First Draught


By Brandon Hernández / Photos by Jeff “Turbo” Corrigan (unless otherwise noted)

It’s time to get week in the knees as the annual 10-day fermentation fete that is San Diego Beer Week (SDBW) descends on America’s craft-beer capital November 1 to 10. To maximize your imbibing pleasure while falling in love with beer from here, check out this look at the sudsy scene that’s sure make you say, “I’d tap that.” Cheers!

In With The News

Tapping the best of the incoming class

Breweries of all types (production breweries, nanobreweries, brewpubs) are opening at a faster clip than ever before. With so many flooding the market, it’s important to point beer-seekers in the right direction. Here are a few selections that make San Diego an even finer place to live.

Belching Beaver Brewery:
Don’t let the name turn you off. Fueled by the skills of a Coronado Brewing veteran, this place is producing some mighty tasteful beer. The IPAs are crisp, and The Beav’s milk stout is a delicious standout.

Benchmark Brewing:
Company: After spending years churning out near-perfect beers at AleSmith, brewer Matt Akin knows his stuff. Proof comes in the form of this Grantville newbie’s brilliant brown ale and stout.

Culture Brewing Co.:
Sure, Pizza Port’s original brewpub is less than a mile away, but a top-notch black India pale ale provides enough reason on its own to make any night in Solana Beach a double-destination affair.

Modern Times Beer:
Although still figuring things out, this Point Loma rookie’s first drafts show serious promise. Featuring one of the most artistically appealing tasting rooms around, it’d be worth a visit even if it had no beer.

Bubbling Over

Veteran operations going and growing stronger than ever

In the beginning, adding more flavor to beer than Americans had experienced before was a risky proposition. But certain rebels pushed the envelope, even when their brews proved unpalatable to the majority of beer lovers. Slowly, however, the tastes of the nation changed, and those pioneers have reaped the benefits of early adoption.

Stone Brewing Co. continues to build its empire, which now includes three farm-to-table restaurants, six company stores and a farm.

Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits has added a hard-liquor component; a combo taproom, eatery and R&D brewery facility in Little Italy; and a presence at Petco Park.

Pizza Port is now canning from a brand new restaurant and production facility in Carlsbad’s Bressi Ranch community.

Green Flash Brewing Company is building a brewery on the East Coast, where it will produce its distinctly West Coast-style beers.

Strange Brews

Weird beers incorporating avant-garde ingredients

Truffle beers, pickle beers, kelp beer - these days, adventurous brewers will put just about anything in a beer. Usually, there’s a certain degree of gimmick involved, but San Diego brewers take their liquid wares too seriously to throw outlandish items in carelessly for the sake of forging an oddity. Here are three beers made with rarely used edibles that actually taste damn good.

Benchmark Oatmeal Stout “Quaker Oats” Casks:
With fond memories of Quaker instant oatmeal swirling in his head, the brewer at this new Grantville spot will soon offer weekly cask versions of his killer oatmeal stout infused with ingredients that lend flavors reminiscent of Quaker’s classic combinations - maple and brown sugar, peaches and cream, apples and cinnamon.

10 Barrel / Bluejacket / Stone Suede Imperial Stout:
The name of this collaboration beer is probably the least out-there thing about it, unless you’re used to drinking beers fortified with avocado honey, jasmine and calendula flowers (picked at the brewery’s own Stone Farms in Escondido). This trio of ingredients adds earthy sweetness and faint floral hints to the dark, roasty brew.

AleSmith Speedway Stout Variations: Few beers have won as many awards and been tweaked so many ways as this coffee-infused imperial stout. During SDBW, AleSmith’s brew crew will roll out even more iterations, including some tinged with Thai chili, bacon, vanilla, coconut and Lapsang tea, respectively.

Doctor’s Orders

San Diego’s preeminent beer-and-food dude’s perfectly paired menu

Stone Brewing Co.’s craft beer ambassador “Dr.” Bill Sysak is known far and wide for having one of the planet’s most discerning palates. He doesn’t actually have a Ph.D. in beer, but he is a Certified Cicerone, the beer industry’s equivalent to the wine world’s sommelier. And after trying his beer-paired locavore bill of fare, you may find yourself sated... and saying, “Oh, Doctor!”

