It’s the type of moniker that inspires more question marks than exclamation points: Black Plague Brewing (2550 Jason Court, Oceanside). The first time I heard about it was nearly two years ago when I first interviewed the owners of the now-open business. And over that span, the odd resonance of that name hasn’t diminished in the least. Part of it may be the fact the words are typically presented along with a spooky logo featuring an ancient, crook-beaked plague doctor, but mostly it’s the reference to the historic bubonic plague (AKA “the black death”), which wiped out between 75 and 200 million Europeans (30-60% of the continent’s entire population) from 1346 to 1353. But there’s more to a business than its handle and motif. I was sure to remind myself of that as I entered Black Plague’s tasting room for the purpose of sampling its beer and atmosphere as part of a recent brewery touring session.
Walking through the door, I bid adieu to a perfectly sunny day and took a second for my eyes to adjust to the darkness of the space. Though outfitted with skylights and a lobby bordered on one side by floor-to-ceiling windows, the walls are painted jet black. Furniture hues range from brown to ebony and the only relief from the dim color palate is a beer board decorated with colorful, artful names and descriptions, plus rudimentary thin, white-line sketches of the plague doctor and such. It was around Halloween when I visited, but it’s clear the creep factor had little to do with that macabre holiday. And while it wasn’t my personal cup of tea, I had to hand it to the folks who handled the interior design. They took a thematic, embraced it and delivered. It’s complete and makes good on a promise set forth by the brand and its back story, even adding a touch of whimsy here and there in the process.
Fortunately, the service element does not fall in line with what one might find in the midst of a continental pandemic. The bar staff is rather friendly. My only knock was a seeming lack of knowledge or interest in the finer points of beer and brewing, but not everyone can be a nerd. They knew Black Plague’s beers enough to be helpful, and made a point to note something very cool (literally): a glycol-chilled copper strip running down the center of the bar. That amenity keeps beers cool should you be consuming a style that you’re not looking to warm for increased sensory effect. The customers, too, were in a jovial mood as they drank their beers and watched football on a screen mounted left of the beer menu. As I received my taster flight, I looked forward to falling into their frame of mind.
Prior to coming to Black Plague’s tasting room, I had sampled only one of the company’s beers, 1347 IPA. Named, as they say, for “the year of the plague,” it was hazy and juicy. Now, however, it’s no longer Northeastern in body and has far less of a fruit-juice character. If anything, it’s much drier and exhibits a grapefruit pithiness more evocative of a San Diego-style IPA. For those looking for fruit, however, there are multiple versions of this beer available, all of which have been infused with a different fruit (mango, pineapple, blood orange, grapefruit, blueberries) as well as habanero peppers. Plenty happy with the base beer, I chose the purist route, moving on to a Kölsch called Remedium that was crisp and balanced, and Nelson Pandemia, an IPA hopped with “an outbreak of Nelson hops,” that had a sharp, bitter finish that left a sticky, peppercorn-like spice in its wake.
From here it was on to more avant-garde beers, starting with ChaI.P.A. Fans of chai (which I am) are likely used to encountering this exotic-tasting adjunct in beer, but typically styles on the darker end of the spectrum. I was skeptic of how it would come across in a lighter-bodied, hoppy beer, but it was a winner. All chai in the nose and only slightly bitter, allowing the added spices to come through, it was my favorite of Black Plague’s beers. Second place went to Samoa Stout, a beer brewed with chocolate, roasted coconut, maple syrup and graham crackers to emulate the Girl Scout Cookie of the same name. Dessert-like, but not overly sweet, it comes across as dark chocolate with a supportive caramel backdrop.
While my inner-marketing professional shudders when presented with this brewery’s branding, I would happily reach for one of its beers. Though its owners lack beverage-industry experience, they have been wise enough to consult with professionals who possess just that. Their brewhouse is currently benefiting from the services of ex-AleSmith Brewing and Mikkeller Brewing San Diego fermentationist Bill Batten, who specialized in traditional beer styles for more than a decade before shifting to more experimental brews at his most recent gig. He seems a perfect fit for his current digs while he waits for his next post, North Park’s TapRoom Beer Co., to be constructed. From what I tasted, he’ll leave some big boots to fill.
