Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Resilience IPA

Sierra Nevada's Resilience Butte County Proud IPA, brewed to help raise money the Camp Fire Relief Fund, is a great beer story.  If you don't know about it you can read this or this from Sierra Nevada, or this from USA Today.  Almost 1,500 breweries have signed up to brew their version of the Resilience IPA based on Sierra Nevada's recipe and contribute 100% of sales proceeds to the Camp Fire Relief Fund.  The campaign is on track to raise $15 million.  If you figure a $6 pint, that is 2,500,000 pints of Resilience IPA that are going to get sold.

You can find Resilience IPA all over the country using this map. It looks like there are dozens of participating breweries in San Diego County alone.  This is a heck of a commitment from all the craft breweries involved, which are donating time, materials, and resources, and then giving all proceeds to the the Camp Fire Relief Fund.  Each Resilience IPA is slightly different depending on available ingredients and brewing techniques.  Resilience IPA, no matter who brews it, is maltier than a typical IPA, and most should still be available.  I have tried ones from Pizza Port, Culture, and Mike Hess, all are good, and all slightly different,  I want to try more before the kegs are emptied. 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

A Joyus Holiday Beer

Ah, the ghosts of Christmases Past.  I have not had a Belgian Christmas beer in a long time, and searching through old blog posts I found that I have not had St. Bernardus Christmas Ale since 2009.  I did not know when I finished the old post with "it's a Christmas beer I will be revisiting," that it would take nine years for me to come back to St. Bernardus Christmas Ale.  It should be an annual tradition to retry this masterpiece of a beer.

The beer poured a clear, dark mahogany, a color which leaned more towards red than brown.  It had a ring of cream colored foam that stayed to the edge of the class, and sparse, dripping lacing.  Christmas Ale's aroma was sweet and spicy with notes of dark berries and cherries.  When drinking Christmas Ale, I caught tastes of candied dark dried fruit, cherries, caramel, and molasses, which are many of the flavors that as an adult you associate with the holidays.  The sweetness was almost syrupy, but did not become cloying.  There were brief suggestions of cough syrup, but I found this as a positive feature that provided cover to mask the booze, and at a 10% abv Christmas Ale's alcohol stayed reserved and behaved.  For a high alcohol beer, it seemed light on the palate.  The carbonation was soft and helped smooth out the beer, which had a long, dessert-like finish.

Christmas Ale, in short, was a delight.  I had it in a small glass, which was just the right amount.  Slogging through a full-sized bottle, even if done over several hours, would have dulled the beer's brilliance.  In a year that saw so many bland hazy IPAs, Christmas Ale snapped me back to the realty of what real flavor and thought can to do in the hands of a master brewer.  Happy New Year!

Monday, December 31, 2018

Nifty Gift

I received this neat little book designed for beer reviews for Christmas, and I have already put several entries in it.  It helps me to focus and think about the beers in critical way that I have not done in some time.  The book is pocket sized, so it is easy to carry around.  You should be seeing more reviews in 2019.  This book reminded me that my sense of smell and taste are not that sharp, and unless a beer has a big, out-sized flavor profile, it is hard for me to discern its subtle elements.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Benchmark Brewing - Postive Update

The West Coaster has a good news update on Benchmark Brewing.  Benchmark, according to West Coaster, reached an agreement on the lease at its brewing headquarters and received the largest one-day order in its history.  This does not get Benchmark "out of the woods," but does give it some needed time to raise some needed capital.  Early last week Matt and Rachael Akin put out a call for help and San Diego craft beer responded with a financial hand. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Minor Rant

I have read about and seen references to the negative tone of craft beer twitter.  I must not follow the right angry people because my craft beer twitter feed is more positive and optimistic than negative and pessimistic.  I prefer my periphery view of the beer world, but I am going to make a brief exception to talk about kids and dogs in tasting rooms.  Here is a Washington Post article on kids in tasting rooms, instructing parents on how to avoid annoying guests with their children when visiting breweries and tasting rooms, with an underlying subtext of "leave your kids somewhere else."  I did see and read enough of some of the twitter threads and discussions earlier this year that complained about kids in tasting rooms.  Strangely, I have not seen any threads or articles discussing dogs in tasting rooms, but you can't talk about kids without mentioning dogs.

I will choose kids over dogs every time.  In my experience, most parents mind their children in tasting rooms, at least to some passable extent.  I have yet to see kids let loose in a tasting room like a swarm of banshees, with that treat left for grocery shopping at Trader Joe's.  Dogs are a different story.  Big dog or small dog, leash optional is the preferred policy, and dogs wander around tasting rooms unchecked while their owners enjoy their beer and conversation.  Parents tend to keep their kids away from strangers, but dog owners think everybody loves their dog and enjoys the nudge, lick or sniff from a strange canine.  I have lost track of how many times I have seen people letting their dogs put their front paws up on the bar, and I have seen small dogs on standing on tasting room bars.  This behavior is encouraged by some bar staff.  Tasting rooms are community spaces, both kids and dogs should be welcome.  But if people are going to complain about kids in tasting rooms, I'm going to complain about dogs.

