From the Beer Writer: Beers that find their way into barrels for extended aging are typically of the higher-alcohol variety. That additional fortitude helps the base beverage endure the test that is time spent picking up the oaken and vinous or spiritual character of those oaken receptacles. But with some care and conscientiousness (proper temperature-control, monitoring and frequent quality control), lower-alcohol beers can provide a barrel-aged tasting experience unlike those provided by the boozier norm. Take for instance a new release from Benchmark Brewing Company, their flagship Belgian-style singel—which comes in at a whopping 4% alcohol-by-volume (ABV)—aged in used wine barrels for more than half a year. The fact the beer (a standout in its unaged form) is so light in body and ABV allows Benchmark Table Beer On Oak to explode on the nose and palate with an almost completely unimpeded essence of American oak. Taking a whiff matches the olfactory experience of walking through a winery’s barrel room. Vanilla, violet, earth and funk intertwine into a telltale bouquet. It’s more of the same on the palate plus spiciness from the beer’s Belgian yeast profile, a bit of tropical fruit and yuzu, followed by a lasting barrel mustiness in the finish. Benchmark’s brew crew took a significant chance with this aging project, but it pays off with every complex sip.
From the Brewery: “Barrel-aged beer is something we’ve been dabbling in for a while. This is a fun side note to Benchmark’s central mission of brewing beer we want to take home and drink every day. Starting with a small Belgian-style beer is likely unexpected for many folks, but we love this beer and believe it deserves to be celebrated. Our first offering of Table Beer on Oak is a more traditional take on this beer. It was aged for seven months in a Justin Winery red-wine barrel, then (my wife and co-owner) Rachael and I blended it back to find a tasty balance between the beer and the wood. The oak brings out the spicy, earthy notes that are already in Table Beer, and is balanced by the hint of acid and the citrus-like character of the base beer. Bottle-conditioning offers a much more traditional carbonation level for the style, a softer mouthfeel and allows the natural biscuity notes to shine. It’s a small beer and we have taken care of the aging for you, so go ahead and crack the bottle open soon and enjoy. We plan to continue to dabble with a handful of barrels, and we will release the next batch when the beer lets us know the time has come.”—Matt Akin, Owner & Brewmaster, Benchmark Brewing Company
There may be no entrepreneurs better-suited to bring National City its very first local brewing company than the team behind Embarcadero Brewing (340 West 26th Street, Suite D, National City). A familial quartet of Hispanic military veterans who all hail from the South Bay, they bet big on beer back in early 2014 when they opened a homebrew supply shop, SoCal Brew Shop. Now they’re ready to double-down by getting into production and opening a tasting room. They know their surroundings and the tastes of their neighbors, ditto the predilections of the many Tijuana-based homebrew patrons they regularly service. Now, all they need is a final influx of capital, something they are hoping to achieve via a crowd-funding campaign currently underway.
Much of the Embarcadero teams funds were expended in their mission to bring a brewing interest to National City. The municipality lacked an ordinance to address a brewery facility, so City government tasked the quartet—Gustavo and Jorge Molina, Arturo and Marco Pena—with completing a conditional use permit (CUP), a task they describe as “arduous” and consumptive from both a time and money standpoint. But it was worth it. The National City Planning Commission passed the CUP last May, giving the Embarcadero team the green light to begin the process to obtain its ABC license.
In addition to feeling a deep-seeded connection to National City, these aspiring brewery owners have paid attention to the burgeoning beer scene in the South Bay. They realize that the surrounding coastal cities of Coronado, Chula Vista and Imperial Beach are all home to brewery-owned venues and feel placing one in National City will provide “the necessary handshake between the South Bay and the north.”
Despite having hoops to jump through before reaching brewery status, the Embarcadero crew has already served beer to the public at last year’s Best Coast Beer Fest. Their offerings that day were Fiesta IPA, an old-school India pale ale served with lime and a touch of sea salt, and a blonde ale sporting slices of organic strawberries. And while some purists may raise an eyebrow at the untraditional nature of those beers (or at least how they’re garnished), the beers tapped out and, “normal” or not, could do a decent job of converting a municipal population mostly unfamiliar with craft beer.
Embarcadero’s portfolio will consist of IPAs of varying strengths, a Vienna lager, brown and red ales. Again, not your everyday San Diego line-up, but the Embarcadero team is confident in its knowledge of local palates and ability to appeal to them. The plan is to contract brew at Chula Vista’s Bay Bridge Brewing, initially packaging exclusively in kegs with a plan to start bottling soon after. But first, they need to open. Should they meet their crowdfunding goals, they hope to open sometime this summer.
