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
Construction, permitting and the majority of trial-run services are in the books, and North Park-based Eppig Brewing is ready to open its new Point Loma tasting room to the public. That will officially take place noon this Friday, February 9. While most breweries’ satellites are smaller than their home bases, the Eppig Brewing Waterfront Biergarten is significantly larger than its North Park Brewery Igniter progenitor, solving what has been the company’s biggest problem in its just-over-a-year of existence—providing enough space for the many that wish to consume its beers.
With 1,200 square feet of interior space, much of which is taken up by a cold box and service space, the Biergarten’s public space is comparable to North Park, but this venue is not about indoor drinking. Ownership selected it (outbidding other breweries in the process) for its immense outdoor space and position right along the water. Eppig’s Biergarten is the first-ever harborside brewery-owned venue in the county. Though currently in the midst of phase-construction that will eventually expand the patio to a whopping 2,000 square feet and introduce sculptured pillars supporting shade sails mounted to the building’s exterior, even in its current truncated state, there is plenty of room for patrons to imbibe al fresco, on rail bars overlooking the water or German-style Biergarten tables offering cross-bay views of the downtown San Diego skyline.
Back inside, approximately 16 beers will be available, including one brewed specifically to celebrate the Biergarten’s launch—Buoyancy Control, a 7.4% alcohol-by-volume IPA with peach and pear notes brought about by Citra and El Dorado hops. Food will also be available on-site by the end of February once ownership has finalized details of that service aspect. Punching up the interior design is inclusion of the recipe for Eppig’s San Diego summer ale, Civility, which is penned in its entirety on the inside walls for any homebrewers who care to try their hand at it.
Eppig Brewing Waterfront Biergarten is located at 2817 Dickens Street and will be open daily from noon to 8 p.m. Parking is available in a large lot south of the venue next to The Brigantine restaurant. That lot gives way to a waterfront walkway leading directly to the tasting room. An official grand-opening event is planned for early March, right around the time patio construction is scheduled for completion.
From the Beer Writer: Collaboration beers provide the greatest opportunity for brewers to get out of their comfort zones and try their hands at more out-there concepts. For some that means incorporating adjuncts, local ingredients or experimental hops. Then there’s truly next-level ventures like the one recently embarked upon by ChuckAlek Independent Brewers, Council Brewing Company and White Labs, where the latter interest revived somehow-still-active yeast from a 25-year-old bottle of Russian imperial stout. With that biological feat accomplished, ChuckAlek and Council’s brewers went to work crafting a traditional high gravity stout recipe and fermenting it with that yeast strain. The result is Katerina, a 10.5% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) offering that was recently bottled and had its official coming out party at ChuckAlek’s Biergarten in North Park. Unlike most modern day imperial stouts, the beer is lower on the chocolate and coffee scale, instead exhibiting big notes of raisin, date and plum with some brown sugar sweetness and a touch of baking spice. Named for the Russian empress whose love of dark beers spurred the eventual popularity of this style, Katerina is a lovely blend of tradition and modern-day ingenuity.
From the Brewer: “Back in 2015, when I was pouring ChuckAlek beer at the pro-brewers night of the National Homebrewers Conference here in San Diego. Jeff Crane from Council and I discussed a tentative collaboration based on the idea of England’s old Brettanomyces-aged stock ales. The next day I ventured down to Baja with friend and beer historian Ron Pattinson to show him around the burgeoning beer and food scene. It didn’t take long before we were chatting about porter and Ron brought up the famed Courage Russian Stout; telling me how he’d bought up a couple of cases before the beer ceased production in the early ’90’s and he was sure the original Brettanomyces yeast strain was alive and well in the bottle, allowing the beer to hold up extremely well over a couple of decades time. Courage Russian Stout was of the lineage of over 200 years in production of the original Russian Stout brand, which famously became high demand from Catherine the Great of Russia and her Imperial Court. At that time, in the late 1700’s, the beer was produced by Barclay Perkins who held the brand through the 1950’s, at which point Courage bought the brand. Most traditional beer styles have changed radically over time due to factors such as war-time taxation and rationing or laws dictating acceptable beer ingredients. Russian Stout, however, remained rather unchanged in spec: about 10% ABV, loads of high-quality UK hops and long maturation in oak vats. With the help of White Labs, we isolated the yeast strain from a bottle of 1992 Courage Russian Stout from Ron’s private cellar. Genetic identification determined it was actually Saccharomyces (ale yeast) that had heartily survived over 25 years. We then worked with Council to conduct a pilot brew and construct a recipe based on Ron’s research on the Barclay Perkins brewing logs. The result is a big and truly stout beer with raisin and date on the nose, fruity yeast and caramelized sugar flavor up front, then lingering bitter chocolate and orange peel in the finish. The body is full, which rounds out the strong hop charge and roast on the finish. This beer will surely do well with some age and we intend to brew it again with Council to set it down in some barrels in the spirit of the historically oak-vatted porter. The ‘Perkins Ale’ yeast is available to commercial breweries via White Labs and we hope to see others experiment with it!”—Grant Fraley, Head Brewer, ChuckAlek Independent Brewers