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Posts Tagged Rock Bottom

Beer of the Week: Chula Vista Third Avenue Coffee Porter

Aug 25

Third Avenue Coffee Porter from Chula Vista Brewery

From the Beer Writer: Growing up in Chula Vista, I spent a great deal of time on Third Avenue. It’s where I bought my first guitar, saw many a discount movie at The Vogue theater and ate countless slices of post-Little-League pizza interspersed with riveting tabletop Ms. Pac-Man matches. Since moving away in my elementary school days, I hadn’t forged any new memories until recently when I showed up to Chula Vista Brewery on a Friday evening. The place was bustling with TGIF spirit, packed to the gills. It was great to see for a expat who has long wanted to see local beer trickle its way into his hometown in a big way. The first brewery to open in downtown Chula Vista offers a wide range of beers and one of the best shares the name of the street the business calls home. Chula Vista Third Avenue Coffee Porter is smooth and big on roasted-malt character with a recognizable but not overbearing java character.  At 6% alcohol-by-volume, it’s a good way to end a session in nightcap fashion. It’s delicious but perhaps the most alluring aspect of this beer is the story behind it. For that, I defer to the man who brought it to life.

From the Brewer: “I love English ales, especially browns and porters. While getting to know the people of Chula Vista and their preferences for craft beer, a surprisingly large amount of people said they like dark beers. I was stoked because I could brew some of my favorite recipes and know they would be appreciated. The story behind this recipe is that I had brewed a somewhat similar recipe, Moonlight Porter, with Marty Mendiola at Rock Bottom‘s La Jolla brewpub in 2010. It won silver in the Robust Porter category at the Great American Beer Festival that year. For this version, I decided to add coffee from my favorite San Diego roaster, Caffe Calabria. In the past, I had only added coffee to a firkin for specialty casks so this was a first for me. I’m happy how it turned out and would like to try it with whole Madagascar vanilla beans, but I need to wait for the price of the beans to come down a bit. Also, back in 2010 I had actually wanted to name the Moonlight Porter the BP Porter because it was brewed during the BP oil spill (deepwater horizon oil spill) in the Gulf of Mexico. The beer looked just like the oil spilling from the bottom of the Gulf. The oil-spill image has always stuck with me…similar to an over-carbonated cask spewing from the spile.”—Russell Clements, Head Brewer, Chula Vista Brewery

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Collabs a-plenty fuel Intergalactic Brewing anniversary

Apr 13

In its nearly four years of existence, Intergalactic Brewing Company (9715 Carroll Centre Road, Miramar) has stayed under the radar within the local suds solar system while also racking up an impressive fleet of devout followers. Many of those fans come back with great regularity due to the plethora of beers owner and brewmaster Alex Van Horne pumps out. His is a great and varied portfolio further fueled by a Red Shirt series of experimental and one-off brews. As one would expect from such a prolific brewing operation, Van Horne’s has numerous new beers slated for debut at Intergalactic’s four-year anniversary on the weekend of April 21-23.

There are four to be exact, all of which are collaborative projects. Van Horne was inspired by Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s Beer Camp, which has seen the country’s third-largest craft brewing interest brew nationally released collaboration beers with dozens of notable contemporaries across the country. In keeping with his brewery’s sci-fi motif, Van Horne calls his smaller-scale homage “Space Camp”. Three of the four beers it yielded were created with San Diego brewers while the fourth is a tandem undertaking of Van Horne and Detroit’s River Rouge Brewing Company. Van Horne befriended the owner of the latter, helping them get their Michigan nanobrewery (which is about to celebrate two years in operation) off the ground, and each year they brew special beers for each other’s anniversary.

The following are notes on Intergalactic’s quartet of anniversary collaborations.

