Friday, February 26, 2010


There’s probably a contingent of folks who came to this beer blog at some point from one of my now-defunct music blogs – DETAILED TWANG or AGONY SHORTHAND. Others reading this probably have zero interest in obscure, sub-underground, dirty pop, garage rock and noise from around the world, and would much prefer this post to be about the SURLY DARKNESS beer I had two nights ago or another dig at PLINY THE whatever. As it turns out, me pontificating about beer has won out overall; I only have the quote-unquote “bandwidth” to write pithy posts about beers I’m drinking than my former free time to engage in long-ish posts about bands & records – though I do have yet another music blog currently active called HIGH WATER EVERYWHERE. But yeah, I sure miss posting mp3s, and trying to force my musical opinion on others.

To that end, let me present to you a slight diversion from our normal programming, and give you my gift to the craft beer and extended community: THE HEDONIST BEER JIVE 2010 GUIDE TO MUSIC. It’s a set of 27 songs from this past year, some even released just the past couple of weeks, that I find to be outstanding work by the youth of today. They’ve been gobbled up from a variety of other sites, bought straight from iTunes, or came off of old-school CDs that I actually bought. I’m constantly prowling for new stuff – just like I do with beer; in the blood, I reckon. In order to successfully enjoy this collection of mp3s, you have to be okay with a little bit of dirt and grime; with sometimes loud-ish guitars, and with Australians. I know that’s a leap for some of you. These 27 tracks can be burned to a CD if you like, or popped into iTunes or your “Zune”. You’ll find them to span the gamut from buoyant, garagy pop music (Dum Dum Girls, Happy Birthday, Rantouls) to unrelenting psychedelic noise (Kurt Vile & the Violators, Major Stars) to disjointed, stuttering post-punk (Wet Dog) to straight-up punk moderne (Overnight Lows, Black Jaspers).

The common thread is that this is the music I’m loving right now, and I sure hope you do too. Track listing and link to download is below – beer talk returns next week. Please go buy this stuff in iTunes or a store or wherever it is you do your shopping if any of this happens to catch your fancy.

Track listing

1. Jail La La – DUM DUM GIRLS
3. My Wet Tongue – HAPPY HOLLOWS
4. Little Green Hat – THE RANTOULS
5. Lower Leg – WET DOG
6. Clarence – SIC ALPS
7. (A Girl Called) Saccharine – DAN MELCHIOR’S BROKE REVUE
8. City of Rotten Eyes – OVERNIGHT LOWS
11. What Started The Noise – SUPER WILD HORSES
12. Purgatory – DICK DIVER
13. Vorpal – WHITE MYSTERY
14. Wandering – THE YOLKS
16. Little Bit of This – THE RANTOULS
18. Malfunction – USELESS EATERS
19. Smart Car – BLACK JASPERS
20. Freudian Slips – BIG TROUBLES
21. She’s So Crazy – MICKEY
22. Still 16 – THE RANTOULS
23. Vietnam – HAPPY HOLLOWS
26. Sugar Boat – THEE OH SEES
The Space You Know – MAJOR STARS

Download “The Hedonist Beer Jive 2010 Guide To Music” (this is a .zip file)

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Before there was THE VICE BLOG, there was HOT KNIVES. Hot Knives was and remains a food blog with a heavy, hedonistic emphasis on great beer. They remain one of the best reads out there, and when these guys decide to cook some food and drink some craft ale, they get their hands dirty and go for it, then write about it with aplomb and panache. Now they’ve taken their beer writings – or at least the best of ‘em – and collected it into a mini-book called GREATEST SIPS. I just got mine in the mail yesterday and haven’t dug in yet, but just skimming through it, I was already laffin’ a bunch. I can recommend it in advance, mostly because I’ve read the posts that are collected here. It’s kind of cool, too – the publisher they’re using does this just-in-time thing too, where they only print it when you order it. You can do so here, and tell them the HBJ sent ya.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


While in Barcelona last week I did what I always do on work-related road trips, which is seek out the local ales for consideration (and comfort). Time was when I’d poke around obscure record shops, or maybe go to a museum or something, but now it’s pubs and beer bars like LA CERVETECA and CERVECERIA EL FLABIOL, the two best places I discovered in Barcelona for deep contemplation of Spanish (and Belgian) craft beer. At the former, I discovered a brewer from Girona, Spain called BIRRART MOS’KA. This guy (Josep Borrell) is on a one-man crusade to bring exceptional artisanal craft beer to Spain, and currently bottles four beers, all with a similar 12-ounce bottle design. I “considered” two of them, and brought another one home in my suitcase. Let’s discover together what I thought of them.

