This column appears on page 8 of the May 2012 issue, downloadable here.
This year Starting today the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) is taking place in San Diego, and along with it comes the World Beer Cup, an event presented by the Brewers Association that takes place every other year at the CBC to recognize the best beers in the world. It is considered by many to be the most prestigious beer competition in the world because of the sheer number of entries, with nearly 4,000 this year. San Diego breweries are no stranger to World Beer Cup awards; Ballast Point and Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey have both won the Champion Brewery and Brewer Award in the Small Brewing Company Category (along with Oggi’s San Clemente when it was headed by O’Brien’s Tom Nickel), and in 2010 alone AleSmith, Ballast Point, Karl Strauss, Alpine Beer Co., Pizza Port and Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey all took home awards for their beers. Looking over that 2010 winners list, there are also a number of award-winners from outside of San Diego that are readily available to us here.
Paso Robles’ Firestone Walker has seen quite a bit of success at the World Beer Cup, winning the Champion Brewery and Brewer Award in the Mid-Size Brewing Company Category in 2004, 2006 and 2010. In addition to this award, in 2010 they also went home with medals for their Hefeweizen, Pale 31, Extra Pale Ale, P.L. IPA, Mission St. Pale Ale (sold under the Steinhaus Brewing Co. label at Trader Joe’s stores) and my personal favorite, Velvet Merkin, a roasty oatmeal stout which is now released in wide distribution as a fall/winter seasonal named Velvet Merlin. The Velvet Merkin name is reserved for the 100% barrel-aged version available only at the brewery. Remarkably, Firestone Walker took both Gold and Bronze medals in the ultra-competitive American-Style Pale Ale category with Pale 31 and Mission St. Pale Ale.
The Silver medal winner in the American-Style Pale Ale category can also be found in these parts. Drake’s 1500 by Drake’s Brewing, a Simcoe and Centennial-hopped 5.5% ABV Pale Ale, has plenty of pine and citrus flavors and aroma, but the lower alcohol level makes it easy to drink without falling down. Editor’s note: Drake’s and Triple Rock Night is this Friday at Small Bar.
The beers from Cooperstown, New York’s Ommegang are also easily found in San Diego, including two of the three 2010 medal-winners: Ommegang Abbey, a ruby-colored Belgian-style Dubbel with plum, raisin and fig flavors, and Ommegang Witte, an easy-drinking Belgian-style wheat beer. Ommegang also took home a silver medal for Bière De Mars, their take on a the French bière de garde style which is bottle conditioned with Brettanomyces bruxellensis. Bière De Mars isn’t easy to find in San Diego, but bottles can still be discovered from time to time. Editor’s note: Ommegang is part of a “tap takeover” with Stone and Cismontane tonight at Slater’s 50/50.
We get a lot of great Belgian and Belgian-style sour beers here in San Diego, so it can be easy to look past some of the more readily available beers in search of those that are more hard to come by. I’ll admit that I take Rodenbach for granted. Rodenbach, Rodenbach Grand Cru and Rodenbach Vintage are all so findable that I foolishly look past them because they can be found at nearly any beer store with a halfway decent selection. I was reminded of just how good we have it when a visiting brewer friend from Texas was shocked that the ordinary corner store that obviously didn’t put too much thought into their beer selection stocked both Grand Cru and Vintage. He told me beers from Rodenbach weren’t available at all in the state of Texas. In 2010, Rodenbach won a Silver medal in the Wood-and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer category for Rodenbach Vintage. Editor’s note: Meet Rodenbach Master Brewer Rudi Ghequire tonight at URGE American Gastropub or Friday night at Sessions Public.
Across the pond (remember, this is the World Beer Cup), Scotland’s BrewDog received a Gold medal in the Imperial India Pale Ale category for their Hardcore IPA, a 9.2% ABV, 150 IBU hop bomb which BrewDog claims has “more hops and bitterness that any other beer brewed in the UK.”
Our neighbors to the north in Canada took home seven total medals at the 2010 WBC, two of which went to Quebec’s Unibroue, a Bronze for sweet and tart Granny Smith apple-resembling Ephémère Apple in the Fruit Beer or Field Beer Category, and a Bronze in the Belgian-Style Pale Strong Ale category for Fin du Monde, a 9% ABV Golden Ale reminiscent of Belgian Tripels. Both can be found at better beer stores and even some grocery stores in San Diego, often at prices that won’t break the bank.
Back in the United States Portland Maine’s Allagash took home two medals, including a Gold in the Belgian-Style Witbier category for their flagship Allagash White, one of the craft beer juggernaut’s that seems to need to description.
Up in Oregon, the second most award-winning state after California, Full Sail Session Black won a Gold medal in the Dark Lager category. Packaged in recognizable stubby 11oz bottles, this dark lager is easy to drink with just a hint of roastiness. Equally as dark as Session Black, Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout from Mendecino’s Anderson Valley won Bronze in the Oatmeal Stout category. This smooth and roasty stout is a mainstay in San Diego bottle shops, which recently started showing up in cans as well as bottles.
One of the funny things about beer competitions is that the judges can love a beer one year, and not recognize it the next time around. Luckily, all of these award winners are obtainable in local bottle shops so you can try them for yourself. And, come May 5 when the 2012 World Beer Cup awards are announced, there will be a whole new set of winners, and with the amount of great beer we attract in San Diego, chances are a number of those beers will be available here as well.