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Posts Tagged AleSmith

Mikkeller San Diego head brewer resigns

Mar 14

I remember sitting in the FM 94/9 studio during an edition of the station’s Rock and Roll Happy Hour that brought together members of AleSmith Brewing Company and newly established Mikkeller Brewing San Diego. Long-time AleSmith brewer Bill Batten was on the microphone, professing that he would always be AleSmith at his core, while explaining that he was transitioning to a new role as head brewer for Mikkeller. While he may be AleSmith for life, the same cannot be said for Mikkeller. Batten resigned last week, choosing to move on due to what he describes as creative differences with company co-owner Mikkel Borg Bjergsø.

Batten joined AleSmith in 2002. During his 13 years with the company, he served in both sales and brewing capacites, ending out as senior brewer. When AleSmith owner Peter Zien moved the company to a larger facility in 2015, he formed a creative partnership with Bjergsø to form Mikkeller San Diego, retaining a minority-stake in the business. Batten stayed at the original brewery, becoming a full-time employee of Mikkeller San Diego, heading production and leading an eventual team of brewers.

It’s Batten’s opinion that both he and Mikkeller San Diego will be better off in the long run following his departure. As for his future, it is wide open. When resigning, he did not have another job lined up. Given his tenure and popularity within the industry, matched with the number of operations in town in search of a veteran brewer, he is sure to command a great deal of interest on the open-market.

As for the future of the position Batten vacated, representatives from Mikkeller San Diego had not yet formulated a long-term solution, but cited faith in their remaining brewing team. Brewers Daniel Cady, Chris Gillogly and Jacobo Mendoza will continue to produce the increasingly diverse line of beers Bjergsø conceives from afar. Currently, the brewery’s majority-owner devises concepts for recipes he shares via regular conference-calls and email communications. Those ideas and initial recipes are then adjusted by on-site staff to work with the Miramar brewery’s equipment.

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Q&A: Mikkel Borg Bjergsø

Jan 10

Owner & Brewmaster, Mikkeller Brewing San Diego

Last year, 10-year Denmark-based gypsy brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergsø hammered down stakes in Miramar, transforming AleSmith Brewing Co.’s original brewery into Mikkeller Brewing San Diego. His brewing team spent most of 2016 getting the feel of the facility. Now that group feels ready to be more aggressive in its fermentation activities. Bjergsø has vowed his brick-and-mortar will debut one new small-batch beer on a weekly basis beginning January 12 at its tasting room with a trio of new offerings: bourbon barrel-aged Beer Geek Brunch imperial oatmeal coffee stout, Fruit Face raspberry-coffee Berliner weisse and Uklar IPA. Future “San Diego Beer Release Series” debuts will take place every Saturday starting January 21. Keeping up with such a rapid rate of innovation and execution is no easy task. Curious about this and what it’s been like for this world-famous brewer to find his feet in San Diego, we sat down with him to pick his brain.

WC: What are some surprises you’ve encountered in San Diego?
Mikkel Borg Bjergsø: It’s been surprising how different the beer scene is in the U.S. compared to Europe. There are so many great players—especially in San Diego—and so many great beers. You really have to make an effort to stand out. I think with the new special-release series we will.

WC: What drove the decision to release a new beer every week?
MBB: Brewing a lot of different beers and beer-styles is in our DNA, and it was only a matter of time before we set out to launch a similar release schedule in San Diego. At this point we have an amazing crew in place, the brewing equipment is all dialed in, and our management setup is so in tune with our vision that we are confident now is the time. Most people will associate us with a hectic output of beers in all styles, shapes and formats, which is exactly what they should expect. That, and the totally unexpected, of course. Having your own brewery opens up a world of possibilities that are not usually doable when working in someone else’s brewery, whether it’s contract brewing or on a collaboration basis.

WC: What is your day-to-day involvement like regarding brewing at Mikkeller SD?

MBB: We’ve had to adjust to both the physical distance and time difference, but I am fortunate in the sense that I have to rely on the very capable hands of our head brewer Bill Batten and his team of skilled assistant brewers. It’s still my recipes and vision, which we will discuss through our daily email chains and our weekly conference-call.

WC: What other interesting or exciting developments are on the horizon for Mikkeller SD?
MBB: There are a lot of super-exciting things under development, but the sour and barrel-aged beer programs are two projects we are putting a lot of effort into. We have such a creative team over there, and it seems that no matter how crazy the idea and/or recipe I throw at them, they enthusiastically turn those into great beer. We are also working on new collaborations with other breweries, and non-brewers as well.

