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.


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.