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Posts Tagged Suds County USA

Voices of San Diego Beer

Sep 5

Suds County, USA will be shown at White Labs’ tasting room Friday night starting at 6 p.m. Here are four voices from San Diego’s early beer scene that appear in the film.

Rich Link was one of the first homebrewers in San Diego, president of QUAFF in the early 90s and a long-time local contributor to Celebrator. His view on the early days of homebrewing in the 1980s:

“At that time ninety-percent of the people were brewing beer with three pounds of extract and four pounds of corn sugar. It was cheap and easy and truly not all that great.”

Paul Holborn was another early homebrewer who founded Bolt Brewing in Fallbrook in 1987. In 1985 he went to raise capital for a brewpub in the then-redeveloping downtown Gaslamp area, but did not receive a positive response from potential investors:

“The first question out of their mouths was, ‘Is that legal? Can you actually do that? What do you use, bath tubs?’”

Troy Hojel, former pro brewer at Cervecería La Cruda, established in 1996 at 4th and Island Downtown, reflects on the process of opening the establishment:

“I lived above the brewery on 4th Street and at the time it wasn’t the nicest of streets. I arrived under the impression that I was going to have some resources to help build this brewery, and once I realized (there’d be no help), we were jack-hammering concrete, doing everything!”

Skip Virgilio was perhaps the first person to start brewing Belgian-style beers in San Diego. As head brewer at the now long defunct PB Brewhouse (closed Oct. ’95), Virgilio’s Belgian Strong Ale won the first GABF gold medal for any San Diego beer in 1994. That beer became the foundation for AleSmith’s Horny Devil when Skip and fellow QUAFF member Ted Newcomb opened AleSmith in 1995/1996 (construction/first batch). His reaction to the first AleSmith batch:

“Ted and I were standing and looking at this tank and Ted said, ‘Wow, we did it…’ and I was like, ‘Holy crap, we got to sell this stuff. Who are we going to sell it to?’ It was a pretty tough sell. There were places like O’Brien’s and Pizza Port where we were friendly with those folks and they were going to take it from us whether it was good or bad. But then we got outside that small group of folks and we had to start knocking on doors and talking to people who had no idea what craft brew was and certainly didn’t care.”

Screen grabs courtesy of Sheldon Kaplan (Director/Producer) and Jeff Troeber (Assistant Editor)

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BeerCity USA 2012: Will San Diego Take the Title?

May 2

Charlie Papazian, author of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, founder of the Great American Beer Festival, the American Homebrewers Association and the Brewers Association, is again conducting a “BeerCity USA” poll on the Examiner. The voting opened yesterday and will last through 11:59 p.m. Mountain Time on Sunday, May 13. Vote once, and only once!

Mayor Jerry Sanders declared June "Craft Beer Month" in San Diego at Green Flash Brewing Company's Mira Mesa tasting room last year

Asheville, North Carolina is a three-time winner and will be buoyed by the fact that both Sierra Nevada and New Belgium plan to open new breweries in the East Coast city. San Diego came in second place in 2011, and “made an early go of it last year but could not sustain the effort to the end,” according to Papazian. He also noted that Grand Rapids, Michigan won far more nominating votes than San Diego in this year’s poll. However, Papazian acknowledged that “San Diego continues to grow by leaps and bounds as a craft brewing and craft beer powercity.”

This growth isn’t just a recent phenomenon, and there’s even a full-length feature documentary called Suds County USA coming out in the next few months that covers the twenty-five years of brewing history in San Diego County; see the new interview clip called CRAFT, released yesterday, at this link. That historical context, combined with the fact that San Diego was chosen as the site for the 2012 Craft Brewers Conference and World Beer Cup, means we are deserving candidates for the title this year.

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12 To Watch In 2012

Feb 13

See the full spread in our February 2012 issue. Here we predict who is going to make news in 2012. An eclectic collection, the twelve mentioned in this feature are united in their involvement in the local beer community. This list includes a bustling commercial district; a vegan beer pairing troupe that fundraises for charities; an enterprising publishing company; a portfolio of righteous beer bars (plus a brewpub); an outstanding yeast laboratory; a brewhouse equipment manufacturer; a feature film focusing on SD beer; the prestigious World Beer Cup; and several brewing companies poised to offer something unique to our city. Created as a reference point, we’ll reflect back on these selections throughout the year. For now, the 12 in ‘12 is a snapshot of our county’s beer industry as of January 2012, with a focus on a huge year ahead.

