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Posts Tagged toolbox brewing

Groundswell Brewing sets opening date for Santee facility

Jan 31

Last year, Groundswell Brewing Company took large, highly visible steps toward increasing the size and scope of its operations by purchasing the 12,000-square-foot brewing and distilling facility vacated by defunct Santee business, Twisted Manzanita Ales and Spirits. This move came shortly after Groundswell brought on veteran brewer Callaway Ryan (Surly Brewing, Stone Brewing, URBN St. Brewing) to shore up its fermentation operations. With him on-board, ownership felt comfortable taking this step forward. After months of work transforming its new environs, Groundswell is ready to debut its Santee tasting room to the public at a grand-opening event taking place Sunday, February 12.

A few pieces of décor remain to be placed in the facility’s public-area, but on the brewing-side, company president Kevin Rhodes says his team is hitting their stride, brewing roughly every other day after cleaning out and modernizing the space to fit their needs. Ryan has overseen the transition from the company’s original, much smaller location in Grantville. Groundswell has also brought on additional talent in the form of ex-Toolbox Brewing Company brewer Brent Donovan, who will be charged with implementing programs for sour and barrel-aged beers.

Groundswell Brewing’s new Santee tasting room

Groundswell plans to hold on to its Grantville venue, converting the brewery into storage space while reconfiguring the tasting room so that it includes additional seating. Tickets to the opening event for the Santee tasting room will go on sale online, tomorrow at 6 a.m.. That venue is located at 10151 Prospect Avenue and the event will take place from 12 to 8:30 p.m. That tasting room’s regular hours are 1 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays.

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Council & Toolbox team on spontaneous-fermentation beers

Jan 19

(left-to-right): Liz Chism, Ehren Schmidt and Jeffrey Crane during Council and Toolbox’s spontaneous beer collaboration in Kearny Mesa

Kearny Mesa’s Council Brewing Company and Vista’s Toolbox Brewing Company share an affinity for tart and wild ales. The brewing minds from these outfits have wanted to collaborate on such a beer for a long time, but found their schedules unaccommodating until a confluence of seemingly unfortunate developments provided ideal teaming conditions. First, a shipment of bottles Council had ordered was delayed, forcing them to push back the packaging date for one of their beers. Then, news came of a week-long stretch of cold, stormy weather. Council owners Liz and Curtis Chism contacted Toolbox head brewer Ehren Schmidt to see if he was free to brew on their would-be bottling day. He accepted and they were off to the races—all they needed was something to brew. Fittingly, this spontaneous collaboration yielded a spontaneous beer…a spontaneous fermenting beer, that is.

Yesterday, Schmidt, the Chisms and Council’s wild-yeast aficionado, Jeff Crane, brewed the wort for a beer that will ferment based solely on the airborne microorganisms occurring within their Kearny Mesa business park. Doing so loosely follows the age-old Belgian tradition of brewing Lambic beers. In Europe (and a small number of breweries in the U.S. such as Allagash Brewing Company, Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project and Jester King Brewery), this is done by allowing wort (unfermented beer) to cool in open, shallow metal vessels called coolships, which allow wild yeast full access to the wort. Unlike domesticated yeast used to produce the vast majority of the world’s ales and lagers, wild yeast and bacteria such as Brettanomyces, Saccharomyces and Pediococcus, are extremely unpredictable and bring forth a host of tart, dry, earthy, funky flavors and aromas. These are desired traits by connoisseurs of these beers, but they are challenging to produce and the Council-Toolbox crew has no idea how their finished-product will turn out. It’s as much about experimentation as anything else, and they look forward to learning from this batch as well as a second, identical batch that they will brew tomorrow at Toolbox’s brewery.

