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San Diego winners from 2017’s Great American Beer Festival

Oct 7

The team from Karl Strauss Brewing Company accepts a gold medal in the Honey Beer category at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival

Winners from the 2017 edition of the Great American Beer Festival were announced earlier this morning. Held annually by brewing-industry trade organization, the Brewers Association, in Denver, Colorado, this year’s GABF saw nearly 8,000 beers entered by more than 2,000 breweries in 98 style categories. 293 were awarded gold, silver and bronze medals after being evaluated by 276 judges. GABF is the country’s largest and most prestigious professional brewing competition. San Diego County breweries have historically fared incredibly well. This year saw another strong showing with the region’s brewers racking up double-digit awards.

Eleven local brewing companies brought home 14 medals this time around, including five golds in the Robust Porter (Second Chance Beer Co.) Honey Beer (Karl Strauss Brewing Company‘s Carlsbad brewpub), Imperial India Pale Ale (Ballast Point Brewing) Other Specialty Belgian Ale (Stone Brewing World Brewing & Gardens – Liberty Station) and Session Beer (Pizza Port‘s Ocean Beach brewpub) categories. That went along with six silver medals and three bronzes.

The Bagby Beer Company crew accepts its silver medal in the Baltic-style Porter category

Notable is the fact only one individual brewing facility in the county won more than one medal, Carmel Mountain Ranch’s Second Chance with a gold and a silver. Newly launched SouthNorte Brewing Company garnered a bronze medal in the Specialty Beer category for a beer called AgaveMente that hasn’t even been released to the public yet. And Monkey Paw Brewing, which Coronado acquired earlier this year, earned a silver medal in the English-style Summer Ale category. Also, Vista-based Mother Earth Brew Co. medaled in the Fresh or Wet Hop Ale category for Fresh As It Gets, a beer brewed at its Nampa, Idaho production facility.

Adding to the unofficial medal count was Belching Beaver Brewery, which for the second time in its history won top honors at the Alpha King Competition. Held in conjunction with GABF each year, this friendly competition crowns the brewing company that submits the hoppiest offering amid a stacked field of IPAs. Belching Beaver previously won Alpha King in 2014. On top of that, Chula Vista Brewery owners Timothy and Dalia Parker received the Samuel Adams Brewing and Business Experienceship, following in the footsteps of Ramona-based ChuckAlek Independent Brewers, who earned the same opportunity in 2014.

The following is a complete list of the winners from brewing facilities located within San Diego County…

Gold Medals

  • Honey Beer: Orange Blossom Common, Karl Strauss Brewing Company, Carlsbad
  • Imperial India Pale Ale: Manta Ray, Ballast Point Brewing, Miramar
  • Other Belgian-style Ale: Witty Moron, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens—Liberty Station, Point Loma
  • Robust Porter: Tabula Rasa Toasted Porter, Second Chance Beer Co., Carmel Mountain Ranch
  • Session Beer: Guillaume, Pizza Port, Ocean Beach

Silver Medals

  • American-style Amber or Red Ale: Legally Red, Second Chance Beer Co., Carmel Mountain Ranch
  • Baltic-style Porter: Herd of Turtles, Bagby Beer Company, Oceanside
  • English-style Summer Ale: Back in the ESSA, Monkey Paw Brewing, East Village
  • Export Stout: Z-Man Stout, Pizza Port, Carlsbad
  • Fruited American-style Sour Ale: Sour Wench Blackberry Ale, Ballast Point Brewing—Home Brew Mart, Linda Vista (no gold awarded)
  • German-style Wheat Ale: Hidden Gem, OB Brewery, Ocean Beach

Bronze Medals

  • Golden or Blonde Ale: Blonde, Culture Brewing Company, Solana Beach
  • Scotch Ale: Wee Heavy, AleSmith Brewing Company, Miramar
  • Specialty Beer: AgaveMente, SouthNorte Brewing Company, Bay Park

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Beer of the Week: Karl Strauss Queen of Tarts

