I returned to the US at the beginning of July after a month of visiting family and working on brewing related matters in Cape Town, South Africa. The visit left me inspired to explore different interpretations of craft beer – specifically US West Coast interpretations. My longing for such exploration was met with liquid salvation from world renowned San Diego County craft brewers when I spent the 4th of July weekend based in Carlsbad, California for a family reunion.
Carlsbad is a smallish Southern California seaside village situated at the north end of San Diego County. I actually lived there and in neighboring Oceanside as a kid in the mid- to late-seventies. My memories here are dominated by highlights of queuing for hours for the release of the original Star Wars in 1977, John Trovalta, Olivia Newton John, Grease, Saturday Night Fever, The Bee Gees, Kiss, Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Disco Inferno, The Village People, ABBA, ocean smells, and lagoons, to name a few. Little did I know Carlsbad would become home to Pizza Port, an award winning brew pub made famous by brew master extraordinaire, Tomme Aurthur.
I was last at Pizza Port well over 10 years ago at another family reunion, so I was super psyched to be staying a few minutes’ walk from it at the Surfer Motel. After settling into our room, we strolled over and were unpleasantly surprised that it was closed – WTF, on a Wednesday?! Anyway, one misfortune opened the door for a pleasant surprise just down the street at 83
83 Degrees hosts nearly 50 quality draught beers from San Diego County brewers and beyond. Playing things a bit out of order due to pure excitement, I started off with a Sculpin IPA from Ballast Point Brewing Co. For those not familiar with this brew, it is one of the highest rated IPAs on the planet – who knows, maybe even in the universe?!
It has a huge fruity, piney hop aroma and taste with a dry and balanced bitter finish. Next up in counter clockwise fashion was the Hop Odyssey Citra Session Ale from Green Flash Brewing Co. It had the typical inviting Citra aroma, sort of like an IPA-Light, the mouthfeel was thin with grassy hop character and a firm bitterness. At 5% ABV, one can certainly chug a lot it.
The next day we set out first for Lost Abbey/Port Brewing Co. in San Marcos. Lost Abbey/Port Brewing Co. was co-founded in 2006 by Tomme Arthur I gather after leaving Pizza Port as its director of brewing operations. Apparently Stone Brewing Co. was moving to bigger premises in nearby Escondido and this opened the door for the owners of Pizza Port and Tomme Arthur when they took over Stone’s old facility.
The Port Brewing brand handles more of the traditional US hop-forward beers, while the Lost Abbey brand handles Belgian-inspired, barrel-aged, and specialty beers. The lineup of beers on both sides of the chalkboard was pretty extensive. 3oz (90ml) tasters were $1 each, so I quickly lined up six – wow, eyes definitely bigger than my liver!
I tried Road to Helles (helles lager), SPA (summer pale ale with a heavy hand of Amarillo hops), Mel Dorado (an Eldorado single hop pale ale), Avant Garde (a 7% bier de gard), Red Barn (a 6.8% spiced saison), and Judgment Day (a 10.5% Belgian quad). All of the beers were solid, but as this was the first stop of four breweries that day, I needed to pace myself and sadly wasn’t able to really drink as much of each sample as I wanted.
The bonus of this visit is that I was fortunate to buy bottles of three special beers from Lost Abbey – Cuvee de Tomme, Deliverance, and Angle’s Share. Apparently Cuvee de Tomme is only available for very limited times of the year. I’m looking forward to drinking these beers this winter! Here are descriptions of each of these beers from the brewery:
"Cuvee de Tomme: A massive brown ale base that is made from four fermentable sugars including Malted Barley, Raisins, Candi Sugar and Sour Cherries, this beer is fully fermented before being placed in Bourbon barrels where the beer ages for one year with the Sour Cherries and the wild Brettanomyces yeast that we inoculate the barrels with. One of the most complex and unique beers we make each year. ABV: 11.0%.”
Ablend of bourbon barrel-aged Serpent’s Stout and brandy barrel-aged Angels Share, Deliverance is the epic battle being waged between heaven and hell for the souls of mortal men… and your enjoyment in a glass. ABV: 12.5%.”
“Angle’s Share: This striking Strong Ale is brewed with copious amounts of Caramel malt to emphasize the vanilla and oak flavors found in freshly emptied bourbon or brandy barrels. The beer spends a year in oak before it is packaged for release. ABV: 12.5%.”
All in all, the Port Brewing/Lost Abbey brewery has a fun, rough-around-the-edges, laid back atmosphere where patrons can enjoy their great beers.
Next we were off to AleSmith in Mira Mesa. AleSmith, as well as many of the other craft breweries in the area, is situated in a warehouse business district that is reminiscent of perhaps a place where you go to buy tile for your latest DIY project. But behind the tilt-up concrete panel façade, lies home to a world class brewery. The Ale Smith tasting room has a more refined ambience compared to Port Brewing’s, albeit a bit smaller. It’s quite amazing that
such a small tasting room can house such big beers!
Not wasting any time, I lined up their ESB (5.5% English version), IPA (7% West Coast style), Yule Smith – Summer (9.5% double IPA), Grand Cru (10.5% Belgian strong dark), Wee Heavy (10.0% Scotch ale), Speedway Stout (12.5% imperial stout) and proceeded to further my midday buzz.
