Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Merry Taj

The Lost Abbey does not come to mind when I think of San Diego breweries crafting IPAs.  It doesn't come to mind at all, actually.  The Lost Abbey is known for Belgian-style beers, corked and caged in imposing 750 ml bottles.  It's time to change my thinking.  The Lost Abbey's draft-only Holiday release, Merry Taj, is a serious IPA.

The burnt orange, near opaque beer is pure West Coast IPA.   I didn't taste any Belgian spices, Belgian yeast, or any other Belgian influences.  Merry Taj is a piney, bitter, full-bodied IPA.   It has some spice zip, but not the dominating spices so common in Holiday beers.  This is a meaty, complex beer.  It has a malt sweetness, but hop bitterness commands the beer.   Merry Taj is listed as an IPA but drinks bigger, and with an 8% abv it sits on the border between an IPA and a double IPA.  This beer is a sipper not a pounder.  Merry Taj is worth seeking out while it's still available.

(Two hat tips on this beer or I would not have known about it.  I first heard about Merry Taj before Thanksgiving on FM 94.9's Friday night Rock & Roll Happy Hour, the radio station's weekly profile of local breweries.  Second, Merry Taj made Brandon Hernandez's 2013 list of best new beers.)

Monday, December 30, 2013

Local Source

I visited the Central Coast earlier this week and had an early dinner at Fresco Valley Cafe in Slovang.  I was struck by the wine list, noticing only two wines not from the immediate area.  This is excellent.  It'd be easy to add wines from other parts of California, but this restaurant chose to stay local, which is a benefit to local wineries.  The restaurant offered nearly a half-dozen Figueroa Mountain Brewing 22-ounce bottled beers, too.  It took me two photos to get the wine list:

San Diego restaurants, in general, are getting better about serving San Diego beers and promoting local breweries, but there is room for improvement.

A Taste Of San Diego

Ballast Point's San Salvador Saison is a beer indigenous to San Diego, sourced with local ingredients.  I have wanted to try this beer since reading about it several years ago.  It takes its name from Portuguese explorer Juan Cabrillo's flagship, which he commanded when venturing up the Pacific Coast and came upon what is now San Diego Harbor in 1542.  I finally had the chance to try San Salvador Saison at a bar and grill in Ocean Beach not far from where Cabrillo first saw San Diego.

I can't think of a better example of terroirDrinking San Salvador is like taking a hike in San Diego - it is all manzanita and sage along with local other herbs and fruit.  San Salvador shows the pliability of the saison style.  It has a sharp effervescence and the manzanita jumps at you immediately, permeating the mouth and staying through a long finish.  San Salvador is full-bodied and weighs in at 8% abv.  The high booze level (relative for a saison) and White Labs' saison yeast have little influence, and both get lost in the cacophony of powerful ingredients.  San Salvador is not a session beer, it's strong flavors are unrelenting.  It's a good beer for sure, but one is enough.  If you have ever hiked in San Diego, you should try this beer, it'll take you right back to the trail.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Gaffe Of The Year

I posted about forgetting the name of Belgian brewer Cantillon, but that was nothing compared to the fool I made of myself in Paris last summer.  Paris in July is hot and the sun does not set until after 10:00 pm.  After a day of walking in the heat and waiting in long lines in under air-conditioned museums, we wanted a crisp white wine to accompany the bread cheese we picked up on the way back to our hotel.   The thought of resting our tired feet with some snacks and wine while people watching from the hotel balcony seemed just the right segue before our dinner quest.  I just need to get the wine.  Lucky for me the wonderful Left Bank wine shop La Derniére Goutte was right around the corner from our hotel. 

I know enough about wines to know I don't know much, and when it comes to French wine my knowledge is elementary.  I know Red Bordeauxs and Champagne - who doesn't.  I know Red Burgundies are made with Pinot Noir grapes and White Burgundies are made with Chardonnay grapes.  Finally, I know the reds of Southern France use the Syrah grape, among others.  Yes, my knowledge of French wine fits in three simple sentences.

I walked into La Derniére Goutte and milled around reading labels (er, checking price tags) as if I could pick a good bottle from just looking at the pictures.   I was hot, tired and in a hurry, and not in the mood for a wine I didn't know.  I wanted a simple white wine, a White Burgundy with the familiar Chardonnay grape.  When the woman working at the shop was free of the other customer, I went up and asked if she could recommend a nice White Zinfandel.

White Zinfandel!  In Paris!  I had just asked for help finding a bottle of White Zinfandel instead of White Burgundy!  This was akin to going into a Stone World Bistro Bistro or a Toronado and asking for a Bud Light Lime-A-Rita.  I tried to quickly correct my wine crime, but my ignorance was unleashed.  The store was suddenly quiet.  The other customers, a pretentious couple from Texas who had just placed a Texan-sized wine order for shipment back to the Lone Star Sate, whipped their heads around and a small, smirk spread across the man's face.  The saleswoman held up a dismissive hand and told my she'd never heard of White Zinfandel, but her aghast look was a sure sign she had (turns out she was an American from California who now lives in Paris, so of course she dang well knew White Zinfandel and its reputation.)

I quickly repeated "White Burgundy, White Burgundy," several times correcting my error and tried to crack an awkward joke to recover some level of respect and credibility.  I did not.

Rather than treat me like a complete rube and recommend glorified vinegar, the saleswoman took pity on me and suggested a lovely Chablis (also made with Chardonnay grapes) that was delicious.    I'm no stranger to foolishness, but this gaffe has stuck with me.  I should asked for help finding a Rosé, even I couldn't have jumbled that simple name.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Save It For The Soup

Here is an article from NPR's The Salt on sourcing local ingredients for craft beer.  I'm all for local beer, local ingredients, local business, local anything, but the sense of "place" needs to know its place.  Just because you can put an ingredient in a beer doesn't mean you should.  This beer sounds extreme in the wrong way:
At in Santa Cruz, Calif., owner Alec Stefansky brews a red ale using maple-scented candy cap mushrooms. Stefansky, who has also experimented with fragrant redwood branches, says using wild, local ingredients in his beer is a way "to make flavors that are uniquely Northern Californian."

For his beer — called Rubidus Red, after the candy cap's Latin name — Stefansky collects the mushrooms himself each fall and winter. He says that the maple syrup aroma of dried candy caps is so potent that a single cup will do for seven barrels of the beer. What's more, if a person drinks just 2 or 3 pints of Rubidus Red, he or she will begin to smell deliciously like the fungus, according to Stefansky.

"You'll wake up smelling like breakfast," he says.

