Mexican Wine Country, 2015

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It’s been a while now since I was living part-time in Ensenada, and for most of the last couple years I’ve barely had a chance to visit.  Fortunately I’ve recently had occasion to visit a couple times, and things are as great as ever.

Boules has moved into town, into the space behind La Contra wine store where Parque reataurant used to be.  Javi has re-worked the patio into a crazy-fun outdoor restaurant in the middle of the heart of downtown.

 

 Ryan  

Ryan Stein has opened a restaurant at Adobe Guadalupe, called El Jardin.

 

Quail

Ryan’s roasted quail at El Jardin

Tiradito “Bufadora” at El Jardin

 

 

Lamb

Lamb at El Jardin

 

 

Octopus-Steyn

Octopus at El Jardin

 

 

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The Jurel (yellowtail) tiradito at Muelle 3 still is the freshest kind of awesome.

 

Shrimp&PorkBelly  

Drew Deckman’s octopus dish at Deckman’s en El Mogor

 

 

YellowtailCollar

Yellowtail (if I remember correctly) collar at Deckman’s en El Mogor

 

 

Deckmans

The dining room at Deckman’s en El Mogor

 

TastingRoom  

Drew is also cooking at the brand new tasting room at Agua Mala brewery, overlooking El Sauzal.

 

 

Marcus-Laja

The patio at Laja

 

 


Our great friend Andres Blanco, formerly of Laja, has moved on to managing the Cuatros Cuatros property, where you’ll find this bar overlooking Salsipuedes Bay.

 

 

VenaCava

The bar at Troika, a casual outdoor gastropub at Vena Cava winery (on the La Villa del Valle property)

Vena Cava winery at La Villa del Valle.

Of course, as usual I have no photos of  Manzanilla because of the late hour and my blood alcohol content.  So, you know, as great as always.

A Simple Glassware System for Beer

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In an earlier post I alluded to how, as an enjoyer of beer, I’d like to see more places in the Bay Area serve beer in better glasses. It’s a bit off to me that, in a culture that values food and flavor as much as the Bay does, so many otherwise thoughtful places still serve beer in the American shaker pint — a glass that does nothing to enhance the character or enjoyment of craft beer. 

On the other hand, of course, nearly every beer style has its own “appropriate” glassware, which means that a bar or restaurant with even a small rotating tap list would have to stock dozens and dozens of different types of glasses to stay “correct”, and very few places could justify that on an operational basis.

The cost and space requirements of having a gazillion types of glasses was a concern for us while opening The Half Orange last year. This led us to develop the following, simple and not very expensive glassware system. I think that this glassware protocol — combined with keeping draft lines clean, using a glass rinser, and training all beer servers on a proper pour with head — makes for a phenomenal beer drinking experience at only the slightest additional cost compared to using American shaker pints. I’m sharing it here as a template that any restaurant or bar can use to improve the beer drinking experience for their customers without having to make many operational changes.

GLASS STYLES AND BEER STYLES

Historically, most beer styles developed slowly in specific towns or regions. Presumably the glass styles in those areas developed along with the beers, and the end result is that, in the broadest sense, the “proper” glassware for a given beer is the glass used by the people in the area that beer style comes from, when they drink that style if beer.

Fortunately, because the glass and the beer style evolved together, this historic pairing of beer and glass usually makes for an ideal drinking experience. For instance, the long narrow glass of the Pilsner beer functions like a Champagne flute — the minimal surface area helps retain carbonation and a cold serving temperature, which in turn highlights both the dry crispness of the beer and its subtle aromatics. Meanwhile the tulip shape of the Belgian style allows the drinker to more fully experience its aromatic complexity while also allowing the beer to “open up” in the same way a wine does when released from its bottle.

Now, in the current craft beer world, there are many beers being brewed that don’t easily map to a historic style — either the beer is so changed from the base style as to be effectively different (i.e., West Coast IPA), it’s a hybrid style (IPA brewed with Belgian yeast), or it’s something so far out of left field that it’s hard to place (Ale Industries’ delicious “Spring Fling” iced mocha beer).