Since neither company has a coolship, they are utilizing large plastic bins. The wort racked into them incorporates under-modified Pilsner malt, flaked and unmalted wheat, as well as Crystal hops Toolbox has been aging at its facility for nearly three years. Those matured pellets are nearly brown in appearance and have a scent similar to that of ripe blue cheese. After transferring the wort to the bin, that receptacle was transported across the business park to the suite the Chisms refer to as their “Magic Factory”, where they house their oak foudres and barrels. That is where it will ferment and age for at least a year. That spot is home to a host of “bugs” that will have their way with this beer. During warmer times of the year, there are typically too many undesirable microorganisms in the air for this process, which often leads to spoiled beer, making the upcoming week of cooler weather favorable for this project.

Because of it will ferment in a different environment, the Toolbox-brewed version of this beer is bound to taste different. The team plans to check in on both beers at the six-month and one-year marks but figures it likely won’t be finished for at least 18 months. At that point, they will coordinate release events at their tasting rooms where they will sell bottles of the individual beers as well as a blend of both. Additionally, provided the beer meets their standards, they will hold some back and continue brewing this recipe on an annual basis so they can produce a Gueuze, a term used to describe a blend of one-, two- and three-year-old Lambics. It’s a grand undertaking made entirely possible by a delayed delivery and the biggest series of storms to hit San Diego since 2010.

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Q&A: Mikkel Borg Bjergsø

Jan 10

Owner & Brewmaster, Mikkeller Brewing San Diego

Last year, 10-year Denmark-based gypsy brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergsø hammered down stakes in Miramar, transforming AleSmith Brewing Co.’s original brewery into Mikkeller Brewing San Diego. His brewing team spent most of 2016 getting the feel of the facility. Now that group feels ready to be more aggressive in its fermentation activities. Bjergsø has vowed his brick-and-mortar will debut one new small-batch beer on a weekly basis beginning January 12 at its tasting room with a trio of new offerings: bourbon barrel-aged Beer Geek Brunch imperial oatmeal coffee stout, Fruit Face raspberry-coffee Berliner weisse and Uklar IPA. Future “San Diego Beer Release Series” debuts will take place every Saturday starting January 21. Keeping up with such a rapid rate of innovation and execution is no easy task. Curious about this and what it’s been like for this world-famous brewer to find his feet in San Diego, we sat down with him to pick his brain.

WC: What are some surprises you’ve encountered in San Diego?
Mikkel Borg Bjergsø: It’s been surprising how different the beer scene is in the U.S. compared to Europe. There are so many great players—especially in San Diego—and so many great beers. You really have to make an effort to stand out. I think with the new special-release series we will.

WC: What drove the decision to release a new beer every week?
MBB: Brewing a lot of different beers and beer-styles is in our DNA, and it was only a matter of time before we set out to launch a similar release schedule in San Diego. At this point we have an amazing crew in place, the brewing equipment is all dialed in, and our management setup is so in tune with our vision that we are confident now is the time. Most people will associate us with a hectic output of beers in all styles, shapes and formats, which is exactly what they should expect. That, and the totally unexpected, of course. Having your own brewery opens up a world of possibilities that are not usually doable when working in someone else’s brewery, whether it’s contract brewing or on a collaboration basis.

WC: What is your day-to-day involvement like regarding brewing at Mikkeller SD?

MBB: We’ve had to adjust to both the physical distance and time difference, but I am fortunate in the sense that I have to rely on the very capable hands of our head brewer Bill Batten and his team of skilled assistant brewers. It’s still my recipes and vision, which we will discuss through our daily email chains and our weekly conference-call.

WC: What other interesting or exciting developments are on the horizon for Mikkeller SD?
MBB: There are a lot of super-exciting things under development, but the sour and barrel-aged beer programs are two projects we are putting a lot of effort into. We have such a creative team over there, and it seems that no matter how crazy the idea and/or recipe I throw at them, they enthusiastically turn those into great beer. We are also working on new collaborations with other breweries, and non-brewers as well.

