Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Wet Hop Wet Blanket

I'm getting anxiety in the midst of the short wet hop season.  I have now tried a few wet hop beers, and while all have been fine, none have had the distinctive juicy, just squeezed taste I expected.  I enjoy the sticky feel of the wet hopped beers and their humid ripeness, that if brewed right, tastes of fruit and vegetables just before they start to turn rotten.  The perfect wet hop beer catches the apex of the plant's flavor.  I suspect brewing wet hop beers is more intense and expensive than a regular beer.  Hops can vary year-to-year depending on the region and its growing conditions.  The amount and varietal of fresh hops used in the brewing process will impact flavor, too, and it makes sense that a beer brewed with 25% wet hops is going to taste much different than one using 100% wet hops, although brewers will call both "wet hopped."  I'd rather a brewery go all in for one 100% wet hop beer, bursting of pungent wheat grass and melon, and dripping with resin, as if pressed through a juicer, rather than four or five solid, but non-distinctive IPAs.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

San Diego's GABF Winners

San Diego craft breweries won 18 medals at this year's Great American Beer Festival (GABF).  The West Coaster lists all the winners.  I think its cool that Pizza Port's Chronic Amber Ale won a gold medal in the Ordinary or Special Bitter category because it is a regular distribution beer.  Stone Brewing's World Bistro and Gardens Liberty Station won a silver medal for its Cimmerian Portal American stout.  The Stone Brewing Liberty Station beers I have tried have been excellent, and I am glad it was recognized.  I had an ESB brewed at Stone Brewing Liberty Station last weekend and it was delicious.  Good, too, for tiny Thunderhawk Alements in earning a silver medal for its Bowie Knife, American Style Black Ale.  I've no idea what an American Style Black Ale is, but a silver medal is a silver medal.

Friday, October 4, 2019


The foam issue is back, and it is so 2010.  The New York Times takes aim at the issue.  To me, foam is a two-part issue:  proper beer service and bad beer service.  Every beer needs some foam, and some beer styles need more foam.  Pilsners should have more foam than an IPA, for example.  The restaurant, bar, or brewery should know the difference.  If a beer style requires a certain amount of foam, great, just don't use that as an excuse for sloppiness and poor training, or worse a sly way to serve less beer through excess foam.  When you pay for a pint of beer, you expect a pint of beer, especially when pints are now $6 to $8, or more.

San Diego's Blind Lady Alehouse and Tiger! Tiger! restaurants figured a solution a long time ago with fill lines on their glassware.  Now for something heretical:  I don't hate shaker pint glasses.  Shakers were bashed in the NY Times article as not being conducive to correct foam.  Whatever; I like drinking beer from a shaker glass.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Low ABV Reality

This Good Beer Hunting (GBH) article punctures the narrative that low abv beers are the future of craft beer.  The most recent episode of the Modern Times podcast (Episode 5) confirms GBH's story, at least in terms of IPA production, where Modern Times focuses on higher abv double IPAs, not regular IPAs for its monthly special releases (at around the 19:00 minute mark).  People are drinking beer for the alcohol and brewers are meeting consumer demand.

Most "session" IPAs I have tried have been thin and forgettable.  I don't think the IPA style lends itself to beers much below 5.5% abv, as a heavy dose of hops needs a good amount of malt to get a palatable ratio, which boosts the abv.  If not, you are left with an overly bitter, light beer.  The thought of "sessioning" a session IPA hurts my stomach.  I had the same thought during the brief fad for lame Brut IPAs, which seems to have gone away.  Who was Brut IPA's target customer anyhow?  The resurgence of excellent pilsners, and similar German-stye beers is a trend to watch, and should bring a wry smile to your lips as you remember your brief dabbles into session IPAs and how you lied to yourself that you actually liked those beers.

