Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Beer Reads

I have had multiple beer articles open in my browser for about a week or more.  Below are quick summaries and links to the articles:

San Diego brewers had a respectable showing at the Great American Beer Festival, via the West Coaster.

Here is a wide-ranging interview with Jeff Bagby from a European website, the name of which and country of origin I can't determine.  He captures the problem with many hazy beers, "I just don’t see the long term appeal of something like that, pouring soup out of a can and drinking it – which is kind of what I equate some of these to."  Bagby reminisces about the early days in San Diego's craft beer history and has other insights on the craft beer industry.

San Diego City Beat has an article from Beth Demmon on problems facing some brewers.  In particular, the article highlights issues with the Brewery Igniter business model, which provides new breweries space but has high costs and apparent lack of flexibility.  Wiseguy Brewing was the first Igniter brewery to cease operations last month. 

Via Good Beer Hunting, Ballast Point has opened a separate brewery adjacent to its huge Miramar headquarters.  The new 60,000 square foot, creatively named Trade Street Facility, will focus on sours and barrel-aged beers.  I can hardly wait for a sour, barrel-aged Guava Sculpin IPA.

While Wiseguy Brewing closed last week, Wild Barrel Brewing is opening.  The craft beer cycle of life.  A new brewery opening in San Diego is not big news these days, but this brewery, headed by former Stone beer ambassador Bill Sysak, sounds exciting.  The West Coaster has the inside scoop on Sysak's plans.  Reading this article had me thinking of excuses to get to San Marcos.

Brandon Hernandez tackles hazy IPAs in this article for The Full Pint.  San Diego's hop heritage is on attack from the hazy IPA.  San Diego breweries are balancing the traditional, clear, bitter IPA that made San Diego famous, with demand for the murky, interloping style that is a softer and fruitier IPA.  I love tradition and no region makes better IPAs than San Diego, but I am not against a good hazy IPA either, Jeff Bagby's points notwithstanding, and he makes more points in the interview above than just the quote I pulled.  My haze experience is mainly limited to the cloudy IPAs Modern Times Beer produces, which I have found delicious, so my perception is probably skewed.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Jackhammer Dragon

The name Jackhammer Dragon IPA makes no sense to me, but I am sure it has some insider backstory.  While I do not get the name, I do know that this IPA from Pizza Port Ocean Beach is a good beer.  Its straw color is lighter than many IPAs, and while it poured with some opacity, it will not be confused with a New England-style IPA.  It had an initial sharp intensity that did not mellow.  I noticed a classic IPA pine flavor, but Jackhammer's bitterness overwhelmed any pine subtleties.  Maybe it's the yeast, but I detected a "Pizza Port" taste to it, which is not bad, but the beer reminded me of other Pizza Port IPAs, like Jetty or Norse Woman.  If you are tired of the haze craze, or IPAs with hops that taste more of onions or overripe melon, and want a beer that smacks you with the bitter, you need to seek out Jackhammer. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Time To Get Angry

I missed this Brandon Hernandez article on Little Miss Brewing's Ocean Beach blindside on the West Coaster website last month, but read the full article over the weekend in the West Coaster magazine.  Little Miss Brewing was back stabbed during its application process as it built its tasting room on Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach.  According to the article, during Little Miss's original thirty-day public comment period, initial public complaints related to the proposed tasting rooms were raised and then addressed by Little Miss Brewing.  Unknown to Little Miss Brewing, a second "private meeting had been held without their (Little Miss's owners) notification or knowledge in late-April - outside of the public-protest period - between ABC supervisors, representatives of the San Diego Police Department, a State Assembly member, and additional OB residents not in favor of the tasting room."  After this secret meeting the San Diego Police Department said it would not support the Little Miss Brewing tasting room and the ABC would not vote against the police.  The ABC waited months to inform Little Miss Brewing of the permit rejection.

What is the point of the ABC if the police decide what permits to issue?   The police claim an increase in alcohol related crimes in its Western Patrol Division led to its decision to reject Little Miss's application, but this Patrol Division, in addition to Ocean Beach, encompasses diverse neighborhoods including Linda Vista, Western Mission Valley, Midway District, University Heights, and the neighborhoods of Point Loma.  The area impacting Little Miss Brewing, Ocean Beach, has seen alcohol related crime drop by 40% since Culture Brewing opened the first tasting room in Ocean Beach in November 2014.  The leading alcohol-related crime in Ocean Beach is open containers on the beach, not drunks stumbling out of brewery tasting rooms.   

I want to know the other OB residents that attended the private meeting.  Were the OB residents owners of bars on Newport Avenue, and are private meetings regular procedure for beer licenses?   If the police are interested in stopping all alcohol related crimes, why not just pull all alcohol licenses, or delay the permitting process so long that businesses close.  Don't try to tell me that Ocean Beach has too many tasting rooms, let the market sort that out.  Don't submarine breweries through private meetings and backroom deals. 