From the Beer Writer: Whereas most craft fans’ favorite beer style is IPA (not that there’s anything wrong with that…they’re incredible), my favorite beers are Belgian-style farmhouse ales. But wait, like the IPA fan who can tell you they specifically like unfiltered, 7% alcohol-by-volume, tropical-flavored India pale ales dry-hopped with Citra, Motueka and Nelson Sauvin, I too can get way too specific about the types of farmhouse ales (AKA: saisons) I prefer. I like when they are spiked with Brettanomyces and aged in barrels, particularly those which have formerly housed white wine. I prefer Sauvignon Blanc barrels, but I’m not a picky man (despite what everything leading up to this has led you to believe). So, when speaking with local brewer Robert Masterson about future plans he had for his then yet-to-open Resident Brewing, and he told me the first thing he was going to do was get his saison into white-wine barrels so he could start aging it, I tucked that nugget away and started biding my time. It was as if he had intercepted some letter to Santa and, despite my naughty status, decided to bring my beer wish to life. A few weeks ago, that beer, Resident Saison Prestige, made its debut in 750-milliliter bottles, and I went straight to work getting my hands on some. And I’m glad I did, because it is exceptional. Oenophiles will be drawn in by a lustrous bouquet rife with aromas of lemon peel, honeysuckle, pears and grape must, while lovers of farmhouse and sour ales will go gaga for a multifarious yet balanced taste sensation offering up passion fruit, lemongrass, white pepper and oak-borne vanillins with a touch of funk delivered against a textural backdrop that’s medium and slightly creamy, leaving lingering traces of vanilla and kiwi. It’s prestigious enough to live up to its name and available exclusively at Resident’s base of operations, downtown’s The Local Eatery and Watering Hole.
From the Brewery: “Saison Prestige is a barrel-fermented, mixed-fermentation saison aged in French oak Chardonnay barrels. This farmhouse-style ale gets its character from two types of saison yeast, multiple Brettanomyces strains and Lactobacillus. The beer rested in wine barrels for over a year, before being bottled in June 2017. The beer was inspired by a few amazing American farmhouse breweries that have been putting out amazing beers for the past half-decade. We secured some amazing Chardonnay barrels from Chateau Montelena. After the saison picked up their character, we selected the three barrels that had the best-tasting beer inside. We didn’t want to utilize fruit with these killer barrels. Instead, we wanted them to stand out on their own and show San Diego what a wine-barrel and funky, tart saison can taste like without fruit additions.”—Robert Masterson, Head Brewer, Resident Brewing Company
In 2010, an entrepreneur from north of San Diego County delivered a brewpub concept to downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter. Dubbed The Beer Co., it was a spin-off operation that failed to generate much of a reputation among San Diego’s craft-beer enthusiasts. Not even a gold medal from the 2012 Great American Beer Festival for its barrel-aged strong ale, The Manhattan Project, measured so much as a ripple in local waters. Still, it soldiered on for more than half-a-decade before closing down. Now, the space that housed it is ready to birth a second brewery-restaurant brought to San Diego by nearby out-of-towners, The Bell Marker (602 East Broadway, Downtown).
That business will debut on January 22, complete with a veteran, native San Diegan brewer at the helm. That individual, Noah Regnery hails from vaunted locally-based business, Pizza Port, where he worked at the chain’s San Clemente brewpub from 2007 to 2011 and contributed to its award-winning reputation before departing to become head brewer at Hollister Brewing in Goleta, California, a post he held until 2014 when he departed the industry altogether. His return should be highly anticipated, but as with so many developments in the suddenly complicated local suds scene, it comes with some drama. The Bell Marker is the first location south of Los Angeles for LA-based Artisanal Brewers Collective, a company established by Golden Road Brewing co-founder Tony Yanow. That in itself is not all that significant, but the fact Yanow and Golden Road partner Meg Gill sold the business to macrobeer conglomerate AB InBev in September of 2015 muddies things a bit for fans of independent craft brewers as well as members of the local industry.
Since Golden Road’s sale, Yanow (a bar owner before and throughout his tenure with Golden Road) and his ABC partners have been busy gobbling up hospitality venues throughout LA. The Bell Marker is the first to possess a brewing component and Yanow’s original venues—Mohawk Bend and Tony’s Darts Away—were craft-centric venues which were ahead of their time. Figuratively, this is not unfamiliar territory for this seemingly insatiable entrepreneur, even if it is from a geographic standpoint. How it will be received from a local population which vehemently eschewed last year’s arrival of AB InBev’s 10 Barrel Brewing brewpub in the East Village remains to be seen.
