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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Societe IV : Let the Games Begin!

2016 has been something a weird year for me in the world of craft beer. I have never had to defend my own personal opinions from other beer drinkers in the way that I have had to do since January when the usage of the term “indie beer” got exposure on a quasi-national level. It marked something of a turning point for me as I realized that the craft beer world was not quite not the shiny, happy place that I had turned it into in my mind. In short my love affair was under something of a strain.

So leave it to Societe Brewing to host an event that not only delivers the goods on every level but helps to rekindle the fires of my passion for this elixir that I love so much.

Societe Brewing has been one of my favorite breweries since they opened their doors four years ago. Honestly, Societe is probably my personal favorite but the thought of trying to rank breweries in San Diego is not only daunting but counterproductive to the harmony and unity between breweries in the area. Those ideas of harmony and a collaborative spirit between breweries was proudly on display at Societe’s fourth anniversary party this past Saturday, known simply as Societe IV.IMG_7095

Part of the fun with anniversary parties at Societe has been that every year is something new and they are continually raising the bar. This year will be a hard one to beat. Incorporating an Olympics theme, complete with a torch and a parade of the “Ale-thletes” to start the event, Societe invited nearly two dozen breweries (and one-man team Nate Soroko) from all over San Diego and one from Northern California to compete in a variety of brewers games, including a washer toss tournament, grain stacking challenge, tri-clamp challenge, Beer Chugging, Stein Holding and even an impressive barrel throwing event, which for those who are not sure, a barrel weighs right around 90 pounds and is not the easiest thing to throw for distance, but was a sight to behold. The spirit of camaraderie and friendship were on display for all to see and take part in and the fun that these folks were having was simply infectious as it was impossible to find someone not having a great time.IMG_7098

As fun as all the games were to watch and enjoy rooting for your favorite local brewers, we also came for the beers. I found several new treats to savor while enjoying all the festivities the day had to offer. New variations of The Bachelor, their single hop IPA series, included Nugget, Calypso and Idaho 7 while The Bachelorette, their single hop lager, introduced the Sterling varietal. To round out the new beers was the first Societe witbier, The Filly. Suffice to say everything was incredibly enjoyable and of the highest quality.

What came as perhaps the biggest surprise of the entire day, and announced only a few hours before the event, was the opportunity to purchase their very first bottled beer, a feral ale called The Swindler. As someone who was lucky enough to have this beer during the Societe 3 event last year, I can attest to its absolute incredibleness.IMG_7103

At four years in Societe is continuing to showcase not only their excellence at brewing but at displaying the strong sense of community between an incredible number of local San Diego breweries. In a lot of ways I was filled with a great deal of pride, even if my connection to the brewing industry is tangential at best, the event left me invigorated and rejuvenated. So cheers to Societe and all the Ale-thletes, I hope this one becomes a tradition, but even if it doesn’t, I will still be there to give all the support I can.

Cheers,

Tom


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The Battle for the Soul of San Diego Indie Beer

At the end of 2015 big beer made a barrage of acquisitions in an effort to expand its portfolio of “craft” Brewers. The moves were significant, and showed that corporate beer is not planning to sit back and let its share of the market be reduced any longer.

On the local front San Diego felt the sting of losing two of its own local breweries as Saint Archer was purchased by Miller/Coors, and more devastatingly, Ballast Point selling for 1 Billion dollars to Constellation Brands i.e. Corona. 

Now with the news that 10 Barrel Brewing, a property of InBev that masquerades as still being a local, independent brewery based out of Bend, Oregon, will be opening a location in downtown San Diego’s East Village neighborhood it has become clear that big beer is no longer content to simply buy the competition. They want to bury it. 

10 Barrel sold to InBev in November of 2014. Since then big beer has made a concerted effort to aquire at least one indie Brewer in every major market of the western United States. They purchased Elysian in Seattle, Golden Road in Los Angeles, Saint Archer and Ballast Point here in San Diego, Four Peaks in Phoenix and Breckenridge Brewing in Colorado. 

By placing a brewpub in San Diego, InBev has shown that it will continue to rely on deception and outright lies to attempt to create a ruse to confuse and trick customers. It is shameful. This is an effort to severely damage the indie beer culture of San Diego and we cannot sit back and take it.

One of the many rewarding aspects of loving the local, independent beer scene of San Diego is the knowledge that your money is staying in San Diego and supporting small business. Your money is helping your neighbors, and not lineing the pockets of rich people who do not give a damn about the community of San Diego. They see our city as dollars signs. They know their product does not stand a chance when lined up against the world class beers brewed by many of our local, indie Brewers. Deception is the new strategy.

