From the Beer Writer: Collaboration beers provide the greatest opportunity for brewers to get out of their comfort zones and try their hands at more out-there concepts. For some that means incorporating adjuncts, local ingredients or experimental hops. Then there’s truly next-level ventures like the one recently embarked upon by ChuckAlek Independent Brewers, Council Brewing Company and White Labs, where the latter interest revived somehow-still-active yeast from a 25-year-old bottle of Russian imperial stout. With that biological feat accomplished, ChuckAlek and Council’s brewers went to work crafting a traditional high gravity stout recipe and fermenting it with that yeast strain. The result is Katerina, a 10.5% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) offering that was recently bottled and had its official coming out party at ChuckAlek’s Biergarten in North Park. Unlike most modern day imperial stouts, the beer is lower on the chocolate and coffee scale, instead exhibiting big notes of raisin, date and plum with some brown sugar sweetness and a touch of baking spice. Named for the Russian empress whose love of dark beers spurred the eventual popularity of this style, Katerina is a lovely blend of tradition and modern-day ingenuity.
From the Brewer: “Back in 2015, when I was pouring ChuckAlek beer at the pro-brewers night of the National Homebrewers Conference here in San Diego. Jeff Crane from Council and I discussed a tentative collaboration based on the idea of England’s old Brettanomyces-aged stock ales. The next day I ventured down to Baja with friend and beer historian Ron Pattinson to show him around the burgeoning beer and food scene. It didn’t take long before we were chatting about porter and Ron brought up the famed Courage Russian Stout; telling me how he’d bought up a couple of cases before the beer ceased production in the early ’90’s and he was sure the original Brettanomyces yeast strain was alive and well in the bottle, allowing the beer to hold up extremely well over a couple of decades time. Courage Russian Stout was of the lineage of over 200 years in production of the original Russian Stout brand, which famously became high demand from Catherine the Great of Russia and her Imperial Court. At that time, in the late 1700’s, the beer was produced by Barclay Perkins who held the brand through the 1950’s, at which point Courage bought the brand. Most traditional beer styles have changed radically over time due to factors such as war-time taxation and rationing or laws dictating acceptable beer ingredients. Russian Stout, however, remained rather unchanged in spec: about 10% ABV, loads of high-quality UK hops and long maturation in oak vats. With the help of White Labs, we isolated the yeast strain from a bottle of 1992 Courage Russian Stout from Ron’s private cellar. Genetic identification determined it was actually Saccharomyces (ale yeast) that had heartily survived over 25 years. We then worked with Council to conduct a pilot brew and construct a recipe based on Ron’s research on the Barclay Perkins brewing logs. The result is a big and truly stout beer with raisin and date on the nose, fruity yeast and caramelized sugar flavor up front, then lingering bitter chocolate and orange peel in the finish. The body is full, which rounds out the strong hop charge and roast on the finish. This beer will surely do well with some age and we intend to brew it again with Council to set it down in some barrels in the spirit of the historically oak-vatted porter. The ‘Perkins Ale’ yeast is available to commercial breweries via White Labs and we hope to see others experiment with it!”—Grant Fraley, Head Brewer, ChuckAlek Independent Brewers
Ray Astamendi and Kelsey McNair have a lot in common. Not only are they both brewers, but they’re both plying their trade in North Park and both jumped to the industry like Mario clearing a barrel on a downhill trajectory. It’s while working on pixilated interactive software and brewing on a recreational level that they first made each other’s acquaintance.
It happened at a local meeting of homebrew club, QUAFF (Quality Ale and Fermentation Fraternity) in 2006. They talked brewing, became fast friends, and remain big fans of each other to this day. Nowadays, Astamendi is busy churning out quality beers from a former 30th Street automotive repair facility at Fall Brewing Company, while McNair is building out his long-awaited North Park Beer Co. just a mile away on University Avenue.
Astamendi recently invited McNair into Fall’s brewhouse to craft a beer to celebrate his friend securing a location after many years of searching. The release of this commemorative quaff was timed for this week, which not coincidentally, is when the American Homebrewers Association’s annual National Homebrewers Conference will be held at Mission Valley’s Town and Country Resort. The beer debuted Monday and will also be served today at the NHC welcome reception and The Brewing Network’s 10th anniversary celebration on Broadway Pier.
