Beer: My Favorite Product of Biotechnology

BeerFridgeI cannot deny it – I love beer. My “gateway beer” that taught me there was a whole universe outside of mass-produced beer was Pete’s Wicked Ale, introduced to me when I arrived in the Bay Area to attend Stanford in 1989. Then, during my junior year, I spent six months in 1992 living in Germany, three months at Stanford’s campus in Berlin and three month in Munich working for BMW on the assembly line building their 3-series cars.

Aside from memorizing Berlin’s U-Bahn system and learning German words (such as Warmelosierung and Gewindebolzen) for car parts whose names I didn’t know in English, I developed a love for excellent beer (i.e. not American macro-brewed Budweiser, Miller and Coors) and eventually started brewing my own beer. After moving to the lower Haight in San Francisco in 1996, I found myself within blocks of über beer-nerd bar Toronado, and continued my beer education in those hallowed halls.

My first post-Excite-IPO angel investment was in a brewery based in San Francisco called Speakeasy Ales & Lagers. Today Speakeasy is thriving and brews and bottles some truly excellent (and award-winning) beers, my favorite being Big Daddy IPA. Their bottled beers enjoy good distribution on the West Coast, particularly in San Francisco, are served on tap in bars throughout the Bay Area, and I’ve even seen them on the shelves of Dean & Deluca in New York, Napa and Georgetown.

My love for Speakeasy’s Big Daddy IPA turned me on to India Pale Ales in general, and I’ve been thoroughly exploring the genre over the years. IPAs are strongly-hopped beers with higher-than-average alcohol content that were originally brewed for the long sea voyage from the UK to India back in colonial days. Because the voyage was long, the beer had to be brewed to keep during the journey. Hops act as a preservative and impart both a distinctive aroma and a strong flavor to beer that some would call bitter, but I would call complex.

Aside from Big Daddy, some of my favorites include Lagunitas IPA, Stone IPA, Boulder’s Avery IPA and the 60-, 90– and 120-minute Dogfish Head IPAs. I discovered Dogfish Head thanks to the excellent and extensive beer list at The Kitchen Upstairs here in Boulder. The Dogfish Head IPAs are by far my favorites, and I was pleased to discover an excellent in-depth article in the New Yorker on Delaware’s Dogfish Head Brewery, which is well worth a read if you are interested in beer. My brother-in-law is also a beer fanatic (the picture above is of his beer fridge), and he and I are plotting a pilgrimage to Rehoboth Beach to visit the source at some point.

I’ve been known to take beer-focused trips in the past, so a trip to Delaware would not be the first. This past May, my partner Jason and our friend Martin and I took a three day “man trip” to Belgium to visit Antwerp, Brugge and Brussels and sample as many Belgian beers as we could. Between the three of us, I think we had about 90 beers, a respectable sample of what’s on offer in a country that boasts domestic production of at least 500 varieties of standard, regularly brewed beers and perhaps thousands when you count specialty one-of-a-kind brews that are put out regularly by Belgium’s breweries and monasteries.

Now that I’ve gone through this recap of my beer education and obsession, I’m hoping my readers will suggest other ways I might expand my beer universe…

  • Ryan, you might enjoy James Fallows' posts on beer:

    His blog is normally about politics and such but he posts on beer as well.

    • thanks Ben — hope you are doing well. I had followed James Fallows in the past, but had forgotten about him, so I appreciate the reminder.

  • Stone's Ruination and the Lagunitas IPA are two of my faves as well… the Lagunitas being more of a session beer. The 90 minute Dogfish Head is great, but the 120 is overdone imho. I saw that New Yorker article too, and thought the quote from Brooklyn Brewery was right on the money (“This stew has more salt than anything you've had; are you man enough to eat it?”) I love that Dogfish Head is so experimental, though, even if it's more miss than hit overall (raison d'etre, anyone?). Someone needs to be pushing the envelope, and when you hit a homerun the strikeouts are forgiven.

    Being from CO, you must be down with Great Divide? Their Oak-Aged Yeti is one of my all-time favorites. Also good: Alaskan's Smoked Porter, most of Rogue's brews (including Mocha Porter, Chipotle Ale, etc.)

    Lots of misc tasting notes on my blog, mostly from festivals and impromptu tours of our own. If you're ever up in Seattle and looking for a good place to discover something new, I recommend Brouwer's in Fremont and Uber up on 99.

    • Cool, thanks for all the tips. I do like Great Divide's Yeti. I was lucky enough to hit Toronado in SF last night and had Speakeasy's Big Daddy after discovering (sadly) that they had run out of Dogfish's Palo Santo Marron.

  • Ryan – You should hit Refuge in San Carlos. A huge list of Belgian brews on tap, plus the best homemade pastrami.

    • Thanks for the tip. Will definitely try Refuge. And I love pastrami – the Reuben is my all time favorite sandwich.

      Sent from my iPhone

  • Dwight

    Pete's Wicked Ale as your gateway beer. Reuben sandwiches. Dogfish Head. You are a kindred spirit. If you make it to Delaware, it's just a short hop to beer mecca NYC. If you make it there, I recommend checking out to find great beer and
    beer bars and beer events. (Full disclosure: it's the project of my two sons who started home brewing with me when they were wee lads.) If you do make it, please let us know.

    • thanks for the link to — I'm in NYC a few times a year — I'll check it out!

  • Something that I can only find out your way is called Alaskan Amber – if you like Lagunitas you should find a weakness for that beer. I cannot find it on the East Coast so whenever i go out west I end up getting cases and shipping them back over. A nice darker beer is the Sweetwater 420 Festive – absolutely beautiful

  • Dig the idea of a beer vacation — had a similar experience when I lived in Europe. Maybe the Microbrew Montana road trip is worth consideration (… And I'm sure you've heard of/been to the Falling Rock in Denver.

  • Nikolaus Bauman

    Expanding your beer universe…– I'm not exactly sure what these guys are up to, but it looks like they are about to start a closed beta of some sort of beer related online service. I'm curious, but the lack of details is mildly frustrating, mostly because I'm impatient. The online beer world is so young.

    Also, Rob and I are quite avid beer fans. Eventually, beer and will be compatible. We look forward to catering to your type of audience when that day comes.