CLICK TO DOWNLOAD
this month's issue free!

Posts Tagged Marty Mendiola

Beer of the Week: Second Chance Clever Hoppy Name #3

Apr 14

Clever Hoppy Name #3 rye IPA from Second Chance Beer Co. in Carmel Mountain

From the Beer Writer: A few years back, I headed the Naming Committee at Stone Brewing. This was at a time when that company was releasing more beers per year than at any time in its 20-year history. New beers need new names and while there is always a certain amount of fun in developing monikers, these days that process is downright challenging, particularly if you’re coming up with a call-sign for a hoppy beer. With thousands on the market, nearly everything has been done…and many of the names have been trademarked. Many were the moments at Stone where we had brainstorms; short-lived a-ha moments that were quickly killed by Internet searches revealing we’d been beaten to the punch for a potential beer name. Puns are the most popular outlet for aspiring hoppy-beer namers and most play off words like “hop”, “dank”, “pine” and, these days, “hazy”. Rather than beat their heads against a brick wall etched with trademarked names, the folks at Carmel Mountain’s Second Chance Beer Company have settled on a clever solution, releasing a series of hop-driven beers under the catchall handle “Clever Hoppy Name”. The series started with a pale ale and moved on to an IPA followed by a rye-infused IPA that is the current Beer of the Week: Second Chance Clever Hoppy Name #3. Infused with just enough rye to add complexity that goes beyond a standard San Diego-style IPA, but not enough to render the beer a spice-bomb, numero tres allows a citrus-rich hop-bill to shine through on the palate. And thanks to balance and its 7% alcohol-by-volume figure, one can enjoy three of number three while pondering what Second Chance has in store for number four.

From the Brewers: “Clever Hoppy Name #3 is part of our Revolving Hop Series. We started this series to allow myself and our brewers the freedom to make a new hoppy beer every batch. We have a lot of great hop varieties, and it is a shame to not try different combinations and amounts. Sometime we even play with the dry-hopping technique or the amount of time the hops spend in the beer to see what will happen, always in pursuit of getting that perfect extraction of hop flavor and aroma! Number three is a rye IPA. Rye has always been an interesting ingredient for me, as it can come on strong if overused. But in the right amount, it can impart a great, rich and spicy malt character that can play really well with lots of hops. We used Amarillo, Citra and Centennial hops in this beer to impart citrus and tropical fruitiness, a perfect match to the rye. As my wife (fellow Second Chancer Virginia Morrison) would say: ‘It tastes like sunshine!’ As I sip on one while writing this, I have to agree.”—Marty Mendiola, Co-Founder & Brewmaster, Second Chance Beer Company

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Second Chance Beer building North Park tasting room

Mar 13

Veteran brewer Marty Mendiola’s Carmel Mountain-based Second Chance Beer Company will open a satellite tasting room in North Park later this year. Coming in at 1,820 square feet with 24 taps, capacity for roughly 100 people and an outdoor patio, the venue will be located at 4045 30th Street, steps north and across the street from iconic beer bar, Toronado San Diego.

Mendiola and company are excited to be a part of one of San Diego’s most vibrant and beer-centric communities. When asked about the potential challenges of competing in a neighborhood that’s home to ten breweries and brewpubs (Barn Brewery, Eppig Brewing, Fall Brewing, Home Brewing, Mike Hess Brewing, North Park Beer, Pariah Brewing, Poor House Brewing, San Diego Brewing, Thorn St. Brewery), and four tasting room-only facilities (Belching Beaver Brewing, ChuckAlek Independent Brewers, Modern Times Beer and Rip Current Brewing), they respond with a list of counter-balancing advantages.

The Second Chance team selected North Park over other brewery-dense areas like Miramar because it’s a more attractive and user-friendly destination. In addition to beer producers and sampling spaces, there are multiple craft beer bars such as the aforementioned Toronado, and many restaurants that support local breweries. North Park’s walkability makes it easy for patrons to visit multiple spots. Perhaps the only thing Mendiola is worried about is fracturing solid relationships Second Chance has with bars and eateries who might view their sampling space as competition.

“We are very thankful to the pioneers who established craft beer-centered bars and restaurants in the area. We have always enjoyed frequenting them,” says Mendiola’s wife and Second Chance chief legal officer Virginia Morrison. “In fact, mine and Marty’s first date was at The Ritual. We will continue to recommend them and work to make our tap-room a complimentary addition to North Park.”

The opportunity to reach a large new group of potential customers skewing to wildly different demographics than those in Carmel Mountain is the prime motivation in joining the North Park fold. Serving their clientele at the source is a key part of Second Chance’s philosophy. They are currently awaiting progress on the North 40 project that will provide the company a third venue in Carlsbad. Delays in that collective farm-to-table initiative allowed Second Chance the opportunity to explore additional expansion options.

