Societe Brewing’s Lorah Smith keeps her co-workers fed and her Facebook followers salivating
Last year, I took a job at Kearny Mesa’s Societe Brewing Company. Having been a long-time fan of that operation, I’d had the pleasure of getting to know numerous members of the Societe team prior to coming aboard. I’d long admired their deep-seeded appreciation for beer and the brewing process, and looked forward to working with like-minded souls in that regard. But I had no idea that I’d also find common-ground where my culinary passions are concerned.
One of my biggest concerns in spending five-days-a-week at Societe was how I was going to resist the urge to consume The Pupil, The Dandy, The Butcher and their cousins on a far-too-frequent basis. It remains challenging, I’ll admit, but I manage somehow. As it turns out, there’s even more to be tempted by at my workday digs—namely a constant barrage of home-made, edible goodness brought in on plates and platters, in tinfoil and Tupperware, and always warm, odoriferous, fluffy, gooey, piping hot or otherwise desirable thanks to its maker, Lorah Smith.
To many, Lorah is “Travis’ wife”, and while that is true from a literal sense (she does sport a wedding band bestowed upon her by our brewmaster), to her family at Societe, she is so much more—kind-hearted spearhead of our charitable and humanitarian efforts, coordinator of our offsite beer-dinners, maternal herder of cats and nourisher of the masses. I found out about that last one after being treated to three days of tasty baked goods during my first week of employment. Many dishes, both savory and sweet, have followed. So, too, have dozens of conversations about food and her daily cooking conquests, proof of which are presented via her appetizing Facebook timeline.
I instantly felt a kinship with Lorah. We’ve both been bitten by the cooking-bug, but she’s far more prolific than I am these days. I marvel at her output and creativity. There have been times when she’s made more food than her audiences can consume. Keep in mind that her audiences regularly consist of her hungry-man husband and trio of kiddos, and the 20-plus employees of a brewery where more than half of those folks have completed a challenge that involves consuming a two-and-a-half-pound burrito and full-serving of imperial stout in less than 20 minutes. To outcook these folks is quite the feat.
If you’re not impressed yet, a look at some of the dishes she’s fixed up ought to do it: herb-crusted rack of lamb with balsamic-glazed portobellos and chevre-stuffed potatoes, home-made pho, New Orleans-style Asian braised pork belly, chilaquiles with hatch green chile salsa, and carnitas made from a pig that Travis guy butchered himself. Then there’s the hearty chili made with meat from a bear gifted to the Smiths by local beer-scene gadabout Bobby Mathews, which was both exotic and delicious! And keep in mind, these aren’t things she busted out for special occasions. These are days-that-end-with-a-Y territory. The woman just loves to cook and can do it well.
So, when it came time to focus on a local culinarian with chops, gusto and some recipes to share, it was a no-brainer that I shine a light on this generous gastronome. You can call her “Travis’ wife” if you insist, but you’d do just as well to refer to her as “chef.”
Bangers and Mash with Braised Cabbage and Beer-Onion Gravy
Paired with The Haberdasher English IPA or The Pugilist Dry Stout
Yield: 4 servings
Place the potatoes in a large pot of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Continue to boil until the potatoes are fork tender, about 12 to 15 minutes. While the potatoes are boiling, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over low heat. Add 2 cups of onions and sauté until soft and tender, about 6 minutes. Place the bangers to the skillet and add enough beer to cover them. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the bangers are fully cooked, 15 to 20 minutes. You may need to add more beer to keep the bangers covered at least to the halfway mark as the liquid evaporates. Once the potatoes are tender, drain and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Mix in the milk and 5 tablespoons of butter and mash to desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper, then cover to keep warm.
Melt the remaining butter in a large skillet over low heat. Add the onions and sauté until they begin to caramelize, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the cabbage and some of the broth from the bangers to help wilt it. Cook until slightly tender, 5 to 7 minutes.
Remove the bangers from the broth and keep warm. Increase heat to medium-high and reduce the onions and broth mixture by half to create a thin gravy. Add Worcestershire sauce, and season with salt, pepper and garlic powder as desired.
To serve, place a mound of mashed potatoes onto a plate and top with a sausage. Ladle the onion gravy on top of the bangers and mash. Spoon some cabbage on the side and serve immediately with an English-style IPA or dry Irish-style stout.