WC: You’ve spent more time than ever in San Diego. What are some of your favorite local breweries?
MBB:
I hate to name favorite breweries as it pushes the rest to the side. In the San Diego area there are obviously a ton of amazing brewers, from the old guys like Stone Brewing, Green Flash Brewing Co. and Ballast Point Brewing, to the young guns like Abnormal Beer Co., Toolbox Brewing Co., Modern Times Beer Co. and many others. I still have a big heart for our friends at AleSmith, so if I have to name one…

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2016 Recap: San Diego’s Most Improved Breweries

Dec 14

Yesterday, I laid out what I believe are the best new breweries to have opened in 2016. Today, in part two of my three-part retrospective series on breweries in San Diego County, I’m listing the half-dozen operations I think most significantly upped their games over the past 12 months. It’s important to note up-front that being on this list in no way implies that these brewing companies were doing a bad job or making subpar beer until this year. It just means that, even if they were already good, they are doing even better now.

The Karl Strauss team celebrates at this year’s Great American Beer Festival

Karl Strauss Brewing Co., Pacific Beach: Uncle Karl’s crew has been churning out quality beer for decades, but in recent years they have put the pieces in place to reach all-time highs. Hoppy offerings like Mosaic Session IPA and Aurora Hoppyalis IPA are legitimately among the best of San Diego’s hoppy stock, and the brewery-restaurant chain’s portfolio is so stout with good beer, Karl Strauss was named Best Mid-Size Brewery at this year’s Great American Beer Festival.

Council Brewing Co., Kearny Mesa: I named this husband-and-wife aspiration one of the best new breweries to open in 2014. Back then, the business’ line-up was pretty solid, but nowadays the hoppy beers are dialed in, and its eclectic barrel-aged, bottled offerings are interesting and reliably delicious. They strive to do lots of things and are finding ways to successfully juggle all of it while providing an inviting atmosphere.

Toolbox Brewing Co., Vista: Many thought this business was done for after it parted with its original head brewer, but since picking up a hippy fermentationist with a scientific bent, this operation is not only making its 100% wild operation work, but rocking things out with intriguing, outstanding beers that are more cohesive than what came before. It’s an unlikely, but very welcomed outcome.

32 North Brewing Co., Miramar: In three years, this operation has had just as many head brewers. After having brought on the majority of Fall Brewing Co.’s brewing and sales personnel this year, the beer-quality is at an all-time high. That’s good timing, as 2017 finds 32 North making a big push to become better known and more successful via increased distribution of cans and kegs.

Groundswell Brewing Co., Grantville: A small system and lack of experience kept this business from realizing its potential, but after landing now-closed URBN St. Brewing Co.’s former head brewer, the beer has improved to the point where Groundswell’s ownership felt confident purchasing the large Santee brewery and distillery abandoned by defunct Twisted Manzanita Ales & Spirits.

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2016 Recap: San Diego’s Best New Breweries

Dec 13

It’s the final month of the year, and time to reflect on the year nearly gone-by. For me, that means assessing San Diego County’s brewery landscape. That’s what I’ll be doing in a three-part series of posts this week, starting with a look at the plethora of new brewing operations that opened in 2016. More breweries opened this year than any in history. And it’s important to note that more good breweries opened in 2016 than in the past several years. Many tout the double-digit number of rookie fermentation operations added to San Diego’s brewery-count each year, but I’ll be honest and say that the past half-decade has seen too many average-to-subpar businesses join the fold. Sure, some duds opened in 2016, but the same can be said of any food-and-beverage business. The bottom-line is, aspiring entrants into the local suds-scene seem to understand, now more than ever, that they better have good beer if they’re going to compete, and that’s leading to better breweries, from conception to birth and beyond. The following are my picks (in order) for best new breweries of the past 365 days (with the exception of some that were simply too new to be fairly evaluated).

