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Latitude 33 1st Anniversary bash

latitude-33-logoIt’s already been a full 12 months since Latitude 33 Brewing Company opened their doors in the Vista facility formerly occupied by Green Flash. I only get up to North County tasting rooms once every month or so, but Latitude 33 is a definite standout in an ever-growing cluster of breweries located in the Oceanside/Vista/San Marcos corridor. When I first visited, I found myself trying far more tasters than I had planned for, and bringing home a growler of their Dry Hump IPA. Latitude 33 has a really talented brewing staff, and every beer they put out is ready for prime-time.  While a small number of their more “adventurous” beers venture into taste experiments that exceed my current palate, there isn’t a single one on the menu that that can be said to bland or mediocre. Their beers aren’t yet available in bottles or cans, so their success so far has a lot to do with a dedicated fan base of North County drinkers and keg sales to restaurants.

For their first anniversary party held March 9th, Lat33 went all out. There were plenty of craft beer events on the San Diego calendar for that weekend, but I made sure this was the one I was going to. They held two tasting sessions, one beginning at 12 pm and a later session at 4 pm.  012

I went to the later session (after a few stops at AleSmith and Rip Current along the way from central San Diego).  It was a gorgeous Southern California day, with a sneak preview of springtime sun and breezes. A ticket got you a taster glass, 8 tasters, an anniversary t-shirt, good company and live music entertainment.

I started off my tasters right, going right to the new anniversary ale, “Biere de Mars”, described as a “fresh Alsatian-style beer brewed with coriander.”  Mmmmm….tasty!  Now this was a beer that immediately stood out as an original. I followed that with the Straw Horse Wheat Ale, a light and crisp beer in the German or Czech style…a departure from the hoppier or bolder 023beers I’d be venturing into, but definitely an enjoyable beer for a lazy summer afternoon. For the more adventurous, they had a side bar in the back where they poured a special edition of Biere de Mars brewed with sage and grains of paradise. That was absolutely incredible…while it lasted! They also offered limited pours of “Spicy Camel IPA” with smoked ghost chilies, “Toasted Pirate” rye stout with rum-soaked oak chips and coconut, and “Chili Brown” brewed with habañero peppers.

Lat33 also offered a taste of local music talent, and Big Shot Reub and the Reloaders did not disappoint   016 as they tore into covers of The Doors, CCR, the Stones, and Santana, as well as a few of their originals that can be found on their CD Roundhouse Blues. If you get a chance to check out this band, do so! Some of the best local blues-rock guitar bands I’ve heard in awhile.


We caught up with Latitude 33 head brewmaster Kevin Buckley a few days after we had all recovered from the anniversary.

V&S: Happy anniversary!  Tell us about the best and worst (or most challenging) moments of your first year:

Buckley: The worst had to be trudging through all of the paperwork and waiting to get our licenses to to get our doors open. So far the best was seeing the number of people that turned out for our first anniversary party. Now we get to look to this next year knowing that this crazy ride has only just begun.

V&S: What can we expect in the coming year for Latitude 33?

Buckley: This year we will start out bottling operations. Hopefully, placing the order for our bottling and labeling line in the next couple of weeks. 22 oz bottles on local shelves as well as Orange/LA County. We are also starting our barrel aging program. So far we have an imperial stout aging in bourbon barrel as well as a batch of Vanilla’s Tart ( sour porter aged in wine barrels with vanilla beans and tart cherries.)

V&S: I loved the 1st anniversary ale, Biere de Mars.  Tell us about the ideas you had for this beer, and will we possibly be seeing more of it?

Buckley: Brewed each year to celebrate our anniversary, the Bière de Mars (French for “March Beer”) is a farmhouse ale closely related to Bière de Garde and Saisons. Native to Northern France, but not uncommon in Southern Belgium and Germany, this early spring brew is lighter and drier than its cousins. Our Bière de Mars makes a nod to the German Marzens with an addition of chocolate malt that gives it a red-amber color with a light, creamy off-white head. The aroma is sweet malts, dried fruit and spices with a hint of floral notes. Mouthfeel is light and the flavors are toasted malts, biscuit, tart apple and pear. The finish offers a note of spices and a crisp bitterness that does not linger. A very refreshing beer to enjoy on a sunny spring day.

