Judging brewing competitions can be a reassuring exercise on many levels. If one devotes themselves to the process and takes it seriously, they often gain validation of their powers of evaluation through their panelist peers. And when everyone gives it their all, taking time to thoroughly analyze each entrant and debate top contenders’ rankings, it often leads to a truly high-quality beer taking top honors. This was what played out for me last Saturday when judging homebrew entries in Green Flash Brewing Company’s Genius Lab competition.
Held in conjunction with the company’s annual Treasure Chest Fest, a beer-and-food festival raising funds for the local chapter of Susan G. Komen, this battle of recreational brewers drew 31 entries. Contestants were permitted to brew any style of India pale ale they chose be it session, fruited, imperial, Belgian, black or hazy. Even with that much guideline leniency, a popular fact was easily proven true. IPAs are the toughest style of beer to brew at home; especially to standards that merit reproducing a beer in a professional setting. That was the first-place award for this competition.
Originally, our panel, which consisted of organizer Brian Beagle of local podcast San Diego BeerTalk Radio and Green Flash representatives including brewmaster Erik Jensen, had hoped to advance 15 beers from the first round to the second. It was about a third of the way through that it became apparent that this would not be possible. From aroma to flavor, the flaws were many. Some beers reeked of butyric acid (reviled for possessing a scent evocative of vomit), while others were as vegetal as a plate of Brussels sprouts. One even tasted like—I kid you not—Cinnamon Toast Crunch. In the end, we squeezed out 12 second-rounders by allowing in some “maybes”, but it really came down to four beers that had a chance at the top spot.
My comments above may make it seem like beer judges’ senses lead to instant consensus in most cases, but that hasn’t been my experience. Often, second- and third-round judging involves a great deal of discussion and debate. It’s a key part of the process, as it was in this instance. In the end, we selected an IPA called Searching For Clarity that, post-judging, we learned was entered by Nick Corona. If that name sounds familiar it’s because he won Homebrewer of the Year honors at last year’s Homebrew Con, the country’s largest recreational brewing competition, held annually by the American Homebrewers Association. A member of local club QUAFF, Corona is also the reigning homebrewer of the year for his winning entries at the 2017 edition of the San Diego County Fair‘s annual homebrew competition.
Corona’s win was announced the following day at Treasure Chest Fest, along with the second-place winner, a Northeast-style IPA from Solomon Cantwell, and the second-runner-up, Summer of Hops from Caden Houson (who is Corona’s co-brewer). Look for the winning beer to debut at Green Flash’s Mira Mesa tasting room as part of its small-batch Genius Lab program during San Diego Beer Week in early November.
Back in March, we introduced you to key personnel from Viewpoint Brewing Company (2201 San Dieguito Drive, Del Mar), Charles Koll and Gunnar Plantar. The former conceptualized the business and brought on the latter to lead the kitchen, but both are chefs with white-linen backgrounds. Over the past four months, they’ve been busy putting finishing touches on their brewpub (Del Mar’s first-ever beer manufacturer), which included hiring a head brewer. Not surprisingly, that individual, Moe Katomski, amassed years of chef experience before transitioning to the fermentation industry via a job with Vista’s Bear Roots Brewing. As soon as next week, the general public will be able to see what this trio of toques has been working on when Viewpoint opens its doors.
The opening has been a long time coming—more than three years, in fact. Having recently toured the space, that time was put to good use. Viewpoint is in a simultaneously great and not-ideal location. Located across the San Dieguito Lagoon from the Del Mar Fairgrounds, it is highly visible and should receive plenty of patronage, not only from San Diego County Fair and Del Mar Racetrack visitors, but Del Mar residents, in general, and walkers on the trail abutting Viewpoint’s shaded outdoor patio. The latter area is outfitted in a mixture of concrete and artificial turf, with live-edge, wooden communal tables and banquettes with tabletop fire features, as well as large, open, globe-shaped swings and corn-hole setups. These contemporary SoCal environs are particularly inviting and will surely inspire would-be exercisers to sit a spell and shift from calorie-burning to consumption.