Even in this case, however, the basic way a beer server would usually select a glass is to map the beer as best as possible to a known style, and then serve the beer in the glass associated with that style. And this method works really well! In my experience, using this method almost always gets you to a glass that is either the best for serving that beer, or very good for serving that beer. (I will confess that Spring Fling stumped me to the point that I had to do a taste test on different glasses before serving the beer; the Belgian tulip won out purely on the basis of taste experience.)

GLASSWARE TYPES

At your friendly big-city beer palace, it’s not unusual for them to maintain dozens and dozens of styles of glasses. Sometimes they’ll even buy the glasses from the brewery, including the logo of the beer on the glass so you know you’re getting the brewery’s choice. I think that’s fun, it’s a treat to drink a Hopf hefeweizen from a Hopf glass. (That said, American craft breweries in my experience don’t tend to pair their branded glassware with their beer styles, they usually just have one style they like.)

But having a raft of different glassware types isn’t really practical for most of us, so I’m just going to focus on a few important ones.

THE AMERICAN SHAKER PINT

  

First of all, here is the bane of my beer-drinking existence — the ubiquitous American shaker pint.

This glass is beloved by bars for the following reasons: it’s hella cheap, it’s strong and resistant to breaking, it stacks very high and requires little footprint, and it’s essential for making mixed drinks (that’s why it’s called a “shaker” pint, it’s designed to be part of a shaker in cocktail making). Note that none of these reasons include “it makes a great beer drinking experience.” It doesn’t, it’s just the worst.

The shaker pint maximizes oxygen exposure, causing delicate beers to lose their carbonation and cold beers to warm up quickly; it minimizes head retention, killing the aromatics of bigger or more complex beers; and the thick glass also reduces the flavor of the beer (I don’t understand this on a scientific level, but I notice it with thick wine glasses too, I think it’s something about how much of your palate can come in contact with the liquid when you’re mostly sucking on a windshield).

If you’re going to make one change to your glassware program, simply replacing American shaker pints with any thin rimmed glass will make the biggest positive difference.

Anecdote: before local craft beer was ubiquitous in Mexican wine country, many of my favorite restaurants would serve their beer — all domestic macrobrews such as Victoria or Modelo — in large wine glasses. Even this simple substitution made for a superior drinking experience to the American shaker pint, and depending on the likelihood of customer resistance I’d recommend that wine-centric places just serve beer in wine glasses, if the alternative due to space reasons is the shaker pint.

PUB GLASS, PILSNER AND TULIP

What we settled on for our simple glassware program is to use three archetypical glasses: 1) the English pub glass, 2) the Pilsner glass, and 3) the tulip. Each glass represents one of the three major classes of beers, respectively: 1) English style ales and their West Coast style descendants; 2) German styles and by extension all lagers; and 3) Belgian styles.

Additionally, these three classes of beer correspond to the three major categories of brewing yeast: ale yeast of the non-Belgian type, lager yeast, and Belgian yeast. Unsurprisingly, the glassware from each region tends to highlight the best parts of the characteristic beer brewed from that region’s yeast. So, lagers’ delicate flavors are protected by the Pilsner glass, while the bigger bowl of the tulip highlights the complex aromatics produced by Belgian yeasts.

 

 Left to right: pub glass, Pilsner, tulip

Because these glasses map indirectly to different yeast, we have re-named the pub glass and tulip in-house as “ale glass” and “Belgian glass”. Probably I should just go ahead re-name the Pilsner glass as a “lager glass” to complete the process. This nomenclature makes it easier for the team to remember which beer goes in which glass — if the beer is an ale, it goes in the ale glass. If it’s brewed with lager yeast — even if it’s a black beer like Death & Taxes — it goes in a pilsner glass. If it’s a Belgian style, including sours and fruit beers, it goes in the Belgian glass.

Certain mapping gets a little more complex. Hefeweizen style wheat-beers, being a German style beer typically served in tall skinny glasses, gets a Pilsner. Kölsch is an ale brewed in the style of a light German lager, and we give it a Pilsner glass; while California Common is a lager brewed at ale temperatures, and we also give it a Pilsner glass. In both of these latter cases, the delicate nature of the beer trumps the question of whether it’s at base an ale or lager.

