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San Diego businesses make list of 2016 top 50 U.S. craft brewing companies

Mar 15

Today, the Brewers Association released its annual set of lists of Top 50 Breweries from the last calendar year. The rankings are based on beer sales volume, and broken into two lists—Top 50 U.S. Craft Brewing Companies and Top 50 Overall U.S. Brewing Companies. The latter includes the likes of Anheuser Busch and MillerCoors as well as former craft-brewing interests that no longer qualify as craft breweries under the BA’s definition, such as Lagunitas Brewing Co. and locally based concern Ballast Point Brewing.

The Top 50 U.S. Craft Brewing Companies list includes three San Diego County businesses—the same ones that have graced the list for the past several years. Escondido’s Stone Brewing is the highest ranked at #9 (they are listed at #17 on the Overall U.S. Brewing Companies list), with Green Flash Brewing Co. rising four spots from the year prior to #37 (#46 on the Overall list) and Karl Stauss Brewing Co. ascending five spots to take its place at #41.

D.G. Yeungling & Son, Inc. retained the top spot on the Craft Brewing Companies list, followed (in order) by Boston Beer Co., Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., New Belgium Brewing Co., Gambrinus, Duvel Moortgat USA, Bell’s Brewery, Deschutes Brewery, Stone and Oskar Blues. The top 10 for the Overall list was as follows: Anheuser-Busch, Inc.; MillerCoors; Pabst Brewing Co.; D.G. Yuengling & Son, Inc.; North American Breweries; Boston Beer Co.; Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.; New Belgium Brewing Co.; Lagunitas and Craft Brew Alliance. Ballast Point registered at #13.

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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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QUAFF takes national homebrewing crown

Jun 13


Why is San Diego such a hotbed of quality brewing? It’s a popular question with many answers. Most brewing professionals agree that a major key to the permeation of the suds subculture into the board-short fabric of San Diego is the prominence of homebrewing throughout the county. Many of San Diego’s commercial brewers and brewery owners spent years honing their craft on a recreational level before going into business. As hobbyists, homebrewers collaborate, learning from each other as well as the numerous pro-brewers who revel in maintaining their connection to the amateur-fermentation ranks. For many in San Diego, homebrewing is as big a deal as what goes on at Stone, Ballast Point or Green Flash. And once a year, the county’s homebrewers pit their best beers against those of homebrew clubs throughout the world at the American Homebrewers Association’s National Homebrew Competition (NHC), winners of which were announced over the weekend from Homebrew Con in Baltimore, Maryland.

San Diego’s largest homebrew-club, QUAFF (Quality Ale and Fermentation Fraternity), was named the NHC Homebrew Club of the Year—the most prestigious honor of the entire competition. The 2016 NHC featured 7,692 entries from 3,396 homebrewers hailing from every U.S. state as well as 13 other countries. Numbers like that equate to big-time bragging rights for the hundreds of members of Carlsbad-based QUAFF. But the QUAFF member who gets to do the most bragging is San Marcos’ own Nick Corona, who earned Homebrewer of the Year honors after beating out 175 other entrants in the German Wheat and Rye Beer category with his homespun weissbier.

Other local winners include West Coaster staffer Ryan Reschan, who took first-place in the heavily contested Pilsner category (215 total entries). The runner-up to Reschan was also a local, Jeremy Castellano, who entered without affiliation to any particular homebrew club. Other successful QUAFFers included Curt Wittenburg (first-place in the Other American Ale category), Mike Habrat (second-place in Traditional Mead) and Tim Wang (third-place in Light Hybrid Beer). This isn’t the first time QUAFF has experienced success at the NHC. Quite the contrary. From 2001 to 2006, the organization won Homebrew Club of the Year a record six consecutive times. In 2011, Paul Sangster—co-owner of San Marcos’ Rip Current Brewing Company earned the Ninkasi Award for most wins at that year’s competition. These are just some of the major accomplishments this standout organization has amassed at the country’s premier homebrewing competition.

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Four breweries among largest in US in 2015

Apr 5

baIt’s that time of year again. The Brewers Association, the national trade organization representing American breweries, has released its lists of the top 50 breweries and “craft breweries” in the country, based on barrels of beers sold during calendar year 2015. Four breweries from San Diego County are included in the “craft brewery” list.

Once again, Stone Brewing is tops on the list, but the Escondido-based company slipped from ninth to tenth in the standings…one notch above Miramar-based Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits, which rose a full 20 points from its 2014 position. But wait…after being sold for $1 billion to Constellation Brands late last year, Ballast Point no longer qualifies as a “craft brewer” by the BA’s standards (*). But they are on the list based on the decision to include companies that met the BA’s criteria for all or part of 2015.

Mira Mesa-based Green Flash Brewing Company rose from 48 to 41 this year, while San Diego’s oldest continuously operating brewing operation, Karl Strauss Brewing Company, came in at 46 (down a notch from 45 in 2014). On the list of U.S. breweries, which does not consider businesses’ “craft” nature, Stone placed 15, Ballast Point came in at 17 and Green Flash edged in at 49. All three operations figure to produce far more beer in 2016 once additional brewing facilities and equipment come on-board.

