HOPTOLOGY

San Diego Beer, Local & Independent!


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Beachwood Brewing warns of Invasive Species.

An invasive species is an animal or organism that is introduced to a non-native environment where it is expected to cause great harm to that eco-system and the inhabitants of that eco-system.

This is a fitting description for Ballast Point Brewing and their opening of a Long Beach location in the middle of an area that is home to local and independently owned Beachwood Brewing. While it is likely that this would have been problematic even if Ballast Point were still owned and operated by the same people who started it over 20 years ago, it is all the more contentious since Ballast Point was acquired by Constellation Brands (owners of Corona) a little over a year ago.

When the plans for opening were first announced, it could only be interpreted as shots fired by Big Beer against small, independent local breweries. Instead of cowering in the shadows or simply ignoring the threat against them, Beachwood took action. On July 29, 2016 they adopted the hashtag #independentbeer, they marked the day as one to unify and stand-up to corporate beer and their attempts to bully the smaller, local breweries who were clearly their targets.

Next up in their acts of independence was a bold yet simple idea; a growler exchange program. Bring in your corporately owned brewery growler (i.e. Ballast Point and a few others) and have it swapped out for free with a brand new Beachwood growler and a $5 gift card. Essentially paying the consumer to ditch their big beer gear and support local and independent.

As great as those ideas were and are, Beachwood saved the best to close out the year 2016. This is when, for the first time ever, they would release a mixed 4-pack of 12oz bottles that would essentially recreate the famous Ballast Point lineup of Sculpin beers. The four beers in the pack consisted of a standard Sculpin-like IPA, a mango
, habanero and most importantly a grapefruit variant. This series was titled “Invasive Species” and features the logo of a dead fish and the bold words of “It matters who makes your beer” and a new hashtag       #truetobeer.img_8156

As a staunch supporter of the independent beer movement, this release was too good to pass up.

Now, as a consumer, I’ve not purchased or drank a Ballast Point beer in over a year, so my recollection of those initial offerings might be fuzzy. With that said, I must also disclose that my palate happily agrees with just about all the beers that Beachwood is currently brewing.

So how were the beers? They were all winners.

The Beachwood take on these four staples of the Ballast Point lineup were, in my opinion, superior to those of the original. The Habanero had a lingering pepper flavor that did not burn, yet allowed for natural beer flavors to shine. The Mango was subtle, not overly sweet like the Ballast version I remember. The grapefruit was masterfully recreated and it avoided overloading the palate with fruit flavor. And the standard IPA? Another masterstroke as it might have been the best version of Sculpin I have had in many years and served as a reminder of what put Southern California on the beers map in the first place.

While it is not yet known if Beachwood will continue to brew these four reinterpretations, I tend to think that these are the beers that might just make the average, non-informed consumer pay a little more attention to where their beer is coming from and just how good it can be when you strip away the billions of dollars and have quality people focused on making quality beer for all to enjoy. Long live Beachwood Brewing and long live Independent Beer!

Cheers,

Tomimg_8155

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The Realities of Expansion; A Look at the Firestone Walker & Duvel Partnership

The big news coming out of the craft beer industry this past week was the reported acquisition of California craft beer heroes Firestone Walker by Belgian beer giant, Duval.

Turns out these first reports were a bit erroneous. David Walker spent a fair amount of time attempting to clear the air about the deal between the two companies and to break it down to its simplest form, the two have entered into a partnership agreement that will allow Firestone Walker to increase their brewing capabilities and begin to cast a wider net in national distribution.

It sounds simple enough. But it poses an interesting dilemma for the surging craft beer industry, how do you handle expansion?

Time for a disclaimer; I am not an economist, financial planner or marketing wizard. That means I certainly do not know the best answer, however, what is most interesting is there doesn’t appear to be one answer. Many breweries seem to be finding new and unique ways the expand the appeal of their brands and entice new customers to try their luscious libations.

Here in San Diego we are all bearing witness to the exponential growth of the industry. Not only are more new breweries continuing to open, we are also seeing a surge in established local craft beer breweries opening satellite tasting rooms around the county. Mike Hess Brewing recently announced plans for a third tasting room to soon open in Ocean Beach. Culture Brewing, out of Solana Beach, also has a second location in Ocean Beach. North County brewers Belching Beaver and Rip Current have opened satellite tasting rooms in North Park while local legends Ballast Point is on number four, Stone Brewing is at five and Karl Strauss has eight brewpubs in Southern California.

