I’ve interviewed many brewers in my day, and when asked about their portfolios, nearly every one of them rifles off the same statement: “We brew beers that we want to brew.” This answer’s ubiquity in no way detracts from its authenticity, but it means a lot more for the most recent fermentationist to say it to me, Brian Mitchell of Pariah Brewing Company (3052 El Cajon Boulevard, North Park). Doing things his way doesn’t mean daring to brew a lager in ale-town San Diego, brewing gluten-free beers or shooting for extreme alcohol-by-volume. His family of beers—which will make their official debut at a trio of grand-opening sessions (which are nearly sold out) next weekend, before Pariah’s tasting room opens to the public on Sunday, February 12—are unlike anything being brewed anywhere in San Diego, or pretty much anywhere else.
Of the six beers that will be on-tap when Pariah opens, the tamest is Off-White Wit, a Belgian-style witbier inspired by Taiwanese boba tea. Honey, green tea, lemongrass, ginger and orange find their way into this exotic brew, but Mitchell leaves out one of this style’s most traditional ingredients, coriander. The result is a wheat beer with herbal notes versus overbearing citrus character. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Uni Stout…and it’s just what it sounds like, a take on an oyster stout brewed with lacto-sugar, sea salt and fresh sea urchin gonads from Catalina Offshore Products. The sea fare (added in the whirlpool) combats some of the sweetness, drying things out and leaving flavors of chocolate and pumpernickel behind. It makes Dorcha, a nicely balanced stout brewed with molasses, cacao nibs and a proprietary blend of coffee from Bird Rock Coffee Roasters seem everyday by comparison.
There is one traditional beer on the board, a West Coast IPA fortified with Amarillo and Mosaic hops that’s been cleverly dubbed Dank Drank. Dry with a lasting lemon pithiness, it’s 6.66% ABV and comes in at 66 on the IBU (international bittering unit) scale. But even it is offset by a more avant-garde IPA that’s brewed with mangoes, peach-flesh and hemp oil. Mitchell hates fruit IPAs produced by “certain local companies” and aimed to use real fruit (versus extract) to marry with and amplify the qualities of the hops used for this beer. The result is an IPA with malt character reminiscent of a Pacific Northwest IPA and heavy tropical flavors.
The most ambitious of the lot is Erotic City. The name is inspired by the dearly departed “Purple One”, while the recipe for this strong ale resulted from a challenge issued by Mitchell’s wife, who wanted a beer brewed with Muscat grapes, honey and grains of paradise. The resulting beer is big on grape flavor, but low on the mustiness that typically accompanies wine-grape beers. There is some sweetness, as one would expect, but I’ts earthy and honey-like as opposed to cloying. This is a beer for adventurous drinkers, but that seems to be the point at Pariah.
And these aren’t specialties or one-offs. The beers described above comprise Pariah’s core-beer line-up. That’s gutsiness that bleeds over into Dogfish Head territory. (Erotic City actually closely resembles Dogfish’s “ancient ale” Midas Touch.) That Delaware-based veteran brewing company has been manufacturing “off-centered ales for off-centered people” for 21 years, growing into the 16th largest craft brewery in the country in the process. Mitchell’s aspirations aren’t that large, however, he does want to grow his business. As such, he has hired employees to handle sales and distribution, something not that many new breweries devote start-up funds to. His business practices seem sounder than many, lending method to what, to beer purists might seem light outright madness.
With new breweries opening at a rapid clip and nearly 140 operating brewhouses, many wonder if our county needs any more brewing companies. This opinion is fueled mostly by people who feel the majority of each business’ offerings are nearly identical, especially where hoppy beers are concerned. Pariah’s wares soundly answer any questions about why this interest exists—because without Pariah, beers like this wouldn’t exist…anywhere. It’s refreshing to come across a new brewery with so many unique offerings, and even those who don’t take to Mitchell’s creations will likely agree with that sentiment.