Recently on a trip to Portland, Oregon I spent a Saturday night hopping from brewpub to brewpub in the downtown area. After a few hours I stumbled upon the 10 Barrel location; it was packed. I was shocked. Portlanders are known for their being savvy when it comes to supporting local business over corporate greed. It opened my eyes to a few truths that I still wrestle with but two of those truths are that not only are InBev’s deceptions working, they are working very well even in a indie beer town like Portland.

The most dangerous weapon we possess in the revolution against big beer is a knowledgable consumer. It is now more important than ever that we, as consumers, take the time to learn who owns who and where our hard earned money is going. Big beer is betting that we are too lazy to bother with seeking out the truth. It is time to teach how wrong they are. 

One of the most interesting details of the proposed location for the corporate beer sell out is the proposed location; just a block away from local favorite and Great American Beer Festival gold medal winning Monkey Paw Brewing and Pub. While I do not know their reactions to the news, I do know this: Monkey Paw Owner Scot Blair and Head Brewer Cosimo Sorrentino are two of the best the San Diego independent beer community could hope to have on the front lines for this battle. These are two people that I will always have the backs of and the San Diego indie beer community will be right there with me. 

InBev just brought a knife to a gunfight.

Cheers and remember to keep your money local,

Tom


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The only Culture we need is Beer Culture.

The writing of this particular blog post has taken on several different iterations since first beginning to craft it. Initially I had planned to write a simple recap of where and what I drank while adventuring around the indie beer scene in Portland, Oregon. I decided that was boring, no matter how many different ways I tried to write it. The next attempt was to try to cover my trip and make a comparison between the beer cultures of Portland and San Diego. I wrote it, it came out pretty good. Then two questions occurred to me; first, does four days in Portland really qualify me to speak at length on the differences and similarities in the beer culture of Portland compared to San Diego? Secondly, is it really that important to write about the differences in the drinking cultures of these two fantastic cities? No, it doesn’t. Just like every list ever written that ranks the best indie beer cities or tries to tell you what the best IPA’s in the world are, it is all subjective and usually has some sort of bias on the part of the writer. That is why I am going to put this right out on front street:

San Diego is the best city for indie beer.

That is my opinion and I stand by it 100%. However my brother in Los Angeles might disagree. My friend Bobby in Portland may see it differently, just as my cousin Corrine in Denver, my father in Baltimore and my buddy Chris in San Francisco all probably believe their city is the best. Here is the best part though: they are all right. Yes, for every person who drinks and supports independent beer, the town they live in should be the best and they should be proud of it.

Trying to compare drinking cultures in different cities is a lot like comparing apples to a bunch of other apples. Each one has its own unique flavor, but they are still apples in the end. It is important to remember, each and every city can and should stand on its own without having to deal with comparisons to other places.

Independent beer often has the ability to showcase some of the best qualities of the culture in which it was brewed. Here in San Diego it is very easy to find beers that are bright, shiny and clear in their color, reflective of a typical warm summer day and the sun reflecting off the ocean. In Portland many of the beers are little darker in color, like the woods of the forests around them and the general pioneering history and embracing the natural world around them. With each city having its own distinct flavor and sense of style, it presents endless options for the indie beer drinker who likes to explore.

It is simply a great time to be a beer lover in America. Never before in the nations history have we had more breweries in production than we do right now, and that number is only increasing. A person can board a flight and travel from one end of the country to the other, east to west, north to south, come out of the airport and be in the general vicinity of a local brewery. Its exciting to to explore the beers of a new city and immerse yourself into the culture of that town or city and learn what beer means to them. It is also exciting to know that, if for one reason or another, the beers of that city or town do not sit on your palette just right, the odds of finding a Stone IPA (or your own local favorite) are dramatically high as well, so you can support your hometown brewery and maybe turn on a few people who have not yet had the chance to see what your town is all about.

San Diego is a city that is still developing its beer culture. Yes, there are handful of breweries in town that have been brewing great beer for over 20 years, but it wasn’t until 2007-2008 that craft beer/independent beer began to skyrocket in its popularity, not only here but across the country. However, we are on the right track. Not only are we the proud home of some of the best breweries in the country, we are also home to some of the best beer bars in the country. Couple that with the continued growth of the farm to table food revolution and more top notch independent restaurants that serve local, independent brewery tap handles, San Diego is a destination not only for locals but for beer lovers across the globe. If the rate of growth in the independent beer market continues to expand, it will mean a much deeper permeation of beer into the fabric of what makes San Diego so great. The saturation point still seems to be far off, when too many breweries exist, but as long as the beer stays high in quality, it is only a matter of time before the sign reads “Welcome to San Diego, America’s Finest City, and Independent Beer Capital of the World.”

