With a name like Bitter Brothers Brewing Company (4170 Morena Boulevard, Bay Ho), one might think it a bit of a standoffish operation and think twice about attending its “family dinner” events. But taking part in one of these affairs is actually rather sweet. Company co-founder Bill Warnke was a professional chef for many years before getting into the beer-biz. Not only does all that experience mean he has chops in the kitchen. It also means he has a vast number of friends in kitchens all over San Diego County. It’s these very taste buds that help make Bitter Brothers’ Family Dinner series so special. Read more »
It took more than three years to open, standing as a three-story enigma on the western end of Newport Avenue. But OB Brewery (5041 Newport Avenue, Ocean Beach) finally debuted with the bang of fireworks last Independence Day weekend. When conceived, there was only one other brewery in town, the southernmost porthole of local brewpub chain Pizza Port. Now, this sister-business of craft-beer early-adopter Newport Pizza and Ale House is one of seven brewery-owned venues within a half-mile of each other…and that doesn’t even count the recently opened Voltaire Beach House and its on-site tasting room for Santa Clara-based Golden State Brewery, or beer-centric businesses like Bar 1502, Wonderland, Raglan Public House or The Joint. Competition for imbiber interest is fiercer than ever, and it would seem the neighborhood’s namesake brewery is ill-equipped to put up much of a fight.
The major appeal of OB Brewery is its triple-decker architecture. The venue provides three unique environments in which to relax with a cold one, be it house-beers or ales and lagers from guest taps. As one would expect, the most popular of those options is an open-air, tiered deck on the top-floor providing fantastic views of the ocean and the eclectic mix of comers-and-goers on Newport…at least during the sunny season. Of late it’s been far too cold for this choice value-added to factor in, requiring beer-quality to carry the day. After a recent visit, I feel comfortable venturing the theory that OB Brewery’s scarce patronage is directly attributable to its lackluster wares.
The house India pale ale (IPA), Hop On Board, was low on carbonation and had competing notes of pine, kumquat (odd, but not off-putting)…and butter. The latter is an off-flavor associated with the presence of diacetyl. An oatmeal stout started off nice and coffee-like but quickly devolved into an ashy finish that was like kissing a chain-smoker. A red IPA had no nose to speak of, but did exhibit some tea-like hop notes on the palate. If anything, it came across as an amplified version of an English-style extra special bitter (ESB). The beer with the most redeeming qualities was Roll Wit’ It, a Belgian-style witbier that had plenty of trademark citrus character plus a touch of earthy notes from the addition of coriander. It will do well with the Blue Moon and Shock Top crowd—something an OB watering hole must consider—but a legitimate San Diego beer experience requires mastery of more than a lone wheat ale.
Were this superiorly cool venue to touch-down in a community under-served from a craft-beer perspective, it would fare much better. The same would be true if this business could have taken less than an entire high-school career to open. But smack-dab in the heart of current-day OB, a neighborhood that is, frankly, over-saturated with local beer options at present, the odds of this place competing (even against its parent business), much less emerging victorious, are rail-thin.
From the Beer Writer: For something that sounds so fun, pumpkin beers are awfully polarizing. Without a doubt a novelty in the brewing world, they are loved, tolerated and, by some beer-purists, downright hated. I fall in the middle. I don’t crave them, but on the right day, under the right circumstances (like while sitting in my driveway being accosted by a never-ending cavalcade of Fun-size costumed panhandlers on All Hallow’s Eve, for instance), a good pumpkin beer can be rather enjoyable…perfect, even. This Halloween, I’ll reach for an autumn mainstay—Alpine Ichabod. A fall-time treat brewed by Alpine Beer Company this time each year, the name stays the same, but the style fluctuates, making for a fun, unpredictable flavor adventure. I’ve enjoyed numerous versions of this beer over the years, but the 2016 iteration may be the best yet. Pumpkin, cinnamon and nutmeg find their way into an English-style extra special bitter. Despite the name of that style, ESBs aren’t hop-bombs. If anything, they are one of the most even and balanced beer-styles on the planet, making for the perfect canvas for the aforementioned ingredients. The front-end of this 5.8% alcohol-by-volume brew is all biscuit, caramel and, of course, pumpkin, transporting one’s taste-buds to the final course of Thanksgiving dinner. The combination of hops and nutmeg make for a bitter, burnt caramel finish that’s just right. If you consider pumpkin beers to be treat versus trick, this one’s for you. Twenty-two-ounce bottles of Ichabod will debut at Alpine’s tasting-room in its namesake town tomorrow, Saturday, October 29, as part of an epic Halloween-themed event put on by the brewery and its parent-interest, Green Flash Brewing Company. In addition to the action at Alpine, Green Flash’s Mira Mesa brewery will host a “haunted” version of its brewery tours while its Cellar 3 tasting-room in Poway will have Halloween-themed activities.
