From the Beer Writer: Some see beer as an artistic medium, while others view it as a platform for experimentation. Not surprisingly, the scientific minds at Miramar’s White Labs, the foremost manufacturer of yeast for beverage fermentation in the world, fall into the latter category. Last year, their on-site brewing team created something previously (and since) unheard of: a beer fermented using a whopping 96 different yeast strains. What could have come out tasting like a cacophony of competing characteristics tasted very nice fresh, with Belgian yeast varieties coming to the forefront with their bold, fruity, botanical attributes. Yesterday, White Labs released a version of the beer given even more complexity from extended aging in bourbon whiskey barrels. The result is Barrel-Aged Frankenstout, which features a downright lovely aroma reminiscent of dark chocolate truffles and rose petals. The chocolate carries through on the palate and is accompanied by vanilla and chicory, followed by an herbal feel in the finish. In the world of beer-based science projects, it doesn’t get much more exotic than this.
From the Scientist: “The team at White Labs was working on sequencing 96 of our yeast strains for a collaborative research project with Illumina, Synthetic Genomics and a team of scientists based in San Diego and Belgium. The goal was to understand the genetic diversity between strains (i.e., what makes WLP001 California Ale Yeast have such different flavor characteristics compared to WLP008 East Coast Ale Yeast), and some of these findings were later published via the scientific journal Cell in September 2016. Since these strains needed to be propped up in order to do a full sequencing run and fill 96 spots in a multi-well plate, we used the propped-up yeast to do a fun ‘experiment’ and look at what would happen if they were all used to ferment only one beer. Our team tried a few different prototypes before landing on the final recipe for Frankenstout, as they found that the malty backbone played really well with the complex and various flavors created by 96 different strains!”—Karen Fortmann, Senior Research Scientist, White Labs
From the Brewer: “Barrel-Aged Frankenstout rested for more than one year in second-use, bourbon oak barrels. During that time, the brewing team monitored the barrels on a regular basis until we finally landed on the perfect amount of oak and bourbon traits combined with Frankenstout. We found the flavors in Frankenstout really changed over time, and it also picked up a higher alcohol-by-volume (10.1%) from the time spent in barrels. Barrel-Aged Frankenstout carries vanilla, oak qualities and mild notes of bourbon, which pair well with the more subtle phenolics of the matured base beer.”—Joe Kurowski, Brewing Manager, White Labs
Last month I visited Cameron Pryor, one of the founders of California Wild Ales. We met at the under-development all-wild brewery’s Sorrento Valley facility where I took photos of the nearly completed tasting room. At the time, it was scheduled to open in early August. When I checked back with Pryor last week, he informed me that his team had since decided to hold off on opening a tasting room until they find a new location. The new plan is to stay focused on production and reduce public access to their space to bottle pick-ups.
This is another way in which this operation—perhaps the most against-the-grain of San Diego County’s breweries currently in planning—defies convention. Other unconventional factors include the fact none of its founders have experience in the brewing industry, all of their beers will utilize wild yeast and microorganisms. Throw in no tasting room and you have a full-on anomaly for the local suds scene.
But with these oddities come some positives. Without a reliance on hops, one of the most expensive ingredients in beer-making, they don’t need to focus on securing contracts and save money. Being in Sorrento Valley, the rent is lower than other higher-profile communities. And not having employees, something that can be maintained now that there won’t be a tasting room, cuts down on overhead considerably. All of this, Pryor says, will allow him and his partners to keep prices for their beers moderate. This is important to them, as they are not fans of the expensive, $30 and $40-plus bottles of wild ales in the market.
California Wild Ales’ facility currently houses a growing stock of wine barrels as well as plastic totes filled with fruit (pineapple and guava when I visited) that gets punched down a la grapes in a winery setting. According to Pryor, this step increases fruit-to-beer infusion. He has also taken lessons from tours of Old World lambic breweries in Europe, and utilizes gravity in his production methods whenever possible.
