Thursday, December 5, 2019

Ballast Point - You Can't Go Home Again

The news about Constellation Brands selling Ballast Point to two-year-old Chicago brewery Kings & Convicts Brewing Co. is hard to believe.  Constellation bought Ballast Point for $1 billion in 2015 and is selling the brand to a start up brewery with less than ten employees for an undisclosed price in a transaction expected to close in 2020.  The contrasts scream:  A brewery with six or nine employees depending on what story you read is buying brewery with more than 500 employees.  A brewery slated to brew 600 barrels in 2019 is buying one expected to brew 200,000 in 2019 (down from 320,000 in 2018).  A two-year old brewery buying one more than twenty years old.

A couple of facets to the Ballast Point story I find strange are the origin story of the merger and the lack of financial detail.  An owner of a tiny craft brewery golfs with a Constellation executive and casually says he wants to buy Ballast Point and this starts the sale process.  I am incredulous.  Constellation is a huge public company ($6 billion in sales and a $35 billion market capitalization), with a board of directors to which management must answer.  It must have a formal process to divest or liquidate brands, which would likely involve bankers and attorneys and board approval to ensuring the best price for shareholders.  The golf story is good, but Constellation has an obligation to its shareholders, and an off-market deal does not make sense, especially for a brand bought for $1 billion just four years ago  Constellation's public filing on December 3, 2019, was just a press release and it did not include any of the sale's financial details.  It will disclose the financial details of the Ballast Point transaction in some form, probably deep in a larger financial filing.

One point the articles I have read on the deal seem agree on is that Ballast Point will be independent again.  Another point is that Ballast Point will be headquartered in San Diego. Good and good.  The main buyer and spokesman for Kings & Convicts is its CEO, Brendon Watters.  Watters brought in other investors, apparently winery owners, not private equity, to help finance the purchase.  The lack of private equity investors is positive because private equity looks for big returns (monetizing assets) and does not worry about companies, employees, or brands if they impede returns.  Watters built a hotel brand, Boomerang, and sold it.  If he bought Ballast Point cheap enough and gets sales and production back in growth mode who is to say he will not look to sell it again.  Some of this, or maybe a lot of this, will be dependent upon how the purchase is financed.

I want this transaction to bring back the 2012, or 2010, or 2008 Ballast Point.  I miss Big Eye and Tongue Buckler and Dorado.  I miss the thrill of hearing about a new batch of Sculpin and rushing to the brewery to buy a growler of it.  I miss the Homework Series releases.  I miss the Linda Vista tasting room.  But I know you can't go backwards, and pre-Constellation Ballast Point is just good memories.  I know the new owners will have their ups and downs, I just hope the downs do not start a spiral to oblivion.  I plan to give the new owners a chance, buy Ballast Point beers again, and visit the Linda Vista tasting room. I plan to remain optimistic until given a reason not to be optimistic. 

Friday, November 1, 2019

San Diego Beer Week

San Diego Beer Week starts today.  The best ten-day week of the beer year.  Everything you need to know is right here, provided by the San Diego Brewers Guild.  There are hundreds of events, so get out and support local beer.

Wet Hop Redemption

Pizza Port Ocean Beach's Wet Lamborghini saved the wet hop season for me.  It is one of the last wet hop releases of the year, and it is the best in my opinion.  It is full of citrus and floral flavors, and I found it a bit sweet.  It is worth grabbing a pint of this beer before it goes away for a year.  This beer is also slightly different every year, which is all the more reason to get a pint.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Wet Hop Wet Blanket

I'm getting anxiety in the midst of the short wet hop season.  I have now tried a few wet hop beers, and while all have been fine, none have had the distinctive juicy, just squeezed taste I expected.  I enjoy the sticky feel of the wet hopped beers and their humid ripeness, that if brewed right, tastes of fruit and vegetables just before they start to turn rotten.  The perfect wet hop beer catches the apex of the plant's flavor.  I suspect brewing wet hop beers is more intense and expensive than a regular beer.  Hops can vary year-to-year depending on the region and its growing conditions.  The amount and varietal of fresh hops used in the brewing process will impact flavor, too, and it makes sense that a beer brewed with 25% wet hops is going to taste much different than one using 100% wet hops, although brewers will call both "wet hopped."  I'd rather a brewery go all in for one 100% wet hop beer, bursting of pungent wheat grass and melon, and dripping with resin, as if pressed through a juicer, rather than four or five solid, but non-distinctive IPAs.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

San Diego's GABF Winners

San Diego craft breweries won 18 medals at this year's Great American Beer Festival (GABF).  The West Coaster lists all the winners.  I think its cool that Pizza Port's Chronic Amber Ale won a gold medal in the Ordinary or Special Bitter category because it is a regular distribution beer.  Stone Brewing's World Bistro and Gardens Liberty Station won a silver medal for its Cimmerian Portal American stout.  The Stone Brewing Liberty Station beers I have tried have been excellent, and I am glad it was recognized.  I had an ESB brewed at Stone Brewing Liberty Station last weekend and it was delicious.  Good, too, for tiny Thunderhawk Alements in earning a silver medal for its Bowie Knife, American Style Black Ale.  I've no idea what an American Style Black Ale is, but a silver medal is a silver medal.

Friday, October 4, 2019


The foam issue is back, and it is so 2010.  The New York Times takes aim at the issue.  To me, foam is a two-part issue:  proper beer service and bad beer service.  Every beer needs some foam, and some beer styles need more foam.  Pilsners should have more foam than an IPA, for example.  The restaurant, bar, or brewery should know the difference.  If a beer style requires a certain amount of foam, great, just don't use that as an excuse for sloppiness and poor training, or worse a sly way to serve less beer through excess foam.  When you pay for a pint of beer, you expect a pint of beer, especially when pints are now $6 to $8, or more.