Although AleSmith’s flagship beer is their ESB, I believe they are best known for their IPA and Speedway Stout. Their IPA consistently is rated as one of the top IPAs around the globe, and is incredibly balanced at 7% ABV. While the hop character has a bit of new school flair with Simcoe and Amarillo in the mix, the firm malt backbone sets AleSmith apart from a lot of new school IPAs where malt is used primarily as a vehicle to deliver hops (for the record, I love both approaches). The Speedway Stout is a coffee infused beast of a stout. This is definitely not a session beer! This beer fresh at the brewery is very aggressive with strong alcohol, but will undoubtedly age extremely well. Well aged versions offer a much more rounded mouthfeel where the complexities of the coffee, chocolate, roast, and caramel notes become sublime. I have one of these babies in my “cellar” waiting to be drank on a cold winters’ day hanging out by the fire!
This was the first time I had had their Grand Cru and Wee Heavy. Both of these beers have an incredible, full bodied mouthfeel that somehow comes off dry and leaves me wanting to drink a pint of a 10% beer. I would love to have taken a bottle of each of these beers back with me, but I went for the Wee Heavy as it’s not a style that gets a lot of representation in my neck of the woods.
After enjoying the exceptional beers at AleSmith, we headed off for Ballast Point a short drive away on the east side of I-15. Of the five breweries visited on our beer tour, Ballast Point was second only to Stone in terms of production. Aside from Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA and Calico Amber Ale, I wasn’t familiar with any of their other beers. So I was quite surprised to see 25 or so tap handles and even a couple cask-fed goose necks. So many beers, so little liver!
I got samples of the Longfin Lager (5% helles lager), Calico Amber Ale (5.5% West Coast version), Big Eye IPA (7% West Coast style), Sculpin IPA, Dorado Double IPA (10% imperial IPA), and Indra Kunindra (7% export stout with spices).
Calico Amber Ale is one of my favorite ambers alongside Bear Republic’s Red Rocket. It has loads of crystal malt character but tons of US hops to cut through it and balance it out. The Big Eye is a full bodied, resinous IPA. I quite prefer the Sculpin with its complex, new school hop nose and bitter dry finish (this beer finishes at 1.008!), and apparently a lot of other folks do too with its well deserved fame. The Dorado Double IPA felt more like an imperial IPA at 10% with a lot of noticeable alcohol alongside some incredible hop character. The Indra Kunindra was a different take on spiced beers using curry, cumin, cayenne, toasted coconut, and kaffir lime. While it certainly was a sensory explosion, it wasn’t my cup of tea, or beer that is. It might have left a different impression if the stout had a solid, dextrinous body to balance out the hot, sharp spices. Nonetheless, the idea of this beer showcases Ballast Point’s mission to experiment and break craft beer boundaries.
Our next stop only resulted from the advice of a San Diego County resident and beer enthusiast Tim Taylor (@timtaylor22); otherwise I would have missed this gem – Societe Brewing Co. Societe, located in Kearny Mesa, has only been open for one year, but is already making waves in the San Diego County craft beer scene.
Societe was founded by Travis Smith and Doug Constantiner. Travis brewed for Russian River and lastly The Bruery, where he met Doug. Not surprising from the caliber of beers produced at their former employers’ breweries, they are now brewing super solid beers of their own. They have a new 20bbl brew house in a large warehouse – complete with a huge barrel room and tasting room – that is perfect for the multiple expansions that will surely take place in the near future. They currently only serve draught and have a bustling growler business rolling.
Their current lineup comprises a pale ale, IPAs, Belgians, and an imperial stout, but barrel-aged, and funk beers are busy maturing. I sampled The Pupil (7.5% West Coast IPA), The Apprentice (7.5% West Coast IPA), The Harlot (6% Belgian “Extra”), The Debutante (6.9% Belgian “Amber”), The Widow (9.2% Belgian Strong Dark), and The Butcher (9.8% Imperial Stout).
I have to admit that at this point in the day, I was suffering from a bit of hop-induced pallet fatigue. This was very unfortunate as I couldn’t fully appreciate the hoppy offerings of The Pupil and The Apprentice. All I could subjectively assess was they both had a great mouthfeel, finished dry, and went down like a pale ale despite 7.5% ABV. I do recall the hop noses being of new school order. But judging by how
these beers are being rated, they are world-class.
Luckily, my pallet was able to thoroughly enjoy the other beers. The Belgian styles all had a brilliant body with what felt like the best water profile I’ve ever experienced in a Belgian. Travis confirmed that he indeed pays very much attention to his water chemistry. By the taste of it, I reckon Travis must have got an A+ in chemistry! As with the IPAs, the alcohol was well hidden in all, and they all finished dry enough to make me want to drink more….a lot more.
The Butcher for me really stood out to me, particularly because of my wife. My wife is not a stout fan, well, at least before visiting Societe. She loved it and insistently had me try it. The beer was filled with chocolate, coffee, and had a very balanced roast character. And, of course, the alcohol was again expertly hidden; 6% would have been a much better guess than nearly 10%. But as with all of their other beers, it was all about the incredible mouthfeel – full, creamy, but somehow dry enough to want to keep drinking.
Societe is without a doubt going places. I look forward to visiting again next year and to one day being able to buy their bottled beers in my local bottle store.
After four breweries, spent palates, and a great buzz rolling, we decided to save the king of San Diego County craft beer, Stone Brewing Co., for the next day. If you’ve been following me on Twitter(@furthurbrewing), you’ve probably surmised that I’m a big fan of Stone. I’ve been a fan since the first time I had them back in 1996 or 1997. So it was quite a pleasure to finally visit their brewery, and not only that, their “new” brewery and Stone World Bistro.