Every successful business wants to make money and get bigger. Make no mistake, the people who start breweries may have gotten into the industry for the love of beer, but once you put your livelihood and the livelihood of your entire family on the line, you need that business to be success, nobody is making craft beer with the intention of simply breaking even. So what are the ways we have seen craft brewers grow their business and their brands over the past few years?

Sierra Nevada opened a second brewing facility in Mills River, North Carolina. Lagunitas also opened a second location in Chicago, Illinois and have announced a third brewing location for Azusa, California. Green Flash has broken ground in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Stone has done the same in Richmond, Virginia and I continue to hear rumors swirling about that Ballast Point will soon announce plans to open a brewery in Austin, Texas.

This method of expansion is obviously not applicable to smaller craft brewers. This is what the giants of the craft beer are able to do by being so well established and having developed a loyal following across the country. For these companies, it is all about long term planning. Not only will these location cut down on the expenses associated with transporting beer across the country, it also addresses what could be a serious issue in the future here in California; water. These other states have access to large reservoirs of water that will help make expansion even more feasible in the future.

Then there is the method that caused a huge stir in the craft beer community in San Diego with some effects still being felt, the time when Alpine Beer Company sold to Green Flash Brewing. It was something we had not seen yet, a craft brewer buying another craft brewer. In this instance, Alpine was not necessarily looking to expand, but the demand for their beer was so high and the deal allowed them to not only expand their tasting room and still brew their own beers at their East County San Diego location, but it got all their employees health insurance and other benefits they could not provided before the acquisition. Now, Green Flash can brew up larger batches of Alpine Beer for the masses here in California and pretty soon nationwide.

Another method of expansion is one I am loathe to even address so we will make it short and sweet and never bring it up again. You can sell your brewery to Inbev or SABMiller or one of the other giant conglomerates from around the world. But we all know that is a terrible idea…I’m looking at you 10 Barrel and Elysian.

Initially, the above method is what most feared for Firestone Walker.

This is not Duvel’s first foray into a partnership with a craft beer brewer. Over the past several years they have acquired Cooperstown, New York brewery Ommegang and most recently Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing. Duvel, a family owned and operated company, has stayed relatively hands-off with both, allowing them to continue doing what they do best. Now both breweries have access to more resources and help distribute their beers on a far larger scale, as we are seeing first hand with Boulevard who has recently made their way into the San Diego market.

In several interviews David Walker has elaborated that this is more of a case of Duvel investing in Firestone Walker to aid with their expansion plans. If that is one hundred percent accurate I cannot say with any certainty at this point. Since both companies are independently owned, the financial terms or the deal were not made public. You can read what Mr. Walker told TheFullPint.com and BrewPublic.com right here.

It also should be noted that Duvel is not without faults of their own, especially in their home country of Belgium where it is a contentious fact that Duvel is known for forcing bars into contracts that must be honored even in the event that new owners take over. This became a very public issue for the owners of Moeder Lambic which fought and won a battle with Duvel in order to help ensure that tap handles would be available to smaller breweries that they wanted to support.

While I cannot claim that what Firestone Walker did is what I would have done, it is most certainly the option they considered to be the best for them and the people who work for them. The fact is that Firestone Walker is the 16th largest craft brewer in the country, but a whopping 80% of the beer they sell stays in California. While math was never my strong suit, I know that only leaves 20% for 49 other states. If they want their beer in the hands of more consumers, and since we already established that making money is the whole point of a business, this is clearly what they felt was the best option for their brewery. The most important issue for me is the status of genius Head Brewer Matt Brynildson, as long as he is happy, and all indications are that he is, and he stays at the helm of the ship, odds are very high that I will continue to enjoy the beers of Firestone Walker for years to come, and with any luck I will be able to do it in any state in the country and possibly any country in the world.

Cheers,

Tom


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2014 Sore Eye Cup; Will your Favorite Beer be Representing?

Last year I was invited to participate in the judging for the first ever Sore Eye Cup Award, given to the brewery who produces the best regularly brewed beer in San Diego. Alesmith Brewing was deemed the winner for Speedway Stout and while they faced sturdy competition, they were able to easily outdistance themselves from the pack. This year, Brian Beagle of Sore Eye Sports, has graciously allowed me to return the judges table and help determine this years winning beer and brewers. Speedway Stout, as reigning champion, is not eligible to win this year. This is where we need your help.