The North Park tasting room will likely open to the public in August or September. Like its Carmel Mountain predecessor, it will offer a second chance at glory to previously used, reclaimed materials. The company intends to retain the services of an interior designer to further ensure the new spot sports a look that will appeal to North Park’s mix of residents and visitors.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2016 Recap: San Diego’s Best Breweries Right Now

Dec 15

What are the best breweries in San Diego? Having reported on the San Diego brewing industry for nearly 10 years and having written a guide to San Diego breweries, I get asked this question all the time. My answers vary quite a bit. Prior to 2012, that list didn’t change all that much. Heavy hitters like Ballast Point Brewing Co., Green Flash Brewing Co. and Stone Brewing were ever-present. Those interests got big making great beer that couldn’t be matched by smaller operations. These are not the times we are living in. Not only are small breweries able to keep up, because of their size, they are able to be nimble and do a lot more than large breweries. They can venture outside the box whenever they feel like it, chase any trend they like or even create their own, while the big boys find themselves locked into brewing the same core beers and a handful of seasonals to meet sales and distribution obligations. A new beer for them is a high-risk proposition that requires months (or even years) of test-batches and refinement.

Due to all of the above, my list of the best breweries in San Diego County is much different than ever before. Only one of the four San Diego interests in the Brewers Association’s list of the 50 largest craft breweries is on there, and its one that wouldn’t have been there several years ago. But there are five on the list that are less than three years old, nine that have a single brewhouse producing their wares, and seven that distribute their beers exclusively (or almost solely) in San Diego County. The following is my current (alphabetical) list of the top 12 brewing companies in San Diego County. (And please remember, there are more than 130 operating brewhouses in the county—not making this list doesn’t make a brewery below-average by any stretch.)

AleSmith Brewing Co., Miramar: This maker of BJCP-geared Old World beers has been around so long it’s now of legal drinking age. It has grown from a single suite to a sprawling manufacturing plant with an expansive, multi-faceted tasting-room component. Through that transition, the beer has remained solid. If anything, it would be nice to see some new beers. Disclosure: I used to work at AleSmith.

Alpine Beer Co., Alpine: Break out the asterisk. This back-country operation, which was purchased by Green Flash in 2014, makes this list for the beers it produces at its original brewery in its namesake town. There’s just something magical about that brewhouse and the pros who man it; they are the folks who built Alpine’s stellar rep and are maintaining it on a local level.

Bagby Beer Co., Oceanside: It’s no surprise that Pizza Port product and GABF master Jeff Bagby was able to transfer his brewpub prowess to his own project, but not only does he keep tons of quality beer on-tap, those taps are installed in an inviting two-story, indoor-outdoor coastal spot built by he and his wife’s true passion for craft-beer and the people who enjoy it.

Benchmark Brewing Co., Grantville: Beer-flavored beer sums up this entire operation. AleSmith alum Matt Akin keeps it simple; something that’s surprisingly challenging. Don’t believe it, see if you can find someplace that can sustain as good a reputation as Benchmark does armed primarily with a pale ale, IPA, brown ale and oatmeal stout while leading with a table beer.

Fall Brewing Co., North Park: Journeyman brewer Ray Astamendi isn’t looking to make the best beer you’ve had in your entire life. He’s more interested in giving imbibers a bunch of great beers to enjoy on any given night, and he does just that care of an impressive portfolio that includes ales and lagers alike, ranging from the hoppiest end of the spectrum to the maltiest.

Karl Strauss Brewing Co., Multiple Locations: San Diego’s longest-running post-Prohibition era brewing operation has taken recent steps to modernize its beers, introducing dry, hoppy ales, drawing attention to a constantly evolving line of beers that also show great technique. Recently constructed brewpubs in LA and the OC should keep Karl’s crew on their upward trajectory.

The Lost Abbey / Port Brewing Co. / The Hop Concept, San Marcos: Whether it’s Port’s SoCal-centric family of largely hoppy beers, The Hop Concept’s (THC, get it?) exploratory line of lupulin-laced imperial IPAs or The Lost Abbey’s unique array of Belgian-inspired, floral, bready, woody, tart and/or boozy ales, quality and innovation await at Pizza Port’s triple-threat packaged-beer cousin op.

New English Brewing Co., Sorrento Valley: One would be challenged to find a brewery in San Diego with as great a degree of quality and consistency as this interest. The only thing keeping it in unjust obscurity is its devotion to less-popular English styles, but the introduction of expertly crafted IPAs has opened some eyes and helped grow a following and, in turn, brewing capacity.

Pizza Port, Multiple Locations: Perhaps no other local brewing biz more succinctly embodies San Diego’s style, brewing and otherwise. Expertise across all styles with flashes of ingenuity and inventiveness, tons of awards but none of the pomp and ego that comes with shiny medals, a laid-back surf-vibe inviting tanks and flip-flops—Pizza Port is America’s Finest on many levels.

