Thursday, December 29, 2016

Rocking Red Ale

I usually choose Culture Brewing's pale ale to fill my growler.  It's a creamy, easy drinking weekday beer.  For the past few weeks Culture has had its Red Ale on tap, and I bucked my chronic pale ale habit and brought home a growler of it.  I was told this version of the Red Ale was slightly different than previous releases, with an increased level of hops.  I am picky with red ales.  I like them hop-forward, where the bitterness is stout enough to counter the heavy malts.  Culture's mahogany Red Ale captured this combination, and it managed to add an unexpected dryness that sits at the top of your mouth.   The hop bitterness, which sliced through the malt, allowed me to enjoy the beer, and each drink did not feel like I was eating a slice of heavy brown bread.   The dryness, to me, made this beer.  It added a chalky crispness, which gave the beer a sense of lightness.  Culture's Red Ale is not a complex beer, although I doubt complexity was the brewer's intention, but it tastes good and is well made.  I recommend stopping in at Culture's tasting room for a pint of this gem if you are in Ocean Beach.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Don't Overlook Stone

The West Coaster ran a series of year-end summary blog posts this week on San Diego's best new breweries, most improved breweries, and best breweries right now.  The three lists were not mutually exclusive, but only Karl Strauss made more than one (most improved and best breweries right now).  There are so many breweries in San Diego, and I have not tried beers from all the breweries on the list, so I cannot knock the judgement of author Brandon Hernandez or West Coaster.

I would make one addition: Stone Brewing.  It should be on the list of best breweries right now.  I hope the biggest Stone news of the year is not that it cut 5% of its staff, or that head brewer Mitch Steele left, or that it hired a new CEO, or that it opened locations in Berlin and Richmond, Virginia, but that it continues to make great beer.  Stone's incredible Enjoy By, which seems to change with every release, is reason alone to put it on the best breweries right now list.  Stone's new Ripper Pale Ale, replacing the short-lived Pale Ale 2.0, was released in early November and I expect it to compete with AleSmith's .394 as one of San Diego's best pale ales.  Stone's decision to re-release some of its Anniversary Ales in 2016 brought back some stellar beers.  My favorite was the 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA.   Stone increased its seasonal releases adding a red ale, a citrus wit, and a stout.  It has so many good beers that they overshadow the rare miss, like the RuinTen affront.

Stone has been around for so long and is such a craft beer presence, especially here in San Diego, I think people tend to overlook it.  That is a mistake.  Stone could sit back and just rework its core beers, add a fruit salad of ingredients and repackage the beers as new, but it does not.  Yes, Stone does release variations of its core beers, but most importantly it continues to create new exciting beers, like its Arrogant Bastard brand's Who You Callin' Wussie pilsner, the above mentioned seasonal beers, and the many draft-only and experimental beers available at Stone's breweries. To me, Stone does not seem satisfied to rely on its past successes and reputation, but continues to push forward so that its future exceeds its past.  That is why Stone is one of the best breweries right now.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Buy Local

In my last post I gave two simple recommendations for holiday beer gifts:  a generic growler and a brewery gift card.  I forgot to mention that you should also buy local.  If you buy a gift card from a brewery it is likely that you will purchase it directly at a brewery.  There are more than 130 breweries in San Diego so it should not be hard to find a brewery near you or your work.  Here is a list and a map from the San Diego Brewers Guild to help you find a local brewery, not one owned by Big Beer.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Beer Gifts

I have posted beer gift ideas twice before, here and here.  The list from two years ago holds up pretty well.  This year, to make it even simpler, I narrowed the list to two essential items for the beer drinker:  A blank, flip-top growler or a gift card from a brewery. 

In California, to fill a growler of beer to go, most breweries accept either their labeled growlers or unlabeled growlers.  I have been to some breweries that will only fill flip-top growlers.  Apparently, the screw tops don't keep beer fresh long enough.  (For some reason I don't seem to have this problem with my screw top growler.)  I recommend a generic 64 oz stainless steel flip-top growler, which can be filled and refilled at multiple breweries.  Skip the urge to buy a 32 oz growler, a jug this small is kind of pointless. 

A gift card from a brewery is beer cash.  Not much more to say about a brewery gift card other than do not be stingy.

Last year I broke my cardinal rule about not gifting beer and sent a family member some fresh IPAs.  On a visit, I noticed the once-fresh IPAs languishing in the fridge eight months later.  This year the family member is getting a lovely holiday pillow.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Brewery For Sale

West Coaster is reporting that Lightning Brewery is for sale.  The Poway-based brewery is ten years old and comes with a 5,500-square-foot facility, which includes a 30-barrel brewhouse, a cellar capacity of 490 barrels, a bottling line, and a tasting room with a patio.  According to West Coaster, Lightning made the mistake of focusing on distributing its beers in bottles rather than emphasizing a tasting room.  I felt Lightning could have had more draft accounts, as I don't see its beers in that many locations.  In what may have been its biggest miscalculation, Lightning shunned IPAs for a long time.  In a town and era that demands IPAs, Lightning offered a pilsner and hefeweizen instead.  Lightning's core Elemental Pilsner and Thunderweizen are excellent beers, but they are bold beers, which may have limited their appeal.  Lightning now offers several IPAs, which I have yet to try.  I am glad Lightning's owner Jim Crute is selling the brewery rather than closing it. 

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.