  • Breakfast Before Impact of Giant Hurtling Space Rock of Doom Imperial Coffee Porter: Brazilian coffee from Bird Rock Coffee Roasters gives a caffeinated kick to this robust brew designed with the head brewer from La Jolla’s Rock Bottom pub.
  • Monocles & Elbow Patches Required Imperial ESB: A higher-alcohol version of an English-style extra special bitter conceived with Hillcrest Brewing Company gets its boozy boost from Golden Promis and traditional flavor from English specialty malts.
  • Star Date 4.2 The Answer to Life, the Universe & Everything Divided by 10 Double IPA: Not surprisingly, the out-of-towners at River Rouge went the hoppy route with this San Diego collab, which is hopped with Azacca and Falconer’s Flight.
  • We Want to Punch You in the Face for Liking this Hazy IPA [It’s Not An IPA]: Created with fellow Miramar nanobrewery, 2kids Brewing Company, this Mosaic, Citra and Vermont yeast strain-infused Northeast-style offering pokes fun at the current “it-style” among American beer nerds.

In addition to being available on-tap starting Friday, April 21, the beers will packaged in 16-ounce cans and be sold as part of variety four-packs. Those will go on sale on Saturday, April 22 as part of the “Four Beers for Four Years” festivities, which will wrap up on Sunday, April 23.

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Opinion: 10 Barrel is NOT local beer

Mar 31

I work for a San Diego brewery. There aren’t enough words or page-space on the planet to adequately convey how much that means to me and others in San Diego County’s craft-brewing community. Membership means so much: pouring one’s heart and soul into a collective movement; being engaged, thoughtful, upright stewards of a region’s hard-earned reputation; helping out would-be competitors by lending them time, ingredients, machinery, cold-box space, advice and even manpower; standing shoulder-to-shoulder with friends and colleagues in the name of lifting a rising tide. And it means doing all of this in one of the most competitive environments for beer in the world. Many are the brewers crafting world-class India pale ales that aren’t even in most peoples’ top 50 IPAs. Those beers would kill most anywhere else, but being a part of this scene is so special, brewers are willing to trade fame elsewhere for the challenge of securing their own piece of the San Diego brewing dream—one that was realized through the sweat, elbow-grease and determination of artisans who’ve fought for years, armed with little more than quality ales and lagers, to garner recognition that’s hard to come by in a culture dominated by the likes of Budweiser, Coors and Miller. So you can understand why many of us are more than a little angry to see Big Beer hijack our hometown’s name on a technicality in an attempt to fool locals and visitors alike into thinking one of their brands is one of us when they most certainly are not.

The 10 Barrel brewpub project site in the East Village

Last January, news broke that a 10 Barrel Brewing brewpub was coming to downtown San Diego’s East Village area. Many beer fans are familiar with 10 Barrel as the Bend, Oregon-based craft brewery that sold out to AB InBev in 2014, then immediately expanded its brewing capacity and beer distribution after major investments from its new owners. It is one of the numerous craft interests to sell part or all of itself to giant macro-beer conglomerates in the past half-decade as Big Beer behemoths struggle with decreasing market-share, thanks in significant part to the rise of the craft-beer movement and the country’s shift to buying local products and supporting local businesses. Seeing the steady increase of craft’s market-share, Big Beer went with the if you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em model, gobbling up regional brands as quietly as possible and winning back shelf- and tap-space nationwide. And now, with people shifting to the support-your-local-everything model, AB InBev is constructing “local” 10 Barrel brewpubs in cities with notable craft-beer cultures and sales, including Portland, Boise, Denver and our very own San Diego.

