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.

A Coors Light Town No More

The San Diego Reader has a great article titled "Brews That Built San Diego Beer."  It states in one of its first paragraphs that San Diego used to be a Coors Light town.  I know, my friends and I drank plenty of Coors Light.  Trips to the Princess of Wales Pub - now named Princess Pub, but still located in a much different Little Italy - for more favorable English and Irish beers, and to the nearby original Columbia Street location of Karl Strauss' brewpub for beers with even more flavor, began the inevitable and inexorable switch to craft beer.

Reading the article, I was struck by how long the process took for San Diego brewers to arrive at the hoppy West Coast IPAs that made San Diego beer famous.  Even though hoppy beers are now in every bar and restaurant in San Diego, the evolution took about ten years or more after Karl Strauss opened in 1989.  It was not until the late 1990s and early 2000s that big, bitter IPAs became the style that continues to define San Diego beer, and it was not until much later (maybe around 2010?) when restaurants finally began to stock IPAs and local beers as an everyday offering. 

I had forgotten how popular malty red ales were, and these beers were critical to the success of San Diego breweries.  Karl Strauss' Amber Lager is a red beer, and Ballast Point's Calico ESB is a red ale, Pizza Port's Shark Bite Red has red in its name, the original Stone Pale Ale was a malty, red pale ale, and I would call Arrogant Bastard a form of red ale, even with its big bitterness.  Red ales have become anachronistic today, but all the pioneering "red" ales were good beers bursting with flavor, and which made all the Coors Light I drank a memory embarrassment.

I encourage you to read this article, especially as San Diego Beer Week kicks off.  It is good history of the early days of San Diego beer.  Now I want an Arrogant Bastard.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Serious Question

I went to Modern Times' Lomaland Fermentorium last night to try its fresh hop hazy Arcosanti IPA.  It was a more than a solid IPA, and it had a soothing, late bitterness not found in most hazy IPAs.  The fresh hops added a fruit juice flavor boost and the ripe fragrance was excellent.  My question is not about beer, but Modern Times' crowler policy.  I counted twenty-nine beers on tap at Modern Times last night, but only three were available for crowler fills.  Why does Modern Times offer crowlers at all? 

I guess Modern Times does not want to fill crowlers of beer it sells in cans or bottles, although I did not compare the cans and bottles for sale to the tap list.  I half see this policy, but I don't agree with it.  If someone wants a crowler rather than a four-pack, sell the crowler.  I am more sympathetic to the idea that Modern Times wants to keep its limited release beers and collaboration beers for in house customers.  But still, speculation aside, having only three of twenty-nine beers eligible for crowler fills is lame.  It is time for Modern Times to can its crowler machine.

Monday, October 22, 2018

How Did I Miss This Brewery?

The West Coaster ran an article on October 17, 2017, profiling Oceanside brewery Horus Aged Ales, a brewery I had not heard of before reading the article.  Horus is headed by Kyle Harrop, and he is the only employee at this brewery, and this superman does this while holding down a full-time job outside the brewing industry.  Harrop is a nomad brewer, renting time on other breweries' systems, then taking the beer back to an Oceanside industrial park where the beer is conditioned and aged in barrels before bottling.  I copied the passage below from the West Coaster article, and it describes Harrop's process for one of his beers and gives you an idea of the intensity and dedication it must take to run a brewery solo:

Goshawk’s Grasp
“I set out to do something innovative each and every time I make a beer, and that does not usually come cheap. I just don’t really sacrifice ingredients because of the cost. Some people appreciate that, others might be resistant to it.” Harrop has become known for using rare, exotic, and costly ingredients and barrels. With Goshawk’s Grasp, he used the most expensive Geisha coffee in the world. “After reading several threads and forums online about how that coffee does not belong in any beer because of how delicate and floral it is, I took that as a challenge.”

He (Harrop) added thousands of dollars’ worth of hazelnuts and boiled off more than half the original wort in the kettle. In the end, he had to charge a price that is comparable to a bottle of barrel-aged beer in order to not lose money. Goshawk’s Grasp went on sale in April and crashed the Brown Paper Tickets website due to the extraordinarily high volume of traffic.
You should read this article, and I have to figure out how to try some Horus ales.

Another quote in the article jumped out at me, this one from Winslow Sawyer of Pure Project: "Regarding his (Harrop's) Stygian beers, I would describe them as exemplary specimens of the pastry stout style.”  In an article about a San Diego brewery I have never heard of I read a passage about "exemplary specimens" of a "style" I did not even know existed.  Are pastry stouts a style?  I do not even know what a pastry stout is, but I am guessing it is not a brewery and doughnut shop collaboration.  Jeez, I need to get out more often. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Wet Season

It's the wet season, the shortest season of the year.  By wet, I mean wet hop.   This season lasts, in earnest, from about mid-September to the end of October.  Pumpkin beers are fine, although they are now rare, marzens are OK, and I like Festbiers, but to me the champion beer style of fall is wet hop IPA.  Two Saturdays ago Pizza Port released a canned wet hop IPA collaboration with Burgeon Beer Company, Nug-O-War.  The clear Pizza Port version of the Citra-hopped Nub-O-War is amazing.  It's is loaded with fresh hop taste and aroma, and it has a finish that lasts at least thirty minutes and cries at you for another taste of beer.  This beer is also on tap at Pizza Port Ocean Beach.  (Apparently, the Burgeon version is a hazy IPA, but I have not seen or tried it.)