Stone is located in Escondido up on a hill and is a stand-alone facility. It appears extremely large compared to the other breweries we visited the day prior. (Stone continues to experience exponential growth, year after year, so I’m sure they will be expanding in their “new” already-huge-facility.) Stone also has the best looking brewery, tasting facilities, “pro-shop”, and grounds. It truly is a tourist destination. It is also rumored that they are planning to develop a full, one-stop tourist destination by building a hotel directly across the street from their brewery. I would be happy to spend a weekend eating and drinking breakfast, lunch, and diner there!
Aside from the aesthetics, there is the world-class beer. One of the coolest things about Stone is that they don’t just serve their beers. They serve beers from other breweries from the US to the EU on a combination of 36 different draught selections and over 60 different bottled selections. Unfortunately my liver is too small to make much damage to such an extensive beer list, but I did manage to get 8 offerings under my belt. From Stone, I had Stone IPA (7% ABV), Arrogant Bastard (7.2% American strong ale), Enjoy By 08.02.13 IPA (9.4% double IPA), Angry and Wit, and Delicious IPA. Angry and Wit and Delicious IPA were brewed for Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens Liberty Station. I also had Cave Art from Craftsman, Guillotine Flemish Red from Ladyface Alehouse, and Red Flag Double IPA from Rip Current.
Though I’ve had Stone IPA and Arrogant Bastard far too many times to count, I was psyched to try these beers brewery fresh. Stone IPA, as expected, had a much bigger hop nose than what is typically found in out-of-state bottles – Centennial and Chinook are the signature hops. While it is a true old school IPA, it is still a solid beer and a pleasure to drink.
Arrogant Bastard is a full-on beer, sort of like an imperial red, or at least a big red. The hop character is very aggressive, but more in taste than nose. To me this beer is a good showcasing of Chinook hops and how well they can work in darker beers, or any beer for that matter. I first had Arrogant Bastard back in 1997 and I think it still remains a beer that challenges peoples’ taste buds and attitudes toward beer.
I already had “enjoyed” a few bottles of Enjoy By 08.02.13 IPA, so having it on draught brewery fresh was a real bonus. For me, each Enjoy By seems to be the best double IPA I’ve had! Stone has figured out a way to capture serious hop aromatics like nobody’s business. It literally seems to jump right out of the glass. The hop character in each of the Enjoy By is extremely complex and the bitterness, even at the 100IBU level, bites and falls away. Stone has also mastered the key to this style of beer – drinkability. The beer finishes perfectly dry and completely hides the drunkard’s dream of 9.4% ABV. Calling it only an “IPA” doesn’t seem too far off the mark when your taste buds are deceived by the apparent lack of alcohol. Honestly, the Enjoy By IPAs I’ve had thus far are pretty much the perfect hoppy beer for me. Thank you, Stone!
As with most holidays, I wish I had had more time to visit more breweries, but I was grateful for the five I got to see. The conciliation prize was the beer stash I had amassed along the way – 34 beers and 5 beer glasses! I look forward to coming back next year for more beer adventures in San Diego County.
If any of you are looking to have a craft beer holiday, San Diego County delivers! Next up - Colorado bound!
A few months back I took a trip to Northern California for the first time in about nine years to visit some friends, old stomping grounds, and, of course, Beer Mecca! It really was a bit of a whirlwind trip with only five days to spend, but as a parent of two young children, time is limited.
After flying into San Francisco International, wandering around aimlessly trying to find the economy car rental agency, which turned out to be about 5 miles away, I finally got my rental Corolla and was off directly to Yosemite Valley. Four short hours later, I was in the Valley.
Despite having spent two summers working and climbing in Yosemite, I found myself acting like a typical tourist – hanging out of the window with my camera – as I rounded the bend and the majestic El Capitan came into view. I don’t think I can ever be anything short of amazed every time I see “El Cap” in person. For those of you who aren’t aware, El Cap is a monolithic chunk of granodiorite rock about 900m (3000 feet) high. It creates the single largest climbable cliff face in the US and is probably the most iconic rock “crag” in the world. But instead of spending a week aid climbing up “The Nose” of El Cap, I set my sites on something a bit more up my speed these days – bouldering.
I hooked up with a couple friends and we hit a couple boulders with moderate problems near Housekeeping Camp. Gazing up at the Royal Arches area, Washington Column, Half Dome, and the Apron sent me spinning off into fond memories of après-climb Sierra Nevada Pale Ales, Anchor Steams and Grateful Dead tunes. Shortly thereafter, we were
descended upon by armies of highly skilled mosquitoes and the song of the beer sirens was far stronger than my will to prove that I was tougher than the mozzies. So after about three boulder problems, we fled to Yosemite Village market to buy beer!
The craft beer selection had increased greatly from the days dominated by Anchor Steam and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale 20-odd years ago. I picked up Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo IPA in a can and a bottle of Hops of Wrath IPA from Dust Bowl Brewing Co. in nearby Turlock, California. These were solid beers that made for a perfect close to a beautiful summer evening in Yosemite.
Dwarfed by Half Dome
The following morning I took a trip down memory lane visiting a few places I spent a lot of time in back in ’90 and ’91. I bumped into a couple
Yosemite locals I hadn’t seen since then – Ron Kauk and Josh Helling. It
was great to see these people still living the dream of the Sierras, and it gave meaning to the ethic of being true to one’s self. Outside of the bigger
beer selection and everyone getting on by twenty years, things really didn’t
look that much different overall (would John Muir feel the same?). It was
a poignantly nostalgic visit for me and I was grateful for the opportunity to
visit again, even if for only 24 hours.
