HOPTOLOGY

San Diego Beer, Local & Independent!


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November 10th; The day Green Flash Brewing bought Alpine Beer Co.

It’s a Monday morning in America’s Finest City and its mega craft beer event, San Diego Beer Week, is in full swing. Most of us craft beer enthusiasts are contemplating which of the dozens of fantastic and fun events lined up all over the county to attend. Then something happens. News from the craft beer industry breaks and San Diego beer drinkers do a collective double take and everything in our world of hand crafted brews comes to a screeching halt at the news and we let out a gasp of “What with the what what?”

Green Flash Brewing has bought Alpine Beer Company.

Honestly, it took me several long minutes for me to wrap my head around the very notion of it. While it’s certainly not unheard of for a craft brewer to acquire a smaller craft brewer, Samuel Adams has been doing it for a while now (even if you don’t consider them to be craft any longer), the idea of it happening here in San Diego took me by surprise.

As is no longer shocking, after a quick perusing of my social media feeds, there was a lot of mixed reaction. Some people liked it, some didn’t. Some out right hated it while others where just hoping the beer wouldn’t be affected. I think if the announcement wasn’t coming on the heels of the news of Anheuser-Busch purchasing Portland craft beer legend 10 Barrel Brewing this past week, the news might not have met with such diverse reactions.

I think a lot of assumptions were made initially, and hopefully now that the shock has worn off, people see this for what it is, two craft beer companies coming together to make each of their brands stronger and increase their odds of continued success in a beer market that is, with the exception of craft beer sales, flat or in decline depending on whose numbers you are looking at.

After reading several articles on the sale and the official press release, which you can find here, it’s clear that this is a move the will benefit both companies and craft beer drinkers alike.

Green Flash has an incredible line-up of beers, excellent marketing strategies and well thought out expansions plans, including a new facility which has recently broken ground in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Their larger production facility will mean that Alpine beers, long coveted and argued to be the best IPA’s in the world, will now be available to more people. How can this be considered a bad thing?

On the surface, it may look to some as if this is like Anheuser-Busch, a giant corporation gobbling up the little guys in an effort to stop the competition. I believe there is nothing further from the truth. What A.B. is doing is an attempt to get a foot hold in a market that they have been boxed out of by purchasing companies like 10 Barrel, Goose Island and others that already have a foot in the door.

The situation with Green Flash and Alpine is totally different. For one thing, Green Flash helped to create the market they are in. To the people who run the company, craft beer isn’t about competition but about comradery and the belief that great beer brings great people together. Alpine Beer Company on the other hand, has enjoyed immense popularity, particularly for their murder’s row of IPA’s like Duet, Nelson, Hoppy Birthday, Exponential Hoppiness and others. However, the bottom line has always been that they are a small brewery in east county San Diego and the demand for their beers continues to outpace their ability to brew it all fast enough. An experiment earlier in the year, where Alpine allowed Green Flash to brew their IPA’s meet with Alpine head brewer & co-founder Pat McIIhenny’s approval. One could speculate that this was the genesis of the idea for the new ownership arrangement.

Alpine Beer Company will still be run the same way. The labels on the bottle will be the same. The beer in the bottles will be the same. Pat will still be making the beer to his exacting standards. The small brewery and brewpub will still be open in Alpine, the plans for a new, larger restaurant are still in the works. The biggest change will be the volume of beer made and where it’s made at; Green Flash. This opens the door to wider distribution throughout California and I’d guess it’s only a matter of time before 49 other states will get their chance at some of the best beer in the world. And perhaps most importantly, the roughly 20 employees who work at Alpine will now have the opportunity for health insurance, 401K and other perks that the small scale brewery was unable to provide before now.

While a tiny part of me is sad that the Alpine Beer Company that was something of San Diego secret is now done and over with, the rest of me is very excited for the the rest of California, and the country to now be able to get their hands on what I consider to be the finest craft beers on the planet, because if you’ve not had Nelson IPA from Alpine, you are truly missing out on something special.

