HOPTOLOGY

San Diego Beer, Local & Independent!


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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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The Stunning Conclusion: Part 2 of Pizza Port, The Burning of Rome and Eukaryst on The ThreeBZine Podcast!

When last we left our heroes, their lives were in mortal danger at the hands of The Joker as his plan to release his deadly joker toxin into Gotham’s water supply nears success…

Oh wait…wrong podcast.

The only danger Cody, Dustin and myself were in was having too much and fun and drinking too much incredible craft beer. Head over to ThreeBZine or Itunes to check out the final installment of epic time hanging out at Pizza Port Bressi Ranch with Pizza Port OB Head Brewer Nacho Cervantes, and the guys from The Burning of Rome and Eukaryst. Also, check out this sweet video that Pizza Port made for our show!

Cheers!

Tom


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Going Dutch; Drinking my way through Amsterdam.

When you think of The Netherlands, odds are the first thing to pop in your mind is Amsterdam. Followed quickly by decriminalized marijuana use and legalized prostitution. Maybe, like my wife, you think of gouda cheese, but for the most part weed and sex are on the forefront of your brain. With such internationally well-known practices, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the Dutch are both hard working and incredibly industrious. These are a people who have grown the landmass of their country, not through war, but through the process of reclaiming it from the sea. In ye olden times it was the job of countless windmills to turn powerful archimedes screws that would lift water up and over dikes and levies. Now it’s the job of incredibly powerful machines, but the idea is still the same. It is not until you spend time around the Dutch you begin to realize that what many people view as cultural eccentricities are really nothing more than simple practicalities. So why not apply some of these characteristics to beer?

The craft beer scene in The Netherlands, is like that in the rest of the world, rapidly growing and seemingly unstoppable. The breweries around the country and, in particular, those in the city of Amsterdam are doing their very best to make sure that the first beer you think of is not Amstel or Heineken. As in most most major cities, that can be a battle as those bigger brands offer global recognition in a city that thrives on tourism. All is not lost however, as more and more consumers are learning that quality most assuredly triumphs over quantity.

My time in Amsterdam afforded me many opportunities to take part in the diverse range of cultural experiences. From gazing at famous works of art at the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum to the delights of a small town in the country celebrating the first cheese festival of the season, The Netherlands is a country rife with opportunities to see and learn. But let’s be honest, to me the best way to experience any culture is to share a drink with them and that’s exactly what I did at every opportunity we could. What follows is a recap of the fun bars, breweries and bottle shops that delighted us on our trip through the land of windmills and canals.

Our hotel was located just adjacent to the Red Light district, which is sort of an international Las Vegas squeezed into several city blocks, it is a non-stop party every day of the week and most assuredly on the weekends. A half block up from where we stayed just so happened to be the first brewery we would check out, Brouwerij De Prael. They have a very nice store where you can purchase not only bottles of their beers but also other beers from the region as well as a nice selection of chocolates and even sausage. The real deal is around the corner in their bar/tasting room. It’s gets pretty lively and with a dozen taps flowing under the names of local folk music legends you are sure to find a beer style to your liking. Of the beers I tasted, I found them all to be enjoyable with perhaps the Johnny, a kolsh, and the Double IPA as perhaps the biggest standouts.2015-03-27 21.04.56

It would be several days before we had the opportunity to visit another brewery, but if there is one thing that Amsterdam is not lacking in, it is excellent beer bars. Our favorite of the trip was hands down, In de Wildeman. Located in a narrow ally off a larger street, this former distillery hosts a rotating selection of 18 drafts from across Europe and a bottle list of over 250 beers from Europe and America. It has an incredible atmosphere and and some of the friendliest bartenders in the land. A can’t miss for a fun night on the town.

If you find yourself in Amsterdam and want to truly experience the Dutch craft beer scene, you would be advised to visit, Proeflokaal Arendsnest, located in the nearby Jordaan district. This bar is home to 30 taps of the finest Dutch beer in the land and very healthy bottle list that features many of the best beers from its most prominent craft brewer, De Molen. The bar is cozy and classy with fun mix of locals and Americans who are looking to get away from the crush of people in the De Wallen (Red Light) District.

If by chance, you are looking for a taste of the U.S. while you are overseas, you’d be hard pressed to do better than The Beer Temple, a sister bar to Proeflokaal Arendsnest, this time the draft menu focuses much of its efforts on beers from the U.S. and England while the bottle list is a healthy mix of America and the best of Europe, be sure to note they will happily sell you an aged vintage bottle of Westvleteren XII, but you will have to pay a pretty penny, or euro, to sample them.