Greg Koch speaking to the media about Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens - Liberty Station last May

Liberty Station
Why you should watch: Back when Stone announced their plans for a Liberty Station brewpub in May of 2011, Slater’s 50/50 and SOL Markets weren’t even on our radar. Who knows what else will pop up over the coming year in the developing district, which also houses Oggi’s Pizza, Sammy’s Pizza and Tender Greens locations.
Coming up: SOL — standing for “seasonal, organic, local” — Markets is currently under construction. 24 taps (correction: 12 taps) and cooking classes are just the tip of the iceberg. They hope to have their doors open by April 1st.
Fun fact: When Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station opens (estimated late Spring 2012), they’ll share Slater’s 50/50 current parking lot. The ACE hardware next door should be so lucky.

Founders Kory Stetina and Derek Humbard flank Chad White of Sea Rocket Bistro

Why you should watch: Founders Derek Humbard and Kory Stetina dedicate themselves to putting together creative vegan cuisine and craft beer events that support local charities, including SD Animal Rescue and the SD Chapter of Engineers Without Borders. All four of their 2011 events were well-attended and highly-praised, with the donation amount per night often reaching their goal of $1,200-$2,000.
Coming up: A Valentine’s Day multi-course vegan dessert and beer pairing at Tiger!Tiger! Tavern benefiting Jeans4Justice, a local non-profit geared to ending sexual violence.
Fun fact: LOVELIKEBEER’s San Diego Beer Week event at Sea Rocket Bistro also showcased vegan beers by a vegan brewer, Ron Jeffries of Dexter, Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales. All those photos @

Bruce Glassman at Mission Brewery for the book's Beer Week kickoff

Chefs Press
Why you should watch: The book San Diego’s Top Brewers, which mixes brewery stories with pairing recipes, has been a hit in the local beer industry since its November release, and a new beer cookbook is already in the works. President & CEO Bruce Glassman says the company is shooting for a San Diego Beer Week 2012 release of the new project which will feature more local brewers, chefs, personalities and establishments than before.
Coming up: Chefs Press will begin shooting images for the book in February, and we plan on tagging along for some new web content.
Fun fact: On the Top Brewers website there are nearly twenty “Have a Beer with the Brewer” videos you can watch.

Blairen, at Karl Strauss' 22nd Anniversary Party last February. Photo: Kristina Yamamoto

The Blair Empire
Why you should watch: Scot and Karen Blair opened some of San Diego’s most beloved pubs– Hamilton’s Tavern, Small Bar, Bar Eleven, and Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery – in under ten years. Beers from their newest venture, Monkey Paw, have started popping up at various locations around town.
Coming up: “Second Saturday” featuring Karl Strauss at Hamilton’s. If you haven’t been to a Second Saturday event, you’re missing out. 17 Karl draught beers and two “dueling” casks complement complimentary Cajun food on February 11th.
Fun fact: It is highly appropriate to refer to the couple as “Blairen” when you see them together.

Coronado's new facility is well underway and will open in the spring

Coronado Brewing Co.
Why you should watch: Coronado’s beers make it to several countries outside the US, including Japan and England. Stateside, the company has a new national sales director, Jeff Hansson, who has brought the brewery he was planning with friend Anthony Levas under the Coronado Brewing Company umbrella. “Tusk & Grain Brewing Co.” will begin with Stone Distribution in mid-2012, and Coronado is currently interviewing candidates to launch the new brand.
Coming up: A new brewery/tasting room just east of Fiesta Island, scheduled to open in the spring, is expected to double production to 15,000 barrels by the end of 2012. Long-term capacity at the new brewery will be 60,000 barrels.
Fun fact: Director of Brewing Operations Sean DeWitt has spent the past seven years as the San Diego Brewers Guild Vice President, and will take over Marty Mendiola’s role as President for a one-year term beginning in summer, 2012.

Yeast vials, including the San Diego Super Yeast, at White Labs production facility off Miramar Road

White Labs
Why you should watch: The local yeast production company has settled in to their newer, bigger facility off the I-15 at Miramar Road, and business is booming. Their educational program is in constant development, with an all-day seminar on yeast essentials for homebrewers and local pros set for March 24th.
Coming up: An experimental tasting room featuring beers brewed on-site. Some day’s beers will share the same ingredients except for the yeast, while other days showing the impact of varying fermentation temperatures as the theme.
Fun fact: Last year, Mayor Jerry Sanders declared June 15th White Labs Day in San Diego, the day before the start of the National Homebrewers Conference in Mission Valley.