Rip Current Brewing Co., San Marcos: The founders of this business deserve big-time credit for sticking to their guns. They could make more money focusing on their excellent hoppy beers, but are so devoted to keeping the homebrew spirit alive, they toil away on dozens of other lesser-selling styles, many of which win awards but still get ignored. It’s a shame.

Second Chance Beer Co., Carmel Mountain: During his decade-plus brewing at La Jolla’s Rock Bottom, Marty Mendiola was well-respected in the industry, but fairly unknown among San Diego beer-drinkers. Since opening his own spot in 2015, he’s finally gained the recognition from the public that he always deserved behind long-time and newly built recipes alike.

Societe Brewing Co., Kearny Mesa: I work here, so I am biased, but this list would be incomplete were Societe not on it. Fans flock here for a rotating family of IPAs as well as Belgian-style ales, dark beers and oak-aged sours that, after many years of maturation, are starting to trickle out of the barrel-room at a steady clip. Versatility and consistency are the keys to this operation’s success.

Author’s Note: This is the third post in a three-part series of pieces which previously examined San Diego’s Best New Breweries and San Diego’s Most Improved Breweries over the past year.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2015 Recap: Beer’s Present

Dec 16
Veteran Ray Astamendi's Fall Brewing Co. tops my list of best new San Diego County breweries

Veteran Ray Astamendi’s Fall Brewing Co. tops my list of best new San Diego County breweries

Each year, I take time to look back at the new brewing companies that opened within the past 12 months (or so) and pick out the most exceptional additions to San Diego County’s craft beer scene. This year saw more breweries and brewpubs open than any before, making it the most difficult field to rate to-date. But after much thought, and even a bit of inner debate, the following are the finest rookies to draft their fermented wares in 2015. Fun side note: This is the first year that all of the top picks have come from within the actual City of San Diego.

Fall Brewing Co., North Park: There’s something to be said for having a veteran at the helm. Founder and brewmaster Ray Astamendi’s extensive life experience, brewhouse expertise, lessons learned at numerous craft breweries and ability to finally do things his way combined to produce a runaway success in the cinder-block shell of a former automotive repair spot on 30th Street. Lagers, Belgian-style ales, coffee beers, IPAs—nothing’s off limits and most of it is rather exceptional.

Second Chance Beer Co., Carmel Mountain: It takes guts to branch out on one’s own after a decade-and-a-half’s worth of security-laced tenure with one of the country’s largest brewpub chains, but that’s just what Marty Mendiola (another veteran…sensing a pattern yet?) did in opening his very own brewery in the suddenly beery North County inland area comprising Carmel Mountain and Rancho Bernardo. Straight out of the gate he’s shown mastery of uber-roasty and hoppy brews alike, and the best is likely still yet to come.

South Park Brewing Co., South Park: Running a single brewpub (including numerous service aspects) is hard enough, but handling two is a gargantuan undertaking. Yet, Cosimo Sorrentino continued to rock Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery while installing the brewery and developing kickass recipes at this sister spot next-door to Hamilton’s Tavern. In doing so, he earned his second Great American Beer Festival medal for one of SPBC’s inaugural beers, Scripps Pier Oyster Stout. Now that’s some impressive multi-tasking!

Bay City Brewing Co., Point Loma: Sorrentino’s former home- and pro-brewing partner Chris West may have left Monkey Paw in 2014, but 2015 saw him extending the “San Diego pale ale” campaign to earn our county ownership of the dry, restrainedly bitter yet hop flavor-heavy style of IPA that is quintessentially SD. He did this from his own brewery in the industrial heart of Loma Portal while crafting other exceptional, highly drinkable numbers ranging from a Vienna lager to entry-level sours.

Abnormal Beer Co., Rancho Bernardo: Brewing industry vet Derek Gallanosa got every beer geek’s dream-come-true in the form a shiny new brewhouse all his own in the swank confines of The Cork and Craft restaurant (which also houses a winery). Early struggles gave way to fine-tuned successes, including brightly hoppy IPAs and a variety of beers infused with delicious product from nearby sister business, Mostra Coffee.

Duck Foot Brewing Co., Miramar: Leading up to its open, this business meant to make gluten-reduced beers its bailiwick, but the popularization of White Labs’ gluten-nullifying Clarity-Ferm made that a far less relevant differentiator. Fortunately, the beer at this quirkily decorated but rather straightforward brewery doesn’t need niche dietary characteristics to stand out. It’s just good. That said, it’s pretty great that challenged imbibers can enjoy the beer, too!

