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Posts Tagged beer

North Park Beer Co. open for business

Jun 24

npbc_01This article has been more than three years coming, but finally—after much work from founder and (former) homebrewer-extraordinaire Kelsey McNair and his team—North Park Beer Co. (3038 University Avenue, North Park) is open to the public. Installed in the much-renovated shell of a former mixed-martial-arts gymnasium, it offers a great deal of space. The 9,000-square-foot, two-story tasting room can handle 130 visitors on the first-floor and an additional 80 or so via an upstairs mezzanine. It’s a good thing, because NPBC has been the most buzzed about upcoming brewery project in San Diego for quite some time. It’s a sure bet it’ll be rather packed for the foreseeable future.

npbc_02McNair is most known for his award-winning Hop Fu! India pale ale (IPA), which is currently fermenting away in one of NPBC’s tanks, but the first-draft beer-board currently consists of four offerings, none of which are all that hop-forward. In that sense, they are indicative of what patrons can expect from the operation. McNair’s goal is to brew to-style beers rather than envelope- and palate-pushing oddities. On tap now is a balanced Red called Ray Street featuring plenty of malty toffee and caramely appeal, a Scottish ale that doesn’t rely on wee heaviness to deliver nice flavors (at under 4% alcohol-by-volume it comes in at the 70-schilling classification), a bittersweet and abundantly roasty stout called Beaufort Black, and a crisp and a citrusy pale ale. All four are well-made and what one would expect from such styles. Such straightforward traditionalism is refreshing in a day and age when so many are going against the grain (which, for the record, I have absolutely nothing against).

In addition to Hop Fu!, McNair will soon debut a cream ale, rye-infused Pilsner, double IPA and imperial porter with Baltic characteristics (but no lagering). This will put more of the tasting-room’s 32 taps to use, but only six-to-eight of them will dispense house-beers at any one time. The rest of the taps will be hooked up to kegs of guest-beers and wine once Mastiff Sausage Company installs its on-site kitchen in a space with a walk-up order window located directly beneath the mezzanine. Their license will make it possible to serve beverages from outside entities and further enhance the come-one-come-all feel NPBC already features.

npbc_04A sign above the front-door reads Ales & Lagers, Friends & Neighbors and the floor-plan of the craftsman-inspired, wood-paneled first-floor features seating geared toward the making of new acquaintances over a pint. Wooden chairs line windows looking out onto University, giving way to communal high-tables followed by table-seating like one would expect from a restaurant. Seating options include 100-year-old chairs brought in from an ancient library. A long-bar resembling (to this casual observer) a judge’s bench is furnished with the largest, cushiest bar-stools anywhere. This is the sort of place where guests will feel encouraged to stick around, which seems important in North Park, the craft-beer crawl capital of San Diego. It takes a lot to extinguish an urbanite’s urge to move on, but tasty beer and the polished design of Basile Studio, which includes cool lamppost lighting with globe-like fixtures, just might do the trick.

npbc_03The upstairs area is currently unfurnished and nondescript, but offers plenty of space for stand-up imbibing. The entire downstairs is visible from the mezzanine, which also features a crow’s-nest with a clear view of the 15-barrel brewhouse and cellar below. Very soon, a four-tap bar will be installed up there along with furnishings that will deliver a “North Park residential feel”. Once complete, the area will be leasable for private events. On the official NPBC events front, classes of sorts revolving around certain types of beers (English, German, Belgian, etc.) will be offered. They will be an extension of the considerable beer-education program disseminated to NPBC staff. Emphasis is placed on beer-knowledge here. Every NPBC employee has already earned Beer Server status care of the Cicerone Certification Program, and three of them are fully certified Cicerones (the beer-industry equivalent of the wine world’s sommeliers).

NPBC is open seven days a week, closing at 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and midnight Fridays and Saturdays. Mastiff’s estimated time of arrival has yet to be finalized, but the mezzanine area should be completed in late-summer or early-autumn. Still, there is plenty in place to put NPBC within the upper-echelon of North Park beer tasting spaces, which is saying something for a business that’s just a day into its lifespan in such a vibrant, suds-geared community.