Sep 30

Queen of Tarts from Karl Strauss Brewing Company

From the Beer Writer: Last year, San Diego’s longest tenured Post-Prohibition-Era brewing operation, Karl Strauss Brewing Company, earned big-time bragging rights, being named the Mid-Sized Brewing Company of the Year at the most prestigious brewing competition in the country, the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). Held annually in Denver, Colorado, the competition garners thousands of entries from breweries in all 50 states (so many that, this year, each brewing location is limited to a maximum of four competition beers). Those ales and lagers are evaluated by high-caliber industry professionals and certified judges to ensure reliable results, lending deserved credibility that ups the value of GABF medals. Karl Strauss’s champion designation came as a result of winning four medals in 2016, including a gold in one of the most hotly-contested style categories—American-Style Sour Ale. That went to Karl Strauss Queen of Tarts, a stallion in Uncle Karl’s sour stable that has been refined over the years and comes on strong with assertive tartness given luxurious body and layering care of heavy oaken toastiness. Next weekend, Karl Strauss will attempt to repeat at this year’s edition of GABF (check our site next Saturday for a list of local award winners) and this beer will surely be among its entries, but it doesn’t need precious metal to register as a winner on the palate. Head to the company’s tasting room or any of its five local restaurants for a taste of certified gold.

From the Brewer: “Queen of Tarts is our dark sour ale with lightly roasted malts, dark fruit flavors and a nice, tart finish. We age it in American oak barrels with Michigan tart cherries for six months. It’s always been a favorite around the brewery, and we were stoked that the GABF judges loved it as much as we do. We feel very fortunate to have had such a great showing at GABF last year and to be recognized for beers across a wide variety of styles, especially to take home the gold in such a highly-competitive category as [American-Style Sour Ale]. It really shows the versatility of our team of brewers.”—Paul Segura, Brewmaster, Karl Strauss Brewing Company

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Beer of the Week: Chula Vista Third Avenue Coffee Porter

Aug 25

Third Avenue Coffee Porter from Chula Vista Brewery

From the Beer Writer: Growing up in Chula Vista, I spent a great deal of time on Third Avenue. It’s where I bought my first guitar, saw many a discount movie at The Vogue theater and ate countless slices of post-Little-League pizza interspersed with riveting tabletop Ms. Pac-Man matches. Since moving away in my elementary school days, I hadn’t forged any new memories until recently when I showed up to Chula Vista Brewery on a Friday evening. The place was bustling with TGIF spirit, packed to the gills. It was great to see for a expat who has long wanted to see local beer trickle its way into his hometown in a big way. The first brewery to open in downtown Chula Vista offers a wide range of beers and one of the best shares the name of the street the business calls home. Chula Vista Third Avenue Coffee Porter is smooth and big on roasted-malt character with a recognizable but not overbearing java character.  At 6% alcohol-by-volume, it’s a good way to end a session in nightcap fashion. It’s delicious but perhaps the most alluring aspect of this beer is the story behind it. For that, I defer to the man who brought it to life.

From the Brewer: “I love English ales, especially browns and porters. While getting to know the people of Chula Vista and their preferences for craft beer, a surprisingly large amount of people said they like dark beers. I was stoked because I could brew some of my favorite recipes and know they would be appreciated. The story behind this recipe is that I had brewed a somewhat similar recipe, Moonlight Porter, with Marty Mendiola at Rock Bottom‘s La Jolla brewpub in 2010. It won silver in the Robust Porter category at the Great American Beer Festival that year. For this version, I decided to add coffee from my favorite San Diego roaster, Caffe Calabria. In the past, I had only added coffee to a firkin for specialty casks so this was a first for me. I’m happy how it turned out and would like to try it with whole Madagascar vanilla beans, but I need to wait for the price of the beans to come down a bit. Also, back in 2010 I had actually wanted to name the Moonlight Porter the BP Porter because it was brewed during the BP oil spill (deepwater horizon oil spill) in the Gulf of Mexico. The beer looked just like the oil spilling from the bottom of the Gulf. The oil-spill image has always stuck with me…similar to an over-carbonated cask spewing from the spile.”—Russell Clements, Head Brewer, Chula Vista Brewery