Paired with The Savage Feral Dark Ale with Cherries
Yield: 6 servings
For the Filling
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
For the batter, cut the milk and butter into the remaining dry ingredients and set aside. For the filling, place the cherries in the bottom of a greased 9-inch baking dish. In a small bowl, combine 1 cup of sugar with the cornstarch. Stir in the boiling water, then pour the mixture over the cherries. Pour and spread the batter evenly over the cherry mixture. Evenly sprinkle the remaining sugar over the cobbler. Place in the oven and bake until the cobbler top is golden-brown and cooked through, approximately 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand 5 minutes.
Serve warm alone or topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Either way, pair this dessert with a Flanders-style red ale or barrel-aged, cherry-infused sour ale.
—Recipes courtesy of Lorah Smith, Events Manager & Director of Charitable Giving, Societe Brewing Company
From the Beer Writer: Each week for the past several years, I’ve made a point of highlighting what I believe are exceptional beers produced by San Diego County breweries. Because I not only write about the beer industry, but am a part of it, there have been a handful of times when a Beer of the Week has come from a brewery I’m employed by. I understand the perceived conflict there, so I attempt to avoid that whenever possible, and am always sure to disclose my affiliation when doing so. But this week, the origin-story and humanitarian purpose behind my featured beer selection is such that I feel compelled to share both even though it’s manufactured by my employer, Societe Brewing Company. Allow me to go into detail. Each year, Societe holds a holiday food-drive. In its first year, this effort amassed just under 300 pounds of food. The addition of annual incentivizing ripples in the drive increased its effectiveness to the point where, last year, the brewery collected nearly 5,000 pounds of food. Happy but not yet satisfied, brewmaster Travis Smith and company devised a new plan for 2016, centered around the release of a new blended, wine barrel-aged, cranberry sour ale, Societe The Urchin. From now through December 31, this tart, fruity, tannic offering is available in 500-milliliter bottles for an admittedly exorbitant $50. Too rich for your blood? There’s a much more affordable and meaningful alternative. Simply bring in 50 pounds of food from the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank’s list of needed items (click here for that list) and you can get a bottle of The Urchin for just five dollars. The drive started on November 21 and, within four days, Societe had surpassed its 2015 total, delivering more than 5,000 pounds of edible sustenance to the Food Bank. As of today, total donations stand at 8,588 pounds. It’s a wonderful case of the goodness of local craft-beer flowing beyond the glass to make a positive difference for those in need in our community, and I’m happy to shine a light on it in hopes of maximizing that effort. Happy holidays!
From the Brewer: “The Feral beer program at Societe revolves around blending and, to a lesser extent, experimentation. The Urchin arose out of an experiment loading cranberry purée into one of our red-wine barrels. We liked the flavor enough that we decided to take the experiment to the next level by fruiting several more barrels, and the base to The Urchin was born. This first batch of The Urchin spent between 10 and 24 months in barrels before making it into this final delicious, festive Feral blend of fruit and funk. With cranberries being a favorite holiday flavor, and The Urchin being my favorite blend to come out of our barrel room so far, this is the perfect beer to go along with our annual Holiday Food Drive to incentivise the donation of needed items to the San Diego Food Bank.”—Travis Smith, Brewmaster, Societe Brewing Company
In 2014, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company reached out to breweries across the country to brew collaboration brews as part of a mammoth undertaking called Beer Camp Across America. That program saw a dozen collaboration beers (including one with local business Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits) nationally released in six-packs and multiple beer fests featuring hundreds of craft breweries held throughout the nation. It was such a tremendous success that the company is rolling out a second edition of Beer Camp Across America. This time around, the company has reached out to brewers in six beery regions of the United States. Not surprisingly, Southern California is one of them and, as one would expect, the prowess of not one, but several San Diego County breweries were solicited—Oceanside’s Bagby Beer Company, San Marcos’ Port Brewing Company / The Lost Abbey and Kearny Mesa’s Societe Brewing Company. That trio was teamed with Los Angeles County interests Beachwood BBQ and Brewing and Smog City Brewing Company to create a beer that will be offered in this year’s Beer Camp Across America 12-pack.
