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!