This column appears on page 8 of the May 2012 issue, downloadable here.
This year Starting today the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) is taking place in San Diego, and along with it comes the World Beer Cup, an event presented by the Brewers Association that takes place every other year at the CBC to recognize the best beers in the world. It is considered by many to be the most prestigious beer competition in the world because of the sheer number of entries, with nearly 4,000 this year. San Diego breweries are no stranger to World Beer Cup awards; Ballast Point and Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey have both won the Champion Brewery and Brewer Award in the Small Brewing Company Category (along with Oggi’s San Clemente when it was headed by O’Brien’s Tom Nickel), and in 2010 alone AleSmith, Ballast Point, Karl Strauss, Alpine Beer Co., Pizza Port and Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey all took home awards for their beers. Looking over that 2010 winners list, there are also a number of award-winners from outside of San Diego that are readily available to us here.
Paso Robles’ Firestone Walker has seen quite a bit of success at the World Beer Cup, winning the Champion Brewery and Brewer Award in the Mid-Size Brewing Company Category in 2004, 2006 and 2010. In addition to this award, in 2010 they also went home with medals for their Hefeweizen, Pale 31, Extra Pale Ale, P.L. IPA, Mission St. Pale Ale (sold under the Steinhaus Brewing Co. label at Trader Joe’s stores) and my personal favorite, Velvet Merkin, a roasty oatmeal stout which is now released in wide distribution as a fall/winter seasonal named Velvet Merlin. The Velvet Merkin name is reserved for the 100% barrel-aged version available only at the brewery. Remarkably, Firestone Walker took both Gold and Bronze medals in the ultra-competitive American-Style Pale Ale category with Pale 31 and Mission St. Pale Ale.
The Silver medal winner in the American-Style Pale Ale category can also be found in these parts. Drake’s 1500 by Drake’s Brewing, a Simcoe and Centennial-hopped 5.5% ABV Pale Ale, has plenty of pine and citrus flavors and aroma, but the lower alcohol level makes it easy to drink without falling down. Editor’s note: Drake’s and Triple Rock Night is this Friday at Small Bar.
The beers from Cooperstown, New York’s Ommegang are also easily found in San Diego, including two of the three 2010 medal-winners: Ommegang Abbey, a ruby-colored Belgian-style Dubbel with plum, raisin and fig flavors, and Ommegang Witte, an easy-drinking Belgian-style wheat beer. Ommegang also took home a silver medal for Bière De Mars, their take on a the French bière de garde style which is bottle conditioned with Brettanomyces bruxellensis. Bière De Mars isn’t easy to find in San Diego, but bottles can still be discovered from time to time. Editor’s note: Ommegang is part of a “tap takeover” with Stone and Cismontane tonight at Slater’s 50/50.
We get a lot of great Belgian and Belgian-style sour beers here in San Diego, so it can be easy to look past some of the more readily available beers in search of those that are more hard to come by. I’ll admit that I take Rodenbach for granted. Rodenbach, Rodenbach Grand Cru and Rodenbach Vintage are all so findable that I foolishly look past them because they can be found at nearly any beer store with a halfway decent selection. I was reminded of just how good we have it when a visiting brewer friend from Texas was shocked that the ordinary corner store that obviously didn’t put too much thought into their beer selection stocked both Grand Cru and Vintage. He told me beers from Rodenbach weren’t available at all in the state of Texas. In 2010, Rodenbach won a Silver medal in the Wood-and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer category for Rodenbach Vintage. Editor’s note: Meet Rodenbach Master Brewer Rudi Ghequire tonight at URGE American Gastropub or Friday night at Sessions Public.
Across the pond (remember, this is the World Beer Cup), Scotland’s BrewDog received a Gold medal in the Imperial India Pale Ale category for their Hardcore IPA, a 9.2% ABV, 150 IBU hop bomb which BrewDog claims has “more hops and bitterness that any other beer brewed in the UK.”