The article is full of other retch-inducing examples.   Too few breweries make a decent red ale, let alone one with wild mushrooms, or salmonberries, or chokeberries or stinging nettles.  I'm not a complete beer curmudgeon, the sage-brewed Stone/Dogfish Head/Vicory collaboration Saison du BUFF is great, and Ballast Point's San Salvador saison, brewed with San Diego-sourced ingredients, is a beer I want to try (if ever brewed again).  I believe a brewery needs to master a few basic beers before starting down uncharted paths.  Bringing in strange, non-traditional ingredients is a convenient way to mask a marginal beer or brewer.  I'd much prefer a well-made local beer paired with a soup or stew or other dish created with locally sourced ingredients. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Sublimely Self-Conscious Spill Over

The only San Diego Beer Week event I attended was the Sour Night at Pizza Port Ocean Beach, and while I discovered an excellent sour beer in Mi Nachos Trois, I missed the marquee beer from Cantillon.  But to me, one of the best parts of Beer Week is not the key events, but the next day when the crowds are back to normal and the good beer is still on tap.  It's kind of like Thanksgiving leftovers.  On Saturday night I went to Stone Brewing's Liberty Station tasting room to check whether any special beers were available for growler fills for Beer Week.

Stone was filling growlers of Supremely Self-Conscious Black Session IPA, a beer I wanted to try after reading this glowing review from the Irish beer blog The Beer Nut late last week.  The review was on a similarly named Stone Supremely Self-Conscious Black Ale, a collaboration between Stone and Britain's Adnams Brewery.   I'm not sure whether the two beers were the same - mine was labeled Black IPA, and the blog post and Adnams' website referenced a Black Ale - but I figure they must be close.  When I read the review I wasn't sure whether this low alcohol black ale was a UK-only release or not, but when I saw it available for growler fills I had to get it.  It didn't disappoint.

Rather than write a new review, I am posting the Beer Nut's excellent description:
Second on my hitlist was Supremely Self-Conscious Black Ale, created by Mitch Steele of Stone at Adnams. I had been led to believe by advance reviews that it wasn't all that, but it is all that, and a fair bit more. The aroma makes it clear from the outset that a lot of US hops have gone in here: big old grapefruit and pine resin welcome the drinker in. On first sip there's a massive, burning bitter hit which subsides mercifully quickly, fading down to grapefruit pith and then settling on friendlier mango and pineapple. There's just a bit of coffee representing the dark side of the profile -- the programme describes the roast character as "subdued" and I think it certainly has been. It's only 5% ABV but tastes and feels much stronger, being weighty like a big stout and depositing a lingering resin on the lips. Possibly not a great choice for second beer, but it had been on since the previous day and was due to run out soon, though in the event there was still one pint left for me to claim a few hours later before the train home -- the best £2.29 I've spend on beer this year.
I did not distinguish the mango, grapefruit or pineapple, and from drinking so many Southern California IPAs, I can't say with a straight face that Supremely Self Conscious had a massive, burning bitter hop profile.  (Someone needs to ship the Beer Nut a bottle of Stone's latest Enjoy By IPA so he can experience a true West Coast hop burn.)  But I agree that Supremely Self Conscious has a deep roasty character with a solid hop profile.  Its rich, almost chewy body belied its session status, and it drinks much bigger than its nearly 5% ABV.   It's just a wonderful beer.  

One final point:  I want to drink where the Beer Nut gets $3.50 imperial pints!

C'est La Vie

I heard last Thursday that Pizza Point Ocean Beach was tapping a keg of Cantillon kriek at 5:00 pm on Friday as part of San Diego's Beer Week.  I arrived at 6:00; the Cantillon keg had blown at 5:40.  Thank you very much.  With the point of my visit now empty, I had to pick a backup.  I chose house-brewed sour, Mi Nachos Trois, a blend of several other Pizza Port Ocean Beach sours, which I believe is the reason for the trois in the name (and Nachos is the name of Pizza Port Ocean Beach's brewer).  I loved this beer.  Mi Nachos Trois started with a face puckering sour jolt, immediately countered with a soothing streak of sweetness, which ran through the entire beer.  It finished abruptly with a sharp bitterness, like hitting a wall.   Mi Nachos Trois' wild flavor arch was an adventure for my taste buds, and shows why sours are so compelling.  Its ABV was only about 6%, which puts it right in my preferred range for sours.  I find higher ABV sours (above 7.5%) less approachable and characterized more by their booziness than tart nuances.  Tasting a draft Cantillon would have been a rare treat, but I don't feel cheated.  Mi Nachos Trois was excellent, and the best part is I get to go back to Pizza Port and have some more.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Fall Beer Update

I've now sampled all three fall beer styles I wrote about here: pumpkin, Oktoberfest and fresh hop.  Dogfish Head's Punkin Ale is a brown ale spiced with allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg.  It has pumpkin, too, but the autumn vegetable is overpowered by the allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon.  I enjoyed Punkin Ale, and at over 7% ABV it had enough heft to match its many ingredients.  Pumpkin ales, to me, fall down when they are too thin, and end up tasting more like a flavor-infused macro beer than a craft ale.  Punkin Ale has character and depth of flavor, but sneaks into Holiday beer territory, which is not a bad thing.

I had a pint of Karl Strauss' Oktoberfest beer last weekend. It's an easy drinking beer.  It's malt-forward, but not in the throat-clogging way of many malty beers.  I was struck by Oktoberfest's yeasty aroma and its comforting taste of soft bread.  This smooth drink is my kind of German beer, neither overly complex nor strange - just good.
I didn't think I'd get to fresh hopped ale last, but I did and Pizza Port Ocean Beach's Coup D'Etat was worth the wait.  An initial, shockingly bitter jolt is countered by a malty sweetness, which gives the IPA an overall intense, citrus juiciness.  This is a delicious beer, and, incredibly, more balanced than I expected.  To me, Coup D'Etat is a textbook fresh hop ale - extreme, almost painful bitterness, rounded out with a sweet, citrus juiciness.  It's a glass of pure hop liquid joy.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Beerical Mile

There is a stretch of Interstate-5 in central San Diego - from the Sea World Drive exit to downtown - with an astonishing number of breweries and beer stores.   I'm calling it the Beerical Mile.  OK it's more than a mile (it's really closer to five miles) but along this short path of highway are nine breweries and three beers stores.

The breweries in geographic order from north to south are:

Coronado Brewing - Huge, well appointed, wood adorned tasting room and brewery located off the Sea World Drive exit, just east of I-5 in San Diego's Bay Park neighborhood.
Ballast Point - Linda Vista - Ballast Point's original brewery and tasting room that shares space with HomeBrew Mart.  Always a good crowd, so keep driving if a tour bus is in the small parking lot.
Modern Times -  Tucked behind a couple of nudie bars in the industrial part of the Sports Arena area sits Modern Times' brewery and tasting room.  Good beers, a hipster vibe and a friendly knowledgeable staff.
Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens - Liberty Station - The new epicenter for San Diego's beer tourism industry.  Amazing experience and destination drinking at its finest.
Acoustic Ales - Brewery and tasting room in the landmark Mission Brewery building just off I-5 and Washington Street.
Ballast Point - Little Italy - Ballast Point's newest location offers a restaurant and on-premise brewed specialty beers, located on India Street at the far north end of Little Italy.
Karl Strauss - The granddaddy of brewpubs, and for many years a lone bastion for good beer in San Diego.
Monkey Paw - This East Village brewery and restaurant/bar nearly abuts I-5 just south of the S-curve.  It is home to multiple Great American Beer Festival medal winning beers.
Mission Brewery - Cavernous facility a baseball's throw from Petco Park.  Cans.  Thirty-two ounce cans.  Mission Brewery is putting its beers in 32-oz cans called "cannons," and one of the beers is Shipwrecked Double IPA.  Lord have mercy on my soul.

