From the Beer Writer: In last month’s issue of West Coaster, I proclaimed my love of Belgian-style farmhouse ales, better known as saisons. In the February issue, I spoke highly of the quarterly beer-pairing dinners put on at Bay Ho’s Bitter Brothers Brewing Company. So you can imagine my anticipation when I found out Bitter Brothers was crafting a special saison for its most recent Family Dinner affair. That excitement was compounded when brewery owner Bill Warnke offered to contribute a portion of all proceeds from the sale of this beer during the month of May to Beer to the Rescue, a campaign I established to raise funds for the Lupus Foundation of Southern California. Brewed with food pairability and seasonality in mind, Bitter Brothers Spring Fling Saison prominently features lemon verbena, a citrus-flavored subshrub that lends big flavors that meld nicely with the beer’s Belgian yeast esters. It tastes like a pint-glass full of spring, making for an easy and enjoyable way to support a local charity.
From the Brewer: “Spring Fling is a 5.5% saison brewed with lemon verbena and fermented with a French saison yeast strain. It was brewed in collaboration with Eugenio Romero-Wendlandt from Wendlandt Cerveceria to tie in with the next installment of our Family Dinner series, this one focusing exclusively on Baja chefs. The beer is an opaque, straw color with a white, pillowy, sustained head. The aroma is typical French saison phenolics with lemon verbena notes and light banana esters. The flavor follows the aroma, with more prominent lemon verbena herbal presence and a crisp, dry, lightly bitter finish. This is definitely a beer meant to be paired with food and would go great with ceviche, moules frites or other seafoods.”—John Hunter, Head Brewer, Bitter Brothers Brewing Company
Like many families, every Easter mine congregates to enjoy each other’s company and a delicious brunch. This tradition is bolstered by the presence of champagne and mimosas, both of which I wholly support, but there’s something else I look forward to popping the cork on each year – saisons.
For me, there is no beer-style more evocative of and so perfectly suited for springtime as saisons. These farmhouse-style ales of Belgian and French origin convey myriad flavors, many of which epitomize the season on which we are currently and pleasantly entrenched. Esters and phenols from saison yeast strains bring on vibrant bouquets rife with grassy, floral, fruity, spicy and, depending on the presence of Brettanomyces or other wild yeast strains, funkiness often described as “barnyard” in nature. Beer aroma doesn’t get more springtime-in-the-country than that.
On the flavor front, absolutely no type of ale or lager is as unpredictably wide-ranging. Saison’s guidelines are just about the loosest of any style category. A fan of variety, this is what makes saisons my personal favorite. Wrestling a cork from a bottle labeled “farmhouse ale” is always an adventure. My taste buds might encounter a boldly fruity, herbaceous quaff with tight champagne-like bubbles or a spicy, flowery ale with a sticky, fluffy, snow-white head and the driest, sharpest finish imaginable.
When searching out some brunch recipes built to marry with saisons’ wealth of characteristics, I consulted the culinary minds at Breakfast Republic. This early-to-midday chain has spots in North Park, Liberty Station, Encinitas and the East Village, with an Ocean Beach location debuting this month at the former site of OB Warehouse, and a Carmel Valley location coming this summer. If you’re looking for inventive breakfast and brunch fare served in tandem with eye-opening adult beverages, this is your spot.
Breakfast Republic owes its popularity and success to items like shrimp and grits, breakfast bacon mac and cheese, and flights of pancakes or French toast. It’s a strawberry and mascarpone cheese-infused version of the latter that the chain’s kitchen- eam chose as an ideal go-with for a fruitier-flavored saison. And for a drier, spicier or more herbaceous farmhouse ale, they selected their Breakfast Jambalaya, a traditional take on the Cajun classic with shrimp, andouille sausage and fried eggs. The recipes for both of these dishes are included here for your home-kitchen experimentation. When looking for the best saison to pair, feel free to cast a wide net – there are exceptional versions of this style brewed the world over – but know there are plenty right in your own backyard.