Off to Sonoma County! Sonoma County is home to three world class breweries – Lagunitas Brewing Co. in Petaluma, Russian River Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa, and Bear Republic Brewing Co. in Healdsburg (listed from south to north). While I love all of them, Russian River is probably the most renowned of the three and certainly one of the most highly respected breweries on the planet. And not only are there three great local breweries from which to choose, Sonoma County boasts a very large population of craft beer aficionados and well stocked bottle shops that cater to them.
First stop – Russian River. Finally! Originally founded by Korbel Champagne Cellars, Russian River really only became widely famous after Vinnie Cilurzo and his wife and Natalie bought the brand from Korbel in 2003 and moved it to downtown Santa Rosa in 2004. So, unfortunately, I missed it during it during my frequent visits to the area back in the mid- to late-nineties. Oddly enough, I became acquainted with Russian River while living in South Africa through my favorite internet radio beer program called The Brewing Network. I listened to a couple of interviews with Vinnie, read stuff on the internet about his willingness to help homebrewers, including lectures he gave at American Homebrewers Association National Conferences, and read countless testimonials about his legendary beers. So it was a bit of a dream come true to finally go to the brewpub and drink Pliney the Elder double IPA as fresh as you can get, not to mention barrel-aged and sour beers like Beatification, Consecration, Supplication, Temptation, and Sanctification.
Ladies and gentlemen, just in case you have had any doubts, there is no hype about Russian River; it is indeed the real deal and their beers lived up to my lofty expectations from their legendary status. Pliney is one of the smoothest beers, and certainly the smoothest double IPA, I have had. Piney, citrusy,
fruity hop aroma backed with a bit of malt leads into firm but balanced bitterness (never guess it has a lab measured IBU content of 90-something!) and an amazingly dry finish. To be able to drink it on draught just a few days old – as it is meant to be – was a real treat.
Sour beer lovers will definitely find a good seat at Russian River. Their sours rival the Belgian likes of
Cantillon, Boon, and Drie Fonteinen with a Russian River signature of creativity that doesn’t leave you feeling like they are merely trying to be copy something. Rather, it is as if they are paying respect to the Senne Valley fathers of these styles and sailing the sour boat in a new artistic direction.
Next stop – Bear Republic. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a good friend call Healdsburg home for twenty years now. I first visited Bear Republic in 1995 and was last there in about 1998. I have some great memories of drinking a few too many delicious Red Rocket Ales (a California Amber IPA…. I mean, Amber Ale) and wandering around the town square! Rough
mornings were quickly smoothed out with coffee from the Flying Goat coffee house nearby – mmmm, Goat Bars! This time around, 15 years on, I notice that the quaint town square of Healdsburg isn’t so quaint these days. In fact, I
didn’t even recognize it as it is now completely developed, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just different. Bear Republic had moved to a new location, but their beers were still as great as I remember.
My friend, who is a near fixture there, introduced me to one of the servers behind the bar and mentioned that I was a brewer. We chatted a bit and she was kind enough to give me a sampler of their specialty beers on the house as a welcoming for fellow brewers – I love the camaraderie in the craft beer industry. My favorites are still Red Rocket Ale, Racer 5 IPA, and Hop Rod Rye. To me, Red Rocket Ale is still the benchmark California amber ale – relatively big and definitely hoppy.
I was fortunate enough to also have on draught a fantastic, hoppy American brown ale brewed with molasses and brown sugar called TBA, which was a collaboration between Bear Republic, Fat Head’s Brewery, and Stone. I’d had the beer a month earlier in the bottle in Albuquerque, but having it on draught brought out the real beauty of that beer. For some interesting insight into the name, Texas Brown
Ale, check out this blog from Stone: http://blog.stonebrewing.com/?p=3066.
I grabbed a few bottles from Bear Republic for take away and headed over to Big John’s Market to pick up dinner and, yes, even more beer. It was quite a challenge for an indecisive Virgo to make decisive beer selections while buzzed when faced with seemingly hundreds of world class beers. Thirty short minutes later and I was out of there with about a dozen stellar beers from the likes of Lost Abbey, Lagunitas, 21st Amendment, and more Russian River.
The next day I had planned to visit Lagunitas down south in Petaluma, but wasn’t able to pull it off due to my friend’s tight schedule. I was actually quite disappointed by this, but hope to make it there this coming summer. I was fortunate enough, though, to have enjoyed a bottle of their Hop Stoopid double IPA the previous night – dank and delicious! As a consolation for not being able to make to Lagunitas, we went to Russian River again – ag shame!
There is no doubt why that place is so f%!<ing popular. Even at 2pm the place was packed – and they weren’t drinking Radlers with their burgers! One of the aspects I love most about Russian River’s business approach is that they are
completely dedicated to their home market. Despite being one of the most renowned breweries around, 60 percent of their profits apparently still are generated from their brew pub. For those that aren’t aware, they built a production brewery only about a mile away from their brew pub in downtown Santa
Rosa, largely based on the insatiable demand for Pliney the Elder. They could seemingly expand exponentially, but instead, they chose to focus on maintaining extremely high quality over quantity, which is a real risk for any growing brewery, and take care of the loyal local customers first. I’m certain that over time as Vinnie masters the art of quality and quantity, fans all over the US will be able to enjoy their beers in their distant home towns.