The first was MOS’KA TORRADA, and it’s a real humdinger. TORRADA is an artisanal amber beer that’s smooth and creamy and pours a nice red-tinged brown. Really, really flavorful – with strong malts, honey, and some hops that linger. TORRADA includes loads of sediment for you sediment fans out there. Picture a less-yeasty, more creamy version of a Belgian amber and you’re in the ballpark. I loved it, and after this and the RUNA ALE we talked about two days ago, it’s when I knew I’d stepped on beer paydirt in Barcelona. 8.5/10.

The other MOS’KA product I poured down my throat is called MOS’KA POMA. Spanish speakers in the audience may recognize that word translating as “apple”. And you’d be exactly right! Think of this one as a bitter apple wheat beer. It’s got that certain special I-don’t-know-what that I discovered in all the local brews; maybe it’s the water, but the local beers here just taste different than the imports and our own US micros. Fruity and citrus-packed, with a little bit of lemon and a TON of carbonation. A strange sort of pale ale that was not a thirst-quencher per se, but really one to work on slowly. And yeah, it was really good as well, just a notch down from the TORRADA at 7/10. I brought a MOS'KA NEGRA home in my bag, so we’ll talk about that one another time, OK?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


I started this blog back in early 2006, and back then the only experience I’d had with tart, sweet Belgian lambics were the ones from LINDEMANS. These are available even in corner liquor stores in the US, and I learned pretty quickly that these mass-produced lambics, decent enough as they are, use fruit adjuncts (gasp!!!) instead of real fruit. I remember taking a beer appreciation class in 2005 – which actually inspired me to create this blog – and the guy just relentlessly bagged on LINDEMANS and the fact that they didn’t stuff real bushels of raspberries or dozens of real peaches into their beers. Since then I’ve regrettably barely skimmed the world of the lambic. People who love this stuff really love it, and me, well I just don’t know yet. I had a CANTILLON FRAMBOISE back in 2009 that was so puckeringly perplexing that I couldn’t even score it, giving it an “Uncertain” rating.

At CITY BEER STORE the other night, I noticed that LOST ABBEY had a new beer on draft, LOST ABBEY FRAMBOISE DE AMOROSA. I marveled over the fact that I hadn’t tried a new one from these guys in well over 18 months, back in their glory days of 2007-2008 when new bottles were showing up on the shelves every month. Why not try their Framboise? Well guess what folks, it’s excellent. This is everything what I’d want a tart, ultra-fresh raspberry beer to taste like – packed with fresh and zinging yeasts, and puckering on the mouth but not so that you stop what you’re doing to clear the palate with water (which is what I had to do with the CANTILLON rookie!!). It’s Belgian-style, full-stop, made right down there San Diego way. It’s absolutely drinkable and a much better intro to the style than those “adjunct” beers – right? You know Tomme Arthur and the gang don’t mess around. 8/10.

Monday, February 22, 2010


So you'll never guess where I was last week. Oh OK, it was Barcelona, Spain. Yeah, crazy, right? I may travel a lot for my job but getting an overseas pass - even if it's in cramped coach with an inconvenient flight change and a load of discomfort - is a new one. Last year I was in Madrid and Seville for pleasure and did, in fact, try to ingest local craft beer there with not a lot of luck (here's my dispatch about Madrid's NATURBIER). I casually mentioned to a couple of fellow drinkers at December's Pacific Coast Holiday Beer Fest that I was heading to Barcelona in February, and they burst with enthusiasm about this place called LA CERVETECA that was an absolute must-visit. Was it ever. Given that I had five nights in Barcelona, would the fact that four of them included visits to La Cerveteca surprise you? Yeah, this place is that great.

Jeez, where do I start? OK, I'll keep this and my next post limited to the Spanish (dare I say Catalonian) craft beers that I tried, though I found multiple unheard-of Belgian ales and other wild cards on this trip that I'll write about later. If you've heard anything about a burgeoning artisanal beer culture in Southeastern Spain (I hadn't before this trip), let it be said that there's no friggin' doubt about it. There is now some outstanding beer from this part of the world, and my cup raneth (??) over with the bounty of the region thanks to my targeted visits to La Cerveteca and CERVECERIA EL FLABIOL, both of which I researched via Beer Advocate's invaluable "BeerFly" beer-related travel guide. LA CERVETECA is just amazing - a beautiful, open, German-style beer nook where you drink while standing over barrels and which has local beer on draft and a deep selection of micros from around the world. Funny enough, outside of their many local beers (this has got to be ground zero for Catalonian beer), they also have heavy stock from CANTILLON, NOGNE Ø, AECHT SCHLENKERLAFLYING DOG (!) and ANCHOR BREWING (!!). The guys that run and work the place are exceptionally friendly and even speak a little inglés, which helped me and my drinkmates in picking out the best in Spanish beer, stuff we may never see again.