(If you add the Beer Co downtown (about which I know nothing) it brings the total to ten breweries.)  I have been to six of the nine breweries, but plan to visit the new Ballast Point Little Italy, Acoustic Ales and Monkey Paw soon.  Each of the breweries offers a unique experience and ambiance.

There are three beer stores in the same vicinity.

Bottlecraft - Little Italy - The first craft beer-only bottle shop in San Diego located at the north end of Little Italy along India Street.  It's probably less than 100 yards from Ballast Point Little Italy. Tasters are offered nightly and there are two beers on draft.  Bottlecraft has opened a second store in North Park.
Best Damn Beer Shop - The boldly named bottle shop is a store within store, and located downtown in the Krisp market.
San Diego Brew Project - Also a store within a store, San Diego Brew Project is, as its name states, a beer bar and bottle shop featuring only San Diego County beers.  It is located inside the 57 Degrees Wine Shop and Bar just across Washington street from Acoustic Ales.

There are other famous beer corridors in San Diego:  along Highway 78 in North San Diego County, 30th Street / North Park, and around Miramar Road and Mira Mesa Blvd.  The Beerical Mile has bloomed over the past several years - with the exception of Ballast Point Linda Vista and Karl Strauss that have been around for years - and now ranks as one of the best beer zones in San Diego.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Ballast Point In Little Italy

Here is an Eater post on the opening of Ballast Point's new brewery / tasting room/ and restaurant. The new brewery/restaurant is located on India Street, at the Northern reaches of Little Italy.   Ballast Point's Tasting Room and Kitchen has 50 taps, and Ballast Point plans to brew specialty beers on-site, including sours.  An added bonus is that Bottlecraft's Little Italy location is nearly next door. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Brain Lapse

I had an embarrassing brain lapse the other night.  I was at a business dinner at Stone World Bistro and Gardens in Liberty Station and was talking big trying to impress the dinner party with my beer knowledge.   I opened the bottled beer list with authority, spouting that I was looking for beers from an exclusive Belgian brewery.   But I couldn't think of the brewery's name.  I became more frantic as I thumbed through the booklet, repeating - with less and less assurance - that the brewery was famous and that its beers were highly sought after.  I knew the brewery's name would come to me if I just saw it in print as I scanned the list from A to Z, Z to A, A to Z, and then just helter-skelter across the list.  I drew a complete blank on the name, and quietly put the beer list down in embarrassment.

After dinner, I rushed to my car and typed "Rose De Gambrinus" in to my iPhone's search engine, and up popped "Cantillon".  Cantillon.  Cantillon.  Cantillon.  For an hour and a half I couldn't under any circumstances remember Cantillon.  It's like forgetting Joe Montana quarterbacked the Forty-Niners or that Al Pacino starred in the Godfathers.  I knew the one Cantillon beer I'd tried, but not the brewer's name.  What a black mark on my beer credibility. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Incredible Beer Chart

Here is a link to an amazing beer chart via Slate.  According to Slate:
The chart organizes all drinks by brew category and connects each category to its proper drinking vessels (solo cup, snifter, beer boot) at the bottom of the chart.
The chart lists beers representative of each style, and totals 500 beers.  For someone as IPA-centric as myself, this chart shows my how much I'm missing:

A direct link is here where you can purchase the 60" by 40" chart.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Best Fall Beer

Pumpkin beers have been on store shelves since the middle of summer, and I think I've seen more pumpkin beers this year than ever before.  I view pumpkin beers as a novelty, and am good for one about every three to five years.  My novelty theory is anecdotally reinforced by the lack of pumpkin beers on draft at better beer bars.  I searched TapHunter to find a pumpkin beer on draft and came up empty.  No self-respecting beer snob is going to order a pumpkin beer in front of other beer snobs, unless it's The Bruery's Autumn Maple, but then that's brewed with yams not pumpkins.

Oktoberfest beers - once the only, but now the other fall beer style - don't thrill me, and unfortunately seem to have lost their marketing edge to pumpkin beers.  It's akin to a classic rock band being eclipsed by a winner of American Idol or The Voice.  A proper Oktoberfest beer is too malt-forward for me, and half a glass is about my limit.  That being said, I do want to try Karl Strauss' Oktoberfest beer this year. 

The best fall beers are fresh hop ales, in particular pale ales, IPAs and double IPAs.  Fresh hop beers are also known as wet hop ales, and are brewed with fresh hops, not the standard dried hop pellets.  Fresh hop IPAs are the wet hop sweet spot.  Pale ales get the juicy taste but don't have the backbone to match the muscle of the hop bitterness, and the alcoholic strength of double IPAs detract from the hop freshness.  IPAs provide the perfect mix of complementary malt and alcohol that showcase the just-harvested hop freshness.   The best wet hop ales are highly juicy, like they were fresh-squeezed rather than brewed.  They are intensely hopped, emitting a concentrated, terroir bitterness.

These fragrant, juicy ales should arrive at breweries and better beer bars over the next few weeks.  Pizza Port Ocean Beach had its fresh hop Monkey Tail Pale Ale on tap last weekend, and its Get Wet IPA and a double IPA are expected sometime this week.  Get these beers while you can.  A fresh hop IPA is like cut flowers in a vase - beautiful for a short period, and once wilted there is no revival.

There are some bottled fresh-hopped beers.  Port Brewing bottles its High Tide Fresh Hop IPA and Sierra Nevada has its Northern and Southern Hemisphere beers.  These are fine beers, but the best way to enjoy a wet hop beer is to get it on draft at a brewery as close to its release as possible.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Summer Saison Part III (The Whiff Edition)

I enjoyed The Bruery's Preservation Series Saison Tonnellerie on the absurd IPA Day early in August.  Unfortunately, I am left with only a memory and a poor picture of the label to write this post.  I thought I took tasting notes, but my handy Evernote electronic beer diary has no reference to this beer.  What a whiff; a beer blogger bungle.  Despite the lack of notes and the time since consumption, I needed to get this post up because Tonnellerie is an excellent beer.   It is now my favorite The Bruery saison.  I remember it as a meaty beer, darker and maltier than most saisons, and not overly spiced.  It was rich without going into strange flavor tangents.  It was both complex and drinkable, yet best of all it was delicious. 

When it comes to The Bruery's beers I feel like a devoted dog with a mercurial owner, I come running with my tail wagging, never knowing when I open a The Bruery beer whether I'm going to get beat (insert name of any recent The Bruery Christmas beer) or a treat (Mischief, Humlus Lager).  Saison Tonnellerie is a marvelous treat that deserves wider release.

I have not seen this beer on shelves since early August, but it looks like The Burery is still selling it on-line.  

Sunday, September 15, 2013

London (Harrods) Failing

Now and then I'll post random thoughts from my trip to Europe earlier this summer.  

