Monday, May 2, 2016

True True Craft

I know I should be writing about Stone Brewing's new True Craft plan that commits $100 million to provide craft brewers the needed capital to avoid the grasp of macro brewers.  This sounds great, but I can't yet focus on it.  I am too amazed by Stone's latest version of Enjoy By.  The addition of tangerine to this hop heavyweight is nothing short of stunning.   My May is shot, as the window to buy Enjoy By 5.30.2016 is now less than a month.  The sweet tangerine mixed with the citrus-flavored hops is a perfect combination.  Initially, I was wary of fruit additives to beers, but I like the beers brewed with grapefruit and blood orange and lemon and now tangerine.  Stone continues to brew stellar beers while saving the craft beer industry. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Life Goes On

I read on Twitter last week that this year's release of The Bruery's Tradewinds Tripel is its last.  It was a 140-character punch to the gut.  When I started this blog nearly nine years ago I don't think I had ever tried a proper Belgian beer.  The beer blogs I read back then raved about Belgian beers and I knew I needed to, at minimum, have a basic understanding of Belgian styles to have any credibility writing about beer.  The Bruery, a start-up brewery in 2008 that brewed Belgian-style beers, helped my education.  One of my favorite styles was Belgian Tripel, and I loved Tradewinds.  Its prominent yeast, multi-layered complexity, and smooth taste helped define tripels for me.  How could I have drank beer for so many years without knowing about the subtle genius of even basic Belgian beers?

The Bruery applies its unique interpretation to any style it brews, and with Tradewinds it added Thai basil (a flavor, I admit, I never quite detected). Tripel is not far from golden strong ale, the delicious, benign-looking, straw colored beer that hides a vicious kick to the uninitiated.  And golden strong ale is an extension of the wide open saison style.   In short, The Bruery and its Tradewinds, along its other beers, allowed me to venture into beer styles I did not know existed.  I can trace my affinity for wild ales and sours to Tradewinds.  I plan to find a few bottles of Tradewinds and savor them not just for nostalgia, but for the great beer that is Tradewinds.

Downtown Johnny Brown's Is Closing

I just read on the West Coaster's website that Downtown Johnny Brown's is closing tomorrow, April 29th.  Downtown Johnny Brown's, which opened in 1987, was a craft beer pioneer.  It was one of the first restaurants/bars in town to have an extensive, craft-focused tap list.  More important than the number of taps was the thought that went into the beer selection.  It was not like a Yard House or other mega-tap restaurant where with fifty taps there are only about five beers worth drinking.  Downtown Johnny Brown's tap list required reading before ordering so you would not miss something good.  I liked the throwback feel, too, if 1987 is a throwback.  Downtown Johnny Brown's reminded me of a simpler time in my life, and I am going to miss it.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Good Second Choice

I have not paid much attention to The Lost Abbey's Veritas series of beers.  Last week I saw a tweet with a great beer porn picture of this year's blackberry version, Veritas 17, which announced that the beer was about to go on sale.  I went to The Lost Abbey's website and saw that Veritas was going for more than $40 a bottle.  Now I know why I had not paid attention to the previous sixteen Veritas releases.

Visiting The Lost Abbey's website reminded me that I have neglected Port Brewing beers.  Port Brewing is a San Diego craft beer pioneer, with its Port Brewing, Lost Abbey, and now Hop Concept brands.  And it still makes great, relevant beers.  With the opening of Culture Brewing's and Mike Hess Brewing's tasting rooms near my house, and the multiple releases from Modern Times, my beer focus has concentrated over the past year.  While I am not going to spend $40 for a bottle of beer, I did go buy a bottle of Port's Hop Concept Galaxy and Comet IPA.  Hop Concept is a brand of only IPAs, and it was created to celebrate hop varieties.  (Port's website lists The Hop Concept, but only has information on The Hop Freshener series of beers, and I am not sure if there is a difference between the two names.)