I make my living as a storyteller, but the opportunity to peel back the tent door and let the Beer Campers themselves share insights from this world-class collaboration is too rich to pass up. Read on for more about this prestigious project.
Tomme Arthur | Director of Brewery Operations, The Lost Abbey
It was a pleasant surprise when we were contacted last fall about this opportunity. Working with Sierra Nevada on this was a lot like having the Vatican call up and ask if we’d like to participate in Easter Mass. How could we say no? The Beer Camp Across America program was such an amazing accomplishment when they first launched it. I wasn’t sure it was ever going to make a comeback, so I was very pleased at the opportunity it presented us when we were solicited to be a part of this new set of beers. All of the contributors to our beer are brewers that I admire and consider to be some of the very best in this great region for brewing. I’ve known [Beachwood BBQ brewmaster] Julian Shrago for 10-plus years now and trust him completely to lead this band of miscreants. In terms of the actual working process with Sierra Nevada, the level of interaction and staffing that it takes to pull off a project like this is mind-numbing. For every email we receive detailing the process, I am certain there have been multiple meetings that needed to take place ensuring everything keeps running on schedule. These guys are the pro’s pros of doing big great things for brewers and it’s always a pleasure to be around passionate employees who believe in such a great project. I believe we have an exceptional beer in the works and everyone who tastes it should see what happens when some bitchin’ brewers put their thinking caps on and agree on a solution to a simple request: What kind of beer do you want to make?
Jeff Bagby | Owner & Brewmaster, Bagby Beer Company
The beer is an American-style stout. Getting together with such a great group has been awesome. We all brewed the original pilot batch at Beachwood. After we all had a chance to taste it, the recipe was just slightly tweaked before we all joined up to brew another pilot batch at Sierra Nevada in Chico, Calif. That was quite an experience. We will be able to taste that batch very soon, and the main batch will be brewed and packaged later this year so that it can be combined with the other five beers for the 12-pack release, which will include two bottles of each beer brewed for this project.
Douglas Constantiner | Brewery Curator & Brewer, Societe Brewing Company
The brew-day up at Sierra Nevada was incredible and, without a doubt, the highlight of my career. Julian, Bagby, Tomme, [Smog City brewmaster] Jonathan Porter, [Societe co-founder and brewmaster] Travis Smith and I decided to brew a stout for this collaboration rather than an IPA in order to showcase our diversity as brewers. San Diego and Southern California’s fame for hoppy IPAs can, unfortunately, overshadow other styles we love to brew and drink…like stouts. The five breweries representing our region have won medals for stouts, so we thought it would be suiting to show the country that there’s more to Southern California than IPAs. It’s hard to put into words what it was like to sit down at a table with brewing legends like Bagby, Tomme and Julian to discuss the direction, process and recipe of this beer. And then to have Sierra Nevada bring it to life is beyond imaginable.
Tomme Arthur | Director of Brewery Operations, Port Brewing Company / The Lost Abbey
All told, it continues to be exciting each time we get together as we approach the next benchmark which will be the actual brewing on the big system of the beer for the release. At that point, the heavy lifting will be done and the chance to sit back and enjoy the release will be imminent. There will be no sadness, only joy knowing we were part of this great thing called Beer Camp Across America 2016.
From the Beer Writer: There are many session India pale ales—IPAs coming in lower on the alcohol-by-volume scale than their typically 6-to-8% ABV forebears—on the market these days. And many leave a lot to be desired where depth of flavor is concerned. Some merely taste like hop-infused water, but Societe Brewing Co.’s The Coachman offers layers of flavor. That’s fitting considering one of those tiers is onion-like earthiness that shows up in the aroma along with foresty pine notes. The onion continues to the palate, marrying nicely with flavors of garlic, lemon and spruce. Despite being low in ABV, the beer doesn’t taste or feel watery, yet remains very refreshing. And since Societe has a large tribe of followers regularly draining its kegs, The Coachman isn’t allowed to degrade at the expedited pace of session IPAs. It’s one small beer for man, one giant leap for session IPA kind!
