From the Beer Writer: Last month, I ventured to Sorrento Valley for a Monday-night session at New English Brewing Company, where my eyes gravitated to a beer on the board called “Hop Slap’d”. In a matter of seconds, I was lifting a full pint, but before I could take a sip, I was shocked into a neutral state by the outrageously vibrant hop aroma wafting up from the glass. Freshly zested oranges, mowed grass and a hint of lemon registered with force. When I eventually took a taste, all of those components were there along with a touch of casaba melon. As potent as it was, I figured it must be a newly tapped beer, but it had already been on-tap for a month. Just as I began wishing I’d have visited the brewery 30 days earlier, the barkeep mentioned the beer was part of a series of pale ales with rotating hop bills, the next of which, New English Hop Slap’d #5, was about to make its debut. I immediately made plans to come back to try that beer, which derives its hoppy appeal from Citra hops, coming on strong with scents and flavors of myriad citrus and tropical fruits, minus the grassy, melon-like nuances imparted by the Mosaic that gave Hop Slap’d #4 its unique characteristics. I’ll definitely be back for future editions of this pale. Consider me hop slap’d!
From the Brewer: “Hop Slap’d pale ale is designed to educate drinkers about the differences between hop varietals and also about the difference between ‘hoppiness’ and ‘bitterness’. Brewed using the same base recipe for each batch, we end up with an American pale ale weighing in at 5.5% alcohol-by-volume and 40 IBUs (international bittering units). Very crushable! The key to these rotating-hop-series beers are the late kettle-hop additions and, more specifically, the dry-hop additions. Each successive batch of Hop Slap’d features different hops, so if you try #4 alongside #5, for instance…as you can right now at the New English tasting room…you can eliminate the base beer as a variable. Any difference in taste or aroma is down to the hops alone! Batch #4 used all Mosaic for late and dry additions, while #5 used all Citra. The difference is amazing, and since the beer isn’t overwhelmingly bitter like some IPAs tend to be, the character of the hops themselves shines through. In order to accentuate the difference and literally slap you in the olfactory organs with flavor and arom,a we load up the dry hops at almost two-and-a-quarter-pounds per-barrel. That’s the same as our double IPA! Hop Slap’d #5 features big tangerine and ripe citrus aroma plus a light scent of pineapple. The taste is like fresh-squeezed OJ on the palate with a mild bitterness and light malt character. This is a thirst-quencher and perfect for the hot, dry weather we’ve been having.”—Simon Lacey, Owner & Brewmaster, New English Brewing Company
Evan Smith enjoys creating things and pushing the envelope in the process. That’s the approach he took with his family business, Escondido Feed and Pet Supply, which has been in operation for decades but gained a reputation as one of the nation’s best stores of its kind only after Evan took the reins. When looking to take on a new entrepreneurial enterprise, he set his sights on craft brewing. A friend of Jordan Hoffart, he had discussions about investing in the pro-skateboarder’s Black Plague Brewing, which recently opened in Oceanside with a 20-barrel system, and grand-scale sales and distribution ambitions. In the end, the big-time wasn’t for Evan. So he went the exact opposite route, building San Diego County’s smallest fermentation interest, Escondido Brewing Company (649 Rock Springs Road, Escondido), which opened last weekend.
In doing so, Evan enlisted the services of an Escondidian homebrewer with scads of beer-competition wins under his medal-clad belt, Ketchen Smith. Together, they went to work building their brewery “like a tiny home.” With only 300 square feet at their disposal, even the most common construction tasks had to be analyzed and strategically managed. They had to cut a vertical foot off the cold-box and reverse the door. They had to install a sink small enough that it would allow them to open doors to that cold-box and the dishwasher on either side of it. And they had to install a bar-top that can be removed to allow a roll-up garage door to fully close. But they relished these challenges and maximized their space in the process. That removable bar-top can also be shifted to a lower rung to allow for service to patrons in wheelchairs, and visible fermenters stored in a converted liquor-store refrigeration unit are lit in a way they lend ambience to the place.
Having seen many a brewery in my day, Escondido Brewing is a testament to thoughtfulness, elbow grease and sheer will to make something happen. The Smiths smithed most of this big little project on their own, and what they didn’t do themselves, they got help from courtesy of friends and relatives. The business is a sterling example of what a hometown brewery should be, right down to founders whose aspirations are entirely confined to the city they love and live in. With shaded bar-seating and a trio of picnic tables making up the entirety of Escondido Brewing’s seating options, the business is a far cry from the sprawling gardens and critically acclaimed two-story restaurant at nearby Stone Brewing, the county’s largest independent craft-beer producer. And that’s the point. It’s a nice departure, especially for locals looking to avoid out-of-town beer geeks and tourists; a polar-opposite option that larger, regional breweries needn’t worry about competing with.
Amore for Escondido is further communicated through the names of the brewery’s beers—Hidden City Pale, Rock Springs Red, Hopcondido IPA—and most are based off homebrew recipes Ketchen has won multiple awards for. The most pertinent of those is the first release in a rotating Hop Animal series of ever-changing India pale ales called Marshall Nose IPA, the recipe for which took second overall at last month’s Homebrew Con, the country’s foremost amateur-brewing competition. Pale gold in color and hopped with massive amounts of Citra and Mosaic, it features big aromas of lemon balm, hay and loam accented by flavors of melon, mango, lemon and orange. Smith says it’s inspired by West Coast breweries that have pushed for so long to develop hop-forward beers devoid of caramel color and heavy malt presence. Smith’s other IPA, Hopcondido, comes across like lemon meringue pie on the nose and fresh-cut grass on the tongue, while his pale (which was previously brewed at Coachella Valley Brewing Company following a win at the Hops and Crops homebrew competition) goes from delicate in the front to assertive, late-90’s bitterness on the back end. A milk stout referencing Escondido’s year of incorporation (1888) is all chocolate and cola, while a whiskey barrel-aged version brings vanilla and caramel into the equation without lending over-the-top booziness. All in all, it’s a fun and enjoyable opening line-up, especially given the intimate environs in which these ales were birthed.
