Cure for Low Voter Turnout Revealed at Half Moon Bay Brewing

Imagine this scenario on November 6th. You arrive at your polling place and head to the voting booth. Inside you find two beer bottles with Obama and Romney labels staring back at you. Your task is to pick one, open it and pour the beer in your commemorative “I Voted” glass. It’s that easy, at least in my dream.

You can find the closest thing to reality at Half Moon Bay Brewing. They’ve just released a limited edition brew called Pillar Point Pale Alection on draft and in bottles, which have Obama or Romney’s grinning headshot on the label. Faux ballots and two-sided coasters with the same image will also be available at the brewery so you can plant your glass and spill beer on either candidate.

The beer, which curiously fills both candidates bottles, is classic English Pale Ale, not an American version. It was made with Maris Otter Malt, East Kent Goldings hops and came in at 4.8% alcohol by volume. I have to assume this choice is a nod to America’s English roots? Didn’t we win the Revolutionary War?

Candidate themed beers would have been nice. Obama could have been a Socialist Lager for the masses who supports “big beer,” while Romney could have been a Venture Capital IPA, made with the least amount of ingredients and labor possible, that’s then sold at a high price. In the end, I guess Half Moon Bay believes both men are of similar substance.

You can cast your vote now at the brewery or wait till the twenty-two ounce bottles start arriving in stores throughout the Bay Area after June 22. The beer will be available until November.

By the way, Half Moon Bay Brewing is no stranger to mixing beer and politics. They regularly host an event on the first Thursday of every month called Brews & Views, which is a free public forum and moderated discussion that typically features a special guest who’s an expert in the chosen topic.

Coaster designs


Northern California Finally Has a Craft Beer Guidebook

In 2007, when I settled in the Bay Area, I couldn’t believe the region didn’t have a trusty guidebook for a Midwestern expat like me. Northern California is the cradle of the craft beer industry, which made the omission even more dumbfounding. I already knew about Russian River, Lagunitas and a handful of other breweries, but what about the rest, and most importantly, where could I find their beer? My frustration, in part, led to this very website.

Thankfully, Cameron + Company, based in Petaluma, has stepped up to the plate by publishing the Northern California Craft Beer Guide, which will hit store shelves around July 10. The book’s author is Ken Weaver, and his wife, Anneliese Schmidt, provided the photography. They apparently spent months traipsing through breweries, bars, bottle shops and restaurants to gather information that fills nearly three hundred pages. Strenuous work I’m sure.

Before I carry on about the book, in the interest of full disclosure, I need to divulge a few secrets. I consider Ken to be a good friend. Beer writers travel in a very small circle and he’s been a big supporter of my efforts here. In fact, he mentions this website in the book and I did receive a copy at no charge. So although I’m making every effort to be objective, these associations “could” leave me slightly biased.

The book begins with a foreword by Ken Grossman, founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing, and then proceeds to break the northern half of the state into five digestible regions stretching from Santa Cruz to the Lost Coast. In each section, Weaver identifies five beers to try, the existing breweries, noteworthy bars, bottle shops, restaurants and homebrew supply stores. He also provides a brief summary of each location and their vital statistics, such as location, directions, hours and web address. If it’s a brewery, the brewmaster is identified along with the founding date, if they ship only draft, bottles or both, and more.

Don’t expect detailed maps on par with Google. Although what’s included is quite elegant, they’re simply designed to illustrate general locations. You have a computer or smart phone right? If you’re disappointed, then maybe you’ll be happy with the book’s collection of symbols indicating whether a venue offers food, growlers, serves cask beer, sells bottles to go or even if the beer is organic. All of the above is the majority of the book’s content, but there’s more.

Littered among the seemingly endless listings, Weaver has crafted a number of short topical essays. Some are educational, like cooking and pairing with beer, while others identify important beer festivals. He also identifies 18 different beers throughout the region that “embody their style well.” For example, North Coast’s OId Rasputin is the featured Imperial Stout and Russian River’s Temptation epitomizes the Sour/Wild Ale.

