From the Beer Writer: In a time that could have been labeled the “dark ages,” beers bolstered by bright, green hops and obsidian malts were everywhere. They were the it beers of the early twenty-teens and so popular there was a battle over the style name they went by. Most referred to them as Black IPAs (India pale ales), but brewers in the Pacific Northwest attempted to lay claim to them, dubbing them “Cascadian dark ales.” Figuring flashy hop-impact was San Diego brewers’ calling card, a local brewery went completely against the Cascadian evergreen grain, calling their black IPA a “San Diego dark ale.” Just as the debate reached a fever pitch among those in the brewing community, the drinking public decided they didn’t care about the name of the style…or the style itself. Sales dropped off and within a year or two, nearly every black IPA on the market was eliminated from portfolios across the country. They were the hazy IPAs of their day, and then they were gone. But some determined brewers who see the beauty in the contradictory big-hops-meets-heavy-roast nature of these beers dare to continue crafting them. Count Home Brewing Company‘s George Thornton and Jacob Bauch key members of that group. They brew their black IPA, El Matador on an annual basis. This year, it’s available in cans as part of Home Brewing’s year-long program of rolling out four-packs of canned collaboration beers brewed with local fermentationists, including Gordon Biersch‘s Doug Hasker, Daniel Cady of Mikkeller Brewing San Diego and Mike Skubic of Old Harbor Distilling. Though Thornton contests this black IPA is really a “hoppy porter” (the debate continues), it drinks like the former, exhibiting great balance between lemony hops and roasty specialty malts. Those polar-opposite ingredients dovetail nicely in the finish with a coffee-like richness and piney tackiness finding common, lasting ground. It’s a splendid version of a style that probably should never have disappeared from the scene, and a brilliant way to remember a good man who many wish hadn’t sadly and unexpectedly followed suit.
From the Brewer: :”El Matador is a tribute to Jeff McCue. Jeff was one of those people that had more groups of friends and admirers than you could possibly imagine. We knew him as an avid homebrewer that shared our passion for education and growth. He was a graduate from SDSU’s Business of Craft Beer Program, a Certified Cicerone and was working on his BJCP beer-judge certification. He was also a professional photographer, verified parrot-head, loving husband, absolute goofball, giant sweetheart and wine lover. His passing from a brain aneurysm was a complete surprise for all of us. He was an otherwise healthy and happy person. He was a guy who liked to get the last word, and I think he succeeded when he managed to get more than 100 people from every facet of his dynamic life together in one place to send him a final ‘F*ck you McCue!’ Truth is, that wasn’t the final ‘FU McCue.’ I use the phrase often, usually in moments where I feel like I’m overwhelmed and wish that I had his witty charm to get through a stressful moment. Then I realize that by thinking of him, it’s still there…and he once again has the final word. ‘FU McCue.’ El Matador was a recipe he brewed for one of his friends’ thirtieth birthday and it was one of his wife’s favorite beers. We brew this beer every year to celebrate his birthday. #cheerstoyoumccue”—George Thornton, Owner, Home Brewing Company
From the Beer Writer: Saisons are my favorite beer style and I, like many a San Diegan, adore hops. So you can imagine my excitement when encountering a farmhouse-style ale given a punch of botanical goodness care of a “super” infusion of lupulin-laced greenery. Adding to my excitement was the rare chance to taste a beer with Home Brewing Company roots outside its enclave within North Park shop The Homebrewer. This opportunity came care of 32 North Brewing Company, which invited Home’s crew to their Miramar home to create this beer, Sharks with Blazers. Described as “an aggressively hoppy super saison,” it comes in at 7% alcohol-by-volume with plenty of grapefruit and orange notes. Bold yet refreshing, it’s an awesome summer beer that I’ve found myself reaching for with great regularity. The hops make themselves known in the bouquet, and their flavors meld perfectly with yeast-borne esters. It’s impossible to tell where the fruitiness from one ends and the other begins, which is a wonderful testament to outstanding ingredient selection and recipe development.