Galaxy and Comet IPA is fantastic, a big West Coast IPA.  Brewers are experimenting with so many varieties of hops I don't even try to keep them straight, let alone any nuances.  Some of the beers with new hops are so distinct it detracts from the enjoyment of the beer drinking.  Not so with Galaxy and Comet, even though it was brewed to highlight the two hops.  It is not overpowering, just a well made beer.  The Galaxy is an Australian hop and the Comet is an American hop, and together the two taste mainly of citrus.  Galaxy and Comet's hops are prominent, not dominant.   Its 8% abv is muted, while it should push Galaxy and Comet to double IPA territory.  While I didn't care for the tropical flavored Hop Freshener beer released last summer, I plan to get more Galaxy and Comet.

Whale Potential

I recently purchased a bottle of White Lab's Frankenstout, a beer released on St Patrick's Day.  To me, this beer has whale potential.  If it does not become a whale, it is surely a rarity.  White Labs is the yeast provider to craft brewers around the world, and it now brews beers that are available in its tasting room.  Its micro-batch beers showcase the taste differences of various yeast strains, with all other ingredients the same.  Frankenstout is the first bottled beer that I know of from the San Diego-based chemist.

Frankenstout was brewed with 96-strains of yeast.  Typically, a beer takes one strain of yeast, with two or three at most.   A beer with this many yeast strains is absurd.  I picture the 96-strains of yeast fighting in some kind of biological battle royale, with stronger strains eating weaker strains until one bad-ass yeast earns the championship belt.

My bottle of Frankenstout is now resting in a dark closet. Whether Frankenstout becomes a whale or not, I plan to drink it sooner rather than later.  Beers are brewed for drinking, not trading.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Blurry Future

I picked up some take out food at BBQ House OB in Ocean Beach a few weeks ago, and is my habit, I checked the tap list.  A number of craft sounding beers from now macro-owned craft breweries shared space with local beers from independently-owned craft breweries.  Multiple beers from Elysian, Golden Road, and Brecken-freaking-ridge polluted the tap list.  Thank God for the presence of Stone, Modern Times, and Karl Strauss to serve as the local vanguard.  The tap list at BBQ House OB is, I'm afraid, an example of what local brewers are facing today, and what will only get worse.  I expect more restaurants to adopt hybrid tap lists, mixing true local breweries with craft masquerades - Budweiser disguised as Breckenridge and Coors fronting as Golden Road.  Many consumers won't know or even care that the craft sounding industrial beers they are ordering aren't local beers, which is just what the macros want.   But I know, and won't ever order a beer from Elysian, or Breckenridge, or 10 Barrel, or any other fake craft brewery.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Dead On The Vine - Twisted Manzanita Closes

Twisted Manzanita Ales and Spirits is shutting down its brewing operations, but will continue its spirits business.  I saw last week that Twisted Manzanita had closed its Pacific Beach tasting room, and last night the West Coaster reported that the entire Santee-based brewing operation is closing.  This is sad news.  I don't have any insight into the closing, although the safe scapegoat is increased competition (although the West Coaster article lists a number of growth initiatives that never happened).  The original Manzanita Brewing beers that I'd tried were not good.  I'd heard its beers had improved recently, but first impressions are lasting, and I have not tried a Twisted Manzanita beer in years.  I've also read that it's pumpkin ale is a decent beer, but a lone pumpkin ale, no matter how solid, is no way to build a lasting brewery.

I don't believe Twisted Manzanita's decision to stop brewing beer is a sign that craft beer has peaked.  It does show that competition is tough and unrelenting.  There are many options for people that want craft beer.  While Twisted Manzanita's departure is a setback for local brewing, to me, it is more an example of people avoiding a brewery believed to have marginal beers - even if it has a prime location on Mission Blvd - than it is a broader statement on craft beer. 

Friday, January 29, 2016


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:

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.
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.
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.
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?"