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San Diego Beer News

Beer Touring: Battlemage Brewing

Dec 12

It’s commonplace in San Diego to walk into a brewery tasting room and find multiple India pale ales augmented by little more than a wheat beer and stout. Hoppy beers are the money-makers, after all. In 2016, IPAs accounted for 76.4% of total sales at grocery and convenience stores (according to scan data compiled by market-research company IRI). It makes sense that brewing companies lead with IPAs and stay mostly within the box where non-hoppy stock is concerned, which makes it all the more admirable when brewers dare to buck convention and instead follow their personal tastes and passions. I recently visited such an interest, Battlemage Brewing (2870 Scott Street, #102, Vista), where the beer menu looked like something from an entirely different realm…thanks only in part to the fact the place is essentially an RPG game room replete in fantasy regalia.

Established by gaming enthusiasts (who also brewed at Ballast Point Brewing before opening their own venture), Battlemage is the perfect setting for your next D&D session, but the real otherworldliness comes from a list of libations unlike any in the county. While there are two IPAs, standard and hazy (of course), and an extra pale ale that’s Northeastern in composition (gotta pay them bills), Battlemage also offers a dark mild, old ale, hoppy amber, coffee milk stout and two versions of a white ale (neither of which is a white ale) and even a beer that lists three question marks as its style descriptor. That’s as exotic as an aasimar druid decked out in a suit of armor. And it makes for an enjoyable day of drinking for someone who appreciates all styles versus merely those which are popular, particularly because many of Battlemage’s offerings are rather well crafted.

The aforementioned Divine Light white ale is a blonde ale and lager hybrid that’s well-attenuated and easy to drink. Those qualities help a version of that beer infused with blackberries and coffee show off its added ingredients, but honestly, the base beer is more enjoyable on its own. Muradin’s Mild is complex in its overall profile, with fruity and bready notes as well as low-grade, coffee-like roastiness. The Beer is Dark and Full of Caffeine (a contender for Best Beer Name) coffee milk stout is smooth with notes of nutty java and cola. And the hoppy amber ale, Summon Ifrit, presents big evergreen notes against a super-dry, biscuity canvas.

For all of my excitement over finding rarer styles, I have to admit that the hazy Chaotic Evil extra pale ale and non-murky Hopdouken IPA were two of my favorites from Battlemage. The former was reminiscent of orangeade with muted bitterness and only slightly bumped-up viscosity, while the IPA was super-clean with a mimosa-like character. My other top-scoring beer of the day couldn’t have been more different. It was Hooded Assassin, an English-style old ale that, though young and coming in at a whopping 10% alcohol-by-volume, was extremely drinkable, coming across with notes of red fruit, vanilla and banana, plus a touch of peppery spice in the finish. Hopefully they’re sitting on a keg or two of this gentle giant for unearthing at a later date.

You don’t have to be into role-playing games to enjoy Battlemage. Admittedly, it helps, but the beer is both good and very affordable (tasters are $1.50 or you can get get a flight of five for just $5), plus there’s a separate room with a Foosball table. Bottom line, you needn’t be a level 20 paladin to appreciate this new North County brewery.

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Groundswell Brewing’s Chula Vista tasting room open

Dec 11

Chula Vista is experiencing a bona fide craft-beer boom. Not only have two breweries opened on downtown’s main drag over the past year—Chula Vista Brewery and Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing—but an existing San Diego County brewing company has opened a tasting room directly across the street from the latter. That newly opened sampling space comes courtesy of Groundswell Brewing, a business that started small in Grantville before acquiring a much larger brewing facility in Santee from defunct Twisted Manzanita Ales and Spirits.

Satellite venues are nothing new for local breweries. Currently there are 27 throughout the county, but this while most have been established in North Park, Ocean Beach and, most recently, Encinitas, this is the first to be placed in Chula Vista. Groundswell owners Kevin Rhodes and Christianne Penunuri have lived in Chula Vista for 17 years and say a location in their hometown has been in the business plan since they first opened their doors in Grantville. At the same time they were ready to pull the trigger on the project, a building adorned with front and back patios became available. They snapped it up and have spent several months renovating it.

The tasting room comes in at 1,500 interior square feet with an additional 900 square feet of outdoor space. The bar is equipped with 21 taps as well as large, cushioned stools like those at Groundswell’s original location. The front window retracts revealing seating overlooking the sidewalk. The back patio includes seating as well as a play area with activities such as corn hole. Inside, vintage pinball and video games make up the non-liquid entertainment options. Televisions and artwork, including photographs of iconic South Bay landmarks are on the way, as well. Also en route is a kitchen in a space adjacent to the Chula Vista tasting room, which will prepare a menu of light fare that can be served at all three Groundswell locations.

The Chula Vista tasting room is located at 258 Third Avenue. An official grand opening is planned for Sunday, December 17, from 12 to 9 p.m. It will consist of three sessions and include branded glassware and a raffle. The day before, Groundswell will have its first can release for Oathkeeper, an imperial stout, and Oathbreaker, that same stout aged in Four Roses bourbon whiskey barrels. The cans will be available in four-packs at all of Groundswell’s tasting rooms.

