Friday, January 29, 2016

Outraged?

The beer world's face of evil is invading San Diego under the guise of one of its craft brewery subsidiaries.  Anheuser-Busch's 10 Barrel Brewing, which is based in Bend, Oregon, and that was acquired by AB in 2014, has filed an application to operate a brewpub in downtown San Diego.  The planned 10,450 square foot space (which is HUGE) will include a ground floor and rooftop restaurant, and a small brewery.  I know this craft beer fraud should cause me to go on a Lewis Black-style rant, but I'm not feeling it for a couple of reasons.  Attentive beer drinkers know 10 Barrel is owned by AB, and I suspect the new brewpub will be slick and reek "corporate," like a Yard House, so beer geeks will approach it with caution.  Yard House serves some kind of purpose, and so, I guess, will the new AB/10 Barrel brewpub. More importantly, playing James Bond to AB's Ernst Stavro Blofeld is award-winning Monkey Paw Brewing.   Whether it's ignorance or arrogance, 10 Barrel's planned location is about a block from the Monkey Paw Brewing pub.  To paraphrase Mr. Bond, I bet that beer drinkers prefer their beer "crafted, not macroed."

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Ageless Writing

This brilliant seventy-six-year-old profile of McSorley's Old Ale House is the best beer-related article I have ever read.  The meticulous story was written by Joseph Mitchell, and appeared in the April 13, 1940, issue of The New Yorker.  Joseph Mitchell was a New Yorker staff writer from 1938 until he died in 1996.  He is best known for a thirty-two-year case of writer's block, where despite going into The New Yorker every day until his death, never submitted an article after 1964.  The quality of his writing, as shown in his McSorley piece, is, I am sure, why he was kept on staff.  Here are a few excerpts, but read the entire article:

Customers:
It is a drowsy place; the bartenders never make a needless move, the customers nurse their mugs of ale, and the three clocks on the walls have not been in agreement for many years. The clientele is motley. It includes mechanics from the many garages in the neighborhood, salesmen from the restaurant-supply houses on Cooper Square, truck-drivers from Wanamakers’s, internes from Bellevue, students from Cooper Union, clerks from the row of secondhand bookshops north of Astor Place, and men with tiny pensions who live in hotels on the Bowery but are above drinking in the bars on that street. The backbone of the clientele, however, is a rapidly thinning group of crusty old men, predominantly Irish, who have been drinking there since they were youths and now have a proprietary feeling toward the place. Some of these veterans clearly remember John McSorley, the founder, who died in 1910 at the age of eighty-seven. They refer to him as Old John, and they like to sit in rickety armchairs around the big belly stove which heats the place, gnaw on the stems of their pipes, and talk about him.
Beer:
Bill was an able bartender. He understood ale; he knew how to draw it and how to keep it, and his bar pipes were always clean. In warm weather he made a practice of chilling the mugs in a tub of ice; even though a customer nursed an ale a long time, the chilled earthenware mug kept it cool.
Prohibition:
During prohibition McSorley’s ale was produced mysteriously in a row of washtubs in the cellar by a retired brewer named Barney Kelly, who would come down three times a week from his home in the Bronx. On these days the smell of malt and wet hops would be strong in the place. Kelly’s product was raw and extraordinarily emphatic, and Bill made a practice of weakening it with near beer. In fact, throughout prohibition Bill referred to his ale as near beer, a euphemism which greatly amused the customers. One night a policeman who knew Bill stuck his head in the door and said, “I seen a old man up at the corner wrestling with a truck horse. I asked him what he’d been drinking and he said, ‘Near beer in McSorley’s.’ ”