From the Brewer: “We make IPAs…lots of them. The Publican is like an IPA, only small. And The Coachman is also like an IPA, but really small. It is in the 4.5% ABV range, so you can drink a couple and still safely drive your coach home. In addition to malted barley, The Coachman contains a hefty load of malted wheat—about 40%–far more malted wheat by percentage than in any other beer we make. It’s intense, but not overly bitter. Hop character comes from Saaz, Simcoe and Mosaic. Some may consider it a ‘session IPA’ or a ‘session wheat IPA’, but in the scope of our lineup, it is our ‘really small IPA’.”—Travis Smith, Brewmaster, Societe Brewing Co.
In past years, West Coaster ran a feature covering who we thought would be the movers and shakers of the upcoming year. Now, for 2014, we’ve opened up the feature to our readers by way of an online poll that isn’t about predictions; it’s about results. The 14 in ‘14 highlights 14 different categories across San Diego Beer and our readers chose their favorites in each. The result? A snapshot of the past year in this beer-soaked county.
BEST BREWERY OF 2014
Societe Brewing Co.
Born over pints at O’Brien’s, Travis Smith and Douglas Constantiner came from very different backgrounds to create Societe Brewing Co. Smith began his professional brewing career in 2004 with an apprenticeship at Russian River Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa, which developed into a full-time brewing position in 2005. In addition, he tended to the joint hopyard of Russian River & Moonlight Brewing Co. In 2009, Smith moved to The Bruery in Orange County to take on the Lead Brewer position, where he met friend and current business partner, Douglas Constantiner.
After realizing the breakneck pace of investment finance wasn’t for him, Douglas Constantiner attended the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago and promptly moved to San Diego after graduation. Starting out at Pizza Port Carlsbad, he also interned at Oggi’s and worked on the bottling line at Green Flash. Later, he moved on to The Bruery, washing kegs and bottling at first, eventually taking control of the cellar and packaging operations before starting as a brewer. In that position, he befriended Travis Smith and learned how to brew professionally.
BEST BREWER OF 2014
Travis Smith, Societe Brewing Co.
In 2010, Smith moved down to pursue a head brewer position at the now-closed La Jolla Brew House, but the two friends kept in touch by meeting up at O’Brien’s. When it became known that the Brew House was not meant to be, the friendly meetups turned into business planning sessions. Societe Brewing Co. opened in 2012 with a 16,000 square foot facility and a 20 barrel brewhouse. Their offerings include West Coast, Belgian and barrel-aged. If you haven’t already, plan a trip to the well-appointed tasting room and try the Harlot, Pupil, Butcher and any specialty they have on tap to understand why readers chose Societe & Travis as the best Brewery and Brewer of 2014.
BEST HOMEBREW SHOP OF 2014
Home Brew Mart
The store that launched a thousand beers. The eldest location in the rapidly-expanding Ballast Point empire, Home Brew Mart started as a humble brewing supply outpost in 1992. Jack White, an avid homebrewer recently graduated from college, started the shop as a hobby. At the time, only one other supply store existed in the county in El Cajon, so Home Brew Mart successfully catered to San Diego’s centrally-located homebrewers. White eventually needed some help, so he put out a newspaper ad seeking employees. Yuseff Cherney stopped in responding to the ad, and was the store’s first hire (he’s now the Chief Operating Officer & Head Brewer/Distiller). Early customers include Lee Chase (Blind Lady Ale House/Automatic Brewing Co., Panama 66, Tiger!Tiger!) and Vinnie Cilurzo (Russian River).
Perhaps the store’s greatest contribution to San Diego beer was the partnership forged between Chris White and Yuseff Cherney. White was a post-graduate student at University of California, San Diego and took a homebrewing class that Cherney was teaching. The two started homebrewing together, and noticed a need for fresh, pitchable yeast to replace the inconsistent dry packaged yeast that was the norm at the time. White eventually started selling vials of California Ale Yeast to Home Brew Mart. This marks the beginning of White Labs, which is now an international supplier of brewing yeast based out of San Diego. Yeast is a highly perishable and super critical ingredient in the brewing process, and by selling fresh yeast over the counter, Home Brew Mart became pivotal in the formation of San Diego beer as we know it. A 15 barrel brewhouse was added to Home Brew Mart in 1996, thus creating Ballast Point Brewing Co.