Shiny Objects

Two points from Benchmark Brewing's social media post last week (that I read in summarized form here) describing the brewery's financial issues have stuck with me.  Benchmark's Rachael Akin pointed to beer drinkers' chase and enthusiasm for new beers and the hype these beers generate on social media, as contributing factors in Benchmark's current financial troubles.  Akin states that "the internet is ruining beer" as people add their latest beer conquests to Instagram and apps like Untapped.  Beer drinkers are seeking the new and exciting beers at the expense of good, familiar beers, and then rush to share their findings on social media.  Breweries are using social media to market their limited, one-off beers and create and awareness and sense of urgency.  This strategy is ratcheting up competition, driving traffic to tasting rooms, and is helping to sell beer.  Breweries that don't have special releases and a robust social media strategy in their business plan need to rethink that decision.

I like the special releases, which have brought an excitement to craft beer.  Special releases, some of which are produced monthly or on an even more frequent basis, are separate from breweries regular seasonal releases.  The most common special releases seem to be short-lived hazy IPAs and special stouts.  New breweries, like Pure Project and Burgeon, as well as established breweries like Modern Times and Mikkeller, have perfected the special release.  Modern Times has a monthly release schedule where about four beers are released to on-line sales, and Mikkeller has so many special releases I don't know how it schedules time to brew Windy Hill. 

It is not just the new breweries that are using special releases to their advantage.  Pizza Port is canning some fantastic beers on a monthly basis, and I'll discuss two of its most recent beers, Over the Falls and Liquid Mistletoe, in another post.  Stone Brewing changes its Enjoy By for each release, with the current incarnation a brut IPA, and Stone just released an unfiltered version of its Ruination 2.0 double IPA. 

Complaining about the internet ruining beer is misguided.  The internet should be every brewery's friend.  Any business, including a small brewery, needs a social media strategy that advances the business.  And a strategy is not the owner or brewer tweeting random thoughts and pictures.  When done right, a social media campaign is a cost-effective way to promote a brewery, but when done wrong it is a detriment to the brewery.  The breweries with an impressive and active social media presence, like Stone Brewing, Mikkeller, Modern Times, and Societe Brewing have posts that support and market the brewery, its beers, and its promotions.  All are successful and Societe does not have special releases.  

There are 156 active breweries in San Diego County, according to the San Diego Reader article linked to in this this post's first sentence.  That is some intense competition.  Breweries, if they can, need to explore all possibilities to generate sales, traffic to tasting rooms, and enthusiasm.  If that means brewing special releases or staking an aggressive, focused social media presence to complement a stable of good beers, breweries must do it to stay competitive.  With life dictated by cell phones, the internet is unrelenting, and with special releases proving so popular, it is time for breweries to embrace the trend, can some haze, and blast out the news on Instagram.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Good News

This week's bad San Diego craft beer news has been obvious and disheartening.  But there has also been some good local beer news, positive stories about growing breweries.  The West Coaster, the publication that supplies so much of my beer news, had stories on the rebound of Little Miss Brewing, which was torpedoed in its attempt to open an Ocean Beach late in 2017 after it and finished most of its tasting room, and on the expansion of Protector Brewing, the all-organic brewery located in Miramar's Miralani Makers District, which is home to a number of brewers.  You can find Protector's beers at the organic O.B. Garden Cafe in Ocean Beach, and here is a picture of a Protector IPA, one of the haziest beers I have seen.

But I bury the lede.  The best news I read this week is that Green Flash Brewing is bringing back the original recipe of West Coast IPA.  The Full Pint has the details on reformulation of this once giant of a San Diego IPA, and make sure to checkout the new logo in The Full Pint article.  After Green Flash's near implosion earlier this year, I was expecting the worst for the brewery with either a closure or some kind of assimilation into a macro brewer.  It appears Green Flash has decided to stay local, independent, and go back to what made it great.  The new West Coast IPA will have its avb dropped to its original 7.0% abv, down from its current double IPA 8.1% abv.  I still remember the bitter jolt the first time I had West Coast. Yes, yes, and heck yes!  

More on Benchmark Brewing and Council Brewing

Here is an article from the San Diego Reader that has more details on the closing of Council Brewing and the troubles at Benchmark Brewing than the articles I linked to in my previous post.  The article ends on this positive note:

The good news is, the Akins aren’t done with Benchmark just yet. Matt Akin continues to brew as they search for a way to keep from being forced out of their brewery headquarters, and in that event, the business will continue to distribute as long as possible, and serve award winning beer out of its recently opened Bay Park tasting room (4112 Napier Street, Bay Park). They have severed ties with their previous distributor, and signed with a new one, and remain optimistic as they pursue opportunities to remain in business, staying true to their motto to promote the never boring, “beer flavored beer.”

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Sad, Sad News

This has been a double sad week for San Diego craft beer as Council Brewing announced this it is closing and Benchmark Brewing is in immediate need of a cash fusion.  The week started with Benchmark Brewing pleading for a buyer.  Distribution issues - which may have been resolved - and a landlord dispute have put the five-year-old brewery in a serious cash crunch. According to Benchmark's social media, which I read on the West Coaster article linked too above, Benchmark has about a week to find a buyer or a cash source, or it may close. 

Tuesday morning I was thinking how similiar Benchmark and Council Brewing seem to me and that sometimes I confuse them with each other.  Both breweries are about five years old and are run by young couples with small children.  Then about twenty minutes later I read that Council is closing its brewery.  A second gut punch in as many days.  Council's decision earlier this year to expand to the former Finest Made Ales space in Santee allowed Council to open a second tasting room.  The expense of the second brewery and "much lower tasting room / distribution sales" were too much for Council to overcome. 

I feel bad because I don't remember the last time I had either a Council or a Benchmark beer.  I don't seem them on draft in places I frequent and I don't usually see their beers in grocery stores.  Their distribution issues are real.  I don't find myself near their tasting rooms at times when stopping for taster or two is convenient, either.  I am going to try to get to Benchmark's Bay Park tasting room Friday or Saturday.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Three Beers on a Pod

The Indie Beer Show podcast Episode 8, as one of its features, posed the question of Top Three Go To beers.  I heard this as the top three beers, readily available and widely distributed, you see on a tap list and know the bar or restaurant knows its beers.  For example, if you go to a restaurant and that has Stone IPA on tap you know there is at least one good beer option.  The answers, outside of the first round, got pretty esoteric (Orval), obscure, and seasonal, and became more of a wish list than a go to list.  (The pod's primary hosts, Brian Beagle and Esthela Davila, kept their picks to year-round local beers.)

Listening to the show's hosts and guests discuss their beers I began to think of my go to beers, or the beers I look for when I enter a restaurant to assess the tap list quality and credibility.  My liquid safety blankets are as follows:

3.  Any Stone IPA.  Whether its IPA, Delicious, or any other Stone IPA, it is reassuring to me when I see a Stone tap handle.  

2.  AleSmith Brewing's .394 Pale Ale.  A fantastic beer that is widely available and gives immediate respect to any restaurant that carries it.

1.  Societe Brewing Pupil IPA.  Pupil is not rare, but it is not in as many locations as .394 or Delicious, which makes that much more of a go to beer when I see it. 

For honorable mentions, I'd include Arrogant Bastard, Modern Times' Black House Stout or Blazing World, and Pizza Port's Swami IPA.  I know my list is IPA-centric, but IPAs are the current defining craft beer style.  I look forward to seeing one of Eppig's lagers on tap lists all over town.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Societe Brewing's Highwayman

I used to make an annual lists of my beers of the year, but I have not produced a list for several years.  If I were to make a list for 2018, Societe Brewing's Highwayman would top the list.  What a beer.  It's a wild ale, feral according to Societe.  It is sweet and spicy, but not too sweet or spicy, with a concentrated carbonation.  The Brettanomyces yeast gives Highwayman its wild, funky flavors.  I thought I noticed some woody flavors, too, from the barrel aging.  To me, the arc of this beer, and what makes it outstanding, is the harmonious interaction of its flavors.  No one aspect dominates: no slicing bitterness, or heavy malt, or puckering yeast, or distracting wood, or annoying sweetness.  Together, the favors glide to near perfection from start to finish.


Drinking from a small glass, alone in a crowded restaurant/bar (The Joint in Ocean Beach) waiting for takeout on the first night of San Diego Beer Week, is not the preferred way to enjoy Highwayman, but even under these hectic conditions the brilliance of Highwayman jumped out of the glass.  In a year of too many bland and indistinguishable hazy IPAs, Highwayman is a clarion howl for great beer from one of the best breweries in the world.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

San Diego Beer Week

This year's San Diego Beer Week starts tomorrow, November 2, 2018, and runs through next Sunday, November 11th.  SDBW is sponsored by San Diego Brewers Guild and there are events at breweries, bars, and restaurants all over the county.  This list of events on the SDBW website is comprehensive and lists events by day.  Get out, hit some events, and drink some San Diego beer.