One of our main missions at West Coaster is to showcase the talented humans and businesses that create the San Diego brewing community. For this feature, we asked our readers for help. The 15 in ‘15 covers 15 different categories, and answers were taken via an online poll that ran in November. 2015 was an exhilarating year in the county’s brewing industry, and this feature highlights just some of the movers and shakers that helped make it happen.
Best San Diego Brewery: Modern Times
Modern Times Beer has matured with equal parts skill and insanity in its two years of existence. More than doubling production from 6,500 barrels in 2014 to 16,000 barrels in 2015, the cans, bottles and tap handles of the “Lomaland Fermentorium” are becoming a common sight throughout the competitive shelves and draft lineups of San Diego County. Next year, the brewery estimates production will reach 33,000 barrels. Double-digit plus growth years in a row isn’t a fluke – the beer rocks.
West Coaster readers agreed. The core beers of Lomaland, Fortunate Island and Blazing World have gone over well, but the magic is found with the releases that started appearing this past year. 2015 was the first year MTB launched a new bottled beer each month. City of the Dead, Fruitlands Gose, Mega Black House were some highlights, and the brewery took notes on which bottles sold well. With that knowledge, expect to see a few new year-round offerings come 2016.
It’s not just beer, either. Within the brewery is also a coffee roasting operation, and plans are in the works for opening a brewpub in Los Angeles. Also, their first Festival of Dankness was focused on interesting/uncommon beers/breweries. In the words of brewer/organizer Derek Freese, this was a festival created for people that hate beer festivals. The first annual event saw over 1,000 attendees, 37 breweries pouring beers, and $10,000 donated to the charity BikeSD.
Modern Times is on fire. This dynamic brewery defines the essence of San Diego beer for the year 2015.
Best San Diego Brewpub: Abnormal Beer Co.
Abnormal is a part of a medley of operations that co-habitate what was once just another industrial suite in Rancho Bernardo. After a significant, transformative buildout, Abnormal Beer & Wine Co. opened early 2015. The restaurant component, Cork & Craft, has foodies salivating.
The in-house brewery is headed up by Derek Gallanosa and featured a 10 barrel brewhouse with 80 barrels capacity. With 30 draft accounts and counting, Debut IPA and 5PM Session Ale have been well received. Derek also curates the 41 tap draft program, which features guest taps and house beers.
Brewpubs are seldom known for their culinary flair. This is not the case with the Cork & Craft kitchen. Dishes with hand cut pappardelle noodles made in-house & slow cooked in a pork bolognese sauce, grilled octopus in Spanish-style ajoblanco sauce, or lemon ricotta agnolotti served with Buddha’s Hand are some of the items found on the menu. For the less adventurous, the bar menu offers jazzed up versions of brewpub staples like chicken wings, burgers and pretzels.
Although their first year in business, Abnormal has orchestrated 10 mind-blowing beer pairing dinners titled the Abnormal Dinner Series. The first dinner featured a vertical tasting with 11 different years of Cantillon’s Fou Foune. In May, AleSmith Brewing was hosted and 8 different courses were paired with 8 different AleSmith beers.
West Coaster readers were undoubtedly amazed at this factory of flavor that dropped in seemingly from space. Next year, the Abnormal Dinner Series will continue once a month, and a million dollar expansion for the brewery will boost production five fold.
Best Brewer in San Diego: Cosimo Sorrentino
Cosimo Sorrentino is the head brewer of both Monkey Paw Brewing Company and South Park Brewing Co. Running a single brewery is tough. Cosimo managed to keep the beers flowing at ‘Paw while simultaneously helping open South Park in 2015 and bringing that new brewery online. Now, he splits his time between the two brewpubs, located in East Village and next to Hamilton’s Tavern, respectively.
Running two breweries is a behemoth undertaking, but Cosimo is stoked. “The opportunity in front of me can’t be ignored.” Cosimo replies when West Coaster asked him about how he manages his time. “I do what the beer needs me to do. If it means a 100 hour work week, so be it. There are people who would do anything for a shot like this. Luckily, I live between the breweries and don’t have any other commitments in life.” That dedication is reflected in the beer. The 2013 Great American Beer Festival judges awarded Monkey Paw’s Bonobos a Gold medal in the American strong ale category, and in 2015 Scripps Pier Stout won a Silver medal. Beers such as Lup’d Up Single, a tart saison w/ Rhubarb and I5 brewed with coconut and salt stood out from Monkey Paw in 2015. Scripps Pier Stout + Lime In Da Coconut were fan favorites from South Park. Cosimo was also tapped to work with Stone’s 24 Carrot Golden Ale collaboration beer along with homebrewer Juli Goldenberg.