When prohibition came, Bill simply disregarded it. He ran wide open. He did not have a peephole door, nor did he pay protection, but McSorley’s was never raided; the fact that it was patronized by a number of Tammany politicians and minor police officials probably gave it immunity.
Customers:
The majority are retired laborers and small businessmen. They prefer McSorley’s to their homes. A few live in the neighborhood, but many come from a distance. One, a retired operator of a chain of Bowery flophouses, comes in from Sheepshead Bay practically every day. On the day of his retirement, this man said, “If my savings hold out, I’ll never draw another sober breath.” He says he drinks in order to forget the misery he saw in his flophouses; he undoubtedly saw a lot of it, because he often drinks twenty-five mugs a day, and McSorley’s ale is by no means weak. 
From what I have been able to find, McSorley's has not changed much in the seventy-six years since Mitchell wrote the story, except that McSorley's now allows women customers.  I found this marvelous story through bloggers Boak & Bailey's twitter feed.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Early 2016 Beer Round Up

It is only January and I am already falling behind in my reviews.  Below, in no particular order, is a quick round-up of some worthwhile beers from the past month or so:

Green Flash's Jolly Folly IPA:  This was sort of a red ale, and sort of an IPA, and together an excellent beer.  Green Flash's rich, new holiday ale, released for the first time late last year, is worth finding, and it is still available in many stores.  It was an enjoyable, drinkable beer without all the spices brewers feel compelled to add to winter ales.

Mike Hess Brewing's Habitus Ale:  Habitus is technically a double IPA, but at 8% abv, it drinks like an IPA.  The citrus hop bitterness was not overwhelming, which was good, and this crisp, relatively light double IPA left me wanting more.  Habitus is available year-round, and since Mike Hess opened its Ocean Beach tasting room I always seem to have a few in my beer fridge.

Modern Times' City of the Sun:  City of the Sun is another IPA on my round up list.  I'm so predictable and pedestrian.  Well, this bold and aggressive IPA was anything but pedestrian and predictable.  Its heavy dose of Simcoe, Mosaic, and Motueka hops imparted flavors of earthiness and heavy citrus, which all the cool kids are calling "dank."  I am a big fan of the dank.  City of the Sun is only available from December to February, so time is running short on this gem.

Stone Brewing's Xocoveza:  This is a Stone Brewing Holiday special beer, and with ingredients like "cocoa, coffee, pasilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg," I closed my eyes and approached my first drink like I was about to get hit.  I was still expecting a smack on my second drink, but by the third taste I started to realize that the sweet Xocoveza was a great, smooth beer.  It had all spices and ingredients missing from Jolly Folly, but they blended together perfectly.  The coffee and vanilla stood out to me, with a warm swallow due to the peppers.  It had a light feel, which made this beer much more appealing than if Stone had brewed it with an higher abv.   Xocoveza was an impressive stout.

Stone's Enjoy After 10.31.15:  This was an IPA brewed to cellar, and I waited a whole two months after the "drink after date" to open it.  I found it a rough, two dimensional beer: sharp hop bitterness and strong brettanomyces yeast.  I should have aged this beer longer  - years not months - to smooth out the hops and mellow the yeast, and to coax out other flavors.  This beer was the most carbonated beer I think I have ever opened.  It came with a cork and cage, and as soon as I undid the metal cage, carbonation pushed out the cork, unaided by me.  I didn't finish the bottle initially, and left it uncovered in the fridge for more than a day.  The next night I poured a glass and it had just as much carbonation as when first opened.  The attached picture is from the second day pour.

Ballast Point's Homework Series Batch #6 Robust Porter:  This beer was another stellar beer from Ballast Point's Homework Series.  It had deep, roasted malt flavors with a mineral tinge, like a English bitter or pale ale.  Batch #6 had a slight bitterness on the finish that helped counter its sweetness.  It was thinner than I anticipated, because the beer had a 7.8% abv.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

BrewDog's Independence Declaration

"Outgoing founders always say nothing will change. Except Everything Does. And the reality is they are powerless to stop any changes"

Scottish brewer and pub operator, BrewDog, in a great blog post just before Christmas, declared its intent - in blunt, straightforward language - to remain an independent brewer.  If you missed this post, it is worth reading.  It addressed recent craft brewery acquisitions by large macro brewing corporations, and cited the number of negative changes that have already occurred at the formerly small craft brewers.  The post ended with BrewDog acting on its convictions by changing its corporate articles to prevent a sale to a macro brewer, or as stated by BrewDog, a "monolithic purveyor of bland industrial beer."