Won’t that be a great thing?

Cheers,

Tom20130523-124543.jpg


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Pucker Up Buttercup! SourFest 2014 at Churchill’s Pub & Grille

I like sour beers. Scratch that. I love sour beers!

However that wasn’t always the case. I remember my first time trying a Flanders Red Ale and my tastebuds freaking out! “What the hell is this?” I’m pretty sure I didn’t say that out loud. In fact I’m pretty sure I said something far worse. My palate wasn’t yet ready for the complexity and mouth puckering awesomeness that waited in a tulip glass, with it’s funky nose of brettanomyces, lactobacillus and all the other yeast beasts that could funk up any beer and take it to another level. Nope, at the time all I could think of was, “This tastes like sour patch kids”.

It was a slap in the face to my taste buds. This is one of those moments were getting a slap in the face was a good thing. It woke me up to a whole new world of beer styles that I had been relatively ignorant of for a number of years. That had to change. My quest to continue to evolve my palate and to expand my beer horizons had found something new to absorb, and I relished the opportunity to learn and to taste my way to finding some of the finest beers in the world. It was time well spent.

Fast forward to now.

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to attend Churchill’s Pub & Grille 5th Annual Peter Reeves Memorial Sourfest. The event is an opportunity to not only have some of the finest sour beers from San Diego and around the world, it’s also an opportunity to make a donation to cancer research which is always a worthwhile cause and one that I’m more than happy to drink to.

The bottle and draft list featured over 60 world class concoctions including an impressive array of delights from Almanac, Cascade, Lost Abbey, Russian River and international superstar Cantillon. Impressive is a word that would almost qualify as an understatement when used to describe this list of beers.

My wife and I made the trip to San Marcos with a quick stop on the way in Escondido to grab our North County drinking partners, then we braved the heat and stood in line for twenty or so minutes before making our way inside and grabbing a comfy seat and we quickly got to work on the menu.

What you don't see is us melting in the sun.

What you don’t see is us melting in the sun.

All said we managed to drink right around 25 sours, which was a lot more than expected but once my wife offered to drive us all home, it was something we couldn’t resist. We only experienced a few misses, as the sours weren’t quite tailored to what we like, but they were by no means bad beers. We experienced far more great and amazing beers than we had any right to expect, and rather than list off all the ones I liked I’ll share with you my top 3 of the day, in no particular order;

Lost Abbey Spontaneous Cheer – Spontaneously Fermented Blonde Ale with White Peaches, 6.0% ABV and oh my God is it good! No surprise that the same people who make Duck Duck Gooze also make a bunch of really great sours, but this one was a standout for me.

Societe Highbinder – Sour Ale Aged in Wine Barrels with Raspberries Added, 6.2% ABV and sweet fancy moses is this beer amazing! Everyone knows how I sing the praises of the guys over at Societe and beers like this are the reason why I will continue to do so. I can’t wait to try their next one.

Cantillon Cuvee Saint Gilloise – Lambic Aged for Two Years Dry Hopped with Hallertau Hops, this was a close call because Cantillon’s Lou Pepe Gueuze 2010 was pretty damn kick ass too, but this one just had a certain something that beat it out. Incredible flavors and aged to perfection.

Almanac Dark Pumpkin Sour, Cantillon Lou Pepe Gueuze2010, Societe Highbinder, Lost Abbey Duck Duck Gooze!

Almanac Dark Pumpkin Sour, Cantillon Lou Pepe Gueuze2010, Societe Highbinder, Lost Abbey Duck Duck Gooze!

Overall it was another fantastic visit to arguably the best pub in North County San Diego, and I didn’t even get to mention all the amazing eats we had while working our way down the menu. If you’ve not yet had the opportunity to visit Churchill’s, I highly recommend doing so, they have a continually amazing draft beer and bottle list that can make even the most discerning beer drinking happy and a great menu of meals to compliment them all.

So maybe sours aren’t your thing or maybe you’ve not had the opportunity to try very many just yet. I urge you to give them a chance, they are drinks that fit nicely into the beer genre but you should prepare your palate for a completely different adventure with every sip you take.

Cheers,

Tom