A session India pale ale called Moscoe—a portmanteau based off the hop varieties, Mosaic and Simcoe—the beer comes in at a svelte 3.8% alcohol-by-volume. Astamendi called it “a pungent beast of a little beer,” while McNair calls it “very crushable” with “piney, oily dankness upfront, juicy-fruit throughout and some strawberry undertones in the background.” Balanced yet vibrant, it provides a nice opportunity for both North Parkers to show amateur brewers from across the country what they’re all about.
On an uncommonly sweltering Friday night in Balboa Park, the San Diego History Center (SDHC) hosted an uncommon event: Homebrew Happy Hour. This event was part of the History Happy Hour series held at the ongoing Bottled & Kegged: San Diego’s Craft Brew Culture exhibit.
Homebrew Happy Hour was a collaborative effort between SDHC’s Matthew Schiff and Nicole George and club organizer Stan Sisson, who gathered members from clubs including QuAFF, Mash Heads, Foam On The Brain, Society of Barley Engineers, and North County Homebrewers Association.
If you’re wondering why homebrewers were highlighted at an exhibit mostly featuring commercial breweries, it’s because San Diego’s brewing success derives straight from its homebrew roots. AleSmith’s owner Peter Zien, for example, is a former president of QuAFF.
Homebrewers provide local brewers with indispensable help in tasting rooms through honest feedback, troubleshooting when there are issues, and also giving plenty of support when something is brewed well. Homebrewers are able to push the envelope, not worried about big losses in materials and time, and they keep commercial brewers on their toes. Most of the pros in San Diego started at home and some pros run small homebrew pilot batches in order to hone their more creative and delightfully strange batches.
For these reasons, the late August event had completely sold out more than a week prior, and the excitement was palpable in the sultry air. Over 200 attendees filled the SDHC ready to sample a plethora of small batch artisan tipples from many of San Diego’s most talented homebrewers.
When attendees entered the large space, the perimeter of which was laced with homebrewers serving at jockey box stations, they seemed a bit timid and overwhelmed. Those feelings dissipated upon getting their first drink. I saw their eyes light right up as I handed them beer; the first drink was met with “This is really good! Did you brew this?”
As people slowly circumnavigated the museum rooms, they got more adventurous. Noses really got stuck deep into the tasting glasses, and the full sensory experience of a well-crafted brew was achieved with the help of posted signs at each station that described the beers’ stats: OG (original gravity), FG (final gravity), ABV (alcohol by volume), IBUs (international bitterness units), and SRM (standard reference method for beer color). This kept everyone engaged and would often help spark conversations with the brewers on hand.
“What’s a beer engine?”
“What’s a mead?”
“I’ve never heard of (insert beer style). What’s it like?”
There was plenty for everyone to explore as they walked around the museum with a beer in hand.
Harold Gulbransen demonstrated how mouthfeel can alter the way a beer is perceived by serving an American Pale Ale on cask, nitro, and CO2. Liz and Curtis Chism poured a refreshing Saison. Chris Banker presented his excellent Black Currant Cider. George Thornton offered a well-balanced Belgian Amber. Mary Anne Bixby’s passion flower buckwheat honey mead was mind-blowing. Kelsey McNair threw down with his Hop Fu, an IPA that brings home a new medal and ribbon every week it seems. Jenny and Eric DuRose had a toasty malt Steam Beer that showed the lineage of the style. There was so much on tap: ESB, Wet Hopped IPA, Coconut Brown, Kolsch Style, Calypso IPA, and Mocha Porter to name some.
As the night went on I was happy to see people sharing the contents of their glasses. They advised other attendees — both those they’d come with as well as new friends they made on the night — on what to try before the event was over.
What made the party even more fun was that it was my birthday, and hey, what better way to spend it than sharing beer with friends and geeking out with my extended brewing family. I got the opportunity to serve my Sir Maxwell English Mild on a beer engine. I did an impromptu pairing with some figs from my tree at home, topped with slivers of Noord Hollander cheese. I also poured my Vanishing Cookie Oatmeal Stout infused with Madagascar Vanilla Bean and a custom blend of Sumatra Volkopi Blue & El Salvador El Naranjo Coffee. I broke out some vanilla ice cream and served these as floats towards the tail end of the event.
Everyone who attended really enjoyed themselves and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic. Here are some quotes I heard and overheard:
“This beer tastes like my favorite IPA, but three times better.”
“I’ve never heard of an English Mild. Can I try it?”
“I usually hate ciders, but I’m lovin’ this one.”
“This pairing is delicious.”
“Somebody told me that this was the beer to try.”
“I’ve never had a mead before tonight. It’s awesome!”
“This IPA is amazeballs.”
The Homebrew Happy Hour could not have run smoother. In fact, it was so successful there’s been talk of another one happening down the road.
