Residents of San Diego are no stranger to a beautiful day. It’s easy for us to forget that at this moment people around the U.S. are layering and buttoning up for the frigid days ahead, while we brace ourselves for the onslaught of slightly brisker air than we’d care for. However, there’s something about wandering into the embrace of the Beer Garden, San Diego Beer Week’s (SDBW) swan song at The Lodge at Torrey Pines, that makes a bright November afternoon all the more exquisite.
After a 10 day frenzy of tap takeovers and Keep the Glass affairs, this event not only serves as SDBW’s closing ceremonies, but a counterpoint to the prior week’s debauchery. It’s a chance to truly luxuriate in the local brew scene with artfully crafted pairings of food and beer. It’s basically like a day spa for beer snobs, but with a lot less Enya and sandalwood candles.
The “garden” is actually semicircle of serving stations that are held on the 0.2% of sod that Torrey Pines has not allocated to golfing purposes. It allows the event to serve up haute cuisine and breathtaking panoramic ocean views in equal measure. It’s the kind of combination that makes you quietly pity everyone that isn’t presently you.
This year’s event inspired 11 chefs from restaurants as varied as Burlap and the Carnitas Snack Shack to perform their culinary magic. Each two or three bite course was paired with two different beers, demonstrating a clear understanding of the minimum food to beer ratio to excite a SDBW crowd.
It’s safe to say the Beer Garden is slightly more posh than most SDBW events. You needn’t don your monocle to attend, but it wouldn’t hurt. However, there’s a dark underbelly to the affair that must be exposed. While fine quaffs and delicate edibles certainly foster an air of sophistication and civility, the fact remains that finding a level surface upon which to enjoy them could be a cutthroat affair. Table real estate is a shockingly precious commodity, one guarded with all the ferocity of post-apocalyptic motorcycle gangs hoarding fuel. I understand that square footage is a little scant without forcing patrons to weave through a hail of golf balls, but when table inhabitants resort to sending out hunting parties while the remainder secure camp, something needs to be reconsidered.
A venison medallion served on a chanterelle ragout with beer dumplings and a cumberland sauce by Chef Gunther Emathinger from Karl Strauss is stunning enough on its own to conjure salivation, but shoulder to shoulder with a Ballast Point Navigator Dopplebock elevates the whole affair to the transcendent. The subtle dark fruit notes in the malty dopplebock beautifully cut the succulence of the sauce while accentuating the venison’s earthier notes.
Most of the other pairings were similarly thoughtful and masterfully executed. Virtually the only criticism I ever heard was that a current course didn’t match the potency of a previous one, which is not to say they weren’t just as greedily consumed. Other standouts included a molasses-chile glazed pork belly from Chef Hanis Cavin from Carnitas Snack Shack with Rock Bottom La Jolla‘s Moonlight Porter as well as a hazelnut, salted caramel & milk chocolate mousse by Tony Martin from Stone World Bistro paired with Coronado‘s Blue Bridge Coffee Stout.
If the revelry at my table was any indicator, the event was a rousing success. One tribemate, Ruby Lynn Carr (a Beer Garden Veteran and fellow high society drunkard), summarized my final impression by commenting “I am thrilled to be enjoying some of the best local craft beers while overlooking the ocean on a gorgeous November day.”
So long, SDBW 2012, and thanks for all the venison medallions served on a chanterelle ragout. Oh, and the beer too.
U-T San Diego’s television station debuted this past summer, and to celebrate San Diego Beer Week a few familiar faces have gone on air this week.
I greet most days with a boundless thirst for beer. It’s the kind of admission that is usually met with crooked stares or unsavory accusations, but not today. Today is special. After months of patiently grinding through days that were not 100% dedicated to beer, San Diego Beer Week is upon us. Awesome.
On this glorious Friday morn, day 1 of SDBW’s metric 10-day week, I have plotted out a staggering itinerary of drinking opportunities under the guise of proper beer journalism. I expect to tantalize my palate, expand my horizons and probably shave off a few years of worthwhile liver function. This is my quest – to see if one man can summon the constitution to endure a single day of SDBW’s bounty and give you the play-by-play along the way. If you’re the type that believes in retroactive prayer, I’d be grateful for it.
My daughter, while not actively thwarting my arrival at Daddy Disneyland, is not helping my egress. Either she didn’t get enough sleep or she’s been struck with a mild case of that Waking Dead disease because she’s meeting my prods for urgency with a blank stare and guttural moans. She’s whittled off enough time in the bathroom alone that for the first time in my parenting history I’m compelled to say “Sweetheart, daddy needs you to poop harder.”
Soon, SDBW. Soon.
I just learned from my wife that we have to attend the monthly “Character Counts” award ceremony because my daughter decided that October would be the perfect time to finally start demonstrating character. It’s sweet and all, but where’s my award for patience in the face of interminable sobriety?
