Friday, October 07, 2011

Rockin The Casbah, GABF and Bloggin Beer: All in A Week's Time

I’m feeling very lucky these days. Last Thursday my band, The Green Almighty, was fortunate enough to win the opening spot for SoundDiego Live at The Casbah. We shared the stage with two extremely talented bands, The Get Down Automatic and Dead Feather Moon. On top of all the great music the evening had to offer, there was free food and free beers from Cold Spring Brewing Company. I wasn’t able to try any of the Cold Spring brews, but I wasn’t too worried about that considering the weekend I had ahead of me. More about that later. During the festivities, I was able to introduce myself to Rosemary Bystrak and talk to her about the bands, San Diego’s music scene and craft beer in general. She had mentioned in the midst of our conversation the need for someone to blog about craft beer for San Diego: DialedIn and my attention was immediately caught, but just like that, we both needed refills. We went our separate ways and enjoyed the rest of the night at The Casbah. As I stood at the bar waiting to order my next beer, I remembered that I had to get my ass out of there, lug my drums back home, load them into my garage, pack a suitcase and hop on a plane the next morning at 6am towards Denver for the 2011 Great American Beer Festival!

For those who aren’t familiar, The Great American Beer Festival is an annual event that takes place during the fall in beautiful Denver, Colorado. The festival is open to the public and features some of the finest craft breweries from across the United States. This year alone, over 50,000 tickets were sold out for the three day event! I was lucky enough to get my ticket the day before it sold out, so I figured I had to make the most of my time there. Let’s just say I was like a kid in a candy store, except instead of candy, there was over 2,400 beers from over 480 breweries. I barely could contain myself. I can barely contain myself writing about it.

It all started on the Friday morning after The Casbah show. We were sitting in the airport waiting to board our plane when I got an email from Pintley inviting me to an exclusive tasting event for several unreleased beers from Sam Adams. Pintley is a craft beer mobile app available for both Android and iPhone platforms which offers users a way to look up thousands of craft beers, rate them and write tasting notes all with the advantage of earning points that can be used to win prizes. If you have a smartphone, and you’re looking to join the virtual craft beer community, check them out here: Luckily, since I had signed up for Pintley the week before, they decided to send me an invite to this exclusive event.

We decided to go to the Sam Adams tasting which was held at the Ghost Plate and Tap bar in Denver. The four unreleased beers from Sam Adams included:
  • Griffin’s Bow - An Oak-Aged Barleywine
  • Third Voyage - An Imperial Double IPA
  • Tasman Red - Best described as a Red IPA
  • The Vixen - A Chocolate Chili Bock
The first three beers were really nothing to brag about, but The Vixen, let me tell you, was something special. This limited release from Sam Adams might be their finest beer I’ve ever tasted from them. The aroma of the beer was extremely pleasant, with hints of cherry and chocolate sticking out. The first sip had a spicy kick to it, which is where the chili really shined, but right when I thought this was just another spicy beer, the chocolate flavor mellowed the spice out and lent itself to a sweet and smooth aftertaste. Even after I finished the beer, the glass held the aroma, begging me to go back to the Sam Adams sales rep and ask for more, which I did. For two hours, my sister, my girlfriend and I sat there trying to come up with reasons why the other three beers might be better than the Vixen, but we couldn’t. If you can get your hands on a bottle of this, you should. Sam Adams will only be releasing it for one month and that’s it. Here's a pic of some of the kick ass coasters they were handing out for the beers:

After the Sam Adams tasting, we made our way to the Falling Rock Taphouse which came recommended by one of the Ballast Point brewers I had met at Hamilton’s Second Saturday about a month ago. Falling Rock was absolutely packed. They had tapped a keg of Sierra Nevada’s Harvest Ale that day and there were people flocking in just to try it out. By the time we got in, the Harvest Ale was done, but it didn’t really matter considering the insane amount of taps that were available to our drinking disposal. There were tons of local beers from Avery, Great Divide and Odell to name a few, but they also had some local San Diego beers on tap from Ballast Point and Green Flash. If there is one thing I noticed in Denver amongst the locals, they love their Green Flash. I couldn’t help but eavesdrop here and there, listening to everyone thirst for some more Green Flash. I was incredibly tempted to tell them that I worked down the street from Green Flash’s brewery, but I feared I might start a riot.

