As is true in baseball — look no further than the current World Series champs, the Houston Astros — one key to San Diego’s winning craft beer teams is a strong farm system.
Local amateur brewers continue to shine a light on this area’s strong beer culture. The latest example: San Marcos’ Nicolas Corona, 2017’s “California State Homebrewer of the Year.”
Corona, manager of the Valley View Casino, accumulated the most combined points at the California State Fair in Sacramento, the Mayfaire Homebrew Competition in Los Angeles and the California State Homebrew Competition in San Francisco.
People who triumph in this contest, which is sponsored by the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., often turn pro. That was true with Paul Sangster, former winner and now co-owner of San Marcos’ Rip Current.
“I was very excited to learn that I brought this prize back down to San Diego,” Corona said.
Today being Thanksgiving, tomorrow is Day One of Christmas Beer Season. For pro tips, I turned to Tomme Arthur, part-owner/brewer at Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey in San Marcos.
Q. What’s the first Christmas beer you tasted? What was your reaction?
A. “Going way back in time, I would think that Anchor Christmas, Sierra Nevada Celebration and Samuel Smith's Winter Warmer were probably my first experiences with Christmas beers. The Anchor beer I remember being very spicy, the Celebration joyfully hoppy and the Samuel Smith's being malty and brown. All of them were deliciously unique.”
Q. Can you define “Christmas beer”? Do all the beers in this category share certain characteristics?
A. “My idea of a great Christmas beer is one that puts you in the spirit of Christmas. There are so many ways to do this.
“Historically many Christmas beers have been stronger in ABV (alcohol by volume) and something you might want to sip in front of a fire while it's snowing outside. As that rarely happens here in San Diego, we have a slightly different perspective on how our Christmas beers should taste.”
Q. What was the first Christmas beer you brewed? Did drinkers greet it as a holiday present, or as a liquid lump of coal?
A. “In 1997 I brewed the very first batch of Santa's Little Helper Imperial Stout. It was dark as night, smoother than a lump of coal and was incredibly well received.”
Q. Can you describe the Christmas beers you brew now for Port Brewing?
A. “Since opening our doors in 2006 here in San Marcos we have produced two Christmas beers each year. Port Brewing has released Santa's Little Helper Imperial Stout. This recipe hasn't changed since it was first introduced.
“We also are producing Santa's Little Helper in four-packs for the first time, so look for those out in the world.”
Q. That’s one. The other Christmas beer you make in San Marcos?
A. “In years past The Lost Abbey seasonal was Gift of the Magi (an ale in the biere de garde style). New this year to The Lost Abbey is Gnoel de Abbey, which is replacing Gift of the Magi. This is a blended beer featuring a freshly brewed base beer which we married to some barrel-aged goodness.
“The resulting beer is deep garnet in color with some incredible hazelnut qualities. At 8.5% ABV, we think it's shockingly light and refreshing”
Q. Other than your own, which Christmas beers do you always turn to at this time of year?
A. “My dad makes a mean Egg Nog with Wild Turkey 101. Does that count? If not, I still crush as many Sierra Nevada Celebrations as humanly possible.”
Words to Drink By
“ ‘Twas Christmas broach’d the mightiest ale/ ’Twas Christmas told the merriest tale/ A Christmas gambol oft would cheer/ A poor man’s heart through half the year.” — Sir Walter Scott (holiday greetings to Brookston Beer Bulletin, which brought this gem to my attention).
‘Drink Like a Resident’
If you’re in the market for a staycation, consider the Hotel Palomar’s “Drink Like a Resident” program, which continues through January.
Participants receive a tasting at Resident Brewing, 1065 Fourth Ave.; room upgrade for Friday nights at the Palomar, 1047 Fifth Ave.; and the services of the hotel’s “Beer Concierge,” who can advise craft beer fanatics and newbies alike.