More cool beers are on the way. Monkey Paw will release Funky Sea Monkey Black Gose, a collaboration with Marin Brewing Co. brewed with squid ink. Caddy Corner Wit from South Park Brewing Co. will be a wit beer with neighborhood persimmons and oranges. Expect to see lots of beer pairing events from Monkey Paw and South Park in 2016, as well.
Best Homebrewer in San Diego: Chris Banker
Oceanside resident Chris Banker has long been an active member in both Quality Ale and Fermentation Fraternity (QUAFF) and Society of Barley Engineers homebrew clubs. In 2014, he entered a beer that won the prestigious Stone Brewing Company American Homebrewers Association competition. Banker chose the Morales brothers of Tijuana’s Cervecería Insurgente to collaborate, and the beer was brewed at and released by Stone late 2014. The beer’s name? Xocoveza. Well, technically the full, proper name is Chris Banker / Stone / Insurgente Xocoveza Mocha Stout.
The beer was a runaway hit. The 8% chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg, chile pepper and Mostra Coffee-infused milk stout invokes the flavors of Mexican hot chocolate. The beer was so popular that Stone re-released Xocoveza in 6 packs and kegs mid-November 2015. Stone Brewing Co. also chose Xocoveza to be one of the three first beers brewed and released by Stone’s new Berlin brewery.
Aside from beer, Banker crafts cider, mead and wine and is also a skilled cheesemaker. An engineer by trade, Banker has a small, sophisticated half barrel homebrew setup fashioned from a hollowed out keg that doubles as his cheesemaking setup. A breakdown of this cool setup can be found online @ http://chrisbanker.com/homebrew.php.
Best Tasting Room: Green Flash & Cellar 3
Readers voted in equal numbers for both Green Flash tasting rooms. The 300 person capacity tasting room located in the Mira Mesa facility underwent a significant remodel in 2014. The remodel brought a bit more color and personality to the aesthetics, and added a standalone merchandise store, a separate growler fill bar, and stainless 30-tap draught system. Outside, there’s a substantial patio with picnic table seating, string lights, heating, and the Green Flash Gastro Truck serving food.
Mid-2015, Green Flash opened the doors of Cellar 3. Housing the brewery’s barrel aging program, there’s an elegant and spacious tasting room designed to showcase the brewery’s more limited & creative beers. Flanders Drive, Oculus Sauvage and Silva Stout are all barrel aged on location and then put on tap and into bottles. Still in its infancy, expect to hear and drink a lot more from Cellar 3 in the upcoming year.
Between the two tasting rooms, Green Flash moves 30 ½ barrel kegs a week and nearly 40 cases of beer. The large and open layout of each space allows for frequent events. Over 23 Hoppy Yoga sessions took place last year at the Mira Mesa location alone. In 2015, the brewery will begin a free shuttle service that stops at the Sorrento Valley Coaster Station, Cellar 3 and Green Flash.
Best Beer Bar: Toronado
Winner of last year’s Best Tap Rotation category, opinions shifted slightly this year. According to our readers, Toronado is now the Best Beer Bar in San Diego. Rotating about 40 kegs each week, the 56 tap handles of Toronado are frequently pouring the finest beer found on planet earth. The magic of Toronado comes from its versatility.
Monday through Friday in the early afternoon, Toronado serves as an embassy for visiting beer dignitaries and a rest stop for local industry. If an out of town brewer is visiting San Diego with time to only visit one bar, it’s usually Toronado. It’s not uncommon to find several brewery sales reps cooling their heels in-between meetings or furiously staring at a laptop/pacing out front on the phone. This quiet, gentle Toronado can be both a productive and deeply therapeutic space.
In the weekday evening hours, North Park gets hungry and thirsty. Neighbors begin to stroll in. The empty seats are filled and the din of chatter dances off the walls. This Toronado is for unwinding with friends after work over chicken wings and a few pints. Friday through Sunday, the energy level increases in step with the volume of the jukebox. Although it might be standing room only on loud, packed weekend night – it’s difficult to not have a good time. Weekend Toronado is for having fun and bumping into friends.
With only one modest TV screen that’s usually on mute and notoriously poor reception of cell phone signals, Toronado encourages conversation. Combine that with an outstanding tap list and this 2015 choice for Best Beer Bar becomes clear.
