North Coast Brewing Releases Grand Cru & Chats with Bay Area Craft Beer


Photo © Fred Abercrombie

I was lucky enough to not only try the brand-spankin’ new Grand Cru but to talk to North Coast President and Brewmaster himself, Mark E. Ruedrich. Below are highlights about the new agave-tinged release, where they see themselves within the Bay Area craft beer community, and what to expect in the near future. Cheers!

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As the first new release from you guys in many moons (barring special vintages of Old Stock Ale) how did you settle on putting out a Grand Cru?

The Grand Cru grew out of our 20th anniversary beer. The genesis of that beer got us intrigued with acidity balancing maltiness … we found that under certain circumstances, these yeast strains produce substantial amounts of acidity. So you get a beer with very low bitterness BUT with a nice acidity balancing things out; like the La Merle with its tangy finish.

What led to agave in the concoction? I’m imagining a wild trip to the border or a stumble home from the taqueria.

Actually the 20th Anniversary Ale had this same agave process and aged in oak. Now on our 23rd year, we don’t have an experimental line of beers or skunkworks. So when we come across something interesting [like this] it’s “duly noted”. The Grand Cru will be an every year release.

Any notes on aging the Grand Cru?

Based on experience with the now 3-yr-old 20th Anniversary Beer, Grand Cru holds up really well. The particular yeast strain [the same Belgian yeast we use to ferment La Merle] creates a very, very stable beer. It holds up really well. You don’t actually get an improvement, per se, but there’s a certain stability there.

Speaking of aging, can we expect another barrel-aged run of Old Rasputin?

Last year we sold so much Rasputin to distribution (we’re growing at 25% clip) they didn’t have any left over to do a barrel age run. But we’ve increased our barrel aging production, so there’ll be more of those releases. Before, the biggest BA run was about 2500-3000 cases, same with this year’s Grand Cru, or 150 barrels. Now we can fit 450 barrels. So this year will be the last small release of Rasputin (it ages for a year in Bourbon, Old Stock ages 18 months).

“More of those releases…”? 

They’re working on a vertical (5 vintages, odd years/ even years) of Old Stock as a gift box for the holidays. Just a couple hundred boxes.

Very cool. One last question. Being nestled up the Mendocino Coast in Fort Bragg, do you guys view yourselves as part of the Bay Area craft beer scene or more just Norther Cal?

We’ve got distribution all over the country but Sonoma and the Bay Area is our home market. You guys are our backyard!

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Look for Grand Cru on shelves around the Bay and beyond.
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Brewed and Tattooed: New Lagunitas Chicago Collaboration “Zephyr Ale”

Updated (6/21/11) See end of post.

Being born in Chicago and now living in Petaluma, CA, I couldn’t be more stoked to make this my first post on Bay Area Craft Beer.

A cross-country tale of Brews, Tattoos, and Restaurateurs …

Zephyr Ale Logo

Fresh off the heels from their Bay Area pub-owner collaborative brew, SF Beer Week Beer, this is the first group effort Lagunitas has done with restaurants. It’s a collaboration with two Chicago eateries, Big Star and The Publican. Why ChiTown? For one thing, Lagunitas Founder Tony Magee is a Chicago native. And another, why not?

This is a special beer made just for Chicago by Chicagoans. We kept it light in color, but big in flavor–it was made with mostly Pale Malted Barely, and we added a bit of Malted Wheat and dry-hopped it with Liberty and Nelson Sauvin to lend a spicy finish. It was fermented with our Lager yeast and we held back on the Hop-bomb effect so the yeast character could poke through a bit. Rolls down smooth and fast, like it’s namesake cross-county train!”

Zephyr Ale is in fact named after the gorgeous art deco streamliner that ran from Cali to Chicago. The train, also known as The Silver Lady, can still be viewed and even strolled through inside the Museum of Science & Industry. Apparently, the hostesses who worked on it were known as “Zephyrettes.”

Design: Hanna Aitchison

In tribute to The Silver Lady, the spirit of collaboration, and generally bein’ rough-around-the-edges, the gang brought in tattoo artist extraordinaire Hanna Aitchison of LA Ink fame to handle the artwork. Unfortunately due to timing constraints it didn’t make the official tap. Stay tuned for details on where it’ll surely pop up.

The beer hits Chicago and California in June but you can get a taste right now …

Lagunitas Taproom Zephyr Chalkboard

Photo: Eric Kenner

If you’re in the Bay Area you can be among the first to try it right at the Lagunitas TapRoom in Petaluma. They just tapped it yesterday. Cheers.

Update (6/21/11): A mural of Hanna Aitchison’s Lagunitas artwork was spotted in Wicker Park, Chicago.

Photo: Markandeya Sendan