Brian Scott is living a brewer’s dream. After a lengthy career including stints at Firehouse Brewing Co., Mission Brewery and Karl Strauss Brewing Co., he is calling the shots as the head of SR76. That brewing interest is owned by the economic development arm of the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians and installed within the master-structure of Harrah’s Southern California Resort (777 Harrah’s Rincon Way, Valley Center). It’s the first brewery of its kind in the county and, given its business efficiencies, Scott and his associates see it as a duplicatable model, both locally and abroad.
From a brewing perspective, Scott cites numerous advantages at his inland North County anomaly. Chief among them is having his biggest customer—the resort—right next door. Rather than distribute product across or outside San Diego County, Scott can focus all of his attention on close-knit colleagues, meaning he can maintain first-hand quality control regarding beers and the lines they are dispensed through, and help the resort trouble-shoot and repair any problems that come about. SR76’s beers are available at the resort’s family of bars and restaurants, which go through enough kegs that there is currently no need to explore selling product to outside accounts. Additionally, the resort selecting the beers that fill out the rest of its taps and fridges, allows for control of competing brands.
Even so, Scott is not looking to go head-to-head with big boys like Ballast Point, Stone or Green Flash. He doesn’t even brew an IPA. Instead, he’s aiming for approachability and producing a line of session beers that will be compatible with the tastes of the resort’s diverse—and largely new-to-craft—clientele. The way he sees it, having his beers predominantly featured at a resort with the size and scope of Harrah’s allows him to touch tons of people other craft breweries have little or no access to, so he doesn’t want to lose them with massive bitterness, big-alcohol or outlandish adjuncts. As such, SR76’s current quartet of core beers consists of a German-style wheat beer featuring traditional notes of banana and clove, a light-bodied Kölsch, and pale ale built to scratch the IPA itch care of Mosaic hops and 70 IBUs (international bittering units). His most avant-garde offering might actually be the best shot at converting oenophiles and the beer-averse. Dubbed Supul (translating to “one”, signifying it being the first beer brewed by SR76), it’s a sub-4% alcohol-by-volume saison that, with floral notes of violet, lavender and honeysuckle, comes across like the ale-equivalent of viognier. The body of this beer, as well as that of the wheat and Kölsch, is thin by traditional standards, but that may be advantageous once temperatures reach the extremes that are the norm during Valley Center summers.
SR76’s tasting room is in a separate ground-floor structure across from the hotel’s main entrance. A condition of the business’ manufacturing license dictates that it can’t be connected to Harrah’s, but Scott sees advantages there, as well, stating that it renders his sampling space as an “oasis” of sorts. While the casino and hotel pool-area are typically high-energy, loud and even a bit raucous (particularly during the sunny season), SR76 is lounge-like with its bevy of comfortable seating options and lack of gaming or TVs. Most of the customers who venture there are looking for beer, a break or both. Like most local tasting rooms, beers are sold below at-large prices, which was important to Scott, who wants a visit to the source to be as authentic as any other. The smell of steeping grains on brew-days really helps hammer that home. Another bonus: guests are allowed to bring food in from the resort’s plethora of dining spots.
A prime reason the tribe opted to get into the brewing business was to be able to spotlight San Diego’s brewing culture while keeping beer-seekers on property. Harrah’s has historically been a key supporter of the San Diego Brewers Guild by sponsoring the Rhythm and Brews Music and Craft Beer Festival, and putting on its own Hop Heads and Dreads Craft Beer and Reggae Festival. By constructing a brewery, the resort now has increased ability to put on large-scale events, and they are exploring ways in which to do so.
Thus far, SR76 is performing to tribal expectations, albeit during the slow-season for tourism and beer-consumption. Time and data collected during peak months will tell the true tale, but if the operation is successful, the SR76 team sees this as a model that can be duplicated at resorts throughout Southern California and beyond—citing Northern California, Arizona, Oklahoma and North Carolina as potential regions for on-property brewery infusion.
