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. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Anchor Is Sold

Anchor Brewing has been sold to the large private Japanese brewing company Sapporo Holdings.  The $85 million transaction is expected to close by the end of August.  Sapporo is buying a well known brand, which anecdotally, seems to have a strong distribution in place.  Anchor was no longer owned by Fritz Maytag, he sold to private equity firm Griffin Group in 2010.  The threat of large mega brewing conglomerates has never been greater and shows no signs of subsiding, so I expect more transactions like this.

Good Beer Hunting has a good article by Matthew Curtis, who also runs the Total Ales blog, on the transaction.  This passage jumped out at me:

The valuation of this transaction will come as a shock to some because it’s considerably lower than that of other recent brewery acquisitions—$85 million is just 2.5 times that of the company’s 2016 annual sales total according to Sapporo’s press release. It’s a figure that feels somewhat insignificant when compared to the billion-dollar valuations that both Lagunitas and Ballast Point commanded in their own acquisitions by Heineken and Constellation Brands respectively—especially when you consider the heritage and legacy that Sapporo will be adding to its portfolio.  

It is hard to imagine a private equity firm selling its stake for less than market value.  Read another way, it looks like Heineken and Constellation may have overpaid to buy competitors, or factored in some outrageous growth projections in their valuation models.  

I saw this San Francisco Chronicle article (hat tip Ramblings of a Beer Runner) that puts the sale in context, too.  An interesting point from the article is that Anchor is only operating at 55% of capacity, which gives it considerable expansion capability at its current facility.  One of the first things I thought about when I read about the sale was the status of Anchor's planned brewery/restaurant/beer museum on San Francisco's Pier 48.  Apparently, this beer amusement park is going nowhere soon, as reported by the Chronicle.

If you are of a certain age, which I am, it is likely Anchor's Steam Beer was your first craft beer.  It was mine.  I never liked Steam that much, and it made young me leery of craft beer until I tried others that I liked better, like Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale.  I like Steam now more than I did, but that first impression has stuck.  It is too bad I did not try Anchor's Porter first, because that is one great, true to style beer.  While not true to style, but surely on trend, I have liked other recent Anchor offerings, too, like its blackberry IPA and its meyer lemon lager.  

Craft brewers that do not want to sellout to giants like ABI or Molson Coors, but still want growth capital are looking to private equity for financing.  The Bruery sold a majority of itself to private equity firm Castanea Partners in May.  Private equity firms typically allow original owners to continue to run the business, but the owners are no longer the sole owners and decision makers. Private equity firms raise their capital through investment funds, which generally have five- to ten-year hold periods.  At some point, the private equity firms have to liquidate these funds by selling their investments to provide returns to their fund investors.   At that point the original owners attracted by private equity have little say in who buys the company.  I suspect part of Griffin's decision to sell Anchor was a need to provide a return of capital to its fund investors after seven years.  Selling to a private equity firm to avoid being bought by a mega brewer, only to eventually be sold to a mega brewer is unfortunate, but out of the original founders' hands. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Mikkeller's Windy Hill

I visited Mikkeller Brewing's San Diego tasting room on Sunday for the first time and purchased a growler of its Windy Hill IPA, a hazy, New England-style IPA.  "Oh my, this is quite a beer," was my initial reaction.  It had a pronounced citrus taste, like many cloudy IPAs, but it had an intriguing back-of-the-throat earthiness that arrived late and added another dimension to the beer.  Windy Hills is hoppy, but it is not bitter.  IPAs' bitterness can be jarring if you are not accustomed to it, but Windy Hills' hops had a softness to them that accented the citrus fruit, and did not exhibit a commanding bitterness.  It had a full body, despite a diminished malt profile, which resulted in an unobtrusive 7% abv.  I have read enough beer blogs and beer journalism to know that not everyone likes New England IPAs, and some think they are a fad sure to pass.  A beer like Windy Hill is so good it makes me believe that hazy beers are going to stay around for awhile, and I am okay with that.

I am impressed with the beers Mikkeller is brewing.  Its regular Waves IPA is not only delicious, but I feel its flavor is unique among San Diego's IPAs.  I have had some of its special release IPAs, which were stellar, and I tried another of Mikkeller's special releases on Sunday, another cloudy IPA, Care Taker IPA, and it too, was outstanding.  I bought a four-pack of pilsner, too, so I am not only focused on IPAs.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Stem to Stern

I picked a bottle of Coronado Brewing's Stem to Stern Batch 1 over the weekend in partial honor of Coronado Brewing's twenty-first anniversary.  Batch 1's label said it was a hoppy red ale, a style I love, but one that is underbrewed, and one that I think is becoming rare.  Done right, a hoppy red ale is more a malty IPA than a heavy amber ale, and has enough bitterness to accompany a high level of sweetness.  This puts hoppy red ales in an opposite position to current consumer tastes that shuns malt and craves hops.  This is too bad for beer drinkers.  Stem to Stern combined just the right mix of rich, candied malt, with a bright bitter finish, and clearly lands on the red IPA side of the style ledger.  It had a quiet 7.7% abv and a chalky dryness that served to bridge the malt and hops.  It was a drinkable, lovely beer.  Unfortunately, I did not take a picture of Stem to Stern Batch 1.