Last but not least, Schmidt’s photos are a wonderful complement to the tome of information. They capture the overall character and spirit of the industry, the beautiful minutiae of the brewing process, a rainbow of brand advertising, cozy bars and the surrounding landscape.  Most importantly, they’ll inspire you to travel and search out great beer.

Like most guidebooks, the Northern California Craft Beer Guide is a snapshot in time, so don’t be surprised if the latest nanobrewery isn’t featured or some info is already outdated. Beers come and go, brewmasters change jobs and sadly breweries close. Despite this problem, the book is still a solid resource. You might discover a new brewery, bar or bottle shop, and at the very least, it can help you plan a great beercation. By the way, Weaver is happy to accept reader corrections at, so future editions are accurate as possible.

If you would like to pre-order the book, learn more about its creators, or take a more thorough peek inside its pages, head over to Weaver and Schmidt will also be hosting a variety of book signing events throughout the Bay Area in the coming weeks, so keep your eyes peeled on our calendar for more details.

Fundraiser Features Homebrewers Competing with Offbeat Ingredients

Rooibos, cardamom and mole are just a few of the exotic ingredients that six homebrewing groups will be offering up in a competition during “Momentum,” a photo auction and benefit or the International Development Exchange (IDEX) on June 14th at the Mission Cultural Center. This San Francisco based nonprofit “promotes sustainable solutions to poverty by providing long-term grants and access to resources to locally run organizations in Africa, Asia and Latin America.”

Each homebrewer was asked to design a beer using ingredients from one of the assigned countries: Guatemala, Mexico, India, Nepal, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Professional judges and the public will vote on the resulting beers.  The homebrewers include Artisan Brewing, Euphemia Ales, Gone Boating, Happenstance Brewing, Poplar Brewing and Sonnenbrau.

If you’re always on the lookout for new and interesting beer flavors, check out this event and support a good cause. For more information and tickets go to:

Here’s what you can expect from the brewers:

Euphemia Ales

Brewers: Ian Dunbar-Hall, Heather Dominey, Robert Kwan, Scott Hightower
Country: Nepal
Beer/Ingredient(s): Belgian Wit with Turmeric.


Poplar Brewing

Brewers: Ross Halligan and Gearoid Murphy
Country: South Africa
Beer/Ingredient(s): Nelson Sorgum and Rooibus brew.



Brewers: Mike Sonn and Sarah Sonn
Country: India
Beer/Ingredient(s): Kokum Wheat using German Wheat Yeast.




Artisan Brewing

Brewer: Aaron Bryan
Country: Guatemala
Beer/Ingredient(s): Oak-aged Belgian Saison brewed with Guatemalan Cardamom.


Gone Boating Brewing

Brewers: Micaela Healy and Matt Dunne
Country: Mexico
Beer/Ingredient(s): A Chocolate Mole Ale and Golden Nopalito Ale


Happenstance Brewing

Brewer: Kevin Bailey
Country: Zimbabwe
Beer/Ingredient(s): Unknown

John Casey Combines Art and Beer for The Trappist

Photos © Brian Stechschulte / Artwork © John Casey

Every time you walk into a bottle store, beer fights for your attention. Row after row of tasty options entice you with help from label artwork. Sure, you might have a taste for an IPA or the latest must have Imperial Stout, but more than you might want to admit, what’s wrapped around that bottle, has an influence on your buying habits, especially if it’s a new beer. Design and marketing play a key role on labels, t-shirts and any other trinket a brewery or bar decides to sell. Artists play a big role and often don’t get credit beyond a paycheck or free beer.

Shortly after The Trappist opened its doors in Oakland, artist John Casey wandered in and not only discovered the wider world of craft beer, but also developed a creative relationship with the owners, Aaron Porter and Chuck Stilphen. He’s designed several successful t-shirts for the bar and their collaboration beer label for Evil Twin’s Wet Dream.

