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Posts Tagged Ballast Point Brewing Company

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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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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Parting Words: Cosimo Sorrentino

Nov 3

Earlier this week, news broke about popular local brewer Cosimo Sorrentino resigning from his dual-head brewer post at Monkey Paw Pub and Brewery and South Park Brewing Co. A fixture in the community who made a point to communicate and collaborate with nearly every brewery within the county, it was surprising to here he was stepping down, but even more confounding to discover he would absolutely be leaving San Diego come the New Year. More information was in order, so we went to the source to appease readers’ logical queries and concern.

Monkey Paw’s Cosimo Sorrentino checking out the hops yesterday with Nopalito Farm’s Jordan Brownwood; via Facebook

Monkey Paw’s Cosimo Sorrentino (left) checking out hops with Nopalito Farm’s Jordan Brownwood in July; via Nopalito Farms Facebook

West Coaster: What led you to depart your position heading Monkey Paw and South Park Brewing?
Cosimo Sorrentino: A combination of factors, the biggest of which is a necessity for personal growth. I was lucky to learn my craft in the community I grew up in and under an owner that has so much passion, but I feel that I have reached a point where to progress I need a little less comfort and a new environment.

WC: Though your next step has yet to be determined, you are certain you will leave San Diego. Why is that?
CS: I feel San Diego has crossed over to a new era in brewing. The community spirit is being fractured; too many breweries fighting over the same styles, following trends for profit, not enough quality staff to provide front-of-house service…and let’s not get into the distributor issues. This was inevitable and will not necessarily be a bad thing for those making or drinking beer. San Diego beer will get better and those that succeed will benefit from the competition! For myself, I hope that finding a location where the scene is a bit younger will allow me to help foster the same type of conscious collaborative growth that has led to San Diego’s emergence as the beer capitol of the world. It might be selfish, but I have really enjoyed the journey so far and want to keep making new beers with and for new people.

WC: After being such a peacemaker and heavy collaborator within the San Diego industry, is it difficult for you to move on?
CS: Not to be cliché, but this is truly the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. It means stepping away from, not only the coolest brewing job I’ve seen, but leaving family, friends and, potentially even my dog. I am bummed that I will not have the chance to collaborate with some guys and gals in town—especially some of the new breweries—and that I will not be part of Monkey Paw’s next step as a business, whatever that may be.

WC: What will you miss the most about the San Diego brewing and beer scenes?
CS: One word: HOPS! No, but seriously, I will miss the universal nature of the love for beer and brewers in this city. It will be weird to walk into three-or-four bars in an evening and not run into a fellow brewer or maybe even an educated beer-drinker. I’ve never felt the camaraderie and respect that I have experienced in San Diego with brewers and consumers alike.

WC: What are some of your finest memories of your time brewing professionally in San Diego?
CS: Wow. Hardest question…I’ll never forget the first week I got the job at Paw. I had every brewer that I had looked up to either drop in or hit me up on the phone to help me get dialed in. It was a whirlwind, and I did not fully appreciate it at the time, but this foundation paid off and I will be forever grateful. Those memories were revisited last year when I got to sit in on a collab at Karl Strauss on Columbia Street. Not only did we have (KS brewmaster) Paul Segura, (Gordon Biersch head brewer) Doug Hasker and (Monkey Paw/South Park Brewing owner) Scot Blair brewing that day, (Ballast Point Brewing VP) Colby Chandler dropped in to open some bottles as a farewell to (former Green Flash Brewing Co. brewmaster and current Silva Brewing owner/brewmaster) Chuck Silva on his last day in San Diego. This was only made better by the fact that I had invited (North Park Beer Co. assistant brewer) Joaquin Basauri to drop in. This was early on in Joaquin and I’s friendship and the look on his face as we drank barleywine and talked shop with these godfathers brought me back to that feeling of awe.

