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…
Co-owner & Head Brewer, ChuckAlek Independent Brewers
In 2015, ChuckAlek Independent Brewers entered into an “experienceship” with The Boston Beer Company—the producers of Samuel Adams beers—via the Brewing the American Dream program. This business mentorship opportunity included an influential meeting with Boston Beer founder Jim Koch that helped ChuckAlek’s owners, Grant Fraley and Marta Jankowska, refine their business strategy and led to their decision to open a second location in North Park. The experience also birthed Time Hop Porter, a beer brewed in collaboration with Samuel Adams. It was released during several events in the San Diego area in 2015, providing valuable exposure for ChuckAlek. That business stands to get a great deal exposure starting today, when that beer is re-released in limited-edition Brewing the American Dream Collaboration Packs that will go on-sale nationwide. ChuckAlek’s beer wil share space with brews from fellow experienceship mentoriees Roc Brewing, Bosque Brewing, Woods Beer and Brewery Rickoli. We caught up with Fraley to get some insight on this big development and ask about his experiences with Boston Beer.
How did the concept for Time Hop Porter beer come about?
Porter has always been a passion at ChuckAlek and we’d experimented with a dry-hopped porter, as was traditionally in 19th century England. It turned out Eryn Bottens, who oversaw the impressive research-and-development nano-brewery run alongside the 10-barrel system at Sam Adams’ Boston brewery, also had interest in pushing big citrus notes from American hops on the back of a chocolaty British-style porter.
Have you interacted with other Brewing the American Dream mentorees?
I visited Boston and had the opportunity to meet the other brewers in 2016 as we all prepared to scale up our collaborations for the 12-pack release. It was really inspiring to hear the business journey of each of them and the impact that Brewing the American Dream has had on us all. Jim Koch’s book, Quench Your Own Thirst, was released not long before our visit and we had a great time chatting with him over some of the stories and lessons in the book while sharing beers from each of our respective breweries.
What led you to seek mentorship through Brewing the American Dream and what’s it been like?
Early in our company’s days, we received a small loan to kickstart distribution of our beer beyond our tasting room, which was funded by Brewing the American Dream through The Boston Beer Company’s lending partner Accion. We attended many events such as speed coaching and webinars, and caught wind of the experienceship program that recipients of Brewing the American Dream loans could apply for. Marta and I spend two days in Boston to kick off the experienceship, during which we met with many of the executives and brewers at The Boston Beer Company. We’ve maintained connections with several of them and they’ve continued to mentor us. Marta also had the opportunity to travel to Bavaria with members of the Pink Boots Society via a Brewing the American Dream scholarship, which was great given our big focus on German-style beers.
What do you think of the profits from the Brewing the American Dream 12-packs going to Accion?
Many of the awesome food and beverage businesses in San Diego have received loans from Brewing the American Dream through Accion in their salad days. It’s tough to obtain funding from the big banks when you’re just getting going, especially for a capital-intensive business like brewing. Accion also takes it a step further and engages with business resources to help their clients succeed. It’s great to be a part of giving back to their mission and the Brewing the American Dream program.
Will you have any events around this beer that San Diegans can take part in?
We are having a release event with Sam Adams this Tuesday, July 18 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at ChuckAlek Biergarten (3139 University Avenue, Northh Park). Time Hop Porter will be poured alongside hosted food by Nana’s Heavenly Hot Dogs (another BTAD loan recipient) with live music by Peter Hall. Details can be found online.
Every six months, I take a look at the work-in-progress breweries throughout San Diego County and offer opinions on those that show the most promise. My current list has more than 40 upcoming brewery-owned venues, so there are plenty to consider. I’m breaking down this series into a once-per-week piece taking on one section of the county at a time, starting with the eastern expanses.
Depot Springs Beer Co., La Mesa: In the works for more than two years, this project’s greatest obstacle is its ambition. A combination brewery, distillery, restaurant, coffee shop, kid-zone and music venue, it has struggled every step of the way, causing a level of interest-fatigue for those awaiting its arrival. Still, it’s a heck of a project on paper and figures to be worth visiting when it eventually jumps off the page. Ownership hopes that will happen this summer.
Click here to read more about this project
Julian Brewing Co., Julian: Last year, Pizza Port co-owner Vince Marsaglia shuttered this operation and its associated Bailey BBQ restaurant in order to re-concept it. Stainless vessels were recently delivered to the project-site and there is a chance Marsaglia may grow ingredients on-site to infuse into house beers, a la the farmhouse-brewery model. It’s a concept that seems fitting for JBC’s rural, small-town environs.
Smoking Cannon Brewery, Ramona: Ramona got its first brewery when ChuckAlek Independent Brewers opened in 2013. Its second will open this Saturday in the former home of Brown Chevrolet at 780 Main Street, Suite I, offering an IPA, cream ale, pale chili ale, rye, brown mild, American stout and smoked peanut butter ale. Extra faith in these initial products is provided by the knowledge Green Flash Brewing brewer Lucas Nelson consulted on them.
Click here to read more about this project
A craft beer desert received its first rainfall of local ales and lagers when ChuckAlek Independent Brewers opened in Ramona in 2014. Local thirst in that small unincorporated northeast town was enough for that business to spawn a satellite tasting room and beer garden in San Diego proper’s North Park community. And in the minds of Mike Nelson and Natallie Phillips, Ramona is at the point in its sudsy development where it’s ready for a second fermentation interest. They are poised to deliver that this Saturday when they open the doors to their Smoking Cannon Brewery at 780 Main Street, Suite I.
That couple has been together for 20 years—12 of which Nelson has spent homebrewing and winning awards. (Phillips claims only three out of more than 100 recipes have failed to take honors at one competition or another.) They’ve spent the better part of the past year burning the midnight hours beyond their day-job regimens to get Smoking Cannon ready for business. Part of that process was building a three-barrel electric brewhouse to feed a pair each of three- and six-barrel fermenters, and developing recipes for beer as well as home-made ginger soda and root beer.
Non-sarsaparilla brews are largely English and American-inspired. The latter include an India pale ale, cream ale, stout, rye ale and chili pale ale, while British influence comes via a brown mild, pale ale, extra special bitter and various porters. Belgium is also represented, with a strong ale and a pumpkin-infused saison in the works. Sours and holiday-inspired seasonals will eventually figure into the equation, but for now it’s more about introducing more everyday beers.
Smoking Cannon’s grand opening will take place from 12 to 11 p.m. on May 13 and feature live music plus close friends of the owners attending dressed in Civil War-era attire. That nation-shaping skirmish is a focal point of the brewery and where it derives its name. Both brewing and the history of that era will be communicated at the tasting room, which will be open 4:30 to 9 p.m. on Thursdays, 4:30 to 10 p.m. on Fridays, 12 to 10 p.m. on Saturdays and 12 to 9 p.m. on Sundays. Phillips warns that the entrance to the business is actually on Eighth Street, so don’t let your map app fool you. Parking is available in plentitude in a large lot on the corner of Eighth and D Street.
From the Beer Writer: Collaboration beers provide the greatest opportunity for brewers to get out of their comfort zones and try their hands at more out-there concepts. For some that means incorporating adjuncts, local ingredients or experimental hops. Then there’s truly next-level ventures like the one recently embarked upon by ChuckAlek Independent Brewers, Council Brewing Company and White Labs, where the latter interest revived somehow-still-active yeast from a 25-year-old bottle of Russian imperial stout. With that biological feat accomplished, ChuckAlek and Council’s brewers went to work crafting a traditional high gravity stout recipe and fermenting it with that yeast strain. The result is Katerina, a 10.5% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) offering that was recently bottled and had its official coming out party at ChuckAlek’s Biergarten in North Park. Unlike most modern day imperial stouts, the beer is lower on the chocolate and coffee scale, instead exhibiting big notes of raisin, date and plum with some brown sugar sweetness and a touch of baking spice. Named for the Russian empress whose love of dark beers spurred the eventual popularity of this style, Katerina is a lovely blend of tradition and modern-day ingenuity.
From the Brewer: “Back in 2015, when I was pouring ChuckAlek beer at the pro-brewers night of the National Homebrewers Conference here in San Diego. Jeff Crane from Council and I discussed a tentative collaboration based on the idea of England’s old Brettanomyces-aged stock ales. The next day I ventured down to Baja with friend and beer historian Ron Pattinson to show him around the burgeoning beer and food scene. It didn’t take long before we were chatting about porter and Ron brought up the famed Courage Russian Stout; telling me how he’d bought up a couple of cases before the beer ceased production in the early ’90’s and he was sure the original Brettanomyces yeast strain was alive and well in the bottle, allowing the beer to hold up extremely well over a couple of decades time. Courage Russian Stout was of the lineage of over 200 years in production of the original Russian Stout brand, which famously became high demand from Catherine the Great of Russia and her Imperial Court. At that time, in the late 1700’s, the beer was produced by Barclay Perkins who held the brand through the 1950’s, at which point Courage bought the brand. Most traditional beer styles have changed radically over time due to factors such as war-time taxation and rationing or laws dictating acceptable beer ingredients. Russian Stout, however, remained rather unchanged in spec: about 10% ABV, loads of high-quality UK hops and long maturation in oak vats. With the help of White Labs, we isolated the yeast strain from a bottle of 1992 Courage Russian Stout from Ron’s private cellar. Genetic identification determined it was actually Saccharomyces (ale yeast) that had heartily survived over 25 years. We then worked with Council to conduct a pilot brew and construct a recipe based on Ron’s research on the Barclay Perkins brewing logs. The result is a big and truly stout beer with raisin and date on the nose, fruity yeast and caramelized sugar flavor up front, then lingering bitter chocolate and orange peel in the finish. The body is full, which rounds out the strong hop charge and roast on the finish. This beer will surely do well with some age and we intend to brew it again with Council to set it down in some barrels in the spirit of the historically oak-vatted porter. The ‘Perkins Ale’ yeast is available to commercial breweries via White Labs and we hope to see others experiment with it!”—Grant Fraley, Head Brewer, ChuckAlek Independent Brewers