Monday, January 20, 2020

San Diego Toronado To Close

What the heck? The San Diego location of Toronado is set to close in the near future. No date has been set, but according to this SanDiegoVille article, closure is expected before the beginning of March. This stinks. Reading the article above, and the note from Toronado included in the article, it seems to me that something bigger is happening than people not drinking craft beer.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Beer Literature - Pub Life

I am in the middle of Patrick Hamilton's Hangover Square, a brutal 1941 novel of fringe characters spending too much time drinking to excess in London pubs and apartments just before the start of World War II. I was struck by these two passages describing the same pub near London's Earl's Court. The first paragraph brings us into the pub's quaint appearance and gentle ambience as seen through the main character's friend who meets him at the pub for beers:

The long, warm bright days still persisted, and the door of the pub was flung and fastened back. It was cool, dark, and restful inside and pleasant with the peaceful beginnings of the little house’s evening trade – two men talking quietly, another reading a newspaper, the flutter of a canary in a cage, the barmaid vanishing into the other bars and returning, the occasional oily jab of the beer engine and the soft spurt of beer. It was good to sit back in this cave of refreshment, and stare at the blinding brilliance of the day outside, the pavement, the dusty feet of temperate but jaded pedestrians.

The second, much darker passage, is how the pub looks to George Harvey Bone, the main character:

But, of course, he could not see what George could see – the wet winter nights when the door was closed; the smoke, the noise, the wet people: the agony of Netta under the electric light: Mickey drunk and Peter arguing: mornings-after on dark November days: the dart-playing and boredom: the lunch-time drunks, the lunch-time snacks, the lunch-room upstairs: the whole poisoned nightmarish circle of the idle tippler’s existence.

I'll take the first vision of an English pub.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Time To Rediscover The Lost Abbey

Recent news stories and my own thinking have me on the lookout for The Lost Abbey beers. Toward the end of last year I realized how long it has been since I had a good Belgian-style beer from The Lost Abbey. I used to enjoy Devotion, Red Barn, and Judgement Day on a regular basis, and it has been years since I have had these beers. Then I read these two Good Beer Hunting articles (here and here) last week on the market changes impacting wild ale makers. The first article mentioned The Lost Abbey and quoted Tomme Arthur. Finally, yesterday I read in the West Coaster that The Lost Abbey has signed a lease on a 100-year-old church in Downtown San Diego for satellite tasting room.

The Lost Abbey's Gift of the Magi (2009)
I searched this blog's archive and found I have not posted on The Lost Abbey since this one on its Merry Taj IPA in December 2013, a beer I am not sure is even still produced. This is a serious fail on my part. Heck, I was an original member of The Lost Abbey's Saints and Sinners beer membership club back in 2007. I am not alone. The Lost Abbey's beers have become rare finds in bottle shops I visit. Space that used to display bottled beers is now dominated by the latest canned beers. And it is not just The Lost Abbey losing shelf space, Belgian-style beers have been pushed to bottom racks if stocked at all.

The Lost Abbey's downtown tasting room is positive news. While I don't know if I will visit it any more than I will drive to North County, mentally, it is easier for me to see myself swinging by to taste and buy beer to go. The proliferation of tasting rooms near me and the convenience of growlers to go has made beer drinking easier, but also removed some of the adventure and exploration of seeking out different beers. It is time for me to get my quad on.

Monday, January 13, 2020

McSorley's Old Ale House

The owner of McSorley's Old Ale House in New York City has died. The New York Times has Matty Maher's obituary here. McSorley's dates from before the Civil War. I wrote about Joseph Mitchell's famous 1940 profile of McSorley's here.

I visited McSorley's in summer 2018. The place was mostly full of guys like me, middle-aged out-of-towners attracted by the history, the nostalgia, and the promise of beer. I do remember a few tough looking regulars, though, who looked to have lived through robust participation in the Bowery's rougher days. McSorley's has two beers: light and dark; and one order of beer is two glasses that I am guessing are 10 oz with half the pour made up of foam. I don't know who makes the beer (this All About Beer article by Jell Alworth from 2015 says the rights to brew the beer is held by Pabst) but you don't go to McSorley's for this week's latest and greatest hazy IPA.

Here are some pictures from my visit: the two beer order, the bar with the famous and sadly macabre wishbones, another interior picture showing the sawdust covered floor, and the exterior.

The obituary does not mention McSorley's future, but it is hard to imagine it closing.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Sweet Casa Agria

Casa Agria Specialty Ales is a small brewery in Oxnard, located in a boring, light industrial building at the edge of farmland not far from Highway 101. If you look down to check a text, or are not trying to find Casa Agria you will miss it. That would be a shame. Agria is Spanish for sour, which plays to Casa Agria's barrel aged focus. Casa Agria's website stated that the brewery's focus is "mixed fermentation farmhouse style ales, barrel aged wild ales, and Northeast style India pale ales." I'd add it also produces Mexican-style lagers.

