The beer that Almanac has produced is dry, crisp and complex and should appeal to those who would normally avoid beers made with fruit. "It's not that we're not fruit beer fans, but we want people to know that it's not a cloyingly, fruity beer," says Damian. It has a plush mouth feel, a fruity nose and a punchy, tart flavor, and I was surprised that it was quite apricoty for being billed as having blackberries. Damian explains that the fruit changes on a molecular level during fermentation. "You start with blackberries, but with fermentation and aging the molecules actually change and mutate, which is why you get hints of other flavors. The blackberry notes came out as apricot and mango. That was a really interesting evolution."
Almanac Summer 2010 Blackberry Ale. Photo by Jennifer Maiser.
The beers are bottle conditioned which means that they go into the bottle uncarbonated, and that natural yeast and sugar is added individually to each bottle, where the final fermentation occurs. Bottle conditioned beers usually have more complexity and can be held on the shelf longer than force-carbonated beers. Bottle conditioned beers also have some variation from bottle to bottle, which means that the beer won't taste the same way twicea feature that most beer connoisseurs really enjoy.
Of all the steps that it took to get this beer to market, the bottle conditioning was the most stressful part for Jesse and Damian. "Looking at all the hurdles that we had to cross along the way, the only thing that could have spelled disaster for us had been if the beer didn't carbonate," says Damian. The tricky part to bottle conditioning is to be sure that you get carbonation, but not too much. Laughing, Damian said "It was such a sigh of relief when Jesse and I opened the bottles separately and heard the carbonation. And of course, waiting for a few seconds to make sure that the beer didn't come roaring back out of the bottle."
Almanac is a "gypsy brewery," a term that refers to brewers who borrow space or rent at already established breweries to craft their beer. Almanac used space at Drake's Brewing in San Leandro for the Blackberry Ale. They were able to lean on Steve Altimari of Highwater Brewing for advice on this first brew. Altimari also brews out of Drake's.
Damian and Jesse aren't the first Bay Area brewers to attempt a local beerlast year, Thirsty Bear Brewing released a delicious "Locavore Ale" in conjunction with farmer Nigel Walker at Eatwell Farm. They did this using Eatwell's own malted barley and hops grown by Hops-Meister in Clear Lake, California. That may have been the only batch of Locavore Ale, however. The costs were prohibitive, and it required a huge amount of effort to produce the beer. Systems aren't set up for some parts of the beer to be created locally at the moment; Eatwell's barley had to be sent all the way to Colorado to be malted.
Almanac's beer will be available at several events (see below for information), and at a few places around the Bay Area for sale: City Beer Store, Healthy Spirits, Jug Shop and some Whole Foods locations in San Francisco. It will retail for approximately $20 for a 750 milliliter bottle.
What can we expect next from Almanac? "Stone fruit is in season, and we're looking to brew in July. It's looking like it may be a saison with some kind of stone fruit. We both really, really want to brew a saison."
In addition to Almanac's beers, be sure to track down Jesse's delicious, seasonal sodas around San Francisco. You can find them at the Hapa Ramen booth and at the New Taste Market Place. His smoked strawberry vanilla bean soda was one of my favorite sips last month.
Almanac Beer Co. Events
Bottle Release Party at City Beer Store
Thursday, June 30, 6pm - 10pm
1168 Folsom Street (map)
Healthy Spirits presents Almanac Beer Co. at Fat Angel Food & Libation
Thursday, July 7, 6pm - 10pm
1740 O'Farrell Street (map)
Thursday, July 14, 6pm - 10pm
3349 20th Street (map)