Other one-off style choices I’ve made: Scottish styles, traditionally served in a Thistle glass, gets a tulip on the basis that it’s the closest shape. Belgian-style witbier get a tulip, too, in my world, even though a Pilsner might be just as appropriate. I like the way that the tulip glass emphasizes the spice notes of the witbier (and also of Saisons).

We chose tulips that are a little smaller than our other glasses — they are about 13.2 ounces rather than the 16 ounces of our ale and Pilsner glasses. Once the head is calculated out, our tulip pour is about 11 ounces (we advertise it as 10) and our ale and pilsner pour is about 15 ounces (we advertise it at 14). I like having smaller tulips because many Belgian-style beers tend to be a little more intense — and a little more expensive — than other styles, so a slightly smaller portion size is more enjoyable both for the drinking and the wallet.

For similar reasons, we’ll put almost any beer over 8% ABV in a tulip, even if it’s an IPA type or a lager (typically that would be a double or triple IPL). I just think when you’re drinking a 10% beer, 11 ounces per serving is plenty, it’s almost as much alcohol as two glasses of European white wine. Plus beers this strong tend to have strong, complex aromatics and show best at warmer temperatures, both of which play to the strengths of the tulip glass.

DOING IT YOURSELF

The specific glassware we use are the following: 

English Pub (Ale) Glass: Libbey 14806HT Nonic 16 oz pub glass

Pilsner Glass: Cardinal 4900 Arcoroc 16 oz Martigues

Tulip: Bormioli Executive 13.2 oz tulip

You can typically buy these glasses via special order from any restaurant supply or tableware store.

Additionally, I recommend always using a glass rinser before serving. You can get these through Micromatic or your draft system installer can get it (and install it) for you.

Also, of course, no matter how good your glassware is, you’ll still have quality problems if your lines are dirty or your team isn’t pouring beers well. So it’s important to stay on top of those issues as well. But if you get all three of these elements in place, I guarantee that your customers will notice how much better their beers are!

Eleven Beer Pairings

1. Salad / Saison
2. Cheeseburger / Marzen
3. Chocolate dessert / Stout
4. Street tacos / Pilsner
5. Stinky cheese / Dark Belgian Strong
6. Korean fried chicken / West Coast IPA
7. Pepperoni pizza / Alt-bier
8. Wurst / Kolsch
9. Steak / ESB
10. Sashimi / Witbier
11. Donuts / Porter

A Few Thoughts On Bay Area Beer

One of the most fun things for me, in moving to the Bay Area from San Diego in 2013, has been learning the ins and outs of a new beer region. We had cut our teeth with craft beer at the Linkery in 2005, and in many ways I think we came of age along with the San Diego beer scene, which is now generally considered one of the best in the country.

Leaving San Diego for the Bay, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, on the average, I prefer the beer the being brewed in the Bay Area to the beers of my hometown. That’s not to say that I think the beers here are better than San Diego’s, just that they suit my taste more. It seems that in the Bay Area there’s more of an emphasis on food-friendliness and in beers that work as part of larger context — which makes sense given that the food scene here is one of the best in the world. The fact that we enjoy the beer here so much was one of the big reasons we had so much enthusiasm for opening The Half Orange, which aims to be a craft beer destination celebrating food and beer (and also wine and cider) as a complete experience. (I would be remiss in not adding that the support of several Bay Area beer luminaries, including Sayre Piotrkowski and Dave McLean, was also an important factor.)

That said, there are some challenges. Until recently, I’ve felt like there were pretty big gaps in availability of styles here, with some important types of beer either not being brewed in the region or only being brewed by breweries that struggle with quality control. Additionally, some of the better, more established breweries are totally maxed out and not taking new accounts. But for the most part we’ve been able to keep a pretty broad list without having to bring in many beers from out of town.

