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
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
Though she spent a relatively short period helming fermentation operations at Pizza Port’s original Solana Beach location, Devon Randall brewed up a good name and following. Many were disappointed in 2015, when she left that position and San Diego County to assume the head-brewer role at a start-up brewpub in Los Angeles. Named for the downtown La La Land neighborhood it inhabits, Arts District Brewing Company is where Randall currently hangs her hat, as well as the Great American Beer Festival silver-medal she won in the Smoke Beer category this summer. That hardware went to Cowboy Curtis, a smooth-drinking smoked porter that’s one of a great many beers Randall has concocted since Arts District went live a year ago. It’s a good beer and indicative of what one can expect when visiting Arts District—balanced, extremely drinkabile brews with nice but not overblown upstrokes of flavor. It’s fair to say that the beers she brewed at Pizza Port were bolder, but subtlety is most prominently on display at Arts District; something that’s arguably more difficult to achieve and essential at her new stomping grounds.
In Solana Beach, Randall worked at a craft-beer Mecca known across the country as the first link in a chain displaying legendary brewing prowess. There was no one to convert. Everybody who showed up were hallelujah-shouting members of the hop-head choir. Though there is a burgeoning and swiftly growing craft-beer scene in Los Angeles, Randall is right to dial things back to a small degree. Doing so should help win a larger percentage of patrons over during Arts District’s infancy. Most Angelenos don’t arrive at Arts District aware of Randall’s solid reputation, so they’re getting to know her through her beer-list, which is highly varied, offering ales ranging from session to the low-end of high-octane.
When visiting last month, 17 house-beers were on-tap. Seventeen! Holy Bagby Beer, Batman! On the lighter, more introductory end were an English summer ale, golden ale, Belgian singel, wheat amber ale, oatmeal stout, and an Irish-style dry stout and red (on nitro). Each of them are extremely to-style and only two come in above 5% alcohol-by-volume. The smoothest of the bunch is the aptly named Velveteen Rabbit oatmeal stout, while the best of the thirst-quenchers in this group is the singel, which goes by the name Francois. A Bavarian pilsner (a new addition to the line-up) is a light yet potent archetype of this en vogue style that also hits the spot.
Experience across various styles is one of the key attributes a good brewer picks up working within the Pizza Port structure. So, too, is the ability to brew a mean IPA! Randall’s were some of the best in San Diego and often incorporated one of her favorite ingredients: rye. Arts District had five India pale ales on tap when I was there. My favorite was Redbird, a red rye IPA (a version of which was available in Solana Beach under the name “Ghost Fire Spider”) with a citrusy hop-bill supported by a malt-bill rife with peppery rye-spice. Even with all that complexity, it goes down (maybe a little too) easy. A wheat-infused IPA called Expo Line is similarly drinkable, but flagship IPA Traction is where it’s at for those seeking a little more body to go with an onslaught of orange and stone fruit-like flavors.
All of Randall’s beers are served (along with a succinct but admirable list of guest-beers) at a long rectangular bar erected around stainless steel tanks. Seating is provided indoors and outdoors, plus there are myriad games—Skee-ball, ping-pong, darts—and a pair of food options. A small eatery called Fritzi is attached to Arts District, but because there is no passage from one venue to the other and only a handful of house-beers are available there, I’d recommend ordering from the limited food-menu offered at a walk-up window inside the main space. Or just skip the food, but make sure to sample through a decent number of Randall’s ales. They’re definitely worth the trip.
Though unorchestrated, the timing of this post works out well in that Randall and her beers made guest appearances at Toronado in North Park during last night’s Drinkabout festivities, meaning there’s a good chance the latter can be sampled by locals who, like me, miss this talented brewer and liken losing her to the City of Angels, to seeing former Padres player and coach/current National League Manager of the Year Dave Roberts sporting Dodger blue. Of course, SD-homerism isn’t required to enjoy Randall’s brews. All you really need is a simple appreciation for good beer.
Yesterday, I laid out what I believe are the best new breweries to have opened in 2016. Today, in part two of my three-part retrospective series on breweries in San Diego County, I’m listing the half-dozen operations I think most significantly upped their games over the past 12 months. It’s important to note up-front that being on this list in no way implies that these brewing companies were doing a bad job or making subpar beer until this year. It just means that, even if they were already good, they are doing even better now.
Karl Strauss Brewing Co., Pacific Beach: Uncle Karl’s crew has been churning out quality beer for decades, but in recent years they have put the pieces in place to reach all-time highs. Hoppy offerings like Mosaic Session IPA and Aurora Hoppyalis IPA are legitimately among the best of San Diego’s hoppy stock, and the brewery-restaurant chain’s portfolio is so stout with good beer, Karl Strauss was named Best Mid-Size Brewery at this year’s Great American Beer Festival.
Council Brewing Co., Kearny Mesa: I named this husband-and-wife aspiration one of the best new breweries to open in 2014. Back then, the business’ line-up was pretty solid, but nowadays the hoppy beers are dialed in, and its eclectic barrel-aged, bottled offerings are interesting and reliably delicious. They strive to do lots of things and are finding ways to successfully juggle all of it while providing an inviting atmosphere.
Toolbox Brewing Co., Vista: Many thought this business was done for after it parted with its original head brewer, but since picking up a hippy fermentationist with a scientific bent, this operation is not only making its 100% wild operation work, but rocking things out with intriguing, outstanding beers that are more cohesive than what came before. It’s an unlikely, but very welcomed outcome.
32 North Brewing Co., Miramar: In three years, this operation has had just as many head brewers. After having brought on the majority of Fall Brewing Co.’s brewing and sales personnel this year, the beer-quality is at an all-time high. That’s good timing, as 2017 finds 32 North making a big push to become better known and more successful via increased distribution of cans and kegs.
Groundswell Brewing Co., Grantville: A small system and lack of experience kept this business from realizing its potential, but after landing now-closed URBN St. Brewing Co.’s former head brewer, the beer has improved to the point where Groundswell’s ownership felt confident purchasing the large Santee brewery and distillery abandoned by defunct Twisted Manzanita Ales & Spirits.