From the Beer Writer: There are magic moments where you take a first sip of a beer and are instantly aware of its flawlessness care of a perfect blend of flavors, aroma, body and balance. I experienced such a moment about a month ago when my wife afforded me a try of the Baltic porter she’d ordered: Bagby Herd of Turtles. The beer is mild and silken with notes of baker’s chocolate augmented by a slight minerality from the slow-fermenting lager yeast that give this brew it’s fun moniker. To be fair, I often feel like I’m drinking technically and culturally perfect beers at Oceanside craft Mecca Bagby Beer Company, but what made this instance extra-special was Herd of Turtles being awarded a silver medal in the Baltic-style Porter category at the Great American Beer Festival a mere two weeks after I was introduced to it. That precious metal in no way makes the porter any better than it already was, but it sure is gratifying to have proof of a decent palate confirmed by the country’s preeminent professional-brewing competition.
From the Brewer: “A true lager beer, the primary fermentation for this beer takes around four weeks. It is then lagered over a period of eight-to-ten weeks. This long process allows the lager yeast to do a lot of work rounding out all of its deep flavors. The lager component allows the beer to be very clean and bright despite its age and complex array of flavors. The dark-malt depth in this beer is huge. It has flavors and aromas of dark fruit, sugar and cocoa. It also has a very slight roast note, and despite its high alcohol percentage, is relatively light-bodied with a crisp finish. We actually had the name for the beer before the beer, itself, thinking what a great image an actual herd of turtles would make. Obviously, it’s named this because of its super slow fermentation and cellaring. Because of that long lead time, this is a beer we make just once a year, and had only made once before the current batch. To us, that made it especially cool that it medaled.”—Jeff Bagby, Owner & Brewmaster, Bagby Beer Company
The journey to the debut of Northern Pine Brewing Company may have taken longer than its owners would have expected or preferred, but after more than a year of hard work, the Oceanside brewpub is set to open its doors to the public this Friday, October 27. Built around a thematic celebrating community, the outdoors and beer, the business has been delayed by permitting and other items outside ownership’s control, but the team made good use of that time, putting finishing touches on a stylish eatery and brewing beers that will be tapped this weekend.
Located on the corner of Horne Street and Civic Center Drive, the brewpub is a joint venture of Northern Pine and the restaurateurs behind popular downtown Oceanside barbecue spot, That Boy Good. The latter specializes in Southern Louisiana-style BBQ and will have a limited menu available during the opening weekend, however, a large kitchen will eventually allow the business to offer its entire menu along with a full suite of catering services. TBG’s original eatery on Coast Highway will soon be converted to a new concept called Miss Kim’s which will serve po’ boy sandwiches, gumbo and some of the classic ‘cue recipes.
Similar to the food plan, the initial menu of Northern Pine beers will be smaller than the eventual ten taps’ worth. A total of six will be available, most of which represent styles that will appeal to a broad variety of palates. The line-up of balanced ales will include Turning Point cream ale, Midnight Walker amber ale (which tastes a bit like a brown ale due to a one-time use of alternative, more roasty grains), a SMASH (single-malt and single-hop) ale brewed with Maris Otter and Northern Brewer hops, Golden Horizon India pale ale (IPA) and Dark Traditions porter. A California common, stout and another IPA are also on-deck.
Northern Pine’s black exterior belies inviting interiors with rows of communal tables flanked on one side by an open brewhouse (that includes components created by the team at Monster Garage, and is setup for near-term expansion), a shanty-like ordering counter for That Boy Good, and a main bar with taps and a metal rendition of the company’s logo built into a wall of logs hand-chopped by the owners. A local artist painted a pastoral mountain range onto the wall. That scene will be used as a backdrop for the bar’s tap list. Additional art, including diagrams explaining the brewing process, can be found in the restrooms, while one of the owners’ shared mottos—let’s get lost—is inscribed on the dining room’s south wall. An outdoor patio will be added to the front of the restaurant at a later date.
