Saturday, November 5, 2016

Tenuous Link?

It was big San Diego beer news this week when Cosimo Sorrentino abruptly resigned from his job as head brewer at Monkey Paw Pub and Brewery and South Park Brewing Co.  The West Coaster published an interview with Sorrentino after his announcement.  I thought the interview raised more questions than it answered.  This passage in particular had me wondering about a larger meaning and wanting specific examples:
I feel San Diego has crossed over to a new era in brewing. The community spirit is being fractured; too many breweries fighting over the same styles, following trends for profit, not enough quality staff to provide front-of-house service…and let’s not get into the distributor issues. This was inevitable and will not necessarily be a bad thing for those making or drinking beer. San Diego beer will get better and those that succeed will benefit from the competition!
I want to know what Sorrentino defined as the new era and what triggered it.   And what does he mean by breaking the community spirit?  He ends the quote with the following statement: "San Diego beer will get better and those that succeed will benefit from the competition!"  His optimistic opening contradicts his previous statements, and the sentence ends with an ominous warning about breweries not surviving. Wow, there are deep levels of implications in that quote. 

This brings me to my tenuous link.  I have said before that breweries that make good beer will survive.  I will qualify that to say that good beer will go a long way to help a brewery survive.  Recently, I tried an awful beer from a local brewery I am not going to name.  It was a Belgian Pale Ale with Rose.  It had no Belgian yeast influence and no taste of Rose.  It was just a crappy, tepid paleish ale of some sort  Brewing and selling bad beers like this is going to put pressure on all breweries.  The craft beer craze has matured and people will not stand for subpar beers, there are too many other choices.  It made me think that there is something to Sorrentino's claim about too many breweries battling over the same style and a fractured community spirit.  I would add that some breweries are fighting with defective weapons.

Friday, November 4, 2016

San Diego Beer Week

Today, November 4, 2016, is the official start to the 8th annual San Diego Beer week.  There are multiple events every day until next Sunday, November 13th.  (Look for spillover into the following week as great beers not finished during Beer Week will remain on tap around town.)  There are too many venues to list here, but below are links to websites that have dates, beer events, and links to detailed information:

San Diego Beer Week  - The official website to Beer Week.

West Coaster - San Diego's best beer publication has a detailed calendar of events.

Tap Hunter - San Diego - This website provides tap lists of specific restaurants and bars, and lets you find what gems are still available after Beer Week ends.

I recommend checking directly with your favorite local restaurant or bar, too, or search on social media to find their schedules, as not all events are on the sites above. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Oniony Delight

Hop Concept IPA Citra & Azacca from Port Brewing is an IPA from Port Brewing's Hop Concept brand that consists of a series of releases that highlight and pair specific hop varieties.  Its most recent beer combines Citra and Azacca hops.  The two hops alone are supposed to produce citrus, tropical, and melon flavors, but I found that together these characteristics cancel out.  To me, the beer's aroma was liquefied and brimmed with fresh earth and onions, not a fruity tropical island paradise.   It smelled and tasted like the outdoors on a damp day.  I enjoy cold damp days.  Citra & Azacca had a pointed upfront bitterness that swept away other flavors and planted itself squarely on my tongue.  The absence of citrus brought a welcome seriousness to the beer.  Its 8% abv was serious, too, but any alcoholic heat was buried under the bitter onions.  The strong hop resins gave a long finish that lingered as a reminder to what a drinkable and enjoyable beer Port Brewing created with Hop Concept Citra & Azacca.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Good Writing Good Reading

I recommend reading The Beer Nut's blog posts on his recent trip to the United States. The first two posts focus on New York City and are here, and hereThe Beer Nut is an Irish beer blog that I have read since I first sought out beer blogs more than a decade ago.  It is the best beer writing you will read anywhere.  Here is an example of a beer he liked:
Feeling gypped by the first round I doubled down and spent a smidge over €10 for a half-US-pint of Jolly Pumpkin Saison X, a beer of just 4.5% ABV. There's a sharp bricky aroma, like good lambic, though almost tipping over into vinegar. On tasting there's an immediate gritty funk which is much more saison-like, huge juicy peach and honeydew fruit, which was a surprise, and then a classic oaky sour finish, bringing us back to lambicland. It's only barely to-style, though admittedly saison does have a pretty broad set of parameters. But it was absolutely beautiful: combining the best bits of several different kinds of beer in exquisite balance. Which, at that price, it would want to.
And a beer he did not like:
I kicked off with Invasive Species, a 5.7% ABV sour ale by Brooklyn outfit Greenpoint, which incorporates Motueka and Citra hops. It's a pale hazy yellow colour and smells very farmyard. The first hit on tasting it is an eye-wateringly sharp green acid effect from the Motueka and then a surprising candy-sweet middle. The Citra succeeds in turning this into 7-Up while the sourness is merely a tangy afterthought. A chalky fruit-flavoured antacid tablet flavour finishes it off. This really didn't work well for me: hoppy and sour I like, but sweet and sour is for chicken.
"Bricky aroma" and "gritty funk" are descriptors I don't read in other beer reviews, and I will not read a more brutal slam this year than "succeeds in turning this into 7-Up."  It is hard to write this well.

The Beer Nut's focus is Irish craft beers, but he reviews and discusses American, English, and European beers, too.  He is knowledgeable and open-minded and has followed craft beer's European growth.  He is no sentimentalist and does not bemoan non-cask beer or the rise of hop-heavy IPAs, or pine for a world of 4% milds.  The beer writing on The Beer Nut is worth reading even if you never drink any of the beers or plan to visit the pubs described on the blog. 

(The Beer Nut visited and wrote about McSorley's pub in New York City, a place that if I had a Bucket List would be near the top.  I wrote about, but mainly linked to and copied and pasted from Joseph Mitchell's classic 1940 New Yorker profile of McSorley's here.)

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!