V&S: Any last thoughts on the anniversary?

Buckley: It was really great to see so many people having a good time with friends, family and our brews.


All I gotta say is that Latitude 33 delivers, and I wish them the best as they continue to put out some really good beer in the ever-crowded market of San Diego craft breweries. Their anniversary ale was one of the best beers I’ve ever tried, and it’s still on tap at the brewery for the short term if you go visit their facility in Vista.

For more information about Latitude 33, visit their website:

(Make sure to click on “Beer Locator Map” for the nearest bars and restaurants carrying their brews).

You can find out more about Big Shot Reub and the Reloaders (and purchase their music) at the following links:


2012 San Diego Brewers Guild fest

— by Racecar Terry —

Well here are, its February 1st and I’m just now getting around to write about my experiences at the San Diego Brewers Guild Festival that took place on November 3rd. Better late than never, that’s what I say! Of course it was a warm sunny day and the location, Broadway Pier, was a great choice to show case some of the worlds greatest craft beer and our great city.

099As I stood at the end of the pier watching Stars and Stripes, the America’s Cup winner sailing around the bay I remember thinking what a great time it is to be alive and living in San Diego. Here I was, dressed in a tee shirt, shorts, and flip flops in November, in the shadow of the USS Midway with naval aircraft flying overhead sipping a beer. I missed the golden ages of Hollywood, rock and roll, and muscle cars but one day people are going to look back on this time and call this the golden age of the beer movement. The highlight of my day was being served a beer by our then Mayor Jerry Sanders. How cool is that? Hopefully our new Mayor will follow suit and support the industry as much as Mayor Sanders did.


Because IPAs dominate the offerings in our region I began a quest this summer to figure out which IPA I like the best. My brother-in-law Richard and I often trek across the county sampling the latest offerings from the breweries and I always make it a point to check out the IPAs. This can be a daunting task because IPAs tend to have a lingering bitter finish and I am not a huge fan of bitterness. Sometimes too much of a good thing is too much. I prefer the more floral and citrus notes that certain hops can impart into a brew. Some of the top contenders were from Green Flash, Ale Smith, and Stone.

Even though these are great IPAs, none of them jumped out at me and said “this is it, this is the one!” and to be honest, because I tasted so many IPAs over the past few months I kind of lost track of which ones I liked better. So, when Richard and I went to the San Diego Brewers Guild Festival my personal mission was to once and for all figure out which IPA I liked the best. I made my way through all the booths skipping the ones that I had tasted before that did not appeal to my taste. After carefully scrutinizing many samples I was finally able to narrow down my choices to just two breweries, Iron Fist Brewing Company and the new kid on the block, Societe Brewing Company.


With a handful of punches left on my card I alternated back and fourth between the two booths which were conveniently located next to each other. This gave me the opportunity to do several back to back tastings and really concentrate on what I liked the best about each offering. I had it narrowed down to three IPAs: Nelson The Impaler from Iron Fist, The Pupil, and The Apprentice, both from Societe. After much deliberation I chose Societe over Iron Fist. All three IPAs had the qualities I look for in an IPA: floral nose, citrus taste, and a hint of bitterness in the finish. Now I had to decide which IPA from Societe I liked better, The Pupil or The Apprentice. I began talking with Tyler Tucker, Assistant Brewer with Societe. Tyler explained to me that the reason why The Pupil and The Apprentice had such strong citrus notes was because they brew these beers with a whole bunch of Nelson hops(hence the name choice for Iron Fist’s Nelson The Impaler). Tyler was even cool enough to give me his San Diego Brewers Guild Festival collectable glass from the event, thanks Tyler! Back to the IPA, after repeated back to back tastes of The Pupil and The Apprentice I chose The Pupil over The Apprentice by a narrow margin. To me The Pupil had a slightly more pleasant finish than The Apprentice.


