From the Beer Writer: I can be a tough judge of a brewery’s character and wares, but from the first time I visited El Cajon’s Burning Beard Brewing, I’ve been nothing but impressed with their ethos, environs and the liquid fruits of its brew crew’s labor. All of it melds and works together to deliver a concept that, while rather varied, remains easy to fall into, grasp and enjoy. It would seem others agree. In its first year in business, “The Beard” has become the darling of not only beer fans, but members of the local brewing community. This is particularly impressive given its East County location, far from the glitz of North Park and the brewery-dense Beeramar and Hop Highway communities. There are many contributing factors for that, but as it should be, the primary reason for Burning Beard’s popularity is its beers. This weekend’s first-anniversary festivities will feature bottles of one of those ales in oak-matured form: Burning Beard Barrel-Aged Panic at the Monastery. A 12.5% alcohol-by-volume, Belgian-style quad given extra character and booziness after time spent in bourbon whiskey barrels, it will be available to attendees at this sold-out affair. Don’t have tickets? Don’t panic! You still have a chance to get this low-yield, big-flavor rarity. Around 100 bottles will be held back to sell to the general public when The Beard’s doors open on Saturday, April 8.
From the Brewers: “Best served at 53 degrees, this unblended bourbon barrel-aged Belgian dark strong ale layers toasty, caramel and honey notes with the fruit and spice of Belgian yeast. The yeast imparts a subtle earthiness—an almost tobacco-like spice—just beneath hints of fig, dark plum and black currant, while the Woodford Reserve oak barrels elevate the dark-fruit character of the beer, adding a touch of cinnamon, cocoa, vanilla and just a bit of heat. It fits into our perona because Panic is dark, mysterious and strong like the Beard, and also because the Belgian quad fills in part of the other side of the beer-spectrum for us. We opened the doors highlighting our Normcore Pilsner and, one year later, we will celebrate by cracking open the beer on the other side of the mirror, Panic at the Monastery.”—Jeff Wiederkehr, Head Brewer & Co-Founder, Burning Beard Brewing Company
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…
In April, I named Northern Pine Brewing Company (326 North Horne Street, Oceanside) as one of the North County work-in-progress breweries I was most greatly anticipating. At the time, I had to admit that there really wasn’t much to go by, but a commitment to helping out charities via their business seemed a good reason for added faith. Recently I had the opportunity to learn more about this operation and am able to provide more detail—of which there’s quite a bit.
The owners of the business, Bobby Parsons, Aaron and Anne Ortega recently signed a lease on a 6,100-square-foot building located on the corner of Horne Street and Civic Center Drive, several blocks east of Oceanside Pier and close to Interstate 5’s Mission Avenue exit. They are currently filling out applications for permits and licenses, but still hope to be up-and-running before the end of 2016. Their newly acquired one-story digs are fairly non-descript, but will be designed to convey a “modern-farmhouse vibe” through natural elements that help to convey the trio’s love of the outdoors.
But Northern Pine won’t be the only business occupying that farmhouse. That Boy Good Southern BBQ Joint, a downtown Oceanside business fostering a downhome Southern motif, will share space with the brewery. This will be a satellite space to the original location, go by the name That Good Boy Po’ Boy Shoppe, and serve menu items that differ from the flagship eatery. Northern Pine plans on brewing beers to pair specifically with that cuisine, and the team’s interior designer will work to incorporate the themes of both businesses for a north-meets-south rusticity.
Bobby and Aaron will handle the brewing for Northern Pine. Both are former Marines, and their devotion to the Corps fueled a noteworthy endeavor in 2012 when they brewed a beer to honor seven fallen Marines. The project was supported by Mother Earth Brew Co., which allowed the duo to brew the beer on their system in Vista. At Northern Pine, they will preside over a six-barrel brewhouse that was built on the Discovery Channel program, Monster Garage featuring former Stone Brewing brewer Lee Chase (now the owner of Automatic Brewing Company and its pair of restaurants, Blind Lady Ale House and Tiger! Tiger! Tavern).
