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.
You may not have heard of Kyle Harrop, but plenty of brewers in San Diego and beyond are familiar with him. A fervent bottle-sharer and festival-goer for more than a decade, he’s made lots of industry-friends—many of whom he met before they entered the brewing game—and is preparing to make his own jump into the pro-ranks with his work-in-progress operation, Horus Aged Ales (4040 Calle Platino, Suite 120, Oceanside). Everything from brewing to barrels to blending, packaging and even the logo will be 100% him. That’s not an unfamiliar scenario in nano-rich San Diego County, but what is unique is that all of Horus’ beers will be barrel-aged.
Harrop says he has solid recipes for IPAs, but his sours and fruited beers have garnered the greatest compliments by the aforementioned industry insiders. From a consumption perspective, he finds the wares of inspirational entities Brasserie Cantillon, Funk Factory, Hill Farmstead and Side Project both delicious and fascinating. Thus, wild, Bretty and buggy brews, mixed-fermentation and spontaneously fermented brews will make up Horus’ portfolio. Those beers will be available at a tasting room in Oceanside’s Rancho Del Oro neighborhood outfitted in a “bird of prey meets Southwestern” motif featuring rustic custom tables, hawk paintings and photographs, and Mexican blankets hand-cut by Harrop’s wife. The entire facility comes in at 3,200 square feet, and provides room for next-phase additions that include puncheons and fouders.
Though his is a one-man operation, collaborations are a big part of the company-culture. Harrop recently completed brew-sessions at New Orleans’ Courtyard Brewery, Pomona’s Homage Brewing, and Rancho Bernardo’s Abnormal Beer Company. The latter yielded a Belgian-style quadrupel conceived by Harrop and head brewer Derek Gallanosa, both of whom are self-proclaimed beer-geeks who are doing well in their professional transitions, thanks in great part to relationships forged in their days as recreational connoisseurs. Harrop recalls many tasting sessions, including a standout evening in a Carlsbad Motel 6 where he, Julian Shrago and Bill Sysak tasted their way through some rare offerings. Shrago has gone on to become one of the most award-winning brewers in the country at Los Angeles’ Beachwood BBQ & Brewing, while Sysak is known the world over for his beer-knowledge and is in the process of building his own interest, Wild Barrel Brewing Company, in a site down the street from San Marcos’ The Lost Abbey. Harrop has stayed in touch with many such ambitious ale appreciators, and has future collaborations lined up with El Segundo Brewing (located in his original home-town), Monterey’s Alvarado Street Brewery, Phoenix’s Wren House Brewing, Miami’s J. Wakefield Brewing, Richmond’s The Answer Brewpub, and Great Notion Brewing in Portland, Oregon. And here at home, he’ll brew an old ale with Rip Current Brewing in San Marcos and multiple beers with a future Vista concern called White Fence Brewing.
When asked where and when beer-fans will be able to taste these collaborations, Harrop says to keep an eye out for upcoming information about an event “like nothing else the craft-beer world has seen before” at which each of the beers crafted by him and his network of allies will be available. As far as Horus’ barrel-aged stock, those will be released in 750-milliliter bottles, numbering anywhere from 150 to 650 total per-batch. Those will go on-sale online and occasionally be distributed to popular bottle-shops. Horus’ first bottled beer, a sour ale, is scheduled to debut at Bine & Vine in Normal Heights.
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.