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Beer of the Week: Pariah Indie Or Bust

Dec 8

Indie Or Bust IPA from Pariah Brewing in North Park

From the Beer Writer: The importance has remained at the forefront of discussions among those within and enamored with the local craft-brewing industry. Trade organizations such as the Brewers Association and the San Diego Brewers Guild have both gone to lengths to ensure that, but at the end of the day, it’s the actions of the small, independent breweries struggling to compete against their deep-pocketed Big Beer adversaries that will carry the day. Nobody can fight the fight for them, and thankfully, many have stepped up. Count North Park’s Pariah Brewing Company among them. Earlier this year, the newcomer to the county’s brewery landscape released an India pale ale (IPA) dubbed Pariah Indie Or Bust IPA. It seems a simple tactic, incorporating the term “indie” into a beer’s name, but it is effective. It has become a popular offering for the company, which is mostly known for making outlandish ales infused with exotic ingredients. However, this is a straightforward IPA that gets its depth from a modern-day hop bill blending Citra, Galaxy and Idaho 7 varietals. The result is a beer with peach, melon and toasted pine cone on the nose, followed by grilled pineapple, guava and an orange-like juiciness leading into an extra-dry finish. It’s an ideal ale for the current marketplace; one which helps keep an item of importance top of mind while delivering a delicious, high-quality product from a truly independent brewery.

From the Brewers: “Indie Or Bust IPA came about while hanging out with the breweries that brewed the 11 Barrel IPA. (South Park Brewing owner) Scot Blair was at Resident Brewing and, while talking with him about the idea behind the beer, he asked if we’d be interested in brewing our own version. The stipulations were that it had to be 7% alcohol-by-volume and include the relative newcomer hop, Idaho 7. I’d contracted a small amount of Idaho 7 but hadn’t had an excuse to use it yet, so I jumped at the chance and brewed it literally the following day. Since the 11 Barrel IPAs had already been released, we wanted a different name and, with political slogans being used at the time fresh in our minds—as well our personal convictions—Indie Or Bust IPA seemed appropriate. The beer also features Citra and Galaxy hops. The malt bill is pretty much 100% Pilsner with a sprinkle of very lightly colored malt. Our house Wicked ale yeast undertook the fermentation. We are exceptionally proud to be a part of the indie-beer scene and we are glad drinkers today feel the same way. When it comes time for a beer, it’s either going to be an independent beer or we’re ordering a whiskey!”—Brian Mitchell, Head Brewer, Pariah Brewing Company

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Beer Touring: SpecHops Brewing

Dec 7

I walked into SpecHops Brewing (1280 Activity Drive, Vista), took a seat at the bar and turned my attention to the menu board. Chalked across the top in a faux military stencil were the words “top secret” and “brew intelligence.” It was nice to see info about this operation so readily available. Months before SpecHops went online I tried numerous times to extract “brew intelligence” from its owners, but found it so difficult, it almost felt as though that info was, indeed, “top secret.” So, it was with great curiosity and anticipation that I ordered a flight of tasters and settled in to go through them.

Though more than half the beers available the day I visited were India pale ales (IPAs), they were about as varied as that style can get, with session, single, black, rye and Belgian iterations. That was the order in which I enjoyed them. Cointelpro Session IPA delivered a nice splash of bitterness with a dry finish, while Two/Four IPA was a nice hoppy beer for everyday consumption with light floral notes from the hops. The Activity Black IPA was a fair take on a style that, if not dead is so near expiration it might as well be, and the rye IPA was a bit low on hop profundity but featured nice spice from its augmented grain bill. Unfortunately, Frumentarii, the Belgian IPA, was not to my taste, coming across like old-school, lupulin-rich Pacific Northwest hops battling a Belgo yeast strain as opposed to the two working together to produce something cohesive.

Of the remaining eclectic quartet of beers, a saison dubbed Jedburgh was the best. It was well attenuated, not overly fruity or sweet, and most of its Belgian-yeast character, including a touch of bubble-gum flavor, came on in the finish. Beyond that, things were so-so. Culper Ring Stout lacked body, coming across more like a brown ale. Coldbore Pale Ale was soft-spoken, offering just a bit of tacky pine in the finish. And unlike most vanilla-infused beers, a cream ale called Codeword would actually benefit from additional sweetness.

While not perfect, SpecHops’ beers are free of defects. The space itself is a bit stark, as one might expect from a militarily geared business, but there are cozy cushions on the bar stools and the kindness of the staff goes a long way to softening the setting. Also endearing is the company’s support of U.S. Armed Forces veterans. Not only do they have a military discount, but they also have a studio area set up in the tasting room to film veterans (as well as members of public service agencies, contributors to charitable causes and others doing good things for their country and communities) telling tales of their service. That footage is then slated for sharing online. It’s a unique and welcomed value-added from people with a clear and palpable passion for people.

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CALL FOR VOTES – 17 in ’17: Best of San Diego Beer 2017

Dec 6

It’s time once again for our end of the year poll. Cast your votes across 17 different categories to help us decide who was the best of the year in our local brewing scene according to you, West Coaster readers. We’ll run the poll for approximately a month. Then, we’ll crunch the numbers and reveal the results in a post in January.

Click here or on the below graphic to vote

 

Check out winners from previous years

2016 winners

2015 winners

2014 winners