December 31, 2014

Drinking San Diego Dry Part 2

So Part 1 covered the first 2/3 or so of my trip through San Diego and at this point in the trip we moved north towards Orange County and eventually into the Los Angeles area. So I'll start moving north with a journey to Stone's brewing facility.

Stone Brewing Co.

Admittedly, I have not been a fan of many Stone beers in the past. I am only beginning to really enjoy aggressively bitter beers in the West Coast IPA and DIPA styles and that makes up a lot of what Stone brings to my local market. In my head I also associate all of their hoppy beers with the taste of centennial hops which I particularly dislike for their floral nature. I know that's really only prominent in Ruination IPA but it's taking some time to shake off the mental association of Stone beers and centennial hops. So I expected going to the source would change my mind about Stone. It did.

Stone's new brewing facility is a wondrously huge brewing mecca with a large brewhouse and a restaurant serving up all sorts of interesting Stone beers (and variations) and non-Stone beers. The food is delicious and pairs well with a wide range of beers. I would have liked to get into a tour of the facilities but we had limited time and I imagine the tours book up almost as quickly as the New Belgium tour. I really fell down on the job of taking pictures this trip. The Stone facility is a visually stunning place with views of the fermentors and decor in the Gothic style you would imagine goes along with the Arrogant Bastard label. Since I don't have pictures for you I'll just jump into the beer:

  • Stone 12.12.12 Vertical Epic Belgian holiday ale
  • Stone Go To IPA with Lemon and Vanilla
  • Stone Smoked Porter with chocolate and orange peel
  • Surly Pentagram 2014
  • Stone Lupulin Loop Jarrylo
  • Stone Lucky Bastard (I know they intentionally misspell it in a different way)
  • Stone Master of Disguise
  • Stone Crime.
My favorites among the group were the Go To, Master of Disguise and Surly Pentagram. (I won't talk about the Surly beer because this is a review for Stone.) The Master of Disguise is a blond stout with coffee. The whole blond stout with coffee thing is interesting because you get the coffee flavor but, like Port Board Meeting, you don't have all the roast that normally comes along with coffee beers. So you get the flavor profile of a sweeter coffee drink (but without all the fat and sugar) rather than the delicious but different flavors of a black cup of coffee.

I was blown away by how much I liked the Go To IPA with lemon and vanilla. If you told me vanilla would work in an IPA I'd say you're full of crap. I'd be completely wrong. This variant on Go To was assertive with the lemon and vanilla with the lighter fruit flavors from the hops sitting in the background. It was a very lemon cake-like flavor. Both my wife and I loved the beer and drank quite a bit of it.

Then we decided to torture ourselves by trying Crime. Crime (and its companion Punishment) are heavily peppered beers using Arrogant Bastard variants as a base. When I ordered the bottle the bartender asked me if I knew what I was ordered. I laughed and said yes. I was not prepared. This 500ml bottle is based on Lucky Bastard (a blend of all the Arrogant Bastard variants) and aged in bourbon barrels with jalapenos, black nagas, Carribean red hots, Morgua scorpions and fatalis. For what it's worth, the flavor of the beer is incredible. It is fruity and the bourbon and malt flavors are present. But then the burn hits and stays with you. I drank 2/3 of the bottle while my wife put down the other third. We split a cheese tray along the way. Our stomachs were angry for a few hours. If I think about it, I can still feel the burning in my stomach.

The bartender said they made Crime and Punishment this unbearable because each prior rendition was mocked by consumers for not being spicy enough. So they went the other direction with it. I asked if anybody had ever just poured the whole bottle into a pint glass and put it down. He said a woman came in with two guys a couple weeks beforehand and she drank an entire bottle while the two guys refused to touch it. I would imagine most of the bottles get left behind half empty. We finished ours and snuck the empty bottle out as a trophy.

Alpine Beer Co.

Alpine Brewing is located in Alpine, California quite a bit east of San Diego. It's not quite as mountainous as the name suggests but it certainly has the feel of a small mountain community. I wasn't very impressed with the town and I was questioning my decision to drive out there when I found the brewery. There is a one-story building of moderate size with two Alpine Brewing signs on either end of the building with a book store and a barber in the middle. On the left is the restaurant where Alpine beers are served. On the right is the brew house where growlers are filled and (I believe) bottles are sold to go. The picture above is the brew house side of the building. The beers are well regarded so I figured I needed to go inside.The restaurant side is a small, sort of a dingy restaurant decorated in the way you would expect a brewer to style a bar, kind of like the restaurant from Office Space but only beer stuff on the walls. The food smelled good although I didn't try any.I will say this though: the service is really uneven. If you read some of the reviews online you almost start to wonder whether they are even true. They probably are.

Alpine is known for their hoppy beers and that's nearly everything they brew. There are a few non-hoppy beers and while some aren't too bad they generally are not worth your time. These guys are experts are hoppy beers and really shouldn't waste their time brewing some of these other beers. They do some interesting variants on these beers but in my opinion the line up would be stronger without these other beers. I understand you need a mix of beers for people who aren't big into hoppy beers but I don't know that the irish red (in particular) is really doing the brand any favors.

The beers we tried were:

  • Nelson rye ipa with New Zealand hops
  • Good barleywine
  • Alpine Ale pale ale
  • Willy wheat ale
  • Willy with vanilla
  • Hoppy Birthday pale ale
  • Mandarin nectar orange blossom honey blonde
  • Duet IPA
  • HFS IPA
  • Pure Hoppiness double IPA
  • McIlhenney's Irish red
  • Captain Stout chocolate oatmeal stout
Nelson was the easy winner among the pack with a healthy dose of Nelson Sauvin hops. Tasty stuff. The rye pepperiness is noticeable even under all of the hops and provides a nice counterpoint to the sweet Nelson Sauvin hops. Duet is definitely on the short list of simcoe + amarillo beers that stand out of the long, long list of beers copying this combination. Now that Alpine was entered into business with Green Flash we might see these beers on a wider scale, possibly even out here in Texas.

The Bruery

Since we were in Orange County and our 2014 Reserve Society membership is running out it was an obvious decision to hit The Bruery tasting room. I did not realize that there are society member-only beers in the tasting room but that was quickly uncovered after we got our first round. So we did some tastings and here's what was consumed:

  • Melange 1
  • Blueberry Smoking Wood
  • Mole Smoking Wood
  • Mash and coconut
  • So Happens It's Tuesday with vanilla and cherries
  • Coffee Smoking Wood
  • Bierbara
  • Mash and Grind
  • Sourrento
  • Roble Blanco
Fan favorites this go round were blueberry Smoking Wood, coffee Smoking Wood, So Happens and Bierbara. I am probably on the short list of people who really enjoyed blueberry Smoking Wood but I thought it was an interesting beer with sort of a grilled blueberry cobbler flavor. I don't know that I could drink it all night but it was an interesting beer to try out. Coffee Smoking Wood was similarly an interesting mix of coffee and smoke. I like Smoking Wood a lot so I guess it isn't surprising I liked those beers. So Happens... with vanilla and cherries had the great flavors of Black Tuesday but without the heavy ABV, which is a nice change of pace from the ABV attack of Black Tuesday. Vanilla helps coax out some of the chocolate notes in a stout and when paired with cherries brings out a nice cherry chocolate flavor. Bierbara is an interesting beer with wine grapes, apricots and spices. I wouldn't say I loved the beer but it was an interesting flavor profile. Not quite a mulled wine but not quite obviously a beer, either.

Karl Strauss Brewery Restaurant in Costa Mesa

I didn't know much about Karl Strauss prior to this trip except that my wife has fallen in love with Red Trolley, their flagship amber ale. I was assured I would enjoy the beers and as a selling point I was informed that they tap a cask on Thursday nights so I was sold. I don't believe any brewing occurs at the restaurants, it appears all the beer is made at the brewing facility in San Diego and shipped around the their restaurants. I'm usually suspect of that arrangement because it invokes the image of a BJ's or other "brewpub" with mediocre beer sent out from some contract brewing arrangement. However, Karl Strauss has done a great job of using the restaurants as brand ambassadors for the beer. The food is great and served in generous portions. The servers might not be cicerones but they have been taught about the beers and serve samples of what is normally paired with the dishes you order in case you want to order a beer paired with your food. They do a really good job of pairing.

