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.