From the Beer Writer: Whereas most craft fans’ favorite beer style is IPA (not that there’s anything wrong with that…they’re incredible), my favorite beers are Belgian-style farmhouse ales. But wait, like the IPA fan who can tell you they specifically like unfiltered, 7% alcohol-by-volume, tropical-flavored India pale ales dry-hopped with Citra, Motueka and Nelson Sauvin, I too can get way too specific about the types of farmhouse ales (AKA: saisons) I prefer. I like when they are spiked with Brettanomyces and aged in barrels, particularly those which have formerly housed white wine. I prefer Sauvignon Blanc barrels, but I’m not a picky man (despite what everything leading up to this has led you to believe). So, when speaking with local brewer Robert Masterson about future plans he had for his then yet-to-open Resident Brewing, and he told me the first thing he was going to do was get his saison into white-wine barrels so he could start aging it, I tucked that nugget away and started biding my time. It was as if he had intercepted some letter to Santa and, despite my naughty status, decided to bring my beer wish to life. A few weeks ago, that beer, Resident Saison Prestige, made its debut in 750-milliliter bottles, and I went straight to work getting my hands on some. And I’m glad I did, because it is exceptional. Oenophiles will be drawn in by a lustrous bouquet rife with aromas of lemon peel, honeysuckle, pears and grape must, while lovers of farmhouse and sour ales will go gaga for a multifarious yet balanced taste sensation offering up passion fruit, lemongrass, white pepper and oak-borne vanillins with a touch of funk delivered against a textural backdrop that’s medium and slightly creamy, leaving lingering traces of vanilla and kiwi. It’s prestigious enough to live up to its name and available exclusively at Resident’s base of operations, downtown’s The Local Eatery and Watering Hole.
From the Brewery: “Saison Prestige is a barrel-fermented, mixed-fermentation saison aged in French oak Chardonnay barrels. This farmhouse-style ale gets its character from two types of saison yeast, multiple Brettanomyces strains and Lactobacillus. The beer rested in wine barrels for over a year, before being bottled in June 2017. The beer was inspired by a few amazing American farmhouse breweries that have been putting out amazing beers for the past half-decade. We secured some amazing Chardonnay barrels from Chateau Montelena. After the saison picked up their character, we selected the three barrels that had the best-tasting beer inside. We didn’t want to utilize fruit with these killer barrels. Instead, we wanted them to stand out on their own and show San Diego what a wine-barrel and funky, tart saison can taste like without fruit additions.”—Robert Masterson, Head Brewer, Resident Brewing Company
So young. So unique. So tasty. So much drama! All of these phrases have been used to describe Toolbox Brewing Company (1495 Poinsettia Avenue, Suite 148, Vista)—by me, at least. After a recent visit, I’m happy to delete that last one from the list. It would seem since parting ways with original brewer Peter Perrecone (who has since taken over brewing and the sour ale program at Belching Beaver Brewery’s original brewhouse just a mile north), things have calmed down dramatically. Much of that has to do with their current head brewer, Ehren Schmidt.
Young, colorful (in dress and personality), and both bearded and be-dreaded, his look belies his scientific, methodic nature. This guy is all about wild yeast and the various microorganisms that dry out, sour and otherwise transform ales into more outlandish and exotically beautiful quaffs, and he has a lab full of beakers and Petri dishes to prove it. But in-house bugs by themselves mean little. It’s how they’re incorporated into beers that matters, so I was eager to see how Schmidt was doing on that front. After tasting through eight of Toolbox 2.0’s beers, the answer is: quite well.
The tasting room’s current line-up is heavy on beers that were developed under Toolbox’s original brewing regime, but with tweaks and deviations by Schmidt. In general, I found that fruited beers like Purple Drink, a boysenberry sour ale, are a bit softer in their acidity. There is still plenty of pucker-power, but it’s a bit rounder and a little easier for entry-level tart beer tasters to take. That said, Bramble On Rose—a barrel-aged blackberry wild ale—assaults taste buds with sourness, eliciting salivation. It’s definitely for those who relish Sour Patch Kids, Warheads and beers that push the pH barometer, it’s also darn tasty. A cranberry and raspberry Berliner weisse called Bog Sauce is less sour, less fruity and can be consumed in greater quantities. That beer is currently available in bottles at select beer outlets.
Also on-tap was a second Berliner weisse, this one brewed with cucumbers. I’ve had several cucumber ales in my day, but this one tasted like more than just beery spa-water. Eighteen pounds of cucumber per-batch equates to some subtle vegetal, chlorophyll character, but there are also nice earthy, melon-like nuances and a bit of lemony zing in the finish from the base beer. It was easy to enjoy, as was Life Gose On, a traditional German-style Gose brewed with salt and coriander that was the first beer Schmidt brewed after signing on with Toolbox.
I tend to prefer sours to beers fermented using Brettanomyces. That’s mostly because so many brewers have yet to get a handle on how to best utilize Brett. It’s not easy. But Schmidt seems to be well on his way with this family of yeast strains. Proof came in the form of three Belgian-style beers—Funky Wit, a foeder-aged farmhouse ale called Chêne Bretta and a saison brewed with ancient grains dubbed Rustique. Each exhibited two things I look for in Brett beers—clean, sharp dryness and lack of plastic- or Band-Aid-like off-flavors. The witbier had a nice twang, Rustique was gentler overall with nice lemon rind flavor and bitterness plus a bone-dry finish, and Chêne Bretta was big on oak flavors (so much so that I could smell it) and a perfect example of what fouder-aging can do for a beer.
Schmidt also has a Shandy-inspired Berliner weisse brewed with grapefruit and young ginger, and has plans to release a sour farmhouse ale aged in foudres as well as a barrel-aged ale flavored with California Chardonnay grapes. When Toolbox’s personnel change occurred last August, many wondered if this 100% wild-ale brewery would be able to find someone to fill its initial brewer’s boots. Not many have the knowledge-base to take on such an ambitious role. But it would seem Schmidt is the right man for the job. If anything, Toolbox is better now than it was before, and considering how much I enjoyed it previously, that’s saying something!