A total of 20 newly established breweries were in contention this year and, to be honest, many were right on the brink of knocking off the half-dozen above. The following are the other businesses that vied for best new brewer op of 2015. Some businesses opened later in the year and will be in contention next year as they were too young to have been fairly considered this time around.

Contenders: Barn Brewery (North Park), Bay Bridge Brewing Co. (Chula Vista), Citizen Brewers (Mission Valley), Division 23 Brewing Co. (Miramar), Half Door Brewing Co. (East Village), Helix Brewing Co. (La Mesa), Home Brewing Co. (North Park), Kilowatt Brewing Co. (Kearny Mesa), Kuracali Saké & Beer Brewery (San Marcos), Magnetic Brewing (Kearny Mesa), Novo Brazil Brewing Co. (Chula Vista), Pacific Islander Beer Co. (Santee), Prodigy Brewing Co. (Grantville), Reckless Brewing Co. (Miramar),

Maybe Next Year: Bear Roots Brewing Co. (Vista), Guadalupe Brewery (Carlsbad), Kensington Brewing Co. (Mission Valley), Thr3e Punk Ales (Santee)

Previous Top-Ranked Breweries

2014: Bagby Beer Co. (Oceanside), Nickel Beer Co. (Julian), Council Brewing Co. (Kearny Mesa), URBN St. Brewing Co. (El Cajon), Toolbox Brewing Co. (Vista)

2013: Rip Current Brewing Co. (San Marcos), Benchmark Brewing Co. (Grantville), Amplified Ale Works (Pacific Beach), Belching Beaver Brewery (Vista), Modern Times Beer (Point Loma)

2012: Societe Brewing Co. (Kearny Mesa), Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery (East Village), Latitude 33 Brewing Co. (Vista)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

15 in ’15: Best of San Diego Beer 2015

Dec 9

15in15

One of our main missions at West Coaster is to showcase the talented humans and businesses that create the San Diego brewing community. For this feature, we asked our readers for help. The 15 in ‘15 covers 15 different categories, and answers were taken via an online poll that ran in November. 2015 was an exhilarating year in the county’s brewing industry, and this feature highlights just some of the movers and shakers that helped make it happen.

moderntimes

Blazing World cans on the line (photo courtesy of Modern Times)

Best San Diego Brewery: Modern Times
Modern Times Beer has matured with equal parts skill and insanity in its two years of existence. More than doubling production from 6,500 barrels in 2014 to 16,000 barrels in 2015, the cans, bottles and tap handles of the “Lomaland Fermentorium” are becoming a common sight throughout the competitive shelves and draft lineups of San Diego County. Next year, the brewery estimates production will reach 33,000 barrels. Double-digit plus growth years in a row isn’t a fluke – the beer rocks.

West Coaster readers agreed. The core beers of Lomaland, Fortunate Island and Blazing World have gone over well, but the magic is found with the releases that started appearing this past year. 2015 was the first year MTB launched a new bottled beer each month. City of the Dead, Fruitlands Gose, Mega Black House were some highlights, and the brewery took notes on which bottles sold well. With that knowledge, expect to see a few new year-round offerings come 2016.

It’s not just beer, either. Within the brewery is also a coffee roasting operation, and plans are in the works for opening a brewpub in Los Angeles. Also, their first Festival of Dankness was focused on interesting/uncommon beers/breweries. In the words of brewer/organizer Derek Freese, this was a festival created for people that hate beer festivals. The first annual event saw over 1,000 attendees, 37 breweries pouring beers, and $10,000 donated to the charity BikeSD.

Modern Times is on fire. This dynamic brewery defines the essence of San Diego beer for the year 2015.

10659210_343227379221113_2636364586855739851_n

Cork & Craft / Abnormal Surf & Turf, February 2015 (photo courtesy of Abnormal Beer Co.)

Best San Diego Brewpub: Abnormal Beer Co.
Abnormal is a part of a medley of operations that co-habitate what was once just another industrial suite in Rancho Bernardo. After a significant, transformative buildout, Abnormal Beer & Wine Co. opened early 2015. The restaurant component, Cork & Craft, has foodies salivating.

The in-house brewery is headed up by Derek Gallanosa and featured a 10 barrel brewhouse with 80 barrels capacity. With 30 draft accounts and counting, Debut IPA and 5PM Session Ale have been well received. Derek also curates the 41 tap draft program, which features guest taps and house beers.

Brewpubs are seldom known for their culinary flair. This is not the case with the Cork & Craft kitchen. Dishes with hand cut pappardelle noodles made in-house & slow cooked in a pork bolognese sauce, grilled octopus in Spanish-style ajoblanco sauce, or lemon ricotta agnolotti served with Buddha’s Hand are some of the items found on the menu. For the less adventurous, the bar menu offers jazzed up versions of brewpub staples like chicken wings, burgers and pretzels.

