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Posts Tagged Rock Bottom

Beer of the Week: Rock Bottom Devil’s Thumb

Mar 17

Rock Bottom La Jolla’s Devil’s Thumb Belgian-style golden strong ale

From the Beer Writer: As I wrote a short while back, many are the brewers who tell me, “I brew beers that I like drinking.” Judging by the quality of her hoppy offerings, particularly her Mosaic-heavy IPA, I’d say Rock Bottom head brewer Carli Smith has an affinity for lupulin-laced ales. I like when brewers do right by their taste-buds, but find it particularly impressive when they defy them, crafting styles they aren’t as fond of so others may enjoy them. Case in point, Rock Bottom Devil’s Thumb. This Belgian-style golden strong ale is utterly traditional in its look, scent, taste and feel. Its bouquet contains notes of lemongrass and gardenias, while the beer itself offers a vast array of flavor components—honey, lemon rind, white peppercorn, bubble gum and thyme. At 8% alcohol-by-volume, one would expect something overly impactful, but this beer is balanced and drinkable; enough that the beer-menu warns about its tendency to sneak up on imbibers. Smooth, sweet-smelling and delicious…what’s not to like? For that, we’ll have to ask Smith, because she harbors staunch distaste for Belgian beer-styles, making the quality of this ale all that more remarkable.

From the Brewer: “Being at a brewpub, I am able to keep my beer-list stocked with lots of stuff that I like to drink. Belgian beers not being one of those things, they rarely make their way onto my board, but I have a few regulars that really enjoy Belgian beers and they have been bugging me to make one. One of the things that I dislike about Belgian beers is the high amount of residual sugars that are usually present in the final product. So for mine, I wanted to make something that had a pretty simple grain-bill, pretty much just Weyermann Pilsner malt. This way the yeast is the star of the show, and if I could get it to totally ferment out, I knew the finish would be clean with just enough Belgian-ester sweetness. I am really happy with how it turned out, which was extremely surprising to me and everyone else. I get lots of weird looks when I say, ‘Here, try my Belgian beer,’ when everyone knows I strongly dislike the style. When I carbonated it and put it on tap I was able to drink almost a whole eight-ounce serving in one sitting, very big for me…ha. I was inspired to enter it into the San Diego International Beer Festival competition, because I felt that it was an almost perfect representation of the Belgian golden strong ale style. I also thought it would be hilarious if the brewer who hates Belgian beers won a medal for one. Oh, the irony! “—Carli Smith, Head Brewer, Rock Bottom La Jolla

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2016 Recap: San Diego’s Best Breweries Right Now

Dec 15

What are the best breweries in San Diego? Having reported on the San Diego brewing industry for nearly 10 years and having written a guide to San Diego breweries, I get asked this question all the time. My answers vary quite a bit. Prior to 2012, that list didn’t change all that much. Heavy hitters like Ballast Point Brewing Co., Green Flash Brewing Co. and Stone Brewing were ever-present. Those interests got big making great beer that couldn’t be matched by smaller operations. These are not the times we are living in. Not only are small breweries able to keep up, because of their size, they are able to be nimble and do a lot more than large breweries. They can venture outside the box whenever they feel like it, chase any trend they like or even create their own, while the big boys find themselves locked into brewing the same core beers and a handful of seasonals to meet sales and distribution obligations. A new beer for them is a high-risk proposition that requires months (or even years) of test-batches and refinement.

Due to all of the above, my list of the best breweries in San Diego County is much different than ever before. Only one of the four San Diego interests in the Brewers Association’s list of the 50 largest craft breweries is on there, and its one that wouldn’t have been there several years ago. But there are five on the list that are less than three years old, nine that have a single brewhouse producing their wares, and seven that distribute their beers exclusively (or almost solely) in San Diego County. The following is my current (alphabetical) list of the top 12 brewing companies in San Diego County. (And please remember, there are more than 130 operating brewhouses in the county—not making this list doesn’t make a brewery below-average by any stretch.)

AleSmith Brewing Co., Miramar: This maker of BJCP-geared Old World beers has been around so long it’s now of legal drinking age. It has grown from a single suite to a sprawling manufacturing plant with an expansive, multi-faceted tasting-room component. Through that transition, the beer has remained solid. If anything, it would be nice to see some new beers. Disclosure: I used to work at AleSmith.

Alpine Beer Co., Alpine: Break out the asterisk. This back-country operation, which was purchased by Green Flash in 2014, makes this list for the beers it produces at its original brewery in its namesake town. There’s just something magical about that brewhouse and the pros who man it; they are the folks who built Alpine’s stellar rep and are maintaining it on a local level.