Who knows, maybe homebrewing just might catch on in San Diego? Ha!
Bottled & Kegged: San Diego’s Craft Brew Culture opened April 6, 2013 and will run to January 20, 2014. The upcoming History Happy Hour on Friday, September 27 will see Dr. Chris White discussing how yeast plays a big role in the flavor of beer. Then on Friday, November 1 Stone Brewing Co. will help kick off San Diego Beer Week with the last History Happy Hour. For tickets to these events, visit this link.
For over a year, a film crew headed by director and producer Sheldon Kaplan has quietly moved throughout the San Diego brewing industry. Now, the film, titled “Suds County USA”, is in post production. I was lucky enough to be among the first to get a sneak peak at a MCA-I Mixer event on Wednesday August 24th at Mission Brewery. Along with tremendous amounts of professional skill, the full feature on our hometown brews has had its fair share of luck. I met Sheldon after sparking up a conversation with Mission’s Director of Sales & Marketing Mike Mellow. He joined our conversation and I was able to garnish an incredible amount of information on the upcoming film.
Speaking through a clear but foreign accent, Sheldon is a South African native and a self-described Hollywood burnout. He found himself in San Diego for a friends wedding during the mid 90s. His wife-to-be was present only to chauffeur another wedding goer, and the two met by chance while the reception concluded. He’s been in town ever since, opting to work at Seau’s cigar room as a change of pace from the Los Angeles lifestyle. His interest in local beer started when he met Skip Virgilio delivering a keg of AleSmith’s beer to Seau’s in 1996.
After months of dedicated research, Sheldon is an expert on our local beer community. He considers himself a historian on San Diego Beer, and with excited eyes he describes the luck of timing with his movie in regards to modern local beer history. Referring to the start of 2011, “We started filming at a time of rapid expansion in the local industry,” he explains. “As we got deeper into this, we realized that there was a real chance of losing some of this San Diegan history if someone didn’t start documenting. I felt a strong sense of responsibility.”
Also by chance, Sheldon met Mission Brewery owner Dan Selis just as he was picking up the keys for the then-undeveloped L St. location. In this, Sheldon saw opportunity, and collected time lapse photos that document the evolution of the East Village brewery over the months of construction.
Throughout this entire process, the crew of Suds County USA has grown twice. I asked Sheldon if he felt overwhelmed to the point of breaking. “Never. I’m a tenacious mother****er.”
Switching gears, I asked a deceptively tough question: What is the essence of a craft brewery? Mike chimes in, “Putting beer first, above profits.” Good answer.
Next question, poised to Mike and Sheldon: What’s the essence of a San Diegan craft brewery? “Homebrewers are the key to craft brewing in general” Mike stated. He emphasized the close connection between homebrewers and pro brewers in regards to the success of the local brewing community. “It’s much easier to be creative and perfect a recipe with five gallon batches.” He continues, “when you homebrew for fun, you can try anything.” Indeed, many professional San Diegan brewers have ties to local homebrew clubs. For example, AleSmith’s Peter Zien was president of QUAFF; North County Homebrewers Association’s founder Rob Esposito is now helping revive the historic Aztec Brewing Company; and CHUG, a new homebrew club, now fields Derek Freese as brewer at the very new Monkey Paw brewpub in Downtown.
After much discussion, it was time for the presentation to begin. Seats were arranged to the East of Mission’s brewhouse, between palates of kegs and boxes of Mission beer on one side, and the fermentation tanks on the other. A projector was aimed at a screen, and in front of it Sheldon took his place after a brief introduction by MCA-I. In about half an hour, Sheldon explained San Diegan brewing history from the late 1800s to modern times. Then, the dimming of the lights announced what we all came for: the first look at Suds.
I was impressed with what I saw. The production quality was top notch, and the clip was a preview-style hodgepodge of various interviews and moments captured by Sheldon and his team. Things moved quickly, but I saw Chuck Silva, Skip Virgilio, Chris Cramer, Greg Koch, Tom Nickel, Vince Marsaglia, Vinnie Cilurzio, and more. The narrative weaved by the interviews was strictly San Diegan. To say it left me wanting more is an understatement. I estimate that the preview was around 90 seconds. The movie is still, after all, on the editing table.
Suds County USA was filmed by an all-volunteer film crew, and the narration of the movie is by Kevin Murphy (of MST3K fame). Suds will be released to DVD, and Sheldon describes that “this movie was made for the small screen.” We’ll keep you posted as we hear more.