Casey’s Oakland studio

Casey earned a Bachelors of Fine Art from MassArt in Boston and arrived in the Bay Area with his wife back in 1998 during the dot com bubble. They both worked in the tech industry and Casey’s been exhibiting his artwork around the region and in far-flung cities like Paris. He describes his work as, “Surrealistic, kind of fun and trippy.”

When he met Porter and Stilphen a few years ago, he was getting a little tired of the traditional West Coast IPA. According to Casey, “I was looking for something a little more interesting and malty. I went into The Trappist and started chatting with them about beer and just got more and more interested in what they were serving. After awhile, I gave Aaron and Chuck some stickers and they were intrigued by my work.”

For the most part Casey doesn’t do commercial work, but has made a few exceptions. His first t-shirt design for The Trappist featured a guy on a tricycle with hops bursting out of his head. The t-shirt sold out and the creative relationship continued when Porter and Stilphen asked him to design a label for their 2011 collaboration beer with Evil Twin called Wet Dream. It’s a brown IPA infused with espresso that debuted at the Copenhagen Beer Festival.

Casey’s first t-shirt design for The Trappist

Casey had never designed a beer label before, but was interested in the challenge, especially because he’s given a lot of creative leeway. For the Wet Dream label Casey considered several different options. He said, “I could have used some really obvious image connotations. Some early proofs had some splattering paint, but I decided to lean more towards dream because wet seemed so obvious. The challenge was combining the logos and three distinct fonts, while trying to follow Evil Twin’s previous label format.”

Proofs went back and forth between Casey and Evil Twin’s graphic designer before it was finalized. The label size changed multiple times and a few accommodations were made for the American market. In the end, Casey kept the label artwork and color pretty minimal. The design was featured on a t-shirt and logo glassware that you can still find at the bar.

Casey’s latest project for The Trappist went on sale back in March. It’s another playful t-shirt design featuring a torso less figure with hops flying out of his pants, the bar’s name resting on his forehead and gold teeth that spell Oakland. It’s the perfect representation of the hop crazed beer geek.

Casey’s latest t-shirt design for The Trappist

When asked if he works for free, money or beer, Casey said, “We come to a beer agreement and they’ve always been very good to me. They like the work, they’re pretty open to it, and if I meet them part way, it’s because I do want to promote the beer. It’s not just about the artwork.”

Two recent sculptures

MillerCoors Debuts New Small Batch Beer in San Francisco

I know what you’re thinking, “MillerCoors isn’t synonymous with craft beer so why are you even mentioning them on the site?” Looking at the big picture, you’re correct, but they’re starting to focus on small batch offerings that are garnering awards and will compete with Bay Area brews on price and flavor. I’ll let you be the judge of the latter.

Next time you’re at the bar in San Francisco, keep your eyes peeled for a new tap handle. MillerCoors has just introduced an Amber Lager, in select U.S. regions, under the guise of a new brand called Third Shift Band of Brewers. The beer is described as “well balanced with a sweet maltiness, lightly toasted character, subtle hops and a beautiful color at 5.3% alcohol.”

According to a recent article about the beer on Advertising Age, it was created by a group of experimental brewers working after hours in Golden, CO, is limited to draft only, will be priced slightly lower than competing brands and recently won a gold medal at the 2012 World Beer Cup.

Surprisingly, the aforementioned article didn’t provide specifics about the award and neither did the Third Shift press release. Then, when I scoured the list of 2012 winners, I didn’t see Third Shift Amber Lager anywhere, so I sent a perplexed email to the PR agency.

Apparently, the beer won gold in the Marzen category and was entered into the competition under the codename “Flor Hosen” by The Sandlot brewery in Denver, which is connected to Coors Field. Why the need for a codename? The PR agency said, “Third Shift Band of Brewers always like to have some fun and get creative with the names they enter their brews under in competitions.”

In my estimation, Third Shift Band of Brewers Amber Lager could be a “gateway beer” that appeals to consumers who want more flavor than a typical mass-market lager, are interested in craft beer, but price is a factor. Time will tell if San Franciscans find it appealing.