Monday, November 16, 2020

Start Of An Avalanche?

Last week saw the permanent closure of Royale! in Point Loma/Ocean Beach and Small Bar in University Heights, while craft brewery Rip Current Brewing put itself up for sale. I am getting the sense that a wave of closures is coming, and the list of local favorites is going to grow at an increased pace. 

The end of Royale! hurts. It was run by two brothers and it had a steady group of regulars. We would get Royale! take out at least once a week, and it stayed open late, which helped me numerous times. The comments on Royale's Instagram thread show people varied in their favorite dishes. I like Royale!'s grilled fish sandwich, its farmer's salad, and its Brussel Spouts when in season. Royale!'s space (long and narrow with a tiny front patio) and location (near a busy intersection with no convertible sidewalk space or street access) did not allow it to transition to outdoor dining. Looking back, these two factors signaled Royale!'s fate. 

I never made it to Small Bar, but like Royale!, it sounds like it had its loyal fans. Rip Current has a strong reputation, but I don't often see its beers on draft or its beers for sale in cans. Rip Current's website lists a number of beers in cans, so I will look harder for its beers. Its website is not up to date on where to find Rip Current beers on draft. It appears to be more of accounts that may sell its beers rather than places having Rip Current beer on draft now, and it still lists Sessions Public as a draft account, but it closed a few years ago, and was replaced by Royale! Pandemic or not, accurate details on distribution are crucial to compete in the COVID world.  

  

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Up-Rooted

It looks like Two Roots Brewing's Ocean Beach tap room is done. The space, at the corner of Newport Avenue and Cable Street, has graffiti on the windows and Two Roots' sign is gone (you can make out Helm's Brewing's original sign). Inside it looks like it was cleaned out in a rush; lots of trash and the walk-in fridge door is open. The location is good, but not adaptable to outdoor operations, now a COVID-19 imposed requirement. The space, too, is much smaller than the other brewery tap rooms along Ocean Beach's Newport Avenue that are half a block deep (Kilowatt Brewing's space, just off Newport Avenue and about two hundred feet from Two Roots, is a little different with it has big deck on its wide front that made COVID-19 adaption easier). Here is the picture I took earlier this week:


Wednesday, October 28, 2020

SD Beer News

I heard the phrase "A pandemic is a terrible thing to waste" on The Pivot podcast. While stated tongue-in-cheek, it has a strain of truth, and it made me think of the new local craft beer news network San Diego Beer News that started last summer. It is now my first source for San Diego craft beer news. Brandon Hernández, SD Beer News' founder and preeminent San Diego craft beer writer and journalist, jumped into the opportunity created, in part, by the retirement in April 2020 of the San Diego Union Tribune's beer writer, Peter Rowe, and the apparent COVID-forced scale-back of beer website and print magazine West Coaster. Hernández has brought together a talented group of writers, brewers, publicans, podcasters, and more to create a beer news network*.  The growing list of partners is impressive and includes podcasts Indie Beer Show** and Beer Night in San Diego, home brew club QUAFF, the advancement for women in beer organization Pink Boots Society, TV station Fox 5, and FM radio stations 91X and 94.9, which have the craft beer shows Beer for Breakfast (91X) and the Rock & Roll Happy Hour (94.9).

I recommend this episode of the Indie Beer Show podcast from August that details SD Beer News' backstory. If you don't already, it is worth it to follow SD Beer News on Twitter and Instagram.

* Hernández must have built the website and the extensive brewing network from home due to his heightened level of risk if exposed to COVID-19. This makes his effort create SD Beer News all the more impressive.

** Hernández is an Indie Beer Show co-host.


Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Unappealing and Appealing

I received an email from The Bruery yesterday announcing the upcoming release of its Black Tuesday bourbon barrel-aged stout. The beer weighs in at an obese 19.3% abv. I find the thought of a 19.3% abv beer unappealing. I used to enjoy articles and blog posts about the frenzy around releases of Black Tuesday and other similar big beers. Years ago, I went to a San Diego Beer Week event with the sole intent to sample Black Tuesday. It was good, of course, but boozy, boozy, boozy. 

