From the Beer Writer: There are magic moments where you take a first sip of a beer and are instantly aware of its flawlessness care of a perfect blend of flavors, aroma, body and balance. I experienced such a moment about a month ago when my wife afforded me a try of the Baltic porter she’d ordered: Bagby Herd of Turtles. The beer is mild and silken with notes of baker’s chocolate augmented by a slight minerality from the slow-fermenting lager yeast that give this brew it’s fun moniker. To be fair, I often feel like I’m drinking technically and culturally perfect beers at Oceanside craft Mecca Bagby Beer Company, but what made this instance extra-special was Herd of Turtles being awarded a silver medal in the Baltic-style Porter category at the Great American Beer Festival a mere two weeks after I was introduced to it. That precious metal in no way makes the porter any better than it already was, but it sure is gratifying to have proof of a decent palate confirmed by the country’s preeminent professional-brewing competition.
From the Brewer: “A true lager beer, the primary fermentation for this beer takes around four weeks. It is then lagered over a period of eight-to-ten weeks. This long process allows the lager yeast to do a lot of work rounding out all of its deep flavors. The lager component allows the beer to be very clean and bright despite its age and complex array of flavors. The dark-malt depth in this beer is huge. It has flavors and aromas of dark fruit, sugar and cocoa. It also has a very slight roast note, and despite its high alcohol percentage, is relatively light-bodied with a crisp finish. We actually had the name for the beer before the beer, itself, thinking what a great image an actual herd of turtles would make. Obviously, it’s named this because of its super slow fermentation and cellaring. Because of that long lead time, this is a beer we make just once a year, and had only made once before the current batch. To us, that made it especially cool that it medaled.”—Jeff Bagby, Owner & Brewmaster, Bagby Beer Company
Many are those who tour Ballast Point Brewing’s enormous Miramar headquarters with its 300-barrel and 150-barrel brewhouses and rows of sky-high fermenters feel the county’s largest brewing company must have all the room it needs, especially with additional brewing facilities in Scripps Ranch, Little Italy, Long Beach and Roanoke, Virginia. The Miramar facility comes in with greater production capability than any other in San Diego, but rapid expansion has rendered it out of space, leading parent company Constellation Brands to secure an 80,000-square-foot building directly north of the Miramar home base.
Ballast Point currently has control of 60,000 square feet of that structure for what it calls its Trade Street Facility. It has been divided into three equal-sized sections serving completely different purposes. One third is simply storage, while the middle third houses an abundant and growing stock of beer-filled oak barrels procured from various wineries and distilleries. The current barrel count comes in at approximately 1,400, with an additional 900 barrels in another facility less than a mile west on Crestmar Point. There are three full-time employees manning this section, and it will soon have tanks added to handle production of beers destined for those oak receptacles, which include about every type of liquor and wine imaginable with more on the way.
Ballast Point intends to up its number of barrel-aged beer releases which are currently held quarterly and locally. Those specialties will be distributed nationally, including four-pack releases of popular beers such as aged versions of its vanilla- and coffee-infused imperial porter, Victory at Sea. Other beers the team is looking forward to debuting include Sea Monster imperial stout and Piper Down Scottish ale in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels, Navigator Doppelbock in brandy barrels, Barmy apricot and honey golden strong ale in neutral oak, plus various Belgian-style farmhouse, tripel and quadruple ales. In addition to its own needs, Ballast Point regularly fulfills requests from other breweries for barrels from its stock, including nearby Green Flash Brewing Company and 32 North Brewing Company.
The remaining third of the Trade Street facility is for “dirty beer”, referring to sours and bacteria-laden wild ales that, if not sectioned off, would stand a significant chance of infecting the clean beer as well as their production and storage mechanisms. This area has its own 40-barrel brewhouse feeding into more than 30 fermenters. It can produce up to 20,000 barrels of beer annually, some of which will make its way into six new 40-barrel, glycol-equipped, temperature-controlled fouders. The dirty area also has its own devoted bottling line, which recently packaged a national release’s worth of six-packs of Sour Wench blackberry ale.
Key to the new dirty beer operations is a state-of-the-art laboratory capable of providing as many quality assurance touch-points as the large lab at Ballast Point’s HQ. Prior to brewing Sour Wench for the most recent release, technicians conducted numerous tests, including analysis of myriad brands of blackberry puree and Lactobacillus strains, in search of the most ideal types for the beer. What they found was that the puree and strain the company was already using worked best, meaning the current batch of Sour Wench is very similar to the first batch ever homebrewed in 1998 (back when it went by the name Marion Berry’s Better-Than-A-Crack-Whore). While primary wild ale operations will now take place on Trade Street, Ballast Point hopes the aforementioned Long Beach facility will become the research-and-development feeder for the new facility.
From the Beer Writer: Of the most recent entrants to the San Diego brewing industry, few have been so impressive from the get-go as Eppig Brewing. The first interest to open in North Park’s Craft by Brewery Igniter complex, it has a lot to offer. There are currently well over a dozen beers on-tap, but even when they had less than half of that available early on, that handful included some real winners. Tops among those first drafts was Eppig Natural Bridge Festbier. Much like Christmas ales or Lent beers, most brewers only produce this lager-style during a certain period, in this case Germany’s Oktoberfest season. But not at Eppig, where they smartly realize their Festbier’s quality is such that it should be a year-round offering. Bready yet light with bristly mineral notes, it’s a study in balance and elegance that comes in at 6% alcohol-by-volume. Behind this and the other members of Eppig’s Natural Bridge family of lagers (Baltic porter, hoppy Pilsner, schwarzbier, zwickelbier and, soon, a lightly oak-smoked Vienna lager), this young brewery belongs among the small number of breweries brewing top-notch lagers in ale-heavy San Diego. Read more »