Appetizer: Carlsbad Aquafarm Luna Oysters, Two-Ways
Sysak Says: When this succulent, locally farm-raised bivalve is served on the half-shell, it brings notes of melon and cucumber with a subtle brininess. I serve it with Societe The Pugilist, a 5.2% ABV Irish-style dry stout. The dry bitterness from the roasted barley plays beautifully with the brininess of the oyster, magnifying the taste of the ocean. Serve that with an oyster shooter, but not just any oyster shooter. I make my oysters happy, floating them in a bath of Stone Ruination IPA. The hops are all the citrus you need and will accent the sweetness of the Lunas.

Entrée : Grilled Brandt Beef Rib-Eye
Sysak Says: Serve it medium-rare, of course, with a parsnip puree and sautéed kale, then serve with AleSmith Nut Brown Ale. The caramelized roasty notes from the malt work in perfect harmony with the similar caramelization from the searing of the meat. Additionally, the beer will subdue the sweetness of the puree and the bitterness of the kale.

Dessert: Julian Apple Pie
Sysak Says: Go a la mode with a scoop of Niederfranks rum raisin ice cream, then go to the next level with a chalice of Green Flash Grand Cru. Flavors of apple, cinnamon, rum and raisin will dance across your palate, partnering harmoniously with fig, date, brown sugar, licorice, molasses and pecan from the beer. It’s the ideal ending to an exquisite meal.

I Wrote The Book

Top-rated breweries share elation over head-of-the-glass status

The first critical resource for information on every brewery and brewery-owned tasting facility in the county - the San Diego Beer News Complete Guide to San Diego Breweries - was released just in time for San Diego Beer Week. Full disclosure: I wrote the thing (see To Say The Yeast).

When all of the ratings were calculated, several spots rose to the top in each of three categories: beer quality, service and setting. Here, the top dogs share their thoughts on what separates them from the pack.

Best Beer Quality:
AleSmith (49 out of 50)
“We all strive to make great beer, and it is extremely pleasing to see my brewery and my wonderful group of employees chosen for such a high honor among such a great list of breweries. Our high level of quality and consistency is a result of careful, nearly obsessive attention to detail, and our goal remains to create the world’s highest quality ales and lagers.” -Peter Zien, owner and brewmaster, AleSmith

NOTE: AleSmith’s attention to quality earned the brewery gold and silver medals at the vaunted Great American Beer Festival in October (see “Great Americans,” page 101, for the complete list of local awardees.)

Best Service:
Societe Brewing Company (24 out of 25)
“We attribute our success to our great employees. It’s nice to be recognized at the top of the list, but to be honest, what matters most to us is what goes on under our roof. Focus on that, and the rest takes care of itself.” -Douglas Constantiner, co-owner and brewer, Societe Brewing Company.

Best Setting:
Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens - Escondido; Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens - Liberty Station (tied, 25 out of 25)
“To be bestowed such an honor is a great feeling. We were recently awarded the San Diego Architectural Foundation’s People’s Choice Orchid for architectural excellence for Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens - Liberty Station, and we were given the same award a few years back for our Escondido venue. So to receive recognition is extraordinarily gratifying, not only to me personally, but to the team that helped us build them and our entire company.” -Greg Koch, CEO and co-founder, Stone Brewing Co.

Great Americans

Local winners from this year’s Great American Beer Festival

The biggest and most prestigious annual brewing competition in the country, the Great American Beer Festival is just that - great! So, too, is the historic showing of San Diego brewing companies. Most years, our county’s skilled artisanal fermentationists garner more hardware than most states; and this year was no different. San Diego ale interests landed 14 medals, including five golds, further extending our region’s hard-earned reputation as the Mecca for American craft beer.

American-style Black Ale

Silver: Black Sails, Coronado Brewing Company, Coronado
Bronze: Oxymoron, Oceanside Ale Works, Oceanside

American-style Sour Ale
Bronze: Red Poppy Ale, The Lost Abbey, San Marcos

American-style Strong Ale
Gold: Bonobos, Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery, East Village
Bronze: Kung Fu Elvis, Pizza Port, Ocean Beach

Barley Wine-style Ale
Gold: Old Numbskull, AleSmith, Miramar

Belgian-style Abbey Ale
Silver: Decadence 2012 Quadrupel, AleSmith, Miramar

English-style Brown Ale
Bronze: Longboard Brown, Rock Bottom, La Jolla

Imperial Red Ale
Silver (no gold awarded): Rhino Chaser, Pizza Port, Ocean Beach

Irish-style Red Ale
Gold: Red Trolley Ale, Karl Strauss Brewing Company, Pacific Beach
Bronze: Ragtop Red, Rock Bottom, La Jolla

Oatmeal Stout
Bronze: Oats, Pizza Port, Solana Beach

Robust Porter
Gold: Moonlight Porter, Rock Bottom, La Jolla

Specialty Beer
Gold: Beer Hunter, Pizza Port, Ocean Beach


In The Hopper

Interesting breweries in the making

There are currently more than 30 new brewing companies planning San Diego launches. The most anticipated of them all is Bagby Beer Co., an immense, two-story Oceanside brewpub that will be helmed by the Great American Beer Festival’s winningest entrant, Jeff Bagby, who struck much gold, silver and bronze as the director of brewery operations at Pizza Port.

Another big name getting back in the game is Tom Nickel, who earned Oggi’s bragging right as the best brewpub in the world a decade ago. This time, he’s going much smaller, setting up Nickel Beer Co. in Julian.

A plethora of beer-serving establishments are looking to go into the business of beer-making by adding brewhouses to their established interests. The most prominent include Urge Gastropub, which is in the process of converting a huge gym facility in Vista into a brewpub with a bar, bottle shop and bowling alley built in. Then there’s downtown eatery and crafty drinking hole The Local, and Ocean Beach’s Newport Pizza and Alehouse. North Park’s Caffé Calabria will soon be looking to replicate Italy’s new wave of prominent craft brewing operations.


This beer journalist’s liver-stretching dream SDBW schedule

There’s only one of me, but if I had my druthers - as well as the ability to drink without getting drunk and magically teleport myself from place to place - this is how I would spend 10 days in craft-beer paradise. Give this ambitious schedule a go, if you dare, and take a (‘nother) week off.

November 1, 9 a.m. | Rare Beer Breakfast, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, Escondido

November 1, 6 p.m. | San Diego Brewers Guild VIP Brewer Takeover, Broadway Pier, Downtown

November 2, 9 a.m. | San Diego Originals, The High Dive, Bay Park

November 2, 10:30 a.m. | Sour Day, O’Brien’s Pub, Kearny Mesa

November 3, 11 a.m. | Mikkeller & Evil Twin Tap Takeover, The Public House, La Jolla

November 3, 1 p.m. | Man the Victory at Sea Fleet, Hamilton’s Tavern, South Park

November 4, 4 p.m. | AleSmith Beer & Cheese Pairing Night, Encinitas Ale House, Encinitas

November 4, 7 p.m. | The Lost Abbey Ultimate Box Set Listening Party, Neighborhood, East Village

November 5, 6 p.m. | Tiki Tuesday, The High Dive, Bay Park

November 5, 7 p.m. | Beer U: Craft Beer in San Diego, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, Liberty Station

November 6, 5 p.m. | Meet the Caskmaster, Karl Strauss Tasting Room, Pacific Beach

November 6, 5 p.m. | 12 Brewers, 12 Casks, 12 Mallets; Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, Escondido

November 7, 6:00 p.m. | In the Barrel Dinner, Societe Brewing Co., Kearny Mesa

November 7, 6:30 p.m. | Master Pairing Dinner with The Lost Abbey, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, Escondido

November 8, 9 a.m. | Ballast Point Tap Takeover, The High Dive, Bay Park

November 8, 10 a.m. | IPA Day, Downtown Johnny Brown’s, Downtown

November 9, 5 p.m. | Meet ChuckAlek Independent Brewers & QUAFF Night, Downtown Johnny Brown’s, Downtown

November 9, 6 p.m. | The Lost Abbey Night, Churchill’s Pub & Grille, San Marcos

November 10, 12 p.m. | Beer Garden, The Lodge at Torrey Pines

November 10, 1:30 p.m. | Slater’s 50/50 Chargers vs. Broncos Tailgate, Qualcomm Stadium, Mission Valley

Brandon Hernández is a beer and food journalist, communications specialist for Stone Brewing Co. and longtime contributor to PacificSD.