The Julian Brewing Company brew house. Lots to come from this system

Julian Brewing Company
Why you should watch: Vince Marsaglia, owner of Pizza Port and Tom Nickel, owner of O’Brien’s, teamed up to revamp the Bailey BBQ property in Julian. Marsaglia is handling the BBQ side of the operation, while Nickel’s creative ideas for the brewery include an active guest brewer program.
Coming up: A grand opening party with live music and dancing once a few house-brewed beers line the taps. The first three are Bailey Pale Ale, which will be brewed with locally grown hops from Star B Ranch in Santa Ysabel, an American stout collaboration with Marsaglia that will be dispensed on nitrogen, and something hoppy in the IPA range. More details on that event when it hits our inboxes.
Fun fact: Nickel has some New Zealand hops that he wants to do single varietal beers with, and this summer he’ll craft some smoked beers with house-smoked malt in the wood pit smoker.

The Premier Stainless group, taking a break to strike a pose

Premier Stainless Systems
Why you should watch: President Rob Soltys has been in the beer business for more than 20 years, and the Escondido-based company he founded in 2000 pushes out an average of one brewhouse per week, ranging from 3 to 30 barrels. Forecasts for growth in 2012 look good, with Premier’s impressive international client list making for a solid reputation in the industry. Local breweries with full systems by Premier Stainless include AleSmith Brewing Company, Iron Fist Brewing Co., Mission Brewery, El Cajon Brewing Company, Mother Earth Brew Co., as well as Pizza Port Solana Beach, Ocean Beach and San Clemente.
Coming up: Premier Stainless will build the brewing systems for Rampage Brewing, scheduled to open in San Diego before May, Coronado Brewing Co.’s upcoming expansion off Morena Boulevard, and Temecula’s under-construction Ironfire Brewing Company, led by former Ballast Point brewers John Maino and Gregory Webb.
Fun fact: Soltys helped build the first brewery system at Pizza Port Solana Beach and plans on wearing the original T-shirt to the party celebrating the 20th anniversary of beers first being served in 1992.

OB Head Brewer Yiga Miyashiro uses the pizza oven for his more unconventional brewing ingredients

Pizza Port
Why you should watch: The Carlsbad and Ocean Beach brewpubs are riding a wave of success after 2011 Great American Beer Festival Brewpub of the Year awards, and two key staff members in director of brewing operations Jeff Bagby and San Clemente head brewer Noah Regnery have recently moved on to other ventures.
Coming up: Pizza Port is looking to break ground on a two-story fifth location in Carlsbad around April 1st. The facility will house a canning line and brewery-restaurant, acting as a hub for production, distribution and employee training.
Fun fact: Live cams on the Pizza Port website show you what’s currently on tap at each location.

Smith and Constantiner at Home Brew Mart

Societe Brewing Company
Why you should watch: Societe’s brewers are Travis Smith and Doug Constantiner, who both hail from the deliciously creative, Orange County-based brewery, The Bruery. Before that, Smith was brewing for Russian River. During a short stint at La Jolla Brew House in 2010, West Coaster staff got to try a few of Smith’s beers and they were outstanding. Smith and Constantiner plan to be unique from other San Diego breweries by focusing on sour beers.
Coming up: The opening of Societe will take place in the spring. The soon-to-be Kearny Mesa brewery just finished laying down their floor late in January 2012.
Fun fact: The guys at Societe recognize the importance of updating beer fans on the brewery’s progress, and are active on their blog, Twitter, and Facebook pages.

Kaplan, right, pours at GABF while showing film clips

Suds County, USA
Why you should watch: Well, it’s a film about San Diego beer, to start, and director/producer Sheldon Kaplan has been hard at work for the last few years piecing together the most comprehensive look at local beer history to date.
Coming up: The film’s release. Kaplan is planning to premiere the film during the Craft Brewers Conference in May, followed by screenings at local breweries.
Fun fact: The narration for the film is being performed by Kevin Murphy, best known as the voice and puppeteer of Tom Servo on the comedy series Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Attendees enjoy a variety of beers. Photo (c) 2010 Jason E. Kaplan

World Beer Cup and Craft Brewers Conference
Why you should watch: The World Beer Cup, a highly-prestigious international beer competition held every two years since 1996, returns to sunny San Diego for the third time (2004, 2008) this May. Entries to this year’s World Beer Cup from outside the U.S. increased by 28 percent over 2010, making up 32 percent of the close to 4,000 total entries. The judging and awards dinner book-end the Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo Trade Show, a huge draw for brewers from all over the world. Unfortunately, these are not open to the public, but there will be a plethora of beer events going on around town.
Coming up: Local brewers will be pulling out all the stops to brew great beers to enter at the World Beer Cup, and we’ll track down some of their brew days for web content.
Fun fact: San Diego brewers won 21 medals at the 2010 World Beer Cup in Chicago, and Ballast Point took home the Champion Brewery and Brewmaster award in the small brewing company category.