Pariah’s out-there line-up offers an advantage to a pair of other breweries—Eppig Brewing and San Diego Brewing Company. Those businesses are located on either side of Pariah in the second of H.G. Fenton’s Brewery Igniter complexes. All three companies entered these ready-to-brew, tasting room-supplied spots with equal brewing and cellar capacity. It was up to each to differentiate themselves and that’s just what’s happened. San Diego serves its vanguard staples plus worldly one-offs, while Eppig is gaining a good name behind high-quality lagers and a mixed-bag of hoppy beers and kettle-sours. Then there’s Pariah, which also features the most jarringly disparate environs. Purple (more Prince influence) is the main color in the dimly lit space, which San Diego Brewing co-owner Lee Doxtader has taken to (respectfully) calling “the dungeon”. But how many captive environments are so nerdy about glassware that every beverage served there comes in its own specific type of glassware (including the aromatic-enhancing Spiegelau IPA glass)?
Pariah’s tasting room will be open Monday through Wednesday from 12 to 9 p.m., Thursday through Saturday from noon to midnight and Sundays from 12 to 7 p.m. The tasting room is equipped with 13 taps that will soon be filled. Bottled wild ales are also in the works, as is a three-way collaboration between the North Park Brewery Igniter’s tenants.
In the beverage-industry, they say it takes until March for beer-consumption to rebound to normal levels after the holidays. Good thing San Diego’s beer-slingers didn’t get that memo, because February is jam-packed with a broad array of fun events celebrating local ales and lagers. Check out these standout events, and see a full list on our events page.
February 4 | Sour Saturday & Fourth Anniversary: Squeeze into one of the smallest but coolest beer-bars in San Diego for the ale-equivalent of an acid-drop. Cast your line and reel in a variety of sour beers tapped in celebration of this pier-mounted saloon, eatery and bait-and-tackle shop. | Fathom Bistro Bait & Tackle, 1776 Shelter Island Drive, Shelter Island, 10 a.m.
February 4 | National 2×4 Day: Wyoming-based Melvin Brewing is tapping its award-winning 2×4 imperial IPA (it’s taken top-honors at the World Beer Cup, Great American Beer Festival and multiple Alpha King Challenges) across the country, and Hamilton’s Tavern is where you can taste it and other Melvin hop-bombs. | Hamilton’s Tavern, 1521 30th Street, South Park, 12 p.m.
February 11 | Brewbies Festival: Brewers from throughout Southern California will not only show up in-force to help raise funds for the Keep A Breast Foundation, many of them will bring creatively crafted, pink-hued beers brewed especially for this fest, one of the best in our county each year. | Bagby Beer Company; 601 South Coast Highway; Oceanside; VIP: 12 p.m., General Admission: 1 p.m.
February 11 | Carnival of Caffeination: Like beer? Like coffee? Like beer and coffee infused into a buzzworthy beverage? Then head to this fest celebrating all you hold sacred via top-quality beers from breweries plucked from around the country, and watch as stimulants and depressants go head-to-head! | North Promenade; 2848 Dewey Road; Point Loma; VIP: 11 a.m., General Admission: 12 p.m.
February 18 | Winter Brew Fest: Because winter in San Diego is pretty much like every other season in San Diego from a weather standpoint, this night-time fest won’t center around brawny stouts and strong ales. Come expecting an array of all styles, including SD’s sun-ready IPAs. | San Diego Hall of Champions; 2131 Pan American Plaza; Balboa Park; VIP: 6 p.m., General Admission: 7 p.m.
February 25-26 | 10th Anniversary Beer Fest: For a decade, SD TapRoom has gone big in the bday department, throwing suds-soaked parties over multiple days. The big 1-0 will be no different thanks to 100 specialty beers, including Pliny the Younger and venue-exclusive Boxcar Speedway. | SD TapRoom, 1269 Garnet Avenue, Pacific Beach, Times Vary
The season of good-will and merriment is upon us…also, holiday beers and celebrating. Submitted for your enjoyment are several local events taking place this December. Salt-and-pepper (cinnamon-and-nutmeg?) them into your holiday plans, and refer to the West Coaster events page for a comprehensive list of goings-on throughout San Diego County.
December 3 | West Coaster Party: Your favorite local craft-beer publication doesn’t throw a ton of events, but when we do, we try to make it count. In that spirit, we’re teaming with 32 North Brewing Company to offer a four-pronged fete focusing on beer, meat, coffee and chocolate, San Diego-made iterations of which will be on-hand for mixing, matching, meshing and massacring. | 32 North Brewing Company, 8655 Production Avenue, Miramar, 12 p.m.
December 4 | SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off: It’s a merging of neighborhoods, a feast for the senses and a telling test of one’s ability to withstand extreme heat all wrapped up into one enchanted afternoon, when North Parkers and South Parkers come together to throw down with multiple takes on America’s spicy, stewed national dish and temper all that inherent incendiary heat with quality craft ales and lagers. | 32nd & Thorn Street, North & South Park, 11 a.m.
December 10 | Sore Eye Sudsmas: The co-host of San Diego BeerTalk Radio is holding a holiday party where attendees are encouraged to bring in food donations to a food drive being held by host-site, Societe Brewing Company. Prizes will be awarded to those who bring the most edibles and if a total of 2,000 pounds comes in, Societe will tap the only keg of cranberry sour, The Urchin, in existence. | Societe Brewing Company, 8262 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Kearny Mesa, 5 p.m.
December 15-17 | Ugly Sweater Events: ‘Tis the weekend for events celebrating ironic yuletide-wear. Start early on Thursday with an ugly sweater Christmas party at OB’s Raglan Public House, then roll up on the Ales ‘n’ Rails beer-tasting at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum before taking in a Saturday suds-and-sweaters soiree at Tap That in Oceanside. | Multiple Locations, Times Vary
Editor’s Note: In addition to his role as Editor at Large for West Coaster, the author is also employed by Societe Brewing Company.
From the Beer Writer: Dark beers—your porters and stouts, imperial and lower-octane—are splendid canvasses for dark-roast coffee infusion. The rich roastiness of the beans and the dark-malts play well together and make for a very robust flavor experience. But what if a brewer wants the coffee to merely be an accent rather than the primary flavor of their beer? That’s when it’s time to opt for a low- to medium-roast variety of coffee and inject it into a lighter beer style. A perfect example of this technique is offered via Seize the Coffee IPA from Second Chance Beer Company. Brewmaster Marty Mendiola selected light-roast Ethiopian beans from fellow Carmel Mountain company, Mostra Coffee, so their mild flavor could complement a mix of earthy, citrusy hops rather than match or, worse yet, overpower them. The result is a beer that drinks every bit like an IPA but features a big, tantalizing morning-Joe nose and accents of java from front-palate to finish.
From the Brewer: “Seize the Coffee has its genesis in our flagship Seize the IPA, of course, but the idea came about years ago when my wife, Virginia, and I were traveling in Colorado and came across our first coffee-infused pale ale. It was a bit more coffee than beer for my taste, but it piqued my interest. After we opened, and we dialed in the Seize the IPA recipe, I started experimenting for what was supposed to be a ‘tasting-room-only’, small-batch coffee IPA. For the coffee, like our beer, my standards are high. I wanted to work with a local roaster and we selected Mostra, a close and highly-respected neighbor here in Carmel Mountain. It took some time before we found the right roast and the exact recipe we liked, but it seems we have ‘seized’ on something special. Shortly after it was tapped in our tasting room, the demand for it in distribution was such that we had to figure out how to make it in larger batches, which was another challenge. But we rose to it, and now are looking forward to canning it soon due to popular demand.”—Marty Mendiola, Brewmaster, Second Chance Beer Company
This weekend, long-awaited international collaborative project Mikkeller Brewing San Diego opened its doors. The place was mobbed, both by everyday customers stopping in for a taste of the numerous beers in the tasting room, and next-level beer geeks assembling in the lot behind the brewery for a beer-festival that included various local interests as well as hard-to-get beers from cult-favorite brewing companies outside San Diego. When the dust cleared, I was left with a sated palate, a bunch of notes and some photos to share with West Coaster readers. Before we get started, skeptics, haters and trolls will be glad to know that I’m leaving my opinions on beer aroma, flavor and quality out of this. It’s only right. While I do not work for Mikkeller Brewing San Diego, I do work for AleSmith Brewing Company, the founder and CEO of which also has a substantial ownership stake in MBSD. So, I’ll share the basics so you know what to expect going in. But I’ll also share a bit of insight from behind this operation, because there are some fun little items that I’m sure San Diego beer enthusiasts will be interested in.
