Thursday, December 31, 2020

Recap - Part 2

Other beer highlights from 2020 included everything I tried from Eppig. Its Fiestbeer, klosch, special lager, and IPAs all shined. My favorite through, from early in the year when you could visit its tasting room without rules, was Eppig's 7.0% Export Stout. No frills, no additives, no nonsense, just a straight up incredible stout (and I have no picture!). 


Other memorable beers included Rouleur Brewing's Endo IPA, Hop Concept's India Pale Ale, and Pure Brewing's Pilsner. I enjoyed Stone Brewing's 24th Anniversary Ale, too. I am sure there are more I forgot, but for such a trying year, breweries were able to put out some great beers.

Recap

2020 was a weird, awful year and I am glad it is over. There were some bright spots, and I want to highlight a few breweries that adapted to 2020's realities. These are in no particular order, not exhaustive, and are based on my limited look and exposure to San Diego craft beer. My apologies for any oversight or omission, of which I am sure there are many.


AleSmith Brewing Company. AleSmith reintroduced its IPA in 16 oz cans and this beer is great. AleSmith updated the beer's hop mix, adding in some Citra. This is a classic West Coast IPA. AleSmith also released AleSmith For Hope hazy IPA, the proceeds of which go to frontline workers and their families. AleSmith has been outstanding since its formation. It is no surprise it managed to stand out during a pandemic but found a way to gave back, too. 


Societie Brewing. I, like many, worried about Societie's future when co-founder and brewer Travis Smith departed in early 2019. Misspent worry; Societie thrived. Its canned beers and beers for draft are distributed throughout San Diego and beyond. Best of all its beers remain excellent. The standard, year-round beers like Pupil and Harlot excel, but Societie has outdone itself with its canned special releases like Agreeable Folk and World of Wonders, and single hop releases like its Motueka IPA. 


Pizza Port. In addition to a dealing with a disjointed brewing schedule due to COVID-19, Pizza Port had to operate a number of popular restaurants on an off, then on, then sort of on schedule, over the past nine months. Pizza Port's restaurants persevered, and its brewing not only kept up with demand, but Pizza Port managed to release multiple special releases and collaborations, most of which were fantastic IPAs. I have discussed these IPAs before, but beers like Campgrounds or Secret Swami's made stay-at-home/drink-at-home easier.


Mike Hess Brewing. My COVID-19 lifeline. As soon as COVID-19 hit, Mike Hess started a promotion of any beer in a 32 oz mini growler for $5. While other breweries abandoned Ocean Beach, Mike Hess stayed open, stayed safe, adhered to rules, and looked after its patrons and community. Oh, and its Single Fin hazy IPA is a great, everyday beer. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Never Grows Old

I know I have posted about Stone Brewing's Enjoy By before. But I think Stone tweaks Enjoy By's recipe for each release so periodic notices are appropriate. Each version I have tried has been outstanding. Enjoy By 01.01.21 is no different. I know I have stated this this before, too, but I am not aware of any brewery that consistently makes big IPAs (more than 8% abv) as well as Stone. I am not sure how it manages to hide the booze and balance the hops and malt, but it does. I have a second 01.01.21 in the beer fridge to enjoy sometime over the next week. I am glad Stone still sells this in 22 oz bombers, it is really the ideal size for this beer.  



Friday, December 11, 2020

Sign of Hope?

Sometimes a story ends with a return to its beginning. Con Pane Rustic Breads and Cafe, which closed without warning in January, is reopening today. The sudden closure of the Point Loma landmark stunned its patrons, and in retrospect, served as a flashing red light for a horrible 2020. Let's hope its reopening late in the year is the symbolic end to 2020 and a harbinger for a better 2021.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Marking Time

I am starting to mark time under COVID-19 by counting Societe Brewing's special IPA releases. We are now three special releases into COVID-19. Back in April or May Societe released Agreeable Folk (which had a second run around Memorial Day). Then in July or August Societe released Good of the Public, and in October or early November it released World of Wonder. (The release dates are approximate because I gauge the time by when I see the beers show up in stores not when brewed.)


All three beers are West Coast IPAs, a style I have found reassuring since the onset of COVID. Besides their consistent great taste, the three beers' abvs come in around 6.5%, approximately 1% lower than Societe's flagship The Pupil IPA's 7.5% abv. I don't know this for sure, but I imagine there will be a fourth special release sometime early in 2021, and I further imagine we'll still be under some kind of COVID restrictions when it is released. I further further imagine restrictions in place when 2021 versions of Agreeable Folk and Good of the Public return, putting the COVID calendar marker at six special releases. I am not letting my brain absorb the thought of COVID past six special releases (summer 2021).


It is hard to predict what the craft beer industry will look like post-COVID. The business has suffered upheaval over the last eight months and I don't expect a return to business as usual. The impromptu outdoor spaces are not going away, that's for sure, and canned beer will continue and other distribution mechanisms will stay in place. I suspect the new normal will take months to arrive, as restrictions get lifted over time - there won't be some magic date when all of a sudden COVID ends - and breweries will act with caution (I hope) to get back to full operations. Breweries that have avoided adaptation to COVID realities, and are trying to hold on until life is "back to normal," will struggle post-COVID.