WC: You’ve spent more time than ever in San Diego. What are some of your favorite local breweries?
MBB:
I hate to name favorite breweries as it pushes the rest to the side. In the San Diego area there are obviously a ton of amazing brewers, from the old guys like Stone Brewing, Green Flash Brewing Co. and Ballast Point Brewing, to the young guns like Abnormal Beer Co., Toolbox Brewing Co., Modern Times Beer Co. and many others. I still have a big heart for our friends at AleSmith, so if I have to name one…

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Beer of the Week: Mikkeller Amoeba Brett IPA

Dec 16

Amoeba Brett IPA from Mikkeller Brewing San Diego

From the Beer Writer: When Mikkeller announced plans to merge with San Diego stalwart AleSmith Brewing Company, I, like many, was very excited. This partnership brought together two very different yet reputable brewing interests—a gypsy with a flair for the wild and dramatic, and a 20-year-old brewery with a portfolio of traditional hits. When Mikkeller Brewing San Diego debuted in April, it was with great anticipation that I tasted through its first-run beers. That list was well over a dozen strong, but the greatest feature of the beer line-up was its length. I had hoped for more adventurous beers in keeping with the decade-old Mikkeller MO, but most of the offerings were either traditional beers—pale ale, porter, Berliner weiss, old ale—or one-off versions of staples like Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Breakfast. Frankly, it was pretty underwhelming. But there was one beer that stood out from the crowd right off the bat; one that I would go on to rave about during many a conversation about local beer…Mikkeller Amoeba Brett IPA. The Brettanomyces that gives it its funky, dry, peppery qualities is profound, but not overly so. The wild yeast teams with the beer’s hop-bill to form a nice symbiosis hinted at by the pine-forest-meets-barnyard scents rising from this India pale ale’s fluffy white head. Up until now, I haven’t had the opportunity to have as much of this beer as I’d have liked, but that all changed two weeks ago when the brewery canned what is now the only Brett-infused beer I’ve seen in aluminum cylinders. It’s best to keep this beer refrigerated to retard the effects of the wild yeast and keep the hoppiness at maximum levels, but with flavors this good, it’s unlikely long-term storage will be much of an issue.

From the Brewer: “Amoeba Brett IPA is available exclusively at our tasting room. It’s designed to showcase the flavor and aroma complexity that can be created by using certain hop varietals along with different Brettanomyces strains. Amoeba is a 100% Brettanomyces-fermented IPA with an alcohol content of 6.5% . Our inaugural canned batch showcases a blend of Galaxy, Centennial, Columbus and Equinox hops. With this combination, we focused on notes of passion fruit, papaya, citrus and pine, which creates an incredible stage to layer with the tropical-fruit notes that the specialty Brettanomyces strain that we have selected can create. This special blend creates an aromatic and flavorful treat that any IPA aficionado will be sure to appreciate. The intention of Amoeba is to create a beer without boundaries that will be ever evolving, so be sure to try our future releases and follow this unique style that will be ever-changing and always offer something unique.”—Bill Batten, Head Brewer, Mikkeller Brewing San Diego

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2016 Recap: San Diego’s Best Breweries Right Now

Dec 15

What are the best breweries in San Diego? Having reported on the San Diego brewing industry for nearly 10 years and having written a guide to San Diego breweries, I get asked this question all the time. My answers vary quite a bit. Prior to 2012, that list didn’t change all that much. Heavy hitters like Ballast Point Brewing Co., Green Flash Brewing Co. and Stone Brewing were ever-present. Those interests got big making great beer that couldn’t be matched by smaller operations. These are not the times we are living in. Not only are small breweries able to keep up, because of their size, they are able to be nimble and do a lot more than large breweries. They can venture outside the box whenever they feel like it, chase any trend they like or even create their own, while the big boys find themselves locked into brewing the same core beers and a handful of seasonals to meet sales and distribution obligations. A new beer for them is a high-risk proposition that requires months (or even years) of test-batches and refinement.