Cheers,

Tom

 

 


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It’s the Great Pumpkin (Beers), Charlie Brown!

It’s that time of year when the temperature begins to drop and the cool, crispness in the air signals the change of season from summer to fall as the leaves begin to turn color and sail to the ground where they wait for us to rake them up into big piles for the children of the neighborhood to jump into.

Well, maybe not in Southern California.a97bf1d1-794a-401e-a8dc-16a9dfe23805

October in San Diego usually means odd pumpkin patches in the middle of parking lots with straw on the ground. Costume shops in every strip mall that has an unoccupied building and lunatics who try to tell you that cold cider is just as good as hot cider. Savages I tell you!

But what we don’t have in the way of the more iconic definition of the fall season, we more than make up for in our efforts to evoke that fall feeling of cool nights and crisp air with some truly wonderful pumpkin ales made by some of the best craft brewers in San Diego, and for this list, one who is slightly further away.

Much like last week’s post on specialty ingredient hibiscus, pumpkin is something that can easily be done wrong. It’s also easy to look at the absolute flood of pumpkin related items and say that pumpkin beer is simply a gimmick to get money from suckers who worship at the house of gourd.

The question has been asked to me on several occasions; can pumpkin beers be considered a true craft beer? Or do you lose credibility because of the perception that pumpkin beers are merely a fad? It’s a question I like to answer with another question; Is it brewed by a craft brewer? Than the answer is yes, it’s craft beer. However, if you want to delve into the question further, I will happily elaborate. The beer must be carefully crafted to be something unique, not something that is simply allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon added to a fermentor. The design of the beer has to be really strong and showcase what real pumpkin flavor can bring to the world of craft beer.

That being said, allow me to present four craft beer that might make you rethink the way you look at pumpkin beer.

Coronado Brewing Company: Punk’in Drublic Imperial Pumpkin Ale.2014-10-08 18.39.43

The beer opens with a rich orange/amber color. lightly carbonated. The nose is a mix of pumpkin and nutmeg with a noticeable hint of cinnamon. First taste is a nice blend of natural pumpkin flavor with more sublet notes from the added spices and a light honey sweetness. The beer drinks easy and has all the nice flavors that a fall beer should have. The spices don’t overpower the beer, you can readily taste the natural pumpkin flavor without thinking that you are being force-fed pumpkin pie in a bottle. Plus the brew has a nice 8.0%ABV which you might not suspect as I found it to be a rather subtle. I love the design on the bottle and the name alone kind of makes it an easy sell to me, good thing it is also easy to drink and even easier to recommend.

Mike Hess Brewing: Magma Cucurbita, Imperial Pumpkin Stout.2014-10-13 16.06.38

Another beautiful bottle for a stout that pours at an impressive 7.25%ABV. The color is a dark molasses with a rich foamy head. The aroma is a roasted earthiness mixed with subtle hints of spice. Taste wise, it’s matches well with it’s aroma. This beer is roasted like pumpkin seeds and has an earthy quality like the brew just came out of the ground at a pumpkin patch. This beer drinks very well and gets more complex and enjoyable as it warms up to room temperature. On the front end of your palate, you get all the malty goodness, the pumpkin and spices are more subtle and noticeable on the back end. This is a wonderful beer to sit around on a cool autumn night with to help you stay warm.

Alpine Beer Company: Ichabod Ale.

With the amazing brewers at Alpine using a wheatwine as the base for this ale, you have to know it’s going to have a little something behind it, and at 10%ABV it doesn’t disappoint. The ale pours a golden orange color with a lovely nose of cinnamon and nutmeg but used moderately so as not to over power the beer they have crafted. It tastes as good as it smells and with a sticky wine sweetness that adds to the overall enjoyment of the beer. This isn’t one that should be gulped down in a hurry, this is a much more easy going, take a sip and enjoy the leaves changing color sort of beer. Take your time with this one and you’ll truly appreciate what it has to offer.2014-10-11 16.16.37

Kern River Brewing Company: Pumpkin Ale.

