From the Beer Writer: First the world wanted more hops in their India pale ales, then they wanted more alcohol in their IPAs. The brewing world happily obliged. Then the world wanted less bitterness followed by a yearning for less alcohol in their IPAs. The brewing world let out a semi-frustrated sigh, then found the pleasure in obliging. Through all of this, drinkers and brewers alike came to an unspoken understanding that seven percent alcohol-by-volume was the sweet spot for single IPAs. But at some point in the past year, imbibers, manufacturers or some combination of the two (I would venture cost-analyzing logistics professionals taking notice of current IPA fans’ crowing about “crushable” beers) decided the best ABV for an IPA is 6%. And so it has come to pass. There are a number of new IPAs hitting the market and many of them are at or hovering around this new alcohol-content standard. Of them all, the best I’ve encountered thus far comes from the hop veterans at San Marcos’ Port Brewing Company, who recently released Port Nelson the Greeter. This sixer comes in a sixer and features one of the most popular hops of present day, Nelson Sauvin. Those pelletized greens give off myriad aromas and flavors, from tropical, citrus and stone fruit to vinous taste sensations reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc grapes. All of that comes on the front end of this beer, but for me, the real beauty of Nelson the Greeter is its crisp finish and the way a clean bitterness resets one’s palate after each gulp. Translation: It is, indeed, crushable, bro.
From the Brewer: “Paying homage to a rather (in)famous surf spot/clothing optional beach in San Diego, Nelson the Greeter is the newest hoppy offering from Port Brewing. Using the brash flavors of Nelson hops to lead the charge, the Greeter has a strong hop supporting cast using Denali, Lemon Drop and Mosaic varietals to round out this pale ale. Notes of gooseberry and passionfruit dominate the nose with a clean tangerine and freshly cut stone fruit notes leading to a smooth, bitter, citrus finish. The pale ale will be quite the experience…kind of like a naked Nelson greeting you at the trail head.”—Tomme Arthur, Director of Brewery Operations, Port Brewing Company
After 20 years of assisting breweries through consultation and serving as a high-profile beer expert via a number of platforms—most notably his work as craft beer ambassador for Stone Brewing—Bill Sysak knows there’s a big magnifying glass on him as he prepares to open his own beer-manufacturing operation. That interest, Wild Barrel Brewing Company (692 Rancheros Drive, San Marcos), will soft-open, tomorrow, Saturday, September 30, and Sysak says he’s ready to put his money where his mouth is. From the looks of the soon-to-debut business, he’s done just that.
Wild Barrel is installed in a 10,000-square-foot building sharing space and a lobby with a batting-cage facility. That structure is across the street from the San Marcos DMV, one of the busiest offices of its type in the county. Wild Barrel’s tasting room takes up roughly half of the total square footage, accommodating up to 228 patrons. Wood-topped-barrel belly bars make up the majority of the seating, with stools at the main bar and rail bars, but the focal point of the room is a giant faux barrel near the center of the room. Visitors can enter that cylinder, which contains its own belly bars and will eventually house a fountain fashioned from three used barrels, plus rotating art-for-purchase from local artisans. It’s not the only visual media at Wild Barrel. San Marcos resident Maddie Thomas recently painted a colorful mural depicting a glass emblazoned with the company’s logo on the east wall, adding a punch of vibrancy to the mostly oaken interiors.
Another unique tasting-room feature is a pole with directional-arrow signs tacked to it pointing in the direction of other local breweries. Stone, Mason Ale Works, Rip Current Brewing and The Lost Abbey—which is located on the opposite side of the DMV—are represented along with one outlier (and one of Sysak’s favorite breweries), Belgium’s Cantillon. Sysak says this is a small show of appreciation to the operations who’ve been helpful to him throughout his career, in particular since he started work on Wild Barrel roughly a year ago. Stone and Rip Current have sold him hops, Mason has lent him several items and The Lost Abbey’s Tomme Arthur has offered both assistance and advice.
During his decades of consulting, Sysak always stressed the importance of being hyper-focused and selecting the right beer styles; ales and lagers capable of generating enough sales to keep a business afloat without competing with each other. In assessing the current marketplace, Sysak is going heavy with India pale ales (IPAs) and fruited kettle sours, plus barrel-aged wild ales and imperial stouts (the base recipe for the latter was developed in consultation with Todd Ashman of Bourbon County Stout and FiftyFifty Eclipse fame). The opening-day beer-list will include two IPAs—the 7% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) Indie IPA, and an 8.4% imperial model double dry-hopped with Nelson Sauvin and Motueka called Prince of Dankness. A pair of 5.6% Berliner weisses dubbed San Diego Vice (playing off the proper pronunciation for weiss) will also be on tap. One is flavored with Montmorency cherries, the other with pink guava from head brewer (and fellow Stone expat) Bill Sobieski’s backyard tree.