Foremost on the list is the beer pictured above, one that I absolutely loved and had on draft twice - MASIA AGULLONS RUNA ALE. This is served on hand pump at La Cerveteca, and it's a superlative bitter brown ale. It has a giant frosty head of foam, and is remarkably fresh tasting. Tingling bitterness and lots of exciting dark fruit flavor - prunes, nuts, and some caramel. My friend PW, a guy weaned on UK ales, said this is one of the most exceptional British-style ales he'd had in a long while. I thought it was like a cask brown ale with wildly more hops & fruits than expected, all the while being light, refreshing and low-ABV. RUNA ALE was the highlight of the trip, drink-wise. 9/10.

Another interesting one I got to try is from a local outfit named DeDUES called DeDUES CERVESA D'AUTOR. I was actually gently warned against this by the proprieter of Cerveceria El Flabiol - he called it "unusual and indescribable" - but I thought it was kinda cool in its 13-ounce bottle, if exactly as he described. It's sort of like if you decided to make an "imperial" English bitter, then ramped it up with more hops and a really strange collection of yeasts. Mahogany red, chalky, bitter, and totally unique. Intriguing, but probably not something I'd want to try again. 6/10.

I'd tell ya more but I'm getting too thirsty just typing this stuff. Coming up - the beers of BIRRART MOS'KA and more....!

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Perhaps you saw those bottles of $42 beers from a hitherto-unknown California beermaker called MAYFIELD BREWING hit the shelves of Whole Foods last year. “The Mayfield Iconoclast series?”, you asked yourself, as I did – “…How do I not know a thing of this nectar that must be so richly magnificent & otherworldly that it is able to garner twice and thrice the price of other already too-expensive beers from celebrated brewers the world over?”. I suppose that everyone who saw the three fancy bottles of MAYFIELD ICONOCLAST in their three fancy flavors asked themselves that, unless you already knew the back story, which I didn’t and still don’t. It is inevitable in this explosive abundance of artisanal craft beer that the market would evolve to support ever-higher price points, and as a good capitalist, I’m very much in favor of the market working out whether this gamble on the highest of the high end is a good one for John Aldrete, a one-man operation who started Mayfield Brewing in 2007. Yet forgive me my skepticism against the price multiple vs. other world-class beers would be equaled by a quality multiple as well. I decided to head to a rare Mayfield tasting at the very same Whole Foods where I first espied it to find out.

As part of SF Beer Week, Mr. Aldrete, accompanied by his helpful, glass-stacking 8-year-old son, was doling out 25-cent pours of his three beers in the wine section of San Francisco’s 4th Street Whole Foods one evening. I threw down a big $1 so I could try all three – and then some! The tasting was done very much the way a Napa Valley wine tasting is – a little bit goes into your glass from the luxuriously-appointed bottles, you swish it around, you chat with the owner, and you get maybe three swigs to form an impression. Given that, it was actually somewhat hard for me to get a read on the first one, ICONOCLAST AURORA. Aldrete called this an “altbier” infused with white wine, or perhaps it was aged in white wine barrels. Hmm. It sure tasted like wine to me, closer to chardonnay than altbier, and perhaps that’s where this high price-point stuff is coming from. Market this as a beer for people who love wine, and the market just might bat an eyelash your way.

Next was ICONOCLAST ECLAT, which I swear he called a “IPA”, aged in oak wine barrels. I could care less what someone calls anything as long as it’s good, but this small pours were making it hard to get a bead on anything. What do you want for 25 cents, right, Hinman? Shut up and sip your wine-beer. As suspicion mounted, Aldrete delivered the counterpunch in the form of ICONOCLAST NOCTURNA. Hold on here. This is incredible. A creamy imperial stout aged in port wine barrels, Nocturna tastes like a fantasy port/stout dream beverage, so delicious I made it my “bonus round” selection just so I could contemplate its magnificence again. You want 42 bucks for a big bottle of this? Why not? It’s a big party, your fanciest fancy-pants friends are coming over, and you want to bust out something that everyone’s going to swoon over and make you a superstar to both your beer and your wine-lovin’ friends. In other words, most couples you know – or should I say that I know, couples where the husband drinks beer with me, and the wife drinks wine with my wife. A ha. I’ve just divined the MAYFIELD ICONOCLAST angle, and at least with NOCTURNA, everyone will be happy and gay that you spent $42 to help get them that way.