Being so small and brewing beer one-and-a-half barrels at a time makes for the real and constant possibility that the Smiths will run out of beer. To combat that, they have trimmed their hours of operation to Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 2 to 8 p.m. However, they do plan to play off a description lauded on them by several of their customers deeming them the brewery equivalent of a food-truck, by having spontaneous pop-up openings when beer inventory allows for it. Another fun twist that couldn’t exist at a brewery registering as any more than “tiny”.
From the Beer Writer: Acronyms are used across the alcoholic-beverage industry, typically to describe particularly fine product. Cognac uses VSOP (very special/superior old pale) and XO (extra old), and I’ve always been a fan of Napa-based Chateau Potelle’s using VGS (very good shit) to describe its finest vintages. Alpine Beer Company issued an acronymous handle to its Mosaic-, Simcoe- and Citra-infused India pale ale…Alpine HFS. It’s not so much a descriptor as a reactionary phrase broken down into a publicly suitable format; the sort of happily expletive-laced comment one’s liable to make after tasting this rich, bold IPA. It debuted to great fanfare last year as a draft-only offering before taking a bronze medal in the American-style Strong Pale Ale category at the Great American Beer Festival. The next chapter in this brew’s short but illustrious lifespan is its first release in bottles. That will take place starting at noon, today at Alpine’s tasting room in its namesake East County town. They don’t figure to stay in stock for long. Show up tomorrow to pick some up and you may find yourself shouting Holy F***ing S*** for all the wrong reasons.
From the Brewer: “The beer that named itself. We always strive to offer the best beer we can possibly make, and with this beer we felt it was perfect right out of the gate. No adjustments were necessary. We got exactly what we wanted out of the beer: huge hop aroma, light body and immense drinkability. We hope this beer stays in heavy rotation.”—Shawn McIlhenney, Head Brewer, Alpine Beer Company
From the Beer Writer: During my time working for Stone Brewing, I made many great friends. The company is packed with brilliant, fun and kind people, and one of the nicest of them all is the man in charge of brewing operations at Stone’s Liberty Station brewpub, Kris Ketcham. A champion of creativity who has indulged the desires of many novices in his brewhouse, he not only dares to try things others would avoid, but possesses the skill to pull off nearly every challenge thrown his way. In 2015, when I kicked off a charity campaign to raise money for the Lupus Foundation of Southern California through the sale of specialty beers from local breweries, I had the chance to brew with Ketcham, and it was a joyfully educational experience. This year, he let me back in the brewhouse to help conjure another charity beer: Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station Trending Travis-ty. Aside from being long as all get out, there’s significance to the name of this hazy, “Northeast-style” session IPA. At the brewery I currently work for, Societe Brewing, clarity is king. Our brewing team strives to avoid haze in our IPAs and our brewmaster, Travis Smith, finds what he calls the “muddy IPA” haze-craze to be ridiculous if not a sacrilege. So we took this raging trend and made our own little “Travis-ty”. To be fair, Ketcham and I prefer clear IPAs, too, but we thought it would be a fun challenge to create a not-overly-hazy IPA with big hop appeal and extremely low alcohol; a crushable beer that would benefit from increased body from a variety of adjuncts and provide that “juiciness” beer fans are looking for these days. It’s on tap now and a portion of proceeds help lupus patients in San Diego and Imperial Counties care of the Beer to the Rescue campaign.
From the Brewer: “There have been a lot of trends in brewing over the years. The most recent one I can remember is session IPAs, and now we have ‘the L replacement’ hazy, juicy IPAs. As someone who’s taken pride in learning and employing multiple techniques for achieving beer clarity, I find it such a travesty that we’ve shifted into this. However, as much as I love to knock them, there is a uniqueness to them that even I find enjoyable from time to time. I also need to remind myself to keep an open mind, as we’ve come a long way in the past twenty-plus years. All of us as ‘craft’ brewers have changed the perception of beer over the years and still continue to do with styles like these. Sometimes we enjoy them so much that we try our own interpretations with our own signature twists. Trending Travis-ty mixes the past and current trends brewers have been chasing. Take all the adjuncts that give you the trending haze and put them to use in a style that’s lacking in body—session IPA—and you get a win-win result. For this beer, we used a blend of two-row, oats, wheat and dextrin malt to increase body and haze levels. No hops where harmed in the boiling of the wort. Instead, all of the hops used in this beer were added at the start of fermentation and post-fermentation to really bring on the haze. The combo of Mosaic, Loral and Vic Secret hops was a fun combination that uses Brandon and I’s favorite new hops with a hop that is in damn near every single IPA on the market today. Clocking in at 4.3% alcohol-by-volume and 40 on the IBU (international bittering unit) scale—all from the dry hop—this beer fulfills those whose hipster mantras include ‘I only drink hazy IPAs’ and ‘I only drink session beers.’”—Kris Ketcham, Liberty Station Brewing Manager, Stone Brewing