The brewery is partitioned into three sections: a small bar and tasting room in the front, and in the back a room for brewery operations and a room for barrel storage that has additional tables for tasting room visitors. Casa Agria had every table occupied the evening I visited, so people are finding this brewery.

I did not try any of Casa Agria's sour or wild ales, which I regret as I write this post, but it had a saison and a couple of sours on draft, and it had wild ale bottles available for purchase. Of course, I tried its hazy IPA, Jets Overhead (pictured above), a 7% ABV beer. I found it sweet, fruity, and benign. It's a fine enough beer, not the best hazy IPA I have ever tried but good enough for me to buy a four-pack. I liked the 5% Casa Real Mexican-style amber lager, pictured below. Casa Real drinks lighter than its color but is not a thin beer. It brought roasted malts with some caramel, and the bread-like yeast you expect from a Mexican lager. Modelo Negra who?

The people working at Casa Agria were nice and enthusiastic about its beer. Despite the crowd, we felt welcome and were able to have a conversation. Casa Agria es una pequeña joya.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Constellation Confusion

Constellation Brands (STZ) released its third quarter report today for the period ending November 30, 2019, and it did not disclose Ballast Point's sale price. The sale occurred in December 2019, after the close of the quarter and it is still pending, which is likely STZ's excuse for not listing the sale price.

The 10-Q did list beer related Assets Held for Sale at $42.1 million, as of November 30, 2019, which appears to consist primarily of Ballast Point. STZ wrote down Ballast Point by $41.3 million during its third quarter to a value of $40 million. By my calculation, that is a $960 million cumulative write down for Ballast Point from its $1 billion purchase price! The following is from STZ's 10-Q (bold is my emphasis):

For the third quarter of fiscal 2020, in connection with the Ballast Point Transaction, long-lived assets held for sale with a carrying value of $81.3 million were written down to their estimated fair value of $40.0 million, less costs to sell. As a result, a loss of $50.0 million, inclusive of costs to sell and other losses was included in impairment of assets held for sale. These assets consisted primarily of intangible assets and certain production and warehouse assets which had satisfied the conditions necessary to be classified as held for sale. Our estimate of fair value was determined based on the expected proceeds from the Ballast Point Transaction as of November 30, 2019. Ballast Point is a component of the Beer segment and was included in our beer reporting unit. Accordingly, goodwill was allocated to the Ballast Point assets held for sale based on the relative fair value of the business being sold compared to the relative fair value of the reporting unit. Goodwill not allocated to assets held for sale remains in the beer reporting unit. 
I read a number of financial disclosures as part of my day job. There is no reason to prevent STZ from disclosing Ballast Point's pending contract sale price. Embarrassment is not an excuse. Instead of listing a sales price, STZ decided to obscure Ballast Point's valuation with write downs, impairments, paper losses related to the write downs, and goodwill adjustments. I suspect STZ will disclosure the actual price for which it sold Ballast Point when the sale closes in 2020, but look for it buried in a footnote, wrapped in complex accounting jargon.

Not related to Ballast Point, but more to the warped corporate mind set of Big Beverage, STZ's 10-Q states that it is investing in hard seltzer and cannabis. On trend for sure, just like craft beer five years ago. Look for STZ to be dumping its hard seltzer and pot businesses in four years. Drink Local.

Occasional Blogger

I came to a stark realization over the holidays: I have become an occasional blogger. The years of more than 100 posts are over; I did not even make it to 40 posts in 2019. I find this disappointing and sad, but there is no other conclusion, and I don't see a change to this low volume. I do know that I have no plans to stop the blog. An occasional blogger is better than being a no blogger. I have a few posts I want to get to in the new year, including one on a brewery I visited. Here is a picture of a a hazy IPA from Modern Times I had some time in December. I did not take notes on the beer, and I'll admit, I don't remember much about it, other than I liked it, and unlike most hazy IPAs, but like most Modern Times' hazy IPAs, it had bold flavor.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Ballast Point - You Can't Go Home Again

The news about Constellation Brands selling Ballast Point to two-year-old Chicago brewery Kings & Convicts Brewing Co. is hard to believe.  Constellation bought Ballast Point for $1 billion in 2015 and is selling the brand to a start up brewery with less than ten employees for an undisclosed price in a transaction expected to close in 2020.  The contrasts scream:  A brewery with six or nine employees depending on what story you read is buying brewery with more than 500 employees.  A brewery slated to brew 600 barrels in 2019 is buying one expected to brew 200,000 in 2019 (down from 320,000 in 2018).  A two-year old brewery buying one more than twenty years old.