In the meantime, I will continue to stay at home, wear my mask, seek four packs of World of Wonder, and mark time with what ever special IPA Societe decides to share with us. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Upside of Stay-at-Home

Here we go again - back to to-go beer sales only. Here is one to grab and drink at home while available: Secret Swami's India Pale Ale from Pizza Port. How do you improve one of the best IPAs in San Diego? You add Nelson hops and Cascade hops from New Zealand. This joy of a beer is lighter and fruitier than regular Swami's. Pizza Port continues to brew and can one stellar special release after another. 



Monday, December 7, 2020

Belching Beaver Opts Out of OB

SD Beer News reports that Belching Beaver is closing its Ocean Beach tasting room, choosing not to renew its lease. Eight months into COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, this is not unexpected. I think the tasting room has been dark since April, even as other tasting rooms found ways to stay open in Ocean Beach, which tells me the decision to close was made some time ago. I hope, like the Culture Brewing and Two Roots spaces, also along Newport Avenue, the Belching Beaver space is replaced by another brewery. Hello, Burning Beard, Second Chance, or Rouleur, it's time to open a storefront at the beach.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Groundhog Day

Another COVID-19 lockdown is coming. I can't remember if this is the third or fourth stay-at-home order since March. The days, weeks, and months on the COVID calendar are a blur. This article from SD Beer News is a depressing read about what craft brewers face. This paragraph stood out to me*:

In the last two weeks alone, two brewery-owned venues have shuttered. The first was San Marcos Brewery, whose owners cited the impossibility of carrying on amid COVID-19 restrictions when announcing the closure on social media. A week later, Pacific Beach-based Amplified Ale Works announced it would be vacating the Miramar brewery and tasting room it has operated since 2015, leaving it without a facility in which to manufacture its beers. These venues join a list of pandemic-era closures that includes Vista’s Iron Fist Brewing, Escondido Brewing, Miramar’s Thunderhawk Alements, Hillcrest Brewing (which remains open as a non-brewing restaurant), Bolt Brewery’s La Mesa tavern and Two Roots Brewing’s Ocean Beach tasting room. Kearny Mesa’s Circle 9 Brewing and San Marcos-based Rip Current Brewing are still open but openly for sale.

The periphery of doom for breweries and restaurants gets narrower with each new stay-at-home order. I plan to do my part by buying local, direct from breweries if possible. I will keep ordering food to-go, too, from local restaurants. For years, most of my beer purchases and consumption have been take-away, but now this act has an urgency. Everyone is tired of COVID and lockdowns, but WEAR A MASK AND SOCIAL DISTANCE. VIGILANCE!

* How is Amplified Ale Works able keep its tasting rooms open without a location to brew its beer? I suspect it must have arranged a contract-brewing location before it decided to close its Miramar location. 

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Ocean Beach Gets Wild

With all the hurry around Thanksgiving last week, I missed that the Ocean Beach space occupied by Two Roots / Helms Brewing (mentioned here) has been released. California Wild Ales, based in Sorrento Valley, is opening an Ocean Beach tasting room. The location is great, a busy corner (Newport and Cable) that gets plenty of foot traffic. This is exciting news for OB residents. I never had much of a call for Two Roots' business model, and while it's not nice to speak of the departed, the Helms' beers I tried were not far from drain-pours. I'm looking forward to trying California Wild Ales' sour beers and its other wild ales. According to SD Beer News (link above), the tasting room is scheduled to open in the first half of 2021.

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.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Northern Pine Extra Pale Ale

Same county but so far away. Northern Pine Brewing is in Oceanside, about thirty-five miles north of where I live. It is not on the way to anywhere I frequent, which makes a trip to the brewery more an aspiration than a likelihood. Lucky for me, my neighbor brought me a crowler of Northern Pine's hoppy extra pale ale, Oceanside Dip*. It is brewed with Simcoe and Idaho 7 hops. It is hoppier (and darker) then a typical extra pale ale, and has a 6.0% abv, which I think is at the high end for this style, too. It had an upfront, piney resin feel in the mouthful, but what else would you expect from a brewery with "Pine" in its name. I liked this beer, not only did it taste good, it was well made. Pulling out the resin on a 6% beer takes skill. Oceanside Dip was bolder than a typical extra pale ale and you could not be faulted for thinking it a hoppy pale ale, or even an IPA. 


Extra pale ale is a style that deserves more popularity. Extra pale ales have more character and flavor than one dimensional session IPAs, but with not much more abv. I know session IPAs are a dead trend, so advocating for extra pale ales to step in as a replacement is an empty argument. Culture Brewing has some decent session IPAs, but my favorite Culture beer was its extra pale ale, which had less than 1% more abv than its session IPAs. In the meantime, I will appreciate extra pale ales when I can get them, like Northern Pine's Oceanside Dip.

* A note to Northern Pine: Please list your beers on your website.

Friday, September 4, 2020

IPA Style Guide

Are you confused by all the different IPA styles? Here is a good breakdown of different IPA styles from beer writer Matthew Curtis in MASH, which looks like a UK trade publication. The article includes definitions of IPA styles I have never heard of (Mountain IPA), an IPA style the author made up (London IPA), IPA styles I have never tried (Sour IPAs and Milk Shake IPAs), and IPA styles I'd like forget (White IPA and Brut IPA). It even goes so far as to kick Session IPAs out of the IPA style altogether, and add India Pale Lagers (IPLs), two decisions I approve. 

