Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Different Shade Of Pale

Stone Brewing is upending its longstanding list of core beers by retiring four beers.  It is no shock that Stone is stopping production of Levitation, an amber ale, and Sublimely Self-Righteous Black IPA, originally brewed as Stone's eleventh anniversary beer. The reason cited for the retirement of these two beers was lack of sales, which reflect my buying habits.  I have never tried Levitation, and it has been years since I have bought a Sublimely Self Righteous Black IPA.  Stone is replacing Sublimely Self-Righteous Black IPA with a regular, periodic release, Stone Enjoy By Black IPA, which I can't wait to try, and that I imagine will far out sell Self-Righteous.

The bigger shakeups are the retirement of Stone Pale Ale and Ruination IPA. I am not going to discuss Ruination in this post, other than to note its unfortunate demise, as this beer deserves its own obituary.  Stone is not technically discontinuing Stone Pale Ale, but changing its recipe, which Stone is (tentatively) calling Pale Ale 2.0.  The original Pale Ale is darker and maltier than most pale ales, and much hoppier than a traditional English pale ale.  Stone made a video tribute to Pale Ale:

The video does not directly address the new pale ale and what Stone expects from it.  My guess is that Pale Ale 2.0 will be intensely hopped, less malty, and lighter than Pale Ale.  I am thinking it will resemble the new citrus-focused, hop forward pale ales from Ballast Point and AleSmith, Grunion and San Diego Pale Ale .394, respectively.  These new pale ales, like the original Stone Pale Ale, won't be confused with a traditional pale ale, and are hopped as much as an IPA, without the higher abv.  The new pale ales are more robust than the hoppy but thin session IPAs, which have grown into a new style over the past two years.

Stone, with these bold moves, proves again that it is not afraid to take risks.  It is a business, and these three beers were lagging in terms of sales.  I think it's good that Stone is putting new life into its Pale Ale, and if I am right that 2.0 will be more like Grunion or .394, Stone will sell a bunch of it.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Heartland Duo

I traveled across America's Heartland last week and sampled a couple of excellent beers.  Bell's Brewing's Two Hearted Ale, an IPA, was a gem I found on tap at a hotel restaurant.  Two Hearts is subtle and flavorful, with more complexity than most IPAs, but it still has enough bitterness to satisfy someone craving hops.  This beer is now available in California, but old dates on the bottles I have seen have prevented me from buying it.  Now that I have tried it and know how good it is, I'll keep my looking for recently brewed batches of Two Hearted Ale. 

I had dinner at the Cleveland outpost of Fat Head's Brewery and Saloon and enjoyed its Head Hunter IPA.  This is a classic, big-hopped West Coast IPA, and a superb beer.  Nothing in Fat Head's is subtle, and Head Hunter is hopped bigger than many DIPAs, while still remaining balanced.   Fat Head's food choices are a Californian's stereotypic expectations of a Midwestern restaurant - huge, unhealthy portions of awesomeness.  I tried the Head Banger, a sort of sandwich with 8 oz of banger sausage, topped with a fried egg, bacon, mozzarella, and sharp cheddar.  No, I'm not telling my cardiologist, I'll just drink more beer over the next few weeks to thin my arteries.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Brown is the New IPA

I made a New Year's commitment - not a resolution, just a commitment - to try more styles than IPA.   Too often I default to IPAs, and therefore miss out on good beers.  Two months into the year and I give my diversity effort a "C" letter grade, it is hard to shake my IPA affliction.   So far this year, though, I have gained a new appreciation for brown ales.  It is a style that gets an unfair reputation, due in large part to style giant Newcastle Brown Ale.  Newcy Brown is bland and simple, but it is more harmless than horrible, and I would choose it over most other macro beers.   It is nothing compared to two local brown ales.

Two San Diego breweries, Culture Brewing and New English, make fantastic brown ales.   Culture's Ocean Beach tasting room opened last November and has given me the opportunity to try several of its beers.  I, of course, started with Mosaic IPA and then tried Keystone IPA (which is Mosaic IPA with added grapefruit).  I soon found I liked Culture's Pale Ale better then its IPAs, but then I tasted its American Brown Ale, and it is now my favorite Culture beer.  Culture's American Brown Ale is the antithesis of bland.  Its deep, smoke tinged malt flavors are countered and perked up by a strong hop kick in the finish.  This bold, spicy beer is only 6% abv and does not exhaust your palate, which to me is a by-product of too many malt-centric beers.  (Culture's website lists American Brown Ale and Brown Ale, and I am writing about the American Brown Ale.)