Kern River is not a San Diego brewery, but you’d never know it from the way their “Just Outstanding” IPA tastes. In fact, that beer is the sole reason I was so excited to try out this pumpkin ale. The label is simple yet the tag line says it all, “So good it’s scary!”. The beer pours a healthy orange color with a nice level of carbonation. The nose on this ale is full of fresh pumpkin smell and that’s exactly what you get as the ale touches your tongue. You’ll notice a soft undercurrent of allspice on the backend, but only if you are paying close attention. This pumpkin beer is amazingly drinkable and at only 5%ABV it’s not going to end your night of trick r’ treats early. The restraint from the temptation to over spice this beer is perhaps the most impressive thing of all. It takes true craftsmanship to show that level of restraint and let the fresh pumpkin flavors be the star of the beer. A phenomenal ale and luckily, everyone I’ve shared it with has agreed with that assessment. Highest recommendation you go find this beer right now.2014-10-13 23.06.59

So there are my four favorite pumpkins ales for this Halloween season, did I forget any? Let me know which ones have caught your eye.

Now if we could only get the brewers to make that beer with the turkey/cranberry/gravy/stuffing flavor for Thanksgiving we’d be all set!

Cheers and Happy Halloween!

Tom


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Real Men (& Women) Drink Pink Beer!

Specialty ingredients in beer are always something that people have a ton of opinions about. Some people think it’s gimmicky, some people think it’s creative and there are all kinds of opinions that fall in-between and around those two opposing thoughts. Recently I’ve had two beers that are two different styles that are tied together with one common specially ingredient; hibiscus.

Hibiscus is a flower most commonly associated with tropical and sub-tropical regions. When not in flower form, it’s most commonly used as an ingredient in specialty teas. However this is San Diego and we aren’t known for brewing tea, we are known for brewing beer. So lets grab some hibiscus and make some beer with it. First up…

Stone Brewing’s Stochasticity Project: Hibiscusicity.2014-10-02 23.47.07

This beer is a Belgian style ale, normally a golden ale, however with the inclusion of dried hibiscus leaves to the recipe this beer now pours a beautiful shade of pink with a really nice floral nose touched with a hint of citrus, probably from another ingredient used; orange peel. I found both the color and the aroma of the beer to be very surprising. Initially I had moderate expectations for a Belgian style ale that was using dried flowers as a selling point for the beer, but after seeing how it poured and letting it’s aroma fill my sense of smell, I had become intrigued. Very intrigued. Putting the glass to my mouth, the floral and citrus hit your palate nicely and then you discover a hint of tartness mingled with the spice that is customary in a Belgian ale. It finished dry and is amazingly refreshing. I honestly couldn’t get enough of this beer which was something I wasn’t expecting. This beer comes in at 7.4% ABV and is dangerously easy to drink. I highly recommend giving this entry in the Stochasticity Project a taste because I’m confident you won’t regret it. It’s delightful!

The next beer I had recently with this ingredient was none other than…

Coronado Brewing Company’s Hibiscus IPA.

For an IPA, you will know this beer is pretty different just from reading that it’s ABV is only 4.9%, a pretty low level for most beers to be called an IPA. Something else to note is that it also has a very low IBU (International Bittering Units) level as well, at 40 which is as low as you can go and still be considered an IPA. If those sort of numbers set off alarm bells in your brain, I suggest you ignore them because this beer is really good. When I poured to my glass I noted the vibrant pink color and the floral aroma that came off the beer, it was mingled with a slight citrus smell. When the beer hit my palate, the first thing I thought was just how smooth and easy drinking this beer is. The presence of chinook and centennial hops are noticeable but they play a complimentary role to the hibiscus, they don’t over power the beer in anyway. Again, this was also an incredibly refreshing beer, especially considering its IPA characteristics. It should be noted that this is not a new beer, it was originally a collaboration between Coronado and Maui Brewing to help raise funds for the breast cancer awareness organization, Beer for Boobs. Now the beer is being made once again, this time it’s Coronado on it’s own, but the link to the fight against breast cancer remains as a portion of proceeds go to the charity. A pink beer to raise breast cancer awareness, I love the way brewers think! In closing, the beers is fantastic and you owe it to yourself to give it a shot and not dismiss it because it’s pink bottle and low ABV frighten you. This beer is totally legit and really, really good!2014-10-03 00.31.17

That’s all for now guys. Have a great time drinking craft beer!