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Beer of the Week: Alpine HFS

Jun 16

Alpine HFS India Pale Ale

From the Beer Writer: Acronyms are used across the alcoholic-beverage industry, typically to describe particularly fine product. Cognac uses VSOP (very special/superior old pale) and XO (extra old), and I’ve always been a fan of Napa-based Chateau Potelle’s using VGS (very good shit) to describe its finest vintages. Alpine Beer Company issued an acronymous handle to its Mosaic-, Simcoe- and Citra-infused India pale ale…Alpine HFS. It’s not so much a descriptor as a reactionary phrase broken down into a publicly suitable format; the sort of happily expletive-laced comment one’s liable to make after tasting this rich, bold IPA. It debuted to great fanfare last year as a draft-only offering before taking a bronze medal in the American-style Strong Pale Ale category at the Great American Beer Festival. The next chapter in this brew’s short but illustrious lifespan is its first release in bottles. That will take place starting at noon, today at Alpine’s tasting room in its namesake East County town. They don’t figure to stay in stock for long. Show up tomorrow to pick some up and you may find yourself shouting Holy F***ing S*** for all the wrong reasons.

From the Brewer: “The beer that named itself. We always strive to offer the best beer we can possibly make, and with this beer we felt it was perfect right out of the gate. No adjustments were necessary. We got exactly what we wanted out of the beer: huge hop aroma, light body and immense drinkability. We hope this beer stays in heavy rotation.”—Shawn McIlhenney, Head Brewer, Alpine Beer Company

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Beer Travel: Collaboration Celebration

Mar 7

2016’s Collaboration Fest was held inside Denver’s Mile High Stadium

Beer festivals take place nearly every weekend in San Diego County. We are, arguably, the craft-beer capital of the country, after all. But even with such a local plethora of opportunities to celebrate and consume copious amounts of craft-beer, there are out-of-town events of such high caliber that they merit travel expenses. Popular examples include the country’s largest event, the Great American Beer Festival, and most Californians’ be-all-end-all, the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival. But there’s a relatively new arrival to the must-visit ranks where every ale and lager is special, Collaboration Fest.

Held in Denver, Colorado each March during Colorado Craft Beer Week (CCBW), Collaboration Fest is an initiative conceived by the Colorado Brewers Guild and Two Parts in 2014 to bring together breweries to a degree that goes beyond standard beer-festival camaraderie. Each year, the Guild’s member-breweries reach out to brewing companies to brew special collaboration beers specifically for this festival; one-time-only creations that are here then gone, making for the type of unique experience adventurous, whale-hunting beer connoisseurs live (and die) for.

This year’s Collaboration Fest, which will take place at the National Western Stock Show Complex on March 25, will feature 100-plus breweries serving more than 75 collaboration beers. Last year’s event was stocked with a similar assemblage of players and project-beers, the majority of which went outside the box of standard-styles. Many were ultra-hoppy, funky, style-bending or infused with exotic ingredients, creating a beer-list unlike that of any other festival.

Carrie Knose of Living the Dream Brewing and Paul Sangster from Rip Current Brewing enjoying their collaborative creation

Several of 2016’s collaborative efforts involved San Diego brewing interests. Rip Current Brewing brewmaster Paul Sangster paired up with Littleton’s Living the Dream Brewing to brew a San Diego-style IPA. Stone Brewing small-batch brewer Laura Ulrich cooked up an imperial stout with old friends and coworkers from Fort Collins’ Odell Brewing, where she worked from 2002 to 2004 before joining the gargoyle clan. Both San Diegans were on-hand at the event to interact with festival goers and check out the other beers on the floor.

Other San Diego collaborators included Bagby Beer Company, Ballast Point Brewing, Green Flash Brewing and Pizza Port, who worked-up a pair of beers with Cannonball Creek Brewing and Twisted Pine Brewing. (A full rundown of the individual beers from San Diego collaborators can be found below.)