Here in San Diego, craft brewers Stone Brewing, Modern Times, and Green Flash, have made their plans to remain independent clear. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

My Favorite Beer of 2015

My favorite beer of 2015 was Modern Times' Funky Lomaland.  I did not review it here on the blog, but that is no reflection on the beer.   I'm not writing a more comprehensive 2015 "best of" list because my reviews were too sporadic last year.   Despite this, Funky Lomaland deserves recognition.  I diligently took tasting notes when I drank it - intending to write a review - and they include a bunch of eloquent, single and double word sentences followed by exclamation points:  "Dang!," "Bam!," "Dry!," and the all-capped "BRETT BOMB!."   


I bought Funky Lomaland a year ago, but did not get around to drinking it until early October.  It was brewed with two types of brettanomyces yeast and aged in red wine barrels.  It definitely tasted like a wild ale, but the wine added depth.  Funky Lomaland was fruity initially, then the red wine brought out a sly, sour characteristic, all surrounded by the funky yeast flavors.  A low abv (6.2%) and minimal hop bitterness did not interfere with its mixture of Brett and barrel aging.   Funkly Lomaland was drinkable yet complex, interesting yet not extreme.  The double dose of Brett brought out the wild funk, but somehow this dominant flavor was restrained and enhanced by the presence of the red wine aging. 

Modern Times' regular Lomaland, is a solid, if unexciting saison that does not push the style.  It is a go-to-beer; a beer that you should always have stocked in your fridge.  Funky Lomaland proves the greatness of saison as a style when brewed by a proper brewer.   The Funky Lomaland I bought was a special release, and while I don't know if Modern Times plans to brew it again, I suspect it will, at least some variation of it.

My final tasting note on Funky Lomaland shows my real opinion on the beer: "Why didn't I buy more of this gem?" 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Ocean Beach Brewery?!?

Ocean Beach Brewery, which stood half-built and looked abandoned for years, is opening by the end of the year.  A Christmas miracle.  San Diego Eater is reporting "that Ocean Beach Brewery could possibly see the light of day by the end of 2015."  The location is about a half block from the beach and across Newport Avenue from Newport Pizza & Alehouse, one of Ocean Beach's original craft beer locations.

Eater provides the following information on Ocean Beach Brewery's brewer:
Now attached to helm the five barrel brewhouse is Jim Millea, an alum of UC San Diego Extension's Brewing Certificate program and a 13-year homebrew vet who interned at Ballast Point Brewing and Benchmark Brewing before being hired on to help launch Scripps Ranch nano, O'Sullivan Bros. Brewing Company. The OB resident, who also works as a civil engineer, will be brewing up his recipes for OB Brewery's lineup, including a hoppy red, Belgian wit, cream ale, stout and an IPA. Expect a menu of pub food, from sausages to burgers and salads.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

New Christmas Beers

There are some new Christmas beers on the way.  AleSmith has renamed what I thought was its holiday beer, Winter YuleSmith, Double Red IPA.  It is a hoppy, imperial red ale.  In news to anyone who has ever purchased Winter YuleSmith as a Christmas seasonal beer, on December 11, Alesmith is releasing what it is calling its "first Christmas beer ever."  I guess the beer that I have been drinking every year for last twelve years or so that came in a bottle with green and red lettering surrounded by a holly design was not a Christmas beer.  The new, official holiday beer is AleSmith Noel.  It is a "Belgian-style holiday ale brewed with wintry spices."  Oh, those tangy wintry spices are my favorite.  While I wait for next week's Noel release, I'll enjoy the beer formerly called Winter YuleSmith, as it is one of the best imperial red ales ever.

