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
From the Beer Writer: Two years ago, I was told by numerous members of the brewing-industry that pale ales were a dying beer breed. Pale ales are still around, but they are scarcer than they have been in the past and the debate about their long-term viability continues. Most that you find these days are not like pale ales pre-dating 2014—meaning more traditional orange- or copper-colored pale ales with sturdier malt framework balancing out their hop bills. It would seem the pale ale is here to stay, but destined to take a backseat to the ubiquitous and far more popular India pale ale and take on the flavor, aroma and appearance of IPAs. Resident Pio Pico Pale Ale exemplifies the contemporary pale ale. Hopped like an IPA and given depth courtesy of myriad less-imposing malts, it is extremely dry and bursting with hop-appeal. Juicy notes of orange, apricot and pineapple hit first, followed by a touch of pine-like bitterness accompanied by an almost nutty toastiness. At 5.5% alcohol-by-volume, it’s well-suited for a day of sports spectatorship at its place of origin, The Local Eatery and Watering Hole (the parent-company of on-site Resident Brewing Company).
From the Brewer: “Pio Pico Pale Ale is a highly hopped West Coast pale ale featuring a new hop variety called Idaho 7 and a smaller amount of Citra hops. At Resident, we constantly want to test out new hops, and Idaho 7 was towards the top of the list. For this pale ale, the grist contains Canadian two-row, English pale malt, wheat malt and a small amount of Crystal 15. We wanted some wheat malt for extra body and two types of base-malt for some malt complexity. This beer was not filtered or fined, for a medium-bodied American pale ale with big hop punch. Idaho 7 hops brings an orange pithiness, ripe pineapple and some grassiness. Adding a smaller amount of Citra hops brings in a touch more tropical character to the flavor and aroma. We dry-hop Pio Pico with the same amount of hops as our IPAs so the hop aroma climbs out of the glass..”—Robert Masterson, Brewmaster, Resident Brewing Company
We’ve reached the halfway mark of 2016. Over the past six months, roughly a dozen new breweries have opened (including one that had been producing beer without a tasting room for a couple of years). This seems a good time to assess this field of newcomers and pick out those that are producing the best beer thus far. It’s but one writer’s opinion, so feel free to disagree and share who you think is best in the comment section. And if you haven’t checked any of these places out just yet, they’re definitely worth a visit.
Burning Beard Brewing, El Cajon: At a time when El Cajon needed a suds-savior like never before, this op touched down like a caped superhero, bringing with it a beer list offering great diversity plus quality across styles. The pilsner, pale, IPAs and coffee-stout are standouts but don’t overlook the ESB or Belgian singel. All are made even better when enjoyed in a rockin’ tasting room by a staff that’s as exuberant as the punk power chords pumping out of the sound-system. And they have foudres!
Resident Brewing Company, Downtown: Does this operation’s coconut IPA taste as good as the award-winning batch its brewmaster created as an amateur. Yes, but there’s so much more to this newbie than that. Abutting its parent-business, the Gaslamp’s long-running watering hole, The Local, the brewhouse is pumping out Americanized takes on English styles that are crisp, balanced and refreshing yet big on hop-driven flavors. It’s good to see them starting to trickle to outside accounts.
Pure Project Brewing, Miramar: This One Percent for the Planet operation (1% of profits to go to non-profit organizations) has endeared itself to beer-lovers behind a beautiful earth-and-elemental tasting room motif, friendly service and beers that go down easy while bringing forth lesser-seen adjuncts and flavor combinations (coconut quad or strawberry-vanilla cream ale, anyone?). The majority of the beers are sessionable, making it easy to taste their rotating rainbow of selections.
Bitter Brothers Brewing Co., Bay Ho: They’re the fastest success story of the upstarts, getting signed by Stone Distribution straight out of the gate and selling enough beer that they’re already adding fermentation space. The interest’s name might lead you to believe they are all about hoppy beers (they have some and they’re quite tasty), but theirs is a varied young tap list offering numerous flavor-oddities, and their subtler wheat ales are very enjoyable…and not the least bit bitter.
Mikkeller Brewing San Diego, Miramar: There’s a lot of pressure for a gypsy brewer opening their first brick-and-mortar, especially half-a-world away from their home, but the brew-crew assisting said nomad, Mikkel Borg-Bjergso, has stepped up admirably. Numerous takes on java-rich Beer Geek Breakfast and a Brett IPA have been fab, but most people are still waiting to be wowed by beers exhibiting the ingenuity and whimsy that Bjergso built his reputation on over the past decade.