Our neighbors to the north in Canada took home seven total medals at the 2010 WBC, two of which went to Quebec’s Unibroue, a Bronze for sweet and tart Granny Smith apple-resembling Ephémère Apple in the Fruit Beer or Field Beer Category, and a Bronze in the Belgian-Style Pale Strong Ale category for Fin du Monde, a 9% ABV Golden Ale reminiscent of Belgian Tripels. Both can be found at better beer stores and even some grocery stores in San Diego, often at prices that won’t break the bank.
Back in the United States Portland Maine’s Allagash took home two medals, including a Gold in the Belgian-Style Witbier category for their flagship Allagash White, one of the craft beer juggernaut’s that seems to need to description.
Up in Oregon, the second most award-winning state after California, Full Sail Session Black won a Gold medal in the Dark Lager category. Packaged in recognizable stubby 11oz bottles, this dark lager is easy to drink with just a hint of roastiness. Equally as dark as Session Black, Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout from Mendecino’s Anderson Valley won Bronze in the Oatmeal Stout category. This smooth and roasty stout is a mainstay in San Diego bottle shops, which recently started showing up in cans as well as bottles.
One of the funny things about beer competitions is that the judges can love a beer one year, and not recognize it the next time around. Luckily, all of these award winners are obtainable in local bottle shops so you can try them for yourself. And, come May 5 when the 2012 World Beer Cup awards are announced, there will be a whole new set of winners, and with the amount of great beer we attract in San Diego, chances are a number of those beers will be available here as well.
This article appears on page 12 of the February 2011 issue.
STEAM BEER WAS BORN — A look at the past and present of a uniquely Californian beer style
I have a couple of posters up in my apartment, both depicting scenes from 19th century San Francisco. The first is from 1843 and shows several sailing ships anchored in the bay and on the shore stands a scattering of rustic buildings. These buildings make up the town of Yerba Buena, which was renamed “San Francisco” in 1847. Only a year after that, gold was discovered in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and thousands of “49ers” embarked on the long and treacherous journey from the east to the gold mines. Along with their hunger for fortune, they brought a thirst for beer.
The second painting dates from 1876, showing a view of San Francisco from Telegraph Hill. The transformation over this period of time is incredible; what was once a small trading and fishing town became the gateway of California. The surge in population brought with it brewers eager to satisfy the demand for beer. These brewers adapted European brewing traditions to fit local ingredients and process constraints. Previously confined to its native home of Bavaria, lager brewing was quickly spreading by the mid-1800s. The golden Pilsner, which originated in Bohemia, was beginning its march across the world, destined to evolve into the dominant style of beer in nearly every part of the globe. Local brewers brought with them the new lager yeast but lacked ice or refrigeration in order to cool the fermenting beer to its typical 45-50 degrees. Lagering the beer at near freezing temperatures was out of the question for the same reasons. What brewers did have in San Francisco was the naturally cool and foggy weather, which allowed them to ferment their beer at slightly cooler temperatures than was typical for ale brewers. Steam beer was born.
Those two posters I have are from Anchor Brewing Company. Anchor is the only surviving steam beer brewery from the 1800s, and despite the brewing renaissance of recent decades, remains one of the only breweries in the world to regularly produce the style. They ferment their steam beer from a wort made of North American 2-row pale malt, caramel malt, and Northern Brewer hops. Their yeast strain is a special type of lager yeast that has adapted to fermenting at typically warmer ale fermentation temperatures in open, pan-like fermentors that are 12-18 inches deep. Fermentation temperature is regulated only by the ambient room temperature of 61 degrees, and the large surface-area-to-volume ratio of the fermenting beer. Anchor Steam Beer is a dry, malty, and bitter beer of moderate alcohol content that has a distinct woody and spicy hop flavor and a unique fruitiness from the warm lager fermentation. It’s also the only beer that you will see actually labeled “Steam” because Anchor hold a trademark for the name. Nowadays beer brewed in the steam style will be labeled something like “California Common” or “Common Lager.”