Cheers,

Tom


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Beer-Con Podcasts; Sounds so good you’ll think you’re drinking craft beer!

On Saturday August 23rd I had the privilege to attend Beer-Con 2014, and it was truly a special event that I’d like to share with everyone. Luckily, Cody from ThreeBZine.com has made that really easy by being onsite and recording his podcast live from the top floor of the ballroom. Cody sat down with each of the guest speakers and really get to the heart of what each person was bringing to the table as far as why they were at Beer-Con and why it’s important that the event continues to grow. It was an impressive lineup of San Diego Beer heavyweights like “Dr” Bill Sysak, Mike Hess of Hess Brewing, Shawn Dewitt of Coronado Brewing, Mike Sardina of Societe Brewing, Grant Fraley of ChuckAlek, Steve Zigray of Rip Current, Angel Miron of Lets Go Clandestino, Katy Hall from White Labs, Misty Birchall of PubCakes, Charles Eck of bottletrade.com and a few others heaped in for good measure, like Rudy Pollorena Jr. and Michael Bowen, the founder of Beer-Con. To be crystal clear, these guys weren’t at the event as some sort of sales pitch to buy their beers, these guys were here to share why it’s important that everyone continues to help craft beer grow and thrive in communities around the country. What these people had to say was fascinating and you’ll be able to tell from they way they speak on the subject, just how passionate they are about craft beer.

What is also very cool about these podcast episodes is the fact that Cody was gracious enough to allow me to sit sidecar as his usual co-host Dustin (who also gave me his blessing) was unable to attend. It was a truly special moment for me personally to get to sit in on these sessions and for that I can’t thank Cody enough. I hope you’ll seek out the sessions that are most appealing to you and enjoy them as much as we did making them, and then you can go back and listen to all the rest because there is some really great information in there as well as a couple of guys having a lot of fun. Cody has been releasing episodes on the iTunes store under podcasts at keyword ThreeBZine (they are free!) as well as on his website (also free!) and if you want to get crazy, head over to bandcamp.com where you can download all the sessions as one great album (Free! but please donate if so inclined).

Please check it out and let me know how we did. Well, to be honest, Cody crushed it as usual, so please let me know how I did.

Cheers,

Tom   


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Save the date: August 23rd is Beer-Con!

Craft beer is my passion. If you are reading this blog odds are pretty good that it’s your passion as well. One of my favorite things to do here on the website and with my friends out at the bars is to share my knowledge and to hopefully learn new and exciting bits of information and insights into the world of craft beer. Whenever the opportunity arises sit back and listen to a respected member of the craft beer community speak about important issues in the world of craft brewing, I will always jump at the chance to sit in and try to soak up as much knowledge as I can. Luckily for us here in San Diego, there is a wonderful collection of very smart and knowledgeable beer people who can not only be informative but also very entertaining. It also doesn’t hurt that quite a few of them can also make a really nice beer to drink.

This is why I am so excited that on August 23, Beer-Con is back!

If you are not familiar, Beer-Con is a convention that is hosted right here in San Diego for all levels of craft beer lovers, from the newest of novices to the most expert of experts, Beer-Con is where you bring your passion for craft beer and share it with others. But this isn’t simply a gathering of craft beer enthusiasts, this is a convention designed to help you learn more about the world of craft beer and you have an opportunity to engage with the people who create your favorite brews. Panels are designed to help impart knowledge and to allow patrons to ask questions of their own.