San Diego's Blind Lady Alehouse and Tiger! Tiger! restaurants figured a solution a long time ago with fill lines on their glassware.  Now for something heretical:  I don't hate shaker pint glasses.  Shakers were bashed in the NY Times article as not being conducive to correct foam.  Whatever; I like drinking beer from a shaker glass.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Low ABV Reality

This Good Beer Hunting (GBH) article punctures the narrative that low abv beers are the future of craft beer.  The most recent episode of the Modern Times podcast (Episode 5) confirms GBH's story, at least in terms of IPA production, where Modern Times focuses on higher abv double IPAs, not regular IPAs for its monthly special releases (at around the 19:00 minute mark).  People are drinking beer for the alcohol and brewers are meeting consumer demand.

Most "session" IPAs I have tried have been thin and forgettable.  I don't think the IPA style lends itself to beers much below 5.5% abv, as a heavy dose of hops needs a good amount of malt to get a palatable ratio, which boosts the abv.  If not, you are left with an overly bitter, light beer.  The thought of "sessioning" a session IPA hurts my stomach.  I had the same thought during the brief fad for lame Brut IPAs, which seems to have gone away.  Who was Brut IPA's target customer anyhow?  The resurgence of excellent pilsners, and similar German-stye beers is a trend to watch, and should bring a wry smile to your lips as you remember your brief dabbles into session IPAs and how you lied to yourself that you actually liked those beers.

The best lagers, pilsners, and kolsch beers shine in the 4% to 6% abv range.  Stone Brewing's Arrogant Consortia's 5.8% abv Enter the Night Pilsner is excellent.  Eppig Brewing has a bunch of beers at or below 6% abv, including its special release Best of San Diego pilsner and its Festbier, and I think I have stated in nearly every recent post that Eppig Brewing's 4.6% abv Zwickelbier is one of the best beers in San Diego, and I suspect it's one of Eppig's best sellers.  There are popular IPA-type beers, too.  One of the top selling and best tasting beers in San Diego is AleSmith's .394, which is a pale ale at 6.0% abv, but it could pass as an IPA. 

My own beer drinking does not track the high abv trend.  I used to routinely drink Ruination, Palate Wrecker, Winter and Summer YuleSmith, Dorado, and Tongue Buckler.  Not anymore. Now I prefer IPAs around 6% abv, and try not to exceed 7.5% abv; it is my Pupil Line.  Stone Brewing's 23rd Anniversary IPA and its Enjoy By IPAs are rare, welcome exceptions.  The high abv barrel-aged beers I have just take up space in my fridge and closet.  I never find an appropriate excuse to crack one of these high abv beers, even if packaged in a smaller bottle.  

High abv beers may be showing the strongest growth, but I think the under 5% abv and 5.0% to 6.9% abv categories have growth opportunities with pilsners, other lagers, and good ales.  I know I look for beers with good taste and moderate abv.  Breweries that avoid session IPAs and focus on better tasting, more well-rounded beers with low to moderate abvs can expect to see sales growth exceed industry averages.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Dirty Birds Takes Flight

I wrote in April about Dirty Birds' liquor license troubles as it prepared to open its Ocean Beach location.  Dirty Birds has now received a license to serve beer and wine and plans to open this weekend.  I don't expect to visit Dirty Birds too often - never say never - but am glad it overcame the license obstacle.  I believe Dirty Birds is a positive addition to Ocean Beach.  This article has more information on the opening.

UPDATE:  I did end up at Dirty Birds Ocean Beach on its opening weekend to order some to go food.  What I thought was going to be a family-friendly restaurant felt like a bar - a bad, awful, miserable bar.  There were families there, but I find it hard to believe they enjoyed their meal.  The music was too loud, which made normal conversation impossible.  I looked at the tap handles and the first tap I saw was an Elysian Brewing tap, so I looked no further.  Beers were served in fake fat-bottomed pint glasses, and guys were drinking White Claw from the can and Michelob Ultra from the bottle.  OK.  Dirty Birds opened with a defiant two-handed bird to Ocean Beach.  Sad.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Local Oktoberfest Beers

Pumpkin beers from national breweries started to arrive early last month, and I am reminded I still have about a half dozen still in my fridge.  The best, or at least my favorite, fresh/wet hop beers won't show up until later this month or early October.  In preparation for the fresh hop onslaught, warm up with two excellent Oktoberfest beers:  Mike Hess Brewing's Oktoberhess Marzen and Eppig Brewing's Festbier.  You can't go wrong with either of these seasonal treasures; so suppress the instinct to order another forgetable hazy IPA and find these two beers.  I tried Marzen at Mike Hess's Ocean Beach tasting room and enjoyed its refreshing malt-focus.  It was not over powering and lighter than it looks.  Eppig's Festbier is clear, crisp, and showcases its lager yeast.  Festbier is available this year in cans, but I think the release is limited, so act fast.  If you visit Eppig's Point Loma waterfront Biergarten to try Festbier you can also order Eppig's lighter, unfiltered lager, Zwickelbier, which is one of the best beers being brewed in San Diego. 

This West Coaster article has a good rundown of the Oktoberfest beers at Burning Beard Brewing Co.

Friday, September 6, 2019

The Magic of Science - Turning a Hazy IPA Clear

I made a hazy beer clear.  I bought a six-pack of Pizza Port/Modern Times' Gentle Reminder collaboration hazy IPA before I went on vacation.  I had my beer fridge set too cold and Gentle Reminder might have started the process of freezing while I was away.   I had had one or two of the beers before I left and they were clearly hazy. (I did not take a per-vacation picture, but a quick Google Image search shows Gentle Reminder is a cloudy beer.)  When I got home and poured an unslushied Gentle Reminder the haze was gone, replaced by a clear beer.  It tasted the same, a soft and sweey hazy IPA, even though it now looked like a West Coast IPA. 