Now here’s the kicker, I happen to be recently doing some work right around the corner from Societe so needless to say I stop in there quite often for a quick glass and growler fill but guess what? My tastes buds are continually evolving and now I think I like The Apprentice a little better! Oh well, it’s all part of the fun I guess.

By the way, if any of you readers have never been to a craft beer tasting event my advice is to get out there and start tasting! Even better, don’t wait for a big event to roll around. Plan a day trip to three or four breweries with a lunch stop in the middle. Please remember to be responsible, do tasters only, eat a large breakfast and lunch, and drink plenty of water in between stops. Cheers!

Santa Barbara invasion: Day 3









Day 3 of the Vines & Steins end-of-the-year tasting trip will take us out to the northern stretches of the Santa Ynez Valley, to the small wine-centric town of Los Olivos and out along the Foxen Canyon wine trail in the direction of Santa Maria.

I first visited Los Olivos back in ’97….I remember going to the Los Olivos Wine & Spirits Emporium and  meeting Bob Senn, who poured me several wines on my first very first tasting venture, including some Qupè Marsanne, of which I ended up bringing home a couple of 375 ml bottles.  Qupè didn’t have their own tasting room in those days, and Bob’s job was to highlight and promote the area’s best producers.  Bob Senn is no longer with us, and the Wine & Spirits Emporium is  no more, but Qupè  now has their own tasting room open in Los Olivos!


Qupè is hands-down one of the best wineries on the Central Coast, period.  Proprietor Bob Lindquist was one of the original “Rhone Rangers” who eschewed the usual Cabernet/Chardonnay plantings that had (and still are) done to death in this state.  If you like some variety among your varietals, and enjoy a California Syrah or Viognier, then you owe a little gratitude to folks like Bob Lindquist and other Rhone Rangers who bucked the prevailing wisdom and planted grape types from France’s Rhone River Valley. In fact, Qupè was the first commercial producer of Marsanne in all of California, if not the entire country.  I’m a longtime fan of this winery, and looking forward to being able to visit their tasting room.  If Bob Lindquist is anywhere on hand, he had better sign my bottles! 


Keeping it all in the family, Verdad is the winery of Bob Lindquist’s wife Louisa Sawyer Lindquist, and specializes in Spanish varietals like Tempranillo and Albarino, both of which I am partial to–Albarino would run a tight race with Marsanne for the title of white wine that I like that hardly any California wineries are making.  Their son Ethan has just gotten into the wine business with his own namesake winery, and it appears they are doing tastings in the same building.

CONSILIENCE – I have a 2-for-1 tasting offer for this small family-owned winery.  They make several Rhone varietal wines like Syrah and Grenache, plus a Pinot Gris and a Zinfandel, and they have a sister winery next door (TRE ANELLI) offers Spanish and Italian varietals.

From Los Olivos, we are going to hit the road and visit several of the best wineries located along the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail.


Their website doesn’t mention it anywhere in the history of their winery, but I could swear I first visited Curtis at a location along Alamo Pintado Road between Solvang and Los Olivos, and I know that I purchased a dry Orange Muscat (aforementioned in the post about Mosby) from them.  (Possibly the current location of Lincourt?)  Shortly after, Curtis relocated to Foxen Canyon under the ownership of the Firestone family (Firestone Vineyard & Winery being one of the early upstart wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley).  Just like Richard Sanford did, the Firestones have sold off their namesake winery but have retained ownership of Curtis, which has been putting out great Rhone varietals under the expertise of winemaker Chuck Carlson for years.  I used to be in their wine club about ten or eleven years ago, and it was all good stuff!
ZACA MESA – Zaca Mesa is the original Rhone Ranger winery.  They were planting Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre back in the 1970s and this is where Bob Lindquist started out before he venture out with Qupe in the ’80s.  Good stuff, epic Central Coast winery.  ‘Nuff said.