Although their first year in business, Abnormal has orchestrated 10 mind-blowing beer pairing dinners titled the Abnormal Dinner Series. The first dinner featured a vertical tasting with 11 different years of Cantillon’s Fou Foune. In May, AleSmith Brewing was hosted and 8 different courses were paired with 8 different AleSmith beers.

West Coaster readers were undoubtedly amazed at this factory of flavor that dropped in seemingly from space. Next year, the Abnormal Dinner Series will continue once a month, and a million dollar expansion for the brewery will boost production five fold.

cosimo

Cosimo Sorrentino late 2013 (photo by author)

Best Brewer in San Diego: Cosimo Sorrentino
Cosimo Sorrentino is the head brewer of both Monkey Paw Brewing Company and South Park Brewing Co. Running a single brewery is tough. Cosimo managed to keep the beers flowing at ‘Paw while simultaneously helping open South Park in 2015 and bringing that new brewery online. Now, he splits his time between the two brewpubs, located in East Village and next to Hamilton’s Tavern, respectively.

Running two breweries is a behemoth undertaking, but Cosimo is stoked. “The opportunity in front of me can’t be ignored.” Cosimo replies when West Coaster asked him about how he manages his time. “I do what the beer needs me to do. If it means a 100 hour work week, so be it. There are people who would do anything for a shot like this. Luckily, I live between the breweries and don’t have any other commitments in life.” That dedication is reflected in the beer. The 2013 Great American Beer Festival judges awarded Monkey Paw’s Bonobos a Gold medal in the American strong ale category, and in 2015 Scripps Pier Stout won a Silver medal. Beers such as Lup’d Up Single, a tart saison w/ Rhubarb and I5 brewed with coconut and salt stood out from Monkey Paw in 2015. Scripps Pier Stout + Lime In Da Coconut were fan favorites from South Park. Cosimo was also tapped to work with Stone’s 24 Carrot Golden Ale collaboration beer along with homebrewer Juli Goldenberg.

More cool beers are on the way. Monkey Paw will release Funky Sea Monkey Black Gose, a collaboration with Marin Brewing Co. brewed with squid ink. Caddy Corner Wit from South Park Brewing Co. will be a wit beer with neighborhood persimmons and oranges. Expect to see lots of beer pairing events from Monkey Paw and South Park in 2016, as well.

Chris Banker (left) and Ken Schmidt (right) at Stone's 2014 AHA Rally (photo by Tim Stahl)

Chris Banker (left) and Ken Schmidt (right) at Stone’s 2014 AHA Rally (photo by Tim Stahl)

Best Homebrewer in San Diego: Chris Banker
Oceanside resident Chris Banker has long been an active member in both Quality Ale and Fermentation Fraternity (QUAFF) and Society of Barley Engineers homebrew clubs. In 2014, he entered a beer that won the prestigious Stone Brewing Company American Homebrewers Association competition. Banker chose the Morales brothers of Tijuana’s Cervecería Insurgente to collaborate, and the beer was brewed at and released by Stone late 2014. The beer’s name? Xocoveza. Well, technically the full, proper name is Chris Banker / Stone / Insurgente Xocoveza Mocha Stout.

The beer was a runaway hit. The 8% chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg, chile pepper and Mostra Coffee-infused milk stout invokes the flavors of Mexican hot chocolate. The beer was so popular that Stone re-released Xocoveza in 6 packs and kegs mid-November 2015. Stone Brewing Co. also chose Xocoveza to be one of the three first beers brewed and released by Stone’s new Berlin brewery.

Aside from beer, Banker crafts cider, mead and wine and is also a skilled cheesemaker. An engineer by trade, Banker has a small, sophisticated half barrel homebrew setup fashioned from a hollowed out keg that doubles as his cheesemaking setup. A breakdown of this cool setup can be found online @ http://chrisbanker.com/homebrew.php.

The patio of Green Flash's Mira Mesa tasting room (photo courtesy of Green Flash)

The patio of Green Flash’s Mira Mesa tasting room (photo courtesy of Green Flash)

Best Tasting Room: Green Flash & Cellar 3
Readers voted in equal numbers for both Green Flash tasting rooms. The 300 person capacity tasting room located in the Mira Mesa facility underwent a significant remodel in 2014. The remodel brought a bit more color and personality to the aesthetics, and added a standalone merchandise store, a separate growler fill bar, and stainless 30-tap draught system. Outside, there’s a substantial patio with picnic table seating, string lights, heating, and the Green Flash Gastro Truck serving food.

Mid-2015, Green Flash opened the doors of Cellar 3. Housing the brewery’s barrel aging program, there’s an elegant and spacious tasting room designed to showcase the brewery’s more limited & creative beers. Flanders Drive, Oculus Sauvage and Silva Stout are all barrel aged on location and then put on tap and into bottles. Still in its infancy, expect to hear and drink a lot more from Cellar 3 in the upcoming year.