Here is what I find appealing: The Lost Abbey, which has released its share of high abv beers, released Nobel Tendencies, a 5% abv pilsner last week, and Pizza Port's has released it latest version of its periodic Graveyard's Pale Ale, which weighs in at a reasonable 6.2% abv. I find it bizarre and hard to explain that how as I get older, my aversion to beers with ABVs above 10% grows. I am no more mentally mature now than I was ten years ago, but 2010 me would be laughing, if not mocking, 2020 me and my interest in the release of a pilsner and a pale ale.  

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Flavor Explosion

I critiqued Stone Brewing a few posts ago for losing focus, but I can't find flaw in Stone's skill at brewing stand out double IPAs. Its 24th Anniversary Didgeridoom is another first class beer. It is marmalade-colored with big white foam. It overflows with a myriad of sensations: fruit, candy sweetness, a solid jolt of malt. The beer was brewed with Australian hops, which supplies the fruit flavors, but don't ask me to name a specific fruit - citrus? yes, I think; melon? sure, why not; berries? maybe, but maybe not. Stone's description says the beer had some dankness, too, and who am I to argue. It is all flavor; and it works from the first drink to the last. It is sensory overload, but it refuses to numb your mouth. Its abv is a stealth 8.5%. Stone has perfected the method to hide booze taste in its big beers. I can't remember the last time I had an IPA with this much punch. Bigger Belgian beers can bring in the same frenetic taste character, but it is rare to find it in a double IPA. Savor and marvel at this beer while it is still available. 



Monday, October 5, 2020

Makin' Time

Makin' Time is a hoppy pilsner brewed as a collaboration between Modern Times Beer and San Francisco's Cellarmaker Brewing Co. Makin' Time is a hazy pilsner, or at least an unfiltered pilsner. Pilsners, in general, are clear, fine-filtered beers. Because of the high level of hops, Makin' Time's does not have the crisp yeastiness I associate with pilsners, but its 5% abv is a standard pilsner booze level. My overall impression drinking Makin' Time, however, was not its loose pilsner character or its hop presence, but its stark dryness; it had saison-level dryness. It made me cough twice. Don't get me wrong, I liked this beer and found it enjoyable to drink. I bought Makin' Times this in early August and have no idea on its current availability. Modern Times cranks out these creative special release collaborations at such a rapid rate it is hard to know if cans are still on shelves.



Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Fest Time

I don't know if it is just me, but it seems like there are more local Oktoberfest, or Fest beers available this year than in past years. I have seen canned Fest beers from Societe Brewing, AleSmith, and Karl Strauss (which has made its Oktoberfest beer for years), and a draft marzen version from Mike Hess. Eppig Brewing cans its FestBier, too, and puts it in distinct 16 oz cans. Eppig is a top-notch lager brewer, and it shows in FestBier. The beer brings out the distinguishing yeasty bread taste of a good Fest beer. It is malty and sweet, with slight mineral flavors. The mild bitterness is present but sits in the background and does not protrude. It is not as malty as the big German beers of this style, and it has more hop character, albeit subtle. It pours clear and more orange than a typical lager, but is paler than German Oktoberfest beers. FestBier comes in at 6% abv, but drinks and feels lighter than its abv. This beer showcases the Fest style while still capturing a Southern California sensibility. Wunderbar!


I am glad at the rise of local Fest beers. I think craft brewers used to cede this style to the big German brewers, like Paulaner, Spaten, and Hacker-Pschorr.  The German beers are good, which may have played a part in the reluctance of craft brewers, and also, I think, too, craft consumers wanted hoppier, less malty beers so brewers were afraid to brew a time consuming lager and have it not sell. Lagers seem in the midst of resurgence, which helps lowers the risk of the beers not moving. I am more apt to buy a local Fest beer, so brew away. I think Eppig brews and cans FestBier twice a year: spring and late summer/early fall, but there is no sense in waiting to get a four-pack of this beer. 