Perhaps you’ve heard about this project. If you haven’t, it definitely isn’t for lack of trying on AB InBev’s part. With the San Diego pub scheduled to open next week, in typical Big Beer fashion, they are making a full-scale marketing push with media tours and advertisements (one as flashy as a full back-page and partial front-page wrap in a popular gratis San Diego publication printed over consecutive weeks) proclaiming their shiny new property as a “San Diego pub and brewery”. Yes, it’s a pub. Yes, it’s a brewery. Yes, it’s in San Diego. But this would be like seeing a Waffle House or White Castle come to town and bill itself as “a San Diego eatery and place to detox after the bars close.” Yes, it’s an eatery. Yes it’s a place to detox after the bars close. But it’s in no way “San Diego” just because of geography. These are chains that have no history here. They belong to other communities, communities that it would be a lot more respectful to name versus omit, but to do that would undermine AB InBev’s entire mission: to blend into the fabric of one of the country’s most revered brewing regions to snag a piece of the pie for themselves and, in the process, destabilize a vital craft-centric area. The 10 Barrel brewpubs are to small, local breweries what Wal-Mart is to Main Street USA mom-and-pops and hometown interests, built to replace in the name of growth and prosperity at the expense of all others.

America’s drink-local shift is one of the best things to ever happen to regional breweries…but it’s the bane of the big boys, whose only playing pieces in the micro-regional game are the pawns they’ve shelled out millions for in hopes the public won’t be able to tell the difference and will patronize thinking they are supporting actual, authentic craft-beer companies or, in this case, local craft breweries. Siting their two-story, roof-deck adorned, aesthetically pleasing, bell-and-whistle rich brewpub in downtown San Diego was no accident. The number of visitors who stay, play and attend events at the nearby San Diego Convention Center is immense. The vast majority of them won’t know the 10 Barrel brewpub is different from downtown’s legitimate local brewing operations (Half Door BrewingKarl Strauss BrewingMission BreweryMonkey Paw Pub & BreweryResident Brewing and Knotty Brewing, for those looking to make an informed decision), and will likely flock there as it will certainly have robust advertising geared directly to out-of-towners. A percentage of these misinformed individuals will go on to tell others about drinking “San Diego craft beer” at this place called 10 Barrel, the lie will be perpetuated and—like the notion that Budweiser is some all-American (it’s not) king of beers (as much as the Dallas Cowboys are “America’s team” simply because their owner says so)—AB InBev will chalk up another small victory against the thousands of craft breweries that know they’ll never win, but simply wish to compete on a level playing field they will never have. Big Beer simply won’t allow it, because if those corporations had to rely solely on the merit of their products, they wouldn’t stand a chance.

The brewhouse at 10 Barrel in San Diego

San Diego is already home to satellite links in national brewpub chains, namely Gordon Biersch and Rock Bottom, neither of which make such attempts to proclaim themselves as San Diegan…even though they’ve paid plenty of dues and, in turn, have every right to count themselves as real and respected members of our community. The head brewer for the former is San Diego’s most respected lager expert. In addition to offering advice to the many dozens of local brewers who’ve sought it, he also holds numerous industry mixers to help foster the camaraderie of our county’s fermentation specialists, and has helped countless local charities. And the brewer who helmed Rock Bottom’s San Diego brewpub for nearly a decade-and-a-half served as the president of the San Diego Brewers Guild during a time when that volunteer position’s luster was at an all-time low. These brewpubs deserve the description AB InBev is self-proclaiming…but they are far from the only ones who’ve paid their dues.

Last weekend, Pizza Port’s Solana Beach brewpub celebrated its 30th year in business. In three decades, Pizza Port has grown into an empire of five coastal brewpubs that has earned scores of national and international medals for beers spanning styles the world over, and brought up more talented young brewers than I have time to list here. Its tiny but mighty Solana Beach spot opened nearly a decade before the likes of San Diego County breweries that would go on to become giants, seeing the beauty in brewing house beers before it was a proven business model rife with modern-day pomp and prestige. Pizza Port blazed trails and helped a great many along the way, all the while staying true to its local roots. Now there’s a business that should have ads plastered all over the local rags with the proud proclamation SAN DIEGO PUB AND BREWERY.

