From the Beer Writer: In last month’s issue of West Coaster, I proclaimed my love of Belgian-style farmhouse ales, better known as saisons. In the February issue, I spoke highly of the quarterly beer-pairing dinners put on at Bay Ho’s Bitter Brothers Brewing Company. So you can imagine my anticipation when I found out Bitter Brothers was crafting a special saison for its most recent Family Dinner affair. That excitement was compounded when brewery owner Bill Warnke offered to contribute a portion of all proceeds from the sale of this beer during the month of May to Beer to the Rescue, a campaign I established to raise funds for the Lupus Foundation of Southern California. Brewed with food pairability and seasonality in mind, Bitter Brothers Spring Fling Saison prominently features lemon verbena, a citrus-flavored subshrub that lends big flavors that meld nicely with the beer’s Belgian yeast esters. It tastes like a pint-glass full of spring, making for an easy and enjoyable way to support a local charity.
From the Brewer: “Spring Fling is a 5.5% saison brewed with lemon verbena and fermented with a French saison yeast strain. It was brewed in collaboration with Eugenio Romero-Wendlandt from Wendlandt Cerveceria to tie in with the next installment of our Family Dinner series, this one focusing exclusively on Baja chefs. The beer is an opaque, straw color with a white, pillowy, sustained head. The aroma is typical French saison phenolics with lemon verbena notes and light banana esters. The flavor follows the aroma, with more prominent lemon verbena herbal presence and a crisp, dry, lightly bitter finish. This is definitely a beer meant to be paired with food and would go great with ceviche, moules frites or other seafoods.”—John Hunter, Head Brewer, Bitter Brothers Brewing Company
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 »
From the Beer Writer: While I can and will eat anything, and have very few food aversions, we all have things we enjoy and those we don’t care for all that much. Personally, I’m not big on olives, cheap caviar (I sound like such a highbrow jerk saying that), watercress or guava. I’m pretty sure I know the reason for my aversion to the latter, and it stems from my first job, where there was a locker room that constantly stunk with the funk of this tropical fruit, which my co-workers would keep on-hand with great regularity. It produced a constant and potent stench that prompted me to hold my breath when passing through that space en route to the shipping warehouse. So, I don’t eagerly seek this ingredient out, but I’ve found it to be a rather pleasant addition to beers. The Lost Abbey’s rare Duck Duck Guava and Legacy Brewing Company’s award-winning Guava Beer are good examples, but the best yet is Bitter Brothers Family Tart with Guava. I was already a fan of Bitter Brothers Brewing Company’s house Berliner weisse, but adding a dose of pink guava to this bacteria-driven, kettle-sour gives it character that goes beyond the fruit itself. If anything, it makes the beer taste like an explosion of multiple tropical fruits, which is probably why I don’t necessarily associate it with guava (that and the fact it doesn’t smell like a used sweat-sock fished from a urinal) and, thus, abhor it. Upon tasting it, I was happy to find this easy-drinking and assertively tart 4.5% alcohol-by-volume beer will eventually be packaged and available to the masses.
From the Brewer: “The Family Tart with Guava is our base Berliner weisse done with pink guava purée. It’s soured with our house mix culture that has multiple strains of Lactobacillus, Pediococcus and Brettanomyces, and is finished with a Saccharomyces yeast strain. This process gives the base-beer overtones of tropical fruit—especially pineapple—and lighter notes of stone fruits like apricot and peach. Up to this point we have done a new fruited flavor every month. Going forward, we are going to limit that exclusively to tasting room with wider release of seasonal flavors. This ties in with our plans to start canning in the fourth quarter of this year and having the Family Tart be one of those beers we can. The next fruited Berliner weisse will come out in the fall and be a blood orange-based purée with light additions of pomegranate and passion fruit. Winter will be prickly pear, spring will be peach and in the summer we will return to guava. If we do something we really like in the tasting room one of those flavors might change, but for now that’s what we are going with.”—John Hunter, Head Brewer, Bitter Brothers Brewing Company
Though small and not widely known just yet, 32 North Brewing Company (8655 Production Avenue, Miramar) is looking to push above its below-the-radar position in the San Diego brewing scene. The company has steadily upped its draft accounts over the past several months and, in May, debuted a satellite tasting-bar inside Liberty Station’s new Moniker General collective. But owner Steve Peterson wasn’t done there. In the past week, he picked up two known industry vets like an NBA GM sifting through the free-agent market.
First came Mike Mellow, a long-time local beer-sales force who recently left his post at North Park’s Fall Brewing Company. A mutual friend reached out to Peterson to tell him of Mellow’s availability. Over a four-day span, the pair hammered out an employment agreement. During those negotiations, Mellow shared with Peterson that Fall’s head brewer, Nick Ceniceros, was on the lookout for new opportunities as well. A meeting was scheduled and now Ceniceros will be in charge of 32 North’s brewing program.