The Bell Marker houses a copper-clad, 15-barrel brewhouse that will be utilized to produce American, English, German, and Belgian beers. The opening-day line-up will include a cream ale, hefeweizen, brown ale, pale ale and IPA augmented by guest beers selected to fill in any stylistic gaps. There will also be a full cocktail program to appeal to non-beer fans. The 8,000-square-foot venue can seat 212 at a time and will be open seven days a week from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
North County’s Belching Beaver Brewery boasts five locations throughout San Diego County—a large production facility in Oceanside, an indoor-outdoor brewpub in Old Town Vista, tasting rooms in North Park and Ocean Beach, and its original Vista brewery. With so many properties and ownership’s eyes on potential future facilities north of San Diego, there were plans to let go of the latter, but an idea from creative employees of the five-year-old company to add an in-house food component to the spot where it all began for the Beav’ saved it from being sold. After eight months of design and construction, that concept, Pub980 (980 Park Center Drive, Vista) is set to debut to the public on Monday, January 15.
Much like when the company took over a former bank and converted it into Belching Beaver Brewery Tavern and Grill, one can’t help but speculate at how well an interest most known for fermentation will do with a restaurant concept. And much as with its first foray into food service, Belching Beaver has come through with flying colors with Pub980. What was once a single-suite combination brewery and tasting room now utilizes double the indoor square-footage to deliver a split concept that relies on a shared bar to deliver a choose-your-own-adventure experience.
Visitors to Pub980 who merely want to sample through Belching Beaver’s beers can do so in the original tasting room on the right side of the space, while those who wish to dine can head left where high-top wooden tables of varying sizes await, dressed with red, lumberjack flannel runners conveying a camping theme that’s driven home by numerous clever elements. Those include a beautiful living wall with a pair of tents pitched above it that hovers over a stone-enclosed fish pond, tree branches bundled into a wall in front of the restrooms and the pièce de résistance, a fully operational kitchen made to look like a towed-in trailer complete with white-wall tires. These elements mesh nicely with oak-occupied barrel racks, strands of hanging bulbs and a large Chuck E. Cheese-like beaver statue (the non-creepy audio-animatronic type).
Additionally, the Belching Beaver team has done a great job incorporating a pre-existing outdoor patio complete with fire-pits and Adirondack chairs (a design staple that can also be found at its original brewpub). To really bring home the camping motif, the kitchen offers hot-dog and s’mores kits complete with lengthy skewers so patrons can prepare their own vittles over open flames should the mood strike them. Those are offered on top of a robust menu of pub grub ranging from hot wings, cheese curds, fish tacos and sandwiches to a surprisingly wide array of salads. The menu isn’t a huge departure from the original pub (it was developed by the same chef), but it is intentionally different. Owner Tom Vogel and company aren’t naïve to the fact Belching Beaver’s pair of eateries are a mere six miles apart, and want to offer unique experiences at each.
On the food side, particularly impressive are the cheesesteaks, which are authentic in their use of shaved quality ribeye, but upgrade the fromage element, going with real cheese and “Beaver beer cheese” versus Philly-preferred Whiz. A Classic, SoCal (avocado, Swiss and jalapeño-avocado sauce) Hawaiian (Kalua pork, pineapple and teriyaki sauce) and chicken-bacon versions are available. Burgers, a Chicago dog, assorted wraps and Troy’s corn dog (named after brewmaster Troy Smith) round out the hand-held mains. The latter isn’t the only item named for someone. Vogel dug in his heels to get Tom’s fried clams on the menu. They can be had with a beer for a discounted price the Friday during week-long grand-opening festivities, January 15-20, when a different $9.80 food-and-drink deal will be offered each day.
Pub980 is very well done, especially given the relatively modest size of the project. Vogel says the new venue is all about family, and that creating a place where parents can bring their kids to do more than sit around while their parents drank beer was a big focus during the design phase. Having visited during a rehearsal dinner service where children were present (and having made s’mores with several of them outside) I can say with confidence they’ve come through in spades on this objective. Pub980 should serve those who venture to it, as well as the clientele lured from the many nearby business and industrial parks, quite well.
Pub980’s hours of operation will be 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 11 am. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays.