Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Top Wet Hop

It is wet hop IPA time of the year.  Wet hop IPAs, true seasonal beers, are brewed with fresh harvested hops and provide intense, juicy flavors.  My favorite wet hop IPA is Ocean Beach Pizza Port's Get Wet, which I found out has been renamed Wet Lamborghini.  It is the standard by which I measure all other wet hop IPAs.  Wet Lamborghini's acute flavors provide an immediate citrus rush, and is what I think of when I here "dank" as a descriptor.  The cloudy beer is not overly bitter, but fresh and chewy.  Other breweries have wet hop beers out, and the Ocean Beach Pizza Port had at least four others on tap over the weekend, but I have not found another one that packs the flavor wallop of Wet Lamborghini.  

Monday, October 17, 2016

Stone Pale Ale 2.0 - Failure to Launch

In my last post I linked to a San Diego Union Tribune article about Stone's layoffs.  At the end of the article, journalist Peter Rowe noted that Stone has discontinued its Pale Ale 2.0, the 2015 reformulation and relaunch of its original pale ale.  I liked 2.0 but it was more a traditional pale ale than the new, leaner and hoppier pale ales being brewed by Ballast Point (Grunion Pale Ale), AleSmith (San Diego Pale Ale .394), and others.  The new pale ales deemphasize malts and are essentially IPAs with lower ABVs, but with more depth than one-dimensional session IPAs.   To Stone's credit, it did not linger over Pale Ale 2.0, and has replaced it with a "hop-forward" pale ale called Ripper.  I am a fan of the new style pale ales, and want to try Ripper soon.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Stone's Layoffs

Stone Brewing fired about sixty employees yesterday at its Escondido headquarters.  (The exact number was not released, I have read numbers as low as fifty and as high as seventy five, but the San Diego Union is stating sixty.)   The West Coaster, and other publications, posted the PR statement from new Stone CEO Dominic Engels.  The layoffs were part of corporate restructuring.  In the statement, Engles said:

More recently however, the larger independent craft segment has developed tremendous pressures. Specifically, the onset of greater pressures from Big Beer as a result of their acquisition strategies, and the further proliferation of small, hyper-local breweries has slowed growth.
It is unfortunate that Stone blames both the macro breweries and "hyper-local breweries" and not itself.  Stone has had big, cash-intensive projects in 2015 and 2016 that are just completing, which include full-scale brewing facilities in Virginia and Berlin.  These ambitious growth vehicles had to have been expensive, and are probably not at full revenue yet.  The lag between expenditures and revenue makes sense, and is something Stone should have expected and budgeted.  Stone needs to take some blame in the firings and not just point to external factors.

On a simple level, Stone's CEO is new, and therefore has no emotional history with employees.  Letting him take the blame for the firings under the moniker of "restructuring" is easy.   It is also a weasel move, letting the new guy be the bad guy, and does not reflect well on Greg Koch and Steve Wagner.

Stone is a twenty-year old company.  Upward, vertical growth is not realistic.  A small number of layoffs are not a surprise at this stage of a company's life.   As Engles's statement points out, there are "tremendous pressures" in the craft beer industry.  Stone is in as good as a position as any craft brewer to face competition.  In my opinion, it's the top craft brand, and a trendsetter.  I have written on this blog more than once that if a brewery makes good beer it will fare well, and Stone makes good beer. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Must Read From Modern Times

Here is blog post from Modern Times' Jacob McKean rebutting an article from Serious Eats on recent craft brewery acquisitions by macro breweries.  The Serious Eats article by Aaron Goldfarb (formerly writer of the Vice Blog beer blog) is an overall positive article on how macro purchases of craft brewers benefit the small, purchased craft brewers.  McKean has seven points where he corrects claims in the Goldfarb piece, like how being sold gives the acquired craft brewers access to capital, and hops, and quality control.  The piece while scathing, is not a bash on Goldfarb, but gives a strong craft perspective to the banal macro narrative.  McKean ends with this gem:
Here’s the truth: selling to a macro-brewer is the fastest, simplest way to turn equity in a craft brewery into cash. That’s the only reason to sell to them. Anyone who claims otherwise is full of shit.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Pale Aleapalooza

My obsession with pale ales continues.  There are two new, local pale ales being released in the next week.  Port Brewing is releasing Graveyard's Pale Ale in sixteen-ounce canned six-packs today, August 26, 2016.  Graveyard's is a "6.2% hoppy pale ale," which is bright, fruity, and tropical, according to Port Brewing.  I'll be picking up a six-pack of this today.   Modern Times is releasing Trueland Pale Ale in twenty-two ounce bottles the first week of September.  In contrast to Port's tropical Graveyard's, Modern Times' Trueland is staking out "piney dankness" territory with some tangerine zest thrown in because Modern Times can.  Dank, piney, tropical, citrusy, hoppy, malty, I do not care, if a brewery has a pale ale I want to try it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Institution Ale Co.

