From the Beer Writer: First came Mosaic Session Ale. I had my first pint at the debut of Karl Strauss Brewing‘s revamped Brewery Gardens in Sorrento Mesa and instantly loved it. Enough that I pulled co-founder Chris Cramer aside to gush about the session IPA. Next came Double Mosaic, which I had via a growler delivered by Nickel Beer Co. owner Tom Nickel, who assisted Karl’s brewmaster Paul Segura in “doubling” the strength of that beer to a standard single-IPA alcohol level. Being such a fan of its progenitor, it wasn’t surprising I enjoyed Double Mosaic just as much, but I was caught completely off guard—and convinced in the consistency of my palate—when, at this year’s Changing of the Barrels at Karl Strauss’ headquarters, I ordered a beer called Isomerizer IPA, and once again experienced love at first sip. Bright with citrus and tropical-fruit aromas and flavors, exhibiting perfect weight and texture, dry and quenching in the finish, I was again driven to reach out to the Karl crew to share how much I liked it. It turns out, Isomerizer is a fine-tuned version of Double Mosaic and, fun fact, it will be available in canned six-packs and on-draft at Karl Strauss’ brewpubs and restaurants starting Monday. Whether you enjoy this veteran company’s Mosaic or simply the hop varietal its named after, you’re sure to love this beer. Maybe even as much as I do.
From the Brewer: “Isomerizer IPA was inspired by our Mosaic Session IPA and the tropical flavors of the Mosaic hop. It’s such a beautiful hop, the best one I’ve seen come along in a while. so we wanted to make an IPA that really showcased its full spectrum of flavors. We kept the malt profile subtle, which allowed the Mosaic to shine through the beer with its flavors of grapefruit, passion fruit, mango, blueberry and all of that tropical goodness. After some R&D work, we were so happy with the final batch that we decided to scale it up and add it to our core lineup as a year-round brew.”—Paul Segura, Brewmaster, Karl Strauss Brewing Company
From the Beer Writer: The Mexican lager is in the midst of a renaissance. As craft-beer drinkers meld an enthusiast’s hunger for artisanal brews with a frat bro’s desire to pound suds in great quantity, this adjunct-fortified style has risen to prominence. These days, it seems like just about every San Diego brewery is making a Mexican lager…and that’s exactly why Eppig Brewing isn’t. It’s not a high-and-mighty stance against adjunct lagers. They just figure if everyone’s going one direction in this arena, why not go another. Enter Special Lager, a dry Japanese-style lager that, rather than utilizing corn like Mexican lagers, introduces rice into the grain bill. The result is a crisp, clean beer that goes down easy as one would expect. But what’s not status quo is the advanced flavor-level of this beer with its tantalizing lemon and mineral notes, and the alcohol-by-volume, which comes in at a respectable 5.8% as opposed to the sub-five session strength of most adjunct lagers. That low ABV and minimal production costs are primary reasons adjunct lagers are suddenly popular again. They are highly profitable…just like the Big Beer products they’re based off of. Though most are truly craft and taste better than their AB InBev and MillerCoors progenitors, this trend smacks too much of macro-beer sensibility for yours truly. But not in the case of Special Lager. I applaud Eppig’s decision to go a more craftsman-minded route to turn out an adjunct lager that dares to have significant flavor and an ABV that inspires slower intake and intelligent contemplation versus tailgate-party over-indulgence and not much else.
From the Brewer: “Eppig Special Lager has been my after-shift beer every day since we put it back on tap last week. This beer fills the void for the devout craft-beer lover who quietly shames themselves for occasionally wanting a cold, crisp (probably) macro lager on a hot day. I, too, can be guilty of this from time to time. Special Lager is a Japanese-style dry lager brewed with rice as a featured ingredient. Rice is traditionally an adjunct used in the brewing process to lighten body, which it does, but we also use it as a flavor component in this beer. The combination of pilsner malt and rice with a dose of citrusy, late-addition hops creates an aroma faintly reminiscent of sweet, starchy sushi rice and lemon blossoms. Special Lager finishes exceptional dry and clean, the perfect beer to drink outside in a beer garden. On the water, perhaps. (Brewer’s Note: We just opened our Waterfront Biergarten in Point Loma!)”—Nathan Stephens, Principal Brewer, Eppig Brewing Company
From the Beer Writer: Beer dinners take place all the time in San Diego. Not to sound completely jaded, but after going to dozens of them, it’s easy to take some for granted, even when the food and beer taste great. Typically, the fermentation-based feasts that stand out are the ones held by businesses that go the extra mile. Case in point, O’Brien’s Pub. Not only does owner Tom Nickel and his crew form real relationships with local brewers and cull some of the most interesting ales and lagers from their stock, he also brews collaboration beers that take his venerable establishment’s multi-course affairs to the next level. Last weekend, O’Brien’s teamed up with Bay Ho’s Bitter Brothers Brewing, debuting O Brother, Where Tart Thou?, a collaboratively-created wine-barrel-aged golden sour ale. Three versions of the beer were presented to diners, each of which documented a different stage in its evolution to the final product, which goes on sales in bottles at Bitter Brothers’ tasting room today.
