Lagunitas Brewing Company Dogtown Pale Ale

Editor’s note: We’re republishing this review from April 2003 because the old copy still gets so much reader traffic.

We came across this one while in dodging junkies and snaggle-toothed street people in downtown San Francisco.

We paid $1.75 for a 12 ounce bottle. Lagunitas (that’s Lah-GOO-KNEE-tuss) is made in Petaluma, California. LBC’s IPA struck us as watery and not quite right, but this pale ale was quite good.

Pretty amber-copper color, a thin head…a nice easy ale that has good flavor, a nice balance between sweet malt and crisp hops, and a finish that bites but softly. Well done. (Rating: Very Good) For further info, contact Lagunitas at


Gin and Regulation: A Lesson in a Bottle

Uncle Vals Peppered Gin LabelThere is a bottle that sits on my desk which serves as irrefutable proof that less regulation is better than more.

Pull the stopper top and a remarkable aroma plumes forth. “I’d wear this as cologne,” a colleague remarked. He’s a clean-cut fellow, mind you, not a gutter dipsomaniac. “That’s really nice,” exclaimed another.

This 90-proof liquor’s scents come from juniper, cucumber, lemon, sage, lavender, black pepper, red bell peppers and pimento. It is Uncle Val’s Peppered Gin, made by 35 Maple Street Spirits in Sonoma, California.

Gin, you ask? Is that not the water-clear hooch from the United Kingdom that smells like pine needles? Yes, often gins are made in the London Dry style (think Beefeater). But gin need not ooze juniper.

And here’s where federal regulation comes in. In the United States, the definitions of various liquors are not spelled out in prolix laws. Our drinks are loosely defined in laconic regulations. The Code of Federal Regulations, volume 27, section 5.22(c) lays out the “standards of identity” for gin. It reads:

“…a product obtained by original distillation from mash, or by redistillation of distilled spirits, or by mixing neutral spirits, with or over juniper berries and other aromatics, or with or over extracts derived from infusions, percolations, or maceration of such materials, and includes mixtures of gin and neutral spirits. It shall derive its main characteristic flavor from juniper berries and be bottled at not less than 80° proof.”

So long as it meets the basic production requirement and its main flavor is juniper berries, it may be labeled gin. I hasten to add that there is another version of Uncle Val’s gin flavored with rose petals. Whether the gin is made in London or Sonoma is no matter. Indeed some of the most interesting gins – including barrel-aged ones – are today made in places likePhiladelphia; Seattle; Boulder, Colo.; and Middleton, Wis.

Simplicity in federal rules allows entrepreneurial distillers room to be creative and we, the people, benefit. Would that the government followed suit in regulations generally, which at last word comprised more than 170,000 pages.


New Amsterdam Gin No. 485


Gin from California? Why the Hell not.

This spirit is, as advertised, “exceptionally smooth.” It is a modest 80 proof, the typical potency for dpirits, but a bit less potent than many gins. (Beefeater, for example, is 94 proof, and navy strength gins run north of 100 proof.)

Like Baffert’s, Blue Coat, and other new brands of gin, New Amsterdam eschews the London Dry model. It goes light on piney Juniper, and puts its emphasis on citrus notes. Vidka lovers should consider getting a bottle of this gin and tucking it in the freezer. At $25 for a 1.75 liter bottle, New Amsterdam is more than worth the price. (Rating: Good)

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Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon (2010)

Freemark Abbey Cabernet SauvignonDrink, Memory:  2010 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon
by B.D

Wine is inextricably bound up with memory.  This is partially because wine itself is memory—terroir is nothing but the circumstances of creation, like your parents’ blind date a dozen years before your birth.  In this analogy the Clef du Vin is

My weekday watering hole is a superlative hotel bar across the street from my office.  In their denial of memory hotel bars are ideal places to drink—you will never meet these people again.  And they are even better than pre-9/11 airport bars in that, while the prices also tend toward the exploitative, the quality of the booze and mixology is higher.  Deb, my Stetson’s Sherpa, makes an Old Fashioned that will reduce you to tears.  And they have an excellent wine list.

On a recent Thursday I found myself on a stool soon after open, alone save a refugee from an orthodontic conference at McCormick Place.  He made a poor first impression, with an explicit joke about the stages of marital sex to the assembled throng of bartenders, hostesses, and managers, some of them young and female.  The rank smell of good old boy; he turned out to be from Dallas.  I’ve lived in Dallas, and this is a terrible sign.

But we were alone at the bar, and I was only pretending to edit a 600-page data dictionary.  What could I do?  I put my papers away and sidled next to him, Deb’s Old Fashioned in hand.  He was drinking Budweiser and preparing to order a steak, well done (shudder).  We began discussing Dallas strip clubs, which are legendary.

Then he ordered the sublime bottle of wine that is the subject of this review, and after it was delivered, opened, and poured he alternated swigs of Bud all the while.  This is a story of redemption, but I’ll never forget him going back and forth between this $92 bottle of wine (~$44 retail; Excellent) and the long tall pint of the crappiest beer on Earth.  The conversation shifted to my new marriage, then the poetry of country music, then his shocking admiration for hiphop, for Kanye West.

He called for Deb to pour me a glass from his bottle.  I told him about my novel.  He told me about the death of his teenage son.  I could fairly see the bouquet rise from the glass.  Life with his wife has become unbearable in the aftermath.  Cloves, coffee, cinnamon, Earth.  The love of a good woman.  The feeling in the mouth of endless ascension.  Tannins like silent fireworks.

I had forgotten how great a great California Cab can be.  Still two generations on the locus of wine’s central debate/complaint, and I think my position is well known.  But this past cannot blind us to the present.  We tottered off our stools and I embraced my new friend.  And he retired to his room, staggering only slightly, and holding the last glass in the bottle.