Monticello Restaurant Beer Dream Team (Part One – Kegs)

15 January, 2011 3 comments

Every beer geek has a dream. Among other things (hot air balloon ride, Grand Canyon, nude hang-gliding) I have long dreamed of getting together a list of my favourite beers, and freely admit that I never quite got around to it. This blog is a start, given that I’m listing the beers I’ve delighted in (and sometimes not), but it never really had much meaning in the Real World™.

When I was recently offered a job as the barman in a new restaurant venture in Davis, I realised that I had the opportunity not just to create such a list, but to realise it in the flesh, or at least in neatly serried ranks of bottles. I have spent the past few days not just imagining it, but meeting with distributors and enthusiasts (often in the same person).

The bar at Monticello Seasonal Cuisine

The bar will be opening soon, I hope – the Monticello Seasonal Cuisine has just opened in Davis, and their website will be up and running soon. In any restaurant opening there are priorities, and the kitchen is obviously the first. In this case, wine was second – the bar is almost complete at this time of writing, just a few minor details to finish (like the completion of the bar top, the keg system and coolers). I’m by turns excited and frustrated, eager to start work and getting to the grist.

So, without further ado, here’s the story and the list:

My Dream Keg Beers

Given that it’s winter here (albeit a mild, California winter), my first thought is to turn to the darker brews. I’d love to carry a porter, a stout and a brown, followed by some paler brews, but the system we will have needs to fit the space available, and that limits me to three keg beers.

The Dark Side

Currently I am caught between a porter (nice and warming) and a brown (a good starting point for darker beers, a little less challenging for some American palates). The brown ale came to a choice of three – the excellent Riggwelter (a personal English favourite), Lost Coast Downtown Brown and North Coast’s Acme Brown. Here was my first dilemma – the restaurant is specialising in seasonal, local food, and the plan is to be as local as possible in all things. Riggwelter was therefore out. Acme brown, it turns out, is not available on tap from my favoured distributor, which leaves the lovely Downtown. This is not a bad thing, given that Downtown Brown is one of the better-known browns, and is superb at its price point.

Now for the porter. Deschutes’ superb  Black Butte is available, is a sweet and warming ale, and then there are offerings from both  Anchor and Sierra Nevada. The sad thing is that for the time being, I am not carrying any porter, despite its being an excellent winter beer. It’s a problem for me, I admit, but until I’ve seen what the regulars will be drinking, I’m playing it safe. If requests for porter (or stout!) are many, I may switch, but for now,  there’s the “bottom end” sorted out.

A Bitter Brew

The top end has to be a nice hoppy brew. Not because I like the hop, but there are far too many people around here who do. After all, this is the West Coast, land of Lagunitas, and Russian River. Here was a real dilemma – one of my distributors (Southern Wine) recommended an ale unknown to me, one Nightstalker IPA.  The other highly placed horse was the wonderful Russian River’s excellent Pliny the Elder. I have tried this one (though I regret I have not written up my notes) and found it good, if a little high in the hop for my palate. My favourite in this field would have been the fruity Sunflower IPA from McMenamins, but given that it’s not exactly a local beer (and would be almost impossible to get!) I’m settled for Pliny.

The Middle Way

Now the centre is tricky. In the summer, the middle may well be a pilsner, but in the moist and misty Davis winter, I felt that we should have a local brew, light but not pale. I’d considered having the brown in the middle and the porter as a dark base, but finally I settled on Sudwerk’s Märzen, largely because it’s well-known locally, is a good example of the type, and for me, Sudwerk’s best. But this is, of course, all subject to change.

Not only subject to change, but all rather academic at the moment, given that the bar is not yet open, although I am seriously hoping that I will at least have some bottled beer to serve by the weekend of the grand opening on 22nd January. Meantime, updates on the bar (oh, and the restaurant) are at their Facebook page.

Monticello Seasonal Cuisine are to be found at 630 G Street, Davis, CA 95616.