After Falling Rock, we went next door to meet some friends at the 1UP. What is the 1UP you ask? If there is anything worth going to Denver for, it is definitely this bar. The 1UP is an old school arcade/craft beer bar that has the largest collection of vintage pinball and video arcade games I’ve ever seen under one roof! If you’re feeling a little more thrifty, you can always go for a forty of Old English to sip on while you play some Donkey Kong or Pacman. As if the arcade games weren't enough, they also had multiple tables with oversized Jenga blocks. My sister would not let herself lose our Jenga game as you can see in the picture below:

While we were there, we happened to run into Nate and several of the bartenders from our own Toronado! It was right at this moment that Nate informed me they were tapping some of Port Brewing’s Mongo IPA! This so happens to be one of my favorite IPA’s from Port so I was extremely stoked to be sharing a pint with the Toronado crew. Things got a little blurry after we decided to start ordering fireball shots. Shit.

I happen to live down the street from one of San Diego’s finest craft beer establishments, O’Brien’s Pub in Clairemont. While I was there last week, one of the regulars there told me to visit a breakfast joint in Denver known as Snooze, An A.M. Eatery. We ended up there for breakfast Saturday morning and it ended up being my favorite hangover remedy of the trip. In particular, I ordered the Brat Pack which was a bratwurst served on top of a hoagie roll, smothered in the awesomeness seen below:
PhotobucketToo damn good for my own good. The best part is that they'll be opening up one of these in Hillcrest in at the end of October. Rest assured, I'll be visiting it soon.

After brunch, we made our way to the Great Divide Brewery. Over the past two years, Great Divide has been featuring their beers at some of the local San Diego spots including Pizza Port, Hamilton’s and O’Brien’s and have been gaining a steady following in the Southern California market. Some of their popular beers include the Yeti Stout, Hercules Double IPA and the Titan IPA. They happened to have all of these on tap in their brand new tasting room, as well as 12-13 other beers, some of which I had never heard of. The brewery itself is beautiful. The combination of the friendly staff, free brewery tours and the comfortable outside patio, where one could drink freshly poured Great Divide beers, was the perfect pre-GABF setting. In particular, I tried the Fresh Hop Pale Ale and the Oak Aged Yeti Stout. The Fresh Hop was a well-balanced pale with hoppy citrus notes and a medium body. It makes use of “wet” hops, meaning they use hops that are pulled fresh from the fields rather than letting them dry out over several months. The Oak Aged Yeti Stout was fantastic. A full-bodied and extremely dark stout, aged in Oak barrels to help balance the roastiness of the beer. I honestly didn’t want to leave the brewery, but alas, we had to move on to Flying Dog.

Flying Dog’s tasting room in Denver is small. When I say small, I mean “break room” small. The reason it is that small is because it also happens to be the break room for Flying Dog’s Headquarters. Their actual production brewery is located in Maryland, but they run it remotely from the HQ in Denver. I thought it was pretty damn righteous that they had the tasting room open to all with free tasters just for walking in! Interestingly enough, one of the bartenders helping us out used to be the GM for Hamilton’s in our own South Park. Small damn world. What else can you do but drink a Raging Bitch? Before you get mad at me for calling you names, you should know that Raging Bitch is one of Flying Dog’s most delicious beers. This Belgian style IPA has the fruitiness that you would find in a typical Belgian beer, but counter-balanced with the hoppiness of a West Coast IPA. It is surprisingly easy to drink and offers an excellent fusion of two completely different styles of beer. Again, I did not want to leave the tasting room, but what lied ahead of us was monumental.

Our final destination for the evening would be the Great American Beer Festival. With a line wrapped around the Denver Convention Center and flocks of scalpers trying to buy my tickets, I had only one thing on my mind, beer, beer and more beer. Before I go more into what beers blew me away at the festival, let’s just say that San Diego had another kick ass year at the GABF. We ended up taking eighteen medals at the fest, with Pizza Port dominating most of those. Here is the awards list for SD:
  • Large Brewpub of the Year: Pizza Port, Carlsbad
  • Small Brewpub of the Year: Pizza Port, Ocean Beach
  • American-Style Brown Ale: Great American Brown, Pizza Port, Carlsbad (Gold)
  • American-Style Stout: Jules Winnfield, Pizza Port, Solana Beach (Gold) Achievement Beyond Life’s Experiences American Stout, Pizza Port, Ocean Beach (Silver)
  • English-Style Mild Ale: Skidmark Brown Ale, Pizza Port, Ocean Beach (Gold) Dawn Patrol Dark, Pizza Port, Solana Beach (Silver)
  • English-Style Brown Ale: Good Grief Brown, Pizza Port, Carlsbad (Gold) Rock Bottom Brown Ale, Rock Bottom, San Diego (Silver)
  • Imperial Red Ale: 547 Haight, the Toronado San Francisco 20th Anniversary Imperial Red Ale, Pizza Port, Carlsbad (Gold) Rhino Chaser Imperial Re Ale, Pizza Port, Ocean Beach (Silver)
  • Robust Porter: Moonlight Porter, Rock Bottom, La Jolla (Gold) Pier Rat Porter, Pizza Port, San Clemente (Bronze)
  • American-Style Sour Ale: Framboise de Amorosa, The Lost Abbey, San Marcos (Silver)
  • American-Style Strong Pale Ale (103 total entries): AleSmith IPA, AleSmith, San Diego, CA (Silver)
  • Barley Wine-Style Ale: AleSmith Old Numbskull, AleSmith, San Diego (Silver)
  • Belgian-Style Strong Specialty Ale: Revelations, Pizza Port, Carlsbad (Silver)
  • Coffee Beer: Coffee Monster, Pizza Port, Carlsbad (Silver)
  • Old Ale or Stronge Ale: AleSmith Decadence ’10 Old Ale, AleSmith, San Diego (Silver)
  • Session Beer: Twerp, Pizza Port, Carlsbad (Silver)
  • Belgian-Style Abbey Ale: Two Tortugas, Karl Strauss Brewing Company, San Diego (Bronze)
  • Foreign-Style Stout: Z-Man Stout, Pizza Port, Ocean Beach (Bronze)
  • Indigenous Beer: Hot Rocks Lager, Port Brewing Company, San Marcos (Bronze)
Amongst all those beers, probably my favorite of the bunch, despite it’s chancy name, would have to be Skid Mark Brown Ale from Pizza Port Ocean Beach. They usually have this award-winning ale at their spot in OB, so if you get a chance, sneak in there for some killer pizza and grab a pint of the Skid Mark. And keep in mind, never judge a book by its cover.