Home Brew Mart completed a 2,200 square foot expansion in 2014, adding bar and table seating along with a new 40-tap draft system. Although much more polished than its original incarnation, the store continues to foster the San Diego home brewing community, which in turn drives the growth of the professional brewing industry.
BEST BEER OF 2014
Alpine Beer Company – Nelson IPA
The greatest beer of 2014 comes from the unincorporated mountain community of Alpine on the Eastern edge of San Diego county. During a 2003 vacation in New Zealand, Pat and Val McIlhenney discovered the Nelson hop growing region. After returning home, he had the hops ordered, put together a recipe involving rye and the Nelson Sauvin hop (among others), and developed the first incarnation of Nelson.
The 7% ABV Nelson gives a citrus, floral aroma that leads to a slightly creamy taste that focuses on the tropical, resiny character of the hops. A dry finish leaves you ready for the next sip. Nelson enjoys a rare 100 out of 100 rating on RateBeer.com and an equally-rare 100% rating on BeerAdvocate.com.
Up until very recently, Nelson was only available outside of the brewery at select draft accounts and through limited bottle release. In 2014, Alpine and Green Flash Brewing Co. partnered to create a 3,000-barrel release of three Alpine beers brewed at Green Flash, with Nelson being one of them. This led to the acquisition of Alpine Beer Co. by Green Flash in November 2014; expect to see much more of this fantastic beer in 2015 and beyond.
BEST BEER NEIGHBORHOOD OF 2014
Starting out as a lemon grove in 1893, the current incarnation of North Park is the product of gentrification that began in the 1990s. Then, North Park was in a state of blight, with numerous storefronts mothballed. Residents of the area, interested in the rich heritage of their historical craftsman homes and improving the neighborhood, began working together. North Park Main Street was organized to help draw businesses to the area, and to keep them there. A small newspaper, North Park News, was launched to help residents informed about local happenings.
The result is the world class pedestrian neighborhood that is North Park in 2014. Home to craft beer-heavy bars such as Toronado and Seven Grand, the neighborhood also has four breweries: Thorn Street, Mike Hess Brewing, Poor House Brewing Co., Fall Brewing Co., and two brewery tasting rooms: Belching Beaver and Modern Times. The Homebrewer serves 92104 with brewing supplies, and restaurants such as Tiger!Tiger!, Ritual Tavern, Underbelly, Waypoint Public, and URBN serve quality food with strong draft selections to boot. Each month, the DrinkAbout bus follows a route along 30th Street, ferrying beer drinkers to and from select beer spots. For the lover of beer and food, North Park has both in quantities unparalleled in the county. Its sheer variety along with its walkability were no doubt in our readers’ minds when choosing the Best Beer Neighborhood of 2014.
Fun fact: West Coaster was founded in 2010 on 28th Street, in the same bungalow that spawned North Park News in 1992.
BEST BEERTENDER OF 2014
Nate “Islander” Soroko
A chef by trade, Nate Soroko came into the local beer scene by chance. Looking for a second job after moving to San Diego, he answered a Craigslist ad calling for help at a burger joint called the Liar’s Club in 2004. The beer scene was a much different place ten years ago; there were only a handful of places where craft beer was served, including Downtown Johnny Brown’s, Churchill’s, and Liar’s Club.
“Alpine beer was always on sale. Nobody would drink it because it was from East County, and Pliny the Younger would be on tap for weeks,” Nate recalls. He got to know the regulars at the bar, which included Lee Chase (Blind Lady Ale House/Automatic), Dennis Borlek (Fathom Bistro), Scot Blair (Hamilton’s/Small Bar/Monkey Paw), Ian Black (Toronado) and Greg Koch (Stone). Nate also took up gigs cooking at Pizza Port Carlsbad and Lost Abbey festivals; at the time, food trucks in San Diego were virtually non-existent. After working at Liar’s club for a spell, he’d go out for drinks around town, meeting people and hearing, “Oh yeah, you’re the Islander from Liar’s Club,” and his nickname was born.
After Liar’s Club closed in 2007, Nate continued cooking for various beer festivals, but took on a full-time job with the Gaslamp Marriott. In 2010, he picked up more shifts at Toronado while moonlighting at Lost Abbey and Alpine. The founders of Modern Times began meeting in Toronado to discuss their then-new brewery venture, and Nate learned quickly that it would be something he wanted to be a part of. Currently, you can find him behind the bar at Modern Times or Toronado, depending on the day.