Bass Pale Ale

Sign found at Plainfields Station. No Bass ale, though.

Sign found at Plainfields Station. No Bass ale, though.

There’s a sorry, sorry tale I have to tell. It’s a saga of English pride fallen into a puddle of shame, of mightiness fallen and foul deeds. It’s a story of British spring weather in normally warm California, and the best and the worst of beers. But first, a little history. Bass Pale Ale has been brewed since God were a lad, in Burton-upon-Trent in the noble Midlands of England. In some manner and form, this beer has been in production since the eighteenth century, and Bass properly call it “the original Pale Ale”, and it probably was. The water in Burton was perfect for this slightly hoppy, light ale.

So I recall Bass Pale as a cask beer in old English pubs, drawn slowly from the wood (cooled only by a damp towel) – it was a succulent beer, bitter and summer-fragrant with enough maltiness to balance it out. The head was thin, aye, but the experience was heavenly. These were the halcyon days for the English drinker, before total science stepped in and the yeasty brews of yore were replaced by the consistently mediocre, gassy beers that were Watney and bloody Double Diamond, and Boddingtons was still brewed by grizzled craftsmen with Mancunian accents, and was genuinely creamy-headed and yummy.

For now, I’m please that Bass is still about, although InBev have taken over. This is for me still the Pale Ale that others must be measured by, and despite the export beer being made in sterile stainless vats, doubtless somewhere in bleedin’ London, it still has some of the old magic.

Bass Pale Ale

A glass of Bass Pale Ale, in English weather

I’m drinking this one in the Capay Valley, on a mid-spring day that looks and feels more like an English spring day. It’s overcast and cool, and I imagine myself outside the Queen’s Head or Fox and Goose in some picturesque English village, replete with quaint and tired after a long hillside walk. It’s still good, despite the bottles being hauled five thousand miles through goodness knows what. Still a little bitter without the hops taking over (and these days in a pale, that’s increasingly rare) and sweet enough to give one the strength for the final push to walk home.

It gets a B from me, mostly for still being refreshing, and whilst there are many excellent (and better) pales around, it’s still a favourite of mine. Just allow me my moment of nostalgia, and yes please, I will have another.

Categories: Beers Tags: ,

Smashed Pumpkin Ale

3 December, 2009 Leave a comment

It’s not often that quaffing ale reminds me of anything more than other ales. Now that I’ve said that I have to add that this is an excellent and peculiar beer, not at all what I was expecting. Somehow the thought of a pumpkin beer gave me the same slightly shuddering concerns that I had before sampling Wells Banana Bread ale, and with the same outcomes – delight and surprise.

I had the pleasure of sampling this at the Graduate bar in Davis, a favourite haunt of mine as they always have a wide variety of draught brews and generally, a knowledgeable and keen staff. This was recommended as a very different autumnal beer, but I was warned to go easy with it, and with an ABV of 9% and a powerful taste kick, I can see why.

It was served in a 12-ounce glass and showed a good orange body topped with a thick and stable head. I admit to some trepidation as I took my first sip, but was immediately delighted by a good fruity and spicy nose, redolent of nutmeg, cinnamon and (presumably) pumpkin. As if that were not surprise enough, once I actually tasted it I was taken back to posh Sunday lunches at my parents’ home, for here of all things was a beer that reminded me of sherry.

Yes, it’s a warming and wonderful drink, intensely flavourful, but leaving me in something of a dilemma. For the sherry taste told my unconscious to sip, whilst the hedonistic brain told me to quaff; quaff and get another one.

Categories: Beers Tags: ,

The Beer Bra. Really.

2 November, 2009 Leave a comment

I’ve been a wild rover for many a year, and muckle have I seen. I’ve seen folk drink from yards of ale, I’ve been in pubs which serve from glass chamber pots, I’ve seen men drink beer from a wellington boot. There’s all manner of glassware, pewter and whatnot all designed with one delightful task in view; that of drinking beer. I’ve seen beer hats, kilts that boast the ability to carry 20 bottles of beer, but until today I have never seen anything so outrageous, so bizarre and so just-plain-wrong as this new technology.