From the Brewers: “O Brother, Where Tart Thou started out as a golden sour ale dry-hopped with Mosaic hops. It was then moved and spent time in white-wine barrels. At the eight-month mark we added apricot and let it mature for another two-and-a-half months. The beer is slightly orange in color with a sturdy white head and nice acidity. It was really cool to try all three iterations of this beer—dry-hopped and both the fruited and non-fruited barrel-aged versions—at the O’Brien’s dinner. It was nice to enjoy and compare them side-by-side, and we’re happy we’ll have all three of them at our tasting room, plus bottles for sale, starting today.”—Tyler Tucker, Head Brewer, Bitter Brothers Brewing Company
“When the idea came up to do a collaboration with Bitter Brothers, it immediately struck me that we should do a kettle sour with them based on how good their seasonal Family Tart series was right from the start. We talked about making a beer a bit stronger and, since it was for O’Brien’s, a bit hoppier, of course. The original version of the beer was a 6% golden kettle sour dry-hopped with Mosaic hops. It was a fantastic beer, but it was just stage one. The beer was aged in Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc barrels for several months. After tasting it, we decided to add apricot purée. The result is a fruited sour beer that I am so proud to have been a part of. The overall impression is myriad fruit and sour flavors with subtle barrel notes. My favorite thing about it right now is that next year’s batch has already been brewed. Cheers to the entire Bitter Brothres crew for creating a wonderful libation…and O’Brien’s’ own Tyson Blake for the amazing name.”—Tom Nickel, Owner, O’Brien’s Pub & Nickel Beer Co.
From the Beer Writer: In a time that could have been labeled the “dark ages,” beers bolstered by bright, green hops and obsidian malts were everywhere. They were the it beers of the early twenty-teens and so popular there was a battle over the style name they went by. Most referred to them as Black IPAs (India pale ales), but brewers in the Pacific Northwest attempted to lay claim to them, dubbing them “Cascadian dark ales.” Figuring flashy hop-impact was San Diego brewers’ calling card, a local brewery went completely against the Cascadian evergreen grain, calling their black IPA a “San Diego dark ale.” Just as the debate reached a fever pitch among those in the brewing community, the drinking public decided they didn’t care about the name of the style…or the style itself. Sales dropped off and within a year or two, nearly every black IPA on the market was eliminated from portfolios across the country. They were the hazy IPAs of their day, and then they were gone. But some determined brewers who see the beauty in the contradictory big-hops-meets-heavy-roast nature of these beers dare to continue crafting them. Count Home Brewing Company‘s George Thornton and Jacob Bauch key members of that group. They brew their black IPA, El Matador on an annual basis. This year, it’s available in cans as part of Home Brewing’s year-long program of rolling out four-packs of canned collaboration beers brewed with local fermentationists, including Gordon Biersch‘s Doug Hasker, Daniel Cady of Mikkeller Brewing San Diego and Mike Skubic of Old Harbor Distilling. Though Thornton contests this black IPA is really a “hoppy porter” (the debate continues), it drinks like the former, exhibiting great balance between lemony hops and roasty specialty malts. Those polar-opposite ingredients dovetail nicely in the finish with a coffee-like richness and piney tackiness finding common, lasting ground. It’s a splendid version of a style that probably should never have disappeared from the scene, and a brilliant way to remember a good man who many wish hadn’t sadly and unexpectedly followed suit.
From the Brewer: :”El Matador is a tribute to Jeff McCue. Jeff was one of those people that had more groups of friends and admirers than you could possibly imagine. We knew him as an avid homebrewer that shared our passion for education and growth. He was a graduate from SDSU’s Business of Craft Beer Program, a Certified Cicerone and was working on his BJCP beer-judge certification. He was also a professional photographer, verified parrot-head, loving husband, absolute goofball, giant sweetheart and wine lover. His passing from a brain aneurysm was a complete surprise for all of us. He was an otherwise healthy and happy person. He was a guy who liked to get the last word, and I think he succeeded when he managed to get more than 100 people from every facet of his dynamic life together in one place to send him a final ‘F*ck you McCue!’ Truth is, that wasn’t the final ‘FU McCue.’ I use the phrase often, usually in moments where I feel like I’m overwhelmed and wish that I had his witty charm to get through a stressful moment. Then I realize that by thinking of him, it’s still there…and he once again has the final word. ‘FU McCue.’ El Matador was a recipe he brewed for one of his friends’ thirtieth birthday and it was one of his wife’s favorite beers. We brew this beer every year to celebrate his birthday. #cheerstoyoumccue”—George Thornton, Owner, Home Brewing Company
From the Beer Writer: Back when I was just ankle-deep into the craft-beer waters that would one day consume me, not as many beer styles were available as there are today. IPAs were fewer and you could almost always count on a venue offering three ubiquitous styles: amber ale, stout and hefeweizen. The latter was my favorite type of beer early on. I enjoyed their trademark banana-and-clove character and added body. Today, nearly every beer style known to mankind is being brewed, with new sub-styles being created on the reg. Hefeweizens are still around. They’re still rather popular…just not in San Diego. For whatever reason, few local breweries venture into this wheaty Germanic territory, which made me all the happier on my first visit to The Bell Marker. This downtown brewpub opened last month pouring the initial liquid stock of head brewer (and former Pizza Port standout) Noah Regnery, my favorite of which was The Bell Marker Horton’s Hef. It showed up at my table with all the cloudiness of a hazy IPA, and even some of the lemon-zest notes one might encounter with that New World style. But on the palate, it was all Old World…and old San Diego (if the late-nineties is really all that “old”…no need to chime in on that, thanks). Banana bread and light clove came on with the slightest touch of orange, all delivered on a creamy Bavarian wave.
From the Brewer: “Horton’s Hef is a traditional, Bavarian-style wheat beer with notes of banana and clove. It pours hazy yellow with a soft, pillowy head and lively carbonation. The style is beautiful in it’s simplicity as the vast majority of it’s character is derived from the yeast. The name is a nod to nearby Horton Plaza, which itself was named for Alonzo Horton, a man largely credited with the founding and development of San Diego. Here at The Bell Marker we will aim to specialize in classic beer styles, of course adding our own twists along the way. Our lineup will vary from time to time and feature myriad styles, from German, to English, to Belgian, and of course there will be no shortage of hoppy offerings.”—Noah Regnery, Head Brewer, The Bell Marker