There are some descriptions of Steam beer from before prohibition, but because Anchor is the only brewery that survived into the modern era, our understanding of the style is greatly influenced by Fritz Maytag’s vision for it once he bought the struggling brewery in 1965. Before then, the beer was brewed with adjuncts such as corn grits or sugar syrups, and a dark version was brewed with caramel coloring. It was a cheap and inconsistent beer that was often infected, too. Older sources tell us that the style was krausened in casks to a very high level of carbonation and had to be vented before serving to release the immense levels of pressure. The beer would still pour very foamy into the glass and is likened to trying to pour a glass of steam. This is one possible source of the steam beer name, though it has also been said that it comes from the sight of steam rising from the wort as it cooled in shallow coolships in the attics of the local breweries. The boiling wort would be pumped up into these shallow metal pans to allow the cool San Francisco breeze to do its thing and bring the wort down to fermentation temperatures.
Brewers in San Diego have taken a few cracks at the style but it remains mostly unknown as of late. Two versions called San Diego Brewers Guild UnCommon Lager have been brewed for purchase by Guild Allied Members and for pouring at various San Diego beer festivals, including the Guild Fest. The first of these beers was brewed in 2007 at Karl Strauss in Carlsbad with brewer Matt Walsh, and the second was brewed at Alpine Beer Co. with owner Pat McIlhenney and Chuck Silva from Green Flash in 2009. Colby Chandler from Ballast Point/Home Brew Mart had a hand in both beers and is a fan of the style. “I like it,” he said. “We brew clean and crisp beers in San Diego County. The ‘Steam’ yeast strain, a lager yeast fermented at 60 degrees, is great for achieving a clean and crisp beer.” Those beers deviated from the Anchor model because they were brewed with a myriad of hop varieties donated by Guild Brewery Members, but used the White Labs-provided San Francisco Lager yeast strain, which is the same type that Anchor uses. Hop Union also donated choice Cascade hops for dry hopping, while Brewers Supply Group came through with the necessary malt.
For homebrewers who don’t have temperature control allowing them to brew normal lagers, the White Labs 810 San Francisco Lager strain is perfect during this time of year. “In the middle of this frigid, skin chilling San Diego winter you can usually find a five day stretch that averages 60 degrees. Perfect temperature for home brewing a California Common,” said Chandler. “Let’s hope a version of the San Diego Brewers Guild UnCommon Lager could make a come back for the 2012 Craft Brewers Conference and World Beer Cup being held in Mission Valley?” I’ll throw in my request for another version as well. Steam beer is one of America’s few unique beer styles, and something that I hope we’ll see more of in the future.
See the full spread in our February 2012 issue. Here we predict who is going to make news in 2012. An eclectic collection, the twelve mentioned in this feature are united in their involvement in the local beer community. This list includes a bustling commercial district; a vegan beer pairing troupe that fundraises for charities; an enterprising publishing company; a portfolio of righteous beer bars (plus a brewpub); an outstanding yeast laboratory; a brewhouse equipment manufacturer; a feature film focusing on SD beer; the prestigious World Beer Cup; and several brewing companies poised to offer something unique to our city. Created as a reference point, we’ll reflect back on these selections throughout the year. For now, the 12 in ‘12 is a snapshot of our county’s beer industry as of January 2012, with a focus on a huge year ahead.
Why you should watch: Back when Stone announced their plans for a Liberty Station brewpub in May of 2011, Slater’s 50/50 and SOL Markets weren’t even on our radar. Who knows what else will pop up over the coming year in the developing district, which also houses Oggi’s Pizza, Sammy’s Pizza and Tender Greens locations.
Coming up: SOL — standing for “seasonal, organic, local” — Markets is currently under construction. 24 taps (correction: 12 taps) and cooking classes are just the tip of the iceberg. They hope to have their doors open by April 1st.
Fun fact: When Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station opens (estimated late Spring 2012), they’ll share Slater’s 50/50 current parking lot. The ACE hardware next door should be so lucky.
