From the Beer Writer: I can be a tough judge of a brewery’s character and wares, but from the first time I visited El Cajon’s Burning Beard Brewing, I’ve been nothing but impressed with their ethos, environs and the liquid fruits of its brew crew’s labor. All of it melds and works together to deliver a concept that, while rather varied, remains easy to fall into, grasp and enjoy. It would seem others agree. In its first year in business, “The Beard” has become the darling of not only beer fans, but members of the local brewing community. This is particularly impressive given its East County location, far from the glitz of North Park and the brewery-dense Beeramar and Hop Highway communities. There are many contributing factors for that, but as it should be, the primary reason for Burning Beard’s popularity is its beers. This weekend’s first-anniversary festivities will feature bottles of one of those ales in oak-matured form: Burning Beard Barrel-Aged Panic at the Monastery. A 12.5% alcohol-by-volume, Belgian-style quad given extra character and booziness after time spent in bourbon whiskey barrels, it will be available to attendees at this sold-out affair. Don’t have tickets? Don’t panic! You still have a chance to get this low-yield, big-flavor rarity. Around 100 bottles will be held back to sell to the general public when The Beard’s doors open on Saturday, April 8.
From the Brewers: “Best served at 53 degrees, this unblended bourbon barrel-aged Belgian dark strong ale layers toasty, caramel and honey notes with the fruit and spice of Belgian yeast. The yeast imparts a subtle earthiness—an almost tobacco-like spice—just beneath hints of fig, dark plum and black currant, while the Woodford Reserve oak barrels elevate the dark-fruit character of the beer, adding a touch of cinnamon, cocoa, vanilla and just a bit of heat. It fits into our perona because Panic is dark, mysterious and strong like the Beard, and also because the Belgian quad fills in part of the other side of the beer-spectrum for us. We opened the doors highlighting our Normcore Pilsner and, one year later, we will celebrate by cracking open the beer on the other side of the mirror, Panic at the Monastery.”—Jeff Wiederkehr, Head Brewer & Co-Founder, Burning Beard Brewing Company
From the Beer Writer: For me, one of the most fun, non-alcohol-related aspects of beer-culture is how the taste, or even the mere mention of a beer can transport me to a specific moment. When I first heard that Coronado Brewing Company was releasing bottles of a whiskey barrel-aged version of a stout originally brewed for Bottlecraft’s 3rd Anniversary, I instantly remembered the first time I tasted it. I was at Embarcadero Marina Park North for a beer festival. As often happens at such affairs, I had the pleasure of conversing with numerous industry friends and colleagues. A number of those individuals referenced a beer crafted to taste like a popular dessert, German chocolate cake, lauding it as a “must-try”. When I finally came across the beer at Coronado’s tent, I eagerly consumed my sample. Fortified with chocolate malt and toasted coconut, it did right by its namesake. So I was glad to see it resurface with a touch of spirits-soaked oakiness added to the equation along with bold vanilla-character that enhances this beer’s likeness to its edible inspiration. Like its predecessor, Coronado Barrel-Aged German Chocolate Cake does not disappoint. But one has to take it quite a bit easier with this version, as it chimes in at 9% alcohol-by-volume, lest they find themselves unable to remember the first time they tasted it due to the brain-erasing power of imperial beer.
From the Brewer: “The original German Chocolate Cake was a beer that we had brewed a few years ago. I liked the beer, but this time around, while preparing to create a barrel-aged version, I wanted to make the beer with a much fuller body. I mashed the beer at 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and we only brewed 20 barrels in a 30-barrel batch, so I only collected the strong wort runnings. After fermentation, I added 200 pounds of coconut that our head-chef, Kasey Chapman, hand-toasted at our original Coronado Island brewpub. I also added 100 pounds of cacao nibs before blending with beer that had been aged in whiskey barrels we procured from Smooth Ambler Spirits in West Virginia.”—Ryan Brooks, Brewmaster, Coronado Brewing Company
From the Beer Writer: From the moment the owners of the Urge Gastropub family of hospitality venues conceived their foray into the brewing business, a barrel-aging program was a key component. Even before their eventual Mason Ale Works was serving beer from its sister-restaurants’ taps, it was siphoning hearty ales into spirit-soaked oak. They dubbed this slice of the business Mason Snaleworks in light of the extended time it takes for beer to mature and take on wood-borne character. After eight months of patience on the Mason crew’s part, the first bottled Snaleworks release, Mason Second Son, is now available in wax-dipped, 22-ounce bottles throughout Southern California. Labeled simply as an “American strong ale”, it’s a blend of imperial stout and barleywine that pours nearly black and lets off a bold, billowing bouquet rife with scents of sawdust and whiskey extracted from 12-year-old Elijah Craig barrels. Alcohol is big on the nose, but much more subtle in the palate; no small feat considering this monster registers a whopping 14% on the alcohol-by-volume scale. Despite its brute strength, it drinks rather smoothly, cohesively presenting flavors of dark chocolate and coffee with a ton of vanilla and a hint of anise that comes out once the beer reaches room-temperature. It’s a great first-effort that elicits excitement over future barrel-aged offerings from Mason, which will soon have a lot more barrels and space to work with when it moves its primary brewing and aging operations to San Marcos’ Urge Common House venue early next year.
From the Brewer: “First of all, we are pleased as punch with ourselves for the release of our first barrel-aged, Mason Snaleworks release. Second Son was a name we had been throwing around for quite some time, mostly for the enjoyment of the way it sounded and how we associated it with ourselves, personally. Having been born in this particular order in my family, as was Mason co-founder Grant Tondro, I am very aware of the stigma that comes with being a giant pain in the ass and an embarrassment to the family. Our second barrel-aged beer somehow escaped the blemishes often staining the second-born. A barleywine and imperial stout aged in eight bourbon barrels for eight months, blend together so perfectly. It’s rare to see such a complex barrel-aged beer that is so approachable. Rich chocolate, toffee and bourbon notes in the nose finish with soft caramel, toast and slight roast from the coffee. Take heart, at 14% ABV, this sneaky little bugger can drive you to dangerous levels of insanity, but you will fall fast in love with the ferocity with which this child opens its heart.”—Jason De La Torre, Head Brewer, Mason Ale Works
In its short life-span, the only brewmaster Mason Ale Works has ever known has been Mike Rodriguez. A veteran brewer with years of experience at Boulevard Brewing and Port Brewing Company/The Lost Abbey, Rodriguez was a logical choice to get Mason (the in-house brewing arm of the 3LB Restaurant Concepts family of venues that includes both Urge Gastropubs and Brothers Provisions) constructed, operational and churning out beer both for distribution and barrel-aging. Today, 3LB announced that Rodriguez has resigned to pursue a new brewery project in Santa Cruz, California.
In hiring someone to replace Rodriguez, Mason Ale Works’ owners have taken a rather familiar route, hiring another former head brewer from Port/The Lost Abbey, Matt Webster, to be its new director of brewery operations. Webster will head all brewing at 3LB’s upcoming Urge Common House, a 21,000-square-foot venue in San Marcos’ North City development that will include a 15-barrel brewhouse. He will also oversee brewing operations at the original Oceanside brewery within Urge Gastropub and Whiskey Bank. Day-to-day brewing in Oceanside will be the responsibility of Jason De La Torre, who has been promoted from within to the role of head brewer.
Mason Ale Works debuted its beers in late 2015 and has since secured Southern California distribution of its kegged and canned products via Stone Distributing. Much of the decision to expand brewing and cellaring capabilities via the Common House location was to keep up with demand while providing the ability to expand distribution sooner than later.