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.