Pryor and company utilize two 4.5% alcohol-by-volume base beers—one brewed with caramel malt, the other with a touch of rye malt—as the foundation for all of their beers. Early offerings include a dark sour with black raspberries and blueberries called Black Sour, and Salty Loquats, a gose brewed with English sea salt and its tart namesake fruit but devoid of traditional coriander. Pryor, a former chef, is experimenting with a variety of exotic salts and says they change both flavor and mouthfeel of his finished products.
California Wild Ales operates a members-only club called The Funky Bunch that provides priority access to beers in exchange for an annual fee. The company will also keg some of their beers with plans to sell them to local accounts before the end of the month.
With San Diego now home to more than a dozen hop farms, local brewers are seizing the opportunity to use freshly-picked hops in their beers for an added dose of aroma and flavor.
This year’s hop harvest started towards the end of July, with breweries Amplified, Burning Beard, and Nickel among the first to pick hops from the bine, meaning the county’s first wet hop beers of 2017 already graced taps in early August.
Leading the charge per usual is Tom Nickel, a 22-year veteran of the San Diego brewing scene. By the time September rolls around, the seven-barrel brewery he runs in Julian, Nickel Beer Co, will have churned out close to a dozen wet hop beers.
“We added a new fermenter, so we are brewing 2 wet hop beers a week for 5 straight weeks across 6 different beer styles, using 3 different yeast strains,” Nickel says. “I am pretty certain that only Sierra Nevada might have ever brewed more than 10 wet hop beers in a single harvest.”
The bar he owns in Kearny Mesa, O’Brien’s Pub, recently tapped a few wet hop beers from Nickel Beer Co and other breweries, but the real party is scheduled for September 14th-17th, when the pub hosts “San Diego Wet Hop Weekend.” The night of Thursday the 14th will likely kick off with a wet hop cask and a collection of Nickel beers, before wet hop beers from all over Southern California take over the taps for the weekend.
Below is a list of wet hop beers we are aware of. We’ll update this post when we learn of more.
– Toad the Wet Hop-it brewed with Chinook and Cascade from SD Golden Hop Farm. Tapped August 4 at the Miramar location.
– “Iron Fire Family Reunion Collaboration. Brewed in the afternoon of August 21 and 22 after picking 250# of Nugget and Crystal at Star B Buffalo Ranch and Hop Farm in west Ramona in the morning both days. 500# total picked over both days. Hopefully be driving the fresh picked hops straight to Long Beach location, in a refrigerated truck, to put straight into the beer. Wet Hop IPA’ish style fermented with 100% Brett to be brewed at Long Beach.
– “Fall Brewing Family Reunion Collaboration. Brewed in the afternoon of August 23 after picking 200# of Nugget and Crystal at Star B Buffalo Ranch and Hop Farm in west Ramona in the morning. Hopefully be driving the fresh picked hops straight to Trade Street location, in a refrigerated truck, to put straight into the beer. 5% ABV Saison with a mixed yeast (brett and saison 565), grains of paradise, local sage and local wet hops. Brother Levonian grain bill.” – Colby Chandler
– “We [Ballast Point Little Italy] brewed a Wet Hop IPA, we will name ‘Splash Zone’. It was brewed with a 50/50 split of Chinook and Cascade wet hops from Golden Hop Farm. ABV: 6.4% It will be released in all our tasting rooms on August 31st.” – Julia Cain
– Circle of Wet Hops (wet-hopped version of year-round SD Pale Ale the Circle of Hops). Star B Ranch hops. Tapped August 4.
– Fresh Hopportunity IPA with Cascade from a former brewer’s dad (5 pounds in the mash), plus Nugget and Crystal from Fallbrook’s SD Golden Hop Farm in Fallbrook (whirlpool). 6% ABV and 35-45 IBUs. On tap around the week of August 21.
– 7 lbs of Cascade in a keg of Pale Ale for the Encinitas tasting room grand opening August 12.
– Hops from SD Golden Hop Farm will be used to dry hop the brewery’s hoppy pale, Other Spaces, as well as a few casks.
– Wet hop Crystal Mess with Star B Ranch Crystal hops. Brewing week of August 14.