Two other bars that struck a positive cord with us were Cafe Belgique and Cafe Gollem. Belgique is a tiny dive with a modest but impressive selection of 8 draft beers and a very cultivated 50 bottles to choose from. Kwak seemed to be the drink of choice and since it was served in its signature glass and wooden stand that’s how we decided to roll. At Cafe Gollum, one of three locations in the city, we visited the Raamsteeg location, home to 14 drafts and 200 bottles as well as its signature beer Gollum’s Precious IPA. I admit, I’d have gone to visit for the name of that beer alone!

For something completely different and very traditional Dutch we took a brief reprieve from beer to spend some quality time getting to know the liquor of the land, jenever. It’s sort of like gin, but made with juniper berries and it tastes a boatload better. For this experience we decided to try our initial tastes at the oldest tasting room in Amsterdam, dating back to 1650, Proeflokaal De Drie Fleschjes. After being greeted warmly by the locals who seemed to be both amused and impressed that we’d come to try jenever, we got a brief lesson on the three main types of jenever; young, old and corenwyn. The bare bones basics of it are, the older it is, the smoother it goes down, depending on the recipe. I love this experience from the top to the bottom. The bar had a strong sense of localism, its own historical presence and then, the booze itself. While we only scratched the surface of the jenever iceberg, if your palate is more prone to explore liquors you could do a lot worse then swinging by here for a visit and a lesson.2015-03-30 19.23.22

A day or two later we had a chance to visit the Zeeburg district, east of Amsterdam’s Central station. Here we found ourselves at the base of a windmill and the entrance to Brouwerji t’IJ, a dutch brewer I had first encountered a year prior in the heart of Paris, France. I found all the beers I sampled to be well crafted and delicious. This is were we also encountered Will & Janelle, a couple on their honeymoon from Northern California on their way to Belgium. Clearly, this is a couple with which we would have a lot in common with.2015-03-31 16.09.36

One of the last breweries we had the opportunity to vist was located just a short 15 minute train ride away in the town of Haarlem, a smaller yet equally vibrant dutch town that held a lot of charm for me. Here you will find Brouwerji Jopen, based in a closed church, still with stained glass windows. It creates a fun and festive atmosphere especially as the sun filters through the stained glass as dusk arrives. Here I found a wide array of beer styles and found all of them to be quite exemplary especially considering some of the recipes date back as far as 1407. Not to mention the plate of new and old gouda cheese that paired fantastically with their rich, creamy stout.2015-04-01 17.18.38

And finally, if you are anything like me, you waited until you had collected as much information and tasted as many beers as possible before you knew what bottles you would wrap delicately in your used under ware and socks for a safe flight back home. Plan to stop at De Bierkonig, the most impressive bottle shop in the city and possibly the entire country. The owner Jan and his staff are incredibly friendly and knowledgable, as well as being open to making some beer trades if you happened to bring anything fun with you from the states.  I may have conducted a small, yet exciting trade as well as picked up a few fun bottles that would surely cost me an arm and a leg back home.

While this trip covered a lot of ground, as far as breweries, beer bars and even bottle shops are concerned, I barely even scratched the surface of what this country has to offer beer drinkers around the globe. I’d have loved more time to plan a visit to De Molen and walk the grounds of the La Trappe Monastery with their rich quadruple ale in my hands, as well as visit several other brewers who are spread around the country side. It is vitally important to remember that this is a country that takes beer seriously, much as their lowland neighbors in Belgium do. Just as it is here, it’s a symbol of independence, self expression and creativity. Also like America, Amsterdam has their own corporate beer juggernaut to contend with in the form of Heineken and their subsidiaries. From what I’ve seen, tasted and experienced, craft beer in The Netherlands is a legitimate a threat to corporate beer much as it is in America. I can only hope I will continue to have the opportunity to help support them as they continue to grow stronger across Europe.

Prost,

Tom


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ThreeBZine turns 50 with Derek Gallanosa of Abnormal Beer Co.!

50 episodes of a podcast is a big deal. For the vast majority of people, there isn’t much in the way of financial recompense for the efforts. It’s all about dedication and passion to make a great show for people to enjoy. That’s what the guys at ThreeBZine have been doing for the past few years and now they have reached the big 5-0. Not only have I been lucky enough to become good friends with both Cody and Dustin, I’ve recently joined the cast of the show, taking their dynamic duo and hopefully turning into and terrific triumvirate…or at least a modern day version of the Three Amigos.

