Thursday, August 6, 2020

Culture Canceled

I have started this post more than a few times and always deleted it for various reasons. I need to get it out of my system before I can write other posts. 

Culture Brewing's Ocean Beach tasting room closed on April 19, 2020, and it still makes me sad. The closing was not pandemic-related, despite the date, but due to a big rent increase. I found Culture's tasting room an inclusive space, a real reflection of the community, which I know is an overused cliche. In this case the cliche was true. All types passed through the tasting room to enjoy beer, and no one cared or judged. A couple in their sixties was as common as a couple in their twenties. Women could drink without unwanted advances. As a middle-aged white man in a mostly white community, I know I am not the best judge of this, nor do I claim to be super aware, but it seemed to me that people of color were treated no different than anyone else at Culture. I hope I am right, and not just wishful thinking.

Culture's staff created this egalitarian space. Whether on purpose, or through the aura of the place, or because it is in independent Ocean Beach, the staff's calm, friendly approach did not waiver, even on nights when Culture was busy, or when new people were hired. I generally stopped at Culture once or twice a week for five years, whether for a crowler fill or for a taster while on other errands in Ocean Beach. I did not hang out there and drink sessions of pints, so maybe my experience is limited, but I saw various levels of crowds and different servers, and the staff remained cool, fair, and welcoming. (I never saw anyone drunk or belligerent, either.)

Last Growler of Culture Pale Ale

It is hard to capture the karma of the Culture's Ocean Beach tasting room. As mentioned above, maybe it was the variety of people who stopped in, I'd always see someone I had not seen before. Maybe it was the number of dogs, which I am not a fan of but that were part of the place. Maybe it was not having a TV. Maybe it was not blasting music. Maybe it was the rotation of local art displays. Maybe it was the wall lined with barrels aging beer, or the high ceilings, or the metal bar. I know it was not the beer, because Culture's best beers are mediocre. I guess all these things together made Culture work.

I know there are other tasting rooms in Ocean Beach; tasting rooms that offer better beer. None have the same ambience of Culture. Novo Brazil is taking over Culture's tasting room so there'll still be craft beer along with seltzer, cider, kombucha, or what ever other drink Novo offers that I'll never try. Sure, I intend to give Novo a try but for some reason I am expecting a Bro fest. 

Culture was unique, but I don't want it replicated. Nostalgia can turn to poison. Culture's tasting room was a positive addition to Ocean Beach and I do not think I am only one who misses it.

(The picture above is Culture's Pale Ale from my last growler fill at the Ocean Beach tasting room.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Self Righteous

Stone Brewing's Sublimely Self Righteous black IPA made a comeback this spring to brighten time spent sheltering in place. Sublimely Self Righteous first appeared in 2007 as Stone's 11th Anniversary beer, and soon after became part of Stone's year-round beer offerings until its retirement in 2015. Part of the beauty of brewing is that nothing needs to stay retired for ever, and Stone has returned to its recipe vault with great success. Late last week I picked up a crowler of Sublimely Self Righteous at Stone's Liberty Station World Bistro & Garden's tasting room, and I am all in for Stone revisiting its classics.

In my mind, black IPAs were designed, in part, as bitter or more aggressive stouts (and also an attempt to label any style an IPA). What hit me with Sublimely Self Righteous was not so much its bitterness, but its upfront and all around sweetness. If dessert beers were a category, Sublimely Self Righteous would land in the center of it. The candied dark malts evoked chocolate and coffee, and Stone did a good job of hiding the 8.7% abv.

When I drink black IPAs I expect the hop flavors to standout, but I cannot think of a case where this has happened, and if Stone can't do it, no one can. I find Sublimely Self Righteous excellent, not because of its hops, but because the hops mix so well with the malt. The sweetness required to match the heavy hops and malt define this beer. Without it, the malt would suffocate taste, like having a loaf of dark bread shoved in your mouth, or the hops would turn the beer acrid, or the 8.7% abv would make it a boozy mess. Instead, it shines; no gags from too much malt, no burnt bitter winces from excessive hops, and no singes from alcohol heat. Sublimely Self Righteous is Stone exhibiting its master brewing techniques.

I can't drink a beer this big on a regular basis, it's beer gluttony. I feel the same way about Enjoy By, which is released four times a year. Stone's idea to make Sublimely Self Righteous a special release is smart, and at least for me, increases its demand factor.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020


I try to keep positive on this blog, but I have to vent. If you order beer or food to go, or pick beer and food to go: WEAR A FACE MASK AND SOCIAL DISTANCE. Please do not turn employees at restaurants and breweries into enforcement police. It is rude, it is not their job, and you are putting them at risk as well as making them uncomfortable. You know the rules - obey them!

Over the past week I have been at several restaurants and breweries where some patrons had to be reminded to put on masks and that they had to wait in line. Yes, even if you order online, you have to wait with everyone else for pickup. It is not that hard, I promise. Don't be a Karen - or way more likely - a Male Karen.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Glimmers of Hope - II

The West Coaster had a link to this spreadsheet today, which is a crowdsourced status update of San Diego breweries. You can find this spreadsheet on the San Diego Brewers Guild's website. The database of breweries is a good reference. In looking through the list, I am impressed by how many breweries are operating and selling beer at some level. If I am reading the spreadsheet right, only two breweries have closed permanently, Escondido Brewing and Iron Fist Brewing, and only a handful of other breweries are closed due to COVID-19. The good news is how many breweries are open and selling beer in some form. I did notice that Blind Lady / Automatic Brewing is listed as closed, but in reading Blind Lady's instagram, it is now selling some food and beer on weekends. Last weekend was its second weekend and its stock of foods sold out fast.

I am not going to guess how or when the COVID-19 pandemic ends. Reading this list gives me hope that my initial fears back in March of widespread closures and a permanent change to San Diego's craft beer industry may have been false fears.

Glimmers of Hope

In the twenty minutes it took me to write the previous post on Societe's Pupil I received one of Societe's regular update emails. The opening note is worth repeating in full:

To all of our incredible and loyal fans, thank you.  Thank you for the 8 years of support leading up to the Covid-19 crisis. Thank you for the continued patronage these past 8 weeks.  And thank you for being excited about future releases.  Prior to the pandemic, 90% of our beer was consumed from kegs at bars and restaurants.  Luckily though, we got our own canning line up and running in mid-January and have pivoted hard into packaging. What used to look like a kegging factory now looks like a canning factory.  Our sales team, production team, and retail team have been hard at work making this drastic shift feel normal and thanks to you, we’re now looking to buy more tanks to increase our capacity!  For those of you who miss our tasting room, please know that we miss you too.  And I guarantee you that every bar and restaurant that you miss also misses you.  While it will take some time for this to pass, every time you purchase or drink a Societe beer, you’re indirectly thinking of us here at the brewery and those thoughts definitely make us sleep a little bit better.  Cheers to your health.
Societe is "looking to buy more tanks to increase our (its) capacity." This is incredible. Societe shifted to cans when 90% of its business stopped and now needs added capacity, which must be from demand. From a craft beer industry standpoint this is some of the best news I have read in a long time. It also says a lot about the management and employees at Societe that an established business can adapt and transform its production so fast.

Pupil "That Beer"

The Indie Beer Show is back podcasting again, and on the May 5, 2020, episode (at about 21 minutes into the podcast), Brandon Hernandez made a statement I am still thinking about. To paraphrase him, he said if Societe Brewing's Pupil IPA had been released a few years earlier, it could have been the Sculpin of the beer world, or "that beer." Brandon's right. Now this could not have been possible because Societe did not exist when Sculpin became Sculpin, and he clarifies this. But the point is that Pupil is so good and such a standout beer, it could have had the same impact on the beer world as Sculpin, which Ballast Point rode to its $1 billion sale to Constellation.

Pupil IPA (7.5% abv) is still a standout beer. Every time I have one I tell myself how good a beer it is, and I have been saying this to myself for eight years. I don't doubt Pupil could have stood in for the role of Sculpin in the craft beer world, but then Pupil would have changed, Societe would have changed, and everything Societe would have sucked, except maybe Doug's and Travis's bank accounts.

Upheaval due to COVID-19 happens fast. Years' of business and product cycles are now occurring in the span weeks. I just want a pint of Pupil's consistency.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Coronavirus Comfort Beer

Pizza Port has regular canned special releases, and many of the ones I have tried have been outstanding beers. One of Pizza Port's most recent releases is Campgrounds IPA (7.2% abv). It has been my go-to beer during the lockdown. It is a modern take on the West Coast IPA. By modern I mean it is brewed with new hops strains of Strata, Cashmere, and Rakau, not the classic hops like Cascade, Centennial, or Amarillo. It is clear and light in color. It is plenty bitter, but it also has prominent citrus fruit. The mouthful is a striking oily resin. Pizza Port did everything right brewing this beer. I am not sure how long this is going to stay in circulation, but I know it is still available around town and at Pizza Port locations.

Still Got It

Stone Brewing's Arrogant Consortia's Arrogant Bastard is still one heck of a beer. The rise of hazy beers, beers made with hops that bring more fruit, or vegetables, or earth than bitterness, and the absence of malt in many beers has not diminished the impact of Arrogant Bastard. It is unshakeable; still bitter and still malty. I did note a high level of sweetness I had never noticed or paid much attention to before, but it seemed warranted with the big malt presence. I didn't find Arrogant Bastard as complex or as subversive as I did twenty years ago, but that is fine, because it made me realize how good a beer it remains.


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Drinking Local

Beer blogging was an outlet during the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009, but blogging has not provided me the same escape during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has not stopped beer drinking, and it is heartening that so many breweries and restaurants have adapted to this challenge. Pizza Port in Ocean Beach has a steady line. Mike Hess Brewing is offering $5 fills in is 32 oz growlers of any beer*. This is an incredible bargain and I am getting mini-growler fills several times a week. Over the past few weeks I have discovered Societe Brewing's marvelous Beer for the People Pilsner and Rouleur Brewing's Endo IPA, which is a proper update to the West Coast IPA.

We have ordered takeout from Stone Brewing's World Bistro & Gardens - Liberty Station on a few occasions, and it has been fantastic. I once even got a crowler fill of Pliny The Elder (my only non-local beer since the pandemic started). Stone Brewing's most recent Enjoy By 4.20.20 is stonking good, and example No. 1 of an ABV smuggler (Indy Beer Show podcast term).

Rules have been relaxed to allow restaurants to sell beer to go in growlers or other containers, even though I have not bought any. I am not sure if this change allowed restaurants to get rid of existing beer supplies, or if restaurants are now taking on new kegs. Either way, I think it is positive and should become permanent. (Hey, Joint OB, I know you are closed, but you should open for a draft beer sale because you have a great beer list and that beer should not end up as a fancy drain pour.) Even breweries have seen relaxation in the types of containers they fill, and of course Stone Liberty Station filling crowlers or growlers of Russian River beers is a bonus. It is too bad it took a pandemic to cause a growler comeback. I find a 32 oz growler more convenient than a crowler.

Many breweries are offering free home delivery and free shipping. This is wild and provides another post-pandemic sales channel. I have not ordered beer for delivery yet, but who knows. It seems like a good way to get beer from some of those North County breweries I always want to visit but never make time to visit.

*Mike Hess's new Pershing Pilsner, I believe, is the one exception to the $5 fill.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020


I went to purchase some sandwiches today at a local deli/bottle shop and saw a bottle of Deschutes Old World Abyss (10.8% abv) in the fridge for eight bucks. I now understand why I have so many barrel aged stouts lurking in my closets. I resisted the temptation to buy it, for now.

Monday, March 30, 2020

No Frills Stout and Porter

"Though their life was modest they believed in eating well; the best of everything: diamond bone sirloins, three-shilling tea and the best bottled stouts." James Joyce's The Dead, in Dubliners
At the start of this stay-at-home period I did an inventory of the beers I've bought over the years and stored in my closet and in the back of my fridge. I did not realize I had so many high abv barrel aged stouts. I found beers with abvs of 10%, 11%, and even one with 13% abv. I managed to hoard for an apocalypse, not to kill time on a Tuesday watching Jeopardy!. I don't know why I have collected so many barrel aged stouts, and worse, I don't see an occasion - because when you open an 11% beer it is an occasion - where I will dig one of these beers out of their quarantine.

I did find two excellent dark beers, but they were not in my ad hoc cellars: Eppig Brewing's Sinister Path Export Stout and Pizza Port's One Pint of Plain Irish Porter, which was brewed with South Park Brewing and Half Door Brewing. The two beers were made with skill, not additives. Neither beer is juiced with the likes of vanilla, coffee, fruit, or coca nibs, neither spent time in a barrel, and neither has a lobotomy-level abv. Eppig's Sinister Path is a 7% stout. It is creamy and deep roasted, which brings out coffee and chocolate flavors. It has full body and a sweetness that would make this beer fine as a dessert by itself. I have gushed about Eppig's beers before, and Sinister Path is another masterpiece.

Pizza Port's special release, timed to match St Patrick's Day, is a 4.8% porter. It is a straightforward porter. It does not have the body or the sweetness of Sinister Path, which makes Plain Porter great with food, like the corned beef we had it with on St. Patrick's Day. Plain Porter is a dry beer, one of the driest I have had in recent years. This is not an impediment and another reason why it pairs well with food. You could drink this beer several times a week and not get tired of it.

I appreciate these two every-day dark beers.

Monday, March 23, 2020


You did not come to this sight to read my opinions on leadership, or lack of leadership, in a Coronavirus world. Instead, I point you to this notice posted by Bagby Beer Company this past weekend. It is as courageous as it is heartbreaking.

Ten days into stay-at-home, I remain optimistic for craft breweries, restaurants, and other small, local businesses. I want to believe this outlook is not misplaced. Bagby Beer Company is going to be one of the first places I visit when the pandemic passes. I have wanted to visit since it opened, but the distance has always been my excuse to push off a trip to next week, or next month, or next time I am in Oceanside. Next week never comes.