I intend to ask Mr. Aldrete for an interview in the near future so we can all learn more about this stuff (seems like a totally humble, friendly and knowledgeable guy), but for now, let me say that it is indeed possible that this is no sleight-of-hand hocus pocus. I’d love to hear what you think if, in fact, your lips have graced the sides of a glass with Mayfield Iconoclast beer in it.

Friday, February 19, 2010


So after saying publicly on the Twitter that I wasn’t going to be attending any of the back-slappin’, shuckin & jivin’ SF BEER WEEK events, I turned coat & went to the unveiling of ELYSIAN BREWING and GREEN FLASH BREWING’s collaboration saison THE RED QUEEN last week. This took place at City Beer Store in San Francisco on a Wednesday night, and truly, I chose this event more out of convenience than anything else, seeing as how I’ve bagged on Elysian’s beers in the past & was only a fan of the Green Flash half of the partnership. And though I don’t know who’s truly pulling the strings with this beer, let it be said that Elysian is definitely getting a halo effect at a bare minimum from helping to produce this outstanding beer. Allow me to tell you about it.

THE RED QUEEN is a dark orange saison to die for. Fruity, incredibly juicy and just-out-of-the-vat fresh, this beer takes the saison sideways. It has a wonderfully earthy smell, which is something you’d expect, right? But it made its mark with me for its robust flavors of tangerine, honey and yeasts, all mingling together in one of the more fruit-forward farmhouse ales I’ve ever tasted. I’m willing to bet there are some similarities in pedigree with the GREEN FLASH SAISON I wrote about before and which currently resides in the Hedonist Beer Jive 75. That’s a picture of THE RED QUEEN right there, and yes, that’s the dollar I tipped for the privilege of being able to drink one. I don’t know if it’s a one-shot-and-done sort of beer or if there’s a potential for bottling & draft accounts, but like the Green Flash Saison from two years ago, this one’s easily scoring a big 9/10 on the HBJ scale.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Another day, another knockout beer from Montreal, Quebec's DIEU DU CIEL - or as they like to call themselves when they get excited, DIEU DU CIEL! This time we're talking about SOLSTICE D'HIVER, a winter seasonal that reached my eyes & ears via a number of channels, both online and off. The talk was that these guys make a ton of great beers, and yet besides the trophy-laden PECHE MORTAL, this was their flat-out best. I'm inclined to agree - this barleywine is totally top-tier stuff.

It comes in a 12-ounce bottle and that's OK cuz it's a big'un - 9.8% alcohol. SOLSTICE D'HIVER is a warming, sweet barleywine, without a lot of the intense hoppiness you'll find in some versions of this style. The taste is burnt sugar, maybe a little pineapple if you can believe it, and that delicious maltiness that gives off quite an aroma. You can smell that it's a high-ABV beer, but not necessarily taste it. Absolutely wanted another glass, and that doesn't happen to often with the big boys. I'm hooked on this outfit's beers, and I'll keep buying them as I see new ones. 8.5/10.

Friday, February 12, 2010


I've long slogged through life with the cross to bear of being what seems to be the only human alive who believes RUSSIAN RIVER's PLINY THE ELDER double IPA to be a "lesser" beer. Sure, it's good enough, but after careful contemplation of 5 glasses or bottles of it, I think I'm pretty certain that it's in the lower third of the Russian River (arguably our country's finest brewer) panoply, and it's a little south of average for the ultra-hoppy, Double IPA style. I find this opinion raises the hackles of the many who feel PLINY THE ELDER to be manna from heaven, and I've enjoyed some of the comments on this blog calling me heretic, "Judas" and whatnot.

Then there's the fabled PLINY THE YOUNGER. This beer comes out only once a year, and it's the 11% ABV, souped-up version of the Elder, and when it appears in its exceptionally rare handful of locations (usually just in a few California bars), it's snapped up & glugged down like a cooler full of Gatorade found after three parched days in the Gobi Desert. Right now it's actually tied with TRAPPIST WESTVLETEREN 12 on Beer Advocate's "Top 100 Beers" board as the single greatest beer in the entire world. Now me, I'm a San Francisco resident, and both Plinys are brewed about 80 minutes north of me. The fact that until a couple days ago I'd never tried RUSSIAN RIVER PLINY THE YOUNGER was a crime against drinking, and seriously lowered my credentials as a, um, "beer journalist" and maker of tastes. So when I got the email from Oakland's excellent beer bar THE TRAPPIST that they'd have a keg of this liquid gold on tap for a few hours, I drove- nay, I sped - over there after leaving work early to ensure I'd get to finally ingest a glass of the greatest beer on god's green earth.

