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A Tasting Of Holiday Beers XVI : Pacific Coast Puts On A Grand Winter Event
By Mike Pitsker

Saturday, December 11, was a fine, crisp early winter’s day in downtown Oakland, with cold, clear blue skies and a tang of bay salt in the air. By 11:30 a.m., a line had formed outside the brewpub, all anxious ticket holders for Pacific Coast Brewing Company’s annual Holiday Beer Tasting. Now in its 16th year, this event packs ’em in; tickets sold out the week before, and there wasn’t an empty seat in the house.

I sat at the bar with a few fellow beer nuts who contributed their input as we sampled 14 winter brews, mostly from California and a couple from other Western states, even a pair from Belgium. Food served with each round was well chosen for flavor complement and contrast. The price of $35 per ticket was well worth it for four hours of brewed fun and culinary entertainment.

Owner/brewer Don Gortemiller and partner Steve Wolff ran the ceremony, deftly timing each round with the offerings from the kitchen and sending servers and our bartender, Tony Patterson, scurrying with pitchers and platters to keep up. Each sample came properly poured so that all aspects of the tasting experience were available; the sights, smells and flavors became a series of wonders we all relished. Snatches of conversations overheard indicated we had an educated group, and I found some of the descriptions enlightening. It’s just plain fun to sit with a crew of like-minded people enjoying a common passion.

The first samples we tasted were spiced ales, including HopTown’s nitro-infused Vanilla Cream Porter, Anchor’s famous Christmas ale and Pacific Coast Paul’s Dirty Scarecrow, a high-octane pumpkin ale brewed for the occasion by Pacific Coast bartender Paul Wichelman. Hoppy beers followed. Sierra Nevada’s annual Celebration scored its usual high marks, but Drake’s Jolly Roger Ale, a double IPA, received many votes for best of show. The Belgian and Belgian-style beers followed, with Pacific Coast’s own Holiday Trappist Ale, St. Feuillien Cuvée de Noël and Huyghe Delirium Noël. All three were fine specimens of the style. Strong ale was next, with Sudwerk Doppel Bock and Deschutes Jubelale.

Finally, we tasted barley wines. El Toro’s Yo was poured first, followed by Uinta of Utah’s X Anniversary Ale, Rubicon Blonde Bombshell Barleywine and North Coast Old Stock Ale. The barley wine category seemed to have the greatest disparity, in the judges’ estimations; the scores were all over the board, illustrating just how difficult it is to brew — and taste — that style.

Throughout the sampling, Don and Steve wandered through the crowd, making points about style and flavor, assisting those who needed coaching, and helping all enjoy the event. Don has an especially educated palate, and I would include him in any group of expert tasters. Throughout the afternoon of sampling brew and fine food, Don and Steve’s crew made everyone feel welcome, as if we were all in a very large living room enjoying each other’s company over a pint. Bravo to the staff of Pacific Coast Brewing Company!

The final tallies are posted on Pacific Coast’s website and I invite you to visit the brewpub in downtown Oakland and sample the house-brewed beers.

Pacific Coast Brewing Co. | Visit Website
906 Washington St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 836-2739

Mike Pitsker is an associate editor of the Celebrator Beer News and a longtime beer industry professional.


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