Bagby Beer Co., Oceanside: It’s no surprise that Pizza Port product and GABF master Jeff Bagby was able to transfer his brewpub prowess to his own project, but not only does he keep tons of quality beer on-tap, those taps are installed in an inviting two-story, indoor-outdoor coastal spot built by he and his wife’s true passion for craft-beer and the people who enjoy it.

Benchmark Brewing Co., Grantville: Beer-flavored beer sums up this entire operation. AleSmith alum Matt Akin keeps it simple; something that’s surprisingly challenging. Don’t believe it, see if you can find someplace that can sustain as good a reputation as Benchmark does armed primarily with a pale ale, IPA, brown ale and oatmeal stout while leading with a table beer.

Fall Brewing Co., North Park: Journeyman brewer Ray Astamendi isn’t looking to make the best beer you’ve had in your entire life. He’s more interested in giving imbibers a bunch of great beers to enjoy on any given night, and he does just that care of an impressive portfolio that includes ales and lagers alike, ranging from the hoppiest end of the spectrum to the maltiest.

Karl Strauss Brewing Co., Multiple Locations: San Diego’s longest-running post-Prohibition era brewing operation has taken recent steps to modernize its beers, introducing dry, hoppy ales, drawing attention to a constantly evolving line of beers that also show great technique. Recently constructed brewpubs in LA and the OC should keep Karl’s crew on their upward trajectory.

The Lost Abbey / Port Brewing Co. / The Hop Concept, San Marcos: Whether it’s Port’s SoCal-centric family of largely hoppy beers, The Hop Concept’s (THC, get it?) exploratory line of lupulin-laced imperial IPAs or The Lost Abbey’s unique array of Belgian-inspired, floral, bready, woody, tart and/or boozy ales, quality and innovation await at Pizza Port’s triple-threat packaged-beer cousin op.

New English Brewing Co., Sorrento Valley: One would be challenged to find a brewery in San Diego with as great a degree of quality and consistency as this interest. The only thing keeping it in unjust obscurity is its devotion to less-popular English styles, but the introduction of expertly crafted IPAs has opened some eyes and helped grow a following and, in turn, brewing capacity.

Pizza Port, Multiple Locations: Perhaps no other local brewing biz more succinctly embodies San Diego’s style, brewing and otherwise. Expertise across all styles with flashes of ingenuity and inventiveness, tons of awards but none of the pomp and ego that comes with shiny medals, a laid-back surf-vibe inviting tanks and flip-flops—Pizza Port is America’s Finest on many levels.

Rip Current Brewing Co., San Marcos: The founders of this business deserve big-time credit for sticking to their guns. They could make more money focusing on their excellent hoppy beers, but are so devoted to keeping the homebrew spirit alive, they toil away on dozens of other lesser-selling styles, many of which win awards but still get ignored. It’s a shame.

Second Chance Beer Co., Carmel Mountain: During his decade-plus brewing at La Jolla’s Rock Bottom, Marty Mendiola was well-respected in the industry, but fairly unknown among San Diego beer-drinkers. Since opening his own spot in 2015, he’s finally gained the recognition from the public that he always deserved behind long-time and newly built recipes alike.

Societe Brewing Co., Kearny Mesa: I work here, so I am biased, but this list would be incomplete were Societe not on it. Fans flock here for a rotating family of IPAs as well as Belgian-style ales, dark beers and oak-aged sours that, after many years of maturation, are starting to trickle out of the barrel-room at a steady clip. Versatility and consistency are the keys to this operation’s success.

Author’s Note: This is the third post in a three-part series of pieces which previously examined San Diego’s Best New Breweries and San Diego’s Most Improved Breweries over the past year.

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November Events Sampler Flight: Best of Beer Week

Nov 1

sdbw_logoIf ever there were a month made for craft-beer revelry, November is it. San Diego Beer Week takes place from November 4-13 and includes literally hundreds of events throughout the county. They range from pint-nights to full-on festivals. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure of sorts, allowing beer-fans to tailor these ten days to their personal tastes. I urge everyone to have it your way, but in an effort to guide those looking for a good time as I see it, I’ve listed my dream Beer Week scenario below. Enjoy the hoppiest time of the year, but don’t forget there are plenty of other awesome events taking place before and after Beer Week. For the most comprehensive list of local events around, consult the constantly updated West Coaster events calendar.