Due to all of the above, my list of the best breweries in San Diego County is much different than ever before. Only one of the four San Diego interests in the Brewers Association’s list of the 50 largest craft breweries is on there, and its one that wouldn’t have been there several years ago. But there are five on the list that are less than three years old, nine that have a single brewhouse producing their wares, and seven that distribute their beers exclusively (or almost solely) in San Diego County. The following is my current (alphabetical) list of the top 12 brewing companies in San Diego County. (And please remember, there are more than 130 operating brewhouses in the county—not making this list doesn’t make a brewery below-average by any stretch.)

AleSmith Brewing Co., Miramar: This maker of BJCP-geared Old World beers has been around so long it’s now of legal drinking age. It has grown from a single suite to a sprawling manufacturing plant with an expansive, multi-faceted tasting-room component. Through that transition, the beer has remained solid. If anything, it would be nice to see some new beers. Disclosure: I used to work at AleSmith.

Alpine Beer Co., Alpine: Break out the asterisk. This back-country operation, which was purchased by Green Flash in 2014, makes this list for the beers it produces at its original brewery in its namesake town. There’s just something magical about that brewhouse and the pros who man it; they are the folks who built Alpine’s stellar rep and are maintaining it on a local level.

Bagby Beer Co., Oceanside: It’s no surprise that Pizza Port product and GABF master Jeff Bagby was able to transfer his brewpub prowess to his own project, but not only does he keep tons of quality beer on-tap, those taps are installed in an inviting two-story, indoor-outdoor coastal spot built by he and his wife’s true passion for craft-beer and the people who enjoy it.

Benchmark Brewing Co., Grantville: Beer-flavored beer sums up this entire operation. AleSmith alum Matt Akin keeps it simple; something that’s surprisingly challenging. Don’t believe it, see if you can find someplace that can sustain as good a reputation as Benchmark does armed primarily with a pale ale, IPA, brown ale and oatmeal stout while leading with a table beer.

Fall Brewing Co., North Park: Journeyman brewer Ray Astamendi isn’t looking to make the best beer you’ve had in your entire life. He’s more interested in giving imbibers a bunch of great beers to enjoy on any given night, and he does just that care of an impressive portfolio that includes ales and lagers alike, ranging from the hoppiest end of the spectrum to the maltiest.

Karl Strauss Brewing Co., Multiple Locations: San Diego’s longest-running post-Prohibition era brewing operation has taken recent steps to modernize its beers, introducing dry, hoppy ales, drawing attention to a constantly evolving line of beers that also show great technique. Recently constructed brewpubs in LA and the OC should keep Karl’s crew on their upward trajectory.

The Lost Abbey / Port Brewing Co. / The Hop Concept, San Marcos: Whether it’s Port’s SoCal-centric family of largely hoppy beers, The Hop Concept’s (THC, get it?) exploratory line of lupulin-laced imperial IPAs or The Lost Abbey’s unique array of Belgian-inspired, floral, bready, woody, tart and/or boozy ales, quality and innovation await at Pizza Port’s triple-threat packaged-beer cousin op.

New English Brewing Co., Sorrento Valley: One would be challenged to find a brewery in San Diego with as great a degree of quality and consistency as this interest. The only thing keeping it in unjust obscurity is its devotion to less-popular English styles, but the introduction of expertly crafted IPAs has opened some eyes and helped grow a following and, in turn, brewing capacity.

Pizza Port, Multiple Locations: Perhaps no other local brewing biz more succinctly embodies San Diego’s style, brewing and otherwise. Expertise across all styles with flashes of ingenuity and inventiveness, tons of awards but none of the pomp and ego that comes with shiny medals, a laid-back surf-vibe inviting tanks and flip-flops—Pizza Port is America’s Finest on many levels.

Rip Current Brewing Co., San Marcos: The founders of this business deserve big-time credit for sticking to their guns. They could make more money focusing on their excellent hoppy beers, but are so devoted to keeping the homebrew spirit alive, they toil away on dozens of other lesser-selling styles, many of which win awards but still get ignored. It’s a shame.

Second Chance Beer Co., Carmel Mountain: During his decade-plus brewing at La Jolla’s Rock Bottom, Marty Mendiola was well-respected in the industry, but fairly unknown among San Diego beer-drinkers. Since opening his own spot in 2015, he’s finally gained the recognition from the public that he always deserved behind long-time and newly built recipes alike.

Societe Brewing Co., Kearny Mesa: I work here, so I am biased, but this list would be incomplete were Societe not on it. Fans flock here for a rotating family of IPAs as well as Belgian-style ales, dark beers and oak-aged sours that, after many years of maturation, are starting to trickle out of the barrel-room at a steady clip. Versatility and consistency are the keys to this operation’s success.