Now you readers of this blog, you know I try to be a teller of truths, while holding a little bit of my tongue in my cheek at times. But I can't fathom this PLINY THE YOUNGER thing either, I just can't. Yes, it is ludicrously hoppy. It smells like a hop bath, and the only beer I've ever had this intense was DRAKE'S HOP SALAD - which, let the record show, is the better beer. I can't say that this is really that amazing of an experience. It is strong, it is well-constructed, but the sort of consciousness-raising beer experience one expects from the world's great beers? No, it's nothing of the sort. It's an experimental, kick-your-ass, hoppy ale that you'll remember for its intense bitterness and that's about it. And around here, my friends, that's what we at Hedonist Beer Jive like to call a 6.5/10.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I have an until-now unarticulated but dormant beer resolution for 2010 to actually drink a few German beers and try and develop some level of expertise on the great ones. I’m not a lager guy, but I totally love the hefeweizen, the dunkel weizen and even the hardcore eisbock, and I truly need to drink more of the original masters and less of the American copycats in order to get the proverbial big picture – and have fun whilst doing so. To that end, I ordered a SCHNEIDER WEISSE “ORIGINAL” the other evening at Café Biere. They had this beer listed as “ORIGINAL AMBER”, and that’s certainly fair since that’s its color, but this is rich, delicious dark hefeweizen all the way.

Tart and actually a little hoppy, this beer is probably closer to the “dunkel” side of the wheat beer tipping point, but who’s counting. It has an exceedingly fresh taste and smooth mouthfeel, giving it that whole I-could-drink-this-all-night feel that moves units & gets the German people good & drunk. Keep in mind that the brewer behind this, SCHNEIDER & SOHN WEISSBIERBRAUEREI, are the same masters behind AVENTINUS beers and the recent excellent collaboration with BROOKYLN BREWING. These guys don’t mess around. Definitely recommended. 7.5/10.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Mention “Italian beer” to any beer drinker with a moderately-evolved palate, and until two years ago those two words would have been met with hoots of derision & outright mockery until you were forced to hang your head in shame. Nothing’s worse that getting all psyched up for a nice Italian meal, only to find the only beer choices being those “premium” Italian beers PERONI and MORETTI. Gross. Give me Coors Extra Gold or Blatz Light any day. Word on the street is that there’s this new wave of Italian brewers, bold risk-takers in the middle of one of the world’s great wine countries who are crafting incredible artisanal ales, some of which are starting to be sent over into North America for beer dork contemplation. Me, I’ve been looking for the right beer to get involved in the Italian scene. I believe based on last night’s evidence that I am still looking.

Johnny over at MONTEREY DELI – the outstanding beer store/market a mere two blocks from my house – got in this new Italian beer in a funny-looking bottle by an Italian brewer called ORO DI MILANO called RISERVA SPECIALE. He hadn’t tried it yet, so I decided that I would. It may be that I’m “breaking” this beer in the Northern Califorina market. It’s a dubious honor. ORO DI MILANO RISERVA SPECIALE is definitely a major jump above the Italian macros, but considering that those are undrinkable, it’s a small step to scale. This one’s still trending toward the “macro ale” side of the ledger, with an intense, off-putting malty sweetness that really defines and overwhelms the beer. It’s 8.2% alcohol, but the sugary sweetness tastes like a by-product of the malts, and I dunno, it’s just not done in a way that hits me where I live. Light, nearly opaque amber (they call it a “brown amber ale”), this has a thin-to-medium body, with tastes of really light caramel and even liqueurs. Yeah, that’s it – it’s like those cheapo liqueur-filled candies you get in those phony chocolate bottles of Jameson Whiskey, except this has a grainy, malty beer taste instead. I’m none too impressed. Who out there knows of a really stupendous Italian beer I can drop some coin on instead? 5/10.

Monday, February 08, 2010


I wasn’t yet a rabid, frothing fan of San Francisco’s HEALTHY SPIRITS beer store until my most recent couple of visits there, when I realized that over the past two years the place has become the SF Bay Area’s finest retail location for off-beat, one-of-a-kind, artisanal beers. The place has gradually changed from being merely an awesome beer store to a mind-blowing beer emporium - full of Belgian specialty ales, Scandinavian brews, Japanese craft beers and yes, the best in American microbrews as well. If you look hard enough you can also pick up some middle eastern treats and a pack of gum & some chips, too.