After paying the standard downtown luxury tax to give my car a place to rest, I’ve finally crossed the threshold of Karl Strauss. The event is referred to as “BYOB”, an acronym expanding in this case to “Brew Your Own Beer Brunch”. I don’t know whether to be more miffed that the event should rightfully be called “BYOBB” or that I needlessly carried a case of beer to the restaurant.
The BYOBB is many events lumped into one. There is, of course, a sumptuous brunch buffet paired with some of Karl Strauss’ beefier quaffs (Parrot in a Palm Tree Baltic Porter & Chocolate Pancakes with Spiced Whipped Cream, anyone?). They further promise to enrich the event with a live brewing demo (making a crowd-sourced Oatmeal Stout recipe) and a presentation on the company itself. This brunch is going to be more productive than most of my work days.
Before diving headlong into the repast, Brewmaster Paul Segura stands atop his stainless steel throne to walk us through the some of the technical aspects of the brew being produced before our very eyes. It’s pretty interesting stuff, though it feels like a sinister mechanism to keep me from full throttle binging on breakfast and beer. Thanks for nothing, Learning.
This is Karl Strauss’ CEO/Co-founder Chris Cramer who moments later dove into oral history of the company from his perspective. It’s a delightful story, but I’m beginning to wonder if he’s filibustering to cover a french toast-related crisis in the kitchen. That said, listening to Chris referring to the company figurehead as “Uncle Karl” is too endearing for words.
Here it is. The gambit. The first beer of the day. It seems so peculiar that inauspicious little tumbler will likely later be recalled as the first in a long series of mistakes.
Trays of food are finally zipping out as quickly as the beer samples that accompany them. Despite my voracious hunger, I merge into the line with a bare minimum of snarling toward those crowding around me.
Karl Strauss thoughtfully provided placemats that serve to curate and organize the meal pairings. Unfortunately they didn’t take into account that I’m a rebel that cannot be constrained by The Man and his many tools of creative oppression.
On an unrelated note, I’ve just lost track of what beer I’m supposed to be drinking for the 5th time.
Food coma…building. Ability to coherently string together sentences…fading. Plan to hit next zeppelin in about 15 turnips after the hour…unlikely.
It took a little to shake the the euphoria induced by the SDBW Peanut Butter Porter Cup & Cream Cheese and Plantain Stuffed French Toast, but I’m ready to rally. I’m thinking the dueling casks of Sculpin IPA at Ballast Point will help to shake off any remaining cobwebs.
Sculpin is always a treat. Sculpin on cask is a gift. Sculpin on cask with special edition hopping is a godsend. Today we’re experiencing Sculpin with Citra hops versus Soriachi Ace hops. I think I am partial to the Citra if only because it feels like an evolution of Sculpin more than a reinvention of it, but opinions among those on the patio vary widely.
Luckily none of those other people have beer columns. The Citra was better. So there.
The scene over here is wonderful. It’s delicious beers coupled with people very clearly shirking their day jobs. I’ve heard more than one conversation to the effect of “Well, I haven’t gotten any emails yet, so I guess we can stay here.” It’s a slice of humanity who love their beers enough to put their careers in jeopardy. You have to respect that level of commitment.
The next stop has put us in the heart of Rough Draft. I’ve only previously been able to try a couple of the hoppier beers that have leapt from their 15 BBL system, so the barrel aged “Freudian Slip” should be a real treat.
The crowd is bustling and lively. I’m honestly beginning to wonder why San Diego just doesn’t declare this a work holiday because with this many people playing hooky no non-beer commerce could possibly be transpiring today.
For those of you hoping to make more a surgical attack on their first Rough Draft brews, let me suggest starting with the Eraser IPA (owner Jeff Silver’s favorite) and their surprisingly full flavored Amber Ale. My favorite by a long margin was their barrel aged Emboozlement Trippel, a creamy and full bodied incarnation of the style that really delivered.
Apropos of nothing, I spend about 5 minutes trying to come up with a reason to ask this guy for a picture. I ultimately landed on “Hey, your beard is awesome. Can I take a picture of it?” Worked like a charm.
I’m still not entirely sure why I wanted it, but you saw the size of that flight. It made perfect sense at the time. It’s probably time to move on.
Lest you think this article is degenerating into some gonzo beer journalism, I want to make it clear there’s been a fair amount of undocumented rehydration on the agenda as well. It’s not easy to put anything in front of URGE Gastropub‘s release of Mother Earth Brewing Company‘s SDBW specialty beer, but I managed to.