Sysak and Sobieski will also capitalize off the popularity of coffee beers with Hipster Latté, a 5.5% ABV milk stout brewed with coconut palm sugar, lactose and a proprietary blend of beans from Rancho Bernardo-based Mostra Coffee. The blend that will be served at tomorrow’s opening will be the first of four, all of which will incorporate different types of coffee. The plan is to eventually serve them side-by-side (and can all four in a single four-pack) so customers can examine the subtle taste differences. And rounding out the board is a 5.5% Belgian-style witbier called White Rabbit (the character that lures people down its proverbial hole) brewed with traditional ingredients plus a “Valencia orange zest kicker” to give it extra citrus appeal. Rather than having several “gateway beers” such as a Pilsner, hefeweizen, Kolsch and blonde, which might compete and cannibalize off of each other, he wanted to brew one that can thrive on its own.
A recent shipment of ready-to-go Woodford Reserve bourbon whiskey barrels will make up the aging program’s initial stock. All that oak will be stored on the south side of the facility in plain view of the tasting room, with glycol-equipped lines plumbed over the public space to pump beer over from the brewery to help avoid contamination. Eventually, Sysak hopes to take over a space next-door and convert it to a barrel-aging warehouse. Once matured, barrel-aged beers will be packaged in 500-millileter bottles and released at the tasting room and as part of Wild Barrel’s beer club, which went live on the company’s website earlier this week. Sysak will also call on his many friends within the national brewing community to work on collaboration beers, the majority of which will be hazy IPAs and kettle sours. His initial trio of conspirators hail from as close by as Carlsbad and as far away as Florida: Burgeon Beer Company, Bottle Logic Brewing and J. Wakefield Brewing.
The tasting-room bar is equipped with 15 taps, plus a nitro-tap that will dispense coffee. But Sysak hopes to go further with java, installing a barista area in the tasting room that will operate from 7 to 11 a.m. weekday mornings to capture business from DMV visitors and establish an additional revenue stream. Also en route is a crowler-filling machine, which should arrive within a week. The food program will be all about mobile vendors and pre-packaged items. The latter will consist of cheese and charcuterie boards as well as confections from North County’s So Rich Chocolates.
Sysak, Sobieski and fellow co-founder Chris White (not to be confused with the founder of Miramar business White Labs) were able to complete the construction of their shared vision in less than a year and, though there are some small touches left to attend to, it’s already an impressive addition to the local brewing scene. Wild Barrel will be open seven-days-a-week, and its hours will be 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
From the Beer Writer: San Marcos’ The Lost Abbey is well known for its Belgian-inspired ales. Of their core offerings, a favorite of mine has always been Inferno Ale. It represents a challenging vision forged to life by a top-notch brewer. Director of Brewery Operations Tomme Arthur set out to recreate the Belgian golden strong ale archetype, Duvel, and knocked it out of the park with Inferno. Production of that beer has since been shelved, but its legend lives on in the brewery’s latest offering, The Lost Abbey Genesis of Shame. The same yeast strain used to ferment Inferno was used to ferment the base blonde ale that was aged in one of The Lost Abbey’s pair of oak foeders before being blended and finished with peaches and Brettanomyces to create this complex beer. As a result, the beer has an inherent spiciness reminiscent of Duvel and Inferno, plus a sticky, fluffy, snow-white head so durable you could camp under it in a hailstorm. The aroma is big on floral and stone-fruit character with a subtle touch of verdant funk, while the taste offers slight tartness and a touch of Brett spiciness with light peachiness bringing everything together. The name Genesis of Shame is a nod to Adam and Eve being banished from the Garden of Eden for consuming forbidden fruit. Fortunately, this beer is not taboo, because it’s a tasty introduction to The Lost Abbey’s foeder forays.
From the Brewer: “Genesis of Shame was developed to replace our Ten Commandments as the summer seasonal for 2017. We knew going into the process that we wanted to create a Brett-forward beer and marry some beer from our oak-aging program with a beer that was primary fermented in stainless steel. Back in 2016, we commissioned two 110-barrel French oak foeders and filled them with a blond sour base beer. Foeder #1 was the more active of the two and displayed some awesome Brett notes with a very soft oak finish. The final blend was 20% of the foeder beer married with 80% of the base beer. We also spiked the batch with some peach concentrate to build a refreshing beer with a tartness that accentuates the fruitiness. Our crew chose Brettopia to finish out the beer. While there was Brett in the foeder, it only accounted for 20% of the final blend. We used about half of the 3,400 gallons in the tank to produce Genesis of Shame. Some of the residual liquid will be blended into an anniversary beer for our friends at Monk’s Cafe in Philadelphia. The last of the beer in Foeder 1 is set to be released into full distribution the first week of September. Foeder #1 is off to a great start and adding amazing opportunities for our brewers to imagine and implement new beers. It was refilled this past weekend and we hope it will be ready to provide more beer in the fall of 2018 or early 2019.”—Tomme Arthur, Director of Brewery Operations, The Lost Abbey
From the Beer Writer: Over the past two years or so, with the rising popularity of goses, salt-infused sour ales originating in the Goslar region of Germany, beers with added salinity have become more common and given way to multiple breweries’ attempts at ales brewed to taste like Margaritas. Most of these beers fall far short of the promise of a brightly citrusy, salty quaff that comes anywhere close to resembling Mexico’s tequila-laced flagship cocktail. But when San Marcos’ The Lost Abbey announced it had tried its hand at a Margarita beer, I felt pangs of hope. Their attempt, The Lost Abbey Madonna and Son, was more involved than others’ attempts, a blend of beers aged in tequila barrels with lime and salt added. It certainly sounds like a logical go at a Margarita beer, but like most, if not all, it’s a fail at mimicking that tipple. But that doesn’t mean this beer isn’t interesting as all get out. Dark brown and muddy in appearance, it’s rich with oak and spirit notes, but uplifted by intense lime tartness. The salt is all in the finish and, even then, its very faint. Unlike any beer anywhere, it’s an anomaly that tests the limits of one’s palate. It’s not a Margarita, but it is a step toward a brewery’s growing understanding of the most rangy and unpredictable type of barrels around.