RIVER BENCH – Now we are really getting out of the shadow of Los Olivos and coming into the Santa Maria area.  This is one of the older wineries in this area, and with the influence of cooler breezes and fog coming in from the Pacific, we’re back to cooler climate grapes like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay—which is all that they do here at Riverbench.

CAMBRIA – Their Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir is my wife’s favorite.  We’ve never been here, so hope to taste some good things and bring home something you can’t find in the local markets.





Santa Barbara invasion: DAY 2

This post has been a long time coming….partially because I made some changes to the itinerary and partially because I’ve just been busy lately.  But the trip is upon us….Day 2 brings us to the Sta. Rita Hills AVA (American Viticultural Area), which is more of a sub-AVA located within the western portion of the larger Santa Ynez Valley AVA.  Sta. Rita Hills (the “Santa” got abbreviated to “Sta.” on the wine labels a few years back out of a settlement with some growers from Chile over use of the name) is Pinot Noir country, made famous in Sideways, with Miles (Paul Giamatti) even explaining in the movie dialogue about how the fog rolls in here from the Pacific Ocean, making for cool mornings and ideal growing conditions for this finicky grape.  There’s also quite a bit of Chardonnay and some cool-climate Syrah here also…but Pinot is king, and the winemakers out here know that…hence the ever-upward movement of the list prices for bottles.

Our day begins just outside of Buellton, where we will be heading in a westerly direction through the Santa Rita Hills, stopping by at select winery tasting rooms, before we finally make our way to the promised land of Central Coast Pinot Noir…the Lompoc Wine Ghetto!

Here is where we will plan to go:

MOSBY WINERY – The first winery on the west side of Highway 101, this is where Bill Mosby has been crafting Italian varietal wines (often called Cal-Ital) for years.  We will be checking out his Dolcetto, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Primativo wines and sure to bring back a bottle or so since Mosby has very friendly prices!  I’m interested to check out a dry Orange Muscat listed on the winery page.  I once had a dry Orange Muscat (put out from Curtis, I think this was before they relocated and began to focus on just Rhone varietal) but have never found one since.  Muscat is mostly known as a dessert wine, and I just don’t go for the sweet wines.  If this is truly a dry (non-sweet) and delicious Orange Muscat, this is coming home to the wine fridge, to be uncorked on a random summer afternoon out on the patio.

ALMA ROSAThis one almost missed my attention!  I was noticing that Sanford Winery on Santa Rosa Road had been sold, and the new owners built a new and opulent tasting room whose map location just didn’t jive with my memory of where I’d gone before on previous visits to Sanford.  Turns out, Richard Sanford didn’t just sell his landmark namesake winery…he kept the original parcel with the old countryish tasting room and that is now the tasting room for his new winery, Alma Rosa.        Whatever label is put on the bottles, Richard Sanford is the O.G. (if you will) of Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir.  This stop is a must stop!





 The aforementioned birthplace of Santa Rita Hills Pinot, Sanford Winery was sold to the Terlato Family in 2005, a fact I was not aware of when I last visited the old tasting room (now Alma Rosa) in 2007.  I used to be in the Sanford wine club almost 7 years ago…I’ve had a lot of good juice bottled under the Sanford label, and curious to see how the new owners and winemakers are doing.  They still source their fruit from the Sanford & Benedict and La Rinconada Vineyards, both planted with selected clones of the Pinot Noir grape, and some Chardonnay.


Lunch in Lompoc, CA.  – Sissy’s Uptown Cafe?


                      The Lompoc Wine Ghetto is bunch of rented warehouse and industrial buildings where some of the region’s best winemakers have set up shop.  There are no estate vineyards or million-dollar tasting rooms here….it’s just an asphalt jungle of ghetto-fabulous wineries and their storefront tasting rooms. We’ll try to hit at least these 4 tasting rooms before they all close at 5 pm:

FLYING GOAT CELLARS –   I’ve heard of this winery and seen their colorfully-labeled bottles in stores before.  They make a lot of single-vineyard Pinot Noirs from the best vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, several priced over $40.  Gotta exercise wallet restraint!