Why you should watch: Founders Derek Humbard and Kory Stetina dedicate themselves to putting together creative vegan cuisine and craft beer events that support local charities, including SD Animal Rescue and the SD Chapter of Engineers Without Borders. All four of their 2011 events were well-attended and highly-praised, with the donation amount per night often reaching their goal of $1,200-$2,000.
Coming up: A Valentine’s Day multi-course vegan dessert and beer pairing at Tiger!Tiger! Tavern benefiting Jeans4Justice, a local non-profit geared to ending sexual violence.
Fun fact: LOVELIKEBEER’s San Diego Beer Week event at Sea Rocket Bistro also showcased vegan beers by a vegan brewer, Ron Jeffries of Dexter, Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales. All those photos @ facebook.com/westcoastersd
Why you should watch: The book San Diego’s Top Brewers, which mixes brewery stories with pairing recipes, has been a hit in the local beer industry since its November release, and a new beer cookbook is already in the works. President & CEO Bruce Glassman says the company is shooting for a San Diego Beer Week 2012 release of the new project which will feature more local brewers, chefs, personalities and establishments than before.
Coming up: Chefs Press will begin shooting images for the book in February, and we plan on tagging along for some new web content.
Fun fact: On the Top Brewers website there are nearly twenty “Have a Beer with the Brewer” videos you can watch.
The Blair Empire
Why you should watch: Scot and Karen Blair opened some of San Diego’s most beloved pubs– Hamilton’s Tavern, Small Bar, Bar Eleven, and Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery – in under ten years. Beers from their newest venture, Monkey Paw, have started popping up at various locations around town.
Coming up: “Second Saturday” featuring Karl Strauss at Hamilton’s. If you haven’t been to a Second Saturday event, you’re missing out. 17 Karl draught beers and two “dueling” casks complement complimentary Cajun food on February 11th.
Fun fact: It is highly appropriate to refer to the couple as “Blairen” when you see them together.
Coronado Brewing Co.
Why you should watch: Coronado’s beers make it to several countries outside the US, including Japan and England. Stateside, the company has a new national sales director, Jeff Hansson, who has brought the brewery he was planning with friend Anthony Levas under the Coronado Brewing Company umbrella. “Tusk & Grain Brewing Co.” will begin with Stone Distribution in mid-2012, and Coronado is currently interviewing candidates to launch the new brand.
Coming up: A new brewery/tasting room just east of Fiesta Island, scheduled to open in the spring, is expected to double production to 15,000 barrels by the end of 2012. Long-term capacity at the new brewery will be 60,000 barrels.
Fun fact: Director of Brewing Operations Sean DeWitt has spent the past seven years as the San Diego Brewers Guild Vice President, and will take over Marty Mendiola’s role as President for a one-year term beginning in summer, 2012.
Why you should watch: The local yeast production company has settled in to their newer, bigger facility off the I-15 at Miramar Road, and business is booming. Their educational program is in constant development, with an all-day seminar on yeast essentials for homebrewers and local pros set for March 24th.
Coming up: An experimental tasting room featuring beers brewed on-site. Some day’s beers will share the same ingredients except for the yeast, while other days showing the impact of varying fermentation temperatures as the theme.
Fun fact: Last year, Mayor Jerry Sanders declared June 15th White Labs Day in San Diego, the day before the start of the National Homebrewers Conference in Mission Valley.
Julian Brewing Company
Why you should watch: Vince Marsaglia, owner of Pizza Port and Tom Nickel, owner of O’Brien’s, teamed up to revamp the Bailey BBQ property in Julian. Marsaglia is handling the BBQ side of the operation, while Nickel’s creative ideas for the brewery include an active guest brewer program.
Coming up: A grand opening party with live music and dancing once a few house-brewed beers line the taps. The first three are Bailey Pale Ale, which will be brewed with locally grown hops from Star B Ranch in Santa Ysabel, an American stout collaboration with Marsaglia that will be dispensed on nitrogen, and something hoppy in the IPA range. More details on that event when it hits our inboxes.