The trip was over far too fast of course, but I was grateful to have been able to reconnect with some great friends and make my pilgrimage to Beer Mecca. I left Sonoma County even more inspired to continue my pursuit of excellence in my brewing. With my pilot brewery system on its way, I look forward to putting some of this inspiration to work. Great things are on the horizon for South Africa's craft beer scene and beyond!
Greetings fellow beer freaks! With last week being Albuquerque Beer Week, I figure this is a great opportunity to start writing about my local beer scene in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The events included tastings and special release draught beers throughout the week at a few beer bars and restaurants mostly located near Nob Hill or Downtown, and finished off last Saturday with Albuquerque Blues & Brews festival.
Along with Albuquerque’s own brewing heavyweights LaCumbre Brewing Co., Marble Brewery, and Il Vicino, Beer Week events had offerings from the likes of New Belgium, Deschutes, Odell’s, Sierra Nevada, Abita, Stone, Left Hand, Widmer, Boulder Beer, Lagunitas, Oskar Blues, and Goose Island. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend all of the events, but I did manage to hit what I reckon were a few highlights.
My first stop was the tapping of Twin Sisters Double IPA from Left Hand Brewing
Co., out of Longmont, Colorado, at Two Fools Tavern. Twin Sisters is a 9.6% ABV, full-bodied, malty double IPA, without the hop bomb of a nose typical of the style. The beer is brewed with Cascade, Willamette, and Glacier hops presumably as late kettle additions and dry hopping. Of those hops, I would really only consider Cascade having a voice loud enough to be memorable in this style of beer. I chatted to the brewery rep about the sweet finish and the subtle hop nose and he said that it is the goal of Left Hand to brew well balanced beers. With that said, I found the sweet finish a bit overwhelming for my palate. I was however, impressed with their Coffee Porter, which is a beer brewed especially for beer week events around the country. The beer had a great coffee presence with a relatively crisp finish.
My next stop was a tasting with Stone Brewing Co. at O’Neill’s. On offer were usual suspects Stone IPA, Cali-Belgique IPA, and Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, all with which I’m very well acquainted and enjoy – particularly Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, which I believe is the benchmark black IPA. The big bonus, though, was that two Beer Week exclusive beers were available on draught
at the bar – Double Dry Hopped Ruination IPA and Oak-Smoked Old Guardian.
The Double Dry Hopped Ruination IPA delivered a citrus assault on my olfactory
senses – in the best of ways! It was basically Ruination IPA, one of my favorite double IPAs, on “hopoids” (could this be a new word in beer lingo?). I loved it!
The Oak-Smoked Old Guardian is a barley wine that clocks in at 11.6% ABV and is part of what Stone calls its “Odd Beers for Odd Years” program. I’d already
enjoyed a bottle of 2013 Old Guardian a few weeks back, and have the Oaked
version in my beer fridge for later, but Oak-Smoked was truly brilliant.
The combination of subtle smoke with oaky vanilla seemed to create a creamy,
sweet mouthfeel that was balanced by a very firm bitterness. This is definitely an exceptional barely wine and to have it on draught was pretty special.
The tasting was hosted by Stone rep, Chris Cantrell, who oversees Colorado and New Mexico. We chatted a bit about proper beer handling after it leaves the brewery, a topic that is of great concern to many brewers. Stone also have their own distribution wing and keeping beer cold from the time it leaves the brewery to customer is top priority for them. In addition, they go to extra lengths to help make sure consumers get fresh beer. So much so, that they have a program on their website for consumers to notify them of shops that are selling out-of-date
beer. Out-of-date beers are pulled from the shelves and restocked with fresh product – more great services from a great brewery.
With a good buzz rolling compliments of the Old Guardian, I headed over to Gecko Bar for a food pairing of New Belgium’s Lips of Faith “Heavenly Feijoa” and mussels in a coconut and pineapple curry. Heavenly Feijoa is a 9.4% ABV Belgian triple brewed with feijao fruit, hibiscus flowers, and Nelson Sauvin hops, and is the result of a collaborative effort with Brasserie du Ciel! in Montreal, Canada. I found all of the flavorings to be fairly subtle, which I believe suites the style. The beer also had a great dry finish and it paired beautifully with the mussels – could have eaten a bucket full and drank a couple more pints for sure!
My next Beer Week event was two days later at Sister Bar in downtown Albuquerque with a tasting put on by local La Cumbre Brewing Co. and Oskar Blues Brewery out of Lyons, Colorado. Oskar Blues took up two of the forty taps at Sister Bar with G’Knight Imperial Red Ale and Old Chub Scotch Ale. G’Knight is a sort of double red IPA clocking in at a hefty 8.7% ABV and sporting a heavenly, dank, sticky hop nose. Nothing less should be expected from one of the top craft breweries in a state that recently legalized a rather well known cousin of hops! There is something about the hop character in that beer that I just can’t get enough of. Old Chub is a Scotch-style strong ale, with 8% ABV, loaded with enough malt to keep the biggest of “malt-heads” smiling. With a fair amount of dark malts and a touch of smoked malt, this beer throws off coffee and chocolate notes not too much unlike a stout – great stuff!
Owner Jeff Erway was representing La Cumbre’s Elevated IPA, which took gold in the IPA category at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival. There is a LOT to enjoy in this 7.2% ABV IPA. For a single IPA, this beer is bursting
with hop aroma – loads of pine, tropical fruit, and a dash of “cattiness”, which
is a good thing in my book. It’s not a coincidence that it took gold at GABF, and I’m fortunate enough to be able to get this beer brewery fresh! I meant to spend some time chatting to Jeff about the finer points of hops, but I got drawn into a conversation about channeling, communicating with “Grays”,
and a shift in human consciousness – I love New Mexico!