There are a lot of really great beers being produced in San Diego year round. So many in fact, that it’s almost impossible for a panel of judges to have had each and every one, especially in a competition of this scale. That’s why we are asking for your help. This is one of my favorite parts about the Sore Eye Cup, everyone in San Diego, and across the country, can have a say and help us narrow the field down to the true cream of the crop.

Head over to Sore Eye Sports right now and vote for your top three regularly produced beers from San Diego county. It’s a big field of competitors and there is a wide range of styles being represented. What if you don’t see your favorite? Just email Brian and he can still add your favorite to the ballot. Right now you can find a list of local favorites from Ballast Point, Stone, Alpine, Helms, Societe, Pizza Port and more!

There aren’t too many beer competitions around that solicit for the opinion of the people who actually drink the beers. By helping us to narrow the field, not only are you making our job as judges easier, you are making sure your favorites are represented and getting a shot at the title.

The Sore Eye Cup will be awarded August 22nd, but this is the final week of voting, so don’t delay and get your votes in. You can vote for three beers a day, so there is still a lot of time to help your favorite beers make it to the final round where it’s awesomeness will be judged. So whose beer will fill this 64oz chalice? Help us decide!

Cheers,

Tom

One Cup to Rule them All! - photo by Brian Beagle

One Cup to Rule them All! – photo by Brian Beagle


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Fathom Bistro – Craft Beer and Sausage, ‘Nuff said.

Being somewhat spoiled by all the great craft beer breweries we have here in San Diego, it’s easy to see how that would have the natural effect of San Diego having some really great bars and pubs to choose from. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have my favorites. I’d also be lying if I said that having a handful of favorites can sometimes cause me to not want to branch out very often. I like getting familiar in a place and getting to know the staff. A bar/pub that you are comfortable in can only serve to enhance your experience. It didn’t take me long to get comfortable at one of San Diego’s new quality drinking establishments, Fathom Bistro.

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If you are a fan of Hamilton’s in South Park & Small Bar in University Heights, than you owe it to your self to swing down and check out this spot. It also has one of the more unique locations of any place in town. Located on Shelter Island and sitting on a pier over the waters of San Diego Harbor, Fathom offers quite the view on any given day, but as the weather begins to warm up it has gotten to be even more spectacular.

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It’s a small spot to be sure but I loved it immediately as I walked in. The walls are decorated with all sorts of nautical memorabilia including excellent prints of Jaques Cousteau films and a childhood favorite like “20,000 Leagues under the sea” as well as a “Dr. Calamari” that always brings a smile to my face. Oh yeah, and a board offering a dozen excellent craft beers. Don’t forget, this is a bistro as well so that means food and let me tell you the sausage I had on my visit was just fantastic!

You can sit inside and look out the big beautiful window with a view of the boats on the water or you can grab a table outside and watch the fishing from the pier. Did I happen to mention that on the other side is a bait and tackle shop? Well, there is. All this adds up to a very unique experience that I hope people will take advantage as the warm up from winter continues.

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So any new beers while on my visit? Of course! Ballast Point came up with special brew called Fathom IPL, India Pale Lager. I thought this was very tasty treat with a mild hops profile and some nice citrus action. It had a very refreshing quality to it. Looking for something to complement the tasty brews on tap? Be sure to try one of their in-house sausages, they are excellent and they don’t mind making them without the usual toppings so that I can bast my in yellow mustard.

Fathom Bistro is located at 1776 Shelter Island Dr San Diego, CA 92106

This is a very welcome addition to my usual rotation of drinking establishments. Go make some time to check it out for your self.

Cheers,
Tom

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Ballast Point/COEDO – West to East IPA : A beer that Godzilla would approve

This past Tuesday I decided to make a rare indulgence and go for a beer in the middle of the day on what was simply a beautiful day here in San Diego.

I’d call it a spur of the moment decision, maybe even impulsive, but after reading this wonderful story over at Westcoastersd it sort become a mission for the day.

This mission was easily accomplished thanks to the good people over at The Local Habit in Hillcrest – if you’ve not been over there, they do a really excellent job of putting together a great tap list.