From the Brewer: “Madonna and Child is a beer we have been wanting to create for some time now. A base agave-ale spiked with lime and salt, and aged in resposado Tequila barrels, it’s our take on the flavors of a Margarita, which is a staple in our world. While it did take close to 30 different blends to get to the finished product, thanks to the patience exhibited by [our director of brewery production and quality assurance] Gwen Conley and her crew of blenders, we’re extremely happy with how Madonna and Child turned out. This is the second Tequila barrel-aged beer The Lost Abbey has released, Agave Maria being the first, and with how well we think it came out, it has us excited to create another!”—Tomme Arthur, Director of Brewery Operations, The Lost Abbey/Port Brewing Co./The Hop Concept
Director of Brewery Operations, Port Brewing Co. / The Lost Abbey / The Hop Concept
When it comes to farmhouse ales, most beer fans and brewers agree that Saison Dupont is the standard by which all others are to be judged. A brewer in this camp whose opinions on the matter have been quoted numerous times is Tomme Arthur, the headman of the three-headed entity comprising Port Brewing Company, The Lost Abbey and The Hop Concept. And when looking for an American brewer for Brasserie Dupont to work with on a new beer, importer Total Beverage Solution took note of Arthur’s praise, and reached out to see if he’d be interested. He jumped at the chance and soon found himself face-to-face with Dupont master brewer Olivier Dedeycker, working on a version of Saison Dupont bringing in New World, American influence. Luckily for us, he also jumped at the chance to talk about this memorable experience with West Coaster.
Tell us about the beer, Deux Amis, and how readers can get their hands on it.
Olivier really wanted to explore American hops and how they might behave in their brewery. He felt the best way to do this was to produce a beer that took the attributes of classic Dupont and add our American contributions. I was allowed to select the hops I felt would make for an interesting profile—Amarillo, Simcoe and Mosaic. I was really excited to brew with these hops, while at the same time seeing how their house-yeast was allowed to manifest itself in the beer. Deux Amis should be available for distribution in California. I don’t know the exact totals, but it should be in the market right now on-draft and in 750-milliliter bottles.
This collaboration involved a lot of first for the Dupont team—what were some of those?
[Dupont] has been operating for over 180 years and, in that time, their efforts have always been focused on the farmhouse production methods. So very little of the production has required outreach. The beer became available in the U.S. in the early ‘90s and during the “launch” no one from the brewery came to promote the brand. So, the family that runs the brewery had never had a representative travel to the U.S. to represent Dupont. And they had never invited a brewer to participate in a collaborative beer that was for broad-market release. [For this beer], Olivier traveled to the U.S. for the first time in his life. He threatened to come back. This collaboration was the first time [Dupont] had used American hops in their brewery.
What were some memorable experiences from Olivier’s time in Southern California?
We crammed so many things into our three short days in San Diego and Los Angeles. We went to the ocean’s edge. Olivier experienced our brewery and our massive barrel-program. That was overwhelming to him. The volume of travel required to visit each account was striking as well. I don’t think he was prepared to travel in so many cars and see all the concrete freeways we traversed. Perhaps one of the coolest parts of the trip was that we got to share West Coast beers with Olivier. He was very fond of the pairing of Karl Strauss Brewing Company’s Mosaic Session IPA and fish tacos we enjoyed at the Encinitas Fish Shop.
Deux Amis translates to “two friends”—do you and your new friend foresee future collaborations?
The production of this beer started a friendship that I hope will last for years to come. My respect for this brewery and their beers is well documented. Getting to travel with Olivier and show him our brewing culture and how his beer fits into it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I am thankful to have been able to share this experience with him and hope our Deux Amis collaboration finds many new friends in consumers as well. We discussed [additional collaborations] at length and are trying to understand how best we can continue this relationship. They were some great conversations.