PALMINA WINES – Breaking up some of the Pinot-monotony, here is another winery specializing in Italian varietals, grapes mostly grown in the eastern section of the Santa Ynez Valley and in the Santa Maria Valley.  I got a hook-up for 2-for-1 tastings at this place, and will be sure to check out their Barbera, Dolcetto, Savoia, and Pinot Grigio.


TASTE OF STA. RITA HILLS – This is not a winery, but a tasting room featuring wines from several area wineries that don’t have a tasting room or are only able to accommodate visitors by appointment.   My brother-in-law Terry (who is going on the trip) brought over a bottle of Brewer-Clifton Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir for Christmas Eve, which was my favorite wine of the evening.     After figuring we wouldn’t be able to visit Brewer-Clifton because they are closed on Thursdays, I’m now happy to discover that their wines are featured here at Taste Of Sta. Rita Hills.


Other featured wineries include Moretti, Clos Pepe, Diatom, El Rey, Gypsy Canyon, Huber, Ken Brown, Sea Smoke, Seagrape, and Thorne.  This tasting room should promise to be interesting and may occupy a greater part of our afternoon in the Ghetto.

ZOTOVICH CELLARS – This is a small, family-owned winery that produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, and Viognier from grapes locally grown on their Sta. Rita Hills estate vineyard.  I’ve read some good reviews on their wines, and since they are such a small-production winery, a bottle of Zotovich should make for a rare pleasure.

That will probably wrap up our afternoon at the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  We’ll head back to Solvang via SR-246, the highway route that would have afforded us visits at Dierberg/Star Lane, Melville, and  Babcock if we had gone that way in the morning instead of taking Santa Rosa Road.  Oh well…..decisions!!!

And because you can’t live on wine alone, we’ll stop off in Buellton for dinner will be at the FIRESTONE WALKER BREWING COMPANY’s TAPROOM RESTAURANT.  

I’m proud to say I was an “early adopter” of Firestone Walker beer back within their first year of opening their doors, discovering their brewery in Buellton during some of my first wine trips.  Their Double Barrel Ale was one of my favorite craft beers in the late ’90s.  They’ve moved their main brewery to Paso Robles, but this original location in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley remains open.  Woodfired pizza and British style ales.




End-of-the-year Santa Barbara invasion: DAY 1

As is becoming the annual tradition here at Vines & Steins, I am planning another late December wine tasting trip.  Last year it was Sonoma County with an emphasis on Russian River Valley, this time we’re headed to the wine regions of Santa Barbara county.

Santa Barbara County is where I got started with my wine tasting adventures, during a Central Coast trip back in 1997.  Sure, I had wine before, but this was getting out into the countryside and opening up my palette to a wider variety of wines and learning about the varietals, the climate, and the winemaking process.  Right away I was a big fan of the “Rhone rangers”–Central coast winemakers who were eschewing the usual Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in favor of grape varietals from the Rhone River valley of France: Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne.  Perhaps you’ve had some of these wines…Syrah and Viognier have grown in popularity such that they are among the most common grapes being grown throughout the state nowadays.

Later, I became more of a Pinot Noir enthusiast, or Pinotphile….(see Sideways).   The Santa Rita Hills AVA of Santa Barbara County was made famous in that movie for its cool climate favorable to growing this finicky thin-skinned grape, that when done well….is an indulgence of pure sensuality.  Either that, or you will lose your inhibitions about opening your wallet to buy more Pinot for prices you’d probably never spend elsewhere.

So here’s the itinerary SO FAR….I’m a meticulous planner and trying to get in as many good tasting rooms each day as humanly possible!   If any of my readers have recommendations or comments, please chime in!