Now on to the festival. Once we were on the showfloor, it was overwhelming as all hell. This was my first GABF and I wanted to try everything and anything, but I knew that couldn’t be accomplished in 4 ½ hours without risking certain death. Luckily, by this point all the winners had been announced so I tried to check out some of the winning beers while tasting others on the way. We happened to stumble across the PRO-AM competition booth which had a whole slew of homebrewed championship beers. Being a homebrewer myself, I knew I wanted to try some of these out. Amongst the winners, they had on tap Ballast Point’s Indra Kunindra Curry Stout, which was created by Alex Tweet and took the win in North County’s Holiday Wine Cellar Homebrew Competition last year. This stout was fermented in madra curry, toasted coconuts and a variety of hot peppers to create a beer so exotic, that it left me wishing for some Naan bread to pair with it. Excellent job by Alex Tweet and Ballast Point for bringing this beer to life.

I had to make my stop to Dogfish Head’s booth since they happen to be one of my favorite breweries. Unfortunately, their Bitches Brew (A Miles Davis Tribute Gesho-Rooted Dark Ale) was completely tapped out, but I was able to try their World Wide Stout and their newest ale, URKontinent. With the World Wide Stout clocking in at 18% ABV, this beast of an ale truly had it’s fair share of sweetness due to the high alcoholic content, but it managed to hold on to some of the roasty characteristics of a regular stout. The URKontinent utilizes ingredients from all over the world, hence the name, to give itself an intense arrangement of earthy flavors. This one was a lot easier to drink down then the World Wide Stout, and was probably my favorite of the two. Some of the other honorable mentions include Copper Kettle Brewing Company’s Mexican Chocolate Stout, which took Gold medal in the Herb and Spice Beer category, as well as Shipyard Brewery’s PumpkinHead, which was my favorite pumpkin ale of the fest. I probably could go on and on about every beer I was able to get my hands on at GABF, but number one, it would probably take an entire book to write about it and number two, I was pretty damn drunk to remember some of the “later” beers, so I think I’ll spare you on the rest of the details and show you this mildly entertaining picture of the silent disco at GABF:
So here I am now, one week after meeting Rosemary at The Casbah, writing about everything that has happened since then, and as I mentioned earlier, I’m feeling very lucky. When Rosemary mentioned to me the idea of blogging about craft beer on her website, I knew immediately that I wanted to be part of it. I wanted to be able to share what is going on with local craft breweries, bars and events in the San Diego area as well as how our breweries are holding up on the outside. With that said, I am honored and proud to announce that I will be the contributing craft beer blogger (say that five times fast) for San Diego:Dialed In. When I moved to San Diego almost two years ago, I was blown away by how tight-knit the music and craft beer community was down here. I am proud to live in a city where the quality of music and craft beer goes hand in hand. We live in a city full of amazing bands, award-winning brews and a comradery like none other. We are on the forefront of a craft beer revolution and even though Denver was home to over 2,400 styles of beer this past weekend, I genuinely think that we are living in our own beer mecca here in Southern California. Pardon me, while I pop open a craft beer and drink it down to the bottom of the bottle!

Charles Eck

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Dude you rule! Not only are you a rock star but a beer star! Not sure which is better!