From the Brewer: “Ichabod is our fall-time seasonal offering, which changes in style almost yearly. While the style changes, the focus on pumpkin, cinnamon and nutmeg stays the same. This year we brewed an ESB (extra special bitter). Traditional ESBs have a good balance between malt sweetness and hop bitterness. While the hop presence is moderate, the malty sweetness creates a good platform for the pumpkin, cinnamon and nutmeg to be the main performers. It’s like liquid pumpkin pie.”—Sean McIlhenney, Head Brewer, Alpine Beer Company
From the Beer Writer: Few centers of beer enjoyment feel as homey as the East Village’s Half Door Brewing Co. Fashioned to feel like a domicile rather than a reclaimed industrial chic testament to the versatility of stainless steel and barrel wood, it’s a haven where downtown urbanites can sit a spell and taste through some brews and hearty grub. Being that relaxed in atmosphere, it might sound like a place you could find some loose brewing practices, but there me be no local brewer more overtly meticulous and enrapt by the scientific details of beer and its ingredients than Half Door brewmaster Daniel Drayne. A graduate of the Siebel Institute who cut his teeth at Coronado Brewing Co. and against his own rigid task-mastering as an avid homebrewer, he is a true student of the craft who brings nth-degree industry speak to every conversation we’ve ever shared. It’s fascinating to have his words guide one down the beer-making rabbit hole where there’s no chance of not learning something before reemerging. It was particularly enjoyable being a part of his recipe conceptualization for this beer, which is the latest liquid fundraiser for the Beer to the Rescue charity campaign benefiting the Lupus Foundation of Southern California (that’s what constitutes the extra “extra” for this extra special bitter) and is currently on-tap at San Diego’s most down-home brewpub.
From the Brewer: “This is an imperial take on an ESB. We used Gambrinus ESB malt as the base, layering it with Crystal 60, Crystal 120, Biscuit and dextrose. We did not go too traditional on the water profile, keeping the sulfate/chloride ratio a little over two-to-one. Also, we used an English yeast strain from Wyeast called London Ale III, over-pitching a hair and keeping the fermentation around 65 degrees (Fahrenheit) for the first two days, then at 7 Plato, letting it rise to 70 degrees to finish off. We did this to keep the esters subtle so they wouldn’t overpower the malt and hops. We used a mix of Northern Brewer, Southern Cross and Citra for hopping to bring in subtle earth, spice and citrus notes. The beer has restrained bitterness and toasted biscuit notes complemented by minor dark-fruit sweetness and nice fruit esters that don’t distract from the balance of the beer.”—Daniel Drayne, Brewmaster, Half Door Brewing Co.
Many who’ve traveled down Miralani Drive en route to Miramar breweries AleSmith Brewing Co., 2kids Brewing Co. or Pacific Brewing Co. have likely spied a turquoise and orange sign proclaiming the 2015 arrival of Thunderhawk Alements. A sign has been up and prevalent across the street from the business suites housing 2kids and Pacific since last year, but little is known about the interest, including whether or not it will actually open this year.
According to co-founders Jonathan Barbarin and Bill Lindsay, Thunderhawk should take flight in December, rewarding the crowd-funding donors who saw fit to trade funding for the promise of local craft beer. It’s fitting it should occur during the yuletide season, given the company’s beginnings. Barbarin and Lindsay are life-long friends who started homebrewing together five years ago. Over that span, they would share their beers with family and friends at annual ugly holiday sweater parties. The 2014 edition of that soiree served as the launch of their Kickstarter campaign, which went on to raise nearly $20,000.
That money has been funneled into a former office space measuring 1,500 square feet, 700 of which will be dedicated to Thunderhawk’s tasting room. Upping the service area is a 1,000-square-foot outdoor patio. Barbarin and Lindsay hope to drive home the artisan feel of the business via a rustic aesthetic featuring reclaimed wood and copper, accented with hand-finished touches. To date, one of the hardest parts of bringing their vision to life was sourcing a one-barrel electric brewhouse from Blichmann Engineering, which they will use to double-batch brew into a quartet of four-barrel fermenters. The Year One production goal for this nanobrewery will be 200 barrels.
Lindsay will serve as the brewmaster, producing a core line-up of traditional styles augmented by more interesting specialties incorporating locally sourced ingredients such as honey, ginger, pomegranates and coffee. The last one made its way into a recent test batch for a bright, citrusy pale ale. The year-rounds figure to include a dunkelweizen, extra special bitter, milk stout and San Diego-style pale ale. All of the beer will be sold solely from Thunderhawk’s tasting room, with canning as the ultimate goal, packaging-wise. Another goal is to operate in an environmentally friendly manner. A key future initiative to accomplish that will be installation of a solar photovoltaic energy system and water monitoring devices to help minimize the business’ water-to-beer ratio.