I first visited Camarillo's Institution Ale Co. last fall when it was located in the back corner of a light industrial building that was on a street with similar, indistinguishable industrial buildings.  Its tasting room was tiny and jammed with people.  The beer offerings were basic, and included a pale ale, an IPA, a stout, and a blond ale, but all the beers I tried were good.  It is better to make a limited number of beers well than brew a large number of beers with haphazard results.  I revisited Institution a few weeks ago and was amazed by the changes.  It has a new location, its own building along a road that frontages Highway 101 in Camarillo.  The stark, one-story, stand-alone building, in addition to housing the brewery and a small merchandise store, has a huge tasting room, which was packed with patrons, and an outdoor seating area, which was also full.  The tasting room is fitted with picnic benches for communal seating.  Institution also has limited food offerings, prepared on-site.  Here is a picture of part of the tasting room:

Institution is named after Camarillo's State Mental Hospital, which closed in 1997 after operating since 1932.  The former hospital site is now Cal State Channel Islands.  Institution's logo appears to play on the mental hospital theme, with what looks like a Rorschach ink blot.  The photo of the logo below is from an Institution growler, and I see something steam punk on the left, and my face before I get my first IPA on the right:

Institution's beer offerings have increased, but remain primarily ales.  It now offers multiple pale ales, IPAs, and stouts. (You can find Institution's current beer list by selecting the link at the top of this post.)  Institution's core IPA, named Institution IPA, is a classic West Coast IPA, which means heavy on the hops and light on the malt.  The beer is not groundbreaking, but it is done right.  The picture below is Institution IPA from the outside seating area.  I selected the Simcoe Pale Ale as a growler fill from Institution's Progressive Pale Ale series, which I found out, despite the name, is not a single hop beer.  Simcoe Pale Ale was a well made, quality beer that I enjoyed.  Like newer pale ales, Simcoe Pale Ale was hop forward and malt diminished, basically an IPA with about a 5% to 6% abv.   

The people at Institution were friendly.  They kept the long beer line moving, even getting beers and tasters for you while you waited in line.  I am glad for Institution's success.  Its new location is a huge improvement and a testament to its growth.  It beers alone are worth a stop.  They are not fancy or pretentious, but taste great.  I plan to refill my growler next time I am up in Ventura County.

Ballast Point Changes

That did not take long.  San Diego CityBeat is reporting on management departures at Ballast Point, the now Constellation Brands-owned brewery.  Constellation bought Ballast Point late last year.  The CityBeat article has this paragraph:

One brewer they are moving forward without is Yuseff Cherney. The former head brewer/head distiller was one of the four in Ballast Point's leadership to jump ship. Other casualties include CEO/President Jim Buechler, CCO Earl Kight and founder Jack White. With the departures goes years of experience in the San Diego brewing industry as well as the chief architects of the company's meteoric rise and earth-shattering sale to Constellation.

That is a big management change.  The article states that it is business as usual at Ballast Point, which sounds more like business as usual for Constellation, not Ballast Point.  White and Cherney are focused on "their new spirits venture." 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Praise the Pale

San Diego Magazine interviewed former Stone Brewing brewmaster Mitch Steele.  What I found interesting in in the article was Steele's opinion on pale ales and his comments on session IPAs.  Steele said this on pale ales:

At this point, if I look at a beer list, the first thing I look for is a pale ale or a pilsner. I love .394. It’s a great beer. Just having a beer that’s got some hop character that isn’t 7% alcohol is kind of a nice thing.
My exact thoughts on pale ales.  Instead of always looking for a high octane double IPA, now I first seek out the pale ale options.  I agree with Steele on his praise for AleSmith's .394 Pale Ale, it is one of the best beers ever brewed in San Diego.   I still drink plenty of IPAs, but I am glad that pale ales are making a comeback.

