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?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Winter / Summer

I had two beers over the past week that were complete opposites - one a cold weather complement and the second tasted like summer.  Different as they were, both were excellent.  As its name declares, Stone's Winter Harvest Golden Ale is a winter beer.  Golden Ale in its name belies its heft and Winter Harvest weighs in at a staggering 11% abv.  Each drink delivers silk encased heat.  Winter Harvest was aged for nearly two years in Pinot Noir barrels, and along with the booze, you taste the tart influence of the time spent in the wine barrels.  Winter Harvest, outside of its complexity, is unlike other Belgian golden strong ales I have tried.  I could write a whole post on the variances of golden ales, so it is best not to get dogmatic on convention and focus instead on the beer not the brewer's attention to style guidelines.  From this perspective, Winter Harvest is a sophisticated, delicious beer, and despite its strength the 500 ml bottle seemed too small.  I bought two Winter Harvest bottles and plan to store the second bottle for at least a year.

A few days after my winter adventure I drank some liquid sunshine.  Purchased at the source last summer in London, Partizan Brewery's Saison Lemongrass Grisette was as light and carefree as Winter Harvest was serious and complex.  Lemongrass was, of course, full of citrus, but it had a nice floral flavor, too, to go along with its mellow Belgian yeast.   It was crisp and bright, with a refreshing, intense effervescence.  Lemongrass was delight on the palate.  Sharing a 33 cl bottle (about 11 ounces) made me wish I had brought back more of this saison gem.  

Monday, January 5, 2015

A Delicious Release

I tried Stone Brewing's Delicious IPA about a year ago at Stone's Liberty Station World Bistro and Gardens.  I was told by someone at Stone that it was a one-time brew, and remember thinking that it tasted great and it was unfortunate it was only a single batch.  I guess I was not alone in my opinion that Delicious delivered on its name in taste.  Stone is releasing Delicious IPA starting today in bottles and on draft.   I am not sure whether it is scheduled for regular, seasonal or periodic release, but do know for certain that it is a solid IPA worth buying. 

Delicious is also near gluten-free.  Here is a Stone video on Delicious IPA that goes into detail on its hops and why it is near gluten-free:

Friday, January 2, 2015

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!  I enjoy reading year-end best of lists.  Below are three best of 2014 lists that I liked, and I am amazed that there are so many beers on these lists I have not tried or even knew about.  The first article is from The New School and a blog post written by Mike Sardina who works at Societe Brewing His article is more than just a list and is not limited to San Diego but includes beers and breweries from all of California.   His top two beers are session IPAs, a style I have not embraced.  The top pick was Firestone Walker's Easy Jack, and honorable mention was Karl Strauss' Mosaic Session Ale, which I agree was one heck of a beer. 

The WestCoaster, in its December/January 2014-2015 magazine editorial, lists its three favorite San Diego beers of 2014.  Two were not released in 2014, while the third was 2014's Karl Strauss' Mosaic Session Ale.  Again, two session IPAs make the list with Port Brewing's Pronto SIPA joining Mosaic.  WestCoaster's third entry was Modern Times' Lomaland saison, which was one of four core beers released when Modern Times opened in 2013.  This is a great, no frills saison that deserves more recognition. 

Finally, Brandon Hernandez, writing in the San Diego Reader, did not limit himself to four or five beers on his best of 2014 list, instead he selected fifty beers.  Karl Strauss' Mosaic completes the trifecta.  Many of the beers on the list seem like draft-only beers that were available only at the breweries, which is OK because it makes me realize I need to get out more in 2015.  Mr. Hernandez works for Stone Brewing and its beers were conspicuously missing from the list, so I suspect the list would be closer to 60 beers if it included his favorite 2014 Stone releases.