From the Beer Writer: There was a time when pretty much the only way I was going to get my hands on prime Pizza Port beers like Swami’s, Chronic or Kook, was by going to one of that storied chain’s brewpubs. Having lived my entire life in inland San Diego, that constituted a special (and always well-worth-it) trip. So, it was a good day, indeed, when Pizza Port’s Bressi Ranch started canning those beers and distributing them all over San Diego County. More recently, the company has started developing new beers specifically for canning, and the latest is perhaps my new favorite canned offering—Pizza Port Graveyard’s Pale Ale. A “strong pale ale,” it comes in at 6.2% alcohol-by-volume and comes on strong up-front fruitiness from Mosaic, Ella, Vic Secret, Super Pride and Amarillo hops. But for me, Graveyard’s real beauty and differentiating factor is its balancing and complex maltiness, the product of a blend of Munich and CaraRed—which presents itself courtesy of toasty, biscuit undertones. Each sip smacks not only of San Diego brewing sensibilities, but Pizza Port’s specific and unmistakable trademark combination of flavor and drinkability. It’s the kind of pale ale I could spend the day drinking pint after pint of at an indoor picnic bench while consuming a basket of Beer Buddies…were I not gratefully able to do all that sipping from the comfort of my own (inland) backyard.
From the Brewer: “Graveyard’s is the first limited-release can to come out of our Bressi Ranch brewery. We decided to go with a stronger pale ale, a style that we all drink a lot of in the pubs and was currently missing from our portfolio. This year, we were lucky to get a healthy amount of Mosaic and Australian hops on contract, and those hops are a perfect fit with each other and for that style of beer. When fermenting it, we blended California Ale yeast with our house La Cruda straing. The Cal-Ale accentuates the hops, while La Cruda showcases the malt. We had also been talking with long-time regular and distinguished surf photographer Steve Sherman on using his photography on a can. All these things came together at the right time for Graveyard’s to get done. The name and label comes from Steve’s shot of the Oceanside break with the same name. It was an empty lot where surfers used to bury their broken boards in the ground, making it look like a graveyard. The photo is from October 2001, during a once-in-a-lifetime south swell.”—Sean Farrell, Director of Brewing, Pizza Port Brewing Company
Director of Brewery Operations, Port Brewing Co. / The Lost Abbey / The Hop Concept
When it comes to farmhouse ales, most beer fans and brewers agree that Saison Dupont is the standard by which all others are to be judged. A brewer in this camp whose opinions on the matter have been quoted numerous times is Tomme Arthur, the headman of the three-headed entity comprising Port Brewing Company, The Lost Abbey and The Hop Concept. And when looking for an American brewer for Brasserie Dupont to work with on a new beer, importer Total Beverage Solution took note of Arthur’s praise, and reached out to see if he’d be interested. He jumped at the chance and soon found himself face-to-face with Dupont master brewer Olivier Dedeycker, working on a version of Saison Dupont bringing in New World, American influence. Luckily for us, he also jumped at the chance to talk about this memorable experience with West Coaster.
Tell us about the beer, Deux Amis, and how readers can get their hands on it.
Olivier really wanted to explore American hops and how they might behave in their brewery. He felt the best way to do this was to produce a beer that took the attributes of classic Dupont and add our American contributions. I was allowed to select the hops I felt would make for an interesting profile—Amarillo, Simcoe and Mosaic. I was really excited to brew with these hops, while at the same time seeing how their house-yeast was allowed to manifest itself in the beer. Deux Amis should be available for distribution in California. I don’t know the exact totals, but it should be in the market right now on-draft and in 750-milliliter bottles.
This collaboration involved a lot of first for the Dupont team—what were some of those?
[Dupont] has been operating for over 180 years and, in that time, their efforts have always been focused on the farmhouse production methods. So very little of the production has required outreach. The beer became available in the U.S. in the early ‘90s and during the “launch” no one from the brewery came to promote the brand. So, the family that runs the brewery had never had a representative travel to the U.S. to represent Dupont. And they had never invited a brewer to participate in a collaborative beer that was for broad-market release. [For this beer], Olivier traveled to the U.S. for the first time in his life. He threatened to come back. This collaboration was the first time [Dupont] had used American hops in their brewery.
What were some memorable experiences from Olivier’s time in Southern California?