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First Look: Suds County USA

Aug 26

Portrait of Sheldon Kaplan owner of Ibhayi Media and producer of "Suds" (Photo: Tim Stahl,

For over a year, a film crew headed by director and producer Sheldon Kaplan has quietly moved throughout the San Diego brewing industry. Now, the film, titled “Suds County USA”, is in post production. I was lucky enough to be among the first to get a sneak peak at a MCA-I Mixer event on Wednesday August 24th at Mission Brewery. Along with  tremendous amounts of professional skill, the  full feature on our hometown brews has had its fair share of luck. I met Sheldon after sparking up a conversation with Mission’s Director of Sales & Marketing Mike Mellow. He joined our conversation and I was able to garnish an incredible amount of information on the upcoming film.

Speaking through a clear but foreign accent, Sheldon is a South African native and a self-described Hollywood burnout. He found himself in San Diego for a friends wedding during the mid 90s. His wife-to-be was present only to chauffeur another wedding goer, and the two met by chance while the reception concluded. He’s been in town ever since, opting to work at Seau’s cigar room as a change of pace from the Los Angeles lifestyle. His interest in local beer started when he met Skip Virgilio delivering a keg of AleSmith’s beer to Seau’s in 1996.

After months of dedicated research, Sheldon is an expert on our local beer community. He considers himself a historian on San Diego Beer, and with excited eyes he describes the luck of timing with his movie in regards to modern local beer history. Referring to the start of 2011, “We started filming at a time of rapid expansion in the local industry,” he explains. “As we got deeper into this, we realized that there was a real chance of losing some of this San Diegan history if someone didn’t start documenting. I felt a strong sense of responsibility.”

Mike Mellow, left, of Mission Brewery

Also by chance, Sheldon met Mission Brewery owner Dan Selis just as he was picking up the keys for the then-undeveloped L St. location. In this, Sheldon saw opportunity, and collected time lapse photos that document the evolution of the East Village brewery over the months of construction.

Throughout this entire process, the crew of Suds County USA has grown twice. I asked Sheldon if he felt overwhelmed to the point of breaking. “Never. I’m a tenacious mother****er.”

Switching gears, I asked a deceptively tough question: What is the essence of a craft brewery?  Mike chimes in, “Putting beer first, above profits.” Good answer.

Next question, poised to Mike and Sheldon: What’s the essence of a San Diegan craft brewery? “Homebrewers are the key to craft brewing in general” Mike stated. He emphasized the close connection between homebrewers and pro brewers in regards to the success of the local brewing community. “It’s much easier to be creative and perfect a recipe with five gallon batches.” He continues, “when you homebrew for fun, you can try anything.” Indeed, many professional San Diegan brewers have ties to local homebrew clubs. For example, AleSmith’s Peter Zien was president of QUAFF;  North County Homebrewers Association’s founder Rob Esposito is now helping revive the historic Aztec Brewing Company; and CHUG, a new homebrew club, now fields Derek Freese as brewer at the very new Monkey Paw brewpub in Downtown.

After much discussion, it was time for the presentation to begin. Seats were arranged to the East of Mission’s brewhouse, between palates of kegs and boxes of Mission beer on one side, and the fermentation tanks on the other. A projector was aimed at a screen, and in front of it Sheldon took his place after a brief introduction by MCA-I.  In about half an hour, Sheldon explained San Diegan brewing history from the late 1800s to modern times. Then, the dimming of the lights announced what we all came for: the first look at Suds.

Sheldon Kaplan, speaking left of projector screen, orating the history and evolution of the San Diego beer industry.

I was impressed with what I saw. The production quality was top notch, and the clip was a preview-style hodgepodge of various interviews and moments captured by Sheldon and his team. Things moved quickly, but I saw Chuck Silva, Skip Virgilio, Chris Cramer, Greg Koch, Tom Nickel, Vince Marsaglia, Vinnie Cilurzio, and more. The narrative weaved by the interviews was strictly San Diegan. To say it left me wanting more is an understatement. I estimate that the preview was around 90 seconds. The movie is still, after all, on the editing table.

Suds County USA was filmed by an all-volunteer film crew, and the narration of the movie is by Kevin Murphy (of MST3K fame). Suds will be released to DVD, and Sheldon describes that “this movie was made for the small screen.” We’ll keep you posted as we hear more.

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