I then headed off to my final destination at Imbibe Cigar Bar for a Lagunitas tasting of WTF (that is Wilco Tango Foxtrot) and Lagunitas Sucks. Upon arriving, I was greeted by Adam Wojcik, a Lagunitas rep from
Tempe, Arizona. He kindly bought me a pint of Lagunitas Sucks, a beer that I didn’t even know was available in Albuquerque as I had mistaken it for Brown Shugga’ with the writing “Brown Shugga’ Substitute Ale” on the labeling. What a treat! I was expecting a sweet, malty beer like Brown Shugga’, but
instead got a nose full of sweet, juicy hops. Lagunitas Sucks is an IPA-style beer with 7.85% ABV that is full-bodied with good hop bitterness to balance things out. The hopping is pretty diverse and brings a cross section of classic IPA hop characteristics – pine, tropical fruit, citrus, dank, and cattiness. This is a seriously drinkable hoppy big beer that showcases the talent the guys at Lagunitas have in being able to produce full-bodied beers in balance. I liked it so much that I stocked up on it that weekend! I had a great time chatting about beer and hops with Adam and look forward to catching up in the future.
Overall, the Albuquerque Beer Week is great vehicle for bringing a lot of great breweries and some special release beers to Albuquerque to get people turned on to craft beer. I think that some of the hosting venues could put a bit more into promoting the event and help increase the vibe, but a big Thank You for those that did! In terms of the overall beer trend, despite talk of “session beers” being the next thing in craft beer, big beers – particularly big hoppy beers – are still ruling the roost….and I’m happy with that.
To clarify, the title of this blog is a play on the Afrikaans phrase, “boer maak ń plan” (farmer makes a plan), which has genuine relevance in brewing as things don’t always go according to plan. One of the biggest challenges for brewers is to figure out what to do when “Plan-A” fails. Repeatability and consistency are critical in commercial brewing, and two of the most common sources of variability are starting and ending gravities. With mashing errors aside, yeast performance is generally the culprit for terminal gravity
variability. Some yeast strains are notorious for going to sleep on the job. For instance, the “Belgian Saison” yeast produced by Wyeast, which was isolated from Brasserie Du Pont in Belgium, has a renowned reputation for suffering from narcolepsy. So what can a brewer do when his yeast has gone to sleep despite numerous attempts to rouse it have failed? Throw some “funk” in it!
This very situation happened to me brewing a batch of Devil's Peak Silver Tree Saison about a year ago. To make a long fermentation story short, the beer ended with a terminal gravity of 1.007, which is excessively sweet for a Saison with a target terminal gravity of 1.002 or 1.003. (I’ll save the fermentation failure analysis for the upcoming blog on fermentation). Fortunately for me, this unexpected fermentation ending was the ticket for a series of beers I was planning anyway – Belgian-style beers aged in wine barrels with various strains of Brettanomyces (archenemy of the wine industry) and “bugs” such as pediococcus and lactobacillus.
Brettanomyces have the ability to ferment to very low terminal gravities and can metabolize sugars, like dextrins, that normal ale and lager yeasts cannot. While they work very slowly in fermented beer lacking of oxygen, but not alcohol, they will chip away at the excess sugars and give a beer a very interesting character that will continuously evolve over time. One of the best known beers, and one of the
best beers in the world in my opinion, that possesses “Brett”character is the Belgian Trappist beer Orval. This beer is fermented first with a typical Belgian fruity strain of yeast, and then it is dry hopped and dosed with some Brett. When Orval is consumed fresh, it is a surprisingly hoppy beer with no Brett character. But when it is enjoyed a year or more down the road – cellared properly, of course – it is all about the
So with this in mind, my former partner picked up two used wine barrels from Meerlust – one white and one red – and I went for it. The Saison was dosed with Brettanomyces Bruxellensis in one of
the barrels and Brettanomyces Lambicus in the other. Over the next couple of months, the gravities dropped and Brett character continued to evolve.
Now, about one year down the road, I reckon it’s time to bottle these beers. Hopefully “Plan-B” worked! Perhaps there is even a possibility of them being released into the market in the near future? If so, these beers would be another first for the South African craft beer industry. Either way I would be interested to
see how they turned out and what consumers think as they were my first attempt at barrel aged Brett beers. I look forward to being part of other barrel aged beer projects in South Africa – stay tuned! Until then, go out and enjoy an Orval at Den Anker in the Waterfront!
In early December, nine Cape Townians had the opportunity to help me conduct a bit of craft beer market research. Their task for the evening was to taste their way “blindly” through 30 different beers. I know, I know, it was a lot to ask of my panel. Ag, shame man– 30 different beers and they had to provide written comment on each? Yes, and they all swallowed!
The purpose of the tasting was to attempt to ascertain how developed a typical Cape Townian craft beer drinker’s palate is, to characterize it, to find out what common beer styles may do well in the South African market, to expose South African beer drinkers to real examples of beer styles they may or may not have experienced previously, and to see how existing South African craft beer compares. The purpose of doing the tasting blind was to get a knee-jerk, unbiased response. If one is presented with a bottle of 15-year old Dom Perignon, he will likely sing praise for the spendy liquid even if it has been poorly cellared and tastes like
stale cardboard. Why? Exclusive cost and perceived prestige. Throw that same poorly cellared champagne in a blind tasting mixed with other faulty products and he will likely call it for what it is, or at least what it is to him based on his palate experience. The exact opposite can also occur – an exquisite, perfectly cellared 15-year old Bordeaux could be written off as swill by an inexperienced palate.
