Many are those who tour Ballast Point Brewing’s enormous Miramar headquarters with its 300-barrel and 150-barrel brewhouses and rows of sky-high fermenters feel the county’s largest brewing company must have all the room it needs, especially with additional brewing facilities in Scripps Ranch, Little Italy, Long Beach and Roanoke, Virginia. The Miramar facility comes in with greater production capability than any other in San Diego, but rapid expansion has rendered it out of space, leading parent company Constellation Brands to secure an 80,000-square-foot building directly north of the Miramar home base.
Ballast Point currently has control of 60,000 square feet of that structure for what it calls its Trade Street Facility. It has been divided into three equal-sized sections serving completely different purposes. One third is simply storage, while the middle third houses an abundant and growing stock of beer-filled oak barrels procured from various wineries and distilleries. The current barrel count comes in at approximately 1,400, with an additional 900 barrels in another facility less than a mile west on Crestmar Point. There are three full-time employees manning this section, and it will soon have tanks added to handle production of beers destined for those oak receptacles, which include about every type of liquor and wine imaginable with more on the way.
Ballast Point intends to up its number of barrel-aged beer releases which are currently held quarterly and locally. Those specialties will be distributed nationally, including four-pack releases of popular beers such as aged versions of its vanilla- and coffee-infused imperial porter, Victory at Sea. Other beers the team is looking forward to debuting include Sea Monster imperial stout and Piper Down Scottish ale in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels, Navigator Doppelbock in brandy barrels, Barmy apricot and honey golden strong ale in neutral oak, plus various Belgian-style farmhouse, tripel and quadruple ales. In addition to its own needs, Ballast Point regularly fulfills requests from other breweries for barrels from its stock, including nearby Green Flash Brewing Company and 32 North Brewing Company.
The remaining third of the Trade Street facility is for “dirty beer”, referring to sours and bacteria-laden wild ales that, if not sectioned off, would stand a significant chance of infecting the clean beer as well as their production and storage mechanisms. This area has its own 40-barrel brewhouse feeding into more than 30 fermenters. It can produce up to 20,000 barrels of beer annually, some of which will make its way into six new 40-barrel, glycol-equipped, temperature-controlled fouders. The dirty area also has its own devoted bottling line, which recently packaged a national release’s worth of six-packs of Sour Wench blackberry ale.
Key to the new dirty beer operations is a state-of-the-art laboratory capable of providing as many quality assurance touch-points as the large lab at Ballast Point’s HQ. Prior to brewing Sour Wench for the most recent release, technicians conducted numerous tests, including analysis of myriad brands of blackberry puree and Lactobacillus strains, in search of the most ideal types for the beer. What they found was that the puree and strain the company was already using worked best, meaning the current batch of Sour Wench is very similar to the first batch ever homebrewed in 1998 (back when it went by the name Marion Berry’s Better-Than-A-Crack-Whore). While primary wild ale operations will now take place on Trade Street, Ballast Point hopes the aforementioned Long Beach facility will become the research-and-development feeder for the new facility.
From the Beer Writer: Saisons are my favorite beer style and I, like many a San Diegan, adore hops. So you can imagine my excitement when encountering a farmhouse-style ale given a punch of botanical goodness care of a “super” infusion of lupulin-laced greenery. Adding to my excitement was the rare chance to taste a beer with Home Brewing Company roots outside its enclave within North Park shop The Homebrewer. This opportunity came care of 32 North Brewing Company, which invited Home’s crew to their Miramar home to create this beer, Sharks with Blazers. Described as “an aggressively hoppy super saison,” it comes in at 7% alcohol-by-volume with plenty of grapefruit and orange notes. Bold yet refreshing, it’s an awesome summer beer that I’ve found myself reaching for with great regularity. The hops make themselves known in the bouquet, and their flavors meld perfectly with yeast-borne esters. It’s impossible to tell where the fruitiness from one ends and the other begins, which is a wonderful testament to outstanding ingredient selection and recipe development.
From the Brewers: “Brewing with friends is what beer is all about. George and everyone at The Homebrewer, past and present, are amazing. It was fun to combine our knowledge of the
craft to come up with this beer was fun. A mix of San Diegan hop-forward [character] and a distinct saison yeast strain make for a unique, hoppy, super saison. I love the fact we canned this beer and would love to brew it again”—Nick Ceniceros, Head Brewer, 32 North Brewing Company
“Sharks with Lasers was a recipe developed by Shawn Manriquez, HBC’s previous head brewer. Designed to be a super-juicy IPA it has been one of the most popular beers we make. To develop the 32 North collaboration version we took a growler of original Sharks with Lasers and a bunch of commercial saisons and white IPAs to do some experimenting. With a bunch of taster glasses we went through the saisons we liked and then mixed them in varying proportions with Sharks to come up with a basic idea of a flavor profile for a saison-IPA for the collab version. With the basic idea in mind we then built an entirely new recipe from scratch and went straight to the full batch size at 32 North. The brew days were pretty straightforward. It wasn’t until dry-hop day that the real fun started. Nick blasted this beer with 11 pounds of Mosaic LupuLN2 powder, a sticky, soft hop extract that does not pour easily from a bag. He spent over an hour on a ladder hand-scooping this stuff into the fermenter using a screwdriver to drive it through the funnel. Talk about commitment! I personally learned a lot working with Nick, Jeff and Collier up there and am really happy with the end result.”—Jacob Bauch, Head Brewer, Home Brewing Company
From the Beer Writer: Mira Mesa’s Longship Brewery is all about offering a unique experience. Not only is its tasting room decorated in an over-the-top Viking thematic, the tap-list regularly features exotic beer-styles. Case in point, this week’s featured beer, Longship Ragnabock, a doppelbock that relies on semisweet malt character and lager yeast for the bulk of its taste profile. Even though it’s 8.1% alcohol-by-volume, it drinks like a five- or six-percenter and could easily be confused for a session red ale. It’s a smooth and enjoyable offering for those not looking for a hop-forward drinking experience—or simply a change of pace. When Longship opened, owner Dan Jachimowicz was only able to find five other doppelbocks being produced in San Diego’s saturated suds industry. He’s since crafted other lesser-brewed styles in small-batch format. A handful of them—a Belgian-style tripel, rosehip-infused saison, chocolate-orange stout, and brown ale with chocolate, cranberries, almond and oats—will be available at Longship’s one-year anniversary this Saturday, July 1, where those specialties can be glugged from a stylish Norse drinking horn.
From the Brewer: “I guess the biggest question with this beer is: ‘Why make a dopplebock?’ In a town where people crave hoppy IPAs, why go through the long trouble of making the anti-IPA? Why go through the ten-week process of fermenting and lagering a low-hop, malt-forward, strong, dark lager? Simple. Dopplebocks are delicious. The roasted-malt and dark-fruit flavors shine in this flavorful and unique beer, and Ragnabock stands as a refreshing reminder to non-hopheads that there are other styles of beer in the world. We wanted to make something unique and under-represented. Although I am still surprised by how many experienced craft-beer fans ask us what a dopplebock is, we will continue to offer the Ragnabock and many other unusual styles.”—Dan Jachimowicz, Owner & Brewmaster, Longship Brewery
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.