There is no more iconic store in London than the high-end Harrods, one of the poshest department stores on the planet.  Of course, a store this fancy has to have its own beer (and a full line-up of private label wines, and I'll attest, the thirteen pound white Burgundy is excellent).  Here is a picture of the beer brewed specially for Harrods, which even has its own fancy flip-top:

I found it unfortunate and disappointing that a quintessential symbol of Britain would not select an English brewer to brew its house beer.  Instead, Harrods looked to Continental Europe, and its 1849 Premium Lager is brewed by Hofmark Brauerei, a German brewer.  Harrods, obviously, has to leave the United Kingdom for its house Burgundies and Rieslings, but for beer Harrods needs to stay home.  Britain has a strong brewing heritage and a growing craft beer presence, so Harrods would have no shortage willing potential local brewers, although the home grown beer would probably be an ale, not a lager.  Come to think of it, a cask ale engine would be perfect next to the meat pie display case in Harrods' magnificent Food Hall.

As a beer, 1849 was very good.  I found it a crisp, complex lager with a sharp bite to it, and one of the better lagers I can remember.

I Know The Feeling

I read this post on the Ramblings of a Beer Runner blog and could relate:
It's a struggle to define how it tastes, but often great beers are the ones that aren't neatly broken down into flavor components. 
The blogger, Derrick Peterman, was describing a sour brown ale from Sante Adairius Rustic Ales in Capitola, California.  I've come across this situation more often than I'd like to admit when I have a good beer.  It's easy to find flaws in bad beer - too thin, too bitter, too malty, nasty aftertaste - but in a good beer, where all ingredients meld together in unison, I find it hard to spotlight individual flavor components, or what one factor makes it standout.  I'm sometimes left with not much to say other than, "dang, this beer's real good," which isn't too insightful.  But maybe, with a great beer, I don't need to say too much more.

(Hat Tip to Beer Samizdat and his twitter feed.)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Modern Times Beer

Modern Times Beer is now open, joining the crowded San Diego craft brewing community.  It was founded by Jacob McKean, who formerly worked as Stone Brewing's communications specialist and blogger (hey, what the heck does a blogger know about beer?), and it had a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign last spring, raising over $65,000.  The pedigree and capital are all good and well, but don't mean anything if the beers stink. I've tried two Modern Times' beers, the Lomaland Saison and the Neverwhere 100% Brett IPA, and they definitely don't stink.

Lomaland, which I think is brewed with the same strain of yeast as Saison Dupont, is a solid, drinkable saison, and a great everyday beer.  Saison is a wide-open style, and Modern Times chose a conventional approach, which makes sense, in my opinion, for a core, year-round beer from a start-up brewery.  Outside of The Lost Abbey's Red Barn, I am not sure of local breweries distributing a saison on a regular basis, and Red Barn is not that widely available.  I don't know why more brewers haven't jumped on saisons, I'd much rather drink a saison than some wheat beer or pale ale.  Lomaland has enough flavor and complexity for the beer geek, yet is approachable enough for the casual beer drinker, which may allow Modern Times to build a niche for itself with this beer.

Modern Times steps into San Diego's competitive IPA jungle with the bold Neverwhere IPA, which is brewed with 100% Brettanomyces yeast.   It is a dank, earthy IPA, with a refreshing jolt of bitter citrus juice.  Modern Times lists Neverwhere IPA as a special release, so you can't get a growler fill.  Neverwhere needs to move into the year-round line-up, because I want it as a take-away option.

I plan to try more Modern Times' beers in the near future and hope they are as good as Lomaland and Neverwhere.   And yes, I will try to keep an open mind on its Blazing World amber ale.  (If it'd been classified as a red ale, I'd have already tried it.) 

The airy tasting room is unique and stylistically campy (compliment).  It is dominated by a huge mosaic mural of Michael Jackson and his pet chimp Bubbles, made with what looks like are two-inch square Post-Its.  One of the other walls is covered with pages from old books and pictures that look like they were acquired at thrift stores, and another with pages from old comic books.  The bar sits on stacks of books.  The tumble weed chandeliers that sway in the open space are as fascinating to me as the Michael Jackson mural, and the strings of lights gives the space an outdoor patio feel.

The tasting room is open every day from noon to 9:00.  Modern Times is located in an industrial area near San Diego's Sports Arena, which is now named for a casino, or maybe an Indian tribe.  I have been to Modern Times twice and it wasn't too crowded either time, the first late on a Friday night about a half-hour before closing time, and the second on a Monday evening, which may be the perfect time to visit a brewery tasting room.  The staff was friendly and knowledgeable, but we'll need to check on their attitude some Saturday afternoon when the beer tour buses show up.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Saison Summer (Part II)

This was the summer of the saison.  I was underwhelmed by two, impressed by two, and floored by one.  I've already reviewed one whiff, Prairie Artisan Ales's Prairie Ale (this was Part I).  The second saison that came up short was Fantôme's  alliterative Brise BonBons! - the most fun to say beer name ever.  Fantôme's beers, which are mostly some derivation of saison, are beers on the edge.  They challenge you, fight you, and force you to convert your initial taste shock to admiration by the end of the bottle.  I relished a battle with Brise Bon-Bons!, but peace reigned.

Sure, Brise BonBons! was yeast-forward with a sophisticated, spicy character (spices that I couldn't detect, so at least this part of Fantôme stayed true), and it had a satisfying, bitter finish; more bitter than I expected from a Belgian saison.  But ultimately it was a pleasant, borderline boring beer.  I know I would have thought more of Brise BonBons! if it was from another brewer, but Fantôme has a reputation to uphold, dang it.  From a beer named Ball Breaker, I wanted a precarious, dangerous beer, not a drinkable, approachable saison that flirts with mainstream for crying out loud.  

I'll write about the other three saisons in future posts.


I am enjoying A.J. Liebling's 1963 paean to French food and eating well, "Between Meals."  The book, which explores Liebling's "feeding" education in 1920's Paris, is full of masterful passages like this one describing a wine called Tavel, a type of rosé from Southern France's Rhone region:

The taste is warm but dry, like an enthusiasm held under restraint, and there is a tantalizing suspicion of bitterness when the wine hits the top of the palate.  With the second glass, the enthusiasm gains; with the third, it is over-powering.  The effect is generous and calorific, stimulative of celebration and the social instincts.  "An apparently light treacherous rosé," Root (a food writer) calls it, with a nuance of resentment that hints at misadventure.

Brilliant.  I've never heard of Tavel, but now want to try this bitter, treacherous wine that points to misadventure. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Prairie Ales Saison

I originally wrote this post in June but forgot to post it.  Other than a few minor edits, the post is my original thoughts on Prairie Artisan Ales' saison.

Prairie Artisan Ales has been getting favorable press.   Its buzz went from a murmur to a roar so fast
that Prairie Artisan Ales' beers are now hard to find.   I found a lone bottle of its Prairie Ale Saison a week or so ago and grabbed it, chilled it, and opened it the following evening.  Maybe it was a case of over expectations, but I was underwhelmed by this beer.  It was good, yes, but not great.  Prairie Ale Saison poured a cloudy, summer gold, and had a big, resilient white foam.  I immediately smelled the beer's yeast, and thought I caught a whiff of some funk, too. The aroma didn't translate to the saison's taste; it was not too yeasty, nor was it funky.  Despite the big yeast aroma, I found the yeast profile secondary when tasting the beer.