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On this special episode, we sit down with Derek Gallanosa, Head Brewer of Abnormal Beer Company, Beer Curator for The Cork and Craft restaurant, and craft beer enthusiast. The conversation covers a lot of fun and interesting ground from the spark that started Derek on his craft beer path, the way he goes about deciding what styles of beer to brew and his thoughts on how best to pair craft beers with a fine dining experience all the while keeping things fun and entertaining. Derek is a genuinely nice person and his passion for craft beer shines in every word he says as well as the beers he makes. During the recording of this episode, we were lucky enough to be among the first people outside of Abnormal Beer Company to try the very fist batches of 5pm Session IPA and Mostra Mocha Stout. Both beers are simply fantastic to drink on their own, but as you will hear in the podcast, they also get paired together with a few tasty treats as well. The episode is also full of exclusive information and exciting news for Abnormal Beer Company.IMG_4822

Please head over to either Three.BZine.com and listen there or download from the iTunes store and listen while you pump iron at the gym. That’s how I roll. 

Congrats to Cody and Dustin to making it number 50, I hope I can continue to be a part of the journey as we now work our way to the big 100.

Cheers,

Tom


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Nobility at it’s Finest; Noble Ale Works’ Mosaic Showers Double IPA.

It should come as no surprise that after my visit to their Anaheim brewery, Noble Ale Works is a brewery that I’ve continued to pay a lot of attention to. Noble has been very busy expanding their line-up and growing their number of devoted fans with a steady stream of finely tuned ales and one milk stout that has gained a cult following, Naughty Sauce. There can be little denying that Noble has become one of the preeminent breweries in Orange County and they continually rise in the ranks of all Southern California breweries.

One particular series of Noble’s that has captured the attention of Hop Heads everywhere is the ‘Noble Showers’ series. This bombastic set of double IPA’s is a platform to display the complex and alluring flavors of a single hop variety while using the same base recipe. Previous releases in the series have highlighted such hop strains Nelson Sauvin, Chinook, Amarillo, Citra and more. The latest entry in the series, highlights a favorite of mine, Mosaic, and I wrote down some of my thoughts that will hopefully inspire you to run out right now and find your own bottle of this single hop double IPA.2015-01-01 17.48.46

Nobel Ale Works – Mosaic Showers Double IPA; 8.8% ABV; available on draft or 22oz bottles.

The beer pours from the bottle with a beautiful golden color, with excellent clarity as the bubbles of carbonation dance to the surface and form a nice thin layer of foamy goodness. The nose is a starburst full of big fruit flavors, mango being the most obvious to my senses. The aroma of the beer is vibrant and gets the mouth watering in all the right ways a finely crafted beer should. On first taste, you know this is a big, flavorful double IPA that is packed with hops on the front end. While the hops hit you in the front, the malts play the important roll of making sure all the fruity, hoppy flavors of the mosaic don’t overwhelm the palate. The malt back bone does it’s job very well by not trying to battle with the hops and allowing for all the flavor potential of mosaic to be on full display. For IPA fans, this beer is insanely drinkable and provides a wonderful example of what mosaic hops brings to the table.

Final Verdict – Go get this beer immediately. If it’s not in your area, find someone to bottle trade with because it’s really that damn good.

I’ve enjoyed almost all the releases in this series that I’ve been fortunate enough to try. Mosaic Showers DIPA is no exception as it starts 2015 on a very high note. I can’t wait to see what the guys at Noble Ale Works have in store for the Showers series for the rest of the year. All I know for certain is that I’ll be more than happy to continue drinking them.

Cheers,

Tom


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No need to be humble; New English Brewing’s Humbly Legit IPA is on point!

New English Brewing has been around San Diego for a while now, almost seven years if memory serves. For reason’s I can’t possibly explain, other than perhaps my own sillyness, I’ve not made the time to try more than a small handful of beers from them. It’s possible that my love for big hop bomb IPA’s has clouded my judgement to this point. Maybe I delude myself into thinking that they only make english style ales that I wouldn’t be interested in. I’m here to tell you that it was a error on my part to not make the time for the creative brews coming out of this inventive brewery and it’s something I’ll be remedying in 2015.  Simply put, whenever I do have a beer from New English Brewing, I come away impressed.