My picture of the re-conditioned beer is crap.  This week's heat and humidity generated instant condensation on the glass and there is carbonation floating up from the bottom.  But trust me the beer is clear.  I have questions to which I don't know the answers:  Did the partial freeze provide the clarity?  or did sitting in the fridge for up to a month cause the haze to go away? or is there another explanation?  When pouring the beer there was no sediment at the bottom.  The taste was not impaired; the color remained a golden yellow; and the foam remained strong.  All that was missing was the cloud.  It's mystery, one I find cool.  Gentle Reminder is not the cloudiest IPA.  It does not look like a glass of pulpy orange juice.  But still, I was surprised to see the beer had turned clear and am not sure why.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Sussex Best Bitter

Here is a good article in Pellicle on Sussex Best Bitter.  The pictures alone are worth a click through, but the story on Sussex Best is top quality beer writing.  I know the thought of a 4% abv bitter does not get Americans searching their beer apps to find the nearest keg or cask.  This is unfortunate.  English ales were my gateway out of the industrial lagers of the 1980s,  I keep waiting for a bitter and ESB revival.  I find it fascinating, and did not know, that Sussex Best is a wild ale.  I wish I had known more about the "wild" side to this beer before I visited London twice earlier this decade, I could have popped into The Harp in Covent Garden for a pint.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

East Coast Beer

A trip to the East Coast for few weeks this summer provided a chance for me to try some interesting beers I can't find in California. 

Scorpius Morchella, a double IPA from Toppling Goliath Brewing Company, is a beer brewed to celebrate the brewery's annual morel mushroom hunt.  I am not sure if Topping Goliath brewed Scorpius Morchella with mushrooms, but it was an earthy IPA.  I found it boozy, too, hotter than its 7.8% abv.  When I had it I thought I tasted mushrooms, but maybe I took the name and its dark vegetal flavors too literal. 

Lord Hobo's 617 Title Town IPA (pictured) is a New England IPA, of course, but of course, in typical NE IPA fashion, it was fine but not memorable. I had it dining outside on a warm evening, which was nicer than the beer. I expected a beer as brash and pretentious as its name, but came away with an unfulfilled '80's Red Sox and Patriot vibe, close but never good enough.

Clown Shoes' Baked Goods is a delicious 5.5% abv American pale ale.  With a sharp citrus bitterness, Baked Goods' last drink was as good, if not better, than its first drink.  An excellent beer with an abv that does serve as a drinking governor.  I could see myself putting away several Baked Goods without thinking twice, or slipping into stupidity.

Allagash White is a national beer, but it is ubiquitous on North Eastern tap lists, and that is marvelous.  It is such a good beer, one of the craft beer classics.

I broke my East Coast beer focus once, at Madison Square Garden, where I had Sierra Nevada's Hazy Little Thing IPA, which has become craft beer's new classic.  It was served in a cup that required a lid, so I started to drink the beer with a straw.  Taking the lid off and on for each drink annoyed me and proved messy, so I just kept drinking with the straw.  I am not sure I ever drank a beer with a straw before, I don't plan to again, but this one time was worth it.

Bad Martha

I listen to a number of podcasts - not all of them beer podcasts - and I like when podcasts end with the hosts giving recommendations, which may or may not relate to the podcasts.  Slate's Culture Gabfest host, Stephan Metcalf, in what sometimes seems like a troll, gives hyper-local recommendations of restaurants, stores, and attractions near his Hudson Valley home, which most listeners will never get to experience*.  I feel Metcalfian with this about Bad Martha's Farmer's Brewery, a small brewery and tasting room on Martha's Vineyard, about as far away and as hard to get to from San Diego as any brewery in the United States.

I spent some time on Martha's Vineyard this summer and frequented Bad Martha's Farmer's Brewery.  Located in Edgartown, it is Martha's Vineyard's only craft brewery**.  The brewery and the outdoor extension of its tasting room abut a nursery, the boundaries blurred, resulting in scores of potted plants, trees, pergola climbing hop vines, and blooming flowers, all sharing space with chairs and tables and tasting room games.  It's a near perfect place to enjoy Bad Martha's fine beers.

Over several visits I sampled a number of Bad Martha's beers.  Being in New England, I had to try the Baby Beluga New England IPA (pictured below).  This beer weighed in at just over 5% abv, and its damp, fruity flavor and malty sweetness stood up to the Vineyard's humid summer evenings.  Like most NEIPAs, I found no overt flavors bursting out of Baby Beluga, but I certainly enjoyed it.  The pale ale, another 5% abv beer, had a sharper bitter grip than the NEIPA, but it sold out early in my stay.  I found Bad Martha's Cap Codder the most interesting beer.  It is a 4% abv blond ale brewed with fruit, which to me tasted of berries and lemon, along with floral notes.  It is a fine beer for sipping on a warm summer evening after a thunderstorm, while sitting among the plants in a nursery.  Most of Bad Martha's beers were less than 6% abv, with many below 5% abv, which played into the brewery's on vacation, family and friends clientele. 

Bad Martha is the kind of brewery you want to visit multiple times. The brewery-nursery idea is excellent, and the ambience of Bad Martha added to its beers.  I am not sure how this space works in January, but with some space heaters I think a quick beer in the garden would be fine, at least I'd be up for one, but I think I'd order Bad Martha's oyster stout instead of its fruity Cap Codder.

* Stephen Metcalf once recommended Suarez Family Brewing so he's not trolling.
**  There is another brewery on Martha's Vineyard, Offshore Ale, but I was told it contract brews its beers somewhere on mainland Massachusetts, making Bad Martha the only brewery brewing beer on Martha's Vineyard.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Resilience Donation Update

San Diego's 10News published a list in late May of all the San Diego breweries that participated in Sierra Nevada's Resilience IPA charity drive to raise money for the Camp Fire.  Last week, 10News updated the list.  10News counted 43 local breweries that participated, with donations exceeding $200,000.  The big news from the story was not the breweries that participated, but those had not make a donation to Sierra Nevada.  The non-contributors exceeded twenty breweries when the list was first published, but in scrolling through the updated list, I only count ten breweries that did not respond to 10News' request for information on their donation.  In looking at this list I read that Pizza Port did not respond to 10News but it is affiliated with Port Brewing/Lost Abby, which did make a donation, so I am hoping there is some mis-communication.  Most of the other non-responders are small operations.