Early morning drive up from San Diego

Breakfast in Santa Barbara

SANTA BARBARA WINERY – this is one of the older wineries in the county, and a good starting point for any SB County tasting.  They’re located in downtown Santa Barbara, under the same ownership as LaFond Winery (located further up to the northwest in the Santa Rita Hills).  Not too expensive if you find something you like; they make some really good red blends.

Drive S-R 154 north over the Santa Ynez Mountains into the Santa Ynez Valley. Always a beautiful drive, going over the San Marcos Pass and past Lake Cachuma. 

GAINEY VINEYARD  – Located right after you get into the valley.  One of the bigger wineries.  I think I may have been here once before, but I can’t really remember.

BRIDLEWOOD WINERY – Also fairly big.  We’re gonna score some free tastings and the place is supposed to be really nice, so why not check it out?  I just picked up one of one of their cabs from Ralph’s (30% off six more wines, that’s another post!) so I’ll get a little advance taste.

Lunch – I’m thinking the LOS OLIVOS CAFE, the one where they go to dinner in Sideways.  And no, I’m not having any stinking Merlot!

BECKMEN – I’ve heard good things about this winery, looking forward to trying their Rhone varietals.  This might be the place where I start a new wine club membership!

RIDEAU – Located just off Alamo Pintado Road on the way back down to Solvang from Los Olivos…I think I have missed this one in years past.  I’ve heard good things, gotta check ’em out.

BUTTONWOOD – Now here is one that I’ve been to plenty of times.  Their all-around wine portfolio is not too impressive, but I do like their Marsanne and they are one of the few wineries to make a Marsanne.  Since their wine tasting fee is (unhappily) non-refundable with purchase, this might just be a pit-stop to pick up a bottle of Marsanne (which might be a moot point if I will have just picked up some nice Marsanne from Beckmen!)  Note to Buttonwood:  Make your tasting experience more friendly to my limited time and budget, and I’ll spend more time at your place!

In Solvang – check in at our hotel, hit one or two of the in-town tasting rooms that stay open past 5 PM.  Probably CARIVINTAS or SEV TAP.

Here are a few good web sites that I have used for exploring Santa Barbara wine country and deciding on an itinerary:

Wine Questers – one of my all-time faves!  Used this one for mapping out the Russian River Valley trip last year.  It’s very comprehensive, with searchable indexes and regional maps dotted with wineries.  They also make a so-so iPhone app that will set you back a few bucks, but consider it an investment toward their improved future app!

Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association – very good, they also have a free iPhone app!

Stay tuned for my next posting: DAY 2:  SANTA RITA HILLS & LOMPOC WINE GHETTO!!!

Green Flash 9th Anniversary photos








K ‘n B Cellars this Saturday!

With the cancellation of America’s Finest Beer Festival, we at Vines & Steins have decided upon a low-key Saturday evening to sample a few of the beers and wines over at K’nB Cellars.  This is one of my favorite new places to hang out for some tastings, and their attached retail store is real go-to place for that beer you can’t seem to find anywhere.  They’ve also got a pretty big wine selection and may be the only place in San Diego that is selling Rogue’s liquors (whiskey, rum & gin)…that’s Rogue as in Rogue Ales, with all those cleverly titled painted 22 oz. bottles you see in the stores.

Head on over and look for Richard in the Russian River Brewing Damnation shirt.  We’ll be hanging out on the patio with a few cold ones, sometime after 8 pm.

K’nB Cellars is located at 6380 Del Cerro Blvd, San Diego, CA 92120

From Interstate 8, exit College Blvd. NORTH (opposite SDSU) and then turn right at Del Cerro Blvd.  It’s in the shopping center with Windmill Farms natural foods grocery store.


America’s Finest Beer Festival has been cancelled!

This just in!  After months of advertising and promotion, America’s Finest Beer Festival that was scheduled for this Friday, Saturday, & Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium has been cancelled, and tickets are refundable.  Apparently the organization that was putting everything together just didn’t have the funds to make it happen.