The best lagers, pilsners, and kolsch beers shine in the 4% to 6% abv range.  Stone Brewing's Arrogant Consortia's 5.8% abv Enter the Night Pilsner is excellent.  Eppig Brewing has a bunch of beers at or below 6% abv, including its special release Best of San Diego pilsner and its Festbier, and I think I have stated in nearly every recent post that Eppig Brewing's 4.6% abv Zwickelbier is one of the best beers in San Diego, and I suspect it's one of Eppig's best sellers.  There are popular IPA-type beers, too.  One of the top selling and best tasting beers in San Diego is AleSmith's .394, which is a pale ale at 6.0% abv, but it could pass as an IPA. 

My own beer drinking does not track the high abv trend.  I used to routinely drink Ruination, Palate Wrecker, Winter and Summer YuleSmith, Dorado, and Tongue Buckler.  Not anymore. Now I prefer IPAs around 6% abv, and try not to exceed 7.5% abv; it is my Pupil Line.  Stone Brewing's 23rd Anniversary IPA and its Enjoy By IPAs are rare, welcome exceptions.  The high abv barrel-aged beers I have just take up space in my fridge and closet.  I never find an appropriate excuse to crack one of these high abv beers, even if packaged in a smaller bottle.  

High abv beers may be showing the strongest growth, but I think the under 5% abv and 5.0% to 6.9% abv categories have growth opportunities with pilsners, other lagers, and good ales.  I know I look for beers with good taste and moderate abv.  Breweries that avoid session IPAs and focus on better tasting, more well-rounded beers with low to moderate abvs can expect to see sales growth exceed industry averages.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Dirty Birds Takes Flight

I wrote in April about Dirty Birds' liquor license troubles as it prepared to open its Ocean Beach location.  Dirty Birds has now received a license to serve beer and wine and plans to open this weekend.  I don't expect to visit Dirty Birds too often - never say never - but am glad it overcame the license obstacle.  I believe Dirty Birds is a positive addition to Ocean Beach.  This SanDiegoville.com article has more information on the opening.

UPDATE:  I did end up at Dirty Birds Ocean Beach on its opening weekend to order some to go food.  What I thought was going to be a family-friendly restaurant felt like a bar - a bad, awful, miserable bar.  There were families there, but I find it hard to believe they enjoyed their meal.  The music was too loud, which made normal conversation impossible.  I looked at the tap handles and the first tap I saw was an Elysian Brewing tap, so I looked no further.  Beers were served in fake fat-bottomed pint glasses, and guys were drinking White Claw from the can and Michelob Ultra from the bottle.  OK.  Dirty Birds opened with a defiant two-handed bird to Ocean Beach.  Sad.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Local Oktoberfest Beers

Pumpkin beers from national breweries started to arrive early last month, and I am reminded I still have about a half dozen still in my fridge.  The best, or at least my favorite, fresh/wet hop beers won't show up until later this month or early October.  In preparation for the fresh hop onslaught, warm up with two excellent Oktoberfest beers:  Mike Hess Brewing's Oktoberhess Marzen and Eppig Brewing's Festbier.  You can't go wrong with either of these seasonal treasures; so suppress the instinct to order another forgetable hazy IPA and find these two beers.  I tried Marzen at Mike Hess's Ocean Beach tasting room and enjoyed its refreshing malt-focus.  It was not over powering and lighter than it looks.  Eppig's Festbier is clear, crisp, and showcases its lager yeast.  Festbier is available this year in cans, but I think the release is limited, so act fast.  If you visit Eppig's Point Loma waterfront Biergarten to try Festbier you can also order Eppig's lighter, unfiltered lager, Zwickelbier, which is one of the best beers being brewed in San Diego. 

This West Coaster article has a good rundown of the Oktoberfest beers at Burning Beard Brewing Co.

Friday, September 6, 2019

The Magic of Science - Turning a Hazy IPA Clear

I made a hazy beer clear.  I bought a six-pack of Pizza Port/Modern Times' Gentle Reminder collaboration hazy IPA before I went on vacation.  I had my beer fridge set too cold and Gentle Reminder might have started the process of freezing while I was away.   I had had one or two of the beers before I left and they were clearly hazy. (I did not take a per-vacation picture, but a quick Google Image search shows Gentle Reminder is a cloudy beer.)  When I got home and poured an unslushied Gentle Reminder the haze was gone, replaced by a clear beer.  It tasted the same, a soft and sweey hazy IPA, even though it now looked like a West Coast IPA. 