There were some nice surprises on the list.  Culture Brewing, which is a small brewery, donated a whopping $11,121.25, and OB Brewing donated $7,533.  Societe Brewing also exceeded its size, donating $16,000.  Stone Brewing donated $31,184.26, the largest donation from a San Diego brewery, and more than Constellation-owned Ballast Point's $30,000.  From what I heard and read about this charity drive, it was not easy for the breweries, so it is great that so many breweries were able to donate so much.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

New English Article

Here is a worth-reading article in San Diego City Beat on New English Brewing Company.  The article hits on some important points, including this declaration:  "There’s a need for anyone interested in craft beer to keep paying attention to San Diego’s pioneer companies."  I agree!  New English is not flashy, nor is it ubiquitous, nor does it release a new hazy IPA every week.  It may fail the shiny-new-thing test, but its beers are excellent.  Its Pure & Simple IPA is one of the best IPAs in San Diego. Period.

New English's tasting room is simple to the point of being anachronistic.  It is located in a nothing office/industrial park in a part of Sorrento Valley you don't visit without a reason.  Even New English's Instagram, which mostly focuses on beer*,  appears less traveled than other San Diego breweries, gathering "likes" in the twenties and thirties compared to hundreds and thousands.  New English is San Diego craft beer's best kept secret.  It's time more people drank its beers.

* I am amazed at how many breweries do not post frequent pictures of their beers on Instagram.  Some breweries use the social media site to focus more on things other than just beer, like events at their breweries, employees goofing around, and a surprising number of animal pictures.  This is fine, but breweries need to be careful not to muddle their message with too many non-beer pictures.  (Poor Benchmark Brewing, for some reason it posted a high number of pictures of its empty tasting room that did not include beer.)

Monday, June 17, 2019

Gordon Biersch

The Gordon Biersch restaurant and brewery in San Diego's Mission Valley is closing after twenty years.  Puesto will take over the restaurant space and it will brew beer, too.  Puesto plans to open this fall.  Gordon Biersch won't close until July 16th, so there is still time to get some of head brewer Doug Hasker's beers.  I did not know about Hasker until I started listening to the Indie Beer Podcast, but he is a local legend, renowned for his lager making skills and willingness to share his knowledge with other local brewers. 

I have not been to Gordon Biersch for ten or fifteen years.  Memory is a funny, tricky thing, though.  I remember the last dinner I had at Gordon Biersch was soon after 9/11 and every TV was turned to one of George W. Bush's speeches to the nation.  I can't remember if was the unifying Oval Office speech days after 9/11, or the "Axis of Evil" State of the Union address several months later.  I further can't remember if it was Gordon Biersch's garlic fries at that dinner, or an Outback Steak House Blooming Onion around the same time that gave the Beer Rovette and I such bad stomachaches we were sure our toddler was going to be orphaned. 

I want to get to Mission Valley and try some of Doug Hasker's beers before Gordon Biersch closes next month. I won't be having garlic fries, though.  I have learned some things in eighteen years: wars in the Middle East are not good, and I need to avoid fried foods.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Benchmark Closes

Benchmark Brewing announced that as of 3:00 yesterday afternoon, it had closed for good.  I wish Benchmark's owners the best of luck.  Here is the tweet announcing the closure:

Tuesday, May 14, 2019


Here is a Good Beer Hunting article on the Paradise fire, Sierra Nevada Brewing, Butte County, thousands of breweries, Resilience IPA, and so much more.  This article appeared a few weeks ago, but it is so well done I had to post about it.  If I give quotes, I'll quote the entire story, so take some time and read it.  The response from so many breweries who shifted schedules and donated time and materials to brew Resilience IPA, and so many people who bought pints of Resilience IPA is heartwarming.  Craft breweries, even ones the size of Sierra Nevada, have become community.  I can't think of another type of business that touches such a a cross-section of a neighborhood, or town, or city, or county.  The $15 million raised when Ken Grossman asked for help is staggering. 

Friday, May 10, 2019

Quick Hits

Over the past few weeks I have had three standout beers.  I did not prepare full tasting notes and picture taking reviews while I drank these beers, but wanted to get my thoughts out anyway.  Here are the three, in no particular order:

Stone Brewing's Arrogant Consortia and the heavy metal band Metallica teamed up to create Enter The Night pilsner.  I found this 5.7% abv beer a stunner.  It's hoppy, but it is still a pilsner.  It has strong flavors that never slip into palate fatigue.  The beer is crisp and drinkable, and edgier than other pilsners.  People may not think of Stone / Arrogant Consortia when they think of pilsner, but they should.  The Arrogant Consortia beers I have tried have all been excellent (even the Crime was a good beer despite my candy-ass inability to finish it), and more people should be talking about, writing about, and drinking Arrogant Consortia beers.

Eppig Brewing's Zwickelbier is an excellent interpretation of a German style.  Zwickelbier is an unfiltered lager.  It does not have Enter The Night's piquant assertiveness but it's no less a stellar beer.  Take all the thin session IPAs, dump them down the drain, and give me this 4.6% abv gem.  It is smooth, yeasty, with an unsuspecting solid heft.  If Eppig makes a marginal beer, I have not tried it.  Zwickelbier stands out from a brewery that makes across the board outstanding beers.