Author’s Note: This is the third post in a three-part series of pieces which previously examined San Diego’s Best New Breweries and San Diego’s Most Improved Breweries over the past year.

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Poway’s Lightning Brewery up for sale

Dec 12

logo_lightningIn 2006, when Jim Crute transitioned from a long career as a biochemist to become a brewery owner, the landscape in San Diego County was very different. For one thing, the story of a starry-eyed homebrewing enthusiast turning his back on a lucrative career to follow his fermentation passions was not an old and much-duplicated tale.

There were only around 20 operating brewhouses in San Diego County when Crute opened the doors to Lightning Brewery in the north-inland community of Poway. Most prominent among them were Stone, Karl Strauss, Ballast Point, AleSmith, and the family of Pizza Port businesses that included Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey. That last dual-personality operation also opened in 2006 as a production-brewery venture for Pizza Port. Looking at the much smaller sudscape in the county at the time, it made sense that Pizza Port, a highly successful brewpub chain with three locations would want to start producing and distributing beer in larger quantities, in both kegs and bottles. After all, that’s how the biggest brewing companies in the county were doing it. It was the only way to gain visibility, as tasting rooms were hardly the lucrative revenue-centers they are now. Few were the folks who spent weekends shuttling from one brewery to the next like so many do now.

About the only chance a brewery had of getting their logo and brand-identity to the consumer in a meaningful way and look like a legitimate business versus some fly-by-night, oh-isn’t-that-cute “microbrewery” was to get bottles out to grocery stores. That’s where most people first saw the likes of Stone, Ballast Point, AleSmith and even the young Green Flash, which at that point had just bounced back from a shaky start that nearly saw it close. So Crute opened with the notion that 10-20% of his beer would be sold out of his tasting room—which was then just a small pad in front of the cold-box right on the brewery floor—while the rest would be wholesale. So, he started bottling nearly from the start, and self-distributing before catching on with Stone Distributing several years ago.

By his own admission, his perception, method and timing were off, and, as a result, the business suffered from a financial standpoint. As today’s brewery owners will tell you, brewing companies make the best margins on their beer by selling it in their tasting rooms where they can charge more, avoid the cost of doing business with distributors and take all of the profit for themselves. Fittingly, brewery owners make a point of constructing tasting rooms that will at very least get people in the door and, in the best cases, lure drinkers from appealing bars and restaurants, not to mention their own homes, to drink their beer at the source.

Crute recalls a conversation with Ballast Point’s Jack White around 2009, wherein the founder of the brewery that eventually grew itself into a behemoth that sold for a whopping $1 billion told his Lightning contemporary that, to his amazement, the only thing making BP any money was the tasting room at its Scripps Ranch brewery. White went on to expand that space multiple times until there was nowhere left to expand. He eventually did the same with the company’s original Home Brew Mart location, while simultaneously constructing new facilities in Little Italy and Miramar that both included not tasting rooms, but full-on restaurants with attached bars.

Meanwhile, it wasn’t until 2014 that Crute, who by then was no longer with Stone Distribution, constructed a tasting room and an outdoor beer-garden. But by then, it was too late. Were he opening Lightning today, he says he would adhere to a reversed business plan where he’d look to sell 80% of his beer out of his brewery, and distribute the remainder. But in the real-life present, Crute has made the decision to sell his business. He put up a craigslist ad titled “Turnkey Brewery and Tasting Room for Sale” on December 7, and hopes to be able to hand his decade-old labor of love to someone who is looking to get into the industry, just as he did. Purchasing Lightning would be advantageous in that it is currently in operation and would be ready for someone to take over and get straight to work. The 5,500-square-foot facility has a 30-barrel brewhouse, a combined cellar capacity of 490 barrels (350-barrels’ worth of fermenters with 140-barrels’ of brite tanks), a bottling line capable of filling 12- and 22-ounce glass, and the aforementioned tasting room and beer garden.

Crute says he is also open to existing companies purchasing Lightning for use as a secondary brand, wherein the company name and, possibly its beer-brands would remain active, but under a new owner. But the bottom-line is that he says he has enjoyed pursuing his dream and feels he gave it his all for 10 years. He feels it’s important to be reasonable and turn the page, but in doing so, hopes another entrepreneur can realize their aspirations in the place where he realized a good many of his.

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