It appeared to me that Little Miss had spent big money building out its tasting room, and it looked nearly ready to open when the For Lease sign went up around Labor Day.  The State or City owe Little Miss a full explanation and repayment for its costs, especially since this decision was made at least four months ago.  Little Miss should not have to pay for cowardly actions.

I said in my previous post that tasting rooms have improved Newport Avenue.  Since Culture opened in November 2014, I have never seen anyone sloppy drunk in any of the tasting rooms I have visited.  For comparison, I have been in Newport Pizza after 10:00 pm, and it routinely has some properly smashed patrons.  The scene at the western end of Newport Avenue, which no tasting rooms, only the OB Brewery, is much wilder than the eastern end of Newport Avenue where the tasting rooms are located.  There is more to this story, and something foul is behind it.   All breweries in San Diego need to view this decision as an immediate threat to their businesses.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Bars V. Tasting Rooms

Here is an article from San Diego Magazine asking whether tasting rooms are hurting beer bars.  The subject of the article, Karen Barnett of Small Bar, thinks so.  Tasting rooms with extended hours and service of full pints are proving competition to beer bars.  The article makes some good points, but I do think there are some neighborhood specific issues.  For the North Park, Normal Heights, University Heights area I'd like to hear opinions from the Toronado, Waypoint, Blind Lady, and Tiger Tiger, in addition to Small Bar.  One thing a tasting room can't replicate is pouring beers from multiple breweries, which is what you can get from a good beer bar.

In Ocean Beach, the best craft beer selections are part of restaurants, and to me the tasting rooms complement more than compete.  The Joint, Ragland, and the two Noodle Houses have superb craft beer tap lists and seem as busy as before the tasting rooms opened.  As for the other bars on Newport Avenue there are many people, myself included, that would never venture in one, but have no problem stopping into a tasting room.  The tasting rooms have expanded Ocean Beach's beer drinking customer base and have improved the atmosphere on Newport Avenue. 

I view the Ocean Beach Pizza Port as its own entity, separate from the other goings on in Ocean Beach.  This money-printing machine serves pizza and salads, and a wide selection of Pizza Port beers and a smaller selection of other craft beers.  It is always busy and would remain so even if a dozen tasting rooms and a dozen bars opened in Ocean Beach.

This issue is not going away, and in a strange case of irony, I suspect bar owners are petitioning planners and town councils in an attempt to limit tasting rooms.  That is not a positive situation.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Sweet Spot For Sale

The West Coaster is reporting this morning that Helm's Brewing is for sale.  Helm's Ocean Beach tasting room, which is located at the corner of Newport Avenue and Cable Street, is included in the assets for sale.  The West Coaster article notes that Ocean Beach is saturated with brewery tasting rooms, but the Helm's spot may be the best tasting room location in Ocean Beach.  It is a visible corner location that sits at the start of the Wednesday farmer's market.  It is next to Ortega's, the best Mexican restaurant in Ocean Beach, and is across Cable Street from The Joint, the best overall restaurant on Newport Avenue.  The space is smaller than the other Ocean Beach tasting rooms, which is no deterrent. 

According to the West Coaster, Helm's "beer quality has fluctuated, leading to something of a hit-or-miss reputation," which I believe explains why the Helm's OB tasting room is usually less crowded than the other Newport/Cable tasting rooms.  Yes, San Diego has plenty of breweries, and yes, not all breweries are going to last, but if a brewery consistently makes good beer success should follow.  Helm's is not shutting, but is for sale, and new owners can improve beer quality.  The Ocean Beach tasting room is a showcase location and should serve as a strong asset for any buyer of Helm's.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Modern Times Expands

Here is a post from Modern Times Beer about its expansion into Portland.  In typical Modern Times fashion, it is not entering into a new distribution agreement or hosting a multi-location tap take over, but a opening complete new brewing operation and tasting room.  Modern Times is going to brew in the two most creative beer towns in the United States, San Diego and Portland.  This is great news.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Positive (But Odd) Article On SD Beer

Here is a positive article on the state of San Diego craft beer from the West Coaster and Brandon Hernandez.  Hernandez feels that the current craft beer environment in San Diego is better than ever, due to improved competition, collaboration, and the influx of experts helping smaller brewers.  I find nothing to disagree with in the article or its arguments.  I liked the upbeat tone and the focus on new breweries producing great beer.   If I could add anything, it is that large established breweries keep cranking out great beer, too.  Stone, AleSmith, and Modern Times produce so much innovative, quality beer, I can't keep track of it all, and they show now signs of easing into the future. 