Hood River, Oregon's pFriem Beer's IPA could be the best IPA I have had this year.  It's not muted hazy, or crazy bitter, or brut dry; it is just a basic, delicious IPA.  The skill of a brewery is how well it produces standard styles.  A brewery may have a great grapefruit IPA or a nice hazy IPA, but how is its core IPA, or its core stout, or any core beer?  Pizza Port makes multiple IPAs capturing all the latest trends, but its year-round Swami IPA remains one of the best IPAs available.  pFriem's IPA has no frills or gimmicks; it just tastes fantastic.  It is clear, plenty bitter with just the right amount of malt.  Craftsmanship.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Sam Adams and Dogfish Head Merge

My twitter timeline is flooded with tweets and retweets on the $300 million Sam Adams Dogfish Head merger.  Beer twitter is confused.  It is so quick to condemn any merger - usually because it is big beer buying an independent craft brewery - and its habit of classifying every beer issue in stark black and white terms, with clear right and wrong opinions, and heroes and villains does not work with this merger.  A $300 million merger is obscene, so it must be bad on its price alone.  But it is craft buying craft, so that is good.  And, craft breweries can't fight big beer giants if they don't get bigger, and a merger of craft brewers is one way to get big and stay independent.  But, isn't a combined Sam Adams Dogfish Head too big to be craft, which makes it part of big beer?   Oh, God! The agony, the nuance, the contradictions!  AND FOR CHRISSAKE, WHERE DOES SAM ADAMS' CIDER OPERATION FIT IN THIS MERGER?!  Why didn't the Sams make it easy for beer twitter and just sell to AB InBev so we could all know the bad guys?

This transaction is good for craft beer.  Two independent breweries are combining and the behemoths AB InBev, Molson Coors, and Constellation are not involved.  Even if Sam Adams Dogfish Head now exceed the definition of a craft brewery, to me they are still considered craft.  The combined company is big craft for sure, but craft all the same.  Deals like Sam Adams Dogfish Head are needed to counter the continued, on purpose blurring of fake craft by the giant beer companies.  A walk down the beer aisle in most any supermarket shows how successful giant beer companies have been at cracking independent breweries market share.  Good for Sam Adams and Dogfish Head.

The Brewhound article, linked to above, notes that as part of the merger Dogfish Head is repaying/retiring the 15% ownership stake of private equity firm LNK Partners.  I am not sure how or if LNK played into Dogfish Head's decision to merge, but LNK invested in Dogfish Head five years ago and a five-year hold likely fits with LNK's investment time horizon and its requirement to return money to its investors.  Other craft brewers that took private equity money rather than sell outright are going to have to deal with similar time constraints imposed by the private equity managers and their funds' need to liquidate.  Private equity investors are not passive long-term investors.  If nothing else, getting private equity out of the two companies is positive.

I have a many years old bottle of 120 Minute IPA in the back of my beer fridge.  I am thinking of cracking it open in honor of this merger.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Notre Dame

I have been to Paris three times and visited Notre Dame Cathedral each time.  The immense cathedral is the heart of Paris, sitting on the Ile de la Cite, an island in the Seine*.  My claim on this beautiful church is no more special than the millions of others awed by its massive presence.  When walking into Notre Dame you are dumb struck by the sheer scale of the church, and by its serenity, even when full of tourists.  The noise of Paris evaporates inside the stone cavern.  Built more than 800 years ago in the midst of the middle ages, Notre Dame was not just a symbol of the magnificence of God, but must must have intimidated all who saw it, from peasants to fervent believers.  It still intimidates and inspires today.

My favorite parts of Notre Dame are the huge, beautiful stained-glass Roses, one each over the church's three main entrances, and the protective gargoyles keeping evil from the church.  Once I got over the size of Notre Dame, I would just stare at the Roses and all the light rippling through the different colored glass.  I did not try to read the Biblical story on each Rose, preferring to enjoy their awe instead.  I took pictures, but no picture can capture the true beauty of the Roses on sunny day, and the picture below of the South Rose proves my point.

I did not know that Notre Dame's gargoyle statues represented good until I first visited the Cathedral. Gargoyles are hideous looking, but are symbols of protection and are located outside Notre Dame, on its walls, its roofs, and in its corners, to ward off evil.  Gargoyles as a symbol of goodness is one reason I like Stone Brewing's use of gargoyles.  I now find gargoyle statues comforting, like Stone beer.

I don't know the full fate of Notre Dame's Roses after yesterday's fire, but the North and South Roses are near the spire that collapsed, and where the fire raged.  I read this morning that the Roses survived the fires, but suffered some damage.  I want to think the gargoyles' presence provided the Roses some safety. 

I know this is an off target post, but any visitor to Paris can appreciate the majesty of Notre Dame, whether Catholic or not.  It's a cold soul that walks away from Notre Dame without a lasting impression.  I think this is why the story of yesterday's horrible fire at Notre Dame has produced such a world wide reaction of sadness.

*The following is from 1953's Notre Dame of Paris, by Allan Temko, and give a sense of Norte-Dame's importance to France:

"Notre Dame, more than the Louvre, incalculably more than Versailles, is France.  Every distance from Paris to the borders of the nation is measured from the parvis of the Cathedral and not, significantly, from the Opera or the Arc de Triomphe, or even from the second most important monument in the city, the Tour Eiffel, the earliest tower of steel.  Every road in France centers inwardly on the Cathedral.  One may start walking to Notre Dame on the green roads of Normandy or in sun-driven Provence." 

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Dirty Birds Gets Little Missed

The ABC has denied Dirty Birds Bar and Grill's new Ocean Beach location its liquor license.  The Ocean Beach planning board voted 9-2 to approve a recommendation for the license after Dirty Birds agreed to stop selling liquor after 10:00 pm, but the ABC nixed the license anyway.  Dirty Birds has already completed a partial build-out of its space in a new building at the corner of Santa Monica Avenue and Cable Street.  The ABC pulled a similar move on Little Miss Brewing's Ocean Beach tasting room in late 2017.  It looks like Dirty Birds has stopped construction and Ocean Beach is not listed on Dirty Bird's website.

What is going on?  Like the new fish restaurant, Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill, which apparently received its license to sell beer and wine, Dirty Birds would have attracted a more family-oriented crowd, at least more family-oriented than most of the bars along Newport Avenue, especially as Newport gets close to the beach.  Dirty Birds would have been good for Ocean Beach.  Mr. Moto's Pizza, which is right next to Dirty Birds in the same new building, also has an alcohol license pending, and it too, will attract a family crowd, not angry drunks.  Good luck Mr. Moto, but don't order any fresh mozzarella.