This year the fun begins at 10am with a keynote address from the master of craft beer pairings, “Dr.” Bill Sysak, which I can speak from personal experience, should really help set the tone for a fun day. Panelist for this year will include, Doug Constantiner from Societe Brewing, Mike Hess from Hess Brewing, Shawn Dewitt of Coronado Brewing, Tristan Faulk-Webster from Aztec Brewing and many more as you get a full day of information and discussion from some of the best craft beer minds in Southern California. Your ticket will also get you a lunch, provided by MishMash, that gets paired with local craft beers and as if that isn’t enough, when the symposium wraps up, the beer festival starts! From 5pm to 8pm you can sample fine brews from the breweries listed above as well as Rip Current, Latitude 33, ChuckAlek and more!

I should also mention that your ticket entitles you to a free limited special edition t-shirt made by CraftBeerd himself, Rudy Pollorena Jr. It’s pretty badass.

You can also get more details on the event itself from my friends over at Three B Zine, the latest episode of the podcast features Michael Bowen, the creator/organizer of Beer-Con as well as Rudy Pollorena Jr. who talks about what ideas went into the design for the special edition t-shirt. It’s great stuff. You can find that episode right here.

This is not your typical beer festival, this is an excellent opportunity to increase you craft beer knowledge and it just happens to have a beer festival at the end to celebrate a successful day of learning from some of the best around about craft beer. Click here to go directly to the ticket purchasing page.

It’s important that all of our understandings of craft beer continue to grow. It’s vital that as consumers, we amass as much information as we can so that we will continue to make informed choices on how and where we want to spend our money. Smart consumers are what macro breweries are most afraid of. Craft Beer can’t change the world unless we help propel it to the great heights that it deserves to be at. Smart, well-informed consumers are going to be the ones that put macro breweries on notice that their time is done. Beer-Con is here to help make new well-informed consumers and help increase the knowledge of those who are already helping to spread the word. So when you go to beer con on August 23rd, take a person with you who needs that little extra push to be a smart consumer, heck bring two or three who need that push. When craft beer drinkers are legion is when we change to world. The revolution has already started, Beer-Con is here to help grow our army. This is your chance to become a better craft beer advocate as well as help make two or three new ones.

Having said all that, be sure to go and have fun! After all, if you aren’t having fun while drinking craft beer… you are doing it all wrong.

Cheers,

Tom


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When Hoptology and Three B Zine met; Next stop: World Domination!

Last week I had the privilege of joining local San Diego craft beer advocate, beer blogger and podcaster Cody Thompson on his excellent Three B Zine podcast, (co-host Dustin Lothspeich was unable to join us that night) which you can find on the Three B Zine website and is conveniently available at the iTunes store and the best part is it’s free! So what is Three B Zine?  Simple, the three B’s stand for Beer, Bands, and Bites, three things that I’m all too happy and have way too much to talk about.

Being asked to be interviewed was very flattering, but very fun. With a format like podcasting where you are sitting across from another person and they are firing questions at you, it definitely keeps you on your toes and forces you to gather your thoughts quickly and spit them out coherently. A task that, for me, is not as easy as it looks. Luckily for me, Cody is very good at what he does as the host of the show and always manages to keep everything on track. He is able to create a casual environment where you just want to sit back and chat with your buddy. It didn’t take too long for me to forget the fact that there was a microphone in the room. The Boo Koo IPA from Mother Earth Brewing probably helped with that.

We had the opportunity to talk not only about our love for craft beer and why we’ve gotten into the world of blogs and podcasts, but we also talked about some topics from the retail side of beer sales as well as a recap of our time at San Diego Comic Con. It was an absolute blast and I hope I’ll get the opportunity to do it again one day.