Stone is looking to a third-quarter debut of breweries in both Richmond, Virginia and Berlin, Germany, while Ballast Point recently upped its production capabilities in a big way by adding a 300-barrel brewhouse and securing space in Long Beach for a barrel facility that will give birth to sours. Meanwhile, Green Flash is still hard at work on finishing construction of its East Coast brewery in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

  • BA Craft Brewer definition—Small: Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less (approximately 3 percent of U.S. annual sales). Beer production is attributed to the rules of alternating proprietorships. Independent: Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not itself a craft brewer. Traditional: A brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation. Flavored malt beverages (FMBs) are not considered beers.

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Q&A: Julia Herz & Gwen Conley

Sep 15
Julia Herz

Julia Herz

Gwen Conley

Gwen Conley

Authors, Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide from the Pairing Pros

Two powerhouses from the craft brewing industry—Julia Herz, a certified Cicerone and craft beer program director for the Brewers Association (BA), teamed with Gwen Conley, director of brewery production and quality for Port Brewing Co. / The Lost Abbey / The Hop Concept—paired their prowess in penning the definitive guide on the art of marrying quality beer and cuisine. That tome, Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide from the Pairings Pros, goes on sale later this year (but you can pre-order it now in preparation for the gift-giving season). With our taste buds abuzz and our mouths salivating in anticipation of this delicious edition, we checked in with this dynamic duo to find out what went into its conception, creation and soon-to-be-food-stained pages.

How did the two of you pair up?
Gwen Conley: We’re two firecrackers who were naturally attracted to each other, especially with a shared love of craft beer and the need to enlighten others. Sounds like we wanted to start a cult, doesn’t it? The love we have for what we do is just a part of who we are and when I started to slow down a bit, I was very thankful Julia continued to push me further.
Julia Herz: As soon as I met Gwen, I decided she needed to be one of my mentors. I bugged her until she was open to collaborating on projects like presentations we’ve given on pairing at the Great American Beer Festival and Craft Brewers Conference, and now, this amazing book.

Why did you feel the time was right for this book?
GC: People’s senses are awakening again. Where everything in life used to be about what is fast and most convenient, it’s now about slowing things down and enjoying what is going on around you, and this includes what we’re eating and drinking. We just want to help people listen, if you will, to what their senses are telling them about their food and beverage choices. We really want everyone to become the most conscious tasters possible and the best way to do that is to make it easy and fun.
JH: The time is actually overdue. This is a guide to the practice of pairing like no other. Most pairing books only cover wine. This is backwards since beer is the number one adult beverage in the U.S. You have to combine sales of wine at $35 billion and sales of spirits at $65 billion to match the $101 billion sales of beer in 2014. It’s time the food community becomes as empowered in beer as they are in wine because, per a BA-commissioned Nielsen Omnibus panel, 88% of beer appreciators said they drink craft beer with food.

9780760348437_Cover_WebLargeWhat makes this book special?
JH: Content-wise, Beer Pairing is groundbreaking in that it covers more than any other book we’ve come across when it comes to discussing pairing principles, pairing interactions, pairing descriptions and the science behind how we taste and perceive. What we’ve both noticed over the years in going from pairing newbies to pairing pros is that the food community really knows very little about how we perceive and why different interactions occur. So, we cover the pairing lexicon, popular beer styles and some of our favorite pairings, a beer dinner chapter, palate trips to take your taste buds on a ride, cooking with craft beer and much more. We present this all with the notion that we are each anarchists and whatever works for our own individual palates is what to tune into and embrace because, in the end, there really are no rules!

What are some important things to keep in mind when tasting and pairing beer and food?
JH: Since perception is personal, pairing is personal, too. We each have the power to properly pair based on what is pleasing to our individual palates. Screw what anyone else says. If you like it or not, that’s what should carry the day. Also, shed your biases. Be open and aware. The palate does not have bias, but your mind certainly does and that, unfortunately, skews tasting experiences in the same way discrimination will rob one of a richer life. Deep thoughts to chew on!

What are some of the finest beer-and-food pairings you’ve experienced?
JH: The first IPA I ever had, Bear Republic Racer 5, and fettuccini Alfredo dusted with rosemary and sage; Ska ESB Special Ale with fish and chips plus tartar sauce; and Boulevard Brett Saison with pan-seared scallops and mustard sauce.
GC: The Lost Abbey Carnevale paired with a slice of brie topped with apricot preserves, Snake Dog IPA with passion fruit-infused dark chocolate, and a German hefeweizen with tomato soup—so simple, but so enlightening.

What are some of the most surprising beer-and-food pairings in the book?
GC: The “Palate-Trips” chapter of this book is full of non-conventional pairings. We want people to go that path to help them catch what they might be missing, and help them stop playing it safe!

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