Mason Ale Works, Oceanside: So the restaurant- and bar-owners behind Urge Gastropub & Whiskey Bank love beer, but what do they know about brewing it? Not enough, so they went out and got an industry veteran who once headed The Lost Abbey‘s production. That key move allowed the brewpub to put out solid beers from the start. Mason has also secured early distribution and its array of hoppy, dark and Belgian-inspired beers are doing well, though they face stiff competition from impressive guest beers on a daily basis.
I’ll be the first to admit that last week was rough as far as brewery reviews go. Three visits yielded three negative reviews. So it feels rather wonderful to kick this week of West Coaster beer coverage off with a positive review. I recently stopped in at The Local Eatery and Watering Hole (1065 Fourth Avenue, Downtown) to check out the first drafts from its recently debuted onsite fermentation operation, Resident Brewing Company. Brewing operations are led by award-winning homebrewer Robert Masterson. This is his first professional gig, but beer-drinkers nationwide had the chance to taste the fruits of his imagination after he won Stone Brewing’s 2013 homebrewing competition and had he and brewing partner Ryan Reschan’s coconut India pale ale (IPA) released in kegs and bottles under the gargoyle clan’s moniker. But here’s the thing—that was far from an authentic sample of Masterson’s brewing style or prowess.
I worked for Stone when this beer was brewed and released. On brew-day, while interviewing Masterson and Reschan, I tasted the homebrew that took top-honors at the competition and it was outstanding. So much coconut and big, tropical hop flavors. I felt as though I’d been transported to some island paradise. It was that good. Sadly, the beer that was released to the masses was nothing like what I tasted. It can be very difficult to replicate ales and lagers produced on the home-front on a large, industrial brewhouse, so I don’t fault my former colleagues, but the coconut was nearly non-existent and the hop flavors were totally different. The resulting Robert Masterson & Ryan Reschan/Rip Current/Stone R&R Coconut IPA was a great double IPA, but not a coconut IPA.
If you want to taste what I was fortunate enough to sample, now you can. Resident’s Vacation Coconut IPA is now on tap at The Local along with five of Masterson’s other inaugural beers. Vacation brings a lovely bouquet of coconut and cocoa butter. That’s followed up by a beer with just enough bulk to deliver a slightly-sweet punch of toasted coconut oomph along with grassy spice from the hop-bill. It’s a must-try IPA in a county awash with this beer style. An American IPA called Urbanite is also on tap. Coming in at 6.8% alcohol-by-volume (ABV), it is heavy on Mosaic and Amarillo hops. As a result, pine resin notes are at the forefront and remained like tacky sap on the roof of my mouth. Rosemary woodiness and a touch of oniony spice is in there, too.
The hoppiest beer from a bitterness perspective, however, is Hall Pass, a 5.5% ABV pale ale that’s so sharp in its bite that it actually overshadows all other flavor. It’s as if the beer is completely unencumbered by any malted barley, so if you prefer traditional, caramel-touched, English-style pales, this beer is not for you. Masterson admits Hall Pass is too high on the IBU (international bittering units) scale and intends to bring it down next time around. He’s also going to do some work on Loud Mouth, a hoppy amber ale that is definitely hoppy, but not amber (he wanted color versus caramel, but ended up with neither) and far too thin-bodied. It was the only brew I would label a dud of the sextet.
Two of my favorite of Masterson’s offerings were the least hoppy. Perky Blonde has a lot going for it—a subtle sweetness, sparks of banana and lemon, and a subdued bitterness akin to a Pilsner in its finish. It’s not the cookie-cutter, crowd-pleasing light beer most brewpubs offer, which is refreshing. Likewise, Back Alley American porter is not the cookie-cutter, crowd-pleasing dark beer most brewpubs offer. Its nose is all chocolate milk and roasted hazelnuts while the flavor is a balanced blend of cola and medium-roast coffee. It’s a rare crush-able porter, which is perfect for a venue like the Local where many visitors spend hours watching sports.
Next up on Masterson’s brew schedule are an oatmeal stout, Hall Pass 2.0 (he plans on dialing back the IBUs by 10 or so) and a saison brewed with Dupont and French yeast strains. The second brew of the latter will find its way into barrels where it is intended to transform into a tart farmhouse ale. But these beers will only be tapped if they are defect-free. Masterson already dumped the product of one stout when it came out starchy and proved irreparable. That’s to be commended, as are these initial draft offerings from Resident Brewing.