My picture of the re-conditioned beer is crap.  This week's heat and humidity generated instant condensation on the glass and there is carbonation floating up from the bottom.  But trust me the beer is clear.  I have questions to which I don't know the answers:  Did the partial freeze provide the clarity?  or did sitting in the fridge for up to a month cause the haze to go away? or is there another explanation?  When pouring the beer there was no sediment at the bottom.  The taste was not impaired; the color remained a golden yellow; and the foam remained strong.  All that was missing was the cloud.  It's mystery, one I find cool.  Gentle Reminder is not the cloudiest IPA.  It does not look like a glass of pulpy orange juice.  But still, I was surprised to see the beer had turned clear and am not sure why.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Sussex Best Bitter

Here is a good article in Pellicle on Sussex Best Bitter.  The pictures alone are worth a click through, but the story on Sussex Best is top quality beer writing.  I know the thought of a 4% abv bitter does not get Americans searching their beer apps to find the nearest keg or cask.  This is unfortunate.  English ales were my gateway out of the industrial lagers of the 1980s,  I keep waiting for a bitter and ESB revival.  I find it fascinating, and did not know, that Sussex Best is a wild ale.  I wish I had known more about the "wild" side to this beer before I visited London twice earlier this decade, I could have popped into The Harp in Covent Garden for a pint.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

East Coast Beer

A trip to the East Coast for few weeks this summer provided a chance for me to try some interesting beers I can't find in California. 

Scorpius Morchella, a double IPA from Toppling Goliath Brewing Company, is a beer brewed to celebrate the brewery's annual morel mushroom hunt.  I am not sure if Topping Goliath brewed Scorpius Morchella with mushrooms, but it was an earthy IPA.  I found it boozy, too, hotter than its 7.8% abv.  When I had it I thought I tasted mushrooms, but maybe I took the name and its dark vegetal flavors too literal. 

Lord Hobo's 617 Title Town IPA (pictured) is a New England IPA, of course, but of course, in typical NE IPA fashion, it was fine but not memorable. I had it dining outside on a warm evening, which was nicer than the beer. I expected a beer as brash and pretentious as its name, but came away with an unfulfilled '80's Red Sox and Patriot vibe, close but never good enough.

Clown Shoes' Baked Goods is a delicious 5.5% abv American pale ale.  With a sharp citrus bitterness, Baked Goods' last drink was as good, if not better, than its first drink.  An excellent beer with an abv that does serve as a drinking governor.  I could see myself putting away several Baked Goods without thinking twice, or slipping into stupidity.

Allagash White is a national beer, but it is ubiquitous on North Eastern tap lists, and that is marvelous.  It is such a good beer, one of the craft beer classics.

I broke my East Coast beer focus once, at Madison Square Garden, where I had Sierra Nevada's Hazy Little Thing IPA, which has become craft beer's new classic.  It was served in a cup that required a lid, so I started to drink the beer with a straw.  Taking the lid off and on for each drink annoyed me and proved messy, so I just kept drinking with the straw.  I am not sure I ever drank a beer with a straw before, I don't plan to again, but this one time was worth it.

Bad Martha

I listen to a number of podcasts - not all of them beer podcasts - and I like when podcasts end with the hosts giving recommendations, which may or may not relate to the podcasts.  Slate's Culture Gabfest host, Stephan Metcalf, in what sometimes seems like a troll, gives hyper-local recommendations of restaurants, stores, and attractions near his Hudson Valley home, which most listeners will never get to experience*.  I feel Metcalfian with this about Bad Martha's Farmer's Brewery, a small brewery and tasting room on Martha's Vineyard, about as far away and as hard to get to from San Diego as any brewery in the United States.

I spent some time on Martha's Vineyard this summer and frequented Bad Martha's Farmer's Brewery.  Located in Edgartown, it is Martha's Vineyard's only craft brewery**.  The brewery and the outdoor extension of its tasting room abut a nursery, the boundaries blurred, resulting in scores of potted plants, trees, pergola climbing hop vines, and blooming flowers, all sharing space with chairs and tables and tasting room games.  It's a near perfect place to enjoy Bad Martha's fine beers.

Over several visits I sampled a number of Bad Martha's beers.  Being in New England, I had to try the Baby Beluga New England IPA (pictured below).  This beer weighed in at just over 5% abv, and its damp, fruity flavor and malty sweetness stood up to the Vineyard's humid summer evenings.  Like most NEIPAs, I found no overt flavors bursting out of Baby Beluga, but I certainly enjoyed it.  The pale ale, another 5% abv beer, had a sharper bitter grip than the NEIPA, but it sold out early in my stay.  I found Bad Martha's Cap Codder the most interesting beer.  It is a 4% abv blond ale brewed with fruit, which to me tasted of berries and lemon, along with floral notes.  It is a fine beer for sipping on a warm summer evening after a thunderstorm, while sitting among the plants in a nursery.  Most of Bad Martha's beers were less than 6% abv, with many below 5% abv, which played into the brewery's on vacation, family and friends clientele. 

Bad Martha is the kind of brewery you want to visit multiple times. The brewery-nursery idea is excellent, and the ambience of Bad Martha added to its beers.  I am not sure how this space works in January, but with some space heaters I think a quick beer in the garden would be fine, at least I'd be up for one, but I think I'd order Bad Martha's oyster stout instead of its fruity Cap Codder.

* Stephen Metcalf once recommended Suarez Family Brewing so he's not trolling.
**  There is another brewery on Martha's Vineyard, Offshore Ale, but I was told it contract brews its beers somewhere on mainland Massachusetts, making Bad Martha the only brewery brewing beer on Martha's Vineyard.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Resilience Donation Update

San Diego's 10News published a list in late May of all the San Diego breweries that participated in Sierra Nevada's Resilience IPA charity drive to raise money for the Camp Fire.  Last week, 10News updated the list.  10News counted 43 local breweries that participated, with donations exceeding $200,000.  The big news from the story was not the breweries that participated, but those had not make a donation to Sierra Nevada.  The non-contributors exceeded twenty breweries when the list was first published, but in scrolling through the updated list, I only count ten breweries that did not respond to 10News' request for information on their donation.  In looking at this list I read that Pizza Port did not respond to 10News but it is affiliated with Port Brewing/Lost Abby, which did make a donation, so I am hoping there is some mis-communication.  Most of the other non-responders are small operations.

There were some nice surprises on the list.  Culture Brewing, which is a small brewery, donated a whopping $11,121.25, and OB Brewing donated $7,533.  Societe Brewing also exceeded its size, donating $16,000.  Stone Brewing donated $31,184.26, the largest donation from a San Diego brewery, and more than Constellation-owned Ballast Point's $30,000.  From what I heard and read about this charity drive, it was not easy for the breweries, so it is great that so many breweries were able to donate so much.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

New English Article

Here is a worth-reading article in San Diego City Beat on New English Brewing Company.  The article hits on some important points, including this declaration:  "There’s a need for anyone interested in craft beer to keep paying attention to San Diego’s pioneer companies."  I agree!  New English is not flashy, nor is it ubiquitous, nor does it release a new hazy IPA every week.  It may fail the shiny-new-thing test, but its beers are excellent.  Its Pure & Simple IPA is one of the best IPAs in San Diego. Period.

New English's tasting room is simple to the point of being anachronistic.  It is located in a nothing office/industrial park in a part of Sorrento Valley you don't visit without a reason.  Even New English's Instagram, which mostly focuses on beer*,  appears less traveled than other San Diego breweries, gathering "likes" in the twenties and thirties compared to hundreds and thousands.  New English is San Diego craft beer's best kept secret.  It's time more people drank its beers.

* I am amazed at how many breweries do not post frequent pictures of their beers on Instagram.  Some breweries use the social media site to focus more on things other than just beer, like events at their breweries, employees goofing around, and a surprising number of animal pictures.  This is fine, but breweries need to be careful not to muddle their message with too many non-beer pictures.  (Poor Benchmark Brewing, for some reason it posted a high number of pictures of its empty tasting room that did not include beer.)