Great local saisons include The Lost Abbey’s Brett-infused spring seasonal Carnevale Ale, as well as its year-round Red Barn Ale. They come from the same San Marcos brewery, but taste completely different. Still, each makes for an excellent springtime indulgence. The same can be said for Saison Rustique from Vista’s 100% wild-ale operation Toolbox Brewing, which brings wine-barrel vanillins and grape mustiness into the equation. Other flavorful and thirst-quenching San Diego County offerings include BNS Brewing’s Saloon Girl, Iron Fist Brewing’s Hired Hand, Modern Times Beer’s Lomaland and Second Chance Beer’s Saison Solare, any of which will go well on your brunch table come Easter and beyond.
When former Green Flash Brewing Company brewmaster Chuck Silva first told me he was resigning so he and his wife could leave San Diego to build their own brewery, I was crestfallen. Silva was a respected, positive force within the local brewing scene; a veteran of more than a decade who helped usher in the age of the mainstream, ultra-hoppy, San Diego-style IPA. Definitely not the type of craftsman you want to see exit stage right, but when he informed me he was heading to Paso Robles to install his passion-project it lessened the sting considerably. My wife and I visit Paso several times a year, meaning I’d be able to stay in touch with Silva and his liquid wares.
The Silvas opened their eponymous venture, Silva Brewing (525 Pine Street, Suite B, Paso Robles), last December. On Day One, they had just one beer—Paso Pale Ale—but that didn’t stop droves of curious imbibers from crowding into Silva’s tiny (a mere 333 square feet), brewery-abutting tasting room to sate their thirst and curiosity. By the time I got there a couple of months ago, there were five beers on—an IPA named for the business’ address (525 Pine), a recently debuted walnut milk stout called Nut Farm, and a German-style amber (Suite B) and blonde. The latter goes by the name First Gold, indicating its status as Silva’s first blue-ribbon garnering recipe.
After hours on the road, those inaugural offerings were welcomed with open taste-buds. As I tasted my way through them, I found myself rather surprised. These ales tasted nothing like what I’d come to know from Silva during his days at Green Flash where hops rule the day, to the point where one imperial selection proclaims in name and theory to wreck palates. The Silva Brewing portfolio instead revolved around drinkability, balance and finesse. Yeast and malt character were at the forefront with the German ales, and though there were nice piney, citrus-like aroma and flavor notes in the pale and IPA, they were subdued. Instead of hop-bombs, they are the types of crisp, clean beers just about anybody can enjoy and put away. It’s a real departure from how he made his name in San Diego, and figures to be a hit in Silva’s old new digs (he actually grew up in San Luis Obispo County, and that was the impetus for his return), where nearby Firestone Walker Brewing Company and its balanced, to-style brews are the local measuring stick for beer-drinkers.
Silva has since released a double IPA, saison and various other beers. He has a portfolio of 20 recipes to rotate on and off of the 10-tap setup at his tasting room. That space is accessible via a front and back entrance, both of which are a bit tricky to find if you don’t know the setup. One can enter through an off-street, back-alley door or venture through the entry to craft-beer bar The Pour House and head to a small back-hall. Turning left takes you to shared restrooms, while a right turn leads straight to Silva’s tasting room, featuring a stainless bar, and dark-wood shelving holding all manner of black-and-orange, logo-emblazoned merchandise and a crowler machine. It’s a small but effective setup and one worth seeking out. It will be fun to see how Silva Brewing progresses, especially given its surprising start.
And if you can’t make it to Paso right now, you’re in luck. Silva personally delivered kegs to several San Diego accounts over the weekend. Drop-off spots included Fathom Bistro, Hamilton’s Tavern, Small Bar and Ballast Point Brewing‘s Little Italy brewpub. One of the beers he brought to the latter is a collaboration smoked porter called S-Shot that he brewed with BP’s Colby Chandler, which will be on-tap during a tap-takeover with Chandler and Silva tonight. Prior to this, the only San Diego establishment to carry Silva Brewing beer was the Round Table Pizza in Mission Valley. That business is owned by Izak and Teresa Ondre, who were instrumental in helping the Silvas get their brewery off the ground.