Prairie Ale was initially, surprisingly sweet.  Its sweetness jumps out at you.  It was not dry like so many other saisons, which probably accented its candied first impression.  The sweetness gave way a boozy and bitter finish, and the finish was long.

I didn't mind Prairie Ale Saison's sweetness or its lack of dryness.  What held me back from appreciating this beer was its forward alcohol and sharp, astringent bitterness.  I want to try more Prairie Ales, and its saison warrants further beer exploration. 

Where Are The Posts?

A blur of a summer is over, at least as measured by the school calender.  A busy summer didn't mean a shortage of beer.  I had some good beers (and a few mediocre ones) that I'll discuss in upcoming posts.  I spent two weeks early in the summer in England and France, mainly London and Paris, but didn't have a real memorable beer.  I've read that London's craft beer scene is booming, but I didn't really find it (or have the time to search it out), and the best I can say about beer in Paris is that I discovered the lovely Chablis.  That's a bit unfair and condescending, I did drink beer in France, every restaurant seemed to have Stella or 1664 - a macro, pilsner type beer - which won't fire up the beer geeks but that sure hit the spot on a hot day.  Glad to get back to the blog, and here is a picture of a glass of Duval, enjoyed from my St. Germain hotel balcony.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Alpine Email

I received an Alpine Beer Company email this afternoon and here, from the email, is information on upcoming releases:

On July 5th, we are announcing the release of “Red Card,” our hoppy 6.5% abv red ale made exclusively for major soccer tournaments. We even dry-hop this smooth ale, which happens to compliment a wide array of foods. Spicy meats to creamy pastas go with “Red Card” exquisitely. Available for growler fills and on draught in the Pub, it’s not bottled.

Another in our specialty beer lineup being released will be “Ugly” on July 16th. “Ugly” is our Black IPA, a new beer style that’s hoppy and dark. Ours is 7.5% abv. This gem highlights mild roasty malt notes along with some fancy American hoppy punch. I’m sure we can get our kitchen to pair a nice weekend special with our precious “Ugly.”
I am going to have to figure out how to get some of that hoppy red ale.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Crash The Bruery's Website

The Bruery is having a one-hour beer sale on its website Monday night, July 1, from 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm PST.  The Bruery is trying to drive traffic its website to stress-test it, as it prepares for releases of highly anticipated beers like Black Tuesday.  According The Bruery, it has had problems with its on-line store crashing during high traffic events, and with Monday's short sale The Bruery is attempting to attract a large number of visitors to see how its website performs.  Here are the special beers:

10 cases available, 2 bottle limit, $19.99

2011 Mélange #3
10 cases available, 2 bottle limit, $29.99

2012 Mélange #3
20 cases available, 4 bottle limit
Special Stress Test price: $26.99

2011 Smoking Wood
10 cases available, 2 bottle limit, $19.99

2012 Bourbon Smoking Wood
10 cases available, 2 bottle limit, $19.99

2012 White Chocolate
10 cases available, 1 bottle limit, $29.99

In checking the prices, it looks like the beers will be for sale, but not at sale prices.  I am sure the beer geeks will gobble up the beers above, but The Bruery's on-line store has other, cheaper beers that look more interesting to me, including Saison Tonnellerie, Sans Pagaie, a cherry sour, and Imperial Loakal Red.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Anticipating Modern Times

I have been looking forward to the opening of Modern Times Beer brewery since I learned it was not far from my home.  Modern Times owner, Jacob McKean, is excellent at promotion and publicity, which is critical for a new brewery, or any business.  Modern Times has already had two plugs in BeerAdvocate magazine (that I've read), and this before Modern Times has even released its first beer.  Skill at public relations is one thing, but a quality beer is another. 

Modern Times' first four beers reach the public this week, and I'll admit, McKean's marketing has worked on me and I am more than curious to try Modern Times' beers.  The beers are in a few select locations, including Fathom Bistro, a craft beer bar/eatery located in an old bait shop on a small fishing pier that juts into San Diego Bay.  I have been wanting an excuse to visit Fathom, and Modern Times' release gives me an opportunity to stop by one of the most unique places to drink a beer in San Diego.

I am approaching Modern Times with an open mind.  Brandon Hernandez, the usually positive San Diego beer journalist, has been cautious with Modern Times, at least that is how I've read his posts on the new brewery.  The passage below is from Hernandez's latest column:
So, last week, I visited McKean and company and got the scoop on all things fermented from this new biz, which will begin funneling its beers to the local market this week. The plan is for Modern Times to produce four year-round beers while leaving room in their brewing schedule for rotating specialty selections. Those brews will be mostly hybridized styles as the foursome is choosing not to let traditional style guidelines rule their recipe-building. Blazing World is a key example. Though McKean calls it an amber IPA, there is no such official style. Modern Times will also produce a wheat beer that drinks like an extra pale ale or IPA called Fortunate Islands, an IPA diversified with the addition of Brettanomyces, and a saison made using 95% Dupont yeast augmented by 5% Westmalle yeast in order to help the beer more efficiently and expeditiously finish out its fermentation.
In addition, Modern Times has a coffee stout, brewed with beans Modern Times roasts itself.  Modern Times' website states that the brewery has four year-round beers, but Hernandez's article lists five available beers:  three IPAs - Amber, Wheat and one with Brettanomyces yeast - a saison and the coffee stout.   The Belgian IPA is not part of the regular line-up.

Modern Times' decision to "not let traditional style guidelines rule their recipe-building" is why I am willing to give it some initial leeway when tasting its beers.  Style stretching doesn't bother me, as long as its not trying to mask flaws, because a good beer is a good beer whatever its style.  It's time to find out whether Modern Times' beers are as good as their packaging.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Hop Addict News

If you're a hop addict, Stone Brewing is re-releasing last summer's Ruination Tenth Anniversary Ale today, and has made it an annual release.  The name has been changed to Stone RuinTen IPA, but the beer is the same.  The name doesn't matter, this is one big-hopped beer.  At 110 IBUs and 10.8% abv, RuinTen IPA's abv is higher than Stone's other recently introduced IPA, the highly hopped Enjoy By, which weighs in a paltry 9.4% abv.  

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Beer Map

I saw a link to this New Yorker interactive beer map on a tweet from the excellent beer store Bottlecraft.  It's easy to get lost for a few minutes scrolling through the various screens.  When I see lists of top brewers based on sales volume, I'm always surprised to see the maker of Shiner Bock, Gambrinus Co., near the top spot at No. 4.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Pizza Port Pine Bomb

If you're near Ocean Beach I recommend stopping at Pizza Port Ocean Beach and grabbing a pint of its new Bronx Bomber IPA.  It is a sharp, pine-forward IPA - so piney George Brett would be proud.   This year I have had several IPAs with amorphous flavor profiles - pine? citrus? earthiness? - I couldn't tell.  There is no ambiguity with Bronx Bomber, it's piney through and through.  In a world where the IPA is now ubiquitous, it's rare when one jumps out at you.  The draft-only Bronx Bomber IPA is a stand-out beer.  A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Bronx Bomber are going to support ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease, but altruism, while important, is not why I recommend this beer.  I like this beer because it's a flat out delicious IPA.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Tongue Buckler's LIttle Brother

I missed the news on Ballast Point's new Homework Series of beers.  According to the Full Pint, which is quoting from the San Diego Reader, The Home Work Series is a "spin-off" brand developed to honor Home Brew Mart.  The new brand has its own label, which not only distinguishes it from other Ballast Point beers, but that also provides detailed ingredient information for the home brewer.   Ballast Point Brewing's Homework Series Batch #1 Hoppy Red Ale is the first of the series.  (The picture I took of Batch #1 would not load correctly, so I borrowed picture of the label below from mybeerbuzz.com.)