I structured the tasting to mix up some top quality international craft beers (all US less one from Belgium) with South African examples of specific styles. Each person had to rate the beer using the BJCP scoring approach. Tasters were allowed to discuss what they tasted, but no one was allowed to make speculations about what beer they thought it was. In addition, defect characteristic description sheets were available and discussed in order to provide the tasters with a bit more information to assess the beers.
The following were the beers tasted by style and in the order they were tasted:
“Belgian-style” – De Garve's “Jolly Nun”; Saison Du Pont; and Devil’s Peak
Brewing Co.'s “Silvertree Saison”.
Pale Ales – Copper Lake Breweries' “English Ale”; Robson's “West Coast Ale”;
Deschutes Brewing Co.'s “Mirror Pond Pale Ale”; Triggerfish's “Ocean Potion”;
Deschutes Brewing Co.'s “Hop Trip”; and an experimental pilot batch of
pale, hoppy beer brewed by me
Amber Ales – BruHouse's “Red Ale”; Porcupine Quills Brewing Co.'s “Karoo Red”; Brew Dog's “5a.m. Saint”; Triggerfish's “Red Roman”; Oscar Blues Brewery's “G’Knight Imperial Red”.
IPAs – Rogue Ales' “Yellow Snow IPA”; Triggerfish's “Hammerhead”; Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.'s “Celebration Ale”; Devil’s Peak Brewing Co.'s “The King’s Blockhouse IPA”; Brew Dog's “Punk IPA”; La Cumbre Brewing Co.'s “Elevated IPA”; BruHouse's “IPA”; Deschutes Brewing Co.'s “Chasin’ Freshies”; and Ska Brewing Co.'s “Modus Hoperandi”.
Double/Imperial IPAs – Triggerfish “Titan”; Green Flash Brewing Co. “Imperial India Pale Ale”.
Porters/Stouts – Darling Brew's “Black Mist”; BruHouse's “Porter”; Castle Milk Stout; and a coffee imperial stout brewed by me 1.5 years ago (incidentally served at the Cape Town Festival of Beers in 2011 under Devil’s Peak BC).
The results of the tasting were indeed interesting and I think everyone, including myself, learned a lot from the experience. I’ll be throwing the confidential results into my Pandora ’s Box of recipe ideas! I will reveal this, though – the tasting panel had a propensity for US craft beer.
The tasting highlighted the high frequency of “questionable” characters in South African craft beer – so much so that many South African craft beer drinkers aren’t even aware of them until they are benchmarked against international standards. I touched on this topic in my last blog about the Cape Town Festival of Beers. I stick with my belief that this is just part of the growing pains of a blossoming craft beer industry and that it will sort itself out over time.
One very pleasant surprise for me was the high level of IBUs (a measure of bitterness) the tasters found pleasing – hallelujah! For example, one of the highest scoring IPAs was Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.’s “Celebration Ale”, a beer that I love, but find to have a pronounced bitterness. “Well balanced” was one of the comments. This is music to my hop-filled ears!
The fact that the tasters all enjoyed complex beers like imperial red, IPA, and coffee imperial stout, tells
me that craft beer has a bright future in South Africa. And, I think that the quickest way to raise the bar and to reward the consumer is by bringing international benchmark craft beer brands to South Africa. Stay tuned……….
I arrived in Cape Town with my family Friday night shortly after the close of the first day of the Festival after a 35-hour trek from Albuquerque, New Mexico. After 4 hours of jet-lagged sleep, I was up, ready, and psyched for the Festival. Cruciale capsules and Regmakers in hand, I was adorned at the entry gate with my wristband, given a weissbier glass and a voucher for a free fill of Carling Black Label, which I respectfully declined in lieu of the number of craft brews available. I immediately noticed two differences
from last year’s festival – the weather was a bit more winter-like and there was a huge crowd. Not much can hold back Capetownians from a good party – particularly one with beer as the imbibing agent!
The biggest and most important difference for me between this year’s and last year’s festivals was the significant increase in number of South African “craft beer” brands in attendance – Citizen Beer, Wild Clover Brewery, Royal Mzansi, The Bru House, Stellenbrau, and Three Skulls to name a few. Even Scottish craft beer heavy weight, Brewdog, was represented! This year also brought some established breweries from east of the Vaal River, like Robson’s, Drayman’s. There was even a guy giving a
homebrew demonstration, and a homebrew supply shop called Beerguevara that had a hop stocklist that rivals most homebrew shops in the US!
It was an immense pleasure to see the enthusiasm South Africans are having for craft beer. People clearly want more in beer selection than 20 different brands of the same pale lager. Hallelujah, brothers and sisters! It is with that enthusiasm the craft beer movement in SA is going to take a permanent stand.
The scene was reminiscent of the first few microbrew festivals I attended in the early ‘90s in the western US in many ways. While the microbrew scene had been underway for the better part of 10 years at that point, there were a lot of new players aside from the likes of Sierra Nevada and Anchor brewing companies. And with a lot of new comers, came frankly, a lot of less-than-stellar beers. But that is alright – it’s all part of the learning process. Over time, the US market ironed out its growing pains and the consumers were rewarded with world class beers. Brewers back then – pre-internet days – had little guidance on proper brewing techniques. Most guys went for it with what bit of homebrewing knowledge
they had, and I can tell you first hand that there was a lot of misinformation being passed around back then. Today, though, there are a lot of upstart breweries around the globe producing world class, award-winning beer straight off the starting blocks. And this is all because of well developed beer palates and the availability of brewing information. I believe we will see a similar path followed here in SA.