Steele, while stating his affinity for session IPAs, nails their major flaw:

Honestly, I thought the session IPA craze was going to take off. I mean, if you talk to brewers, the brewers all love it. And that’s usually a pretty good indication if something is going to succeed or not. But the problem is that people are still buying on alcohol. They’re still looking at alcohol content when they buy. The thing I learned about session IPAs is that people look at the alcohol content and equate that with price. So, when you’re brewing a beer that’s equivalent to a double IPA as far as the hopping, but the alcohol level is below 5%, people are going to balk at paying an IPA price for it, which is a shame. I think it's a really neat style and I love it.
To me, session IPAs are thin, one-dimensional beers that are boring after the first few sips.  If you want a low alcohol beer, why settle for a session IPA?  There are many low alcohol beer options that have more character and flavor than a session IPA.  Reach for a wit, or a saison, or a pilsner instead, or, wait a minute, a order a pale ale!

Friday, July 29, 2016

East County Blues

It has been a tough couple of months for East County brewers.  Twisted Manzanita abruptly closed in March, and now SD Eater has an article on the re-boot of Butcher Brewing into Finest Made Ales.  I have said before that I believe a large part of a brewery's success is in making good beer.  The beers I had from Twisted Manzanita and Butcher Brewing were nothing special.  That being said, I wish Finest Made Ales the best of luck.  I like to see all breweries succeed.

Accumulated Knowledge

Modern Times' Accumulated Knowledge IPA is one of my favorite IPAs of the year.  It is one of the least bitter IPAs you are going to find, which I didn't know when I bought it, but found immediately appealing once I stared to drink it.  The crisp, not bitter hops brought in a nuance and a dank fruitiness.   The beer was not filtered, and I don't know whether its cloudiness actually added to the dankness or it just fooled my brain to think so.  Read this article by London beer blogger Chris Hall, who actually references Modern Times in the post, as he describes the trend in IPAs away from bitterness to more complex flavors.  He could have had Accumulated Knowledge's variety of flavors in mind when he wrote the post.

Accumulated Knowledge is an exclusive release for Trader Joe's.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Arrogant Brewing

Earlier this week I learned that last year Stone Brewing split Arrogant Bastard into its own brewery, Arrogant Brewing.  A pilsner of all things - the most unlikely Stone or Arrogant Bastard source - lead me to discover Arrogant Brewing.  Last weekend I picked up a six-pack of Who You Callin' Wussie pilsner, assuming it was from Stone.  When I replied to a tweet where I recommended what I referenced as Stone's new Who You Callin' Wussie pilsner, Stone's social media group replied that while it agreed Who You Callin' Wussie was delicious, it was not a Stone beer but an Arrogant Brewing creation.  A quick internet search found Arrogant Brewing, its stories, and its lineup of beers.

I will leave it to the pilsner purists to tell me whether Who You Callin' Wussie is true to style.  I don't really care.  After drinking it, I know it is quite a beer.  It is a crisp, spot-on thirst quencher that is full of flavor.  It will never be confused with that beer that changed its name to America.  On Arrogant Brewing's website it looks like Who You Callin' Wussie is the only beer that is not an Arrogant Bastard derivative.  This difference alone makes it a beer worthy of your attention.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Stone Brewing announced yesterday its Tangerine Enjoy By IPA is back, and was released on June 18th.  I loved the first version of this beer and wrote about it here.  I have become a huge fan of citrus IPAs.  Stone's Tangerine Enjoy By and Ballast Point's Grapefruit Sculpin IPA get plenty of deserved love, but they are not the only juiced beers in town.  Mike Hess Brewing does the whole citrus fruit thing right.  Its Grapefruit Solis IPA (pictured) and Tangerine Hopfruitus IPA are stellar, and pack as much if not more citrus intensity than the Ballast Point and Stone beers.  Mike Hess varies its regular Solis IPA's recipe with every batch, and I think it's on Batch #56 or #57.  I have not been that impressed with the versions of regular Solis I have tried.  Grapefruit Solis is another story, and for it Mike Hess created a special, non-varying recipe made with hops that accentuate the grapefruit.  If you like Grapefruit Sculpin, you will love this beer, which is available in 22 oz bottles.

Mike Hess's Hoptuitus IPA is a spring seasonal, and its regular version is a delicious IPA.  The Tangerine Hopfruitus, like Grapefruit Solis, takes the original beer to a higher level.  Tangerine Hopfruitus is so citrus concentrated that I believe I get a mouthful of fruit pulp with each drink.  Tangerine is a sweeter fruit than grapefruit, and the sugars play off the hop bitterness.  Craft beer is not immune to trends, and citrus IPAs are strong trend, but one I want to become permanent.