When asked about the state of beer then versus now, he responds, “I wish people weren’t so jaded, but at the same time I’m happy to see so many beers like Sculpin on tap that were so hard to find. It’s a yin-and-yang situation that comes with the growth.” Nate continues: “The diversity has also opened up a lot. Before, it was just 40 year old white dudes and now you’re seeing all different kinds of people drinking better beer. I think it’s reflective of an industry that’s really open and accepting.”
Pizza Port Brewing Co.
Pizza Port is a collection of brewpubs that span the coastline of Southern California from San Clemente to Ocean Beach. Gina Marsaglia purchased the original Pizza Port in Solana Beach in 1987. Her brother, Vince, came out to sling pizza and surf, eventually opting to stay in Southern California working at Pizza Port instead of returning to college to pursue electrical engineering. Gina moonlighted at the original Karl Strauss location in downtown to better understand the brewpub model, and Vince started speaking with homebrewers that were regulars at Solana Beach. In 1992, after receiving an expansion loan, a brewhouse was built, and the first beer, Shark Bite Red, was created under the auspice of Solana Beach Brewing Co.
Solana Beach led way to the opening of the Carlsbad Pizza Port in 1997, and then a location in San Clemente shortly after. A bottleshop was added next to the Carlsbad location in 2008. Pizza Port Ocean Beach opened in 2010, and finally, a large, more production-oriented brewpub opened in Bressi Ranch in 2012 complete with a massive canning line. All Pizza Ports are family friendly brewery restaurants, complete with on-site brewed beer as well as beer from other ‘Ports, plus guest taps from around the world.
Their brewing team has earned prestige many times over at the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup. Former brewers such as Tomme Arthur (The Lost Abbey), Jeff Bagby (Bagby Beer Co.) and Yiga Miyashiro (Saint Archer) have moved on from Pizza Port to other successful ventures, and current head brewers Nacho Cervantes (Carlsbad), Devon Randall (Solana Beach), Sean Farrell (Bressi Ranch), Trevor Walls (San Clemente) and Mike Aubuchon (Carlsbad) presently lead brewing operations at their respective locations.
Each Pizza Port location is worthy of the Best Brewpub title on their own, and are considered by many to be the gold standard for a no-nonsense brewery restaurant. Combined they create a formidable family of flavor that serves San Diego-style craft to thirsty folks countywide (and beyond). Bressi Ranch produces competitively-priced six-packs of 16-ounce cans, effectively bringing Pizza Port into the hands of even more beer drinkers.
BEST TASTING ROOM
Bursting out of the mind of Jacob McKean, formerly charged with navigating Stone Brewing Company’s marketing arm, came an idea for a brewery named after a utopian colony in Long Island in 1850. After a wildly successful KickStarter campaign featuring slick branding with off-the-wall quirks, the first batch of beer was brewed mid-2013 and the world was introduced to beers such as Fortunate Islands and Lomaland in cans and on draft.
Indeed, it is Modern Times’ personality that won over our readers when selecting the Best Tasting Room of 2014. The tasting room at the “Lomaland Fermatorium” is an experience in itself; a wall of comic books stands across from a post-it note mural of late performer Michael Jackson and his pet monkey, Bubbles. Modern Times was among the first to allow for blank, non-branded growler fills, also.
In 2014, a North Park satellite tasting room (or Flavordome, in MT’s parlance) was opened on 30th Street in North Park, and created another space that was equally as whimsical (without being campy) and unique (without trying too hard). Floppy disks serve as coasters and create a mural of Yoda, while lamp shades and VHS tapes adorn the ceiling and bar, respectively.
We’ve never seen anything like Modern Times. Unique, bold, and pleasantly strange, a visit to either location is a full sensory experience that’s dripping in creative soul. The beers match the ambiance, bending and blending styles to create something special for San Diego beer drinkers.