Sometimes brewery leads come from the most unexpected sources. I was at a white-linen restaurant in Rancho Santa Fe recently, when a young chef emerged from the kitchen to explain a complex and delicious clam and pork belly appetizer to me. After doing so, he said he knew I wrote about beer and thought I should talk to a friend of his who was in the midst of opening a brewery in Del Mar. I asked him if he was referring to Viewpoint Brewing Company. He replied in the affirmative and, a few days later, the three of us were chatting about this work-in-progress brewpub over a few beers. Read more »
Brian Scott is living a brewer’s dream. After a lengthy career including stints at Firehouse Brewing Co., Mission Brewery and Karl Strauss Brewing Co., he is calling the shots as the head of SR76. That brewing interest is owned by the economic development arm of the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians and installed within the master-structure of Harrah’s Southern California Resort (777 Harrah’s Rincon Way, Valley Center). It’s the first brewery of its kind in the county and, given its business efficiencies, Scott and his associates see it as a duplicatable model, both locally and abroad.
From a brewing perspective, Scott cites numerous advantages at his inland North County anomaly. Chief among them is having his biggest customer—the resort—right next door. Rather than distribute product across or outside San Diego County, Scott can focus all of his attention on close-knit colleagues, meaning he can maintain first-hand quality control regarding beers and the lines they are dispensed through, and help the resort trouble-shoot and repair any problems that come about. SR76’s beers are available at the resort’s family of bars and restaurants, which go through enough kegs that there is currently no need to explore selling product to outside accounts. Additionally, the resort selecting the beers that fill out the rest of its taps and fridges, allows for control of competing brands.
Even so, Scott is not looking to go head-to-head with big boys like Ballast Point, Stone or Green Flash. He doesn’t even brew an IPA. Instead, he’s aiming for approachability and producing a line of session beers that will be compatible with the tastes of the resort’s diverse—and largely new-to-craft—clientele. The way he sees it, having his beers predominantly featured at a resort with the size and scope of Harrah’s allows him to touch tons of people other craft breweries have little or no access to, so he doesn’t want to lose them with massive bitterness, big-alcohol or outlandish adjuncts. As such, SR76’s current quartet of core beers consists of a German-style wheat beer featuring traditional notes of banana and clove, a light-bodied Kölsch, and pale ale built to scratch the IPA itch care of Mosaic hops and 70 IBUs (international bittering units). His most avant-garde offering might actually be the best shot at converting oenophiles and the beer-averse. Dubbed Supul (translating to “one”, signifying it being the first beer brewed by SR76), it’s a sub-4% alcohol-by-volume saison that, with floral notes of violet, lavender and honeysuckle, comes across like the ale-equivalent of viognier. The body of this beer, as well as that of the wheat and Kölsch, is thin by traditional standards, but that may be advantageous once temperatures reach the extremes that are the norm during Valley Center summers.
SR76’s tasting room is in a separate ground-floor structure across from the hotel’s main entrance. A condition of the business’ manufacturing license dictates that it can’t be connected to Harrah’s, but Scott sees advantages there, as well, stating that it renders his sampling space as an “oasis” of sorts. While the casino and hotel pool-area are typically high-energy, loud and even a bit raucous (particularly during the sunny season), SR76 is lounge-like with its bevy of comfortable seating options and lack of gaming or TVs. Most of the customers who venture there are looking for beer, a break or both. Like most local tasting rooms, beers are sold below at-large prices, which was important to Scott, who wants a visit to the source to be as authentic as any other. The smell of steeping grains on brew-days really helps hammer that home. Another bonus: guests are allowed to bring food in from the resort’s plethora of dining spots.
A prime reason the tribe opted to get into the brewing business was to be able to spotlight San Diego’s brewing culture while keeping beer-seekers on property. Harrah’s has historically been a key supporter of the San Diego Brewers Guild by sponsoring the Rhythm and Brews Music and Craft Beer Festival, and putting on its own Hop Heads and Dreads Craft Beer and Reggae Festival. By constructing a brewery, the resort now has increased ability to put on large-scale events, and they are exploring ways in which to do so.
Thus far, SR76 is performing to tribal expectations, albeit during the slow-season for tourism and beer-consumption. Time and data collected during peak months will tell the true tale, but if the operation is successful, the SR76 team sees this as a model that can be duplicated at resorts throughout Southern California and beyond—citing Northern California, Arizona, Oklahoma and North Carolina as potential regions for on-property brewery infusion.