Mellow is a San Diego veteran who held lead sales roles for Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits, Mission Brewery, Saint Archer Brewery and Mike Hess Brewing Company prior to Fall. Prior to Fall, Ceniceros worked as an assistant brewer with Green Flash Brewing Company after getting his start on the bottling line at Ballast Point. He will step onto a brew-deck vacated by former head-brewer Will Gallaspy, who took over for original 32 North brewer John Hunter, who is now with Bay Ho’s Bitter Brothers Brewing Company.
Additional fermentation tanks are currently on order as 32 North poises itself for increased production. Peterson is also readying for the introduction of three beers in 12-ounce cans. Those aluminum receptacles will be filled via a recently purchased in-house canning line.
Looks like the New Year will feature plenty of new San Diego beer…immediately! Right after Mason Ale Works (the brewing component of Oceanside’s Urge Gastropub and Whiskey Bar brewpub) announced it will open its doors before the curtain comes down on 2015, another new operation has cemented January 2 as the start of its soft-open period. That business is Bitter Brothers Brewing Company (4170 Morena Boulevard, Bay Ho), a chef-led project that’s been in the works for roughly two years. It was originally slated to open in time for the 2014 edition of San Diego Beer Week, but delays in construction and equipment delivery pushed things out considerably.
Often, when a business experiences time-consuming hiccups en route to opening, its plan of action can undergo numerous revisions, but this is not true of Bitter Brothers. Armed with a detailed business plan, co-owner Bill Warnke has stuck to his guns. The core beer line-up he rolled out to me back in June of 2014 remains largely the same, featuring India pale ales (IPAs) of varying flavor and bitterness (hence the business’ name)—a low-alcohol “session” variety brewed with Citra hops going by the name Little Brother, an Amarillo hop-based IPA called The Prodigal Son, and a Big C-hopped throwback to Pacific Northwest IPAs of yore dubbed Sibling Rivalry—as well as a south German hefeweizen and two traditional, English-style beers in the form of an extra special bitter (ESB) and porter.
But that’s not to say everything’s the same. Take, for instance, a pair of Berliner Weisses flavored with pomegranate and ginger, respectively. They seem to have replaced the Belgian-style witbier Warnke foretold of last year. And the aforementioned porter will now be brewed with a third-of-a-pound of local coffee per-barrel from fellow Bay Ho business, Caffé Arcidiacono. Barrel-aged beers (a porter, sours and an altbier from younger Bitter Brother, Kurt Warnke) are also part of the plan.
Also different than the early version of Bitter Brothers is the addition of John Hunter, a brewer with recent experience at 32 North Brewing Company, White Labs and Karl Strauss Brewing Company. He will take the lead fermentationist role over the company’s 15-barrel brewhouse, joining Bruce McSurdy, formerly of Poway’s Lightning Brewery (which Bill once had a financial stake in), who has been part of the Bitter Brothers equation nearly from the start. Additionally, Kurt will work on new recipes on top of his role as operations manager, making for a true team effort where each brewer’s distinct style is reflected. Hunter was popular for what he refers to as “candy-bar beers” after his Peanut Butter Cup Porter became wildly popular during his Karl Strauss days. Building off that, he is planning on a chocolate dunkelweizen built to emulate the flavors of a chocolate-covered banana. The aforementioned Berliner weisses are his, too.
Warnke says there are two missions where Bitter Brothers’ beers are concerned. To create ales and lagers that are both poignantly flavored yet balanced and (ironically enough) restrained in their bitterness. Also, hailing from the culinary world, Warnke wants his beers to be extremely food-friendly. That pairability will be displayed via numerous food-and-beer events held at Bitter Brothers’ tasting room, which was designed so it would be large enough at 700 square feet to hold such sipping-and-supping soirees. That sampling space is located between two big draws—a Costco and the largest Harley-Davidson dealership in the country. This should provide plenty of traffic for the business. Fortunately there is plenty of parking to handle passers-by who decide to give Bitter Brothers a chance.
Bitter Brothers’ entire facility comes in at 3,200 square feet and equipped with 14 total taps, two of which are nitro in nature. Warnke hopes to produce 600 barrels of beer in 2016, but the brewery is equipped to hit 1,440 barrels annually. The purchase of additional fermentation vessels would max out the facility at 3,150 barrels per year. At some point between now and 2017, Bitter Brothers will begin canning its beers. It’s a lot to accomplish in the first 12 months, but the crew has had plenty of time to strategize. They’re excited to stop planning and start doing.