Fun fact: Nickel has some New Zealand hops that he wants to do single varietal beers with, and this summer he’ll craft some smoked beers with house-smoked malt in the wood pit smoker.
Premier Stainless Systems
Why you should watch: President Rob Soltys has been in the beer business for more than 20 years, and the Escondido-based company he founded in 2000 pushes out an average of one brewhouse per week, ranging from 3 to 30 barrels. Forecasts for growth in 2012 look good, with Premier’s impressive international client list making for a solid reputation in the industry. Local breweries with full systems by Premier Stainless include AleSmith Brewing Company, Iron Fist Brewing Co., Mission Brewery, El Cajon Brewing Company, Mother Earth Brew Co., as well as Pizza Port Solana Beach, Ocean Beach and San Clemente.
Coming up: Premier Stainless will build the brewing systems for Rampage Brewing, scheduled to open in San Diego before May, Coronado Brewing Co.’s upcoming expansion off Morena Boulevard, and Temecula’s under-construction Ironfire Brewing Company, led by former Ballast Point brewers John Maino and Gregory Webb.
Fun fact: Soltys helped build the first brewery system at Pizza Port Solana Beach and plans on wearing the original T-shirt to the party celebrating the 20th anniversary of beers first being served in 1992.
Why you should watch: The Carlsbad and Ocean Beach brewpubs are riding a wave of success after 2011 Great American Beer Festival Brewpub of the Year awards, and two key staff members in director of brewing operations Jeff Bagby and San Clemente head brewer Noah Regnery have recently moved on to other ventures.
Coming up: Pizza Port is looking to break ground on a two-story fifth location in Carlsbad around April 1st. The facility will house a canning line and brewery-restaurant, acting as a hub for production, distribution and employee training.
Fun fact: Live cams on the Pizza Port website show you what’s currently on tap at each location.
Societe Brewing Company
Why you should watch: Societe’s brewers are Travis Smith and Doug Constantiner, who both hail from the deliciously creative, Orange County-based brewery, The Bruery. Before that, Smith was brewing for Russian River. During a short stint at La Jolla Brew House in 2010, West Coaster staff got to try a few of Smith’s beers and they were outstanding. Smith and Constantiner plan to be unique from other San Diego breweries by focusing on sour beers.
Coming up: The opening of Societe will take place in the spring. The soon-to-be Kearny Mesa brewery just finished laying down their floor late in January 2012.
Fun fact: The guys at Societe recognize the importance of updating beer fans on the brewery’s progress, and are active on their blog, Twitter, and Facebook pages.
Suds County, USA
Why you should watch: Well, it’s a film about San Diego beer, to start, and director/producer Sheldon Kaplan has been hard at work for the last few years piecing together the most comprehensive look at local beer history to date.
Coming up: The film’s release. Kaplan is planning to premiere the film during the Craft Brewers Conference in May, followed by screenings at local breweries.
Fun fact: The narration for the film is being performed by Kevin Murphy, best known as the voice and puppeteer of Tom Servo on the comedy series Mystery Science Theater 3000.
World Beer Cup and Craft Brewers Conference
Why you should watch: The World Beer Cup, a highly-prestigious international beer competition held every two years since 1996, returns to sunny San Diego for the third time (2004, 2008) this May. Entries to this year’s World Beer Cup from outside the U.S. increased by 28 percent over 2010, making up 32 percent of the close to 4,000 total entries. The judging and awards dinner book-end the Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo Trade Show, a huge draw for brewers from all over the world. Unfortunately, these are not open to the public, but there will be a plethora of beer events going on around town.
Coming up: Local brewers will be pulling out all the stops to brew great beers to enter at the World Beer Cup, and we’ll track down some of their brew days for web content.
Fun fact: San Diego brewers won 21 medals at the 2010 World Beer Cup in Chicago, and Ballast Point took home the Champion Brewery and Brewmaster award in the small brewing company category.