So Long, Sam!

Here is a note from longtime club member Tomm Carroll in regards to the recent loss of LA Beer pioneer Sam Samaniego of Stuffed Sandwich in San Gabriel. Thanks Tomm for writing this and allowing us to post it to the site along with the pictures. -Brian


by Tomm Carroll

Happy New Year became a not-so-happy one for the homebrew and craft beer community in Los Angeles when news spread one week into the new year that LA beer pioneer Sam Samaniego of the legendary Stuffed Sandwich restaurant and beer bar in San Gabriel had passed away on the morning of January 8, after a long and courageous battle with cancer. He is survived by loving wife and restaurant co-owner, Marlene. The Stuffed Sandwich opened in 1976. No other information was available as of this writing.

As a tribute to Sam — who was a great friend to Pacific Gravity, by the way — following is an article I wrote and photos (by Danise Delgado and myself) from the defunct Pacific Gravity Gazette newsletter covering a road trip that PG took to the Stuffed Sandwich in October 2006. They were good times.

One of my fondest memories of Sam was that he absolutely hated any head on a draught pour of beer; check out the photo of him at the tap. We miss you, Sam!

Get Stuffed!

Them Belly Fulla Beer in San Gabriel (2006)

by Tomm Carroll

Another month, another road trip… Thirsty Pacific Gravity members had barely recovered – or sobered up – from the massively popular bus trip to Escondido for Stone Brewing’s 10th anniversary party in September, before they bravely boarded another Brew Bus on October 21 for a visit to another beervana – the Stuffed Sandwich in San Gabriel. Riding the bus were 34 club members (many of them newbies), their guests and a keg of Arrogant Bastard (thanks to PacGrav board member Martin Svab, who also organized the road trip – and brought along his Mom!).

To call Sam and Marlene Samaniego’s famed eat-and-drinkery a “sandwich shop” is to call Antwerp’s the Kulminator “a great place to get a cheese board.”  While local liquor laws require a purchase of solid sustenance before ordering a liquid refreshment (or two, or five…), this is a place to visit primarily for its vast selection of beer, not its array of hoagies, lunchmeats and humongous ribs. Which is not to say the food is disappointing in the least. On the contrary, although it may often be a secondary consideration here, the Stuffed Sandwich’s food is quite tasty and satisfying. And it does help fill your belly to prep it for some serious sampling of suds.

Due to a SNAFU in pre-ordering food while we were on the bus (it wasn’t your fault, Michael!), only nine lucky members had their sandwiches and souvenir beer glasses (Whitbread Ale) ready upon arrival; the rest of us had to queue up and place orders anew. But there was still plenty of time for all to peruse the extensive bottle list, ask Sam for recommendations, order and share their beers, and choose some to take home – or to pass around on the bus ride home.

Not only are nine taps a little out of the ordinary for a sandwich joint, but Sam’s shop always has several rare and/or aged beers among those draught choices. Everyone was pleasantly surprised to find Greene King IPA (the classic British session beer seldom found outside the UK), Unibroue’s rich, smooth and dark Belgian-style ale Trios Pistoles (usually only available in 750 ml bottles) and North Coast’s Old Stock Ale, vintage 2004 (a high-gravity old ale that only betters with age) – all available by the pint!

Good cheer and good beer were flowing that afternoon. Among the sharers were Neil Saund, who passed around a bottle of the delightful sour Hanssen’s Oud Gueuze; Mitch Kraus and Mimi Bardet, who offered pours from a selection of artisinal ales from Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin Brewery that they ordered; and Rick Hayes, who brought us the funk as he distributed samples of De Proef Brouwerij’s Flemish Primitive Wild Ale (Got barnyard?  How ‘bout the whole barn?).

Wielding a $100 stipend from Pacific Gravity, club board member Ian Fraser treated the curious drinkers still standing to a number of pricey rarities from Sam’s well-stocked beer fridge. Highlights of the mini-beer run were De Koninck’s Winter Koninck, La Trappe’s Quadrupel (from the only Trappist monastery/brewery in the Netherlands, the Koningshoeven Abbey), and, likely the most amazing brew of the day: the ultra-powerful (12% abv) Scaldis Prestige –– an oak barrel-aged version of the popular Belgian strong ale. That tall bottle took up half of Fraser’s club budget, and even Sam nabbed a taste of it.

Before the departure time arrived, Graviteer beer geeks scoured the Stuffed Sandwich’s selection of specialty beer glasses and, more importantly, its stash of aged beers. Maybe it’s the approaching end of the year, but many of the “take away” purchases were holiday beers. Sam has a collection of Anchor Christmas beer magnums dating back to 1996. Also purchased were some extremely hard-to-find Samichlaus lagers from 1992 and ’93 –– from the beer’s original maker, the now-defunct Hürlimann Brewery in Switzerland. Another popular to-go choice were mixed six-packs of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, with (fortunately) room temperature bottles of the prized barleywine dating from the present back to the early 1990s.

As the brew bus ambled back to Culver City, the riders were all happy and indeed stuffed –– but not with sandwiches. That sloshing sound that could be heard when we rounded curves and corners en route home was the beer in our bellies. Thanks, Sam, for another great time in San Gabriel.