negotiating swapping his new bottling bucket for a fermenting bucket, I got geekedly excited over my own realization that getting more serious about this hobby in the future would give me an excuse to buy my own pH meter… something I’ve wanted since my PhD days but could never really justify!

On to the brewing! Below is a photo-documentary of today’s adventure. Part 2 will be bottling the beer and Part 3 will be drinking! In the meantime, I’m open to any and all suggestions for naming the brew. Fingers crossed that it works well!

Sterilizing the brew kettle
Beer ingredients!
Steeping the flavouring grains for 30 mins while bringing the temperature up to 170 degrees Fahrenheit – looks like tea!
Sampling our control specimen for inspiration 😉
Removing the bag of flavouring grains after 30 mins of steeping
Foaming sweet wort before adding hop pellets and boiling for an hour – the smell reminded me of living in Leeds near the Tetley’s brewery!
Cooling the hot wort down to fermentation temperature
Adding the magical yeast
Measuring the Original Gravity (OG = 1.051) with a hydrometer
Beer fermenting in the closet… note the secondary containment, just in case!

An American Beer Festival

So, I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging for the past few weeks – sorry! The Canadian and I had our first guests from the UK and had a lot of fun introducing them to the Bay Area and to American beer. It was also a great excuse (not that we needed one) to go to our first American beer festival, in Monterey.

Now, I’m a big fan of beer festivals. I’ve been to the Reading Beer Festival 9 times in a row (this year would have been my 10th but there was an ocean and 8 time zones in the way), the Great British Beer Festival once, Leeds Beer Festival twice, Newcastle Beer Festival once, Oxford Beer Festival once… and a handful of smaller events in pubs around the UK. I was definitely excited to try my first US beer festie!

First impressions of the beer festival came from the website – I was most amused by the billing of the event: with a pleasing dash of American bravado (in the grand tradition of such things as, “World Series” in sports that most of the world pays no attention to), the festival was called the “Night That Never Ends”… the event itself ran from 12:30-17:00, with no night-time involved at all!

The security on our way in was much more heavy-handed than UK beer festivals. We passed through two separate perimeters on our way to beer – the flip-side being that this gave us two opportunities to queue, which always pleases my British psyche. Into the beer festival we went, with enthusiastic cheers coming from the American crowd as we quickly filled-up the space on another gloriously sunny day in California.

The layout and format was distinct from a British affair, where you enter, receive your pint or half-pint glass and pay for a number of beer tokens, which are exchanged for beer at long tables manned by bearded, pot-bellied men guarding stacked rows of beer casks. Instead and very disappointingly, there was no beer festival pint glass! What a travesty! My cupboard is full of pint and half-pint glasses with emblems of beer festivals and the happy memories that go with them…

…but wait – there was a positive side to no pint glass, really, there was. We were given a little plastic cup, which basically encouraged small tastings of as many beers as you wanted. As the fee was paid upfront, it was an all-you-can-sample beer buffet. I tried to keep track and made notes of 17 beers, far more than I normally try at a British beer festival. For me, the stand-out breweries and beers on show were:

Hermitage Brewing: all strong beers at 8%. I particularly liked the Ale of the 2 Tun Imperial Stout, which was dark and viscous (if too cold when poured). Strangely enough, the discerning tasters posting at Beer Advocate don’t particularly like Hermitage beers so maybe I should try a few from the bottle away from the thrill of a beer festie.

English Ales: this brewery served a wide variety of English style beer, with my favourite probably being the Black Prince Porter (my tasting notes simply say, “YUM!”…must have been some way into the festival ;-)). None of the beers were amazingly outstanding but they all stayed solidly true to their English-roots and for that I thank them.

Ass Kisser Vanilla Pale Ale – very fun but as it basically tasted like cream soda, I’m not sure if this really counts as beer!

El Toro Chocolate Stout –  actually tasted of chocolate, unlike many beers that purport to!

Overall I had a fun time and look forward to my next American beer festival – cheers!

Drinking something dark from a small cup in the sunshine – cheers!

May 28th – June 2nd, 2012

This week, I have mostly been drinking…

…beers from Pyramid

Pyramid is a local microbrewery and on Friday night The Canadian and I took our first British guests there after they got off the plane. I’m a firm believer in curing East-to-West transatlantic jet-leg by staying up as late as you can and having a beer and a burger. Or in the case of Pyramid, 15 little beers shared among 4 of us.

One of the things I really enjoy about drinking in the US is the brewpub sampler. This way, you get to sample the breadth of a microbrew’s offerings in handy sized glasses, more often than not with tasting notes. The beer garden at Pyramid is a great location for this on a sunny day, accompanied by a man-with-a-guitar earnestly delivering covers of contemporary singer-songwriter maestros (erm, well, David Gray, Jack Johnson and their ilk anyway…).

Pyramid offer a bewildering selection of beer from an Apricot Wheat to a Dunkel Weiss, an Imperial IPA to a British Winter Ale. They had 15 brews for us on Friday and I tried a bit of all of them. I just wish they’d put more emphasis on quality rather than quantity (same applies for the food) as I still haven’t found a truly satisfying beer there – perhaps one of the next 15 they come up with will hit the spot!

…beer in the sunshine!

Today was the Walnut Creek Chamber & Visitors Bureau’s 31st Annual Art & Wine festival, which was more wine than beer focused (who would have guessed from the name?!) but the gorgeously sunny day lent itself nicely to drinking cold beer (and turning me pink). I also had my first corn dog – a satisfyingly bad experience. On the beer front, I tried Gorden Biersch Marzen (ABV = 5.8%, IBU = 18, beer advocate review), Alaskan Amber (ABV = 5.3%, beer advocate review) and a sparkling yellow ale/pilsner called something like Bezerkelicious from the new and local Calicraft Brewing Co. – I hope to hear and drink more from them as they get more established!

…Cascadian Dark Ale

I’m a fan of the US Cascade hops – they have a distinctive flavour but the bitterness does not leave your mouth feeling dry. However, I’m also a fan of dark beer. So, I was very excited to try Deschutes Brewery Hop in the Dark (ABV = 6.5%, IBU = 70, beer advocate review). Quite simply, this beer delivered what I wanted it to, the distinctive hoppiness marrying nicely with a lovely dark colour, a firm tan head and more body than I usually find in beers here. It was my first Cascadian Dark Ale… or was it?! The interwebs inform me that there is some controversy (oh no!) over whether to call this style Cascadian Dark Ale (CDA), Black IPA (I’ve had a few of these before!) or even American-Style India Black Ale. Black IPA seems like a contradiction but does pay homage to the roots of the brew in India Pale Ale, Cascadian Dark Ale is very specific to the Pacific Northwest and its flagship hop while American-Style IBA sounds like a good descriptor but not one I’ve seen before. Personally, I think Black IPA is something everyone can understand but seeing the name Cascadian Dark Ale certainly excited me and I’d happily see this label stay. Let me know what you think of this style!