Between the two tasting rooms, Green Flash moves 30 ½ barrel kegs a week and nearly 40 cases of beer. The large and open layout of each space allows for frequent events. Over 23 Hoppy Yoga sessions took place last year at the Mira Mesa location alone. In 2015, the brewery will begin a free shuttle service that stops at the Sorrento Valley Coaster Station, Cellar 3 and Green Flash.

DSC_0336

Toronado San Diego (photo by Ryan Lamb)

Best Beer Bar: Toronado
Winner of last year’s Best Tap Rotation category, opinions shifted slightly this year. According to our readers, Toronado is now the Best Beer Bar in San Diego. Rotating about 40 kegs each week, the 56 tap handles of Toronado are frequently pouring the finest beer found on planet earth. The magic of Toronado comes from its versatility.

Monday through Friday in the early afternoon, Toronado serves as an embassy for visiting beer dignitaries and a rest stop for local industry. If an out of town brewer is visiting San Diego with time to only visit one bar, it’s usually Toronado. It’s not uncommon to find several brewery sales reps cooling their heels in-between meetings or furiously staring at a laptop/pacing out front on the phone. This quiet, gentle Toronado can be both a productive and deeply therapeutic space.

In the weekday evening hours, North Park gets hungry and thirsty. Neighbors begin to stroll in. The empty seats are filled and the din of chatter dances off the walls. This Toronado is for unwinding with friends after work over chicken wings and a few pints. Friday through Sunday, the energy level increases in step with the volume of the jukebox. Although it might be standing room only on loud, packed weekend night – it’s difficult to not have a good time. Weekend Toronado is for having fun and bumping into friends.

With only one modest TV screen that’s usually on mute and notoriously poor reception of cell phone signals, Toronado encourages conversation. Combine that with an outstanding tap list and this 2015 choice for Best Beer Bar becomes clear.

Urge during a Stone Brewing Co. Vertical Epic tap takeover, 2012 (photo by Ryan Lamb)

Urge during a Stone Brewing Co. Vertical Epic tap takeover, 2012 (photo by Ryan Lamb)

Best Beer Restaurant: Urge American Gastropub
Urge American Gastropub is a thoroughbred beer restaurant. Located in Rancho Bernardo, Urge opened in 2010 and has demonstrated a solid commitment to serving the best beer and food possible – often combining both (see: Sculpin-marinated Chicken Wings). On a regular day, Urge properly maintains 51 taplines that compliment a tasty menu served in generous portions.

And on non-regular days? Urge gets crazy. Special events frequently follow a creative theme, serve crazy beers and neat custom glassware. The restaurant celebrated their 5th Anniversary in late August, and breweries Mother Earth, Noble Ale Works, Dogfish Head, Sierra Nevada and AleSmith all created beers especially for the event. AleSmith’s 12% ABV Velvet Speedway Stout was the whale of 2015. Aged for a year in 23-year-old Evan Williams Bourbon Barrels, infused with a rye-whiskey/Madagascar Vanilla bean blend and bourbon barrel-aged cold brew coffee from Mostra, the beer was released for sales late July and sold out instantaneously. Urge throws regular events with similar panache year-round.

Sister operations include the wine-centric Barrel Room and restaurant/bottleshop/flavor emporium Brother’s Provisions – both are also in Rancho Bernardo. Coming up in 2016, the Urge empire will expand into brewing. Urge Gastropub Oceanside is presently under construction, and the 9000+ square foot space will include brewery Mason Ale Works, 41 taps and an extensive bottled beer and whiskey selection.

nate

Nate Soroko @ Modern Times (photo by Tim Stahl)

Best Beertender: Nate Soroko
Two years in a row, West Coaster readers named Nate Soroko as the Best Beertender in San Diego County. Having worked at Liar’s Club, Lost Abbey, Pizza Port Carlsbad and Alpine before settling into his current gigs at Modern Times and Toronado, Nate’s had a front row seat watching the culture of San Diego beer develop and mature. Perhaps no other human has poured more San Diego beer than Nate, and his work ethic, respect and passion for beer and the people behind it are contagious.

“I love watching people who love this industry succeed within it.” Nate elaborated, “Watching Fall [Brewing] blow up, AleSmith open their brand new facility, Bobby [Matthews] at Alpine getting a big promotion, Cork & Craft expanding, South Bay getting love and watching 30th Street continue to be the best beer street in America. It’s been a pleasure watching friends and colleagues follow their dreams or soar in their current positions.”

Read more about Nate in last year’s 14 in ’14 feature.

