HOPTOLOGY

San Diego Beer, Local & Independent!


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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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Copenhagen to San Diego: Good Beer Knows No Boundries

In case you have somehow missed the news about Mikkeller San Diego opening its door this past weekend, I offer my own humble report for your perusal.
First off, I love this place. Walking in, you still recognize the bones of the old Alesmith. They have since moved to a brand new and massive brewery space just a little further down Miramar Rd. Yet Mikkeller (Originally out of Copenhagen, Denmark) has made the site very much its own. The tasting room area is cozy with plush couches and tables making for a very welcoming tasting room experience. It is hard not to feel both welcome and very comfortable as you walk in and take in the feel of the place. The lighting was low and added a special ambiance to the space, and while it was a packed house with long lines for beers, the environment was so relaxed that most people were very good about simply having a good time and not making a fuss about the wait.  IMG_6799
On this opening weekend the beer menu was full of variety, something for everyone so that even if you were not a fan of or had never even tried Mikkeller before, there was very little reason for a person to not find something to their liking. From a hoppy pilsner, big IPA’s, to dark Belgian delights, to the legendary Beer Geek Breakfast Stout, the draft list and killer, and with Mikkeller being known as a man who is not shy about putting a beer recipe together, there are literally thousands of option that exist and will eventually see its time on the board at some point.
A quick history for this not familiar with Mikkeller (also known as Mikel Bjorg Bjergso). He is what is known as a “Gypsy Brewer”. It simply means (prior to this opening) he did not have a dedicated location for brewing his recipes. He would travel to other breweries and either do it himself, or let that brewery team pull it together according to his instructions. San Diego is his first steady base of brewing operations. Perhaps the smartest, and from a local perspective, the best decision he made (aside from setting up in San Diego) was the hiring of Bill Batten.
Bill Batten is the man who has helped make Alesmith Brewing what it is today.IMG_6803
So if you are going to hire a brewer to work in the old Alesmith Brewery, you might as well bring on the guy who knows how to get the most out of that particular brewing system. It should be noted, that Alesmith is a parter in this venture, so the idea of Bill being the brewer should not come as a total shock.
On this opening trip, the crowd was lively, the beer was tasty and much like the warm sunny weather on this opening day, the future for Mikkeller SD looks to be very bright and I cannot recommend enough taking a visit to check it out for your self.
Cheers,
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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San Diego Beer Week is upon us!

The popular saying around San Diego is that in reality, every week is beer week. Sure, living in the craft beer mecca that San Diego has become can seem that way with the sheer number of breweries and a seemingly endless barrage of events happening throughout the year, but the fact remains that this week is special and should be held above all other events in town. This is the March Madness of the craft beer world.

The list of events is staggering, from tap takeovers to special barrel releases and insanely fun and delicious food & beer pairing dinners, it is impossible not to find an event of six to satisfy your beer drinking desires. Head over to the SD Beer Week website for the full calendar of events and have a truly great time. 

This past weekend, myself and my broadcast partner/ good friend Cody of ThreeBZine fame, were lucky enough to have the privilege to record our latest podcast episode live from the SD Brewer’s Guild Beer Festival, the annual kick-off event for Beer week. The conversations we had with some of San Diego’s elite brewing talents are both entertaining and insightful. If you’d like to hear what was said, please follow the link to ThreeBZine where you can listen or download from iTunes or your other favorite podcasting app. Thanks for listening and have a happy SD Beer Week!!IMG_2473 copy


Cheers,

Tom

 


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An Epic of Epic Epicness!

History is full of tales of people coming together to wage battle against the forces of evil and defend the world from impending darkness. This isn’t quite as dramatic as that.

When Cody Thompson first asked me to join him and Dustin Lothspeich on their podcast as the third member of their show, ThreeBzine.com podcast, I was both elated and slightly nervous. It would be a big task to bring my views and personality to a show that already has a stellar reputation in San Diego Craft Beer and Local Music community. Luckily, I’ve become friends with both Cody and Dustin over the past year and that made the task as easy as slipping on a velvet glove.

This past Wednesday was my first episode as a member of the show and the guests we featured couldn’t have been any better to help me realize how much fun this is going to be.

We spent the evening at Bagby Beer Company in Oceanside, California with our two hostesses, Dande Bagby, of Bagby Beer Company and Melanie Pierce of Keep a Breast, to discuss not only all the goings on at Bagby but to also the put a spotlight on the wonderful work that Melanie has done for this weekend’s Brewbies Beer Fest at Bagby Beer Company, a charity event where all proceeds go to the Keep a Breast Traveling Education Booth to assist in early detection of breast cancer.

So in short, it’s kind of a big deal.

We might become a traveling band.

We might become a traveling band.

Dande and Melanie might be my two new favorite people on the planet, sorry Kanye; beat it! This episode is an absolute delight; it’s full of funny stories, insightful information and a story or two that might even tug on the old heart strings. Basically, you want to listen and maybe even get involved.

Head over to ThreeBzine.com for all the info on downloading or streaming the show and please don’t hesitate to let me know what you think of it. Maybe crack a beer or two while you listen and enjoy!

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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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