Reading this article I realized the Modern Times' Neverwhere IPA I wrote about earlier this week is a Farmhouse IPA. (This is an IPA style that needs to trend! #farmhouseipa.) Curtis gives examples for most of the IPA styles. It's a UK publication, so not all examples are available in the United States. Of course, as soon as you read a style guide you think of beers that bend the style guide, like Societe Brewing's Pupil IPA that has Nelson hops from New Zealand and Citra and Centennial Hops from the United States. So is it a New Zealand IPA or a West Coast IPA? Does it matter? 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

AleSmith IPA Returns


AleSmith IPA my old friend

Step on in and let me shake your hand

So glad that you're here again*

What's old is new again. AleSmith Brewing Company has re-released its original IPA in 16 oz cans. This has become my go-to beer this summer, and it is outstanding. It has that classic West Coast IPA taste profile of pine and citrus. Its bitterness is not overwhelming (or as bitter as I remember it) but it is still sharp enough to extend through the beer's long finish. AleSmith IPA is brewed with Citra and Columbus hops and has a 7.25% abv, which is just right given the malt level. This beer tastes modern (the Citra hops? where they around when AleSmith IPA was first brewed?), and does not transport me back to 2005. I have no problem with AleSmith refreshing its reboot.

The packaging on this beer is outstanding. The yellow and green design, which reminds me of the Oakland Athletics or Green Bay Packers, is eye-catching yet restrained and sleek. I did not buy this beer for its wrapper, but if I did not know AleSmith IPA I would have bought it for the look of the can alone. I know greed is not good, but I would like to see AlesSmith re-release YuleSmith, X Extra Pale Ale, and Anvil ESB in 16 oz cans. 

* From Steely Dan's Midnight Cruiser, with modifications.


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Stone Brewing's New CEO

Stone Brewing has hired a new CEO. Maria Stipp, formerly of Heineken-owned Lagunitas Brewing, takes over from Dominic Engles who resigned last month. Stone co-founder Steve Wagner had been serving as interim CEO and will remain in that position until Stipp starts on September 14, 2020. Both Wagner and co-founder Greg Koch will remain active at Stone. According to San Diego Beer News (link above), Stipp's duties include: "overseeing Stone's breweries on the West and East Coast, its hospitality venues (two Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens restaurants, plus seven Stone Brewing Tap Room locations), Stone Distributing Co. and distribution of Stone beers to all 50 states and more than 40 countries. She will also sit on the company's board of directors."

Stone had some bad press this summer, which I am not going to address here, but if you follow craft beer you know the stories. The Beer Rover wishes Ms. Stipp the best and is willing to give her and Stone the benefit of the doubt. Stone gets plenty of grief on-line and any mis-step is relished. Stone's hiring of Stipp is a right step.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Neverwhere

When it first opened back in 2013, I found the beers from Modern Times Beer fine enough, but not exciting. Lomaland was a decent saison, and if I remember right, Blazing World, not marketed then as an IPA, and Fortunate Islands, then a hoppy wheat beer and now a pale ale, were good but not stellar beers. I thought Black House stout the best beer from the new brewery. I did, though, appreciate Modern Times' attempt to build a core list of beers and avoid the all-IPA, all the time route. Then, soon after it opened, I bought a bottle of Modern Times' special release Neverwhere, an IPA that used Brettanomyces yeast, a yeast used in sours and wild ales, not IPAs. I found it bold and creative, a beer that worked at all my sensory levels. It was funky and intense of character, but remained easy to drink. Neverwhere, in my opinion, raised Modern Times to the level of a serious brewery.

Earlier this summer, in its first July special release, Modern Times re-released Neverwhere in 16 oz cans. I am not sure how much this version of Neverwhere adheres to the original recipe, but it still has a heavy Brett influence, which I liked in the first version. It has a 7.0% abv, nice tropical sweetness, and a funky dryness. It poured orange with a slight cloud; not clear like a West Coast IPA, but not a hazy IPA either.


Modern Times described the beer as,"Fermented with an irrepressibly tropical strain of Brett yeast and hopped with generous amounts of 100% Citra hops, this beer is an explosion of pineapple-laden fruit character, without the tartness of funk typically associated with Brett beers." It had minimal hop bitterness, and I disagree with Modern Times' claim that Neverwhere does not have tartness or funk; it does and that is the joy of the beer, and why you want to drink it. 

Since 2013, Modern Times has earned its status as an elite brewery. It retired Lomaland; Blazing World is now called an IPA; and Black House remains excellent. Modern Times has added beers to its core line up, including Ice pilsner, and releases a number of seasonal and regular monthly beers. It also offers one or two special releases of canned and bottled beers per month, which may include collaborations with other breweries. Modern Times can push boundaries with these beers, and it is where it offered Neverwhere. 

The environment surrounding IPAs has changed since 2013. Hazy IPAs, nonexistent in 2013, have become common, of which Modern Times is a master, and new hops varieties have been developed to lessen bitterness and enhance fruit flavors. I half-expected reality and seven years of IPA evolution to tarnish my opinion of Neverwhere. That did not happen. Neverwhere is still one heck of a standout beer. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The Hop Concept's IPA

The Hop Concept makes standout IPAs like Dank and Sticky and Citrus and Piney, but these 8.5% adv double IPAs are too much for casual drinking. They take over and punctuate an evening. The Hop Concept recently (I am not sure when) released THC IPA with a moderate 6.0% abv. Perfection. THC IPA is a robust beer and drinks bigger than its modest abv. Its bright citrus and tropical juiciness give a rush of flavor, and its bitterness is modest. You can smell THC's Mosaic and Idaho 7 hops as soon as you open the can. This beer is one of the best IPAs I have had this year. 