Photo courtesy of The Homebrewer

Photo courtesy of The Homebrewer

Best Homebrew Shop: The Homebrewer
West Coaster first wrote about The Homebrewer in February of 2011, when owner George Thornton announced he would be opening the shop on 2911 El Cajon Boulevard in North Park. Since opening the doors in 2012, the business has grown to much more than a simple supply store. The goal of The Homebrewer is to be a one-stop shop to get people brewing in a friendly, encouraging and educational environment. Our readers decided that there’s no better place to become a brewer.

We asked George why he thought readers chose his store against several other excellent homebrew stores in San Diego. His answer came quickly, “We have the best people in the whole world working for us. Selection, prices, cleanliness, organization… all of that stuff is a piece of cake. Our team makes us awesome.”

2015 saw the opening of Home Brewing Company, which is the small-batch commercial brewery and tasting room located within the store. Things to expect from the Homebrewer in 2016: a fourth anniversary celebration and a tasting room expansion. George is also keen to open a second and third location. “We’re always brainstorming and can’t wait to bring our vision to other parts of the county. We’re already scouring locations.”

North-ParkBest Beer Neighborhood: North Park
Once again, North Park was our reader’s top choice for Best Beer Neighborhood in San Diego County by an overwhelming majority of votes. It’s easy to understand why. The 92104 area added several new beer businesses in the year 2015. Both Barn Brewing and Home Brewing Co. opened across the street from one another, improving a historically sketchy area of El Cajon Boulevard. There’s now six total breweries in North Park, and they had a great year, too. Fall Brewing celebrated a killer first year in business in November, Thorn Street Brewing opened pub Home & Away in Old Town, Poor House has dramatically improved their beer’s quality and Hess Brewing expanded with a new tasting room in Ocean Beach.

Off 30th Street, Rip Current Brewing opened their satellite tasting room in 2015 (and then proceeded to be named Best Very Small Brewing Company of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival). Crazee Burger relocated their business to the corner of 30th & Lincoln, adding more draft handles to 30th Street.

The rich keep getting richer. Now ingrained into the DNA of the neighborhood, beer is seeping into other facets. Coffee roaster Dark Horse collaborated with New English on a brew for Bine & Vine (see Best Bottleshop), and Folsom Coffee will soon turn on beer taps adjacent to coldbrew coffee taps. Gourmet taco shops such as City Tacos, Tacos Perla serve Tijuana’s Insurgente. Streetcar Merchants serves sweets along with a small but thoughtful selection of local beers.

Although North Park’s the definitive choice for Best Beer Neighborhood of 2015, we’re looking forward to additional competition from the above up-and-coming neighborhoods in next year’s poll.

Hamilton's Tavern (photo by Kristina Yamamoto)

Hamilton’s Tavern (photo by Kristina Yamamoto)

Best Tap Selection & Rotation: Hamilton’s
Hamilton’s was our reader’s choice for the 2014 Best Beer Bar, swapping categories with Toronado and indicating a shift in our reader’s preferences. It’s a solid choice; even the most discerning beer-tickers can find an excellent, new beer any night of the week at Hammie’s.

Unlike other bars, Hamilton’s actively maintains a taplist online http://hamiltonstavern.com/, so one doesn’t have to physically present to witness what’s on the list. At time of press, 15 of the 28 taps are San Diego-based breweries such as Bagby, Hess and Abnormal. 22 of 28 are California breweries, with one tap usually dedicated to Russian River’s Pliny the Elder (an enduringly popular double IPA). Although the emphasis on local beer is evident, the only hard and fast rule is serving quality suds from independent brewers. Big Sky Brewing from Missoula, Montana, Left Hand Brewing from Longmont Colorado were also on tap at time of press. Owner Scot Blair & the hard-working Hamilton’s staff maintain a rigorous cleaning and maintenance schedule for his taps, and the bar’s well-earned reputation means breweries usually send the freshest, tastiest kegs when asked. An extensive bottle selection features both local and international breweries.

Hamilton’s organizes and throws legendary events. Each month, Second Saturday hosts a brewery for a tap takeover and free food is cooked up from the kitchen. In December, AleSmith Brewing was hosted and brought Velvet Speedway Stout (see our Best Beer Restaurant of 2015, Urge for more info on this whale), Hawaiian Speedway Stout and Double Hammerhead Speedway Stout along with staple beers Lil Devil and .394 Pale Ale. The complimentary food was holiday-themed with deconstructed shepherd’s pie casserole, beer-braised pulled turkey and duck. During football season, each Monday there’s a keep-the-pint night and each Friday there’s featured brewery & cask.

When it comes to serving beer, Hamilton’s is at an elite level few other bars match.

The 2015 San Diego Brewers Guild Festival (photo courtesy of the San Diego Brewers Guild)

The 2015 San Diego Brewers Guild Festival (photo courtesy of the San Diego Brewers Guild)

Best Beer Festival: San Diego Brewers Guild Fest
Two years in a row, our readers have named San Diego Beer Week’s Guild Festival as the best beer fest in the land. An official production of the Brewers Guild, the two day event once again took place on the Port Pavilion cruise ship terminal located on Broadway Pier.