Burning Beard Brewing Company in El Cajon

Burning Beard Brewing Co., El Cajon: Rockin’ beers and rock-and-roll make for amenities worth an East County excursion at this small but well-run spot featuring a variety of beers ranging from Belgians to San Diego-style hop-elixirs to deep, dark stouts and, eventually, fouder-aged ales. Throw in employee exuberance that ranges from the brew-crew to the bar staff, and it’s sort of a holy-grail situation.

North Park Beer Co., North Park: One of the most anticipated new brewery project of the past four years, the brainchild of its namesake community’s proud denizen Kelsey McNair finally came to life. Its former MMA gym home has been transformed into a beautiful, two-story, wood-paneled den of communal enjoyment of beers that are largely sessionable and rely on impressive balance versus belligerent brawn.

Downtown’s Resident Brewing Company

Resident Brewing Co., Downtown: Urban bar and eatery, The Local, is a long-time supporter of the craft-beer movement, but when it added on-site fermentation to its equation, the resulting product was something special. An award-winning homebrewer-turned-pro is pumping out some of the bolder, ideally hopped West Coast-style beers of the rookie-class while bringing flavor with myriad other styles.

Pure Project Brewing, Miramar: If a wide array of easy-drinking beers—crisp to full-bodied, clear to hazy, fruited to (GABF medal-garnering) barrel-aged—weren’t enough reason to become enamored with this, the first brewery to test out the Brewery Igniter ready-to-brew model, the fact it’s a generous One Percent for the Planet business is enough to pull the wishy-washy off the fence.

Bear Roots Brewing in Vista

Bear Roots Brewing, Vista: A small homebrew-supply store opening a three-barrel nano-brewery with a bar that takes up half its shop…sounds risky if not ill-advised, but a husband-wife duo have not only made it work, but amassed such a cult-following behind a varied beer line-up that includes a tasty cookie-inspired dessert beer that they’re looking at growing their baby to papa-bear status in 2017.

Bitter Brothers Brewing Co., Bay Ho: The first brewery to open in 2016 has done well for itself, producing a solid line-up of hoppy beers offset by a number of English-style malt-driven styles and “candy-bar” beers. Further refinement of its wares in the coming year should keep this operation on its upward trajectory, as should fun, well-done quarterly beer dinners in its tasting room.

It’s important to note that, in previous years, a half-dozen picks for best new brewery would have been excessive. This year, I could have added another two or three rather easily. The following are those that missed the cut, but never before has the division between the best and the rest been so slim. Cheers to that!

This Year’s Contenders: Culver Beer Co. (Carlsbad), Guadalupe Brewery (Carlsbad), Kensington Brewing Co. (Mission Valley), Little Miss Brewing Co. (Miramar), Longship Brewery (Mira Mesa), Mason Ale Works (Oceanside), Midnight Jack Brewing Co. (Oceanside), Mikkeller Brewing San Diego (Miramar), Oceanside Brewing Co. (Oceanside),

Maybe Next Year: Burgeon Beer Co. (Carlsbad), Eppig Brewing Co. (North Park), Knotty Brewing (East Village), OB Brewery (Ocean Beach), Thunderhawk Alements (Miramar)

Previous Top-Ranked Breweries

2015: Fall Brewing Co. (North Park), Second Chance Beer Co. (Carmel Mountain), South Park Brewing Co. (South Park), Bay City Brewing Co. (Point Loma), Abnormal Beer Co. (Rancho Bernardo), Duck Foot Brewing Co. (Miramar)

2014: Bagby Beer Co. (Oceanside), Nickel Beer Co. (Julian), Council Brewing Co. (Kearny Mesa), URBN St. Brewing Co. (El Cajon), Toolbox Brewing Co. (Vista)

2013: Rip Current Brewing Co. (San Marcos), Benchmark Brewing Co. (Grantville), Amplified Ale Works (Pacific Beach), Belching Beaver Brewery (Vista), Modern Times Beer (Point Loma)

2012: Societe Brewing Co. (Kearny Mesa), Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery (East Village), Latitude 33 Brewing Co. (Vista)

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