Monday, August 17, 2020

Thought Power

Dang, last night I searched Stone Brewing's website to see it had released or planned to release its 24th anniversary beer. I did not see anything. Then a few hours ago I got an email notification from Stone announcing the release of its 24th Anniversary Digeridoom Double IPA. The power of positive thinking.

Digeridoom Double IPA contains Australian hops Galaxy, Ella, and Vic Secret, and has a sensible 8.1% abv (at least as far as a double IPA abv). It comes in 22 oz bombers, too, which are not popular any more, but a size I still appreciate. Stone says this beer is available now - August 17, 2020 - so I am going to pop over to Stone Liberty Station to get a bomber.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Culture Canceled

I have started this post more than a few times and always deleted it for various reasons. I need to get it out of my system before I can write other posts. 

Culture Brewing's Ocean Beach tasting room closed on April 19, 2020, and it still makes me sad. The closing was not pandemic-related, despite the date, but due to a big rent increase. I found Culture's tasting room an inclusive space, a real reflection of the community, which I know is an overused cliche. In this case the cliche was true. All types passed through the tasting room to enjoy beer, and no one cared or judged. A couple in their sixties was as common as a couple in their twenties. Women could drink without unwanted advances. As a middle-aged white man in a mostly white community, I know I am not the best judge of this, nor do I claim to be super aware, but it seemed to me that people of color were treated no different than anyone else at Culture. I hope I am right, and not just wishful thinking.

Culture's staff created this egalitarian space. Whether on purpose, or through the aura of the place, or because it is in independent Ocean Beach, the staff's calm, friendly approach did not waiver, even on nights when Culture was busy, or when new people were hired. I generally stopped at Culture once or twice a week for five years, whether for a crowler fill or for a taster while on other errands in Ocean Beach. I did not hang out there and drink sessions of pints, so maybe my experience is limited, but I saw various levels of crowds and different servers, and the staff remained cool, fair, and welcoming. (I never saw anyone drunk or belligerent, either.)

Last Growler of Culture Pale Ale

It is hard to capture the karma of the Culture's Ocean Beach tasting room. As mentioned above, maybe it was the variety of people who stopped in, I'd always see someone I had not seen before. Maybe it was the number of dogs, which I am not a fan of but that were part of the place. Maybe it was not having a TV. Maybe it was not blasting music. Maybe it was the rotation of local art displays. Maybe it was the wall lined with barrels aging beer, or the high ceilings, or the metal bar. I know it was not the beer, because Culture's best beers are mediocre. I guess all these things together made Culture work.

I know there are other tasting rooms in Ocean Beach; tasting rooms that offer better beer. None have the same ambience of Culture. Novo Brazil is taking over Culture's tasting room so there'll still be craft beer along with seltzer, cider, kombucha, or what ever other drink Novo offers that I'll never try. Sure, I intend to give Novo a try but for some reason I am expecting a Bro fest. 

Culture was unique, but I don't want it replicated. Nostalgia can turn to poison. Culture's tasting room was a positive addition to Ocean Beach and I do not think I am only one who misses it.

(The picture above is Culture's Pale Ale from my last growler fill at the Ocean Beach tasting room.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Self Righteous

Stone Brewing's Sublimely Self Righteous black IPA made a comeback this spring to brighten time spent sheltering in place. Sublimely Self Righteous first appeared in 2007 as Stone's 11th Anniversary beer, and soon after became part of Stone's year-round beer offerings until its retirement in 2015. Part of the beauty of brewing is that nothing needs to stay retired for ever, and Stone has returned to its recipe vault with great success. Late last week I picked up a crowler of Sublimely Self Righteous at Stone's Liberty Station World Bistro & Garden's tasting room, and I am all in for Stone revisiting its classics.


In my mind, black IPAs were designed, in part, as bitter or more aggressive stouts (and also an attempt to label any style an IPA). What hit me with Sublimely Self Righteous was not so much its bitterness, but its upfront and all around sweetness. If dessert beers were a category, Sublimely Self Righteous would land in the center of it. The candied dark malts evoked chocolate and coffee, and Stone did a good job of hiding the 8.7% abv.

When I drink black IPAs I expect the hop flavors to standout, but I cannot think of a case where this has happened, and if Stone can't do it, no one can. I find Sublimely Self Righteous excellent, not because of its hops, but because the hops mix so well with the malt. The sweetness required to match the heavy hops and malt define this beer. Without it, the malt would suffocate taste, like having a loaf of dark bread shoved in your mouth, or the hops would turn the beer acrid, or the 8.7% abv would make it a boozy mess. Instead, it shines; no gags from too much malt, no burnt bitter winces from excessive hops, and no singes from alcohol heat. Sublimely Self Righteous is Stone exhibiting its master brewing techniques.

I can't drink a beer this big on a regular basis, it's beer gluttony. I feel the same way about Enjoy By, which is released four times a year. Stone's idea to make Sublimely Self Righteous a special release is smart, and at least for me, increases its demand factor.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Courtesy

I try to keep positive on this blog, but I have to vent. If you order beer or food to go, or pick beer and food to go: WEAR A FACE MASK AND SOCIAL DISTANCE. Please do not turn employees at restaurants and breweries into enforcement police. It is rude, it is not their job, and you are putting them at risk as well as making them uncomfortable. You know the rules - obey them!