I was hoping to hook up with some of you at this event, but I can’t blame anyone for not fronting a fairly steep ticket price of $50 general admission ($175 “VIP” ticket, what’s up with that???!!)…..this was supposed to be more of a “Street Scene” of beer fests, with multiple stages hosting several of San Diego’s top music acts, including Pinback, the Greyboy All-Stars, Sprung Monkey, Buck-O-Nine, and several more.  Ever since the long-running San Diego Street Scene went under, there’s been a real vacuum in our fair city for a big outdoor music festival.  Of course, back in the day before Street Scene went all-ages, it was par for the course to saunter from stage to stage with a beer in hand.  America’s Finest Beer Festival was going to be an opportunity to enjoy live music and good beer in proximity with each other (i.e., not having to be corralled in a beer garden 50 yards away from the stage….Adams Ave. Street Fair, I’m looking at you!)

So anyway, there’s at least one other beer event going on this Saturday, and that’s the “Pints For Pups” event happening at 4 PM at Mission Brewery’s new digs downtown (the old Wonder Bread building at 1441 L Street).   Dog-lovers can head over there with companions on leash and grab some of the most exciting beers happening right now in San Diego (can you say Shipwrecked?!), and proceeds go to benefit the Coastal German Shepherd Rescue.

Back to the old school: my starter brews

Tonight, I’m having a Red Trolley Ale from Karl Strauss brewery, the first of the several dozen breweries now populating the San Diego area.  Takes me back….this was one of the first craft beers that caught my attention back in the mid-’90s.  Here are the initial culprits behind my beer fandom:

1. Karl Strauss Red Trolley Ale (nice caramel finish, a medium-bodied red ale that’s been around a long time now but just starting to win some big-time awards).

2. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (once and always, a consistently great beer and a standard-bearer for all American pale ales.  I expect to hear a lot of people give a shout out to this classic from Chico, CA).

3. Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale (another medium-bodied ale, British style, the initial flagship offering from the Firestone guys back when they were still quasi-affiliated with their dad’s winery in Santa Barbara County.  I  think they’ve now moved the entire operation to Paso Robles).                          

Anyway….there ya go.  Don’t blame me, blame these guys for packing some actual flavor and depth into something I used to think was just carbonated bottlings from the urinalysis lab!  I try all kinds of beers nowadays, and I’ve kind of gravitated toward West Coast IPAs heavy on the IBUs (International Bitterness Units), and slowly getting into the Belgian and Cali-Belgian stuff. 

But the question I have for my fellow quality beer drinking enthusiasts, hopheads, and pint glass collecting nerds is this: 

I wanna know what craft beers (or even imports) got you interested in beer in the first place?

Keepin’ it real on a Monday night: Cline Oakley Five Reds

Uncorked this inexpensive red blend for dinner tonight (veggie pizza & samosas from Trader Joe’s). Picked this up at Cline Cellars in the Carneros region just outside of the town of Sonoma (where I’ve been a wine club member since 2008), but the grapes all come from the Oakley area in Contra Costa County, where the Cline family has been producing wine grapes for years, including many of their near-famous old vine Zinfandels.


This is probably the least expensive wine in their catalogue, an everyday table wine blended from Merlot, Syrah, Barbera, Petite Sirah, and Alicante Bouschet. The color is a deep dark red, owing much of its depth to the Alicante Bouschet, a grape varietal you don’t hear much about but was widely planted in this part of California during Prohibition years, when its tough skins and high wine yields made it a popular grape for exporting to the east coast (it was legal for each household to produce up to 200 gallons of wine per year for their own consumption).

I find this wine to be a very good buy for a table wine blend. It’s got notes of blackberries and plums, with a peppery finish and just a slight tannic bite. If you like a bold Syrah or medium-bodied Zinfandel you will probably like this wine for its value. Unlike a lot of inexpensive red blends out there, this one has very little vegetal character and the tannins are fairly balanced with the fruit, for some nice casual drinking. Under $10, find it at Cost Plus World Market.