This decision makes me mad, and many of the comments on the OB Rag discussing the decision show the closed-minded thinking that pervades Ocean Beach.  Stopping Dirty Birds, and probably Mr. Moto's, is not going to stop the problems at the west end of Newport Avenue, not only that, it'll be two less spots for families to venture.  Instead, the big, elevated decks along the new, vacant building are going to make nice spots for the homeless to sleep.  

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

BeerAdvocate Magazine Shutters

BeerAdvocate has mailed its last magazine. Its final issue, Issue 134, will be released as a PDF in April.  I am a founding subscriber and always liked the magazine.  It did a good job promoting the craft beer industry and never shied away from tough issues.  BeerAdvocate is not going away and plans to focus its resources on its website, its festivals, and a new app.  In looking at BeerAdvocate's website, I don't see much current news, just articles from the past issues, so I guess Good Beer Hunting is now my place for general industry news, while West Coaster and a few local reporters (Brandon Hernandez, Beth Demmon and Peter Rowe) remain my source for local beer news.

I am not sold on the beer app concept.  I have the TapHunter and the San Diego Brewers Guild apps, which I never open, and I deleted Untapped years ago.  I am open to suggestions or pointers on how I can use these apps to make beer drinking better, easier, or more fun.  I hope the Alstrom brothers have an idea for a relevant beer app

Thanks BeerAdvocate magazine for twelve years of quality beer news.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Ketch and Release

I have some back reviews I need to write.  Late last year, I had a Vienna Lager from Ketch Brewing, the Brigantine restaurant group's new brewery.  The beer was Alta Mar Vienna Lager (my notes list it as a Mexican lager). The beer looked good, clear, amber and without much foam.  You could smell its yeast.  The heavy malt and yeast gave the beer a whole grain bread character.  I caught some initial pepper, too, which was the beer's highlight.  Alta Mar had a mineral quality that became more noticeable as the beer warmed.  The beer had a solid mouthful and it drank above its 5% abv. 

I found Alta Mar a fine enough beer that went well with the Mexican food at Miguel's, but it's not a beer I would go out of my way to drink again.  We sampled Ketch's Klosch and IPA, too, and Alta Mar was superior to both.  Ketch Brewing has the benefit of being sold through the Brigantine's group of restaurants.  Without this captive audience Ketch would struggle in San Diego's competitive beer market, but even with this assured distribution, Ketch needs to focus on brewing better beers. 

We like the Brigantine's restaurants, so I will have more Ketch beers to see whether there is any improvement.  Ketch has a Kearny Mesa tasting room (see link above).  The Ketch Grill and Taps is a place I want to visit, but if the beers are not improved it's good to know Eppig Brewing's waterfront tasting room is only a short walk away. 

I had a hard time finding much in the way of a website for Ketch Brewing.  Its Facebook page is the best place for information, but, like Ketch's beers, it's not great.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Little Miss Moving Ahead

SanDiegoVille has a positive article on Little Miss Brewing's expansion to San Diego's East Village and La Mesa.   I wrote about Little Miss in late 2017 after the ABC rejected its application for a tasting room in Ocean Beach after Little Miss had finished its build-out.  I am glad to read that Little Miss is moving ahead after its set-back in Ocean Beach.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

My Thoughts On Societe Brewing

The news of Travis Smith's Societe Brewing exit has been quiet across the beer news sites and beer Twitter I follow.  I thought the Brew Master and co-founder's departure from one of San Diego's best breweries would have warranted a bigger commotion.

I found this passage, and its implications, from Societe's announcement marking Smith's departure important:

A company must remain nimble, and that means making lots of decisions and adjustments; the difficult kind that can mean so much in the long run. Doug’s and Travis’ visions for what they wanted the company to be and become have become increasingly divergent over the years. They no longer have the same vision, and that was the key factor necessitating this difficult but mutual decision.
There is a lot to think about in these three sentences.  I expect Societe to adopt some of the practices that have boosted other new breweries, which Societe has so far avoided.  I don't think Societe has brewed a hazy IPA, but suspect that will change.  Whether you like hazy IPAs or not, at this point in their life cycle they are not going away and their popularity is not slowing.  I have stated before that many hazy IPAs - far too many, in my opinion - lack any distinguishing flavor or character.  But when a hazy IPA is made right, it can be great.  Modern Times Beer and Burgeon Beer Company have figured out how to bring strong flavors and distinction to their hazy IPAs.  I have no doubt Societe would make fantastic hazy IPAs.

Societe has avoided canning or bottling its beers, with the exception of its barrel aged beers.  I would not be surprised to see Societe produce regular, limited release beers in cans, or even its Pupil or Apprentice IPAs.  This strategy helped Mikkeller, Modern Times, Pure Project, Burgeon, and other new breweries build their customer base, their business, and their brands.  Established breweries see the benefits of special canned releases, too, with Pizza Port putting out a new canned beer a month.

Imagine the crazy demand for a Societe four- or six-pack IPA release.  The lines at the brewery, or the rush to buy the beer on Brown Paper Bag, would rival, if not exceed, any recent release from any brewery.  Maybe, just maybe, and I know I am getting fantastical at this point, but maybe Societe could open a satellite tasting room, say in Ocean Beach, or Point Loma, or Bay Park, or on my street.

The San Diego craft beer industry is competitive and breweries need to adapt to the changing environment.  What worked in 2012 may not be right for growth and profitability in 2019.  Societe has big advantages over many breweries with whatever "decisions and adjustments" it makes.  It has an excellent reputation and its beers across the board are outstanding.  Not many breweries can make both these claims.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Societe Brewing News

Societe Brewing announced in a blog post this morning that co-founder and Brew Master Travis Smith is leaving the brewery.  The entire blog post is linked here.  This is a shock.  I will post information as I get it either here or on Twitter.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Beer Maelstrom

The closure of Reckless Brewing was fast.  So fast, I didn't even get a chance to follow it.  On March, 5, 2018, Reckless sent one of its emails that caused big controversy.  (West Coaster said the message was on Facebook but I received it via email.)  In the message, Reckless stated that it was renaming its black lager, Black Lagers Matter, and according to West Coaster, the post further "leaned on a series of African-American stereotypes, racist themes and even riffed off Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I have a dream” speech."  I did not read Reckless' whole email, stopping after a few lines thinking it was not good.