A couple of facets to the Ballast Point story I find strange are the origin story of the merger and the lack of financial detail.  An owner of a tiny craft brewery golfs with a Constellation executive and casually says he wants to buy Ballast Point and this starts the sale process.  I am incredulous.  Constellation is a huge public company ($6 billion in sales and a $35 billion market capitalization), with a board of directors to which management must answer.  It must have a formal process to divest or liquidate brands, which would likely involve bankers and attorneys and board approval to ensuring the best price for shareholders.  The golf story is good, but Constellation has an obligation to its shareholders, and an off-market deal does not make sense, especially for a brand bought for $1 billion just four years ago  Constellation's public filing on December 3, 2019, was just a press release and it did not include any of the sale's financial details.  It will disclose the financial details of the Ballast Point transaction in some form, probably deep in a larger financial filing.

One point the articles I have read on the deal seem agree on is that Ballast Point will be independent again.  Another point is that Ballast Point will be headquartered in San Diego. Good and good.  The main buyer and spokesman for Kings & Convicts is its CEO, Brendon Watters.  Watters brought in other investors, apparently winery owners, not private equity, to help finance the purchase.  The lack of private equity investors is positive because private equity looks for big returns (monetizing assets) and does not worry about companies, employees, or brands if they impede returns.  Watters built a hotel brand, Boomerang, and sold it.  If he bought Ballast Point cheap enough and gets sales and production back in growth mode who is to say he will not look to sell it again.  Some of this, or maybe a lot of this, will be dependent upon how the purchase is financed.

I want this transaction to bring back the 2012, or 2010, or 2008 Ballast Point.  I miss Big Eye and Tongue Buckler and Dorado.  I miss the thrill of hearing about a new batch of Sculpin and rushing to the brewery to buy a growler of it.  I miss the Homework Series releases.  I miss the Linda Vista tasting room.  But I know you can't go backwards, and pre-Constellation Ballast Point is just good memories.  I know the new owners will have their ups and downs, I just hope the downs do not start a spiral to oblivion.  I plan to give the new owners a chance, buy Ballast Point beers again, and visit the Linda Vista tasting room. I plan to remain optimistic until given a reason not to be optimistic. 

Friday, November 1, 2019

San Diego Beer Week

San Diego Beer Week starts today.  The best ten-day week of the beer year.  Everything you need to know is right here, provided by the San Diego Brewers Guild.  There are hundreds of events, so get out and support local beer.

Wet Hop Redemption

Pizza Port Ocean Beach's Wet Lamborghini saved the wet hop season for me.  It is one of the last wet hop releases of the year, and it is the best in my opinion.  It is full of citrus and floral flavors, and I found it a bit sweet.  It is worth grabbing a pint of this beer before it goes away for a year.  This beer is also slightly different every year, which is all the more reason to get a pint.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Wet Hop Wet Blanket

I'm getting anxiety in the midst of the short wet hop season.  I have now tried a few wet hop beers, and while all have been fine, none have had the distinctive juicy, just squeezed taste I expected.  I enjoy the sticky feel of the wet hopped beers and their humid ripeness, that if brewed right, tastes of fruit and vegetables just before they start to turn rotten.  The perfect wet hop beer catches the apex of the plant's flavor.  I suspect brewing wet hop beers is more intense and expensive than a regular beer.  Hops can vary year-to-year depending on the region and its growing conditions.  The amount and varietal of fresh hops used in the brewing process will impact flavor, too, and it makes sense that a beer brewed with 25% wet hops is going to taste much different than one using 100% wet hops, although brewers will call both "wet hopped."  I'd rather a brewery go all in for one 100% wet hop beer, bursting of pungent wheat grass and melon, and dripping with resin, as if pressed through a juicer, rather than four or five solid, but non-distinctive IPAs.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

San Diego's GABF Winners

San Diego craft breweries won 18 medals at this year's Great American Beer Festival (GABF).  The West Coaster lists all the winners.  I think its cool that Pizza Port's Chronic Amber Ale won a gold medal in the Ordinary or Special Bitter category because it is a regular distribution beer.  Stone Brewing's World Bistro and Gardens Liberty Station won a silver medal for its Cimmerian Portal American stout.  The Stone Brewing Liberty Station beers I have tried have been excellent, and I am glad it was recognized.  I had an ESB brewed at Stone Brewing Liberty Station last weekend and it was delicious.  Good, too, for tiny Thunderhawk Alements in earning a silver medal for its Bowie Knife, American Style Black Ale.  I've no idea what an American Style Black Ale is, but a silver medal is a silver medal.