Recently, though, a few breweries have come into our universe that have really, in my opinion, fleshed out the offerings here. Cleophus Quealy in San Leandro, Fieldwork Brewing in Berkeley, Social Kitchen and Brewery in San Francisco, along with the expanded production of Magnolia in San Francisco have brought a wide array of styles and flavor profiles into our reach, all at world-class quality. Now, with these breweries added to the dozen or so top-notch breweries we were already buying from, it’s easy for us to put together a phenomenal, balanced draft list all from local producers who self-distribute (an important ant detail for product freshness and condition). This really is a great time to be local beer drinker in the Bay Area, particularly in the East Bay.

That said, there are three developments I hope to see soon in the Bay Area, from the perspective of both a publican and a beer drinker.

1) I wish more places would clean their draft system lines more often. I often order a good beer at local establishments and find it undrinkable due to the condition of the lines. Surely this greatly slows the market growth of good beer — this is why too many people think local beer is just “hipster hype.” They haven’t tasted what makes local beer great. I’m not alone in thinking this is a major issue, in the last couple months two local breweries have hired line cleaning services to clean the lines on the systems where they are on tap, for places that don’t otherwise do it. I think this is a great (and essential) move. Eventually, though, the market of beer drinkers will start forcing drinkery owners to keep their taps in good condition — if one pub won’t serve great-tasting beer, the people will move to one that will.

2) I’d like to see more establishments move away from serving beer in American shaker pint glasses, and into thinner-walled glassware whose shape accentuates the flavors of the beer. As a beer drinker, I think the improvement in the quality of the beer-drinking experience with great glassware, is a big deal. That’s why I often choose to drink beer at places like Hog’s Apothecary, Commonwealth Micropub, and Magnolia Smokestack — places that serve beer in thoughtfully selected glassware.

3) Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I’d like to see more non-beer-centric places — such as neighborhood joints, dive bars and casual restaurants — move beyond just the Sierra Nevada/Anchor Steam and Lagunitas IPA/Racer 5 two-local-drafts combo, and open up a few more taps of local beer that represent a wider arrange of styles and breweries. This, I think, is when we’ll know that the beer culture here has really taken off: when you can walk into any bistro or corner bar and expect a rotating selection of expertly made, delicious local beers in multiple styles, served in great glassware and in excellent condition.

I don’t know, maybe it seems far-fetched that this all could happen anytime soon. My guess, though, is that it will, and it will be fun to enjoy the changes.

East Bay IPA Party This Wednesday

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You should come visit on Wednesday night! We’re having a party with our friends at Ale Industries, who are previewing their latest release of East Bay IPA (poster above). This is probably the most popular beer we’ve ever had on draft here. It clocks in at a powerful 7.8% ABV but it’s also easy drinking like you want on a warm spring day. We’ll be pouring it starting at 6pm and we’ll be the only place in town you can taste this beer until its official release.

Craft Beer From Ensenada

mako

This beautiful beer is the Mako Pale Ale, brewed by our friend Nathaniel Schmidt at Agua Mala brewery in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. Agua Mala made a bit of a splash (heh) internationally last year when they medaled at World Beer Cup, but they’ve been brewing great beer in Mexican wine country for a while before that. Their compact brewery sits on the bluffs above the Pacific, in the El Sauzal neighborhood of Ensenada. I can’t think of a brewery I’ve ever seen that gets as much ocean air as Agua Mala, maybe that’s the key to their success.

We’re stoked to be able to share this beer with you — it’s the first time any Agua Mala beer has been in Northern California. The Mako is a light session ale, with a both a delightful grain character appropriate for a 4.2% pale, and a bit of the contemporary West Coast aromatics from New Zealand hops. It’s a beer for people who like the palette of San Diego IPAs but want to be able to drink 2 or 3 during a backyard barbecue and still be able to walk a straight line.

Mako will be on tap through the weekend, or until whenever it sells out. Come by and try it, it’s a very appropriate match for our Shrimp Fenix dish, which originates about a mile away from the Agua Mala brewery.

The Half Orange is now open Sundays

Well that’s pretty self explanatory, I guess.