Best Beer Restaurant: Urge American Gastropub
Urge American Gastropub is a thoroughbred beer restaurant. Located in Rancho Bernardo, Urge opened in 2010 and has demonstrated a solid commitment to serving the best beer and food possible – often combining both (see: Sculpin-marinated Chicken Wings). On a regular day, Urge properly maintains 51 taplines that compliment a tasty menu served in generous portions.
And on non-regular days? Urge gets crazy. Special events frequently follow a creative theme, serve crazy beers and neat custom glassware. The restaurant celebrated their 5th Anniversary in late August, and breweries Mother Earth, Noble Ale Works, Dogfish Head, Sierra Nevada and AleSmith all created beers especially for the event. AleSmith’s 12% ABV Velvet Speedway Stout was the whale of 2015. Aged for a year in 23-year-old Evan Williams Bourbon Barrels, infused with a rye-whiskey/Madagascar Vanilla bean blend and bourbon barrel-aged cold brew coffee from Mostra, the beer was released for sales late July and sold out instantaneously. Urge throws regular events with similar panache year-round.
Sister operations include the wine-centric Barrel Room and restaurant/bottleshop/flavor emporium Brother’s Provisions – both are also in Rancho Bernardo. Coming up in 2016, the Urge empire will expand into brewing. Urge Gastropub Oceanside is presently under construction, and the 9000+ square foot space will include brewery Mason Ale Works, 41 taps and an extensive bottled beer and whiskey selection.
Best Beertender: Nate Soroko
Two years in a row, West Coaster readers named Nate Soroko as the Best Beertender in San Diego County. Having worked at Liar’s Club, Lost Abbey, Pizza Port Carlsbad and Alpine before settling into his current gigs at Modern Times and Toronado, Nate’s had a front row seat watching the culture of San Diego beer develop and mature. Perhaps no other human has poured more San Diego beer than Nate, and his work ethic, respect and passion for beer and the people behind it are contagious.
“I love watching people who love this industry succeed within it.” Nate elaborated, “Watching Fall [Brewing] blow up, AleSmith open their brand new facility, Bobby [Matthews] at Alpine getting a big promotion, Cork & Craft expanding, South Bay getting love and watching 30th Street continue to be the best beer street in America. It’s been a pleasure watching friends and colleagues follow their dreams or soar in their current positions.”
Read more about Nate in last year’s 14 in ’14 feature.
Best Homebrew Shop: The Homebrewer
West Coaster first wrote about The Homebrewer in February of 2011, when owner George Thornton announced he would be opening the shop on 2911 El Cajon Boulevard in North Park. Since opening the doors in 2012, the business has grown to much more than a simple supply store. The goal of The Homebrewer is to be a one-stop shop to get people brewing in a friendly, encouraging and educational environment. Our readers decided that there’s no better place to become a brewer.
We asked George why he thought readers chose his store against several other excellent homebrew stores in San Diego. His answer came quickly, “We have the best people in the whole world working for us. Selection, prices, cleanliness, organization… all of that stuff is a piece of cake. Our team makes us awesome.”
2015 saw the opening of Home Brewing Company, which is the small-batch commercial brewery and tasting room located within the store. Things to expect from the Homebrewer in 2016: a fourth anniversary celebration and a tasting room expansion. George is also keen to open a second and third location. “We’re always brainstorming and can’t wait to bring our vision to other parts of the county. We’re already scouring locations.”
Best Beer Neighborhood: North Park
Once again, North Park was our reader’s top choice for Best Beer Neighborhood in San Diego County by an overwhelming majority of votes. It’s easy to understand why. The 92104 area added several new beer businesses in the year 2015. Both Barn Brewing and Home Brewing Co. opened across the street from one another, improving a historically sketchy area of El Cajon Boulevard. There’s now six total breweries in North Park, and they had a great year, too. Fall Brewing celebrated a killer first year in business in November, Thorn Street Brewing opened pub Home & Away in Old Town, Poor House has dramatically improved their beer’s quality and Hess Brewing expanded with a new tasting room in Ocean Beach.
Off 30th Street, Rip Current Brewing opened their satellite tasting room in 2015 (and then proceeded to be named Best Very Small Brewing Company of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival). Crazee Burger relocated their business to the corner of 30th & Lincoln, adding more draft handles to 30th Street.
