Friday, December 7, 2018

Good News

This week's bad San Diego craft beer news has been obvious and disheartening.  But there has also been some good local beer news, positive stories about growing breweries.  The West Coaster, the publication that supplies so much of my beer news, had stories on the rebound of Little Miss Brewing, which was torpedoed in its attempt to open an Ocean Beach late in 2017 after it and finished most of its tasting room, and on the expansion of Protector Brewing, the all-organic brewery located in Miramar's Miralani Makers District, which is home to a number of brewers.  You can find Protector's beers at the organic O.B. Garden Cafe in Ocean Beach, and here is a picture of a Protector IPA, one of the haziest beers I have seen.

But I bury the lede.  The best news I read this week is that Green Flash Brewing is bringing back the original recipe of West Coast IPA.  The Full Pint has the details on reformulation of this once giant of a San Diego IPA, and make sure to checkout the new logo in The Full Pint article.  After Green Flash's near implosion earlier this year, I was expecting the worst for the brewery with either a closure or some kind of assimilation into a macro brewer.  It appears Green Flash has decided to stay local, independent, and go back to what made it great.  The new West Coast IPA will have its avb dropped to its original 7.0% abv, down from its current double IPA 8.1% abv.  I still remember the bitter jolt the first time I had West Coast. Yes, yes, and heck yes!  

More on Benchmark Brewing and Council Brewing

Here is an article from the San Diego Reader that has more details on the closing of Council Brewing and the troubles at Benchmark Brewing than the articles I linked to in my previous post.  The article ends on this positive note:

The good news is, the Akins aren’t done with Benchmark just yet. Matt Akin continues to brew as they search for a way to keep from being forced out of their brewery headquarters, and in that event, the business will continue to distribute as long as possible, and serve award winning beer out of its recently opened Bay Park tasting room (4112 Napier Street, Bay Park). They have severed ties with their previous distributor, and signed with a new one, and remain optimistic as they pursue opportunities to remain in business, staying true to their motto to promote the never boring, “beer flavored beer.”

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Sad, Sad News

This has been a double sad week for San Diego craft beer as Council Brewing announced this it is closing and Benchmark Brewing is in immediate need of a cash fusion.  The week started with Benchmark Brewing pleading for a buyer.  Distribution issues - which may have been resolved - and a landlord dispute have put the five-year-old brewery in a serious cash crunch. According to Benchmark's social media, which I read on the West Coaster article linked too above, Benchmark has about a week to find a buyer or a cash source, or it may close. 

Tuesday morning I was thinking how similiar Benchmark and Council Brewing seem to me and that sometimes I confuse them with each other.  Both breweries are about five years old and are run by young couples with small children.  Then about twenty minutes later I read that Council is closing its brewery.  A second gut punch in as many days.  Council's decision earlier this year to expand to the former Finest Made Ales space in Santee allowed Council to open a second tasting room.  The expense of the second brewery and "much lower tasting room / distribution sales" were too much for Council to overcome. 

I feel bad because I don't remember the last time I had either a Council or a Benchmark beer.  I don't seem them on draft in places I frequent and I don't usually see their beers in grocery stores.  Their distribution issues are real.  I don't find myself near their tasting rooms at times when stopping for taster or two is convenient, either.  I am going to try to get to Benchmark's Bay Park tasting room Friday or Saturday.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Three Beers on a Pod

The Indie Beer Show podcast Episode 8, as one of its features, posed the question of Top Three Go To beers.  I heard this as the top three beers, readily available and widely distributed, you see on a tap list and know the bar or restaurant knows its beers.  For example, if you go to a restaurant and that has Stone IPA on tap you know there is at least one good beer option.  The answers, outside of the first round, got pretty esoteric (Orval), obscure, and seasonal, and became more of a wish list than a go to list.  (The pod's primary hosts, Brian Beagle and Esthela Davila, kept their picks to year-round local beers.)

Listening to the show's hosts and guests discuss their beers I began to think of my go to beers, or the beers I look for when I enter a restaurant to assess the tap list quality and credibility.  My liquid safety blankets are as follows:

3.  Any Stone IPA.  Whether its IPA, Delicious, or any other Stone IPA, it is reassuring to me when I see a Stone tap handle.  

2.  AleSmith Brewing's .394 Pale Ale.  A fantastic beer that is widely available and gives immediate respect to any restaurant that carries it.

1.  Societe Brewing Pupil IPA.  Pupil is not rare, but it is not in as many locations as .394 or Delicious, which makes that much more of a go to beer when I see it. 

For honorable mentions, I'd include Arrogant Bastard, Modern Times' Black House Stout or Blazing World, and Pizza Port's Swami IPA.  I know my list is IPA-centric, but IPAs are the current defining craft beer style.  I look forward to seeing one of Eppig's lagers on tap lists all over town.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Societe Brewing's Highwayman

I used to make an annual lists of my beers of the year, but I have not produced a list for several years.  If I were to make a list for 2018, Societe Brewing's Highwayman would top the list.  What a beer.  It's a wild ale, feral according to Societe.  It is sweet and spicy, but not too sweet or spicy, with a concentrated carbonation.  The Brettanomyces yeast gives Highwayman its wild, funky flavors.  I thought I noticed some woody flavors, too, from the barrel aging.  To me, the arc of this beer, and what makes it outstanding, is the harmonious interaction of its flavors.  No one aspect dominates: no slicing bitterness, or heavy malt, or puckering yeast, or distracting wood, or annoying sweetness.  Together, the favors glide to near perfection from start to finish.


Drinking from a small glass, alone in a crowded restaurant/bar (The Joint in Ocean Beach) waiting for takeout on the first night of San Diego Beer Week, is not the preferred way to enjoy Highwayman, but even under these hectic conditions the brilliance of Highwayman jumped out of the glass.  In a year of too many bland and indistinguishable hazy IPAs, Highwayman is a clarion howl for great beer from one of the best breweries in the world.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

San Diego Beer Week

This year's San Diego Beer Week starts tomorrow, November 2, 2018, and runs through next Sunday, November 11th.  SDBW is sponsored by San Diego Brewers Guild and there are events at breweries, bars, and restaurants all over the county.  This list of events on the SDBW website is comprehensive and lists events by day.  Get out, hit some events, and drink some San Diego beer.

A Coors Light Town No More

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Serious Question

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

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

Monday, October 22, 2018

How Did I Miss This Brewery?

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Wet Season

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

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

Monday, October 8, 2018

Magnolia Brewing Article

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

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

Monday, September 24, 2018

San Diego Brewers Score Big at GABF

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