Friday, November 4

  • Rare Beer Breakfast, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, Escondido
  • 4-Year Anniversary & Barrel-Aged Bottle Release, Amplified Ale Works, Pacific Beach
  • VIP Brewer’s Takeover, Port Pavilion at Broadway Pier, Downtown

Saturday, November 5

  • Beer for Breakfast with Abnormal Beer Co., Small Bar, University Heights
  • San Diego Brewers Guild Festival, Port Pavilion at Broadway Pier, Downtown
  • Fall Brewing 2nd Anniversary with The Creepy Creeps, Casbah San Diego, Little Italy

Sunday, November 6

  • Modern Times Vegan Brunch, Churchill’s Pub & Grille, San Marcos
  • Barrel-Aged Vanilla Storm Bottle Release, Rip Current Brewing Company, North Park
  • The Bruery Beer Dinner, George’s at the Cove, La Jolla

Monday, November 7

  • Fishing with the Brewers; Fathom Bistro, Bail & Tackle; Shelter Island
  • Pink Boots Society Special Release, Rock Bottom, La Jolla
  • Brew, Views & Chews, Tom Ham’s Lighthouse, Harbor Island

Tuesday, November 8

  • Table Beer Tap Takeover, Benchmark Brewing Company, Grantville
  • Beer to the Rescue Bad Hombre Release, White Labs, Miramar
  • Chicks for Beer with Laura Ulrich, The High Dive, Bay Park

Wednesday, November 9

  • Sour Beer Fest, Intergalactic Brewing Company, Miramar
  • Speedway Grand Prix, AleSmith Brewing Company, Miramar
  • Tyson’s Big Ass Barrel Night, O’Brien’s Pub, Kearny Mesa

Thursday, November 10

  • San Diego County Beer Week Frisbee Golf Tourney, Morley Field & Hamilton’s Tavern, South Park
  • The New Kids Brewing & Distilling Festival, Marina Village, Mission Bay
  • Paradox Beer Dinner, The Bellows, San Marcos

Friday, November 11

  • We Got the Funk, Pizza Port, Ocean Beach
  • Battle of the Guilds, Toronado, North Park
  • Roll Out the Barrels, North Park Beer Co., North Park

Saturday, November 12

  • Stone AHA Rally, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, Liberty Station
  • Carnitas’ Snack Shack Beer Brunch Buffet, Thorn St. Brewery, North Park
  • 2nd Anniversary Celebration, O’Sullivan Bros. Brewing Company, Scripps Ranch

Sunday, November 13

  • Danksauce & Dog Show, The Quartyard, East Village
  • Garage Sale with Garage Project, Sessions Public, Ocean Beach
  • Beer Garden, The Lodge at Torrey Pines, La Jolla

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2015 Recap: Beer’s Present

Dec 16
Veteran Ray Astamendi's Fall Brewing Co. tops my list of best new San Diego County breweries

Veteran Ray Astamendi’s Fall Brewing Co. tops my list of best new San Diego County breweries

Each year, I take time to look back at the new brewing companies that opened within the past 12 months (or so) and pick out the most exceptional additions to San Diego County’s craft beer scene. This year saw more breweries and brewpubs open than any before, making it the most difficult field to rate to-date. But after much thought, and even a bit of inner debate, the following are the finest rookies to draft their fermented wares in 2015. Fun side note: This is the first year that all of the top picks have come from within the actual City of San Diego.

Fall Brewing Co., North Park: There’s something to be said for having a veteran at the helm. Founder and brewmaster Ray Astamendi’s extensive life experience, brewhouse expertise, lessons learned at numerous craft breweries and ability to finally do things his way combined to produce a runaway success in the cinder-block shell of a former automotive repair spot on 30th Street. Lagers, Belgian-style ales, coffee beers, IPAs—nothing’s off limits and most of it is rather exceptional.

Second Chance Beer Co., Carmel Mountain: It takes guts to branch out on one’s own after a decade-and-a-half’s worth of security-laced tenure with one of the country’s largest brewpub chains, but that’s just what Marty Mendiola (another veteran…sensing a pattern yet?) did in opening his very own brewery in the suddenly beery North County inland area comprising Carmel Mountain and Rancho Bernardo. Straight out of the gate he’s shown mastery of uber-roasty and hoppy brews alike, and the best is likely still yet to come.