The response was fast.  Reckless issued an apology, but that was not enough.  I received another email from Reckless this afternoon, announcing that it was closing its brewery over the next few weeks.  If you are just catching up with this story, I recommend this this West Coaster article and Beth Demmon's commentary in San Diego City Beat

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Mike Hess Expansion

Here is a West Coaster article on Mike Hess Brewing's new Imperial Beach tasting room, which soft opened last week and will expand with a deck and fire pits.  It is good to see Mike Hess Brewing getting good press.  Its Ocean Beach tasting room is a gem, filled with locals.  Mike Hess Brewing's beers do not get enough credit.  Its Claritas Klosch is outstanding, and its IPAs are excellent.  Its grapefruit IPA tastes like grapefruit, unlike some grapefruit IPAs I have had from other breweries, including a recent big name re-release.  It is also the time of year for the delicious Hooligan Irish Stout.  I don't know when I will get the chance to visit Imperial Beach, so I will have to raise a glass in appreciation next time I stop by Mike Hess's Ocean Beach tasting room.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Crowler Spillage Problem Solved

I have switched almost exclusively to crowler can fills when getting fresh beers from breweries. My lonely collection of 64 oz growlers now just take up space.  One problem I have found with the big crowler cans is that they spill everywhere when poured, no matter how slow and careful I am when filling my glass.  I heard on the Indie Beer Show Podcast that leaving the tab at a 45 degree angle helps solve messy pours.  No, this does nothing and sometimes makes dispensing worse.  I finally figured out how to fix the crowler spillage problem - make a second hole in the top of the can. 

I am not sure why I did not think of this sooner.  It is so obvious, and so simple.  You used to punch two holes in a can of Hawaiian Punch, and even a can as small as condensed milk needs two holes.  A crowler is no different.  I thought that since a crowler is just a big beer can it should pour like one.  I kept thinking it was operator error, or that somehow the crowler had been incorrectly filled and sealed, and that if I just found the right angle or speed I could fix the problem.  You'd think that after dozens of crowlers I'd have realized sooner that there was a bigger force than pour angle causing beer puddles every time I filled a glass of beer.  A crowler is no different from a can of Hawaiian Punch or condensed milk:  punch a second hole and pour your beer without a mess. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Doing My Part

We are five days into Flagship February and I had one of those "Aha" moments.  I almost always have a flagship beer in my beer fridge:  Pizza Port's Swami's IPA.  This beer is so common around my house that I can't even find a picture of it.  This is a great IPA, picture or not.  To me, Swami's ranks as one of the top IPAs in San Diego, which means one of the top IPAs anywhere.  I plan to keep it stocked in my fridge as long as Pizza Port brews it.  I do need to take a picture of it, though.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Flagship February

The craft beer marketing idea of Flagship February is dominating my beer twitter today.  The idea is to drink flagship craft beers, like Stone Brewing's IPA, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, or Anchor Brewing's Steam beer in the month of February.  The campaign also seems like a way to direct attention away from the latest shiny object beer trend and redirect focus and sales to core beers.  What a good idea, and it's perfect for social media. 

Stone Brewing's IPA or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale are easy flagship choices.  What about flagship beers from new or semi-new breweries?  How old does a beer have to be to qualify as a flagship beer?  I am guessing Societe Brewing's Pupil IPA or Apprentice IPA are flagship beers, as well as Modern Times' Black House and Blazing World, but what about flagship beers for newer breweries like Culture, or Kilowatt, or Burgeon, or any other brewery that has opened in the past few years?  Do they even have any flagship beers yet?   I guess you drink with whatever beers are always on these new breweries' tap lists or canning/bottling schedule.  Maybe I just need to not over think this hashtag-driven promotion and crack open a doggone Stone Brewing IPA, or an AleSmith .394. 

Wait, has .394 been around long enough to be considered a flagship beer?   I'm so confused.  Hmm,.. wait a minute, I see a hazy IPA on that tap list, I think I'll just drink it while I figure out the correct definition of flagship.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Karl At Thirty - Thank You

The San Diego Reader published an article last week on the thirtieth anniversary of the opening of Karl Strauss Brewing's original Columbia Street brewery.  I did not attend the opening, but I sure went soon after it opened.  I remember it being quite the scene with a lot of people going after work and on weekends.  Those trips and Karl Strauss's beer started my love of craft beer.

We'd hit Karl Strauss for a few Amber Lagers and then head north a few blocks for some English/Irish beers at the then named Princess of Wales Pub.  I found the Karl Strauss beers superior to the harsh, metallic Harps at the less raucous pub.  But both far exceeded the endless pitchers of macro beer we drank at places out near SDSU.

Karl Strauss's Columbia brewery was not just a weekend stop for pints, it became a favorite for non-beer work lunches, even though I worked in Mission Valley, and a destination when family and friends visited San Diego.  I remember the beer battered fish and chips almost as much as the beer.  Trips to the brewery slowed over the years as other breweries opened, but the memories remain.

It is not a stretch to say Karl Strauss's Amber Lager was my formative craft beer.  It and Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale changed my beer drinking*.  Amber Lager had so much flavor without the hop bitterness of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, that I soon stopped drinking the bland Coors and Coors Light as much as I could. (My fondness for bitter hopped beers would come later.)  My search for other craft beers began, as Heineken, Harp, and other European beers that I thought offered superior flavor just did not compare to the ales being made by American craft brewers.

I am sure there are other San Diego craft beer drinkers that have similar experiences and fond memories of Karl Strauss's early days.  We are the craft beer drinker pioneers and we are indebted to Karl Strauss Brewing.  Beer drinkers today have an abundance of choices.  This was not the case thirty years ago when Karl Strauss opened a microbrew pub on a quiet street in a quiet part of a quiet downtown. Thanks Karl, and Cheers!