The rich keep getting richer. Now ingrained into the DNA of the neighborhood, beer is seeping into other facets. Coffee roaster Dark Horse collaborated with New English on a brew for Bine & Vine (see Best Bottleshop), and Folsom Coffee will soon turn on beer taps adjacent to coldbrew coffee taps. Gourmet taco shops such as City Tacos, Tacos Perla serve Tijuana’s Insurgente. Streetcar Merchants serves sweets along with a small but thoughtful selection of local beers.
Although North Park’s the definitive choice for Best Beer Neighborhood of 2015, we’re looking forward to additional competition from the above up-and-coming neighborhoods in next year’s poll.
Best Tap Selection & Rotation: Hamilton’s
Hamilton’s was our reader’s choice for the 2014 Best Beer Bar, swapping categories with Toronado and indicating a shift in our reader’s preferences. It’s a solid choice; even the most discerning beer-tickers can find an excellent, new beer any night of the week at Hammie’s.
Unlike other bars, Hamilton’s actively maintains a taplist online http://hamiltonstavern.com/, so one doesn’t have to physically present to witness what’s on the list. At time of press, 15 of the 28 taps are San Diego-based breweries such as Bagby, Hess and Abnormal. 22 of 28 are California breweries, with one tap usually dedicated to Russian River’s Pliny the Elder (an enduringly popular double IPA). Although the emphasis on local beer is evident, the only hard and fast rule is serving quality suds from independent brewers. Big Sky Brewing from Missoula, Montana, Left Hand Brewing from Longmont Colorado were also on tap at time of press. Owner Scot Blair & the hard-working Hamilton’s staff maintain a rigorous cleaning and maintenance schedule for his taps, and the bar’s well-earned reputation means breweries usually send the freshest, tastiest kegs when asked. An extensive bottle selection features both local and international breweries.
Hamilton’s organizes and throws legendary events. Each month, Second Saturday hosts a brewery for a tap takeover and free food is cooked up from the kitchen. In December, AleSmith Brewing was hosted and brought Velvet Speedway Stout (see our Best Beer Restaurant of 2015, Urge for more info on this whale), Hawaiian Speedway Stout and Double Hammerhead Speedway Stout along with staple beers Lil Devil and .394 Pale Ale. The complimentary food was holiday-themed with deconstructed shepherd’s pie casserole, beer-braised pulled turkey and duck. During football season, each Monday there’s a keep-the-pint night and each Friday there’s featured brewery & cask.
When it comes to serving beer, Hamilton’s is at an elite level few other bars match.
Best Beer Festival: San Diego Brewers Guild Fest
Two years in a row, our readers have named San Diego Beer Week’s Guild Festival as the best beer fest in the land. An official production of the Brewers Guild, the two day event once again took place on the Port Pavilion cruise ship terminal located on Broadway Pier.
Known colloquially as Guildfest, the festival serves as a state of the union for San Diego Beer. With 115 breweries and counting, this is an excellent way to try some of the newest beer talent in town as well as sample from more established breweries.
A little known fact: 2015 was the 13th Anniversary of Guild Fest. From modest beginnings at the World Beat Center with a handful of breweries, this festival has grown significantly. 2015 was the most polished incarnation yet. Over 1,100 people attended the Friday night VIP session, which featured not only unlimited beer tasting but also food. The following day, 3,200 humans packed the pier. Attendees from as far away as England, Norway, Spain and Switzerland.
Read more about Guildfest in last year’s 14 in ’14 feature.
Best Bottleshop: Bine & Vine
What does it take to have the best bottleshop in San Diego county? “We store all of our beer correctly. No direct light hitting the bottles and everything’s chilled,” explains Bine and Vine’s owner Geoi Bachoua. “We have a very manageable amount of beer (650 bottles) in-stock, so nothing ever gets old or out of code.” He continues, “Our staff is also extremely knowledgeable about beer styles and are 100% honest when asked questions.” Bine & Vine won our Best Bottleshop category handily.
Prior to opening Bine & Vine in 2011, Geoi and his family owned and worked at South Bay Drugs off Palm Avenue in Imperial Beach. Off the beaten beer path, the liquor store’s impressive craft selection made it a destination nevertheless. At what point does a liquor store become a bottle shop? When South Bay Drugs shuttered and Bine and Vine opened on Adams Avenue in Normal Heights is the best case-study we’ve seen.