Monday, September 21, 2020

Nug-O-Goodness

Pizza Port and Burgeon Beer collaborated on Nug-O-War Wet Hop IPA. Two versions were brewed; the one brewed at Pizza Port is a West Coast style IPA, and the one brewed at Burgeon is a hazy IPA. Both were released last week and both are wet hop IPAs. I picked up the Pizza Port West Coast version and it is fantastic. Brewed with Strata hops, this beer is sticky and bursts with citrus juice. Nug-O-War is only 6.5% abv, which is an accomplishment given its intensity. This beer is a smash hit that must be enjoyed as soon as possible. The ripeness of wet hop beers diminishes fast, so it is best to drink wet hop beers soon after they are brewed. They do not go bad, but the fresh squeezed pop, which is the joy of these beers, is short-lived. I am on the lookout for the hazy version brewed at Burgeon, and I hope it shows up stores and is not a brewery only release. 



Pizza Port has released one great IPA after another this year, and this is (I think) the second collaboration, or maybe it is the third, I don't know but it does not matter they have all been excellent. Pizza Port's special releases have been a bright spot in 2020.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Virtual Trip To A London Tap Rom

I am trying to stay positive and look forward. I like to investigate breweries in cities I like by reading about them, looking at pictures, researching Google maps, and taking notes for future visits. Here is an article from Pellicle on London's Anspach & Hobday Brewery that has me checking on flights to London. This small brewery is putting out some good beers - its flagship beer is a 6.7% abv porter. A straight up, no nonsense porter. A freaking flagship porter! Rechecking flights now.

The article by beer writer Will Hawkes is well written and the pictures are quality (see below). Don't be afraid of the article's The New Yorker length, it reads fast and is worth the time. Anspach & Hobday has its tap room along the Bermondsey Mile, a part of London south of the Thames River where breweries and other artisan businesses have set up shop in railway arches. I had the chance to visit one brewery here in 2014 (Partizan), but I did it rushed, which I regret. I need to spend a whole day or two along the Mile, hitting bakeries, cheese shops, coffee roasters, as well as breweries and what ever else looks interesting. (I still don't understand why so many tasting rooms in London are only open on Friday and Saturday, compared to the seven days a week in the United States.) 

A picture Anspach & Dobday beers from the Pellice article. Not sure what the beer is.

In addition to its porter, Anspach & Dobday brew a pale ale, a lager, an IPA, as well as special releases and collaborations, and it cans some of its beers; just like breweries here in the United States. But the UK still has its differences even if hazy and West Coast IPA are common. Anspach & Hobday would have its brewers guild card cut in two if it did not brew a cask ale. After the porter, its Ordinary Bitter cask ale is the beer I'd most like to try, although it would make sense to drink the bitter first. 

Anspach & Dobday's Bermondsey Tap Room. Picture from Anspach & Dobday's website.

I recommend reading Pellicle. It has quality food and drink-centric writing and photography. While it is UK and Europe focused, it is not exclusive to this region. It is as much a travel site as it is a food site. Pellicle has podcasts, too. It is worth a follow if you don't already.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Gutted

The nightmare year continues its ominous roll. San Diego Eater reported today that Tiger!Tiger! will not reopen. Done. Gone. History. Memory. This one hurts. I did not frequent Tiger!Tiger! because I do not live nearby, but the times I went were all great. Every time. Good food; outstanding beer. The ambience, the employees, and the diverse menu and beer list, when mashed together made each visit positive. It was one of those places that if we wanted to venture out of our neighborhood we always thought about, because we knew the meal would be special and worth it. 

During the COVID lockdown, we have picked up pizzas, salad, and beer from Blind Lady Alehouse (BLAH), Tiger!Tiger!'s sister restaurant, and the process from order to pickup to quality of the food was excellent. After reading the Eater article and interview with Tiger!Tiger! and BLAH owner Clea Hantman, it is time to get another order into BLAH.