New English's Brewers Special Brown Ale is similar to Culture's American Brown Ale.  It has a strong dose of hops to complement and ease the impact of the initial heavy, bready malts.  It has a warmth and richness that seem right for what passes as winter in San Diego.  Brewers Special Brown Ale is a drinkable beer, and at 6.6% abv, not a boozer. 

I like Culture's and New English's approach to brown ales.  They don't add chocolate or coffee to give their ales enhanced "brown" character, they instead rely on roasted malts, biting hops, and brewing skill.  Culture's American Brown Ale is usually available on draft at Culture's Ocean Beach tasting room, and New English bottles Brewers Special Brown Ale, but it can be hard to find, unfortunately.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Go Small

It is Pliny the Younger time of year again.  The annual release of Russian River's rare, triple IPA creates a frenzy, as it is considered one of the best beers in the world.  To add to its hype and exclusivity, just one or two kegs of Pliny the Younger are distributed to select bars, and the tapping of those kegs are carefully timed and promoted, or turned into charity events.  This year, in coincidental competition, Societe Brewing released a new double IPA called the Miser.

I have been through Younger madness.  It is something every craft beer lover should experience - once.  While I won't put up with crowds for Younger, it does not mean I'll stop seeking out big IPAs.  I went to Societe to taste and get a growler of Miser.  It was immediately revealed as sticky, hop-bitter, majestic beer, and proved again that few brewers make IPAs as well as Societe.

As I enjoyed Miser, I read on Societe's beer board that Haberdasher IPA was available. (I wrote about this gem last summer.)  I had an immediate reversal of thought, instead of going big and exploring the double IPA depths of Miser, I craved the humble, earthy malts and subtle hops of Haberdasher.  This English-style IPA is wonderful, and possibly my favorite beer in Societe's arsenal.  I wish Societe sold IVs of this beer.

You can take my place in line for Pliny the Younger, and I can wait for my growler of Miser.  Just give me a pint of the sublime Haberdasher, and I'll sit in the corner, quiet and happy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Beer Explosion

This West Coaster article reports on analysis from National University System Institute for Policy Research that finds craft beer generated $600 million of economic impact in San Diego in 2014.  This is double the amount of just three years ago in 2011.  Job growth has been even greater than economic growth over the same, with craft beer employment creating or sustaining more than 6,200 jobs in 2014, compared to 2,800 in 2011.  Read the entire West Coaster post for more details on craft beer's positive impact on San Diego's economy.  It is stunning.

Alesmith's Huge News

Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, of Mikkeller fame, and Alesmith's Peter Zien are entering into a creative agreement where the two and others will brew beers in Alesmith's current 20,000 square foot location.  Alesmith is moving into a new 105,500 square foot brewing facility in the same area of San Diego it currently operates, which provides the opportunity and space for the Alesmith/Mikkeller venture.  Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, from Denmark, is famous as a gypsy brewer known for brewing his beers on other breweries' equipment or collaborating with breweries on specific beers.  Brandon Hernandez, writing in All About Beer, has more detail the new venture.

Mikkeller expects to have the revamped facility operational by June 2015, and it will include a renovated tasting room.   When asked by Hernandez the types of beers to expect from the new facility, "Bjergsø says he will continue to brew as he currently does, attacking a wide-range of beer styles including experimental beers and one-offs, taking chances and brewing as the mood strikes him."

Mikkeller is more than just Mikkel Borg Bjergsø.  It is now a global craft beer brand with bars in San Francisco, Bangkok and Stockholm.  Mikkeller is also building a brewpub in Denmark called WarPigs.  This is big news for San Diego craft beer and bigger news for San Diego craft beer drinkers. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Craft Beer Ascending - True Differentiation

Here is a The New Yorker a story on the rise of small, independent businesses competing with giant corporations, with the craft brewing industry as the star example.  This story, backed by facts, helps further prove the misguided point of Anheuser-Busch's anti-craft beer Super Bowl commercial.  From the article (my emphasis):

Consider the story of craft beer. Large-scale breweries destroyed their smaller rivals in the twentieth century because they were able mass produce the stuff for cheaper (reaching wholesale prices of about fifty cents a beer or less) and because their fat margins allowed them to pay for things such as television advertising. In the late nineteenth century, there were thousands of breweries in the United States; then, Prohibition came, and, after it ended, a consolidated industry emerged. By 1979, there were just forty-four remaining. The giants had won again.

But the small breweries came back. Their beers were not better advertised and certainly not better priced. Rather, the crafts went after an enormous blind spot for the big breweries—namely, flavor. I don’t entirely mean to be snide; more precisely, craft beer succeeded by opting not to compete directly, instead pursuing what can be called a “true differentiation” strategy. That means they established a product that, in the mind of the consumer, is markedly and undeniably different (as opposed to “false differentiation,” which is more or less the same thing with different packaging). True differentiation, if it works, actually changes consumer preferences. The dedicated craft-beer drinker, once he’s hooked, no longer cares if Coors Light costs three dollars less. Today there are once again thousands of breweries in the United States (more than 3,000, in fact).