Big Beer looks at an institution like Pizza Port, Karl Strauss’ quintet of local brewpubs (including San Diego’s longest continually operating post-Prohibition brewery downtown), the 20-year-old San Diego Brewing Company and other authentically local operations, and they think to themselves: How can we make consumers think we’re every bit as local as them?

Make no mistake. AB InBev isn’t interested in being a member of San Diego’s brewing community. The purpose of installing a 10 Barrel brewpub in the heart of San Diego is to chip away at the local brewing community, siphoning off precious market-share from other San Diego craft breweries through its latest attempt at consumer deception. And to do it with a purchased craft-brand hailing from another city that even 10 Barrel barely belongs to at this point is about as convoluted as it gets. Which is a great thing for AB InBev. In a few years, how many people will remember this progression? Right now, even with the subject of acquisitions and locality at the forefront in the brewing industry, only the most engaged beer enthusiasts know which brands are truly craft and which are now Big Beer concerns or faux-craft brands created by macro-beer conglomerates to look like legitimate craft interests. It’s only going to get more difficult.

Monkey Paw’ Pub & Brewery’s sign and brewpub are visible from the upstairs deck at 10 Barrel’s San Diego brewpub.

When meeting with 10 Barrel co-founding partner, Garrett Wales, earlier this week at his downtown property, he said he feels good about his company’s “partnership” with AB InBev in light of acquisitions that have taken place after he and his partners’ decision to sell, pointing to Ballast Point Brewing, Lagunitas Brewing and Stone Brewing, which he says sold a big portion of the company to a private investors and was subsequently “gutted.” (When reached for comment on this subject, Stone co-founder Greg Koch, commented that he and co-founder Steve Wagner “remain the majority owners, maintain full board control, are 100% within the Brewers Association’s definition of a ‘craft brewer,’ and pull their own strings and write their own checks, thank you very much.”) Wales says 10 Barrel is 100% responsible for all of its brewpub expansion initiatives and that AB InBev merely signs off on ideas and subsequently signs checks. He says that the San Diego pub is not being billed as a part of the Bend-based business and instead as a “San Diego pub and brewery” because it will operate as an “independent arm of 10 Barrel” that will be “completely localized” and have its own regional feel.

When asked about the elephant in the room—namely, the bitter reception from San Diego brewers and devout fans of local craft beer—Wales contested, saying the reception has been “extremely good”. He mentioned a great deal of positivity on social media and said his team has visited many of San Diego’s breweries, interacted with their personnel and said they are as psyched 10 Barrel is coming. However, in communications conducted yesterday on the condition of anonymity, 80% of local brewery owners questioned stated they feel 10 Barrel’s arrival is a bad thing, with most of them expressing anger over deceptive advertising tactics as well as perceived underhanded and destructive motivations on AB InBev’s part..

Wales is aware that there are those who are against his project, but dubs them “a vocal minority.” Overall, he is bullish on the brewpub’s chances for success and urges locals to take 10 Barrel at face-value and give the business a chance. San Diego brewers are used to being in the minority; it’s a craft brewer’s lot in life, thanks mostly to Big Beer’s efforts to keep smaller competitors down. Please just give us a chance is the war cry of the entire craft-brewing industry. Like labeling an out-of-town Big Beer venue as “San Diego”, it sounds silly for a corporate wolf in local sheep’s clothing to lift that mantra from small businesses that actually need attention from a populace that so heavily consumes macro-beer over craft-beer—even at the height of the latter’s popularity—that Big Beer boasted well over 75% market share by volume nationwide in 2016, according to brewing industry trade group, the Brewers Association.

San Diego’s beer culture and reputation didn’t happen overnight. Our people—your people, San Diegans—worked unbelievably hard to build this magical confluence of flavor, quality and cachet in our own backyard. We will continue to protect and preserve it and hope San Diegans will do the same. Supporting local businesses is a noble notion and an even nobler practice. To each their own, of course, but if you agree, be sure your money is going where you think it is and not to a multi-national conglomerate Trojan horse.

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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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