BEST BEER RESTAURANT
Having opened a little over a year ago, beer-heavy restaurant Waypoint Public occupies a prominent location on 30th Street. Executive Chef, homebrewer, and former Top Chef contestant Amanda Baumgarten (pictured) brings a blend of classical culinary experience and a homebrewer’s eye for creativity to the kitchen. In our March 2014 issue of West Coaster, Brandon Hernández sat down with Amanda: “I’ve always brewed in restaurant kitchens. I find the close proximity to an industrial ice machine a great help,” says Baumgarten. “I love that beer is a blank canvas. The possibilities are endless when it comes to developing nuances in flavor and texture.”
Offering dishes such as cassoulet, veal osso bucco and fried green tomatoes, the menu is meant to represent the eclectic nature of California, borrowing freely from different cultures. When teamed up with partner Brian Jensen, who curates the draft and bottle selection at Waypoint (and who also owns both Bottlecraft locations), eaters are treated to world-class food and drink in the heart of North Park.
BEST BEER FESTIVAL
SD Brewers Guild Fest
The two day festival that officially launches the ten day San Diego Beer Week festivities is one of only a few official events thrown by the San Diego Brewers Guild. Taking place at the Port Pavilion on Broadway Pier, the location serves for overflow cruise ship parking when the other two piers are being used, and is open to host public events when not.
The Guild Fest is broken up into a VIP Brewer Takeover on the first Friday evening of Beer Week, and a larger San Diego Brewers Guild Festival on the following Saturday. This year, the Friday session hosted 50 breweries, while the Saturday session featured 55. Each festival allows for unlimited tasters of beers from only San Diego County. The VIP Takeover hosts various restaurants that provide unlimited small plates of food, and the Guild Festival has food available for purchase on the large outdoor space at the western end of the pier. Prices for 2014 were $75 and $35 respectively, with an option to buy a 2 day pass for $100.
Proceeds from the two-day event directly benefit the San Diego Brewers Guild, and beer drinkers from all over the world attend. In the land of seemingly perpetual beer festivals, this one stands out above the rest because of its organization, SD-only focus, and unique atmosphere.
BEST BEER BAR
Not surprisingly, this was one of our most contested categories that saw the most variety of votes. Out of all the beer bars in the “Capital of Craft,” Hamilton’s earned the most votes and here’s why: this bar has it all. An outstanding, well curated and maintained draft lineup that spans the gamut of styles alongside solid pub fare and bolstered by an insane schedule of regular & special events in a non-pretentious atmosphere. Whether you’re showing up after work for chicken wings and a pint, or talking loudly with a group of friends over a shuffleboard game on Saturday night, Hamilton’s delivers.
And this is not by mistake. Scot Blair and his wife Karen have poured their collective souls into creating this masterpiece of beer culture on what was once a quiet corner on the southern end of 30th Street. Tap lines are meticulously maintained, cleaned or replaced following the rotation of craft beers from all over. Weekly and monthly events include Firkin Friday, a weekly guest cask beer special, and Second Saturday, a monthly special showcasing established as well as up-and-coming breweries complete with complimentary food. Special events like a Padre’s excursion on a double deckered bus or Disk Golf Tournament (The Fling) are guaranteed to be a blast, as well.
From the minds behind Hamilton’s came Small Bar, then Eleven, then Monkey Paw, and soon, South Park Brewing Company. Each bar has a distinct personality and is worthy of the title, but Hammie’s was where it all started, named in honor of Herman Hamilton, a Montford Point Marine who lived next door to the bar. Although he didn’t drink, he was a frequent patron of the bar and a three decade-plus resident of South Park until his death at the age of 84 in April of 2011. A photo of Herman rests inside, above the entrance.
“I don’t care if you’re gay, straight, black, white, hipster, biker, whatever — you are welcome at our bars. Leave your social group at the door and come be a human being.” — Scot Blair, West Coaster February 2011
BEST TAP ROTATION
With 56 tap handles and more than 35-40 kegs rotating per week, it’s a full time job keeping Toronado’s beer offerings tasting fresh. “If we have a keg and it’s replacing the same style that just blew, we’ll clean the line. If there’s a new style coming on, we’ll replace the line,” says Toronado’s Eric Shelley. Both Eric and owner Ian Black are responsible for tending to the nearly 150 kegs Toronado has in both cold boxes at any given time.