Known colloquially as Guildfest, the festival serves as a state of the union for San Diego Beer. With 115 breweries and counting, this is an excellent way to try some of the newest beer talent in town as well as sample from more established breweries.

A little known fact: 2015 was the 13th Anniversary of Guild Fest. From modest beginnings at the World Beat Center with a handful of breweries, this festival has grown significantly. 2015 was the most polished incarnation yet. Over 1,100 people attended the Friday night VIP session, which featured not only unlimited beer tasting but also food. The following day, 3,200 humans packed the pier. Attendees from as far away as England, Norway, Spain and Switzerland.

Read more about Guildfest in last year’s 14 in ’14 feature.

Photo courtesy of Bine & Vine

Photo courtesy of Bine & Vine

Best Bottleshop: Bine & Vine
What does it take to have the best bottleshop in San Diego county? “We store all of our beer correctly. No direct light hitting the bottles and everything’s chilled,” explains Bine and Vine’s owner Geoi Bachoua. “We have a very manageable amount of beer (650 bottles) in-stock, so nothing ever gets old or out of code.” He continues, “Our staff is also extremely knowledgeable about beer styles and are 100% honest when asked questions.” Bine & Vine won our Best Bottleshop category handily.

Prior to opening Bine & Vine in 2011, Geoi and his family owned and worked at South Bay Drugs off Palm Avenue in Imperial Beach. Off the beaten beer path, the liquor store’s impressive craft selection made it a destination nevertheless. At what point does a liquor store become a bottle shop? When South Bay Drugs shuttered and Bine and Vine opened on Adams Avenue in Normal Heights is the best case-study we’ve seen.

In 2015, Bine & Vine celebrated their 4th Anniversary by teaming up with New English to brew Adams Avenue Imperial Porter. Brewed with beans from Uptown’s coffee roaster de jour Dark Horse Coffee, the beer was a worthy tribute. “We’re extremely proud on how the beer came out. It’s an ‘Imperial English-style Coffee Porter’ with a focus on balance”

Bine & Vine looks forward to a prosperous 5th year in business. When asked about the new year, Geoi replied: “Big plans are in-store for 2016, indeed. I can’t say much at this moment but it’ll fulfill a big need in Normal Heights.”

On our cover this month: Second Chance Brewing Co. (photo by Ryan Lamb)

On our cover this month: Second Chance Beer Co. (photo by Ryan Lamb)

Best New Beer Spot: Second Chance Brewing Co.
West Coaster was excited to break the news late 2014 that Marty Mendiola was going to open his own brewery. An exceedingly talented brewer, during his career Marty has earned six World Beer Cup awards and ten Great American Beer Festival medals for his beers. Together with colleague/former Rock Bottom GM Curtis Hawes and wife Virginia Morrison, the trio founded Second Chance Beer Company in 2015.

Second Chance opened to the public in September. “That first day we opened, at 3:40pm, butterflies in our stomachs, wondering if anyone would show,” recalls Virginia. “Sitting at my desk, I looked up and saw a parade of our corporate neighbors walking towards us from all directions. We built it, and they were coming!” A former San Diego Brewers Guild president, Marty’s worked hard to enhance the brand of San Diego beer with a quiet humility that’s earned him a tremendous amount of respect over the years.

Although a brand new brewery, the beer is excellent. Seize the Day IPA is modest by San Diego standards at 6.5% and 65 IBUs, but it’s a hoppy, sessionable West Coast style IPA that has been well received. Tabula Rasa is a roasty, dry porter that clocks in at 6.2%, and the Blonde is a clean, balanced 5% ale.

Second Chance opened late in 2015, and is just getting warmed up. All signs point to the brewery becoming the next “it” producer of beer in San Diego. West Coaster readers obviously concur, naming this spot is the Best New Beer Spot in the entire county. Keep an eye on this one in 2016!

Best San Diego Beer: #allthebeers
This category was too close to call. Votes came in damn near equal numbers for AleSmith’s .394 Pale Ale + Velvet Speedway, Ballast Point’s Grapefruit Sculpin + Grunion, Alpine’s Nelson, Karl Strauss’ Mosaic, Stone’s Xocoveza and Fall’s 2AM Bike Ride. While it sucks to not be able to name a definitive winner, it’s a pretty telling result. 2015 was a year for the record books for the San Diego brewing community, and neither our readers nor West Coaster staff could pick just one beer above all others.


Bix cheers
This feature is dedicated to the memory Horace “Bix” Bixby. A talented home brewer, beer judge and active QUAFF member since 1995, Bix was also an accomplished cheesemaker. He will be deeply missed.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Next Page »