We decided to commission an interview with DAVE HAUSLEIN, beer manager at Healthy Spirits, as he’s been presiding over this transition and growth the past couple of years. Take a look at what Mr. Hauslein has to say here and you’ll revel that we live in an age where such a store not only exists, but thrives. Oh – and definitely put it on your beergenda when you visit our town – HEALTHY SPIRITS is located at 2299 15th Street @ Castro. Here goes:

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: Tell me a little bit about how Healthy Spirits, which was just a normal corner convenience store for most of its existance, has morphed & changed the past few years.

Dave Hauslein: Healthy Spirits has never had a traditional approach to the neighborhood corner store. In its infancy, the store focused on the diverse tastes of the neighborhood, putting a lot of energy into supplying the large Irish population with their favorite UK specialty items (candy, chips, etc.). Another popular, long running aspect of the store has been the Rami’s Mommy’s line of home-made Middle-Eastern food, which is made from scratch by the owner’s mother, from old family recipes. A little over 3 years ago Rami saw the growing interest in craft beer in San Francisco and decided to become a part of that scene. The original beer guy, Matt Pushinsky, worked with Rami to set up the solid foundation we have in the craft beer community. In the 2+ years I have been at the store, I have tried to continue in that direction, expanding our selection and starting the Beer of the Month Club.

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: What are you looking for when you choose beer for the store - Rarity? Quality? Ability to sell through?

Dave Hauslein: I have been into beer for a long time, and I know most of the major brands inside and out, so I tend to get excited whenever someone new comes along. I look for innovation, and obviously quality. Since we have so many beers at the store, we have the ability to bring in less known breweries and not always buy based on what sells fast. I am also careful about buying based on what’s rare, because sometimes it’s nothing more than a marketing strategy. Besides being as active in the San Francisco beer scene as we can there are some great resources out there such as beer advocate and rate beer, that really help us ascertain which beers are really worth seeking out. Of course the best method of determining quality is always going to be tasting them yourself.

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: Who buys beer at Healthy Spirits? Give me some examples of your most dedicated customers.

Dave Hauslein: Our customers are as eclectic as the beer we sell. We get local neighborhood people, people who drive in from out of town, and even out of state people. I find that the most dedicated customers are the Beer of the Month Club members. They get 15% off coupons with every issue that’s released, so many of them come in and buy large amounts of beer at once. There is also a growing number of customers who cellar beer at home. These people tend to buy limited release beers by the case.

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: Healthy Spirits is located in the Castro District, a heavily gay neighborhood with some families and scattered twentysomethings. Why do you feel this store fits the neighborhood well?

Dave Hauslein: The Castro is a neighborhood that has always been on the cutting edge, and with the rising interest in craft beer, we are in the right place. It’s an affluent area, where people feel comfortable spending a little bit of money to try something just to see if they’ll like it. We are also within walking distance of The Toronado, one of the best beer bars in the world. So we get a lot of cross traffic.

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: The focus at Healthy Spirits seems to be on Belgians, but I'm noticing a huge selection now of some of the most offbeat & artisanal beers from Denmark, Sweden, Japan, Norway and elsewhere. Is there a demand for those, and what are the best ones & the most popular ones?

Dave Hauslein: We began by focusing primarily on Belgians, but it’s just one of the many countries that are now producing noteworthy beer. In the past few years we have seen mini-Renaissances in Scandinavia and Italy, as well as rising interest in American-style craft beers in countries like Japan. The demand is limited, but I am confident it will grow with time as people become more aware of what’s available to them. I am happy to see that breweries like Jolly Pumpkin and Stone are collaborating with Scandinavian breweries and creating interesting new beers with cross-cultural influences. And then there’s BFM from Switzerland, one of my all time favorite producers. Their Abbaye De Saint Bon Chien is a transcendent beer. A grand cru aged in oak that ends up somewhere between a Flemish sour ale and a Belgian grand cru.

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: What's the pricing strategy at Healthy Spirits? I've noticed that it's a place where you can drop a lot of cash in a hurry, and is perhaps the most "high-end" beer shop I've ever been to.

Dave Hauslein: Since we are a specialty shop and carry such a large selection, the prices are going to be higher than places like Bev-Mo, where they get special deals and sell based on bulk. But we think it’s worth it, especially when you consider the level of service we provide. We are able to give detailed information on most every beer we carry, and will assist customers in putting together vertical tastings, pairing beer with food, and helping them to find beers that are suited to their taste. We can even recommend glassware, show the proper way to pour various beers, and explain the history/background of many producers. That being said, we currently offer a 10% discount on mixed 6 packs, which includes all bottles and cans.

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: You told me that you're looking to also become a destination for high-end spirits the way you are for beer. What are some examples?

Dave Hauslein: Nate Breed is our wine and spirits buyer, and resident expert. He just launched a bourbon blog, and we have developed a sizeable selection of high quality bourbons. Nate hand selects each wine and bourbon that comes into the store, which ensures that we carry only the best.

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: How did you personally get involved with Healthy Spirits? Do you have a personal "beer resume" you can share with us?

Dave Hauslein: I first got into craft beer when I was about 19 years old. I tried a mixed case of Unibroue beers one New Year’s Eve, and that was it. I had never tried any Belgian-style beer before, and it turned into a minor obsession. This was when I still lived in Pennsylvania. I found a few specialty beer stores that didn’t ask me for ID and started experimenting with different styles. When I moved to Philadelphia to attend college I got a job at The Foodery, which is easily one of the best beer stores on the East Coast. There I learned a lot, and drank a lot. When I moved to San Francisco I worked at BevMo for a little while. When I found an opportunity to work at Healthy Spirits I jumped on it. I have been at the store for over 2 years and in that time Rami, Nate and myself have made major strides towards being San Francisco’s top bottle shop destination.

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: What are some of your personal favorite beers, either that you sell or that you wish you sold?

Dave Hauslein: It’s a tough question, because I change my mind all the time. I’ll start with a top 5 of stuff that we are currently selling at the store.

1. De Dolle Stille Nacht
2. Deschutes Black Butte XXI
3. BFM Abbaye De Saint Bon Chien Vintage 2007
4. Jolly Pumpkin Maracaibo
5. Drie Fontinen Oude Gueuze

New and interesting beers are coming in all the time, so if you were to ask me next week, I’d probably give you a completely different list. As far as beers I wish we carried, most of them are things I miss from the East Coast. Yuengling Lager brings back pleasant memories. I would love to have access to stuff from the Troeg’s Brewing Company, Brooklyn Brewery, Bell’s, Tyranena, Duck Rabbit, General Lafayette, and a few dozen others. Thank God we finally got some Victory brews out here!

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: Are there any plans to sell some of the beers you carry online, or are there legal hoops to leap through to do so?

Dave Hauslein: We ship beer on a very small scale. Beer laws vary state to state, so we have to check before we send anything.

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: Finally, how do you see the store evolving in 2010, and then beyond that?

Dave Hauslein: We are expanding our selection while keeping the emphasis on quality. We are also investigating the possibility of having a couple of beers brewed exclusively for Healthy Spirits. As the year progresses there will be lots of surprises for beer aficionados, and some fun stuff for Beer of the Month Club members. It’s going to be our biggest year ever.

Friday, February 05, 2010


Remember MOONLIGHT BREWING? There’s the semi-legendary one-man operation based in San Francisco’s north bay area, a fella named Brian Hunt, and his beers are out of this world. They taste like hand-crafted, small-batch, experimental beers – if it’s true that you can actually taste such things. His beers are only available in Northern California, draft only, and while it’s pretty easy to find a pint of DEATH & TAXES or TWIST OF FATE, rare is the day that one sees anything else from Moonlight Brewing in their local beverage dispensary. The other night at CAFÉ BIERE in Emeryville, I was fortunate enough to grab a pint of his YOUNG PALE ALE, a beer so unknown that it’s not even listed on the Beer Advocate/Rate Beer sites yet. It is entirely possible that these words I am typing at this second are the first words ever digitally recorded about it. (Shudder). Wow, did you just feel that??

MOONLIGHT YOUNG PALE ALE is an orange-tinged, very hoppy pale ale. It’s spicy as all get out. You ever tried THREE FLOYDS ALPHA KING before? It’s that kind of pale ale – the one that’s really a strong, intense India Pale ale hiding behind the “American pale ale” category. Malts were interacting with spices interacting with big-ass hops – wow. This is the best beer I’ve had from Moonlight in a couple of years, and I even had my all-time fave pilsner REALITY CZECH just the other evening. I hope this one turns up in more locales in 2010 because you’re gonna want this one. 8.5/10.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Like you, I’m intrigued by those Scandinavian beers and brewers that keep grabbing headlines, particularly since the ones I’ve had from NOGNE Ø (Norway), HAANDBRYGGERIET (Norway) and MIKKELLER (Denmark) have been so damn good. Yet these little bottles are often very pricey, so it takes a day like the one a few weeks ago where I stumbled into Healthy Spirits in San Francisco with a full wallet and a smile on my face to make me wanna spring for them. And oooooh there were so many to choose from here. (Stay tuned with an interview we’ve got coming up on this blog with Dave Hauslein, beer guru at this store). I went with NOGNE Ø 2008 WINTER ALE, just because it was something I’d never see again. They had another Winter beer there by NOGNE Ø called PECULIAR YULE, and it’s highly rated on Beer Advocate (A-). Then again, so’s the WINTER ALE (A-), or GOD JUL, as we say in Norway.

“Now THAT’S a strong winter warmer”, I sez to myself as I commenced to drinking it. A dark, rich ale, NOGNE Ø 2008 WINTER ALE is complex and maybe even a little nutty. No, not crazy-like – nutty-tasting, ya knuckleheads. Also tastes of caramel and more exotic things I could not place. “Complex”, I’m telling you – very complex. 8.5% alcohol and even a little sour as it warmed. And then it was gone. I was warmed, flushed and mildly exhilarated by this interesting brew. No clue as to what a year of aging did to it, but I’m glad I found one all the same. 7/10.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010


I made my way back into the physical confines of the 21ST AMENDMENT PUB & BREWERY in San Francisco the other evening for a couple of fresh ales. A lot has gone down since I swung by here before a Giants game last year. 21A’s got three kinds of canned beer in supermarkets and liquor stores across the land now – Hell or High Watermelon Wheat (one of their lesser beers); Brew Free or Die IPA (another lesser beer); and the outstanding MONK’S BLOOD, which we wrote about here. They’ve also been cooking up a batch of Belgian-style ales for their annual “strong beer month”, which goes down every February and which I missed by a couple of days. My rule of thumb with this brewer is that when you go “off menu” – i.e. to their specialty or seasonal beers and more dorkified creations – that’s where the real treasure lives.

I tried to do just that the other night during a wide-ranging discussion with a compatriot about school choice, free will and the Berkeley Unified School District’s organic gardening program. This line of conversation called for the strongest beers on the menu, so I grabbed a HOLIDAY SPICED ALE to get things going. Way back in 2006 this Christmas beer really blew me away, but the 2009 version is leaving something on the table before it hits the glass. Really spicy – they’ve not lost a beat there – but a little thin and just slightly “off”, as we like to say when things aren’t quite coming together the way we like them. A lot of winter beers seem to lack for imagination so these guys get points for trying to go way big with theirs. Let’s call it a 6/10.

Then there was this Belgian-style golden ale called GOLDEN DOOM. Good name, and really good beer. It’s pictured here. It’s a thick, orange-colored sweet ale, with just a TON of yeast collecting in the back of the throat. Yow. I think they may have thrown in a little butterscotch to keep the pundits guessing. A well-done take on an underappreciated (by me) style. 7.5/10. Onward to “strong beer month”!

Monday, February 01, 2010


Since NEW GLARUS BREWING only brews and distributes in Wisconsin, and because Wisconsinites tend to l-o-v-e their beer, both beer dorks and hoi polloi alike, the beer's got a must-have quality for those of us who can't get it.  And that's why beer trading exists. I received four bottles of NEW GLARUS beers in a recent swap. albeit two that were nearly empty of liquid due to shaking and damage in transit that had essentially drained the liquid without popping the cap. ("Have you ever seen a grown man cry?"). But there was this 12-ounce bottle of SPOTTED COW in there. This beer's been in the "beer news" of late, thanks to a NYC bar that smuggled four cases of it out of Wisconsin to serve it to the Badger-lovin' Wisconsin expats in the Big Apple who frequent said bar for football Saturday. Apparently it's a big whoop-de-doo that could lead to fines and whatnot. Good thing I, uh, got mine legally, right?

NEW GLARUS SPOTTED COW is the most "American" saison/farmhouse ale I've ever had. Less magnanimous people than myself might say that it's a Belgian saison "dumbed down" for an American audience of twentysomething college football lovers, but me, I flip it the other way. I think it's an American pale ale with heavy fruit characteristics that happens to also be mildly Belgian-ized. It has an exceptionally strong fruit smell and taste (apricots is what I'm getting), and it's amazingly refreshing. Like drink-a-six-pack-in-one-sitting refreshing. A fruit saison? Oh yes. There's the faint whiff and taste of the barnyard hovering on the nose and tongue, and this sets it one very large step above your basic fruit beer, a.k.a what an MCP might call "girl beer". Well I sure ain't a girl and I thought this thing was great - a terrific introduction to this heralded brewer for me. 7.5/10.