Batch #1 Hoppy Red Ale is just that, a hoppy red ale.  This limited release beer is excellent.   The beer poured a dark mahogany, with big, sand colored foam that laced all the way down the glass.  Batch #1 is rich and full bodied, and it drinks bigger than its 7.0% adv due to its richness.  The hop bitterness is balanced by a sweet, caramel malt character.  The strong roasted malts provide the beer's heft, and according to the label, six different malts were used in the brew process, including Briess Caramel Vienna and Briess Caramel Munich.  The beer's two hops, CTZ and Centennial, held their own against the malts, bringing a commanding bitterness.

Batch #1 is chalky dry, which adds to its complexity.  Batch #1 reminded me of Ballast Point's Tongue Buckler, a massive 10% abv imperial red ale, which has a huge hop profile (hence the name Tongue Buckler).  While Batch #1 may cede some abv to Tongue Buckler, it compromises nothing in flavor.  There are not enough red ales, and even fewer hoppy red ales.  I don't know the future plans for The Home Work Series, but I hope Batch #1 Hoppy Red Ale is not a one-time release, and I'm already looking forward to Batch #2.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Hop Apostasy

Here is a good article from Slate on the craft beer industry's and consumers' love of - or as the piece states, addiction to - hoppy beers.  The author calls on brewers to ease off the hops and focus on other interesting ingredients, like wild yeast strains.  My favorite line was this one:
"There are many craft breweries that seek to create balanced, drinkable beers that aren’t very bitter at all, like Patrick Rue’s the Bruery in Placentia, Calif.,"

I wonder what The Bruery beers the author researched?  I doubt it was 5 Gold Rings, or some of The Bruery's other complex creations.  It must have been Mischief

I'm all for more sour beers, wild ales, porters, stouts, Belgian pale ales, dubbels, tripels, quadrupels, but don't stop my hops, I must have hops.  I NEED HOPS!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens Opens in Liberty Station

We were invited to a soft opening Friday night at the new Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens in Liberty Station.  It was incredible.  Stone has outdone itself with this new restaurant, and it is immediately one of San Diego's top destinations.   From the service to the facilities, Stone does not overlook any detail.  The space is huge and inviting, and somehow Stone figured out the noise, because the restaurant was full, music was on and you can still have a normal conversation.   Thank you Stone for inviting us to the soft opening, and thanks for the discounted price and complimentary beer.

It is my opinion that the central San Diego location of Stone's new World Bistro and Gardens is a giant step forward for local craft beer.  Stone's Escondido headquarters and home to the original World Bistro and Gardens is amazing, but it's an event destination.  The Liberty Station location  - five minutes from downtown, five minutes from the airport, five minutes from SeaWorld, five minutes from Mission Valley and five minutes from the beaches - opens the wonderful world of San Diego craft beer to people who would never venture to Escondido.

I plan to write more on the importance of this new restaurant and brewery, craft beer and what I feel they mean to San Diego and its civic identity, but in the mean time, here are a few pictures:

The bar area.

The main dining area.

Outdoor space and bocce court.

Brewing system.  Stone is brewing here, but the new beers are not yet available.

Ruination IPA.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Expanded Tasting Rooms

San Diego's City Council voted 7-0 to allow breweries to expand their tasting rooms.  The following is from Peter Rowe's column this afternoon on the decision:
In the past, breweries within the city were limited to tasting rooms or diners of 3,000 square feet or fewer. That was a problem for fast-growing breweries like Ballast Point and Green Flash, whose tasting rooms are overrun by fans on most weekends.

Under the new ordinance, San Diego breweries can expand up to 25 percent of their total gross floor area. In zones near airports, occupancy limits and uses will also have to approved by the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. Similarly, new or expanded dining or tasting rooms west of Interstate 5 will need to California Coastal Commission review.
This is good news.  A local NPR piece on this same story reported that two unnamed breweries were considering leaving San Diego unless tasting room restrictions were changed.  I guess they can stay in San Diego.

Now, if something can be done about those annoying tour buses!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Everyone Needs A Harlot

I was near Societe Brewing yesterday and just happened to have a clean growler in the car.  (Hey, I was a Boy Scout for a month and a half and still take that 'be prepared" motto seriously when it comes to beer.)   I fought my usual IPA temptation, selecting instead the Harlot, one of Societe's Belgian beers.  The Harlot is a 6.0% abv Belgian extra, which I am guessing is not too different from a Belgian pale ale, except maybe lighter. 

This sneaky good beer is one of the first beers Societe released when it opened last year.  It poured a golden yellow with a white, solid but fast dissipating foam.  The beer wasn't cloudy, but not quite clear either.  Its carbonation was moderate, not the intense effervescence like some bigger Belgian golden Ales.  The initial taste was crisp, with a forward, biscuity Belgian yeast.  It's a dry beer with a fruity characteristic that faded into Harlot's long, hoppy, bitter finish. This is a well balanced beer with an appropriate body.  The Belgian extra style won't elicit wide excitement, but I found this beer delicious.  I have raved about Societe's IPAs, but the Harlot deserves attention, too.

NY Times on Brettanomyces

Here is an excellent late December 2012 article from the New York Times on wild beers, sour beers and the unpredictable magic unleashed by Brettanomyces yeast.  Make sure to read the beer wonk verging on beer douche correction at the end of the article.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Not a Grimm Ale

I was expecting some edge from a special "cuvee" ale created by a brewery named after a troll.  I wanted some funk; strange unidentifiable spices; and grimaces until my taste buds acclimated to intense complexity.  I wanted a nasty, Grimm Brothers' troll of a beer.

Instead, Cuvee des Troll from Belgium's Brasserie Dubisson Freres sprl, is the equivalent of a good troll.  It wasn't an angry, belligerent monster that terrorizes entire villages and eats children lost in the forest, but a benevolent creature that walks wayward children home, admonishes their parents for negligent supervision, and then makes sure homework's complete, teeth are brushed and bedtime curfews kept.  Even the picture on Cuvee des Troll's bottle looked more like a happy Paul Galdone elf than a JRR Tolkien description of a dangerous troll

Cuvee des Trolls is a smooth - oh, so smooth - Belgian golden ale.  It poured a cloudy, pale yellow with massive white foam due to the tight carbonation.  The elegant, light bodied beer had a whisper of yeast on the initial taste and a fast-disappearing finish.  Its hop profile, if any, was invisible, allowing a sweetness to engulf the beer's flavor profile.  Its 7% abv was no factor.  Cuvee des Trolls was good, but so safe and benign it was boring.  You won't find a more approachable, drinkable Belgian beer than Cuvee des Trolls, but don't expect any excitement.