From the Brewers: “Brewing with friends is what beer is all about. George and everyone at The Homebrewer, past and present, are amazing. It was fun to combine our knowledge of the
craft to come up with this beer was fun. A mix of San Diegan hop-forward [character] and a distinct saison yeast strain make for a unique, hoppy, super saison. I love the fact we canned this beer and would love to brew it again”—Nick Ceniceros, Head Brewer, 32 North Brewing Company
“Sharks with Lasers was a recipe developed by Shawn Manriquez, HBC’s previous head brewer. Designed to be a super-juicy IPA it has been one of the most popular beers we make. To develop the 32 North collaboration version we took a growler of original Sharks with Lasers and a bunch of commercial saisons and white IPAs to do some experimenting. With a bunch of taster glasses we went through the saisons we liked and then mixed them in varying proportions with Sharks to come up with a basic idea of a flavor profile for a saison-IPA for the collab version. With the basic idea in mind we then built an entirely new recipe from scratch and went straight to the full batch size at 32 North. The brew days were pretty straightforward. It wasn’t until dry-hop day that the real fun started. Nick blasted this beer with 11 pounds of Mosaic LupuLN2 powder, a sticky, soft hop extract that does not pour easily from a bag. He spent over an hour on a ladder hand-scooping this stuff into the fermenter using a screwdriver to drive it through the funnel. Talk about commitment! I personally learned a lot working with Nick, Jeff and Collier up there and am really happy with the end result.”—Jacob Bauch, Head Brewer, Home Brewing Company
San Diego’s pro brewers continually cite the county’s homebrewers as a key source of inspiration for creative beer-crafting. And a number of company’s put their mash tuns where their mouth are, holding homebrew competitions that allow winners to brew their recreational standouts on a large scale for sharing them with the masses. Among those interests is Karl Strauss Brewing Company, which recently invited San Diegans to submit entries for its 2015 Pro-Am Competition.
Fifty-five homebrewers heeded the call, up 17 entries from last year. A group of 11 consisting of members of Uncle Karl’s crew, the San Diego Brewers Guild and the media (i.e.—Eater San Diego and yours truly) came together to assess the fermented field and figure out which would serve as Karl Strauss’ entry into the Brewers Association’s annual Pro-Am Competition at this year’s Great American Beer Festival.
With so many entries, divvying them up was essential to prevent palate fatigue and inebriation. The judges and the beers were separated into three groups. Judges tasted through each of the beers in their group individually, taking notes and ranking them before conferring with the other connoisseurs in their group to come to a consensus on which three brews to advance to the second round of judging.
While contestants tackled a wide variety of styles, a large percentage of the beers were hoppy in nature (pale ales; session, single and double IPAs). Yet, only two hop-forward beers—a pair of American pale ales—made it past the first round. A pilsner, altbier, dark mild, saison, smoked porter, wee heavy and British-style strong ale made up the other seven left vying for top honors.
Though determining best of show at some brewing competitions can be both tough and time-consuming, for the most part, the judges of this contest agreed. One of the American pale ales (brewed by Tim Taylor, who’s placed in the top three the past three years in a row) edged out the other for bronze, while the saison (Jacob and Roy Bauch), which was infused with apricots that synced up nicely with the beer’s Belgian yeast esters, took second place.
The beer that garnered gold, a smoked porter brewed with coffee and vanilla called Black Nose from Jim McCaskey, made it into everybody’s top three, earning many a complement for its balance, chocolaty aroma and full-bodied flavor. That beer will be brewed in July at Karl Strauss’ Downtown San Diego brewery-restaurant so that it’s ready for the GABF Pro-Am in August. Additionally, it will also be put on tap at Karl Strauss’ Pacific Beach tasting room and its Downtown San Diego brewery-restaurant so locals can get a taste of McCaskey’s black gold.