Pizza Port Ocean Beach used to call its wet hop IPA Get Wet, but a year or two ago renamed it to Wet Lamborghini.  This magnificent fresh hop IPA is now on tap in Ocean Beach. To me, both names are kind of lame, but whether you call it Get Wet or Wet Lamborghini the beer is delicious, and it annually restores my faith in Mosaic hops.  I never know how long fresh hop IPAs will stay on tap, so visit Pizza Port often until Wet Lamborghini and other wet hop beers run out.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Magnolia Brewing Article

Here is an article that ran last month in the San Francisco Chronicle about the turnaround of Magnolia Brewing.  Magnolia filed for bankruptcy in 2015 and was sold to New Belgium Brewing in 2017.  Former Elysian Brewing founder Dick Cantwell is also a partner in the new Magnolia, but Magnolia founder David McLean is no longer involved with the brewery. Magnolia dates from the mid-1990s and I consider it a craft beer pioneer.  Its seven-barrel brewing system is in the basement below the Haight-Ashbury pub.

The article is primarily about Magnolia's revitalization and second location in the Dogpatch area.  The article provides a good summary of what is happening at Magnolia as a company and how it is revamping its beer line up and brewing process, which includes a 30-barrel system at the Dogpatch facility.  I have enjoyed several meals at Magnolia Pub in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, which is why I have an interest in what Magnolia is doing.  I am glad Magnolia was able to survive and am looking forward to going back to the Haight-Ashbury location and also visiting the Dogpatch location (the picture near the bottom of the article that shows a number of 20 oz pints on Dogpatch's beer list is incentive enough).

Monday, September 24, 2018

San Diego Brewers Score Big at GABF

Here from the West Coaster is a list of all the awards won by San Diego brewers at this year's Great American Beer Festival (GABF).  I need to get to Ocean Beach Brewery, which won a gold medal for its American-style pale ale and was named the year's Small Brewpub and Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year.  Congratulations to all the winners.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Metric Pils

I was in New York City last month and brought back several cans of beer.  I specifically wanted beers from New York City-area breweries.  One of the cans was a Metric Pils from Industrial Arts Brewing Company, a brewery I have not heard or read about.  The Metric Pils was excellent, a near perfect pilsner, or at least what I consider a perfect pilsner.  The yeast gave the bright yellow beer a classic crispness.  The 4.7% abv beer had a piquant grassy flavor, which made it refreshing and left me wanting more.  I am enjoying the current mini-revival of pilsners.   

Friday, September 7, 2018

DDB Mic Drop

Don't Drink Beer's deadeye skewers the current craft beer culture with this funny and true post on the ten beers today's fad chasing hazy beer and pasty stout drinkers won't drink.  And to confirm DDB's point, I was recently picking up dinner at a restaurant with a diverse tap list when I overheard a twenty something guy order whatever hazy IPA was available.  The restaurant had no hazy IPAs on tap and the guy chose to order nothing.  It did have a bunch of other solid beers on tap, including four or five lager and pilsner options!  Go hazy or go home.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Beer Literature - The Hidden Pull of Tasting Rooms

The following passage in Patrick Modiano's "In The Cafe Of Lost Youth" captures for me the essence of breweries and their tasting rooms:

I've always believed that certain places are like magnets and draw you towards them should you happen to walk within their radius.  And this occurs imperceptibly, without you even suspecting.  All it takes is a sloping street, a sunny sidewalk, or maybe a shady one.  Or perhaps a downpour.  And this leads you straight there, to the exact spot you're meant to wash up. 
I still feel drawn to brewery tasting rooms, even as I get older and customers in tasting rooms get younger.  Ocean Beach and Point Loma have numerous tasting rooms, and I am not going to critique each, but the one, for me, that closest matches the imperceptible lure, like certain Parisian Left Bank cafes had for Modiano, is Culture Brewing's tasting room on Newport Avenue.  I don't find Culture's beers the best, its staff, while pleasant enough, is not nicer or ruder than the staff in other tasting rooms, the standard whiff of ageism is there like in other tasting rooms, and the ever presence of dogs annoys me.  Still, Culture's tasting room is the spot where I am "meant to wash up."   Maybe it is because there is always local art on the walls.  Maybe it is because of the dark interior and the racks of beer aging in barrels that somehow seem to exude a calm on the room.  Maybe it is because the crowd is always mixed, whether it is groups of friends or someone having a beer alone.  Maybe it is because no one bothers anyone.  Maybe it is because it rarely feels hectic even when there is a large crowd.  Maybe it is because at Culture it is not uncommon to see someone reading a book or writing in a journal or notebook, and not lost in a phone screen.  I like that I can't exactly define why I find Culture's tasting room so inviting, and that is part of the inexplicable mystery of craft beer. 

Separately, In The Cafe Of Lost Youth opens discussing the cafes on and around Carrefour de l'Odeon in Paris, so, for me, the book had immediate resonance.  There used to be a rustic beer-centric cafe / bar on this small plaza, and I stopped there for a beer in the early '90s.  I didn't know much about beer then and I am sure I must have been intimidated by the selection. I imagine now that the beer list was full of Belgian beers, then strange and unknown to me.  I ordered a Newcastle Brown Ale, a safe beer I had heard of, which, looking back, is about as big a beer own goal as I have ever committed.  Modiano wrote about lost youth, but my Newkie Brown choice proved wasted youth.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Sad Story

Here is a West Coaster article on the closing of Monkey Paw Brewing in San Diego's East Village neighborhood.  I am not going to restate the article.  One point I was wondering about, which the article did not mention, was what, if any, impact did the 10 Barrel Brewing location have on the decision to close Monkey Paw.  The Monkey Paw closure seems like a story with multiple sides, but ultimately it is just a sad story.