Thursday, May 2, 2013


I am attempting to update the links on this site.  I have added links to a number of new breweries, but I don't think the list is exhaustive.  I deleted some of the beer blog links due, primarily, to inactive posting.  I will add more beer blogs to the list as I come across ones I feel offer quality information and opinion.  I try to stay away from numb nut beer writers and journalists that seem to write to to small audience of insiders and to gain favor with brewers, preferring instead knowledgeable amateurs that write well and have a passion for a good beer.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Causation or Correlation - All About The Beer

Early last week I listened to a NPR: Planet Money podcast, What Causes What, on the relationship been causation and correlation.  Last Friday I read on the Eater San Diego blog that La Jolla Brew House is closing and thought of a causation and correlation example related to San Diego breweries.  Are the rise of brewery-only tasting rooms and the food trucks that visit them helping cause traditional brewpubs to close?  La Jolla Brew House's closure follows the recent shutting of El Cajon Brewing Company and last year's closing of The Brew House at East Lake.  It seems strange to me that brewpubs are closing in a town where a new brewery seems to open every month. 

Take a fancy brewery tasting room, like at Green Flash, or Alesmith, or Societe Brewing or Coronado Brewing, or any number of local breweries, add a food truck and all of a sudden it's an instant brewpub.  It's easy to check on Facebook or Twitter what food truck is visiting what brewery to plan your beer and food afternoon or evening.  Why limit yourself to a fixed brewpub menu when you can check a few brewery websites or Twitter feeds, and target your eating and drinking? 

I know that the closure of three brewpubs is a small sample.   But there does seem a weak, but positive correlation, as three traditional brewpubs have recently closed while a new tasting rooms seem to open every month, followed by the inevitable arrival of food trucks.  Causation - proving that the brewery-only tasting rooms and visiting food trucks directly helped cause the closures - is more difficult to determine.  I'm sure there are many unique reasons why the three brewpubs closed, which could include poor management, difficult location, high prices, mediocre food, lousy beer, or any other reason.  I don't know.

My non-scientific, non-statistical beer gut opinion is that brewpub failure is, ultimately, all about the beer.  It's always about the beer.  If the beer is good, people will seek it out whether or not it's at a brewpub or a brewery-only tasting room.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hip Brewer Plays It Safe

I have wanted to try Vermont's Hill Farmstead beers since reading about them on the Kaedrin Beer Blog, and subsequently, in other publications.  This small brewery is uber hip, and its limited distribution feeds the buzz.  I had never seen one of Hill Farmstead's beers here in Southern California until a few weeks ago, when I saw - and immediately bought - a Hill Farmstead collaboration beer, La Vermontoise.  It's a saison brewed with Belgium's Brasserie De Blaugies

I knew nothing about this beer (or Hill Farmstead's collaborative brewer, Brasserie De Blaugies, for that matter) when I bought it, other than the label information stating that the beer was a classic saison.  It poured a pale, opaque yellow with intense carbonation that created a thick white foam.  It had the taste of a traditional saison, much more along the lines of Saison Dupont than the wild, unpredictable Fantome.

La Vermontoise was a spicy, yeast-forward beer, with a marked dryness.  The Amarillo hops imparted a gentle bitterness through the long finish.   This was a drinkable, approachable beer.  A safe beer.  It was straightforward in its construction, and didn't pull any flavor twists.  I noted that I felt it a serious beer despite its straitlaced approach to the saison style.

I liked La Vermontoise.  Saison is a style open to liberal interpretation and variation, and I appreciated La Vermontoise's traditional take on the style.   Initially, with Hill Farmstead's trendy reputation, I was expecting an edgier beer, but its edginess was its traditionalism.  It is easier to find a beer's flaws when a brewer adheres to a strict style script than when playing loose and pushing boundaries, and I didn't notice any mistakes in La Vermontoise.   Once I realized La Vermontoise's was a formal saison, I was able to enjoy it for its excellent construction, and most importantly, excellent flavor.  I'd like to try more Hill Farmstead beers, in particular ones that helped create its trendy reputation. 

Coronado Brewing Takes Elephant Gun To Tusk and Grain

Coronado Brewing has shut its specialty brewing line, Tusk and Grain, just as I was starting to see its beers around town.  I first read the rumors on Twitter, and yesterday Brandon Hernandez confirmed the rumors on his San Diego Reader blog.  Hernandez said Coronado's decision was based on "a series of internal happenings," whatever the heck that ominous, open-ended phase entails. 

Maybe the Tusk and Grain line just wasn't that special.  I'd seen a Tusk and Grain IPA, ESB and stout, which don't seem that different from Coronado's regular ale-centric beers.   A specialty line needs to differentiate itself from regular offerings by more than just a name.

I tried the Tusk and Grain ESB and liked it (pictured at right).  It was solid and true to style, with prominent malts and the mineral taste you expect from a good English ESB.  I want to try the IPA, Loutish Madras, before it goes away. 

Separately, if you haven't made it to Coronado's new tasting room in Bay Park, it is well worth a visit.  It is huge and well laid out, with a wide range of Coronado beers on tap.  Full pints are available, too.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Back In The Rotation

The Beer Rovette and I went to Blind Lady Ale House several times the first year or two after it opened.  We loved the food - some of the best pizzas and salads we know of in San Diego - and the twenty-plus beer tap list.  As a beer geek I appreciated its clean tap lines, correct glassware and adherence to proper pours.  But we became increasingly annoyed at the crowds, which seemed to grow larger with each visit.  Apparently we weren't the only ones who liked Blind Lady.  The crush of people became too much for us and we stopped going to Blind Lady.

Last Friday, we ventured back to Blind Lady for a late lunch.  It was fantastic - same excellent pizza and salad - and the crowd was reasonable.  Since our last visit, Blind Lady expanded its space, easing its seating pressure.   We were able to get a seat at one of the picnic benches and have a relaxing meal, which allowed us to appreciate the quality of the food, without feeling the weight of anxious eyes pleading for our seats. 

The Blind Lady's house brewing operation, Automatic Brewing, has kicked into gear, and there were three Automatic beers on tap.  I tried the Shark IPA, a full bodied IPA brewed with Simcoe and Citra hops.  It has a forward, pine hop bitterness, complemented by an earthy undertone that rounds out Shark's long, subtle finish.  With its multilayer of flavors, you won't find a more complex IPA than Shark.   It dances along the border between IPA and double IPA.  Its 7% abv qualifies it as an IPA, but its flavor is bolder, richer and more sophisticated than many double IPAs.  (I didn't snap the picture after drinking the top quarter of the beer; this is how Blind Lady serves it - correctly, at the pour line.)

The Blind Lady's tap list was outstanding.  I wish I had taken a picture (and I can't find a current tap list on-line).  From memory, some of the beers included ones from Russian River, Craftsman, Societe, a DuPont beer I'd never seen, and a few draft-only Ballast Point beers.  Restaurants with a half dozen or more craft beers on draft are all over San Diego, but ones where the beer list is serious, proportioned and obviously selected by someone who knows and cares about beer - rather than by a distributor - are rare.  The Blind Lady is such a place.