In 2015, Bine & Vine celebrated their 4th Anniversary by teaming up with New English to brew Adams Avenue Imperial Porter. Brewed with beans from Uptown’s coffee roaster de jour Dark Horse Coffee, the beer was a worthy tribute. “We’re extremely proud on how the beer came out. It’s an ‘Imperial English-style Coffee Porter’ with a focus on balance”
Bine & Vine looks forward to a prosperous 5th year in business. When asked about the new year, Geoi replied: “Big plans are in-store for 2016, indeed. I can’t say much at this moment but it’ll fulfill a big need in Normal Heights.”
Best New Beer Spot: Second Chance Brewing Co.
West Coaster was excited to break the news late 2014 that Marty Mendiola was going to open his own brewery. An exceedingly talented brewer, during his career Marty has earned six World Beer Cup awards and ten Great American Beer Festival medals for his beers. Together with colleague/former Rock Bottom GM Curtis Hawes and wife Virginia Morrison, the trio founded Second Chance Beer Company in 2015.
Second Chance opened to the public in September. “That first day we opened, at 3:40pm, butterflies in our stomachs, wondering if anyone would show,” recalls Virginia. “Sitting at my desk, I looked up and saw a parade of our corporate neighbors walking towards us from all directions. We built it, and they were coming!” A former San Diego Brewers Guild president, Marty’s worked hard to enhance the brand of San Diego beer with a quiet humility that’s earned him a tremendous amount of respect over the years.
Although a brand new brewery, the beer is excellent. Seize the Day IPA is modest by San Diego standards at 6.5% and 65 IBUs, but it’s a hoppy, sessionable West Coast style IPA that has been well received. Tabula Rasa is a roasty, dry porter that clocks in at 6.2%, and the Blonde is a clean, balanced 5% ale.
Second Chance opened late in 2015, and is just getting warmed up. All signs point to the brewery becoming the next “it” producer of beer in San Diego. West Coaster readers obviously concur, naming this spot is the Best New Beer Spot in the entire county. Keep an eye on this one in 2016!
Best San Diego Beer: #allthebeers
This category was too close to call. Votes came in damn near equal numbers for AleSmith’s .394 Pale Ale + Velvet Speedway, Ballast Point’s Grapefruit Sculpin + Grunion, Alpine’s Nelson, Karl Strauss’ Mosaic, Stone’s Xocoveza and Fall’s 2AM Bike Ride. While it sucks to not be able to name a definitive winner, it’s a pretty telling result. 2015 was a year for the record books for the San Diego brewing community, and neither our readers nor West Coaster staff could pick just one beer above all others.
Editor’s note: We sent our intrepid reporter out into the field to embed himself in San Diego Beer Week proceedings and share a daily account of his impressions. We found him after day 10, curled up in a heap behind Benchmark Brewing, moaning something about Vladimir Putin’s treachery and clutching at this diary.
Day 1 – Friday – SDBG GuildFest
The line for the Guildfest is staggering. It does my heart good to know I am in the company of so many other craft brew fans. That said, were the earth to swallow them all whole so I could get to the front 10 minutes sooner, I’d welcome it.
My extensive industry pull has granted me entry to the opening festival a whopping 4.5 minutes earlier than everyone else. This means I am first in line to get pours that are about 85% foam, since everyone is still fiddling with their tap settings. It’s good to be the king.
Despite it being my job to drink copious volumes of SD beer, I am finding there’s a surprising number of brews here I’ve yet to encounter. For example, I just had my first Belching Beaver Pound Town Triple IPA. The name is appropriate: it tasted like a pineapple was having rough sex with a pine cone in my mouth. The new AleSmith Hawaiian Speedway Stout also made an appearance, which, true to its name, was like Speedway served with a Mounds bar for a swizzle stick.
The food vendors are really bringing the heat this year. The bacon-wrapped ribs are just an orgy of pork. A “porgy”, if you will. Brothers Provisions graced us with brownies made with over a gallon of Epic Brewing’s Big Bad Baptist Imperial Stout, each crowned with a dollop of Mexican Mocha frosting. They taste like God smiling.
Despite being stuffed with beer and swine, I am not sated. Guildfest has only whetted my appetite for more. Sadly, in a less figurative sense, I honestly am in danger of physically bursting.
Day 2 – Saturday – Barrel Aged Night @ Sublime Ale House
The inaugural SDBW event has passed and ushered forth the inaugural SDBW rocky morning after. It’s not exactly a hangover, but more of a dull system-wide ache that subtly reminds that my body no longer approves of having fun at my age.