For those who somehow haven’t heard the story of how Mikkeller SD (as we affectionately refer to it) came to be, here’s the basics. After 19 years of brewing in a small, off-the-beaten-path set of business suites on Cabot Drive in Miramar, AleSmith owner Peter Zien signed on the dotted-line for a 105,500-square-foot facility two blocks away on Empire Street (which the City of San Diego later renamed AleSmith Court). That left Zien to decide what to do with AleSmith’s original facility. A number of companies (even those many craft-beer fans would politely refer to as “unsavory”) came knocking, but instead of entertaining the highest-bidder, Zien pursued an idea based on a nearly decade-old friendship with Danish gypsy-brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergso.
Prior to starting the business he would dub Mikkeller, Bjergso reached out to Zien as a homebrewer to a pro and asked for tips on integrating coffee into an oatmeal stout that, after this question was answered, would go on to be Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast. That beer made a name for Mikkeller, which has since gone on to become an international force worldwide…despite the fact Bjergso has never had a brewery to call his own. Looking to hand over his spot, turnkey-style, he reached out to Bjergso to see if he had any interest in a brick-and-mortar. The answer is yes and the rest is 15 months of history that consists solely of the duo and the recently assembled Mikkeller SD staff working hard to bring this project to life.
Though installed in the same spot as AleSmith’s former tasting room, Mikkeller’s recognizably quirky artistic stamp is all over the place. The floors have been painted turquoise, a mural featuring two very basic (and very flexible), iconic illustrated characters takes up the west wall of the sampling space with additional print art adorning the walls. AleSmith’s curved orange wall has been replaced with contemporary wooden slats that, when matched with modern light-fixtures, are a bit reminiscent of some of MIkkeller’s bars and bottle-shops, of which there are more than a dozen sprinkled across the globe. Best of all, the smallish space has been added to, care of the conversion of some of AleSmith’s former office-space into an overflow seating area just off the main entrance.
The opening-weekend tap-list consisted of 18 beers. It was important to the team at Mikkeller SD to offer a wide array of beers and styles, but I can say from witnessing what into it that it wasn’t easy. Delayed licensing and permitting alone made for a tough row to hoe, but we’re talking 18 beers here. That’s more than many breweries have to offer after having been open for months. And then one must consider the process of getting these beers dialed in to where Bjergso, who spent the majority of his time 10,000 kilometers away in Denmark but came up with base ideas and recipes for the Mikkeller SD beers, was comfortable with them. Beers would be brewed, fermented, then shipped to Denmark. Three of those initial beers—an American pale ale, India pale ale and porter—went through several iterations and were on at AleSmith’s current tap-room over a span of several months. They took a great deal of time and consideration, leaving a mere 15 beers to be brewed before last weekend’s opening—about six weeks down the road.
This is where the story gets pretty cool and the “creative-partnership” between AleSmith and Mikkeller that this new business is labeled became just that. Zien, who has been instrumental in early recipe-refinement (nobody knows the brewery like the man who built it and worked it up from the day’s when it was comprised solely of dairy equipment), pulled out some homebrew recipes and methodologies. Members of AleSmith’s brewing team collaboratively assisted, most notably on Mikkeller SD’s first bottled beer, an English-style old ale dubbed Ny Verden. Other beers that made it in time for the opening were a Belgian-style blonde ale, saison, trippel and dark strong ale, several more IPAs (including a Brettanomyces-spiked offering that I really enjoyed FWIW), a Berliner weisse, a pilsner (and a version of that beer with blood orange), an imperial stout and numerous members of the Beer Geek family of coffee beers.
Overseeing all of this work and brewing all of these beers (with the help of his crew, of course) was head brewer Bill Batten. After well over a decade with AleSmith, he knows the Cabot Drive system like the back of his hand, so when Mikkeller SD was set to become a reality, both he and Zien knew it made sense for this industrious and adventurous brewer to transfer himself, and with him a ton of history and knowhow, to the new business. While I can’t get too opinionated here, I can share that we at AleSmith are extremely proud of Batten, who went as far as roasting some of the coffee for the Beer Geek beers at his own residence. He is the glue that held together a rapidly developing project with the eyes of beer-obsessed people all over the planet.
And the fact he got by with a little help from his friends just makes the story all that much more San Diego in nature. Such camaraderie and willingness to do whatever it takes to make great beer is what this culture is all about, and it’s a big reason why Bjergso was excited to plunk down his first full-time brewery in America’s Finest City. Kudos to a good decision, cheers to a local beer landmark staying that way via a new identity, and props to the beer-lovers who have made and continue to make San Diego the very special place that it is.