New English

Here is an article from Brandon Hernandez on New English Brewing's Sorrento Valley expansion and the new signature beer it is brewing for WHL Hospitality's new La Jolla restaurant.  (WHL runs the Whisknladle and Prepkitchen restaurants.)   I have recently had New English's Humbly Legit IPA and Brewers Special Brown Ale.  Both were outstanding.  Humbly Legit IPA, which as of Sunday was available at the Morena Costco, is a hoppy West Coast IPA, and Brewers Special's malty, spicy pop shames Newcastle Brown Ale, the beer that ruined brown ales for craft beer drinkers. 

Here is the description of the Birra Catania New English created for WHL:
Last week, Lacey served the WNL crew a trio of ales based loosely around traditional Pilsner recipes. The first was straightforward and dry-hopped with Cascade and Saaz hops, while another sweeter trial beer incorporated rye and Munich malts. In the end, New English and WNL unanimously selected a prototype brewed with rye malt and flaked barley (for more substantial mouthfeel) brewed with Cascade, Czech Saaz, and Citra hops, with basil and lemongrass added in the whirlpool. The result is Birra Catania, an easy-drinking beer that registers around 6% alcohol-by-volume and features a unique, sweetly herbaceous nose as well as basil flavor that starts out floral before melding with the bitterness provided by the hop bill. There is no beer like it in San Diego County, making for enough reason to visit Catania (which is scheduled to debut by March) all on its own.
Catania is located at 7863 Girard Avenue, La Jolla, and scheduled to open in March.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015


The Anheuser-Busch InBev Super Bowl commercial mocking craft beer drinkers was more stereotypic and hypocritical than offensive.  A group of pompous, bearded hipsters taking notes huddled over their tasters - how original.  AB is in the midst of buying Seattle craft brewery Elysian Brewing, its fourth such acquisition, which proves AB has craft beer envy.  AB's commercial insulted its employees that work at its soon-to-be four breweries more than it did beer geeks.  Apparently, Eylsian's founder is not too happy about the commercial, and the deal has not even closed yet.  For a glimpse of Elysian's future, here is a post from the blog Total Ales detailing Goose Island IPA's decline under AB. 

Beer drinkers my around my age (turned twenty-one before the late '80's craft beer renaissance) probably started with Budweiser or something similar and moved to craft beer because they wanted something more - like flavor - from their beer.   Today's craft beer drinkers are not going to migrate back to a macro because they want something less from their beer.  (That is why session IPAs were created.)

There is a huge market for industrial pilsners - I get that and that is fine - but that market excludes the person seeking and buying craft beer.  The vast majority of regular Bud drinkers are never going to switch to craft beer.  I have made failed attempts to convert a few Bud lovers to the wonder of craft beer, but the flavors of even a mild klosch proved too much.  I've become more agnostic as I've aged, and if someone loves mass produced beer that means more craft beer for me.  So, AB, you can condescend, but the joke is on you.  The craft beer fan is left drinking good beer, unfazed by your ridicule, while you wasted $9 million insulting your own employees. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Beer Art Collector

I am now a beer art collector, having received my first print this week.  Alec Doherty is the artist who creates amazing beer labels for London's Partizan Brewing.  I may get my beer geek card revoked, but Doherty's cool labels were one of the main reasons I trekked to Partizan when I was in London.

My Bloody Valentine

My Bloody Valentine, the unromantically named annual treat from AleSmith, is a straightforward red ale.  It has a subtle dryness that moves in tandem with the heavy malts.  A sharp hop bitterness on the finish cuts through the malt to round out the beer.  The hops, in addition to countering the malt, seem to lighten the beer, making it easier to drink than more grain-laden red ales.   This beer will not stun you with its brilliance, but it will not disappoint, either.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Empty List

It is great that five Sand Diego craft beer spots made Draft Magazine's list of  top 100 beer bars.   The deserving five are O'Briens Pub, Hamilton's Tavern, The Blind Lady, Tiger!Tiger!, and Encinitas Ale House.  I have been to all except Encinitas Ale House, but its sister pub, The Public House La Jolla, has one heck of a Belgian heavy tap list.   To me - and taking nothing away from the five outstanding San Diego locations that Draft included - any list that excludes Toronado and the San Francisco Toronado makes me question the whole list.  By what criteria could have the Toronados fallen short?