I am humbly asking that, if you enjoy a good podcast, head over to ThreeBZine.com or find them on the iTunes podcast app and download episode 35, featuring me. Early reports are that I don’t sound like an asshole, so that’s good. But I’m always looking for more validation in life that says I’m not an asshole, so please listen and let me know what you think. Then once you are addicted to the sweet melodious sounds of Cody, peruse their back-episodes and download those as well. There are quite a few gems in the bunch. Thanks, and my fingers are crossed that you don’t think I sound like a douche nozzle.

Cheers,

Tom


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Geeks vs. Snobs : View through a Sore Eye.

Brian from Sore Eye Sports was the very first person who reached out to me when I first started this blog just over two years ago. It was exciting to know that someone who wasn’t already my friend was reading this blog. He also helped me to feel like a part of the San Diego Craft Beer Community. In essence, he was the perfect Craft Beer Geek to make me feel welcome to the club as opposed to someone who would say something along the lines of ‘why are you even bothering to do this’. Brian was also gracious enough to include me on the tasting panel for the first ever Sore Eye Cup, award to the best beer in San Diego as nominated by the drinkers of craft beer. Over the past two years I’ve had the chance to develop a pretty good friendship with the guy. I enjoy when we get to drink and talk about our favorite beers together. In short, Brain is a great guy. He has a unique point of view and he has the tendency to word things in such a way that you can’t help but laugh at how clever the guy is. So of course I asked him for his thoughts on the subject of Craft Beer Geeks vs. Craft Beers Snobs.

Here is what Brian had to say:

“We’re in the middle of the greatest craft beer boom of modern times and there are lines being drawn in the sand with the levels of fandom there are. Two of the most recent labels are craft beer geek and craft beer snob. To me, the craft beer snob is a person that’s convinced themselves they are on a higher plane than the average craft beer geek. To the snob, the geeks of the world are cluttering their once elitist club. Whether the snob has built their attitude of condescension based on craft knowledge or a desire to seem more highbrow than those around them, it is a detriment to the overall craft beer scene/industry. The craft beer scene, at least here in San Diego, is based on community involvement and inclusion rather than an exclusion. The craft beer snob would be content if not one more person decided they loved the snob’s favorite brewery, an attitude that only helps themselves, not the brewery they claim to adore nor the culture they claim to be involved in.

The craft beer geek is a better, friendlier fan. A knowledgeable person that truly enjoys the intricacies of different beer styles, flavors, and the craft beer culture. They are enthusiast about breweries and beers they love but don’t look down upon those that have differing opinions. The geek welcomes new and uneducated drinkers into the fold, always happy to discuss what someone likes and help them learn what beers they would enjoy. They are the fans breweries want to cultivate, people that will share their positive feelings and experiences with anyone that will listen, not dismiss or discredit the opinions of others that have less knowledge or experience.

While the craft beer snob may think they are the upper echelon of beer drinkers their elitist attitude is actually demeaning the industry and culture they attest to being an expert in. The craft beer geek embraces this fascination of the industry and culture, welcomes new craft beer fans into the fold with open arms and is the actual fuel behind the explosive craft beer growth we are experiencing.”

Brian says it all pretty perfectly. You may note that this is another in  a series of pro ‘Craft Beer Geek’ posts. When I  first started this little series of posts, with the help of others from the San Diego Craft Beer scene, I didn’t solicit for only pro geek sentiments. This is what people have in their hearts. All that being said, I have no wish for the perception to be that I don’t want to hear from those whose opinions differ from mine or the other gents who has shared their thoughts. The few self-professed Craft Beer Snobs that I know, did not wish to share their thoughts, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear from other folks. If you are a beer snob, I would be happy to share your thoughts on this platform. Please contact me, I’m easy to find and I will promise you a fair opportunity to make your point of view known.

If you’d like to check out more from the awesome Brian, go Sore Eye Sports for his blog, and find him on twitter and instagram @mkbain. He’s got some rad stuff planned for the summer and if you meet him, try to pry a bottle of his excellent homebrew, Chinout Stout, from him. You’ll be happy that you did.

"Come with us if you want to drink!"

“Come with us if you want to drink!”

Cheers,

Tom