The odd part, to me, was that the whole time I read the article I kept waiting for the "but."  It never came.  The article's length, considerably longer than the typical West Coaster story, added to my sense of foreboding.  The introduction about time spent covering San Diego beer and continued reference to the past made it read like a possible "good bye" article.  There were no "buts" or "good byes," just an optimistic view of San Diego's craft beer.  I would agree that it's a good time if you like beer.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Collaborations And A Clown

I want to link to this few weeks old West Coaster article on a series of Family Reunion collaborations between Ballast Point and former employees of Ballast Point and Home Brew Mart, many that work at other breweries.  I stopped at the Ballast Point tasting room in Linda Vista the Sunday before this article was posted and I tried one of the beers mentioned.  I ordered a series of tasters, one of which was Bay-to-Bay California Common, actually a black common brewed with Alex Tweet, head brewer at Oakland's Fieldwork Brewing and formerly of Modern Times.  I am glad I ordered this beer because I did not know until I read the West Coaster piece that it was a collaboration.  It had a strong hop character, wrapped in the toasted malt that resulted in an approachable, easy drinking, moderate abv beer.

The highlight of the trip to the Ballast Point tasting room was watching one of the patrons. A half-looped middle aged guy kept inserting himself into my conversation with the Beer Rovette as we waited to order.  He shared his negative opinion on cloudy beers and then proceeded to get a full pint of double IPA Dorado, a bold but unwise choice considering the advanced state of his buzz.  He finished the pint in a matter of minutes and left with his party who were all on bikes.  He mounted his bike, sparked up a marijuana pipe for a few tokes, and then tried to pedal off without unlocking his bike.  Good times.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Green Flash Expands

I read the headlines and tweets late last week that Green Flash Brewing is expanding in Lincoln, Nebraska, a move to increase its Midwestern distribution.  I had skimmed a couple of articles before I learned that Green Flash found a unique method of expansion.  It is taking over an existing 10,000 square foot turnkey facility, which includes 2,000 square feet of full-service restaurant space.  The location is the former home of Ploughshare Brewing Company.  I thought it strange that this Good Beer Hunting article on Green Flash's decision omitted the Ploughshare angle, because to me it seems important

This seems like a savvy move by Green Flash.  Unlike its move to Virginia Beach, where it took over three years to build and open its brewery, Green Flash expects to operate its Lincoln facility by the end of the year.  In related news, I had a Green Flash West Coast IPA while out at dinner one night last week, and it is still one heck of a beer.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Perks of Private Equity?

The Bruery announced that is is opening its first East Coast outpost across the street from Washington D.C.'s Union Market.  The Bruery will share the 5,000 square foot space with a "notable" partner that has not been named.  The Bruery plans to open the store in approximately three months and plans to hire five employees.  This expansion sounds modest, as it's just a retail store not brewing operations, and The Bruery is sharing the space with another partner.  It is a conservative first move by The Bruery's new private equity majority owners.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Magnolia Brewing Acquired By New Belgium Group

A New Belgium led group has purchased San Francisco's Magnolia Brewing's assets.  New Belgium is the fourth largest craft brewer in the country and is employee-owned, and Magnolia will become a majority-owned subsidiary.  New Belgium partnered with Dick Cantwell, a co-founder of Elysian Brewing, which was sold to ABI in 2015, and which Cantwell left shortly after the ABI acquisition.  How this transaction was structured or financed was not mentioned in this Good Beer Hunting article, but Magnolia's Dave McLean is staying on.  Magnolia was operating out of bankruptcy before its acquisition.

I have been to Magnolia's brewery and pub in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district. It is a great place with good food and beer.  I am glad that Magnolia was able to find a buyer that will allow it to continue operations and expand.  The pub's tap list is heavy on English-style low abv beers like bitters and milds, and they are good.  The Haight-Ashbury pub has four beers on cask.  I notice that a couple of IPAs have made it to the current list.  Magnolia also has a large barbecue pub in the Dog Patch area of San Francisco that I have not visited.

It is good news that a craft beer company is buying another craft brewer rather than a conglomerate.  Magnolia's Haight-Ashbury pub is a wonderful place to eat and drink good beer, and I imagine its barbecue restaurant is just as good.  Here is to the comment in the Good Beer Hunting article that the acquisition will "breath new life" into Magnolia.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Growlers As Open Containers

The San Diego Reader has an article on growlers as open containers.  A growler is considered an open container, even if it is full, unless the growler is sealed or stored in a car's trunk.  Not all breweries seal growlers, and the ones that do use various temporary devices that serve more as deterrents to opening the growler in the car than as sealants to keep the beer fresh.  The following two paragraphs put some perspective on the issue:

According to the San Diego district attorney's office, only 101 defendants have been charged with open-container violations in the city of San Diego since the beginning of 2014. Of those, 70 percent were concurrent with a DUI charge, meaning 30 percent were sober drivers in possession of open containers; the DA does not keep records on whether any of those charges involved growlers.

California Highway Patrol public information officer Ray Payton wasn't aware of any statewide policy with regard to growlers. "Sometimes the law has to catch up," he said. Payton further suggested that, "If the officer can prove you are heading back from a brewery and coming home," and "as long as [the growler is] completely full and still sealed the way they seal it [at the brewery], you should be okay…as long as you haven't been drinking."

So, don't start sneaking chugs from your growler on the way home from the brewery.  I recently received a soft sided Coleman cooler that is great for keeping growlers upright and cold for my arduous treks home from breweries.