Over the past week I have been at several restaurants and breweries where some patrons had to be reminded to put on masks and that they had to wait in line. Yes, even if you order online, you have to wait with everyone else for pickup. It is not that hard, I promise. Don't be a Karen - or way more likely - a Male Karen.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Glimmers of Hope - II

The West Coaster had a link to this spreadsheet today, which is a crowdsourced status update of San Diego breweries. You can find this spreadsheet on the San Diego Brewers Guild's website. The database of breweries is a good reference. In looking through the list, I am impressed by how many breweries are operating and selling beer at some level. If I am reading the spreadsheet right, only two breweries have closed permanently, Escondido Brewing and Iron Fist Brewing, and only a handful of other breweries are closed due to COVID-19. The good news is how many breweries are open and selling beer in some form. I did notice that Blind Lady / Automatic Brewing is listed as closed, but in reading Blind Lady's instagram, it is now selling some food and beer on weekends. Last weekend was its second weekend and its stock of foods sold out fast.

I am not going to guess how or when the COVID-19 pandemic ends. Reading this list gives me hope that my initial fears back in March of widespread closures and a permanent change to San Diego's craft beer industry may have been false fears.

Glimmers of Hope

In the twenty minutes it took me to write the previous post on Societe's Pupil I received one of Societe's regular update emails. The opening note is worth repeating in full:

To all of our incredible and loyal fans, thank you.  Thank you for the 8 years of support leading up to the Covid-19 crisis. Thank you for the continued patronage these past 8 weeks.  And thank you for being excited about future releases.  Prior to the pandemic, 90% of our beer was consumed from kegs at bars and restaurants.  Luckily though, we got our own canning line up and running in mid-January and have pivoted hard into packaging. What used to look like a kegging factory now looks like a canning factory.  Our sales team, production team, and retail team have been hard at work making this drastic shift feel normal and thanks to you, we’re now looking to buy more tanks to increase our capacity!  For those of you who miss our tasting room, please know that we miss you too.  And I guarantee you that every bar and restaurant that you miss also misses you.  While it will take some time for this to pass, every time you purchase or drink a Societe beer, you’re indirectly thinking of us here at the brewery and those thoughts definitely make us sleep a little bit better.  Cheers to your health.
Societe is "looking to buy more tanks to increase our (its) capacity." This is incredible. Societe shifted to cans when 90% of its business stopped and now needs added capacity, which must be from demand. From a craft beer industry standpoint this is some of the best news I have read in a long time. It also says a lot about the management and employees at Societe that an established business can adapt and transform its production so fast.

Pupil "That Beer"

The Indie Beer Show is back podcasting again, and on the May 5, 2020, episode (at about 21 minutes into the podcast), Brandon Hernandez made a statement I am still thinking about. To paraphrase him, he said if Societe Brewing's Pupil IPA had been released a few years earlier, it could have been the Sculpin of the beer world, or "that beer." Brandon's right. Now this could not have been possible because Societe did not exist when Sculpin became Sculpin, and he clarifies this. But the point is that Pupil is so good and such a standout beer, it could have had the same impact on the beer world as Sculpin, which Ballast Point rode to its $1 billion sale to Constellation.

Pupil IPA (7.5% abv) is still a standout beer. Every time I have one I tell myself how good a beer it is, and I have been saying this to myself for eight years. I don't doubt Pupil could have stood in for the role of Sculpin in the craft beer world, but then Pupil would have changed, Societe would have changed, and everything Societe would have sucked, except maybe Doug's and Travis's bank accounts.

Upheaval due to COVID-19 happens fast. Years' of business and product cycles are now occurring in the span weeks. I just want a pint of Pupil's consistency.


Thursday, April 30, 2020

Coronavirus Comfort Beer

Pizza Port has regular canned special releases, and many of the ones I have tried have been outstanding beers. One of Pizza Port's most recent releases is Campgrounds IPA (7.2% abv). It has been my go-to beer during the lockdown. It is a modern take on the West Coast IPA. By modern I mean it is brewed with new hops strains of Strata, Cashmere, and Rakau, not the classic hops like Cascade, Centennial, or Amarillo. It is clear and light in color. It is plenty bitter, but it also has prominent citrus fruit. The mouthful is a striking oily resin. Pizza Port did everything right brewing this beer. I am not sure how long this is going to stay in circulation, but I know it is still available around town and at Pizza Port locations.



Still Got It

Stone Brewing's Arrogant Consortia's Arrogant Bastard is still one heck of a beer. The rise of hazy beers, beers made with hops that bring more fruit, or vegetables, or earth than bitterness, and the absence of malt in many beers has not diminished the impact of Arrogant Bastard. It is unshakeable; still bitter and still malty. I did note a high level of sweetness I had never noticed or paid much attention to before, but it seemed warranted with the big malt presence. I didn't find Arrogant Bastard as complex or as subversive as I did twenty years ago, but that is fine, because it made me realize how good a beer it remains.

 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Drinking Local

Beer blogging was an outlet during the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009, but blogging has not provided me the same escape during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has not stopped beer drinking, and it is heartening that so many breweries and restaurants have adapted to this challenge. Pizza Port in Ocean Beach has a steady line. Mike Hess Brewing is offering $5 fills in is 32 oz growlers of any beer*. This is an incredible bargain and I am getting mini-growler fills several times a week. Over the past few weeks I have discovered Societe Brewing's marvelous Beer for the People Pilsner and Rouleur Brewing's Endo IPA, which is a proper update to the West Coast IPA.