We crammed so many things into our three short days in San Diego and Los Angeles. We went to the ocean’s edge. Olivier experienced our brewery and our massive barrel-program. That was overwhelming to him. The volume of travel required to visit each account was striking as well. I don’t think he was prepared to travel in so many cars and see all the concrete freeways we traversed. Perhaps one of the coolest parts of the trip was that we got to share West Coast beers with Olivier. He was very fond of the pairing of Karl Strauss Brewing Company’s Mosaic Session IPA and fish tacos we enjoyed at the Encinitas Fish Shop.
Deux Amis translates to “two friends”—do you and your new friend foresee future collaborations?
The production of this beer started a friendship that I hope will last for years to come. My respect for this brewery and their beers is well documented. Getting to travel with Olivier and show him our brewing culture and how his beer fits into it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I am thankful to have been able to share this experience with him and hope our Deux Amis collaboration finds many new friends in consumers as well. We discussed [additional collaborations] at length and are trying to understand how best we can continue this relationship. They were some great conversations.
This place looks familiar, I thought as we turned into a business park I’d been to numerous times. It’s how I started my last beer-touring piece and it was just as apt with stop three of four—Midnight Jack Brewing Company (3801 Oceanic Drive, Oceanside). Nearing this new brewery’s business-park home, I was reminded of doing so many times when visiting Oceanside Ale Works from 2007 to 2009. It was one of the first local breweries I visited (after larger, more obvious stops like Stone Brewing, Pizza Port and Karl Strauss Brewing Company), and the smallest of my early batch. Midnight Jack owner and brewmaster John Scheri has history with OAW, as well. He used to volunteer there back in his homebrewing days. So opening his own brewery in the spot he selected is equal parts next-chapter and homecoming.
Much like OAW, Midnight Jack (named after a family member who did the mechanical work for New Jersey bootleggers during the Prohibition era) has a party-vibe to it, and that has everything to do with Scheri. Shortly after I arrived, he came to the bar and hoisted up family-size bags of snacks before heading to the rear of the tasting room to grill up burgers and hot-dogs, both of which were available to customers free-of-charge. A row of picnic tables encourage the making of new friends while corn-hole (they hold a tourney every Tuesday), giant-sized Jenga and Thursday trivia-nights provide fun things to do beyond imbibing. That said, imbibing is the whole reason Midnight Jack exists, so on to the beer.
The day I was in, 11 beers were on-tap, three of which were served on nitro. The hands-down star of the bunch was a 7.5% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) Azacca IPA. Its tropical-fruit character jumped out of the glass and onto my taste-buds. As quaffable as a blonde or lager yet poignantly hoppy, it’s a standout in multiple regards. And if you are into peanut-butter beers or entrenched in a nostalgic search for a beer that brings jammy fruit into the equation, Jack’s PB&J is the beer for you. Others have tried, but few, if any, more succinctly convey the exact flavor of peanut-butter-and-jelly in beer-form than this stout.
The rest of the beer-list was more hit-and-miss. Tropiweizen, a hefe brewed with Mosaic hops, tasted more of those hops than anything, leaving me wanting the trademark banana and clove yeastiness associated with this style. An eponymous pale ale was palatable and bitter enough, but Lucky No. 7 IPA, despite a nice tangerine nose, was a bit grainy and sweet. A nitrogenized Russian Imperial Stout had plenty of cocoa flavor but wasn’t all that palatable, but another nitro-beer, Barnstormer Brown Ale, was mild and satisfying in its traditional composition.
Unfortunately, there were instances where the undeniable butteriness of diacetyl reared its popcorny head. It was most noticeable in the Bombshell Belgian Blonde and Running Board Milk Stout. It was particularly disappointing to discover it in the latter, given how roasted malts help to cover the presence of diacetyl. Ditto the nitro delivery system.
Midnight Jack is less than two months into its young lifespan, and there is much yet to come. First off, an official grand-opening celebration, which is slated for July 2 and 3, and will include new beer releases, live music, contests, food vendors and more. Sunday’s event is ticketed and will include access to prime firework-watching real estate (tickets are available online). Further down the line, an area will be available for private events, and a kitchenette just off the brewery will be renovated for provision of in-house food. For now, Scheri’s barbecue grill fills in just fine, especially when food from it is paired with that Azacca IPA.