After a restorative water and cheese fries interlude, we summoned two of the aforementioned Wet Hop Dreams by Mother Earth. As you can tell by the chunky lacing all over the top of the glass, this is a substantial IPA. It was made with 160 lbs of fresh Citra hops, so you don’t exactly need a forensics team to unearth the bitter citrus and spice notes.
To be quite honest, I’m feeling pretty spent at this point. This would ordinarily be when I would pack it in most days, but this isn’t most days. SDBW must be shown no quarter. Luckily, courtesy of Sublime Ale House, I’m about to finish my day as I started it – with pancakes.
Sublime Ale House’s pre fixe dinner with Latitude 33 Brewing features a 3 course meal with equal parts refinement and whimsy. However, I’m not well equipped as a food writer so let me capture a few random observations.
The Latitude 33 “Dirty Thirty” Saison makes a pretty fantastic vinaigrette. I will have to remember to pour more beer on my mixed greens at home.
It takes a pretty potent brew to cut through the succulence of a white cheddar and gruyere mac ‘n cheese, but the Wet Hump DIPA is up to the task. That said, this is at least the second time today I’ve felt sexually harassed by a beer’s name and will be seeking restitution for this outrage post haste.
As much as I love breakfast for dinner, breakfast for dessert (chocolate pancakes with vanilla bean ice cream, topped with candied bacon and ground espresso beans plus a side of hot maple syrup) may well trump it since I don’t even have to pretend it’s intended to sustain me.
With the placement of my cloth napkin on the table, I’m signaling more than the end of my meal. I am throwing in the proverbial towel. I’m waving the white flag of surrender, albiet with a bit more chocolate sauce on it than prior to the battle. San Diego Beer Week has wrung me out and it’s not even 24 hours in yet.
It’s gonna be a long week. Awesome.
We’re not the only ones writing about our local beer scene; here I’ve rounded up coverage from some of San Diego’s top beer writers. *Alert me of more SDBW coverage via email@example.com
Peter Rowe has put out a few great articles this week, including his 10 SD Beer Week picks, a “This Weekend in Beer” for Nov 2-4, and a story on Stone Brewing Co. Beverage Coordinator “Dr.” Bill Sysak that ran in today’s U-T.
Michelle Dederko also writes consistent articles on the local beer scene for the U-T/Discover SD. Read hers here.
Brandon Hernández writes for many fine publications in town; don’t miss his categorized “Best of Beer Week” on San Diego Magazine’s website, his day-by-day breakdown on The Reader’s site, or the four-page spread in Pacific San Diego Magazine’s November 2012 issue (pp 60-63).
Craft Beer Tasters has organized a tasting of Mexican craft beer on Nov 6 & 11 at The Beer Co. downtown. In addition, they’ve spotlighted the brewers on their website.
Three B Zine posted a good interview with Bruce Glassman, author of San Diego’s Top Brewers and the new book BREW FOOD that will be officially released tonight at Mission Brewery.
TapHunter has been collecting Tips from the Pros over at their blog; I was the first featured industry member before Andrew Killion of The Lost Abbey, Kory & Derek from LOVELIKEBEER yesterday, and “Dr.” Bill Sysak from Stone Brewing Co. today.
Ian Cheesman had his picks published in this week’s San Diego CityBeat, page 12.
LOVELIKEBEER just put up a vegan’s guide to SDBW, complete with pairing suggestions or go-to events for each day.
WC Publisher Mike Shess posted his picks for each day yesterday.
Here are a few more, just for good measure:
1 Beer, 13 Ways – 5 oz pours of 13 different varieties of Ballast Point’s Victory at Sea Imperial Coffee Vanilla Porter will be served at Hamilton’s Tavern Sunday, November 4th starting at 10 a.m. Check out all the varieties here.
Get Educated – Last year the lab manager for local yeast manufacturer White Labs, Neva Parker, visited Sea Rocket Bistro for a “Flavors of Yeast” class, and it was so successful that she’s coming back again Saturday November 10th from 2-4 p.m. Her presentation will include four saisons brewed at White Labs with different yeast strains.
First Sour, Available Once — Green Flash’s new sour, Flanders Drive, derives its name from the brewery’s cross street as well as its beer style (Flanders red ale). Bottles will only be available on Monday, November 5th at the special release party which is part of their 10 Years of Great Beers SDBW plans.
Tougher Than It Looks – Think you can tell the difference between Stone IPA, AleSmith IPA, Mission IPA, Ballast Point Big Eye IPA, Societe Dandy IPA and Green Flash West Coast IPA? If you can, you’ll get a $100 gift certificate from Blind Lady Ale House. Hurry, though, this event ends tonight at 6 p.m.
51 Taps, All Local – Just like it sounds: URGE American Gastropub is filling the taps with beer from local breweries this weekend. This includes the release of Mother Earth’s 100% Citra dry-hopped “Wet Hop Dreams”