There was a surprising amount of traffic on the 78 tonight, so rather than drive over to Sublime Ale House in San Marcos, I hitched a ride on one of the aromatic trails of their macaroni & cheese that wafted by my house.
Their list of barrel-aged beers is impressive, not that it matters to my wife. It might as well just have Hangar 24 “Pugachev’s Cobra” written in 80 point font, with marquee lights flashing around it, in the middle as far as she’s concerned. She begrudgingly shares a sip with me, allowing me to revel in the dark fruits, soy sauce and molasses that come tumbling out of the taster. It’s so good I consider going in for a second taste, but her curling lip and raised hackles definitely signal I shouldn’t.
I instead opt for a lap around the barrel-aged world, enjoying many but worshiping the Lost Abbey Agave Maria Ale. I’ve had a few tequila barrel-aged beers in my time, but I’m convinced no one does it better. If you have any allegiance to tequila at all (and, let’s face it, tequila has likely ruined enough evenings to not be on the friendliest terms with most) it’s worth the extra coin to experience this brew.
Day 3 – Sunday – Danksauce & Dogs with Modern Times Beer
I’ll admit it: when I found out that Danksauce & Dogs wasn’t some kind of illicit barbeque event, I was mildly disappointed. Then I saw a dog wearing a malt bag and all was forgiven:
This was my first time to the Quartyard and it was kind of a revelation. Until I arrived there I never even considered the option of having a Modern Times Fortunate Islands while attending to my dog at the park. Now I can scarcely imagine a world without it.
Unfortunately I budgeted my time poorly and wasn’t able to stay long enough to see which dogs won for best costume. So I’ll just say for the record that if it wasn’t this dapper gent, you, sir, were robbed.
Day 4 – Monday – Duck Foot Brewing Stout Release
I was lured to Duck Foot Brewing tonight with the promise of my first Ukrainian Imperial Stout. Despite my encyclopedic knowledge of sobriety-inhibitors, this was a style I was totally ignorant of. I eagerly unsheathed my pad and pen upon arrival, ready to capture the rich and storied history of this esoteric style.
“It’s just like a Russian Imperial Stout, but without the Putin!”
Oh. Well, beer may be an odd platform to share a geopolitical outlook, but the name they chose is more appetizing sounding than Willful Violation of 1994 Budapest Memorandum Stout. I’ll roll with it.
The first thing I noticed about the Putin Is A Colossal Dickbag Stout is how sticky it is. The aromas cling to the nose, the brew clings to the glass, and the chocolate-covered espresso bean notes cling to the palate. As you chew on it further subtler notes of molasses and dark fruit emerge, all the while wearing its 10.8% ABV with ease.
Day 5 – Tuesday – A tragic, but necessary respite
I wanted to get out today, but courtesy of Duck Foot Brewing I was far too engrossed reading up on the 2014 unlawful annexation of Crimea. I really need to start following periodicals that aren’t beer related.
Day 6 – Wednesday – AlesSmith Brewing Company Speedway Grand Prix
AleSmith Brewing Company is not a place I typically associate with whimsy. Their reputation is primarily derived from a penchant for developing highly consistent and nuanced brews. However, for three brief days in SDBW, Peter “Wildman” Zien lets his hair down for Speedway Grand Prix.
In this annual celebration the much ballyhooed stout becomes a canvas for members of the AleSmith team to augment as they see fit. This usually amounts to 3 or 4 variants that are sensibly treated with coffee and a multitude of others borne out of one of Willy Wonka’s fever dreams.
A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.
It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and crack wise on something like a Bananas Fosters Speedway, but I must confess that each variant, for better or worse, really did articulate the flavors they advertised. Whether it was a Butterfinger or PB&J Speedway, the snozzberries did indeed taste like snozzberries.
I visited the Maker’s Quarter website for details on the Guild’s Beer + Bites event, but quickly became distracted by the About link. I made the mistake of reading it without access to my Millennial Decoder Ring and am left trying to suss out what it means to be “both a place and a collective ethos.”
The festival itself was pretty standard fare. It had tiny cups, a couple dozen breweries with a handful of non-standard brews, and vendors offering paraphernalia with various hop-based puns. However, it did have something that no other brewfest prior has offered:
Where you at on this one, Darwin?
Day 8 – Friday – Avery Barrel Aged Night @ Stone Brewing Co.