I try to keep this blog positive. I try to not even give bad beer reviews anymore (although they are more fun and easier to write). The unrelenting bad news is becoming hard to handle. Restaurants like Tiger!Tiger! made San Diego a better place to live. I am worried about another restaurant here in Point Loma, Royale!, which has been "temporarily" closed for over a month. I am trying to stay optimistic, but still afraid "temporarily" becomes permanent. I know new restaurants will open, and they will be good, but that does not ease my immediate anger about all the Tiger!Tiger!s that are being forced to closed due to events they did not cause. So much damage was avoidable and COVID's impact should have been far less catastrophic. I thought of the last lines of Philip Larkin's short poem The Mower when I heard about Tiger!Tiger!:

The first day after a death, the new absence

Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind

While there is still time.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Adrift

Remember the last time you had a Stone IPA? I don't either. This is at the heart of Stone Brewing's problems. This article from Good Beer Hunting, posted yesterday, presents a bleak outlook for Stone and makes a case that Stone's slide started with its filing of a lawsuit against MillerCoors. The article confuses the lawsuit filing date, with the text stating that the lawsuit was filed in February 2019, but it has a timeline graph showing the lawsuit starting in February 2018. Whatever date the lawsuit was filed, people were no longer talking about Stone's beer.

The story should start in July 2016 when Stone received $90 million of private equity financing. One month later Stone hired a new CEO, Dominic Engels, who resigned last month. New private equity investors, new CEO, and the founders still involved. What could go wrong? As part of my day job I get to analyze and see private equity's impact on companies. The cash is great for companies, but this cash comes with a price. From my experience, and I have no idea if this is the case with Stone's investors, private equity focuses on asset extraction for carried interest payments. Stated another way: private equity only cares about paydays for its principals. 

The article states that Stone is actively seeking to sell itself, and that is being driven by the private equity investors. This is news, but it is no shock. Stone's new CEO, Maria Stipp, comes from Lagunitas where 50% of the brewery was sold to Heineken three months after she began, and then Heineken purchased the remaining 50% of Lagunitas less than two years later. Stone denies any plans to sell, which I hope is true.

Going back to Stone IPA, Stone needs to focus on beer. I checked Stone's website, and outside of Delicious IPA it is rare to see any of its other year-round beers at restaurants I frequent. Tropic of Thunder - nope; Fear. Movie. Lions - nope; Tangerine Express - nope; Ripper - nope; Scorpion Bowl IPA - nope; Ruination - nope; Buenaveza - nope; and even Stone IPA - nope. For a brewery, beer must be foremost, but beer is not the first thought that comes to mind when you think of Stone. It is ironic that the most brand and image conscience craft brewery lost sight of marketing and the market, which diminished the brand.

On a personal level, I am pulling for Stone. I like its beers, I like its bistros and tasting rooms, and I like its brand. Cans of Buenaveza have been a household favorite this summer, and in writing this post I learned that Stone IPA now is brewed with several varieties of New Zealand hops, which makes me want to get reacquainted with this classic.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Missing The Modern Times Podcast

The Modern Times: The Podcast ran just seven episodes from April 2019 until January 2020. Then it disappeared. It no longer shows up on the podcast app (Overcast) I use, not even archived episodes, and I can't even find a link on Modern Times' website. (I found the link above on PodBean, and it has all seven episodes, so it is not extinct.) It is too bad, because it was a quality podcast. A beer podcast from a brewery runs a high risk of touting non-stop propaganda or boring you with brewing technicalities. The Modern Times' podcast avoided these traps and kept episodes to around 45 minutes. 

The podcast was informative. For example, it discussed why Modern Times releases more hazy double IPA in its special releases than other beer types (episode 5); the simple answer is greater demand for bigger IPAs. This may seem obvious, but Modern Times' sales run counter to the beer narrative that people want low alcohol beers, thinking that lead to poor selling session IPAs. Other topics I found interesting included how Modern Times selected beer festivals to attend (episode 2?), how it managed its beer release schedules, and a discussion with the Modern Times' employee responsible for the art and design at the various Modern Times locations (episode 4). My favorite part of each podcast was Modern Times' one-star Yelp reviews put to music. These funny songs are worthy of a compilation episode. I am not sure if the Modern Times' podcast was a Covid-19 casualty or not, but it was fun while it lasted.