That unique apparatus will be used to produce a 30-deep catalog of beers, spanning traditional and newer American beer-styles. Some initial beers that will be brewed include a cream ale, saison, Czech-style Pilsner, a pineapple dry-hopped India pale ale (IPA) and series of SMaSH beers (single malt and single hop). A bourbon whiskey barrel-aged porter will also find its way into the mix. Currently, annual production is estimated at 600 barrels. Though all early product will be kegged, Northern Pine plans to “aggressively pursue bottling and canning.”
From the Beer Writer: The majority of beers given the bourbon barrel-aging treatment are stouts of the imperial ilk. Robust and high in alcohol, they are ideally suited for prolonged aging in whiskey-soaked wooden vessels. Their notes of roast go well with the toast of the oak while their sweetness matches the caramel and vanilla notes imparted by the liquor. But those big beers can sometimes mask the whiskey notes a bit and those 10-12% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) stouts are the type of high-octane, viscous brews that require beer-geek assistance when attempting to get through a 750-millilitre bottle. This is not the case with this week’s featured beer, New English Brewing Company‘s Bourbon Barrel-Aged Brewers Special Brown Ale. The base beer is Britain-born brewmaster Simon Lacey‘s 6.5% ABV English-style brown, an archetypal ale that took a bronze in the World Beer Cup earlier this month. After being spending several months in wet Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels, it comes out with a huge, vanilla-rich nose and a flavor that’s akin to whiskey on the rocks. Except, instead of watery former ice-cubes, the dilution effect is provided by the nutty, caramely flavors of the brown ale. And thanks to the beer’s lighter body, this comes across as a rare, highly quaffable barrel-aged beer.
From the Brewer: “Based on the multi-award winning Brewers Special Brown Ale, the bourbon barrel-aged version of this smooth, rich and malty English-style beer has been resting in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels for six-to-nine months. In order to create a perfectly balanced final-product, we blend ale from first- and second-use barrels. The freshly dumped first-use barrels contain discernible amounts of liquid when they arrive at the brewery, the wood has also soaked up a significant quantity of the whiskey at barrel-strength over the years at the distillery, and all this flavor and aroma is transferred to the beer. Beer from the second-use barrels yields a complex mix of wood, tannins and vanilla flavor from the American white oak, which, when blended with the beer from the first-use barrels, melds into a seamlessly delicious and enthralling elixir that is warming without heat and as aromatic as it is flavorful. The current version is the sixth batch produced and is the second to be bottled. A limited release is available at the best local bottle shops, and can also be purchased at the brewery.”—Simon Lacey, Brewmaster, New English Brewing Company
When Green Flash Brewing Company opened its barrel-aging facility-slash-tasting room, Cellar 3 (12260 Crosthwaite Circle, Poway), it ushered in a new age of reliable wood-matured, tart and wild yeast-stoked product from the country’s 41st largest brewery. Utilization of Brettanomyces, wine and spirit barrels is next-level to be sure, but Green Flash Barrelmaster Pat Korn promises to go even further care of beers from the company’s soon-to-debut Barrelmaster’s Reserve Series.
Billed as a line of experimental, limited-release brews, the Barrelmaster Reserve Series beers will be produced in quantities that are extremely small by comparison to Green Flash’s nationally distributed core and seasonal beers. Between 600 and 1,800 bottles of each offering will be sold per release. Those beers will be available on a first-come-first-served basis for just one day, and exclusively to those who venture to Cellar 3.
While artistically swank, stocked with good beer and in possession of an oasis-like outdoor seating area smack-dab in the heart of businesspark land, Cellar 3 has proven a challenge due to its location. While businesses that plunk down in hot-spots such as North Park, Vista or even the suddenly sudsy Rancho Bernardo, easily draw in droves of beer fans, having such a beer-nerd-centric locale in Poway’s industrial expanses has led to less-than-preferred attendance numbers. This would seem a solid effort to expose an exceptional beer haven to the types of customers who would most appreciate it.
The first Barelmaster’s Reserve Series releases will be Lustrous Frumento with Coffee, a 13.1% alcohol-by-volume, 100% bourbon barrel-aged black ale (Green Flash’s retired Double Stout?) matured in Old Forester whiskey cooperage for a whopping two-and-a-half years before being dosed with a cold-brew blend of Brazilian and Sumatran java from local roaster, Mostra Coffee. The “micro-release” for Lustrous Frumento will be May 21 and each 750-milliliter bottle will go for $24.