Let's talk some beers:

  • Red Trolley cask with orange peel
  • Red Trolley
  • Fullsuit Belgian brown ale
  • Pintail pale ale
  • Five wee heavy
  • Wreck alley imperial stout
  • Tower 10 IPA
I drank a lot of the cask. The orange peel added citrus notes that paired well with the caramel sweetness of the beer and helped cut some of the sweetness with the citrus oils. Pintail pale ale offers an interesting mix of newport, cascade and amarillo hops that I enjoyed. I also really enjoyed the Fullsuit Belgian brown ale that takes a different direction than the usual Belgian brown ales. Rather than selecting a fruity Belgian strain Karl Strauss opts for a peppery strain (likely Ardennes) and ages the beer on French oak. The peppery yeast is prominent and the oak is gentle but present. Honestly I liked all the beers I tried and would happily return. It seems like Karl Strauss offers a wide range of beers at their brewery in San Diego so I'd like to check out what other kinds of weird things they are doing with their beers.

Absolution Brewing Co.

I found this little place in Torrence while my wife was in a business meeting and decided to check it out. I swear I took a picture or two here but it's not on my phone. The layout is the usual taproom/brewhouse set up with a thick rope delineating between customer and employee. Absolution's beers are an interesting mix. There are the usual range of styles (hefe, porter, stout, pale ale, etc.) along with some IPAs and a handful of Belgian beers. What's probably most interesting about their line up is that their IPAs are east meets west. English malt--usually Maris Otter--mixed with American hops. They are definitely out of place in the west coast where the IPAs tend to be drier but it's nice to have a different option on the market. They also barrel age a handful of beers and put a couple on cask so there are plenty of options to check out. I only had time to taste a couple beers but I would definitely go back and explore more taps.

The first beer I drank was a chardonnay barrel aged Trespasser saison. The base beer is a hop-forward saison with Palisades and Ahtanum offering citrus and melon notes. The barrel aging smooths some of the hop bitterness while adding a smooth chardonnay and oak edge to the beer. The chardonnay is balanced. The remaining hop bitterness does a nice job of balancing out the chardonnay that can come across as sweet in a beer.

Second was Winter Trespasser dubbel on cask. It's rare to find a Belgian beer on cask (at least where I find myself) and one reason why I believe that is the case is because Belgian beers generally benefit from a high level of carbonation that makes the fruity esters from the yeast stand out. Cask, on the other hand, smooths out some of those flavors and brings out the malt character. In an IPA the cask pour smooths the bitterness and brings balance to the malt and hops but the esters in a Belgian beer are more delicate and can get lost in that effect. I'm not sure what the original beer in this case is like but I did find the cask subdued the esters. They were there in the background but what replaced the big fruit notes was a dominant chocolate flavor like a very creamy milk chocolate. Some of the bready and caramel notes were present and gave a chocolate scone-like flavor profile. I wouldn't say this would be the way I would always want to drink dubbels but for this particular beer it was perfect.

Some other random beers...


We also checked out Neighborhood bar in the gaslamp district in San Diego and I enjoyed these other beers:

  • Lambicx
  • Lost Abbey Lost Gourd 
  • Almanac Tequila barrel Noir
  • Hess Umbrix rye imperial stout
  • Craftsman Holiday Ale
The big surprise of the lot was Hess Umbrix. A really nice rye imperial stout. Complex with a big rye flavor. I was also very happy to find Lambicx as we do not get it here in Texas.

Alright, so that's the fun I had in San Diego. I have return trips to Colorado and Oregon coming up in the first half of 2015 so that will be more drinking adventures for me.


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