No one has ever accused Stone Brewing of harboring low self-esteem. Certifying your beers as Liquid Arrogance signals a healthy ego. Hell, even the newest iteration of their cherished gargoyle seems to be throwing a little Blue Steel our way.
“But why gargoyle models?”
Still, it takes a large degree of self-assuredness to take one of the precious few SDBW slots and offer a tap-takeover to an outside brewery. Not that Avery Brewing isn’t worthy of the attention, especially when they trot out their barrel-aged wares.
The average ABV of the featured beers hovered somewhere around 16%. Needless to say, my tasting notes devolved into something resembling a richter scale reading pretty quickly. All I can say with certainty is you’d be hard-pressed to find a lovelier setting to enjoy them in than a fall evening on the Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens – Escondido patio.
Day 9 – Saturday – Alpine Beer Company Tap Takeover @ Sublime Ale House
When I was putting my plan together for this week I was operating on three key principles:
1. Hit a variety of events
2. Don’t visit the same venue twice
3. If I run into Brandon Hernández, get him to autograph my tits
It was a pretty good plan and a simple one to execute considering the volume of SDBW happenings. And it was working for me right up until a friend clued me in that Sublime Ale House in San Marcos had Alpine H.F.S. on tap. My integrity has sold for far less.
While many breweries would suffer from being as far flung as Alpine Beer Company, they have flipped that paradigm on its head by becoming a walez-generating machine. Whether it’s Kiwi Herman or Exponential Hoppiness, there’s always a next Alpine brew to covet and chase in vain. H.F.S. American IPA, renamed from its former incarnation as a Bine & Vine anniversary brew, is one such ale.
As I am an tired and jaded beer writer, very few brews ever deliver the insta-gasm of the hypetrain that precedes it, but H.F.S. comes close. Next to Avery’s Raja DIPA, it is the juiciest IPA I’ve had in awhile. It extracts flavors of orange, pear and pine with startling acuity, but with little to no residual bitterness. A very tasty brew, worthy of SDBW’s grandeur.
Day 10 – Sunday – Karl Strauss Beer Brunch
In years past I always made hitting a SDBW beer-for-breakfast event a priority despite it having predictably poor results. It was always intended to be a launching pad for a frenzy of beer-y shenanigans, but more commonly it left me bloated and ready for a nap. As I am a consummate professional I would still soldier on to the subsequent events, feigning interest while mopping at the meat-sweats that enveloped me.
This may sound like I’m down on beer brunches, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Meat-sweats are a great way to flush out all of the toxins that have accumulated in my system from eating so much vegetable matter. It’s only the expectation to be ambulatory afterwards that I resent. So this year I decided to let a Karl Strauss breakfast buffet be the capper to my glorious SDBW experience.
While most beer pairing experiences run on rails, the Karl Strauss brunch takes more of a Montessori approach. You are free to express yourself creatively through collaborative play. Servers facilitate your hands-on learning, with suggestions and samples rather than edicts, because they know you are a very special person with remarkable insights to offer. This also how I learned the hard way that nothing pairs particularly well with an olive-bacon-sundried tomato-ham-bacon-spinach-garlic-peppers-jalapeño-cilantro-cheddar cheese omelette. A Windansea “Hefemosa” comes close though.
Someone did suggest that Red Trolley Ale pairs nicely with pancakes…with Red Trolley-infused maple syrup. Since pancakes are essentially only a vehicle to get syrup into your mouth, this is really tantamount to saying Red Trolley Ale pairs well with Red Trolley Ale. But they weren’t wrong, I suppose.
I capped the breakfast with a bacon-cookie sandwich and a barrel-aged Peanut Butter Cup Porter, because I promised myself as a child these would be the sorts of decisions I would make upon finally becoming an adult.
I was thoroughly sated, but found myself craving a cup of coffee. I was about to order one when I had a fantastic realization: Why order it now when I could have it at greater expense, much farther away, and discretely parceled across several Benchmark Brewing stouts? The choice was obvious.
This sudden change of plans is really emblematic of why San Diego Beer Week is so great. While there’s never a shortage of beer around these parts, for ten days a year SDBW lends the entire industry a festive feel. No matter what inspires you, there’s bound to be an event in proximity that will tickle your fancy. In this case, I wanted coffee and sublimated that need into getting tickled by brewmaster Matt Akin. Only culinarily speaking, of course. He’s happily married, I assure you.
My thanks to the San Diego Brewers Guild and the many, many breweries that kept this party going for so long.