Some of the standout sours included a tart dark ale with Brettanomyces from Crooked Stave and Evil Twin Brewing, a black saison called “Ramblin’ Man” from Liquid Mechanics and Odd 13 Brewing, “Deux Funk” from Funkwerks and Wicked Weed Brewing, and a vanillin-kissed, barrel-aged sour from Denver Beer and Spangalang Brewing called “Cross Eyed Funktion”. An oak-aged Gose from TRVE Brewing and Prairie Artisan Ales exhibited brilliant depth and fruitiness from Colorado peaches. Rare styles like Kvassier (Call to Arms, Denizens and Conshocken Brewing), Kottbusser (300 Suns Brewing, Gemini Beer) and a rye- and wheat-beer hybrid (a roggenweiss) from Prost! And Dogfish Head provided even more depth and variety.

Brent Cordle of Odell Brewing and Stone Brewing small batch brewer Laura Ulrich reunited at Collaboration Fest

Even takes on IPAs went outside the box. Epic and Ska Brewing teamed up for a  barrel-aged American IPA dubbed “Skeptic Ale”, while Crazy Mountain Brewing and Stillwater Artisan Ales’ “Neoteric” sour wild IPA was one of the fest’s most impressive offerings. There was also a reunion stout called “Breeze’s Mom” brewed by the founders of Call to Arms Brewing with their longtime former colleagues at Avery Brewing. Then there were all-in collabs like an outstanding barrel-fermented sour brewed by Our Mutual Friend, Scratch Brewing and Hopworks Urban Brewery; and a dubbel forged by the collective powers of The Bakers’ Brewery, Breckenridge Brewery, Pug Ryan’s Brewery, Angry James, Broken Compass, Backcountry and Dillon Dam Brewing.

Some may find it difficult to justify traveling halfway across the country for three-to-four hours of beer-tasting, no matter how outstanding, but more awaits visitors to Collaboration Fest. Denver is home to 65 breweries, brewpubs and beer-centric bars and restaurants, many of which—roughly 25 breweries and 20 or so hot-spots, including Falling Rock Tap House, Euclid Hall, Star Bar, First Draft, Tap 14 and Avanti—occupy the downtown core. Thanks to free public-transit along the 16th Street Mall, a wide array of them can be accessed easily and expeditiously. And because the event is held during Colorado Craft Beer Week, many of those venues have special events and promotions taking place, adding value and enhanced experiences to one’s travel itinerary. (Between 40 and 50 CCBW events were planned within Denver at press-time).

San Diegans are fortunate to live in a suds-saturated locale, but remarkable events like Collaboration Fest remind us that there’s a whole world out there, and that it’s one worth exploring.

San Diego Collaboration Fest Beers

  • Cannonball Creek / Pizza Port No Man’s Land IPA: Two prolific GABF and World Beer Cup medal-winners teamed up with a drinkable show of hop prowess.
  • Epic / Green Flash Epic Flash Saison: With its funky bouquet, gooseberry tartness and Sauvignon Blanc like minerality, it was one of the best of this fest.
  • Liquid Mechanics / Bagby Incognito Black IPA: Dry and roasty with an evergreen hop-backbone, it made a case for keeping this dying style in play.
  • Living the Dream / Rip Current What’s with All the Crystal Malt? IPA: An authentic, crisp and dry yet abundantly aromatic and fruity San Diego-style IPA that tasted like home.
  • Odell / Stone Reunification Imperial Stout: Smoky, creamy and chocolaty with a little cherry cordial mixed in, it was a tasty departure from Ulrich’s Stone SOP.
  • Spangalang / Ballast Point Lydian IPL: One of the rare, extremely straightforward beers at the event, it exhibited hallmark lager flavor sans imperial booziness.
  • Twisted Pine / Pizza Port Dry-Hopped Courage Kölsch: This beer’s name was ironic given its lack of ambition, but a little dry-hopping never hurts.

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