Starting this week our hours are:

Mon-Sat 11:30am – 9pm
Sunday noon – 8pm

Also, on Saturday and Sundays we’ll be offering a breakfast sandwich: house made sausage, fried egg, cheddar cheese, Korean barbecue sauce and kimchi on a Starter Bakery bun. It’s awesome, trust me.

See you this weekend!

This Is A Great Week To Support Independent Oakland Restaurants

You may already know that this week is the first week of Oakland businesses implementing Measure FF, which raises the minimum wage by 36% and, as a result, is raising wages throughout the entire restaurant industry in our city.

Most independent restaurant owners I know are, along with the 80+% of voters who approved the measure, really glad their employees will be now making more money. In many cases restaurant workers will finally be making a reasonable living wage, and that’s something that’s been too long in coming.

That said, I also want to acknowledge that most if not all restaurant operators are a little apprehensive of the possibility that the price rises required to implement this change may sharply reduce business and end up putting people and businesses out of work.

So, I just want to say, whether you support the minimum wage increase or just want to support locally owned businesses, this is a great week to show that support by patronizing independently-owned Oakland restaurants. Let’s face it, we’re all a little nervous about the uncertain future — and knowing you’re behind us means everything.

Thank you.

Pet Nat Party

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If you’re interested in wine at all, you may have heard of the recent surge in interest and popularity of “Pet Nat” — pétillant natural wine, naturally carbonated in the bottle, similar to bottle-conditioned beers.

Personally, I love these wines, and I *really* love that my friends are involved in making it and importing it.

This Saturday, we’re going to be showcasing 3 Pet Nat wines that our friends have either produce or procured, with all three being available by the glass for just $8/glass all day and night.

We’ll be pouring:

Los Pilares “BLACK PET NAT” (San Diego) 2014 – sparkling red wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon, the latest release from our low-intervention winemaker friends from San Diego. We put together the “San Diego Special” La Posta #8 carne asada concoction as the pairing for this wine, I guarantee that it is the perfect match.

Los Pilares “LA DONA” (San Diego) 2014 – sparkling white wine made from Muscat grapes. Last year’s inaugural vintage of this wine was a favorite at my local wine shop, and made Jon Bonné’s best 100 west coast wines list as well.

Les Capriades “PET-SEC” (Loire, France) sparkling white wine made from Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. This is one of the French wines that got everyone excited about Pet Nat to begin with, and it was chosen and imported by our friend Cory Cartwright at Selection Massale.

Together, these three wines give a broad and delicious taste of some of the joys of Pet Nat. We hope you can come on Saturday and enjoy them. We’ll be pouring them by the glass ($8 each) from 11:30am until we close at 9:00pm. Salud!

PS Here’s that food pairing…

SDSpecial

San Diego Taco Shop Special

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It often seems like San Diego’s biggest export these days is expats, and I think the one thing we all agree on is that we wish we could get some “x-Berto’s”-style taco shop cuisine. With the occasion of having two San Diego-related events on back-to-back weekends, I thought I’d see what we could do at The Half Orange to slake that thirst.

So, let me introduce the “La Posta No. 8″, a tribute to the most unique menu item from the 24-hour Hillcrest taco shop of the same name. This is grass-fed carne asada, with avocado, pico de gallo, and San Diego style hot sauce, wrapped in a double-tortilla quesadilla. It’s a lot of food, and delicious.

This will be available starting Friday, February 13th, when we’re hosting fellow SD expat Barry Braden and his new Berkeley brewery Fieldwork Brewing. On that day, in addition to Fieldwork’s IPA and Stout, we’ll be featuring Sculpin IPA from Ballast Point to make it a complete San Diego flashback experience.

We’ll be offering the La Posta No. 8 through Saturday, February 21, when we’ll be hosting another San Diego-themed event, celebrating the release of “Black Pet Nat” from our natural winemaking friends in San Diego, Los Pilares. This wine is a bottle-conditioned sparkler made from Cabernet Sauvignon, and we expect it will pair beautifully with this carne asada concoction. On the 21st we’ll also be pouring Los Pilares’ muscat pet nat, and the french pet nat Les Capriades “Pet Sec”.

I hope you’ll come enjoy these events, and this little bit of Bertosness in your life.