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Beer of the Week: Novo Brazil Karina’s Lager

Jun 24
Karina's Lager by Novo Brazil Brewing Company

Karina’s Lager by Novo Brazil Brewing Company

From the Beer Writer: I received an email a few months back from a friend of mine who was working with Mexican-seafood stalwart Karina’s Restaurant Group. An institution preparing to celebrate its 35th year in business, it was looking to go beyond typical offerings and embrace local craft-beer. In doing so, ownership wanted to challenge a quintet of San Diego breweries to come up with a beer meeting their exacting flavor and body specifications. I made some recommendations for some brewers that might be interested and, shortly thereafter, they had willing combatants for Karina’s Cerveza Showdown—Aztec Brewery, Bay Bridge Brewing, Coronado Brewing, Mission Brewery and Novo Brazil Brewing. Their goal was to create an easygoing lager that would appeal to the Dos Equis crowd while simultaneously exposing that demographic to the fact that quality beer is being made right in their backyards. Fan’s blind-judged Novo Brazil’s entrant the champion, and that beer, Karina’s Lager, is now on tap at all six of Karina’s locations. I tasted it earlier this week and it reminded me of a trip to Cancun beating the heat with Bohemia after my supply of smuggled craft-beer ran out. It is crisp, clear and carries with it a bit of the limestone-ish lager yeast flavor one expects plus a spike of bitterness that hangs out in the finish. Definitely a beer to please newcomers’ palates, but a pretty good one that makes for a nice first-step for a quality San Diego family of eateries.

From the Restaurant: “We were very pleased by the top brewers who chose to compete in our Cerveza Showdown. We especially like that the association with Novo Brazil not only allows us to serve our guests a unique, ours-alone beer, but puts us together with a fellow South Bay enterprise. It proves how dynamic Chula Vista, our home-base, has become.”—Arnulfo Contreras-Curiel, Principal, Karina’s Group

From the Brewery: “Events like Karina’s Cerveza Showdown are the kind of stuff we pay lots of attention to. First, it’s real-time, real-life feedback, without any prejudice, pre-established brand popularity or opinion. The beer gets to speak. Social media is out there, and can distort views, both positively and negatively, so we like situations when final-result is objective, when the beer gets speaks for itself on a neutral field without any pre-established preferences. Secondly, we were up against other great local breweries, it could have been anybody’s game. To me, that elevates it even further. We have to celebrate each and every victory in this competitive beers business. What a better way to celebrate than to come up with their own beer! So, we listened to Karina’s group very closely, we ate some of their great ceviches and decided to create Karina’s Lager. We captured the ‘Mexican Lager’ character, but we kept it with it’s own personality; very drinkable and smooth. Perfect to complement their food style. We also have it in our tasting room, and it’s selling fast.”—Morise Gusmao, Brewer/General Manager, Novo Brazil Brewing Company

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Beer Touring: Bear Roots Brewing

Jun 23

bearroots_01It’s only been open since December, but already the husband-and-wife founders of Bear Roots Brewing and Home Brew Shop (1213 Santa Fe Street, Vista) are convinced enough by early success that it’s time to take a plunge into the deep-end of the brewing industry. During the last stop of a day of beer-touring, I conversed with brewer Terry Little, who is pushing all of his chips to the center of the table, expanding his fermentation space to match the growing demand for his liquid wares. With only six months under his business’ belt, you’re probably wondering what I was—is the beer good enough to warrant such faith? My answer is yes.

Bear Roots Brewing owner and brewer Terry Little

Bear Roots Brewing owner and brewer Terry Little

The beer is good enough. In fact, the day I was there, the beer was of better quality from top-to-bottom than most of the newer breweries I’ve visited in 2016. Quality alone won’t dictate whether early expansion will pay off, but it’s the most important factor for a brewery-owner to consider. And it will be interesting to see how (the currently aptly named) Little does ramping things up with the little brewery he’s installed within his homebrew shop. The new operation has nearly eclipsed the original after installation of a bar and abutting cold-box plus enough seating to accommodate the steady flow of patrons coming in mostly for beer as opposed to the ingredients and mechanisms for producing their own.

bearroots_02On my visit, a half-dozen beers were available. Others had sold out, a common occurrence at Bear Roots, where the house-beers are produced in small, two-barrel batches after double brew-days on Little’s one-barrel system. Fortunately, a house favorite, Bear Cookie, was up for grabs. A chocolate-peanut butter stout brewed with raw cocoa, naked oats, English malts and noble hops, it’s a dessert-lovers beery dream come true. Nutty, chocolaty and coating, it’s soothing like a glass of warm milk, but at just 6.66% alcohol-by-volume (ABV), it won’t put you to sleep like that moo-juice.