Due to jet lag and arriving only four hours before closing, I wasn’t able to sample beers from all of the different craft brands, which was really a pity. The highlight of the show for me definitely was Brewdog, which isn’t too surprising because I have a propensity for hoppy beers. While I can buy some of their products in my new home town of Albuquerque, New Mexico, the beers are often oxidized due to months of shipping and poor handling. So it was real a treat to get fresh bottles of the Punk and Hardcore IPAs. Bright hop aromas were still spewing out of these bottles – loved them! I hope that Brewdog SA is here to stay as Brewdog really epitomizes the spirit of craft beer.
On the local side, I was impressed by a new comer called Wild Clover Brewery that had a couple English-style offerings – a brown ale and a porter. I enjoyed the firm hop bitterness, which I think is a characteristic of beer that many South Africans are still getting their tongues around! Eric at Triggerfish was kind enough to let me sample a couple of his off-the-menu beers – an imperial stout and a sour beer. Both beers represent styles that I hope are commonplace in SA one day. The sour beer was made from a spontaneous lactobacillus inoculation of one of his production beers and further fermented by local strains of brettanomyces in a red wine barrel for 10 months. While the beer, in my opinion, still needs another year or two of brett-aging in the barrel, it’s a shining example that SA brewers are willing to push the local craft beer boundaries further!
Being the creator of Devil’s Peak’s beers, I’m compelled to comment. The King’ s Blockhouse IPA still stands out in the crowd – big hop aroma, solid malt backbone, and lingering hop bitterness.
The Silvertree Saison had an impressive CO2 level for being served on draught, which made it even more refreshing. The bitterness was appropriately firm and I could still pick up a good noble hop nose, but I could have handled a slightly drier finish. The Golden Ale, on the other hand, was a disappointment to me. The beer, now being brewed under contract at another brewery, had lost its characteristic fruity hop character and had hints of off flavors.
The South African craft beer scene is still very much in its infancy and, for me, it’s an exciting time to be a part of it. My goal is to help raise the bar of South African brewing as there is so much potential! It is in the interest of all craft brewers globally to make the best quality beer possible to keep consumers interested and to grow the market.
I had a number of observations at this year’s festival and spent some time thinking about commonality of these observations and possible improvements if warranted. One of the most common traits in South African craft beer is the level of sweetness. Do the beers tend to be sweet by dictation of palate or by incomplete fermentation, whereby residual sugars are left behind because the yeast went to sleep before they finished their dinner? In my book, a drier beer is a more drinkable beer. Check out the residual sugar content of the likes of Castle Lager and the volumes sold. Not to say a syrupy imperial stout doesn’t have its occasion on a cold winter’s night with a slice of chocolate cake! But a well balanced, fully fermented beer will have customers coming back for another again and again.
Another pervasive characteristic, though a bit difficult to describe, is a sort of heavily caramelized, almost burnt sugar flavour. I believe this to be a result of using electric elements to boil wort where a tremendous amount of heat energy is transferred to the wort through a relatively small surface area. The result is a continuous low-grade scorching of the wort. Caramelizing wort can also produce unfermentable sugars, which in turn can result in sweeter, fuller bodied beers.
A more sinister characteristic I observed is the result of what can be called a “silent killer” – poor sanitation. Poor sanitization practices leave the door open to a plethora of flavour defects. It’s apparent by the frequency of these defects that a lot of brewers aren’t even aware of them.
Here are a few tips in reference to above for making better beer:
1. Do not boil wort with electrical elements; rather use direct gas heat, or better yet, use a steam jacket.
2. Learn about and implement sound sanitation practices. Make sure all surfaces are visibly clean prior to sanitizing as grime can’t be sanitized no matter how long it’s soaked! Consider using an acid-based sanitizer and never rinse afterword.
3. Make certain the vessel you are using for fermentation is made of a material suitable for brewing. Until your budget can afford stainless steel, use only food-grade plastics and make certain they are free of voids, which can harbor bacteria.
4. Do not have threads on valves and stem pipes in contact with the wort as threads also can harbor bacteria unless disassembled, cleaned, and sanitized after each use.
5. If you are repitching yeast, make certain you are repitching the yeast you think you are. Once your ferment has picked up unwanted wild yeasts and/or bacteria, they are there to stay. Signs of these unwelcome guests include excessively low terminal gravities and unpleasant flavours that you might not be able to put your finger on, e.g., the “homebrew flavour”. Repitch yeast only if you are 100 percent confident that it is clean and viable. Have your fermented beer or yeast slurry assayed for bacteria and wild yeasts counts regularly.
6. Fermentation, fermentation, fermentation! Yeast need oxygen at the start of fermentation; consider aerating the wort with pure oxygen. Pitch the appropriate amount of viable cells at the appropriate temperature and allow it to complete at the appropriate temperature. Consider using a yeast nutrient like “Servomyces”.
Needless to say, this is only a drop full of tips as one can write a book on the topic. My journey in brewing has gone from producing undrinkable swill to an award winning IPA only through learning from my mistakes, listening to advice from successful brewers and brewing literature, and, of course, drinking a LOT of craft beer. I hope that I can begin repaying my debt by helping others, and in turn, raise the bar not only in South African brewing, but brewing everywhere. Prost!