The beer in question that I was hunting for was the new collaboration beer from Ballast Point, here in San Diego, and COEDO Brewery, from Japan, on a beer they are calling “West to East”

It may be named that due to Ballast Point specialty brewer Colby Chandler going to Japan to brew it. Just a guess.

Well after drinking the final product I’m hoping he has plans to go back because this is an IPA that I found to be very enjoyable indeed.

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I got a great 16oz draft with a nice frothy head on top of a nice golden color. This brew has a really great nose on it. I’m pretty sure I was able to pick up the distinctive smell of Nelson hops, which I’m kind of crazy about, so that got things off to a really nice start. With the first sip you get that great hoppy flavor right up front that really gets your palette popping. The citrus is what I noticed the most of the back end of, but just the perfect amount. I’m not a fan of too much of that citrus flavor, but I may be in the minority on that. Regardless, it doesn’t even factor into this IPA. This was impressive, although I shouldn’t be surprised at this point, Ballast Point is probably my favorite brewery in town and I’m eagerly awaiting the day when I can get Sculpin in a can.

West to East comes in at 6.8%ABV, so it’s up there, but it right in line where it should be. It gives you a little kick in the teeth but not enough where you are sleeping at the bar.

I can’t recommend this collaboration beer enough! Quite a few of the best craft beer bars in town will be having it this week. Some are listed in the link above, or just put that great Taphunter app to work and track it down as soon as possible.

Well done to Ballast Point and COEDO Brewing in Japan. This team up is almost as good as when Godzilla and Mothra saved the world, remember that? Good times.

Cheers,
Tom

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Beer Hunt pt 2 : Under the Tuscan Sun or Drunk under a Tuscan table

The next leg of our journey to Italy took us to Florence, right in the heart of Tuscan wine county. Surely beer would be even harder to find here than in Rome. Turns out, maybe that isn’t the case after all.

Florence, or Firenze as the locals call it, was hands down my favorite place we visited. It’s relatively small and easy to walk around and soak up all the history. This is the home of renaissance and the people there have worked hard to preserve that look and feel to the town.
Don’t let that last part fool you, there is still a lot of modern life mixed in with the history. For the record I’d just like to state that the Duomo is possibly the most impressive building I have seen in my life. It’s just amazing to see with your own eyes.

Walking the streets of the Florence is a lot of fun. You are never too far away from a really cool historical landmark or a gelataria for those moments when absolutely need a waffle cone of gelato.
The first pub we came across was nothing to write home about. I stared to get discourage. Did I miss my window to explore some new beers while in Rome?

The next day, after a very nice guided walking tour of the town, we came to a large farmers market. Bread, cheeses, sausage and wine as everywhere you looked in this town square. Tucked discreetly amongst all that bread and cheese was a table for a small micro brewery in the region. The microbrewery was called Conte Di Campiglia.
We were able to sample their standard lager which was pretty solid. The taste was a little different from what most of are accustomed to, I believe this has to with the Italian obsession with hazelnuts. They love hazelnut in everything over there, it may be the one thing they love more than smoking…nah, who am I kidding on that?
This microbrewery embodied that love of hazelnut in everything they made.
We purchased two bottles of their seasonal brews, a pumpkin ale and a Christmas beer, to take back and drink at our hotel later that night.

Both of those seasonal beers were unique to say the least. The pumpkin was strong on the boozy qualities, almost to the point of overwhelming the pumpkin, which was a more subtle flavor. Not my favorite pumpkin beer, but not the worst by far. The Christmas beer was better overall but that crazy obsession with hazelnut was very noticeable in this brew as well. Still, it wasn’t enough to make me put down.

The next night out was where thing got interesting.

We pretty much stumbles across a pub called The King Grizzly, and I was shocked to see some of the beers they had available there. Now it wasn’t a crazy huge selection by any means, but they were stocking a nice assortment of American craft beers including Anderson Valley. Looking at the drafts I saw a bunch of beers I was unfamiliar with but after having a nice conversation about how Italy has a small but growing craft beer movement with the bartender/owner Alessandro, he broke out a couple bottles from his hometown brewery, Birrificio Emiliano – and dig this: These guys are into hops.

The first bottle we broke open was the Rimasta Di Farro – it’s essentially an Italian version of an American pale ale. It’s comes in at 5.5%ABV and has some nice flavor notes to it. You can find the English hops, and it’s not pushed to hard but malts. I enjoyed it very much.

Next up from the selection of Emiliano bottles was Pomposa. It’s a dark ale, along the lines of a Belgian, but I think it’s been tweaked a little to give it a bit of an Italian feel to it as well. It comes in at 6.1ABV but like the previous beer it lacks that sort of kick you in the butt feel that I makes me like a beer more than most.

Our final bottle and the creme de la creme of the whole nigh was Imperium also from Emiliano. This beer was really good. It was about as close I was going to get to a San Diego style IPA and I was very surprised and pleased by it. At 7%ABV this beer is nothing to sneeze at either. Now, listen, if you were to line this beer up against Stone or Ballast Point of Green Flash, I’m not saying it would hold a candle to them but in my opinion this beer is a sign of things to come in Italy and their small but growing craft beer movement. This is the direction I’d like to see that movement head in. The initial reaction I witnessed to others drinking the Imperium seemed to say that maybe they aren’t quite ready for a hops take over just yet, but it’s got to start somewhere and this beer is the kind that will push things in the right direction.

We would spend another evening at the King Grizzly talking further with Alessandro and the evolving beer culture in his country. He’s a good dude and luckily his English is pretty good too but my Italian is for shit.

So basically this was my find of the trip. If we are ever lucky enough to go back to Italy I’d love the opportunity to explore and go on a few more beer oriented adventures. I got the impression that what I found was barely the tip of the iceberg as fast as micro-brewing in Italy is concerned.  For now, the tip will just have to be enough. That’s what she said. BOOM!

Salute,

Tom

Not too shabby

Not too shabby

Hello friend.

Hello friend.

Me happy.

Me happy.

An italian IPA? OK!

An italian IPA? OK!

A nice start.

A nice start.


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Living large at Small Bar

After what could, in an understated way, be called a frustrating day at the office on Wednesday, I decided beer would be my remedy. And since I had a quick errand to run in the area, I knew the best place to get the liquid solution to my problems would be Small Bar.

Now Small Bar may indeed be a small bar but it has a large and impressive tap list. 41 handles of delight in a glass and it’s all right at your fingertips.

On this night, I chose Small Bar so I could sample (by sample I mean consume a lot) the Time to Panic Pale Ale from Ballast Point. I had yet to have this beer and was eager to give it a go. I found it to be quite the refreshing beer for putting a hard day in the coal mines behind me. You know, if we had coal mines in Southern California. This beer is a 6.2% ABV so it’s not super light but it’s not going to kick you in the ass too hard either. It has a great golden color with a light, frothy head. Another perfectly enjoyable beer by the gang over at Ballast Point.

I was sorely tempted to keep ordering that beer but when you have 41 taps available to you why would you limit yourself to just one? So I started to zig-zag my way across the giant chalk board behind the bar. I’d cut-in and then out, I’d hook and leap and spin my way all over that board before I realized that hey – It’s only Wednesday!

That’s the kind of place Small Bar is – having a good time and thinking that the weekend is here already wasn’t a big leap for me. The decor is dark on the inside, but I get a cozy vibe when I’m there. They have a patio area outside along the sidewalk, if that’s more your style. The whole black and red color scheme is a personal favorite.

If for some crazy reason you aren’t feeling the beer scene, they also have plenty of liquor on board. The mules are insanely popular over there. I’ve also found the majority of the staff to be very nice as well.

One thing I can’t brag about is the food. But that’s only because I’ve not eaten there yet. Some of the dishes I’ve seen brought out of the kitchen, however, looked and smelled fantastic.

Let me also mention one of my favorite parts about Small Bar – they have great prices! These guys are offering some of the best beers around and they aren’t jacking the prices up like some spots around town are known to do. Their sister bar, Hamilton’s, in South Park, has the same practice and is something that I truly appreciate. Besides, if you cheap the prices down, I’m likely to stay longer and spend more… just an FYI.

So when you’re in the area I do recommend swinging by and checking out Small Bar. It can get crowded there, so if that not the experience you want, pick the time of day you go carefully. Otherwise, go big at Small Bar.

Small Bar is located at
4628 Park Blvd
San Diego, CA 92116

It’s in the University Heights neighborhood, just south of Adams Ave. Check their website for a list of what currently on draft.

Small Bar on Urbanspoon

Cheers,

Tom

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