Until we meet again, SDBW…
Today San Diego CityBeat released its annual Best of San Diego issue, with the redesigned Tom Ham’s Lighthouse receiving a mini-feature. Then in the Readers Poll sections, several San Diego beer businesses were recognized.
For Best Craft Beer Bar — see the whole bars & booze category here — Hamilton’s Tavern was top pick. Honorable mentions included Tiger! Tiger!, Toronado, High Dive, and Common Theory Public House.
Ballast Point took both Best Brewery Category, as well as Best Local Craft Beer for Sculpin IPA. The other top breweries were Mike Hess Brewing, Stone Brewing Co., Coronado Brewing Company, and Green Flash Brewing Co. The other top local beers were AleSmith .394 Pale Ale, Coronado Mermaid’s Red, Mike Hess Habitus Rye IPA, and Hillcrest Perle Necklace Pale Ale.
The High Dive also topped two lists: Best Neighborhood Bar and Best Dive Bar. Honorable mentions for those categories were Live Wire, Whistle Stop, Bluefoot Bar & Lounge, The Silver Fox Lounge; and The Waterfront, Live Wire, Aero Club Bar, and Bub’s Dive Bar.
The title of Best New Bar (open since Oct. 2014) went to Panama 66, which was also an honorable mention in the Outdoor Dining category. Best New Bar honorable mentions were Park & Rec, Backyard Kitchen & Tap, Home & Away, and Quad AleHouse.
Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Escondido was noted as the Best Outdoor Dining venue, just above Panama 66, C Level, The Prado at Balboa Park, and The Patio on Lamont Street.
The Best Brewery Tasting Room award went to Green Flash Brewing Co., ahead of Modern Times, Fall Brewing Company, Ballast Point Brewing Company, and Hillcrest Brewing Company.
We all know beer is big business in San Diego, so it was fun to see Karl Strauss’ Brewery Gardens in Sorrento Mesa win for Best Business Lunch Spot, followed by Bully’s East, Bread & Cie, The Patio on Lamont Street, and Lucky’s Lunch Counter.
There aren’t many beer drinkers in San Diego who haven’t heard of Hamiltons Tavern. Its vocal publican Scot Blair — an instructor in SDSU’s Business of Craft Beer program — has helped push the local craft brewing scene forward in ways few others have; you can read his recent manifesto here. This month, Blair & co celebrate nine years in South Park with a flurry of thoughtful events. Already, they were the first to tap the Juli Goldenberg/Monkey Paw/Stone 24 Carrot Golden Ale on October 2, before hosting an Oktoberfest pub crawl along with Small Bar and Monkey Paw that featured more than 55 German and German-inspired beers on October 4.
Yesterday, beertenders tapped a one-off barrel-aged stout, Ourboros, created in tandem with Green Flash’s Pat Korn and former brewmaster Chuck Silva; the brewery has created a special beer for each of Hamiltons’ nine anniversaries. Another night with Green Flash on October 21 will feature fundraiser beer Treasure Chest and a limited-edition keeper glass. This event coincides with DrinkAbout, a free shuttle to multiple neighborhood bars sponsored by Brewery Tours of San Diego.
Today at 5 p.m., The Lost Abbey takes over more than 20 taps for the tavern’s monthly “Second Saturday” event; several of the beers are considered quite rare, demonstrating Blair’s respect within the industry. The Spanish missionary-themed food menu is impressive, and free, so show up early.
On Friday, October 16, beer from another local legend — Tom Nickel at Nickel Beer Co. — graces the cask. An English-style best bitter brewed as a “pseudo-experiment” with Blair in Julian, there were no hops in the boil, but plenty of fresh local hops added afterwards, leading to a mildly bitter, malty finish.
Two other “Firkin Friday” events are planned. On October 23, Hamilton’s welcomes New English Brewing and a cask of their Adams Ave Imperial Porter, a collaboration celebrating bottleshop Bine & Vine’s 4th Anniversary. Seven more New English beers are expected, including the GABF gold medal-winning Zumbar Chocolate Coffee Imperial Stout (both Nitro & CO2 versions). A week later on October 30, a cask of AleSmith seasonal beer Evil Dead Red duels with Monkey Paw/Bill Batten (AleSmith) Ashes from the Grave Smoked Brown.
November’s no slouch, either, with San Diego Beer Week coming November 6-15. Check out details on all the events here.
Disclosure: Hamiltons is an advertising supporter of West Coaster, but this post was unsolicited.