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.

1 comment:

Chopper said...

check w/ speakeasy to see if they still have any of their souped up zin-barrel-aged porter around. had it at their firkin friday during beer week and was very impressed. Lots of tartness from the wine/barrel/bugs against a roasty/alcoholy goodness.

It was $3 bucks for a pint.