Green Flash has opted for an imperial IPA to celebrate the holidays.  I don't expect any mystery from an imperial IPA, especially one from Green Flash.  Green Flash has a poem on its Facebook page that describes Holly Jolly as a "mistake," which makes me think its new holiday beer is a remake of 2012's amazing, actual mistake, Jolly Folly.  If I am right, Holly Jolly is a must try beer. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Sad News

Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project is closing, which is bad news for beer drinkers.  The transient brewer of Jack D'Or and other fine beers is calling it quits in a response to "pay-to-play" tactics that have muscled Pretty Things' beers out of bars.  Pretty Things' owners, Dann and Martha Parquett, have been vocal critics of brewers and distributors buying tap space.  It is a shame that seedy practices pushed a craft brewery to quit.  I have not had a Pretty Things beer in a few years, which is my loss.  According to the Boston.com article linked to above, bottles of Pretty Things should be available through January.

Like Dann Parquett, Modern Times Beer's founder, Jacob McKean, and Stone Brewing's Greg Koch have not been shy to point out pay-to-play, where brewers pay bars to get their beers on tap, usually at the expense of smaller craft brewers.  The recent wave of craft brewery acquisitions by big brewers and a shrinking number of distributors can only make this situation worse.  It is hard for even an aware beer drinker to know the darker side of the restaurant industry.  When ordering beer out, I try to select the best local beers available.  It is unfortunate that the best tasting beers are not always the beers from which you get to choose. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Thanksgiving Post-Mortem

I think I write every year that Thanksgiving - to me - is not the best holiday for drinking beer.  There are just too many starchy foods with non-complementary flavors.  Red wine was this year's dinner drink.  (And for Pinot Noir fans, to me, the $50 bottle Cherry Pie is no better than the $20 Cherry Tart.)  After dinner - stomach permitting - is another story.  A nice beer can be enjoyed by itself and not have to compete with all the other carbs.   This year I had a bottle of Ballast Point's Homework Series #6 Robust Porter.  I did not take any pictures or write down any notes, I just enjoyed this rich, roasty porter.  It was smoother than it was robust, and was the right finish to a fine day.  It is another well-done entry in Ballast Point's Homework series of beers.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Anti-Merger Mania

I read this Fortune article this morning, which I found through Stone Brewing's twitter feed. It makes sense that Stone linked to the article, as Greg Koch, one of Stone's founders and its current executive chairman, has strong opinions on selling to mega brewers:
“M&A isn’t a term I use a lot. I think you mean ‘selling out,’” says Stone Brewing co-founder Greg Koch. “Some of us got into this for our passion … and wanting to fight ‘the man.’ Crazy as that may seem, there are some of us that may hold to that vision.”

Koch, who recently announced plans to step down as CEO to assume the role of executive chairman, vows he won’t sell Escondido, Calif.-based Stone, and that because of his public comments on the topic, he hasn’t been courted by big brewers or private equity firms. “They know my response would include the words ‘sand’ and ‘pound,’ ” he says.
Most corporations have a price at which they'll sell, but these are strong words. Stone understands that you cannot sell to a huge company, collect a big paycheck, and then expect to run your business as if you still own it.  

In a separate, but related story, Modern Times Beer, founded by Stone alumnus Jacob McKean, posted this humorous troll:


Modern Times' mindset is similar to Stone. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

No Overnight Success

The $1 billion price tag for Ballast Point is still rattling through people's minds.  I'm sure every craft brewery is doing the math trying to figure a value for its business.  One thing everyone needs to remember is that Ballast Point is no overnight success.  It has been slugging it out, day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year for nearly twenty years.  Newcomer breweries Saint Archer Brewery and Golden Road Brewing, which were recently acquired by MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev, respectively, owe their new fortunes to the hard work of breweries like Ballast Point, Stone Brewing, Karl Strauss, AleSmith, Port Brewing, and other craft beer pioneers.

The craft beer revolution did not find these brewers.  Their relentless efforts, innovation, and ultimately, great tasting, quality beers created today's craft beer revolution.  Formed in the wake of the 1980's craft brewpub collapse, they struggled through mid-1990s and early 2000s.   They did not compromise or pander to trends.  They proved to consumers that there is much more to beer than a thin, mass produced pilsners like Budweiser or a fancy European Heineken.  The shift in beer drinking didn't happen all at once,  Fifteen years ago most people had no idea what an IPA was, and if they tried one would have been shocked at its bitterness.  Today, IPA is the most popular craft beer style, and everybody wants a Sculpin.