In less than two years, The Cork and Craft has established itself as one of inland North County’s best restaurants. The food and ambience are enough that it would be a draw even without its onsite winery and brewery. Those amenities—particularly Abnormal Beer Company—are tremendous value-addeds, particularly when their wares are incorporated into special pairing dinners featuring guest chefs, vintners and breweries.
C&C opened with adventurous chef Phillip Esteban at the helm. He made such a name for himself, both in RB and at the many offsite events he participated in—that he was hired away by powerhouse bar-and-restaurant entity Consortium Holdings to serve as its culinary research-and-development mastermind. His departure left big clogs to fill at C&C, but current executive chef Scott Cannon has been on the job for three months and is turning out solid cuisine that might even be better suited for the tastes of RB denizens.
Dishes remain intelligent, but are a bit easier for the average diner to get their head around. They’re less fussy but just as flavorful. And in some cases, even more flavorful. A prime example is a seemingly simple salad of raw and grilled endive. It’s the only first-course greenery I’ve felt deserving of must-try status, but it’s perfection on a plate. Spiced pecans bring in a gingerbread-like flavor segueing beautifully with the sweetness of cider-like vanilla-poached pears complement and Moody Blue goat cheese contrasts. On the opposite end of the spectrum is a breakfast-for-dinner starter, seared foie gras over French toast with a fried quail egg and nasturtium. The toast is golden and not the least bit soggy while the edible flowers serve a purpose by lending a touch of balancing bitterness.
A Colorado lamb entrée features nicely cooked chops, but the star of the plate are tender agnolotti stuffed with tender braised shoulder-meat. It’s an edible education in what al dente pasta should feel like. Other dishes like a Hamachi crudo appetizer served with a shishito pepper relish as well as scallops with meaty king trumpet mushrooms (and, oddly, more shishito peppers) lack the wow-factor of the previously mentioned recipes in Cannon’s current canon, but they’re in keeping with fare offered at C&C from day one.
Back on the beer-front, Abnormal is set to release its first two canned beers at a release-party this Saturday, March 18 starting at 11 a.m. at C&C. Both of those aluminum-clad brews are hazy (AKA: New England-style or Vermont-style) India pale ales. The first is New Money IPA, a juicy, 7% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) offering massively dry-hopped with Amarillo and Simcoe, followed by its industrial-strength cousin, Turbidity, an 8.5% ABV double IPA brewed with Mosaic and Idaho 7, that pours thicker than the average hop-bomb. Both beers will be sold in four-packs and dishes from the restaurant’s bar-menu will be available.
From the Beer Writer: In addition to writing, I am fortunate enough to be a part of the local brewing industry. It’s a special scene where the majority of its members truly champion San Diego craft-beer as a whole over our individual companies. This is aided by several trade organizations, including the California Craft Brewers Association, which holds a number of events each year to keep the ties of camaraderie that bind Golden State brewers taut and well-fortified. My favorite event is the CCBA Summit, which took place last month in Sacramento. A combination industry-conference and beer-festival, it shows beer professionals and fans alike what makes our local ales and lagers so special. On the first day of the conference, I volunteered to pour beer at a bar set-up within the Summit grounds by the San Diego Brewers Guild. We were pouring a trio of beers, including one I’m very familiar with as a Rancho Bernardo resident, Boss Pour IPA from Abnormal Beer Company. A thirst- and taste-bud-quenching, 7% alcohol-by-volume India pale ale projecting myriad hop flavors and aromas ranging from fruity to piney to wine-y, it’s a go-to for me whenever I’m visiting the brewery in closest proximity to my house…given it’s on-tap at the time. That’s not always the case, unfortunately. But just as when I was pouring samples in Sacramento, I am happy to say Boss Pour is currently pouring, and pleased to let more people in on a favorite of mine from my immediate neck of the woods.
From the Brewer: “In Southern California we like our IPAs dry, light in color and packed with hop flavor and aroma. This beer will give the people what they want. Most of the bittering is produced at the end of the boil with a heavy dose of Simcoe hops. Then the entire batch is run through our hop-back, which is loaded with whole-leaf Cascade hops, an entire pound-per-barrel. But the hop additions do not stop there. After fermentation, we dry-hop with Nelson Sauvin and Citra at 2.2 pounds-per-barrel, giving the beer a heavy, dank aroma that you can smell a few feet away.”—Derek Gallanosa, Head Brewer, Abnormal Beer Company
There’s more to the San Diego County Fair than tilt-a-whirls, geode collections, hot-tub shows and deep-fried everything. It also plays host to one of the largest annual craft-beer festivals, here or anywhere on the West Coast, the San Diego International Beer Festival (SDIBF). This year’s event will feature hundreds of beers from multiple states and countries, all of which can be sampled in an all-you-can-drink (responsibly) format during five sessions taking place over three days from June 17 to 19. In addition to fun for the general public, there is also a brewing-competition component, the winners of which were recently announced. For the second straight year, AleSmith Brewing Company earned Champion Brewery bragging rights, with 23 gold medals (and 41 medals total) awarded to local breweries. It’s quite an event with a rich history and promising future. For more on both, we sat down with event organizer Tom Nickel (who also owns Nickel Beer Company, O’Brien’s Pub and West Coast Barbecue and Brews).
What was the impetus for the SDIBF?
The original idea came from Chad Stevens, who was a member of (local homebrew club) QUAFF. He’d been running the homebrew competition at the fair for a number of years and felt there should be a professional competition there as well. He brought me in because he felt he needed someone on the professional side to legitimize the idea it was a professional competition. The vision was for a competition for professional brewers by professional brewers. We had like 200 entries the first year and thought it was highly successful. We held it in the paddock area and it was a one-day afternoon festival. It was fun, and it’s grown from there.
Tell me about the tremendous growth of the field and competition over the years.
Twice before we’ve had exponential growth where we’ve reached another plateau. We slowly grew by a hundred or so each year, then four-or-five years ago, when the real boom of brewery openings occurred, we had a jump from 600 to 900 and we hovered at just under 1,000 for the last three years. This year, we jumped from 979 to 1,356 total entries, over 1,300 of which were beers—a 44% increase overall.
Who are some of the individuals who’ve been integral to the SDIBF’s success?
Chad was with us the first three years, then moved on. That’s when I brought (Bagby Beer Company founder) Jeff Bagby in to help me. He was there a number of years, and the last two years that slot’s been filled by (O’Brien’s Pub general manager) Tyson Blake. Throughout the whole time—from Chad to now—Chris Shadrick has run the homebrew competition and served as judging coordinator. He helps coordinate all the judges for the competition, as well. Tyson and I do the festival and entries, marketing and promotion of the competition and festival.
How are judges solicited for the competition?
We have two avenues. One is registering in the competition with the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program). The SDIBF is posted on their website so all BJCP judges can see and access the event. What really sets SDIBF apart from most events is most BJCP-certified homebrewers don’t have the opportunity to judge professional beers. That’s a real carrot as far as enticing the judges. Secondly, we solicit through the local professional brewing community; from people who enter through the San Diego Brewers Guild and also, for the first time ever this year, through the craft-beer programs at UCSD and SDSU.
What can attendees to this year’s SDIBF look forward to?
There’ll be an expanded VIP area with food pairings and more space on the festival floor as we continually grow our footprint. We’re expecting beers from 15 countries, and the selection of beer in terms of number of different places it’s sent from will be unparalleled compared to any festival west of Denver’s Great American Beer Festival. Ditto the number of different beers and the diversity of international beers that we’ll have. We’ll also have a special beer, Steampunk Ale, a California common brewed specifically for the SDIBF by Abnormal Beer Company, and rare beer tappings throughout the festival.
Where is the SDIBF going?
The competition component is only going to continue to grow and we’re expanding our paid staff to accommodate that. The Del Mar Fairgrounds are doing everything they can to keep SDIBF growing at whatever pace it naturally grows at. If it doubled in the next 10 years, I don’t feel like there will end up being a cap. With the festival itself, there are a lot of interesting ideas. It’s always been my belief that the SDIBF will become enough of an event that, eventually, it won’t be part of the fair, but will instead take place as its own event over a weekend. I feel like for some connoisseurs, they don’t want to deal with the fair crowds, tickets, etc., but I do see us easily doing an independent festival. But having a presence at the fair is always important, so maybe we’ll do two events. I feel like part of the benefit for brewers is not only getting to expose their products to die-hard beer-fans, but also make new converts in an all-you-can-taste setting.
February will provide plenty of time for winged, haloed mercenaries of Cupid to take aim on our pink, fleshy hearts, rendering us victims of love and captive to its all-enveloping power, but loving beer should be easy to do all month long thanks to the spotlight events provided below. Check them out, then keep checking back to the full list of happenings on our events page.
February 7 | Stone Calm Before the Storm: Stone Brewing Co.’s annual anti-Super Bowl event has been reimagined. Now it’s a vintage- and rare-beer festival in the gardens with six food-pairing stations and beers from 2003 to two-thousand-and-now, including StoneWall Ale, 2003 Stone Imperial Russian Stout, 2005 Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine and Stygian Descent. | Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, 1999 Citracado Parkway, Escondido, 10 a.m.
February 13 | San Diego On Tap Festival: More than 100 beers will be, aptly enough, “on tap” at this food- and music-enhanced event in the heart of Mission Valley at the Town and Country Resort. That venue has hosted numerous Craft Brewers Conferences, so they know how to do right by beer and the people who love it. | Town & Country Resort, 500 Hotel Circle North, Mission Valley, 12 p.m.
February 13 | Brewbies Festival: Brewers revel in lending their skills and wares to helping out worthy causes, and few are as worthy as the fight against breast cancer. Proceeds from this beer festival—which, with dozens of custom beers brewed especially for this event is way more than “just another brew-fest”—will further the good work of the Keep A Breast Foundation. | Bagby Beer Company, 601 South Coast Highway, Oceanside, 1 p.m.
February 15 | Stone Beer Pairing Dinner: Each month, The Cork and Craft closes while simultaneously opening its doors to members of the epicure intelligentsia eager to try gourmet, next-level food-and-beer pairings. February’s guest brewery will be Stone Brewing Co. and feature vintage ales plus an in-house collab beer with Liberty Station brewing manager Kris Ketcham. | The Cork & Craft, 16990 Via Tazon, Rancho Bernardo, 6 p.m.
February 19 & 20 | San Diego Winter Brew Fest: This beer festival will celebrate winter, albeit later than one might expect, closing out the cold season (which was actually cold this year) exactly one month before it expires care of ales and lagers from more than 40 breweries in the unfamiliar but rather cool confines of the San Diego Hall of Champions. | San Diego Hall of Champions, 2131 Pan American Plaza, Balboa Park, Times Vary
The New Year is upon us. Sure, most of us drank too much, ate too much, spent too much, etc., etc. Yes, January probably should be about the pinching of pennies and scrutinizing of calories, but schedule in some fun, too, with these premier beer-centric events. And don’t forget to check out and check back with the full list of happenings on our events page.
January 2 | Brewery Opening: Bitter Brothers Brewing Company is getting a jump on the New Year, opening the doors to its tasting room little more than a day into 2016. Stop in to see what happens when a veteran chef establishes a brewery with beer-and-food pairability at the forefront along with a penchant for widely varying, but universally hoppy India pale ales. | Bitter Brothers Brewing Company, 4170 Morena Boulevard, Bay Ho, 11 a.m.
January 18 | Beer Dinner: The Cork and Craft has gained a stellar reputation for culinarily inspired beer-pairing dinners. It’s a team effort involving C&C’s kitchen crew, brewer Derek Gallanosa (of in-house op Abnormal Beer Co.) and inspired guests. This time around, top-notch chefs from Juniper and Ivy and top-shelf beers from The Bruery will combine for a truly special feast. | The Cork and Craft, 16990 Via Tazon, Rancho Bernardo, 6 p.m.
January 19 | Chicks for Beer: Ring the bell. School’s in! Fresh off the heels of releasing a tome all about experiencing beer and food in unison, the authorial duo of Gwen Conley (of Port Brewing Co./The Lost Abbey/The Hope Concept fame) and Julia Herz (from the Brewers Association) will lead a women-only class on this righteous subject matter from The High Dive’s patio. | The High Dive, 1801 Morena Boulevard, Bay Park, 6:30 p.m.
January 30 | Changing of the Barrels: Karl Strauss Brewing Company puts as much into its anniversary as it takes out—literally. Join San Diego’s oldest brewery as it celebrates 27 years in the beer biz by serving up bourbon barrel-aged double chocolate imperial stout and a 28th anny brew before siphoning that special concoction into oak vessels for next year’s soiree. | Karl Strauss Brewing Company, 5985 Santa Fe Street, Pacific Beach, 5 p.m.
January 31 | San Diego Fermentation Festival: The do-it-yourself spirit will be celebrated in tandem with goods born of creativity and elbow-grease at the second annual iteration of this event featuring beer, wine, mead, kombucha and more. Seminars on homebrewing and other domestic, yeast-based undertakings will take place throughout the day. | Coastal Roots Farm, 450 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas, 10 a.m.