We have ordered takeout from Stone Brewing's World Bistro & Gardens - Liberty Station on a few occasions, and it has been fantastic. I once even got a crowler fill of Pliny The Elder (my only non-local beer since the pandemic started). Stone Brewing's most recent Enjoy By 4.20.20 is stonking good, and example No. 1 of an ABV smuggler (Indy Beer Show podcast term).


Rules have been relaxed to allow restaurants to sell beer to go in growlers or other containers, even though I have not bought any. I am not sure if this change allowed restaurants to get rid of existing beer supplies, or if restaurants are now taking on new kegs. Either way, I think it is positive and should become permanent. (Hey, Joint OB, I know you are closed, but you should open for a draft beer sale because you have a great beer list and that beer should not end up as a fancy drain pour.) Even breweries have seen relaxation in the types of containers they fill, and of course Stone Liberty Station filling crowlers or growlers of Russian River beers is a bonus. It is too bad it took a pandemic to cause a growler comeback. I find a 32 oz growler more convenient than a crowler.


Many breweries are offering free home delivery and free shipping. This is wild and provides another post-pandemic sales channel. I have not ordered beer for delivery yet, but who knows. It seems like a good way to get beer from some of those North County breweries I always want to visit but never make time to visit.

*Mike Hess's new Pershing Pilsner, I believe, is the one exception to the $5 fill.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Ahh!

I went to purchase some sandwiches today at a local deli/bottle shop and saw a bottle of Deschutes Old World Abyss (10.8% abv) in the fridge for eight bucks. I now understand why I have so many barrel aged stouts lurking in my closets. I resisted the temptation to buy it, for now.

Monday, March 30, 2020

No Frills Stout and Porter

"Though their life was modest they believed in eating well; the best of everything: diamond bone sirloins, three-shilling tea and the best bottled stouts." James Joyce's The Dead, in Dubliners
At the start of this stay-at-home period I did an inventory of the beers I've bought over the years and stored in my closet and in the back of my fridge. I did not realize I had so many high abv barrel aged stouts. I found beers with abvs of 10%, 11%, and even one with 13% abv. I managed to hoard for an apocalypse, not to kill time on a Tuesday watching Jeopardy!. I don't know why I have collected so many barrel aged stouts, and worse, I don't see an occasion - because when you open an 11% beer it is an occasion - where I will dig one of these beers out of their quarantine.

I did find two excellent dark beers, but they were not in my ad hoc cellars: Eppig Brewing's Sinister Path Export Stout and Pizza Port's One Pint of Plain Irish Porter, which was brewed with South Park Brewing and Half Door Brewing. The two beers were made with skill, not additives. Neither beer is juiced with the likes of vanilla, coffee, fruit, or coca nibs, neither spent time in a barrel, and neither has a lobotomy-level abv. Eppig's Sinister Path is a 7% stout. It is creamy and deep roasted, which brings out coffee and chocolate flavors. It has full body and a sweetness that would make this beer fine as a dessert by itself. I have gushed about Eppig's beers before, and Sinister Path is another masterpiece.


Pizza Port's special release, timed to match St Patrick's Day, is a 4.8% porter. It is a straightforward porter. It does not have the body or the sweetness of Sinister Path, which makes Plain Porter great with food, like the corned beef we had it with on St. Patrick's Day. Plain Porter is a dry beer, one of the driest I have had in recent years. This is not an impediment and another reason why it pairs well with food. You could drink this beer several times a week and not get tired of it.

I appreciate these two every-day dark beers.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Leadership

You did not come to this sight to read my opinions on leadership, or lack of leadership, in a Coronavirus world. Instead, I point you to this notice posted by Bagby Beer Company this past weekend. It is as courageous as it is heartbreaking.

Ten days into stay-at-home, I remain optimistic for craft breweries, restaurants, and other small, local businesses. I want to believe this outlook is not misplaced. Bagby Beer Company is going to be one of the first places I visit when the pandemic passes. I have wanted to visit since it opened, but the distance has always been my excuse to push off a trip to next week, or next month, or next time I am in Oceanside. Next week never comes.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

No PtY For Me

I read on Instagram that yesterday Pizza Port Ocean Beach was going to tap Pliny the Younger. It has been a number of years since my last glass of Younger so I decided to visit Pizza Port. I arrived around 7:30 pm to find the keg long dry. Pizza Port started pouring Younger 11:00 am, and of course by 7:30 pm it was a memory. I am not that upset about missing out on Younger, and have noted that drinking a beer above 7.5% abv is rare for me. I can't even think about drinking beer that early in the day, especially a triple IPA, even if its is Pliny the Younger.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

"Out of Town" Brewery

I asked the guy working at an Ocean Beach liquor store/deli if the store carried The Lost Abbey beers. He told me the store focused on local breweries, not "out of town" breweries. I told him Lost Abbey is local, based in San Diego County. He was response was, "yeah, but it's one of those old school breweries." Old school is valid reason not to carry a brand? The liquor store/deli has a craft beer selection better than most of its competitors, too, and it carries beers from plenty of "out of town" breweries. I suspect not wanting to stock Lost Abbey bottles is a more true reason, as most of its beers are in cans. Finding Lost Abbey beers near me is more of a challenge than I thought it would be.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Cracking Collabs

I have never taken collaboration beers too serious, thinking them more as acts of goodwill and camaraderie between breweries than as an opportunity to make standout beers. The more prevalent they have become, the less attention I paid to them. Over the past six months my thinking has been proved wrong, and I am now viewing collaborations as more than an excuse for a brewing boondoggle.