There exists a container (or possibly a pair) that is shaped after the human female bosom and designed to fit in the upper female undergarment. You may doubt, you may scoff, but it’s a genuine product and it does appear to meet a genuine need. After all, who wants to carry several bottles or cans into a sporting event, or some other venue where they don’t allow you to drink anything other than their (frequently overpriced) fizz?

There are a couple of problems that I see with this device. First of all, I wonder what it’s made of, and whether that material (presumably some specie of plastic) would affect your drink. I’m wary enough of beer in cans or growlers without worrying about whatever might taints the taste of your ale. Even those “safe” acrylic glasses one is forced to quaff from occasionally do affect the flavour.

The second problem I consider to be temperature-related. Most people fuss about beer being served at anything even approaching room temperature, so you’d need to consider the effect of having a couple of pints of cold beer strapped to your boobs, and the affect of enjoyment as the beer temperature approaches body heat!

It’s available in different (bra) sizes, and does enhance the bust; indeed the manufacturers boast that “you can turn an A cup in to double Ds”. It’s an odd world and it gets odder each day, and this is more proof, as if it were needed.

Categories: Beer Talk Tags:

An Englishman’s view of beer

6 October, 2009 Leave a comment

I’m a real beer lover, possibly even a beer geek. I enjoy craft brews from everywhere – I loved them in England, now I enjoy them in Northern California. The microbrewery revolution has resulted in great ales being available in abundance, so I talk about great microbrew beers, beer culture and history. This is not just a review site, it’s about the love of well-crafted beer and how best to enjoy it. Browse and enjoy. Cheers!

Categories: Beer Talk

Lager and Curry – Taj Mahal Premium and Kingfisher Premium

5 October, 2009 2 comments

There’s a great British drinking tradition that seems to have grown up in recent years. It is connected with imports – lager (not a British traditional drink of yore) and curry (which in England generally means spicy dishes from the Indian subcontinent). The history of these two elements comes together with the nouvelle tradition that is the “boys’ night out”, which revolves around binge drinking and a late night meal (and all too often, relieving themselves in a shop doorway).

When I was a youngster, back in the days when hairy elephants roamed the earth, an evening’s drinking involved going to the pub around 7 o’clock until closing time (11pm), sinking a number of pints of bitter before hying to the nearest fish-and-chip shop for six-penn’orth of chips and a Pukka pie. The beer was typically 3.8% – 4% ABV, the meal about 25% fat.

Taj Mahal Premium Lager

Taj Mahal Premium Lager


This was soon to change; with the advent of the stronger lagers, those who were determined to consume more booze could do so. At the same time, the number of “Indian restaurants” was growing, with business-savvy hardworking immigrants spreading around the country. The scene was set for the lager louts, with their alcoholic pertinaciousness, to consume a more exotic diet of European (and later, American) lagers and evermore spicy curries.

Now I don’t want to give the idea that every British male spends every night filling themselves to bursting point on this explosive mixture before throwing on the way home, nor that this is limited to the female of the species. This is, however a trend that seems to be growing, to the point where the Government is getting concerned; about the binge drinking, not about the curry consumption.

An American tale of curry-and-lager

Recently, we learned about a local curry house in Dixon, about 12 miles away from us. Excited about the prospect of my first good curry in several months, off we trotted to the Punjabi Dhaba restaurant where we decided to sit down a a traditional meal of chicken tikka masala, jalfrezi, naan and bhajis. Washed down, of course, with a traditional Indian lager. Well, two – I opted to go for a small sampling. Not a binge, oh no.

Taj Mahal Premium

I started with a Taj Mahal out of the United Breweries (India) stable. I’m afraid I have little to say about this, other than it’s an American-style adjunct lager. It’s a light colour, with a good white head.