WC: What were your goals for the semi-controversial public-forum you held to discuss the changing landscape of San Diego beer?
CS: While the forum never became a series, I hope that the discussion was opened and people are more likely to speak honestly and in an informed manner about the evolution of our city and the industry. I am glad there is a reduced amount of animosity because that energy can be redirected towards progression instead of hate and fear.

WC: Any parting words for our readers?
CS: Thank you for absolutely everything. I hope I’ve returned 10% of the happiness and joy you have given me.

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First Look: Eppig Brewing Company

Oct 31
Eppig Brewing's tasting room at CRAFT by Brewery Igniter in North Park

Eppig Brewing’s tasting room at CRAFT by Brewery Igniter in North Park

With three companies building out breweries within its confines, CRAFT by Brewery Igniter (3052 El Cajon Boulevard, North Park) has provided me a great deal of material for my beer-writings. It will eventually be the only place in all of San Diego County where one can visit three breweries in one fell swoop. But before that can happen, those businesses need to open. The first to do so will be Eppig Brewing Company, the soft-opening for which will take place this Wednesday, November 2. Following Wednesday’s debut, Eppig will be open during limited hours seven-days-a-week.

Nathan Stephens (left) and ___ LeBlanc of Eppig Brewing

Nathan Stephens (left) and Clayton LeBlanc of Eppig Brewing

Last week, I had the opportunity to check out Eppig’s recently completed tasting-room and check out its first five beers. Often, pre-open beer tastings turn up multiple beers that could use some work—often by the admission of the brewers themselves—but Eppig’s brewer duo of Nathan Stephens and Clayton LeBlanc (hailing from Ballast Point Brewing’s Little Italy and Scripps Ranch breweries, respectively) are rather happy with their initial offerings. And so was I.

Despite the fact they are brewing in an environment that requires a bit of process-ingenuity and implementation of “Jenga-like” shifting of hoses and other equipment, they have put together a solid line-up of traditional lagers (referred to as “Natural Bridge” beers) and New World creations that I look forward to returning to. The following are my initial impressions of each…

  • eppig_beersCivility (5.8%): There are numerous hoppy blonde ales in San Diego, but this is the first I’ve had in recent memory that’s more than a slightly more bitter version of a blonde. This beer is big on delicious, fruity flavor characteristics coaxed from its hop-bill.
  • Even Better (4.6%): A session India pale ale (IPA) brewed with local sea salt to lend just enough mouth-feel to keep the beer from coming across as watery, it finishes with a mild, almost Pilsner-like hop-bite.
  • Glitz & Glam (4.1%): A Berliner weisse flavored with raspberries and cherries, it is both refreshing and big on fruit-flavor; and should help appease drinking buddies who aren’t as wowed by beer-flavored beer.
  • Festbier (4.6%): An Oktoberfest-style lager with more depth and far less sweetness than local iterations of this bready, Germanic lager. Toastiness and a marjoram-like herb quality make this my favorite of the bunch.
  • Zwickelbier (4.6%): Dry-hopped with Centennial, this beer is tasty and clean with a honeyish nose that’s low on the sulfur quality that, when too abundant, can ruin beers like this.

The next beer to hit the menu will be a single IPA called “Factory of Dreams” in reference to a nearby business on El Cajon Boulevard. Similarly, the aforementioned “Glitz & Glam” shares its name with the Friday night show performed at Eppig’s next-door neighbor biz, Lips. The entire Eppig team says their neighbors have been extremely friendly and supportive, and they’re as pleased as can be about being a part of the community developer H.G. Fenton selected for CRAFT.

eppig_exteriorOne thing that makes Eppig different from its fellow CRAFT tenants, Pariah Brewing Company and San Diego Brewing Company, is the addition of a small pilot-system that will be used for experimenting with new recipes before ramping them up to full-batch production. Working on developmental brews in this manner is old-hat for Stephens, who completed roughly 350 brews on Ballast Point’s (much larger) pilot-system over a three-year span. Doing so lent him great experience with a vast array of ingredients from suppliers the world over, knowledge he and LeBlanc put to use at their new stomping grounds.

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