South Park Brewing Co., South Park: Running a single brewpub (including numerous service aspects) is hard enough, but handling two is a gargantuan undertaking. Yet, Cosimo Sorrentino continued to rock Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery while installing the brewery and developing kickass recipes at this sister spot next-door to Hamilton’s Tavern. In doing so, he earned his second Great American Beer Festival medal for one of SPBC’s inaugural beers, Scripps Pier Oyster Stout. Now that’s some impressive multi-tasking!

Bay City Brewing Co., Point Loma: Sorrentino’s former home- and pro-brewing partner Chris West may have left Monkey Paw in 2014, but 2015 saw him extending the “San Diego pale ale” campaign to earn our county ownership of the dry, restrainedly bitter yet hop flavor-heavy style of IPA that is quintessentially SD. He did this from his own brewery in the industrial heart of Loma Portal while crafting other exceptional, highly drinkable numbers ranging from a Vienna lager to entry-level sours.

Abnormal Beer Co., Rancho Bernardo: Brewing industry vet Derek Gallanosa got every beer geek’s dream-come-true in the form a shiny new brewhouse all his own in the swank confines of The Cork and Craft restaurant (which also houses a winery). Early struggles gave way to fine-tuned successes, including brightly hoppy IPAs and a variety of beers infused with delicious product from nearby sister business, Mostra Coffee.

Duck Foot Brewing Co., Miramar: Leading up to its open, this business meant to make gluten-reduced beers its bailiwick, but the popularization of White Labs’ gluten-nullifying Clarity-Ferm made that a far less relevant differentiator. Fortunately, the beer at this quirkily decorated but rather straightforward brewery doesn’t need niche dietary characteristics to stand out. It’s just good. That said, it’s pretty great that challenged imbibers can enjoy the beer, too!

A total of 20 newly established breweries were in contention this year and, to be honest, many were right on the brink of knocking off the half-dozen above. The following are the other businesses that vied for best new brewer op of 2015. Some businesses opened later in the year and will be in contention next year as they were too young to have been fairly considered this time around.

Contenders: Barn Brewery (North Park), Bay Bridge Brewing Co. (Chula Vista), Citizen Brewers (Mission Valley), Division 23 Brewing Co. (Miramar), Half Door Brewing Co. (East Village), Helix Brewing Co. (La Mesa), Home Brewing Co. (North Park), Kilowatt Brewing Co. (Kearny Mesa), Kuracali Saké & Beer Brewery (San Marcos), Magnetic Brewing (Kearny Mesa), Novo Brazil Brewing Co. (Chula Vista), Pacific Islander Beer Co. (Santee), Prodigy Brewing Co. (Grantville), Reckless Brewing Co. (Miramar),

Maybe Next Year: Bear Roots Brewing Co. (Vista), Guadalupe Brewery (Carlsbad), Kensington Brewing Co. (Mission Valley), Thr3e Punk Ales (Santee)

Previous Top-Ranked Breweries

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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First taste of Second Chance Beer Co.

Sep 8

secondchance_01Two weeks ago, we checked in with Marty Mendiola, the veteran brewmaster making the transition from a long-running gig at Rock Bottom’s La Jolla brewpub to his very own brewery. At the time, he was working feverishly to get his first beers brewed and fermented, and close out construction of his tasting room. His schedule was aggressive, but in a development that’s becoming all the rare in the local beer industry, he was able to meet his deadline and now his Second Chance Beer Co. (15378 Avenue of Science, #222, Carmel Mountain Ranch) is in the first week of its soft-open period.

secondchance_03One would never know any rushing was required. Second Chance’s rather large tasting room features a rather attractive bar lined with patterned wood slats giving way to a shiny, glazed top unlike any in the county. It’s not the only unique feature. A line of salvaged taps has been converted into a flowing water fountain that conveys whimsy while reminding guests to hydrate between beers. Wheel-footed high tables provide alternative spots on which to set glasses while banquettes running the length of the north wall add a cushy element.

secondchance_02Those seeking an extensive taste of Mendiola’s brewed-by-me-for-me offerings should wait a bit. But for the I-was-first crowd, Second Chance currently has three beers available. A 6.5% alcohol-by-volume India pale ale coming in at 65 IBUs (international bittering units), 5% blonde ale and a black porter called Tabula Rasa. The latter is intensely roasty with a dry, nutty finish and hints of licorice. By comparison the blonde is rather mild-mannered but tasty in its simplicity and the most refreshing option in the midst of soaring summer temps.

Second Chance Beer is open from 4 to 8 p.m., Wednesdays and Thursdays, 3 to 9 p.m. on Fridays, noon to 8 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.

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