I had tried, and tried to like, Anchor Brewing's Steam Beer but I never acquired a taste for Steam.  To this day Steam is not my favorite beer.  I wonder if my craft beer conversion would have been faster if I had tried Anchor's Liberty Ale or its Porter before I tried Steam. 

Monday, January 28, 2019

Downtown LA Breweries

Here is an LA Taco article about breweries in Downtown Los Angeles.  The article is about a small beer festival that featured seven breweries that are located in Downtown Los Angeles.  I am so San Diego-focused that I had not even heard of four of these breweries.  The article ends with this quote:

More than pouring great beer, these independent downtown L.A. breweries are telling the story of our city’s craft beer culture right now, while showing us that the future of L.A. brewing is here. 

It’s female, brown, ethnically diverse, locally loyal, fiercely independent, and better than anything, moving more and more beer drinkers away from conglomerates like Anheuser-Busche InBev, MillerCoors, and Constellation Brands.

Heck yes!  In addition to the breweries in the article, Downtown Los Angeles also is home to outposts for San Diego's Modern Times with its Dankness DOJO - and it is awesome - and a Karl Strauss restaurant. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Fingers Crossed

The West Coaster is reporting on Benchmark Brewing's Facebook post that the brewery is temporarily shut down due to its license being suspended by the ABC.  Let's hope that the shut down is temporary and Benchmark can get back open soon.  It has been a tough few months for this brewery.

UPDATE:  Benchmark has re-opened.  

Stone Brewing Solves Brut IPA Mystery

I have been underwhelmed by Brut IPAs.  The ones I have tasted have had an initial shot of hops that melt away to nothing - a puff of smoke in a glass.  I don't know how Stone Brewing managed to fix this Brut disappearance mystery, but it did in a big way with its Enjoy By 01.01.19 Brut IPA.  Maybe it was the 9.4% abv, but I am not complaining.  Whether it was the last Enjoy By of 2018, or the first of 2019, it was the best Brut IPA I have had - by far. 

Enjoy By 01.01.19 poured reddish orange with white foam.  The rich amber color, which was much darker than other wane Brut IPAs I have seen and tried, gave a prescient visual clue to the flavor that was to come, and the ripe aroma of pine was immediate upon popping the cap.  Enjoy By 01.01.19 Brut IPA was a soothing, resinous, bitter pine beer.  I did not note any significant malt sweetness - so this was no cloying DIPA - but the mouthful was big and full, so the malt was there.  The finish, yes, Enjoy By 01.01.19 had a finish; a long, hoppy finish, not the maddening wisp of pine or citrus like other Brut IPAs.  It had some of the dryness associated with the Brut IPA style, but I stayed focused on the beer's ability to stay present, which so many Brut IPAs lack.  If Stone swapped some of the style's dryness for flavor and finish, and frankly, some character, I am glad.

Before I had Stone Brewing's Enjoy By 01.01.19 Brut IPA I was ready to write-off Brut IPAs.  Stone redeemed this style with a stellar interpretation.  I am not convinced the Brut IPAs style will stick around, especially if brewers need to load the abv to over 9% just to get a flavor that does not immediately disappear.  If you are interested in Brut IPAs because you want a dry beer more than a bitter beer, you should seek out a saison.  You will not only get dryness, some saisons can be so dry as to make you choke, but have many other flavors as well, like exotic spices, fruits, and flowers. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Resilience IPA

Sierra Nevada's Resilience Butte County Proud IPA, brewed to help raise money the Camp Fire Relief Fund, is a great beer story.  If you don't know about it you can read this or this from Sierra Nevada, or this from USA Today.  Almost 1,500 breweries have signed up to brew their version of the Resilience IPA based on Sierra Nevada's recipe and contribute 100% of sales proceeds to the Camp Fire Relief Fund.  The campaign is on track to raise $15 million.  If you figure a $6 pint, that is 2,500,000 pints of Resilience IPA that are going to get sold.

You can find Resilience IPA all over the country using this map. It looks like there are dozens of participating breweries in San Diego County alone.  This is a heck of a commitment from all the craft breweries involved, which are donating time, materials, and resources, and then giving all proceeds to the the Camp Fire Relief Fund.  Each Resilience IPA is slightly different depending on available ingredients and brewing techniques.  Resilience IPA, no matter who brews it, is maltier than a typical IPA, and most should still be available.  I have tried ones from Pizza Port, Culture, and Mike Hess, all are good, and all slightly different,  I want to try more before the kegs are emptied. 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

A Joyus Holiday Beer

Ah, the ghosts of Christmases Past.  I have not had a Belgian Christmas beer in a long time, and searching through old blog posts I found that I have not had St. Bernardus Christmas Ale since 2009.  I did not know when I finished the old post with "it's a Christmas beer I will be revisiting," that it would take nine years for me to come back to St. Bernardus Christmas Ale.  It should be an annual tradition to retry this masterpiece of a beer.

The beer poured a clear, dark mahogany, a color which leaned more towards red than brown.  It had a ring of cream colored foam that stayed to the edge of the class, and sparse, dripping lacing.  Christmas Ale's aroma was sweet and spicy with notes of dark berries and cherries.  When drinking Christmas Ale, I caught tastes of candied dark dried fruit, cherries, caramel, and molasses, which are many of the flavors that as an adult you associate with the holidays.  The sweetness was almost syrupy, but did not become cloying.  There were brief suggestions of cough syrup, but I found this as a positive feature that provided cover to mask the booze, and at a 10% abv Christmas Ale's alcohol stayed reserved and behaved.  For a high alcohol beer, it seemed light on the palate.  The carbonation was soft and helped smooth out the beer, which had a long, dessert-like finish.

Christmas Ale, in short, was a delight.  I had it in a small glass, which was just the right amount.  Slogging through a full-sized bottle, even if done over several hours, would have dulled the beer's brilliance.  In a year that saw so many bland hazy IPAs, Christmas Ale snapped me back to the realty of what real flavor and thought can to do in the hands of a master brewer.  Happy New Year!