– 5.6% ABV Pale Ale called Fresh Hop. Star B Ranch hops. Cascade and Chinook in the whirlpool; Cascade, Nugget, Crystal in the dry hop. 22 oz bottle run coming soon!
– Same Day XPA
– Lab Monkey
– Buffalo Paw Brown Ale
– Fresh Mountain Crystal IPA
– Green Truck IIPA
– My Way IPA
– Standing the Eagle IPA
– Star B Pale Ale
– Golden Nugget wet hop IPA
– Wet Hop Table Beer with Benchmark and Monkey Paw
– Hook In Mouth (wet hop Star B Chinook IPA)
– “An unnamed and uncertain Wet Hop Red Ale with hops from the new front hop yard at Star B. Eric has a lot of new varieties out there and they are looking good. Not sure exactly what we are going to brew because that will somewhat depend on what hops we end up using.
– “And we will be doing a Star B – Nickel – Burning Beard collab brew at Burning Beard in the second half of the month. Again we are waiting on the new hop yard at Star B to nail down exactly what we are doing.” – Tom Nickel
North Park Beer Co:
– “We made an IPA with 72# of Chinook and 8# of Columbus wet hops [Nopalito Farm]. We used the mash tun as a giant hopback and allowed the hot wort to steep with the wet hops at the end of boil. The beer is still fermenting [8/14] but if all goes as planned it’ll be 7.0% ABV.” – Kelsey McNair
– Plant to Pint strong pale ale with fresh Mosaic
– Raceway IPA with fresh Citra
– Wet Lamborghini IPA with fresh Mosaic
– Don Simcoeleone IPA with fresh Simcoe
– Contender pale ale with fresh Mosaic
– Riptide IPA with fresh Citra
– 135 IPA with fresh Citra
– Sea Dog Session IPA with fresh Mosaic
– Merica IPA with fresh Simcoe
– Name is yet to be decided, but this will be a collaboration with @womenscraftbeercollective. SD Golden Hop Farm hops. Likely tapped week of August 20.
– Anti-Matter IPA w/ SD Golden Hop Farm Cascade. Likely tapped week of August 21.
– Baby Buck XPA with Star B
– IPA (To Be Named) with Star B and Nopalito
Each June, San Marcos’ Rip Current Brewing Company uses Rip Current Awareness Week, a seven-day period designated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as an opportunity to raise public knowledge about its wares through special events and offers at its tasting rooms. It’s a clever marketing effort; enough so that another San Marcos-headquartered brewing company isn’t waiting for a governmental agency to institute an educational span in its honor. Enter, Mason Awareness Week, taking place August 28 to September 1.
Mason Ale Works, the in-house brewing operation of the 3LB Restaurant Group built within its Urge Gastropub brewpubs in Oceanside and San Marcos, is teaming with high-profile accounts throughout San Diego over a five-day span to increase imbibers’ consciousness of the brand. According to 3LB co-owner Grant Tondro, Mason Ale Works has been able to gain a good following in North County, but isn’t as relevant south of Miramar. So, they’re bringing the brand south via special events and promotions.
The week will kick off with a Monday steak night at University Heights’ Small Bar that, instead of featuring a keep-the-glass aspect, will allow patrons to keep a Mason-branded steak knife. Tuesday a beer-can koozie will be the keeper du jour at High Dive in Bay Park. Wednesday the Mason crew will return to Urge Common House in San Marcos for a “mini-Lebowski fest” marking the release of a “vegan White Russian beer” brewed in collaboration with Modern Times Beer. Thursday will see a keep-the-glass and cask-night combo at Kearny Mesa’s O’Brien’s Pub, followed by special bottle pours and custom t-shirts at Toronado in North Park.
Like many new local brewery owners, Tondro says opening a brewing company in the current, crowded marketplace is challenging. He says the number of slices of the pie are growing faster than the pie at this point, making it all the more important to differentiate one’s brand and beers, and fueling the decision to reach out in order to introduce themselves to San Diego beer drinkers.