We are going back to Blind Lady, soon.  I am still not going to brave a Thursday, Friday or Saturday evening, or probably any evening, but count me in for a late lunch or early dinner.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Societe Brewing And The Disappearing Growler

I have noted before, either here on the blog or on Twitter, that I bought one of Societe Brewing's growlers earlier in the year.  I've filled it several times, but have yet to write a review on what was inside the growler.  I'm not sure why.  Maybe part of the reason is because Societe's beers are only available on draft, and I didn't want to come off like a beer douche raving about beers not widely available, as if I had some kind of "in" or advantage over the rest of beer drinkers.  But while this was an issue a year ago when Societe opened, today its beers, while still draft-only, are widely distributed throughout San Diego County.

As I understand it, Societe started with a narrow, but incredible mandate, it planned to brew IPAs and Belgian beers.   The Belgians were to include a wide variety of styles, including barrel aged beers and sours (which should be available starting in early 2014, I believe).   You can see the stacked barrels in a special room at the brewery.  The times I have been to Societe three or four Belgians have been available.  Societe has expanded past IPAs and has crafted a couple of stouts.  Yes, Societe is the brewery a beer geek (me!) would envision, after a few strong pints, if asked to create the perfect brewery.  It's a crazy, beer nerd's dream come true. 

My problem with Societe is that my growler fills seem to just disappear.  I get them home, pour a glass with dinner and than a glass or two after dinner, and the next thing I know the growler is empty, without the tell-tale signs that should accompany knocking off the better part of a growler.  At first I thought Societe's fancy steel growler was smaller than other growlers, but no, it's a standard half-gallon.  I typically stretch a growler three or four nights, but a Societe growler is one night, then a short, disappointing second - disappointing because the growler's empty.

Last weekend I filled up a growler of The Apprentice IPA, one of Societe's three regular IPAs, and was intent on determining why it emptied so fast.  And once again more than half was gone in the first night.  I finally realized that the beer goes fast because it's just too damn good.  This leads to a top-off problem, because every time I walk past the growler sitting on the counter, I stop to top off my glass.  I never pour a full glass to begin with, so keeping my glass a third to half full over the course of an evening results in accelerated growler shrink.

The Apprentice is an earthy, perfectly balanced IPA.  There is a good dose of citrus juiciness, too, that highlights the beer's freshness.   The Apprentice is not a full-bodied, chewy IPA, even though it's 7.5% abv.  It's lighter character seems to enhance the beer's flavors.   The Apprentice is so smooth and mellow, you just want to keep drinking it to enjoy its sublime flavor.  It doesn't induce hop fatigue, a normal byproduct of IPAs.   Drinking The Apprentice and The Pupil, Societe's Nelson and Citra hopped IPA - and oh yeah, it's as awesome as you think - put me in a happy place. (I have yet to sample The Dandy, Societe's third regular IPA, and have read that it's Societe's best IPA, but I have also read the same about The Apprentice and The Pupil.)

I think I've solved the problem of my disappearing growler, I need to buy a keg.

(The two pictures in this post are of The Pupil and are from earlier in the year.)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Clever Brooklyn Brewery Video

I am not sure exactly what this video is selling, but it's still a neat trip through beer-centric Brooklyn:

Brooklyn Brewery Mash - A trip through BK in 3000 photos from Paul Trillo on Vimeo.

Via The Daily Dish

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Brewpub's Demise

It's not every day a brewery fails in San Diego, or one of its suburbs.  The Hop Daddy's Beer Blog was the first I read to report the closing of El Cajon Brewing Company.  I never made it out to the East County brewpub, but judging by some of the threads on BeerAdvocate, including this one, trouble seemed to plague El Cajon Brewing almost from its opening.  I never like reading about a brewery closing, but sometimes issues are bigger than the beer.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Coffee / Hop Experiment Gone Bad

I love coffee and I love IPAs.   One is a great start to a day, the other a relaxing finish.    A mixture of coffee and hops should therefore be a serendipitous combination, right?  After drinking the Dayman Coffee IPA collaboration between Stone Brewing /  Aleman / Two Brothers I know that each needs to stay in its own orbit - as far away from each other as possible.    Dayman is a cloying IPA dominated by the coffee not the hops.   Every taste reminded me in an unpleasant way of coffee ice cream - and I love coffee ice cream.   As the beer warmed the coffee flavor and sweetness intensified, making it harder and harder to drink.  (I finished the bottle, so I'm either a dedicated trooper or a shameless boozer, or maybe I just didn't want to offend the drain.)  I scoured the fridge after drinking Dayman searching for something - anything - hoppy to cleanse my palate.  Compared to Dayman, week-old growler dregs didn't taste half-bad.

Dayman is not a black IPA, and its clear, ruby appearance is its best attribute.   Its aroma is all coffee.  There is enough body and hop presence to give a long, bitter finish, but it's marked by the awkward coffee/hop flavor dissonance, making me wish the beer was thinner.  Coffee and hops are both bitter, but bitter in their own way, and mixing the two just didn't work for me.  Dayman's ABV is nearly 9%, but it's not boozy, or high enough in alcohol, which is unfortunate because self-lobotomy is the only thing that could have improved my opinion of this beer.  

Saturday, March 9, 2013

AleSmith Growler Policy

AleSmith Brewing Company announced a new growler policy in an email yesterday.  Here is the policy from the email:

Recently, the ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) clarified to breweries in California their approved laws on filling growlers.  With the recent clarification, AleSmith has been hard at work on creating a tag that will satisfy the requirements and allow us to begin filling blank growlers in the AleSmith tasting room.  We have submitted a tag for approval and as soon as we receive the appropriate approval, we will be filling blank 32 & 64 oz growlers of our ten year round beers. 

For the time being, we will only be filling blank growlers (no other company markings) and it will only be with our ten year round beers.  Look for these changes to take effect within the next sixty days. 

We will post to both our Facebook and Twitter as soon as we're approved to start filling the blank growlers.  Additionally, we will still be selling AleSmith logo growlers and filling them with all of our beers that are available for growler fill. 
I appreciate the move, but who owns a blank growler?  I don't want to buy or store another growler.   A label covering sticker for any growler is a better idea.  Local breweries need to collaborate on a San Diego County-wide policy that covers all breweries.  This would benefit breweries and beer drinkers.  Trying to remember a brewery's sticker policy before you go fill a growler is insane. 

(I want to use Societe Brewing's steel growler at other breweries. It's a cool design that takes up less space than glass growlers.  But, I think I may have an old Ballast Point growler that just has a sticker label rather than an etched label.  I need to try and fit it, and remove the sticker.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Local News Fail

Check out the photo gallery to the left of this NBC San Diego article on new restaurants.  Major fail as the first picture is of Bud and Goose Island beer bottles.  The picture below is part of a slide show, but I tried to capture it:

Sorry for quality of the picture.

Hey NBC, there are a few local San Diego brewers that bottle beer.   It'd be better get pictures from them rather than from the biggest brewer in the world.