Those dropping in by car might find themselves a little less enamored rolling into a parking lot that, with Viewpoint’s industrial roots fully exposed (perhaps to too great an extent, aesthetically), doesn’t appear to house a restaurant. The front door is small and inauspicious, but upon stepping through it, guests figure to be glad they did. While not as luxurious as the patio, the main dining room is neatly situated and comfortable. A zig-zagging bar gives way to two high-top communal tables and additional bar-seating bordering Viewpoint’s fermenter tanks. Roll-up garage-style doors provide access to the outdoor area as well as a pair of Skee Ball tables, further increasing the family-friendly aspect.
Viewpoint’s license allows for sale of guest beers to supplement a selection of house brews currently coming in at five. Katomski’s wares include a single-malt-and-single-hop (SMASH) beer made with Maris Otter and Chinook hops, a rye IPA with Red X malt that lends a chocolate-like character washed away by a dank finish, and a light-bodied Belgian-style saison that’s herbaceous and lemony with a hint of bubble gum. There is also a pair of pale ales. The first, Pleasant Surprise, was the initial beer run through Viewpoint’s 15-barrel system and didn’t turn out exactly as planned, but is not without its charms. Built on a Kölsch-recipe base with minimal infusion of Chinook hops for bittering, it may actually be a big hit with Del Martians. The second go at that beer is big on citrusy Mandarina Bavaria hops and a much more successful iteration in Katomski’s opinion. That recipe is now set in stone.
Drinkability and approachability were strived for and achieved with Viewpoint’s first beers, but Katomski also plans to follow some suggestions from Plantar, who regularly turns him on to exotic ingredients from the culinary world. For now, he’s fighting the urge to get “too crazy” and that seems a good game-plan for a community that has yet to have much exposure to craft beer.
With so many cooks in the kitchen, one might expect a for-chefs-by-chefs menu that’s overly extensive and out of control. Viewpoint’s is relatively brief but offers variety, including an assortment of appetizers that includes riffs on poutine and Jidori chicken wings served by the dozen with house sauces, charcuterie, salads, sandwiches, entrées (steak frites, salmon) and desserts. Beer and its ingredients make it into accoutrements such as a hop vinaigrette and milk stout demi-glace. Then there’s a rare first for the local beer scene, a beer-and-food flight wherein three of Viewpoint’s beers are served with a trio of pretzel bao buns stuffed with ingredients selected to match their liquid counterparts.
Following its debut, Viewpoint will be open seven days a week. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. it will operate as a tasting room offering light bites, before converting to a full-on restaurant from 4 to 11 p.m.
Winners of the San Diego International Beer Festival’s professional brewing competition were released today. A component of the San Diego County Fair’s annual festivities, the competition included entries from across the globe judged by professional beer judges and Southern California brewing professionals in late-April. A total of 68 medals were awarded to San Diego-based breweries. Of that number, 23 were gold, 21 were silver and 24 were bronze.
San Diego breweries won all three medals in eight categories: American-style Red/Amber Ale, Bitter, Bold Stout, Brett and Other Sour Beer, German-style Ale, German-style Weiss, Imperial Stout and Pilsener. Miramar-based AleSmith Brewing Company once again took home Champion Brewery honors behind three medals—a gold and silver in the same category (one of which was awarded to a Scotch ale) and a gold in the Barley Wine category.
The most local medals went to Pizza Port. That brewpub’s Carlsbad brewpub also won a gold and two silvers. Its Ocean Beach arm won two (one gold, one bronze) and Bressi Ranch production brewery earned a silver. The most medals awarded to a single brewery went to San Marcos’ Rip Current Brewing Company and less-than-a-year-old North Park interest Eppig Brewing. Both of those companies earned a gold, silver and two bronzes. San Marcos’ The Lost Abbey and South Park Brewing Company earned three medals apiece, as well. Also impressive was Rip Current winning two of three medals in the German-style Bock category.
The following is a complete list of the winners from this years SDIBF…
The three-day public beer-fest portion of the SDIBF will take place at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, Friday, June 16 through Sunday, June 18. Tickets and information can be found online.
Summer is nigh and the temps will soon be high. That’s right…IPA weather! Of course, there’s no reason to wait around to drink hoppy beers, or any beers for that matter. The following are some prime opportunities for doing just that. Check them out, then refer to our master events page for even more good times to be had in the presence of quality craft-beer.