This past year I was able to try their Brewers Special Brown Ale, which to me was on the same level as Alesmith’s Nut Brown Ale as perhaps two of the best representations on that style here in San Diego. The pleasant surprise that beer gave me was quickly forgotten as my next dose of New English was in the form of their Zumbar Chocolate Coffee Imperial Stout. A big, chocolatey, roasty glass of goodness like this is certainly something to be shared with the masses. After having only two offerings, New English had blown the doors off my expectations.

In what could only be negligence on my part it took me almost six months to make the next opportunity to try New English Brewing, this time in the form of an IPA called Humbly Legit, a West coast style IPA that still manages to stay true to the English Ale roots by which New English operates.2014-12-29 23.55.29

Humbly Legit comes in at a healthy 7.5% ABV and upon popping the top you get a wonderful floral nose with hints of citrus and all the goodness that awaits within. The beer tastes incredibly clean and crisp with a malt presence that is certainly noticeable but not in the manor typically associated with the type of IPA’s made in the United Kingdom. The use of English style malts here is put into a complex and careful harmony with the use of cascade and centennial hops, which provide that wonderful aroma as you drink your beer. The sweetness of malts never threaten to overwhelm as the hops provide a nice level of bite that keeps a certain west coast character in the brew, it’s a wonderful balance and it drinks very clean with only the slightest lingering of hops on the backend.

My Assessment: This beer is a winner and will provide the final kick in my pants to get me over to their brewery in the very near future, because these guys are making really great beers of all styles with traditional English malts but healthy dose of West Coast hops to create something truly unique and exciting to try. Go get you bottles of Humbly Legit now or just stop by the tasting room at 11545 Sorrento Valley Rd Suite 305 San Diego, CA 92121

Cheers,

Tom


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Brew Review: Evil Twin Brewing : Molotov Cocktail Single Simcoe Hop Edition

Evil Twin Brewing has always been a brewery with a uniquely compelling backstory. That being said, I’ve yet to have the opportunity to really dig into their wide array of brews unless it’s in a collaboration with another brewery. Even then, my opinion of the collaboration beer was always a little off from the general consensus. There is little doubt that Evil Twin has a very solid reputation in the craft beer community and I was more than excited to give one of their beers a taste, and when you tell me it’s a simcoe hop edition of said beer, I’m even more into it. So lets talk about Evil Twin’s Molotov Cocktail: Single Simcoe Hop Edition.

Molotov cocktails are perhaps the weapon of choice of political dieesents the world around. Usually you see them whenever a peaceful demonstration turns violent. It’s a weapon of the masses, easily made and even more easily deployed. The more practical applications of a molotov cocktail are fighting off roaming hordes of zombies or a Cyberdyne Systems Series Model 101 Terminator who has come back in time to kill you. A molotov cocktail can be a pretty useful concoction to use against your enemies. Besides, who doesn’t want to stick a rag in a bottle of alcohol and light it on fire?2014-12-27 21.29.48

As I opened the bottle on this 22oz bomber, I got a nose full of pine and citrus aroma. The beer pours as a hazy golden copper with medium carbonation. Upon raising the glass to my lips, I’m surprised as the beer hits my palate with sticky sweetness that begins to coat my tongue. It’s not what I was expecting at all. Perhaps even more surprising was the resin like after taste that lingered in the back of my throat for a minute. Setting the beer down, I went about resetting my expectations for the beer and went back to tasting and gathering my thoughts. The beer has a very serious malt backbone to it, which is perhaps what accounts for the simcoe hops being considerably muted from my point of view. Granted, I tend to prefer all my IPA’s to be much more hop forward than this beer, so perhaps I hold a skewed perspective. The beer drinks easily enough and is insanely smooth considering the high 13% ABV that is hardly perceptible. I only wish the simoce hops more easily stood out from the malty sweetness of the brew. If you like your IPA’s with a strong malt character this beer might be right up your alley.

It might seem as though I’m down on this beer, but I’m nothing if not diligent when gathering information so I went about checking around and it does seem that I’m in the minority when it comes to this beer. It rates very highly on both beer advocate and ratebeer.com. Perhaps it’s a simple matter of my palate being more geared to hop forward beers or my everlasting devotion to West Coast Style IPA’s, but this beer didn’t knock my socks off.

My Assessment: If you like your IPA’s with a more pronounced malt profile and sweet caramel notes, you will really like this beer. If you prefer your brews to be more aggressively in your face with hoppy, bitter goodness, you might want to look elsewhere.

I’m looking forward to trying more beers from Evil Twin, if you have any suggestions on what to try next please let me know.

Prost,

Tom