They wouldn’t have it any other way. “It makes a world of difference,” says Ian. “I’d rather be in the cold box than at the bar.” Toronado uses a direct draw draft system, meaning the giant refrigerated room, known as a cold box or walk in, is located only a few feet from the tap handles. “Our lines are anywhere from two to eight feet long,” Eric states. The short draw of beer from keg to tap is important because tap lines are susceptible to contamination. Dirty lines can become gardens for bacteria, yeast and even mold. The longer the line, the greater the chance of contamination and harder the chore of cleaning or replacing. Good beer bars regularly clean their lines, while superior beer bars replace draft lines frequently.
While they are not the only beer bar in town adamant about clean, fresh beer, Toronado makes sure the selection served is appropriate. “Not all beer should be on keg. I’d prefer to have a Belgian style in a bottle than on tap,” says Ian. Toronado’s tap lineup is frequently hop-heavy, as hop aromas and flavors are the most perishable. Similar to having fresh vegetables in your fridge, hoppy beer is best enjoyed quickly and on tap. Between draft and bottle offerings, any beer enjoyed beer at Toro tastes as the brewer intended.
Born and raised in Colorado Springs, Ken Schmidt’s first batch of homebrew was in 1966 using a can of malt extract to create a Pale Ale. “Blue Ribbon Malt Extract with hop flavor was the only ingredient you could get at a grocery store,” Ken recalls. At the time, homebrewing was illegal and would remain so for another 12 years; there were no books, homebrew supply stores, or groups. “It turned out to be such a terrible beer. I didn’t try again for several years.”
An avid fisher and diver, Ken came to San Diego in 1970 to pursue a career in marine biology. “I love liquid and bubbles, so homebrewing makes sense.” Combine that with a passion for the Hawaiian Islands, and the Aloha Plenty series was born. Beers include Pele’s Breath, a spicy German wheat, and Aloha Plenty, which was the winner of Stone’s annual homebrewing competition in 2009. Winners of the competition get to team up with a professional brewer of their choice to brew along with Stone’s Mitch Steele and crew. The resulting beer is entered in the ProAm competition at the Great American Beer Festival. For Aloha Plenty, Ken chose Garrett Marrero of Maui Brewing Co. and the trio completed the Kona coffee and macadamia nut porter.
Ken won Stone’s competition again in 2012 with his Pillow Mint at the Ritz Chocolate Imperial Stout. This time, he chose Brandon Sieminski of Vista’s Iron Fist Brewing Co. as the guest professional brewer. “The Iron Fist family does a great job of getting fine beers out,” he said. Fast forward to 2014, and Ken collaborated with Brandon again, recreating Aloha Plenty and Pillow Mint at Iron Fist. Those two beers, along with a few others from his series, saw a limited bottle and draft release at a Hawaiian-themed party at Iron Fist in late September.
Bottlecraft Little Italy
Since 2010, Bottlecraft has been operating as an embassy of craft beer in Little Italy. A selection that’s 700+ beers strong is impressive, but what makes Bottlecraft stand apart is its unique liquor license which allows beers to be consumed on-site. Combine that with the clean, no-nonsense aesthetics that permeate the brand and store philosophy, and you have a space that sponsors the best elements of beer drinking.
“The best part is seeing strangers become friends over a bottle of beer. Random people will sit next to each other with their own bottles and then spark up conversations,” says Brian Jensen, the French Culinary Institute & Point Loma Nazarene graduate and owner of Bottlecraft. The hybrid tasting room / beer shop creates the perfect environment for impromptu bottle shares. Taster flights are offered daily and organized by various themes (Belgians, IPAs, East Coast vs. West Coast, etc.), and homebrew tasting and brewery-specific tastings led by members of the beer community are frequent.
In early December 2014, Bottlecraft moved from its original location to a new one, a block North. “A new landlord took over our old building and I wanted to make sure we could operate here in Little Italy indefinitely,” Jensen tells West Coaster. “This neighborhood keeps getting better,” he says, eyeing Ballast Point’s Little Italy brewpub, located catty-corner. Better indeed, as the new Bottlecraft now has a patio and 24-tap draft system to accompany the bottle sales and merchandise. “What we have now is a more custom fit space for Bottlecraft.” The Best Bottleshop of 2014 just got better.
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