There’s little nose beyond a hint of grain and very little hop. It drinks like any other lager, with a fairly thin body, a light maltiness and the faintest tang of hop and grassiness. I did find it a little sour rather than sweet, which detracted from the overall enjoyment for me.

It’s quite effervescent, not at all sweet, and in keeping with the style, relatively devoid of character. Simple is what it is, and refreshing, and despite the protestations of many curry-and-lager fans, it’s not what I’d choose with a spicy meal. C-minus, and a detention.

Kingfisher Premium

Kingfisher Premium Lager

Kingfisher Premium Lager

The next pick was Kingfisher Premium, another lager from United. This poured with a skinny-looking head that sadly didn’t last long enough for a decent picture, and a tad darker than its cousin. A little maltier in the nose, with some sweetness apparent, it was more appealing and appetising.

There was a little more body than the Taj Mahal, it was sweeter and more flavoursome, the hops seemed a little more forward and it lacked the musty, faintly skunky flavour. Overall it was decidedly more pleasant, with a better balance of taste, a mix of sweetness and a touch of bitter at the finish. It did better than the last, with a C+ rating.

Overall, neither beer really satisfied me. My guess is that anyone who is having a spicy meal won’t notice that the beer is mediocre, because what they want is light refreshment to cool the mouth. For my part, I’d take a pale ale any day, to balance the strong flavours in a curry, and a little more hop would certainly not go amiss with all those spices vying for attention on the palate.

Oh, and I can hear your comments now. Complain all you like that I didn’t get legless and then go for the curry – I have too much respect for beer, food and my constitution to go through all that.

Categories: Beer Talk, Beers Tags: , ,

Angel Creek Amber Ale

2 October, 2009 1 comment
Angel Creek Amber Ale

Angel Creek Amber Ale

It turns out that the best way to enjoy this beer is on an early autumn afternoon in the Capay Valley, Northern California. Oh, and with hummingbirds. I grew up in England, where hummingbirds are not to be found, and I think of them as mythical, almost magical creatures; to me it would be like sitting down for a quiet cup of tea and spotting a dragon flapping by.

At any rate, this ale was brought to me from Nevada by my good friends Sam and Caroline, and it’s at their ranch that I sit now enjoying a spot of quiet relaxation and rest, watching the few clouds and the many flickering mythical creatures.

I’m delighted that the beer matches the moment; lively enough to refresh, it’s not only alive, it’s kicking gently. The head is initially deep and frothy, and it slowly relaxes to leave a little lacing behind, although sadly it didn’t hang around long enough for a good photo, though that is more down to my skills (or lack thereof) as a photographer.

The colour is not what I’d normally call amber, more a reddish-gold, which glowed quite nicely in the open air. It’s crystal-clear with a little show of bubble,  a precursor to the liveliness that becomes apparent with the first mouthful. Lifting the glass, there’s a malty nose that’s the first hint of a very decent session beer indeed. The hops aren’t too pronounced, showing as a pleasant citrus fruit scent backing up the sweet caramel.

Next thing I notice is at the first taste, a little light caramel sweetness and a little bitter, enough to poke at the tastebuds. Couple that with the carbonation and the result is a smooth balance that is instantly refreshing. There’s a little hoppiness in the finish, which is crisp and clean. I pause for a moment and recall some of the pale ales of my callow youth, because that’s the same effect I get with Angel Creek Amber, clean, easy drinking that’s simple enough to refresh but interesting enough to enjoy.

The body is light, matching the 5% booze content, which may be on the high end for a true session ale, but is none the worse for it; I could quaff one and sip three over the afternoon before settling down to watch the mythical hummingbirds flitting around in the valley sunset.

It’s a solid B for me – the worst I could possibly say is that it didn’t move mountains, but it’s an above-average ale, so if ever you’re in Nevada, look this one up for a light and pleasant hour of refreshing beer gold.

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