Northern Pine’s located at 326 North Horne Street. A date has yet to be set, but ownership is planning an official grand-opening event that will include live music, photo booths, giveaways and more.
Winners from the 2017 edition of the Great American Beer Festival were announced earlier this morning. Held annually by brewing-industry trade organization, the Brewers Association, in Denver, Colorado, this year’s GABF saw nearly 8,000 beers entered by more than 2,000 breweries in 98 style categories. 293 were awarded gold, silver and bronze medals after being evaluated by 276 judges. GABF is the country’s largest and most prestigious professional brewing competition. San Diego County breweries have historically fared incredibly well. This year saw another strong showing with the region’s brewers racking up double-digit awards.
Eleven local brewing companies brought home 14 medals this time around, including five golds in the Robust Porter (Second Chance Beer Co.) Honey Beer (Karl Strauss Brewing Company‘s Carlsbad brewpub), Imperial India Pale Ale (Ballast Point Brewing) Other Specialty Belgian Ale (Stone Brewing World Brewing & Gardens – Liberty Station) and Session Beer (Pizza Port‘s Ocean Beach brewpub) categories. That went along with six silver medals and three bronzes.
Notable is the fact only one individual brewing facility in the county won more than one medal, Carmel Mountain Ranch’s Second Chance with a gold and a silver. Newly launched SouthNorte Brewing Company garnered a bronze medal in the Specialty Beer category for a beer called AgaveMente that hasn’t even been released to the public yet. And Monkey Paw Brewing, which Coronado acquired earlier this year, earned a silver medal in the English-style Summer Ale category. Also, Vista-based Mother Earth Brew Co. medaled in the Fresh or Wet Hop Ale category for Fresh As It Gets, a beer brewed at its Nampa, Idaho production facility.
Adding to the unofficial medal count was Belching Beaver Brewery, which for the second time in its history won top honors at the Alpha King Competition. Held in conjunction with GABF each year, this friendly competition crowns the brewing company that submits the hoppiest offering amid a stacked field of IPAs. Belching Beaver previously won Alpha King in 2014. On top of that, Chula Vista Brewery owners Timothy and Dalia Parker received the Samuel Adams Brewing and Business Experienceship, following in the footsteps of Ramona-based ChuckAlek Independent Brewers, who earned the same opportunity in 2014.
The following is a complete list of the winners from brewing facilities located within San Diego County…
From the Beer Writer: In the world of sour ales, there are two types of beers: balanced brews exhibiting nuances of fruit and acidity, and brazenly tart, tangy juggernauts that force one’s palate to take notice. Since he got into the local fermentation game with Toolbox Brewing Company in 2014, Peter Perrecone has exclusively produced the latter. That preference didn’t change a bit when he got on board with fellow North County operation Belching Beaver Brewery, where he serves as barrel master. His sours are still fruited to the hilt, sporting puckering pH levels. Enter Belching Beaver Smoldering Pirates, a recently released creation packed with myriad tropical fruits. Its passion fruit and mango nose transports one to a pool-side folding chair at some island resort, with matching flavors bringing scores of vivacious zing to the party. Despite its acidic vibrancy, this 6.5% alcohol-by-volume sipper is light in body and finishes relatively crisp. This will be one of the special beers served up at Belching Beavers’ five-year anniversary shindig along with Hoppy, Hoppy Night IPA and Perrecone’s newest oak-aged release, Batch 5 Sour with Blackberries. That celebration will take place on Saturday, October 21 at the company’s headquarters in Oceanside. Tickets are currently available online.
From the Brewer: “Smoldering Pirates is an American sour barrel-aged in French red wine oak barrels. A few of the barrels date back to 2015, some of our oldest barrels, and the other barrels are about six months old. The older barrels added tons of funk and complexity to this sour while the younger barrels added balance to the beer. After we blended the base beer, it screamed for the use of tropical fruit. Passion fruit was the bulk of the fruit that was added…over 400 pounds. Mango, pineapple and guava were also added as supporting flavors. We hope you enjoy this tropical fruit bomb as much as our crew.”—Peter Perrecone, Barrel Master, Belching Beaver Brewery