The Karl Strauss / AleSmith Blink of an IPA was a West Coast IPA released last fall by two San Diego craft beer powerhouses. This beer was brewed with Norwegian kveik yeast, a yeast strain that allows for flexible temperatures during fermentation. This low malt, bright hop beer dazzled with its citrus fruit and floral flavors. This beer's long, light finish refused to sour and stood out to me.


Port Brewing's The Hop Concept and Societe Brewing released Mosaic Monday for San Diego's Beer Week. (I think this was one of Societe's first released canned beers, too.) Mosaic hops, to me, are tricky and can have flavors of citrus and other fruits, or bring a deep earthiness to a beer that if misused can slip into a heavy onion flavor. The collaborating skill behind Mosaic Monday highlighted Mosaic's citrus flavors and suppressed the vegetable side. The result was a stunning West Coast IPA; biting, not weighty; crisp, not murky. This beer's abv was tame by Hop Concept standards, and stayed right at the Pupil Line (7.5% abv), which I appreciated. The note on the can hints that Mosaic Monday will make a return in 2020, let's hope so because it did not stay on shelves long, and it was one of the best IPAs I had last year.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

An Epic Return

Stone Brewing is releasing a new Vertical Epic: 02.02.2020 Epic Palindrome Ale. According to the email from Stone Brewing, it is a limited California-only release, even for on-line sales. This beer, according to the email, "is a half Belgian-inspired, half Stone-inspired ale and features sweet orange peel and tangerine. Incredibly tasty now, but destined to mature beautifully over time." Stone Brewing is also re-releasing its 2015 version of the original Vertical Epic 02.02.02 and the 2016 version of Vertical Epic 08.08.08.

I missed the first Vertical Epic, but made sure to try the remaining eleven. I still have a number of Vertical Epics lined up in my closet. I liked some releases better than others, in particular I enjoyed the middle releases. All versions in the series expanded my beer knowledge and beer tasting experience.  (The Bruery did something similar with a Twelve Days of Christmas theme, but those beers became so big (~12% abvs, for example) and so outrageous in their flavor and ingredients, I lost interest long before the 12 Drummers Drumming.) I am looking forward to 02.02.2020 Epic Palindrome Ale because it is a new beer, the first Vertical Epic over seven years, and it is being sold in 22 oz bomber bottles.

Vertical Epic 10.10.10 from 2010

Monday, January 20, 2020

San Diego Toronado To Close

What the heck? The San Diego location of Toronado is set to close in the near future. No date has been set, but according to this SanDiegoVille article, closure is expected before the beginning of March. This stinks. Reading the article above, and the note from Toronado included in the article, it seems to me that something bigger is happening than people not drinking craft beer.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Beer Literature - Pub Life

I am in the middle of Patrick Hamilton's Hangover Square, a brutal 1941 novel of fringe characters spending too much time drinking to excess in London pubs and apartments just before the start of World War II. I was struck by these two passages describing the same pub near London's Earl's Court. The first paragraph brings us into the pub's quaint appearance and gentle ambience as seen through the main character's friend who meets him at the pub for beers:

The long, warm bright days still persisted, and the door of the pub was flung and fastened back. It was cool, dark, and restful inside and pleasant with the peaceful beginnings of the little house’s evening trade – two men talking quietly, another reading a newspaper, the flutter of a canary in a cage, the barmaid vanishing into the other bars and returning, the occasional oily jab of the beer engine and the soft spurt of beer. It was good to sit back in this cave of refreshment, and stare at the blinding brilliance of the day outside, the pavement, the dusty feet of temperate but jaded pedestrians.

The second, much darker passage, is how the pub looks to George Harvey Bone, the main character:

But, of course, he could not see what George could see – the wet winter nights when the door was closed; the smoke, the noise, the wet people: the agony of Netta under the electric light: Mickey drunk and Peter arguing: mornings-after on dark November days: the dart-playing and boredom: the lunch-time drunks, the lunch-time snacks, the lunch-room upstairs: the whole poisoned nightmarish circle of the idle tippler’s existence.

I'll take the first vision of an English pub.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Time To Rediscover The Lost Abbey

Recent news stories and my own thinking have me on the lookout for The Lost Abbey beers. Toward the end of last year I realized how long it has been since I had a good Belgian-style beer from The Lost Abbey. I used to enjoy Devotion, Red Barn, and Judgement Day on a regular basis, and it has been years since I have had these beers. Then I read these two Good Beer Hunting articles (here and here) last week on the market changes impacting wild ale makers. The first article mentioned The Lost Abbey and quoted Tomme Arthur. Finally, yesterday I read in the West Coaster that The Lost Abbey has signed a lease on a 100-year-old church in Downtown San Diego for satellite tasting room.

The Lost Abbey's Gift of the Magi (2009)
I searched this blog's archive and found I have not posted on The Lost Abbey since this one on its Merry Taj IPA in December 2013, a beer I am not sure is even still produced. This is a serious fail on my part. Heck, I was an original member of The Lost Abbey's Saints and Sinners beer membership club back in 2007. I am not alone. The Lost Abbey's beers have become rare finds in bottle shops I visit. Space that used to display bottled beers is now dominated by the latest canned beers. And it is not just The Lost Abbey losing shelf space, Belgian-style beers have been pushed to bottom racks if stocked at all.