bearroots_03Beers on the non-roasty side of the spectrum were also very impressive. I particularly enjoyed Rooted in Nelson, a bone-dry American India pale ale (IPA) with Nelson Sauvin hops added at every stage of brewing and fermentation. Passion-fruit with a touch of toastiness best describes its aroma, while the flavor profile is Sauvignon Blanc grapes with watercress-like bitterness and a touch of pink-peppercorn spice. Brewed with Mosaic and Simcoe hops, Bear Roots American pale ale had a similarly peppery finish, a nose of fresh-cut grass and a light-body that made it incredibly crushable.

bearroots_05Less satisfying was Edinburgh, an English-style pale ale that was to-style, but pretty dull—a typical San Diego beer-fan lament. For my money, I preferred Bite the Bullet, a Belgian-style tripel aged multiple months on bourbon whiskey-soaked oak-chips. At 12.6% ABV it’s big and sweet, as one might expect, but not overly boozy. Orangey yeast esters mesh well with a honey sweetness and light vanilla notes.

There’s no telling what the future holds for Bear Roots, but with beer that not only exhibits zero defects but tastes good while offering substantial diversity (provided not too many kegs blow during service), the basis for a brighter tomorrow is there.

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Anvil & Stave has arrived

Jun 22

Anvil & Stave Taps 3 (LoRes)Today, West Coaster has an announcement to share that is nothing short of groundbreaking. The efforts of a renowned local brewery are about to be realized in a development that is totally without precedent. This could very well establish an entirely new paradigm in the craft brewing industry. But before I get to all that, I’d like to share some of my thoughts on frozen yogurt.

Frozen yogurt (also referenced as “froyo” by the worst sort of people) is a dessert-like substance with two primary modes of distribution: self-service and full-service. The former places the onus on the customer to make a decision on what constitutes a consumable volume of frogurt, while the latter is a despotic regime bent on denying our God-given right to eat ourselves stupid. For the purposes of this article, we’ll pretend we live in a world where such indulgence-based fascism doesn’t exist.

The primary benefit of frogurt isn’t so much the confection itself, but our ability to shape its experience to our whim. Should I desire no more than a tablespoon of eight different flavors, that is precisely what I will dispense. Short of trying to split the frogurt molecule, the possible combinations are virtually limitless. I could even leverage the native swirling apparatus to combine flavors, were I the sort of cretin who didn’t realize that homogenized approach to creativity was the domain of cowards.

These frogurt-based outlooks are applicable in many walks of life, but perhaps none so perfectly as the world of barrel-aged beers. The barrel-aged beers we embrace are not simply birthed by a brief stasis in wooden confines. They represent a mix of variable outputs, refined to achieve an optimal blend of aromas, texture, and flavors. This alchemy is typically the domain of experienced brewmasters, but courtesy of AleSmith Brewing Company’s (9990 AleSmith Court, Miramar) newest endeavor you can now cosplay as one to your heart’s content. Having a beard is strictly optional, but it can’t hurt.

AleSmith Brewing Company's new Anvil & Stave: A Barrel-Aged Beer Experience

AleSmith Brewing Company’s new Anvil & Stave: A Barrel-Aged Beer Experience

Anvil & Stave: A Barrel-Aged Beer Experience is AleSmith’s new tasting-room-within-a-tasting-room, focusing exclusively on the brewery’s barrel-aged offerings. It is located in the northeast corner of the immense hall, adjacent the forthcoming Tony Gwynn Museum (scheduled to open during Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game festivities, July 8-12). It not only offers a chance to sample barrel-aged beers unavailable to the primary tasting room, but provides a more discreet, serene space to drink yourself into oblivion.

Anvil & Stave Exterior 1 (LoRes)The new room cultivates a speakeasy vibe, were that speakeasy abandoned and only rediscovered after significant overgrowth consumed it. The mossy greens that lace through a façade of reclaimed wood slats establish a very different tone from the glare and buzz of the larger tasting room. I found it very soothing, despite the design implication that it’s been found in some post-apocalyptic scenario.

Not only will you be able to sample three- and six-ounce samples (called “Taste” and “Indulgence” sizes, respectively) of most everything from AleSmith that benefits from barrel-aging, guests will be able to request their own blends of those offerings. Further, there will be a rotating Brewer’s Blend that may include items not represented on tap elsewhere. At the time of this report, the Brewer’s Blend was a mix of AleSmith’s Quad Belgian ale, Port Wine Barrel-Aged Wee Heavy and Barrel-Aged Nut Brown, whose palate of dark fruit and nuts amplified the woody accents rather than the boozy ones.

Many of the logistics of this space (e.g. how many will be allowed in, how guests will be cycled through, how many goats must be sacrificed to be blessed with swift entry, etc.) remain to be determined. What is clear is that the space will be opened to the public on Saturday, June 25 at 11 a.m., aligning with the bottle -release festivities for the 2016 release of Barrel-Aged Speedway Stout as well as a duo of Barrel-Aged Olde Ales from 2014 and 2015.

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Beer Touring: Midnight Jack Brewing Company

Jun 21

midnightjack_01This place looks familiar, I thought as we turned into a business park I’d been to numerous times. It’s how I started my last beer-touring piece and it was just as apt with stop three of four—Midnight Jack Brewing Company (3801 Oceanic Drive, Oceanside). Nearing this new brewery’s business-park home, I was reminded of doing so many times when visiting Oceanside Ale Works from 2007 to 2009. It was one of the first local breweries I visited (after larger, more obvious stops like Stone Brewing, Pizza Port and Karl Strauss Brewing Company), and the smallest of my early batch. Midnight Jack owner and brewmaster John Scheri has history with OAW, as well. He used to volunteer there back in his homebrewing days. So opening his own brewery in the spot he selected is equal parts next-chapter and homecoming.

Much like OAW, Midnight Jack (named after a family member who did the mechanical work for New Jersey bootleggers during the Prohibition era) has a party-vibe to it, and that has everything to do with Scheri. Shortly after I arrived, he came to the bar and hoisted up family-size bags of snacks before heading to the rear of the tasting room to grill up burgers and hot-dogs, both of which were available to customers free-of-charge. A row of picnic tables encourage the making of new friends while corn-hole (they hold a tourney every Tuesday), giant-sized Jenga and Thursday trivia-nights provide fun things to do beyond imbibing. That said, imbibing is the whole reason Midnight Jack exists, so on to the beer.

midnightjack_02The day I was in, 11 beers were on-tap, three of which were served on nitro. The hands-down star of the bunch was a 7.5% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) Azacca IPA. Its tropical-fruit character jumped out of the glass and onto my taste-buds. As quaffable as a blonde or lager yet poignantly hoppy, it’s a standout in multiple regards. And if you are into peanut-butter beers or entrenched in a nostalgic search for a beer that brings jammy fruit into the equation, Jack’s PB&J is the beer for you. Others have tried, but few, if any, more succinctly convey the exact flavor of peanut-butter-and-jelly in beer-form than this stout.

The rest of the beer-list was more hit-and-miss. Tropiweizen, a hefe brewed with Mosaic hops, tasted more of those hops than anything, leaving me wanting the trademark banana and clove yeastiness associated with this style. An eponymous pale ale was palatable and bitter enough, but Lucky No. 7 IPA, despite a nice tangerine nose, was a bit grainy and sweet. A nitrogenized Russian Imperial Stout had plenty of cocoa flavor but wasn’t all that palatable, but another nitro-beer, Barnstormer Brown Ale, was mild and satisfying in its traditional composition.

midnightjack_03Unfortunately, there were instances where the undeniable butteriness of diacetyl reared its popcorny head. It was most noticeable in the Bombshell Belgian Blonde and Running Board Milk Stout. It was particularly disappointing to discover it in the latter, given how roasted malts help to cover the presence of diacetyl. Ditto the nitro delivery system.

Midnight Jack is less than two months into its young lifespan, and there is much yet to come. First off, an official grand-opening celebration, which is slated for July 2 and 3, and will include new beer releases, live music, contests, food vendors and more. Sunday’s event is ticketed and will include access to prime firework-watching real estate (tickets are available online). Further down the line, an area will be available for private events, and a kitchenette just off the brewery will be renovated for provision of in-house food. For now, Scheri’s barbecue grill fills in just fine, especially when food from it is paired with that Azacca IPA.

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