From the Beer Writer: Each week for the past several years, I’ve made a point of highlighting what I believe are exceptional beers produced by San Diego County breweries. Because I not only write about the beer industry, but am a part of it, there have been a handful of times when a Beer of the Week has come from a brewery I’m employed by. I understand the perceived conflict there, so I attempt to avoid that whenever possible, and am always sure to disclose my affiliation when doing so. But this week, the origin-story and humanitarian purpose behind my featured beer selection is such that I feel compelled to share both even though it’s manufactured by my employer, Societe Brewing Company. Allow me to go into detail. Each year, Societe holds a holiday food-drive. In its first year, this effort amassed just under 300 pounds of food. The addition of annual incentivizing ripples in the drive increased its effectiveness to the point where, last year, the brewery collected nearly 5,000 pounds of food. Happy but not yet satisfied, brewmaster Travis Smith and company devised a new plan for 2016, centered around the release of a new blended, wine barrel-aged, cranberry sour ale, Societe The Urchin. From now through December 31, this tart, fruity, tannic offering is available in 500-milliliter bottles for an admittedly exorbitant $50. Too rich for your blood? There’s a much more affordable and meaningful alternative. Simply bring in 50 pounds of food from the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank’s list of needed items (click here for that list) and you can get a bottle of The Urchin for just five dollars. The drive started on November 21 and, within four days, Societe had surpassed its 2015 total, delivering more than 5,000 pounds of edible sustenance to the Food Bank. As of today, total donations stand at 8,588 pounds. It’s a wonderful case of the goodness of local craft-beer flowing beyond the glass to make a positive difference for those in need in our community, and I’m happy to shine a light on it in hopes of maximizing that effort. Happy holidays!
From the Brewer: “The Feral beer program at Societe revolves around blending and, to a lesser extent, experimentation. The Urchin arose out of an experiment loading cranberry purée into one of our red-wine barrels. We liked the flavor enough that we decided to take the experiment to the next level by fruiting several more barrels, and the base to The Urchin was born. This first batch of The Urchin spent between 10 and 24 months in barrels before making it into this final delicious, festive Feral blend of fruit and funk. With cranberries being a favorite holiday flavor, and The Urchin being my favorite blend to come out of our barrel room so far, this is the perfect beer to go along with our annual Holiday Food Drive to incentivise the donation of needed items to the San Diego Food Bank.”—Travis Smith, Brewmaster, Societe Brewing Company
The season of good-will and merriment is upon us…also, holiday beers and celebrating. Submitted for your enjoyment are several local events taking place this December. Salt-and-pepper (cinnamon-and-nutmeg?) them into your holiday plans, and refer to the West Coaster events page for a comprehensive list of goings-on throughout San Diego County.
December 3 | West Coaster Party: Your favorite local craft-beer publication doesn’t throw a ton of events, but when we do, we try to make it count. In that spirit, we’re teaming with 32 North Brewing Company to offer a four-pronged fete focusing on beer, meat, coffee and chocolate, San Diego-made iterations of which will be on-hand for mixing, matching, meshing and massacring. | 32 North Brewing Company, 8655 Production Avenue, Miramar, 12 p.m.
December 4 | SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off: It’s a merging of neighborhoods, a feast for the senses and a telling test of one’s ability to withstand extreme heat all wrapped up into one enchanted afternoon, when North Parkers and South Parkers come together to throw down with multiple takes on America’s spicy, stewed national dish and temper all that inherent incendiary heat with quality craft ales and lagers. | 32nd & Thorn Street, North & South Park, 11 a.m.
December 10 | Sore Eye Sudsmas: The co-host of San Diego BeerTalk Radio is holding a holiday party where attendees are encouraged to bring in food donations to a food drive being held by host-site, Societe Brewing Company. Prizes will be awarded to those who bring the most edibles and if a total of 2,000 pounds comes in, Societe will tap the only keg of cranberry sour, The Urchin, in existence. | Societe Brewing Company, 8262 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Kearny Mesa, 5 p.m.
December 15-17 | Ugly Sweater Events: ‘Tis the weekend for events celebrating ironic yuletide-wear. Start early on Thursday with an ugly sweater Christmas party at OB’s Raglan Public House, then roll up on the Ales ‘n’ Rails beer-tasting at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum before taking in a Saturday suds-and-sweaters soiree at Tap That in Oceanside. | Multiple Locations, Times Vary
Editor’s Note: In addition to his role as Editor at Large for West Coaster, the author is also employed by Societe Brewing Company.
Back in May, I broke the news that a business by the name of Little Miss Brewing (7949 Stromesa Court, Miramar) was building its brewery in Miramar. It was exciting news for me, as it was going to be located right down the street from my office at AleSmith Brewing Company, and headed by Joe Liscia, an ex- Green Flash Brewing Company brewer and part-time pint-slinger at (my new employer) Societe Brewing Company. There was just one hitch—Little Miss’ owners weren’t going to install a tasting room at the brewery. Fortunately, Liscia was able to effectively communicate how important an on-site sampling component is to a brewery, particularly one located in a heavily toured part of San Diego County.
When I visited Little Miss a couple of weeks ago, it looked put-together and unique. A cinder-block, L-shaped bar with the wing of an ancient flying-machine hanging above conveys a bunker-like motif. On the opposite side of the room, keg seats are situated around long tabletops that cleverly lift up to the wall, Murphy bed-style, during brewing hours. I was surprised when Liscia told me he had to throw the whole thing together, scouring eBay for World War II memorabilia and other items to fill the place out. It’s pretty commendable, considering he had to simultaneously get first-draft beers ready. The fact that those beers are quite enjoyable makes it more impressive, still.
Little Miss’ tasting room is equipped with 10 taps, but when I stopped by, only half were hooked up to kegs. I started with a pair of SMASH pale ales. SMASH stands for single-malt and single-hop, describing the ingredients used to make such beers. While single-hop beers have been popular for years now, SMASH recipes are mostly the domain of homebrewers currently, so it was nice to have a couple in a pro-setting. SMASH beers provide a fine opportunity for drinkers to get to know individual ingredients. Liscia’s SMASH pales were hopped with Cascade and Galaxy, respectively. The former’s citrus character presented most closely as grapefruit, while the latter offered more complex flavors of lemon and passionfruit plus a slightly more assertive bitterness on the finish.
Another pale, New Deal, was perhaps the least-satisfying of the bunch. It tasted nice enough, but could benefit from more hop-presence. It was simply too mild from a botanical standpoint and came across a tad sweet on the malt-side as a result. But the hop-malt balance on Little Miss’ Helldiver IPA was right-on. Maybe it’s the Sazerac kick I’ve been on since a recent trip to New Orleans, but the aroma reminded me of Peychaud’s bitters. Zesty and citric, it was probably a romantic interpretation anybody else would have described as “lemony”, but work with me here. The beer is 6.5% alcohol-by-volume and hopped with Zythos, Centennial and El Dorado. That last one is all-lemon and complemented nicely by the earthiness and stone fruit-esque elements of its partner-hops.
I finished with a freshly tapped, light-bodied porter that was big on cola notes with a roasted almond nuttiness to it. Brewed with chocolate and cacao nibs, it even had a faint hint of herbal tea essence. At 4.7% ABV, it’s in the low range, just like all of Little Miss’ current beers. Liscia expects to brew higher-ABV offerings relatively soon, but recently debuted a sessionable Belgian-style witbier brewed with ginger and orange-peel, and has a Berliner weisse on-deck. He’s also been working with the roasters at Swell Coffee Co. to make a java-infused version of the porter.
Little Miss’ ultimate goal is to open multiple tasting rooms throughout San Diego. It was a snag with the first of those in Normal Heights that prompted ownership to go ahead with the brewery tasting room. Though done out of necessity, it was done well, and a visit there is a pleasant introduction to Miramar’s newest brewery. Oh, wait…Thunderhawk Alements opened over the weekend. Make that Miramar’s second-youngest new brewery.
Former San Diego Brewers Guild president Mike Sardina (formerly of Kearny Mesa’s Societe Brewing Company) is headed to Vermont to take a job at cult-fave brewery Hill Farmstead Brewery. This left a sudden and significant vacancy to be expeditiously filled by the Guild. Fortunately, an able-bodied and passionate industry professional known for her seemingly unlimited energy and outgoing compatriotism in and beyond San Diego County has stepped up. Meet Jill Davidson, the western regional sales manager for Pizza Port and new president of the San Diego Brewers Guild.
How did you get into the industry and what led you to where you are today?
When I was 18, I walked into Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant in Newark, Delaware, and got a hostess job. I worked there all four years of college, became a server and went through their beer education. When I moved to San Diego in fall of 2006, there weren’t a whole lot of beer jobs around, so I did bartending and restaurant management. When Pizza Port Ocean Beach opened in 2010, I started there as bartender, and when the Bressi Ranch production brewery was built in 2013, I realized I wanted to get more serious about my position and recognize the growth potential. It was exciting to be part of the expansion of an old-school pioneer of San Diego craft-beer. I became a sales and brand ambassador and ran a brewery-tour program, which pretty much entailed me calling on accounts and being their only point-of-contact. It was pretty overwhelming but now we have a great sales team and I’m the regional manager.
What inspired you to get in line for the Guild presidency?
Mike called me and said there was a vice-president officer seat opening up on the Guild Board. He thought I would be great in that role and that we could do a lot of great things for the San Diego beer community.
How does the president role fit in with the rest of the components of the Guild?
The Board is really the Guild’s governing body and it is spearheaded by executive director Paige McWey Acers. She is a permanent fixture that keeps the fish afloat and steering in the right direction. The Board is then divided into committees that cover lots of different issues—planning, San Diego Beer Week, membership, bylaws. The work of the Guild is divided amongst members of the Board who in turn incorporate members at-large to be part of these committees. Officers change regularly, every year you get different personalities and different breweries represented—everybody has something different to bring to the table. As president, I’m more the face and voice of the Guild and its members. It’s definitely a team effort. We have a strong Board and it’s amazing to be surrounded with people who have so much experience and insight into what’s important.
What are some initiatives you are excited to introduce and work on?
Technically I’m in an interim position [until next year when I will start the term I would have served if Mike had stayed], so I’m mostly following up on his initiatives—development of committees so the Guild can be more efficient with time and energy in getting things accomplished. Also, our relationship with the San Diego Tourism and Marketing District, San Diego Tourism Authority, and San Diego Hotel and Motel Association; getting our seat at the table as an important part of local economy. Those are things that are very important to me, as well as establishing an Outreach Committee to be in contact with new breweries as they are developed. A lot of what the Guild does is legislative, so making sure those breweries-in-progress are in tune with ABC laws and being a resource for questions will be helpful.
What are some opportunities for success for local brewers that the Guild can help with?
Networking and resources are such a huge thing that [brewery business-owners and brewers] don’t realize they have. If they have a question about a beer-recipe, they can phone-a-friend. If they don’t have contact info, we’ll put people in touch. We’ll guide through what they need with legislative questions, and the stronger the Guild’s relationship gets with the aforementioned associations, the more our members will benefit. And of course there’s our maps [showing where every member-brewery is located throughout San Diego County]. There are 90,000 of those in circulation throughout the year. Then there’s San Diego Beer Week, which provides an international platform now. “San Diego-style” beer is a real thing now and, as San Diego beer grows, our members will grow with it.
What are some of the biggest problems currently plaguing San Diego brewers?
Quality is always a concern, especially with breweries growing and having different processes than when they were smaller operations. As we develop the “San Diego Beer” brand as a whole, quality is more important than ever. Each sip represents all of San Diego beer, not just the individual breweries. Luckily, there are a lot of resources to connect people in order to elevate the quality of everyone’s beer.
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