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New chef, menu, cans at The Cork & Craft

Mar 16

Duo of Colorado lamb at The Cork & Craft in Rancho Bernardo

In less than two years, The Cork and Craft has established itself as one of inland North County’s best restaurants. The food and ambience are enough that it would be a draw even without its onsite winery and brewery. Those amenities—particularly Abnormal Beer Company—are tremendous value-addeds, particularly when their wares are incorporated into special pairing dinners featuring guest chefs, vintners and breweries.

C&C opened with adventurous chef Phillip Esteban at the helm. He made such a name for himself, both in RB and at the many offsite events he participated in—that he was hired away by powerhouse bar-and-restaurant entity Consortium Holdings to serve as its culinary research-and-development mastermind. His departure left big clogs to fill at C&C, but current executive chef Scott Cannon has been on the job for three months and is turning out solid cuisine that might even be better suited for the tastes of RB denizens.

Dishes remain intelligent, but are a bit easier for the average diner to get their head around. They’re less fussy but just as flavorful. And in some cases, even more flavorful. A prime example is a seemingly simple salad of raw and grilled endive. It’s the only first-course greenery I’ve felt deserving of must-try status, but it’s perfection on a plate. Spiced pecans bring in a gingerbread-like flavor segueing beautifully with the sweetness of cider-like vanilla-poached pears complement and Moody Blue goat cheese contrasts. On the opposite end of the spectrum is a breakfast-for-dinner starter, seared foie gras over French toast with a fried quail egg and nasturtium. The toast is golden and not the least bit soggy while the edible flowers serve a purpose by lending a touch of balancing bitterness.

A Colorado lamb entrée features nicely cooked chops, but the star of the plate are tender agnolotti stuffed with tender braised shoulder-meat. It’s an edible education in what al dente pasta should feel like. Other dishes like a Hamachi crudo appetizer served with a shishito pepper relish as well as scallops with meaty king trumpet mushrooms (and, oddly, more shishito peppers) lack the wow-factor of the previously mentioned recipes in Cannon’s current canon, but they’re in keeping with fare offered at C&C from day one.

Back on the beer-front, Abnormal is set to release its first two canned beers at a release-party this Saturday, March 18 starting at 11 a.m. at C&C. Both of those aluminum-clad brews are hazy (AKA: New England-style or Vermont-style) India pale ales. The first is New Money IPA, a juicy, 7% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) offering massively dry-hopped with Amarillo and Simcoe, followed by its industrial-strength cousin, Turbidity, an 8.5% ABV double IPA brewed with Mosaic and Idaho 7, that pours thicker than the average hop-bomb. Both beers will be sold in four-packs and dishes from the restaurant’s bar-menu will be available.

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Beer of the Week: Mason Second Son

Dec 30

Second Son Barrel-Aged American Strong Ale from Mason Ale Works

From the Beer Writer: From the moment the owners of the Urge Gastropub family of hospitality venues conceived their foray into the brewing business, a barrel-aging program was a key component. Even before their eventual Mason Ale Works was serving beer from its sister-restaurants’ taps, it was siphoning hearty ales into spirit-soaked oak. They dubbed this slice of the business Mason Snaleworks in light of the extended time it takes for beer to mature and take on wood-borne character. After eight months of patience on the Mason crew’s part, the first bottled Snaleworks release, Mason Second Son, is now available in wax-dipped, 22-ounce bottles throughout Southern California. Labeled simply as an “American strong ale”, it’s a blend of imperial stout and barleywine that pours nearly black and lets off a bold, billowing bouquet rife with scents of sawdust and whiskey extracted from 12-year-old Elijah Craig barrels. Alcohol is big on the nose, but much more subtle in the palate; no small feat considering this monster registers a whopping 14% on the alcohol-by-volume scale. Despite its brute strength, it drinks rather smoothly, cohesively presenting flavors of dark chocolate and coffee with a ton of vanilla and a hint of anise that comes out once the beer reaches room-temperature. It’s a great first-effort that elicits excitement over future barrel-aged offerings from Mason, which will soon have a lot more barrels and space to work with when it moves its primary brewing and aging operations to San Marcos’ Urge Common House venue early next year.

From the Brewer: “First of all, we are pleased as punch with ourselves for the release of our first barrel-aged, Mason Snaleworks release. Second Son was a name we had been throwing around for quite some time, mostly for the enjoyment of the way it sounded and how we associated it with ourselves, personally. Having been born in this particular order in my family, as was Mason co-founder Grant Tondro, I am very aware of the stigma that comes with being a giant pain in the ass and an embarrassment to the family. Our second barrel-aged beer somehow escaped the blemishes often staining the second-born. A barleywine and imperial stout aged in eight bourbon barrels for eight months, blend together so perfectly. It’s rare to see such a complex barrel-aged beer that is so approachable. Rich chocolate, toffee and bourbon notes in the nose finish with soft caramel, toast and slight roast from the coffee. Take heart, at 14% ABV, this sneaky little bugger can drive you to dangerous levels of insanity, but you will fall fast in love with the ferocity with which this child opens its heart.”Jason De La Torre, Head Brewer, Mason Ale Works

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2016 Recap: San Diego’s Best New Breweries

Dec 13

It’s the final month of the year, and time to reflect on the year nearly gone-by. For me, that means assessing San Diego County’s brewery landscape. That’s what I’ll be doing in a three-part series of posts this week, starting with a look at the plethora of new brewing operations that opened in 2016. More breweries opened this year than any in history. And it’s important to note that more good breweries opened in 2016 than in the past several years. Many tout the double-digit number of rookie fermentation operations added to San Diego’s brewery-count each year, but I’ll be honest and say that the past half-decade has seen too many average-to-subpar businesses join the fold. Sure, some duds opened in 2016, but the same can be said of any food-and-beverage business. The bottom-line is, aspiring entrants into the local suds-scene seem to understand, now more than ever, that they better have good beer if they’re going to compete, and that’s leading to better breweries, from conception to birth and beyond. The following are my picks (in order) for best new breweries of the past 365 days (with the exception of some that were simply too new to be fairly evaluated).

Burning Beard Brewing Company in El Cajon

Burning Beard Brewing Co., El Cajon: Rockin’ beers and rock-and-roll make for amenities worth an East County excursion at this small but well-run spot featuring a variety of beers ranging from Belgians to San Diego-style hop-elixirs to deep, dark stouts and, eventually, fouder-aged ales. Throw in employee exuberance that ranges from the brew-crew to the bar staff, and it’s sort of a holy-grail situation.

North Park Beer Co., North Park: One of the most anticipated new brewery project of the past four years, the brainchild of its namesake community’s proud denizen Kelsey McNair finally came to life. Its former MMA gym home has been transformed into a beautiful, two-story, wood-paneled den of communal enjoyment of beers that are largely sessionable and rely on impressive balance versus belligerent brawn.

Downtown’s Resident Brewing Company

Resident Brewing Co., Downtown: Urban bar and eatery, The Local, is a long-time supporter of the craft-beer movement, but when it added on-site fermentation to its equation, the resulting product was something special. An award-winning homebrewer-turned-pro is pumping out some of the bolder, ideally hopped West Coast-style beers of the rookie-class while bringing flavor with myriad other styles.

Pure Project Brewing, Miramar: If a wide array of easy-drinking beers—crisp to full-bodied, clear to hazy, fruited to (GABF medal-garnering) barrel-aged—weren’t enough reason to become enamored with this, the first brewery to test out the Brewery Igniter ready-to-brew model, the fact it’s a generous One Percent for the Planet business is enough to pull the wishy-washy off the fence.

Bear Roots Brewing in Vista

Bear Roots Brewing, Vista: A small homebrew-supply store opening a three-barrel nano-brewery with a bar that takes up half its shop…sounds risky if not ill-advised, but a husband-wife duo have not only made it work, but amassed such a cult-following behind a varied beer line-up that includes a tasty cookie-inspired dessert beer that they’re looking at growing their baby to papa-bear status in 2017.

Bitter Brothers Brewing Co., Bay Ho: The first brewery to open in 2016 has done well for itself, producing a solid line-up of hoppy beers offset by a number of English-style malt-driven styles and “candy-bar” beers. Further refinement of its wares in the coming year should keep this operation on its upward trajectory, as should fun, well-done quarterly beer dinners in its tasting room.

It’s important to note that, in previous years, a half-dozen picks for best new brewery would have been excessive. This year, I could have added another two or three rather easily. The following are those that missed the cut, but never before has the division between the best and the rest been so slim. Cheers to that!

This Year’s Contenders: Culver Beer Co. (Carlsbad), Guadalupe Brewery (Carlsbad), Kensington Brewing Co. (Mission Valley), Little Miss Brewing Co. (Miramar), Longship Brewery (Mira Mesa), Mason Ale Works (Oceanside), Midnight Jack Brewing Co. (Oceanside), Mikkeller Brewing San Diego (Miramar), Oceanside Brewing Co. (Oceanside),

Maybe Next Year: Burgeon Beer Co. (Carlsbad), Eppig Brewing Co. (North Park), Knotty Brewing (East Village), OB Brewery (Ocean Beach), Thunderhawk Alements (Miramar)

Previous Top-Ranked Breweries

2015: Fall Brewing Co. (North Park), Second Chance Beer Co. (Carmel Mountain), South Park Brewing Co. (South Park), Bay City Brewing Co. (Point Loma), Abnormal Beer Co. (Rancho Bernardo), Duck Foot Brewing Co. (Miramar)

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)

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Mason Ale Works hires new brewmaster

Nov 1
The site of Urge Common House in San Marcos' work-in-progress North City development

The site of Urge Common House in San Marcos’ work-in-progress North City development

In its short life-span, the only brewmaster Mason Ale Works has ever known has been Mike Rodriguez. A veteran brewer with years of experience at Boulevard Brewing and Port Brewing Company/The Lost Abbey, Rodriguez was a logical choice to get Mason (the in-house brewing arm of the 3LB Restaurant Concepts family of venues that includes both Urge Gastropubs and Brothers Provisions) constructed, operational and churning out beer both for distribution and barrel-aging. Today, 3LB announced that Rodriguez has resigned to pursue a new brewery project in Santa Cruz, California.

In hiring someone to replace Rodriguez, Mason Ale Works’ owners have taken a rather familiar route, hiring another former head brewer from Port/The Lost Abbey, Matt Webster, to be its new director of brewery operations. Webster will head all brewing at 3LB’s upcoming Urge Common House, a 21,000-square-foot venue in San Marcos’ North City development that will include a 15-barrel brewhouse. He will also oversee brewing operations at the original Oceanside brewery within Urge Gastropub and Whiskey Bank. Day-to-day brewing in Oceanside will be the responsibility of Jason De La Torre, who has been promoted from within to the role of head brewer.

Construction of Urge Common House in San Marcos is progressing nicely

Construction of Urge Common House in San Marcos is progressing nicely

Mason Ale Works debuted its beers in late 2015 and has since secured Southern California distribution of its kegged and canned products via Stone Distributing. Much of the decision to expand brewing and cellaring capabilities via the Common House location was to keep up with demand while providing the ability to expand distribution sooner than later.

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Beer of the Week: Abnormal Boss Pour IPA

Oct 7
Boss Pour IPA from Abnormal Beer Co. inside Rancho Bernardo's The Cork & Craft

Boss Pour IPA from Abnormal Beer Co. inside Rancho Bernardo’s The Cork & Craft

From the Beer Writer: In addition to writing, I am fortunate enough to be a part of the local brewing industry. It’s a special scene where the majority of its members truly champion San Diego craft-beer as a whole over our individual companies. This is aided by several trade organizations, including the California Craft Brewers Association, which holds a number of events each year to keep the ties of camaraderie that bind Golden State brewers taut and well-fortified. My favorite event is the CCBA Summit, which took place last month in Sacramento. A combination industry-conference and beer-festival, it shows beer professionals and fans alike what makes our local ales and lagers so special. On the first day of the conference, I volunteered to pour beer at a bar set-up within the Summit grounds by the San Diego Brewers Guild. We were pouring a trio of beers, including one I’m very familiar with as a Rancho Bernardo resident, Boss Pour IPA from Abnormal Beer Company. A thirst- and taste-bud-quenching, 7% alcohol-by-volume India pale ale projecting myriad hop flavors and aromas ranging from fruity to piney to wine-y, it’s a go-to for me whenever I’m visiting the brewery in closest proximity to my house…given it’s on-tap at the time. That’s not always the case, unfortunately. But just as when I was pouring samples in Sacramento, I am happy to say Boss Pour is currently pouring, and pleased to let more people in on a favorite of mine from my immediate neck of the woods.

From the Brewer: “In Southern California we like our IPAs dry, light in color and packed with hop flavor and aroma. This beer will give the people what they want. Most of the bittering is produced at the end of the boil with a heavy dose of Simcoe hops. Then the entire batch is run through our hop-back, which is loaded with whole-leaf Cascade hops, an entire pound-per-barrel. But the hop additions do not stop there. After fermentation, we dry-hop with Nelson Sauvin and Citra at 2.2 pounds-per-barrel, giving the beer a heavy, dank aroma that you can smell a few feet away.”—Derek Gallanosa, Head Brewer, Abnormal Beer Company

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