The Lost Abbey's downtown tasting room is positive news. While I don't know if I will visit it any more than I will drive to North County, mentally, it is easier for me to see myself swinging by to taste and buy beer to go. The proliferation of tasting rooms near me and the convenience of growlers to go has made beer drinking easier, but also removed some of the adventure and exploration of seeking out different beers. It is time for me to get my quad on.

Monday, January 13, 2020

McSorley's Old Ale House

The owner of McSorley's Old Ale House in New York City has died. The New York Times has Matty Maher's obituary here. McSorley's dates from before the Civil War. I wrote about Joseph Mitchell's famous 1940 profile of McSorley's here.

I visited McSorley's in summer 2018. The place was mostly full of guys like me, middle-aged out-of-towners attracted by the history, the nostalgia, and the promise of beer. I do remember a few tough looking regulars, though, who looked to have lived through robust participation in the Bowery's rougher days. McSorley's has two beers: light and dark; and one order of beer is two glasses that I am guessing are 10 oz with half the pour made up of foam. I don't know who makes the beer (this All About Beer article by Jell Alworth from 2015 says the rights to brew the beer is held by Pabst) but you don't go to McSorley's for this week's latest and greatest hazy IPA.

Here are some pictures from my visit: the two beer order, the bar with the famous and sadly macabre wishbones, another interior picture showing the sawdust covered floor, and the exterior.

The obituary does not mention McSorley's future, but it is hard to imagine it closing.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Sweet Casa Agria

Casa Agria Specialty Ales is a small brewery in Oxnard, located in a boring, light industrial building at the edge of farmland not far from Highway 101. If you look down to check a text, or are not trying to find Casa Agria you will miss it. That would be a shame. Agria is Spanish for sour, which plays to Casa Agria's barrel aged focus. Casa Agria's website stated that the brewery's focus is "mixed fermentation farmhouse style ales, barrel aged wild ales, and Northeast style India pale ales." I'd add it also produces Mexican-style lagers.


The brewery is partitioned into three sections: a small bar and tasting room in the front, and in the back a room for brewery operations and a room for barrel storage that has additional tables for tasting room visitors. Casa Agria had every table occupied the evening I visited, so people are finding this brewery.

I did not try any of Casa Agria's sour or wild ales, which I regret as I write this post, but it had a saison and a couple of sours on draft, and it had wild ale bottles available for purchase. Of course, I tried its hazy IPA, Jets Overhead (pictured above), a 7% ABV beer. I found it sweet, fruity, and benign. It's a fine enough beer, not the best hazy IPA I have ever tried but good enough for me to buy a four-pack. I liked the 5% Casa Real Mexican-style amber lager, pictured below. Casa Real drinks lighter than its color but is not a thin beer. It brought roasted malts with some caramel, and the bread-like yeast you expect from a Mexican lager. Modelo Negra who?


The people working at Casa Agria were nice and enthusiastic about its beer. Despite the crowd, we felt welcome and were able to have a conversation. Casa Agria es una pequeña joya.
 

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Constellation Confusion

Constellation Brands (STZ) released its third quarter report today for the period ending November 30, 2019, and it did not disclose Ballast Point's sale price. The sale occurred in December 2019, after the close of the quarter and it is still pending, which is likely STZ's excuse for not listing the sale price.

The 10-Q did list beer related Assets Held for Sale at $42.1 million, as of November 30, 2019, which appears to consist primarily of Ballast Point. STZ wrote down Ballast Point by $41.3 million during its third quarter to a value of $40 million. By my calculation, that is a $960 million cumulative write down for Ballast Point from its $1 billion purchase price! The following is from STZ's 10-Q (bold is my emphasis):

For the third quarter of fiscal 2020, in connection with the Ballast Point Transaction, long-lived assets held for sale with a carrying value of $81.3 million were written down to their estimated fair value of $40.0 million, less costs to sell. As a result, a loss of $50.0 million, inclusive of costs to sell and other losses was included in impairment of assets held for sale. These assets consisted primarily of intangible assets and certain production and warehouse assets which had satisfied the conditions necessary to be classified as held for sale. Our estimate of fair value was determined based on the expected proceeds from the Ballast Point Transaction as of November 30, 2019. Ballast Point is a component of the Beer segment and was included in our beer reporting unit. Accordingly, goodwill was allocated to the Ballast Point assets held for sale based on the relative fair value of the business being sold compared to the relative fair value of the reporting unit. Goodwill not allocated to assets held for sale remains in the beer reporting unit. 
I read a number of financial disclosures as part of my day job. There is no reason to prevent STZ from disclosing Ballast Point's pending contract sale price. Embarrassment is not an excuse. Instead of listing a sales price, STZ decided to obscure Ballast Point's valuation with write downs, impairments, paper losses related to the write downs, and goodwill adjustments. I suspect STZ will disclosure the actual price for which it sold Ballast Point when the sale closes in 2020, but look for it buried in a footnote, wrapped in complex accounting jargon.

Not related to Ballast Point, but more to the warped corporate mind set of Big Beverage, STZ's 10-Q states that it is investing in hard seltzer and cannabis. On trend for sure, just like craft beer five years ago. Look for STZ to be dumping its hard seltzer and pot businesses in four years. Drink Local.