June 4 | Anniversaries: With more than 100 breweries in San Diego County, there’s bound to be some birthday overlap here and there. Split-time or double-up with gluten-free operation Duck Foot Brewing Company as they celebrate their first year in business and Intergalactic Brewing Company, which turns three. They’re both in Miramar, so geography is your friend here! | Duck Foot Brewing Company, 8920 Kenamar Drive, Suite 210, Miramar, 12 p.m.; Intergalactic Brewing Company, 9715 Carroll Centre Road, Suite 107, Miramar, 1 p.m.
June 4 | Brew & Food Festival: So you prefer food to anniversaries. No problem. International culinary superstar Javier Plascencia is gathering a bunch of his taste buds (i.e., really good chefs) to pair their cuisine with more than 200 terrific craft-beers from breweries near and far on San Diego’s downtown bay-front, all in support of San Diego Coastkeeper. | Waterfront Park, Downtown, 1600 Pacific Highway, 2 p.m.
June 10 & 11 | More Anniversaries: What was that thing I was ranting about with birthday-overlap. Two straight weekends equals more identical anniversary dates with dueling celebrations. If you want to hit them all, head to Division 23 Brewing Company‘s one-year annie on Friday, then make it a double on Saturday with Council Brewing Company’s two-year festivities followed by Societe Brewing Company’s four-year battle of the brewers. | Council Brewing Company, 7705 Convoy Court, Kearny Mesa, Times Vary; Societe Brewing Company, 8262 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Kearny Mesa, 12 p.m.
June 17 | Tony Gwynn 5.5K: This annual tradition pays homage to the greatest sports-hero in San Diego history while raising money to support the non-profit organization he and his wife founded to help underprivileged locals and youth facing barriers to employment, the Tony and Alicia Gwynn Foundation. Run or walk through Beeramar, then relax with a San Diego Pale Ale .394 (or four). | AleSmith Brewing Company, 9990 AleSmith Court, Miramar, 8 a.m.
June 17-19 | San Diego International Beer Festival: It’s one of the largest international beer-festivals in the country…and you can enjoy it in tandem with the San Diego County Fair. Hundreds of beers, plus food-pairings, educational-seminars and other value-addeds await over a three days and five all-you-can-enjoy sessions. | Del Mar Fairgrounds, 2260 Jimmy Durante Boulevard, Del Mar, Times Vary
Photos by the author
Satellite tasting facilities are a trend on the rise throughout San Diego County. For the most part, brewing companies located in less central communities such as North County, East County and South Bay have gone this route to expose potential customers in the City of San Diego to their wares. But that’s not always the situation. Case in point: The Confessional, a taproom recently installed by three-tiered, San Marcos-based business, Port Brewing Company/The Lost Abbey/The Hop Concept.
Sequestered within a popular Cardiff strip mall that also houses Seaside Market, Zenbu Sushi and Rimel’s Rotisserie, rather than reach out to residents of San Diego’s urban core, The Confessional will mostly serve coastal denizens, tourists and, during the summer, visitors to the San Diego County Fair seeking pre- or post-event refreshments. When they arrive, they will find a sampling space that, despite being just over 1,100 square feet in area, sports as much, if not more, of the business’ artful, abbey-inspired character than its original North County tasting room.
A large, distressed steel sign sporting the tasting room’s name hangs above more than two-dozen taps dispensing beers from this three-headed operation. Those can be savored inside, under moodily dim lighting that matches earth-toned interiors punched up by various bottle art prints from local artist Sean Dominguez. Those include paintings for Judgment Day, Deliverance and the so-racy-they-had-to-make-alterations Framboise de Amarosa (see accompanying image), the latter of which is hung above one of a handful of banquettes with wooden, pew-like seating. The main bar and barrels-turned-belly bars provide additional imbibing options, as does a small outdoor area looking out onto a courtyard lined with a green patch of eco-friendly turf while offering a distant view of the Pacific Ocean.
Merchandise and growlers also help convey the company’s brand, leaning heavily toward its Belgian-inspired component. Even some bare faux tree trunks leftover from the venue’s previous life look good and relatively on-theme. (Though they will look even better once they are lined with snaking hop bines.) Much of the reason the design is so cohesive just a week into the tasting room’s lifespan is because the company had much more time than originally planned to work on it while it cleared hurdles for permitting through the City of Encinitas’ Planning Commission and other agencies.
Originally slated to debut in August, the project faced hurdles at every turn and took well over a year to complete. However, upon opening its doors on April 20, it was immediately flooded with patrons who had eagerly awaited its arrival, so despite delays, it’s off to a healthy start.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays.