Friday, December 02, 2011

Goodbye NovemBeer...

I feel like November came and went faster than the Alaskan IPA I just drank a few minutes ago. That puts us just one month closer to the year of the Apocalypse, according to the Mayan calendar at least. I guess that means we better get as much beer drinking in before then, right? Well, let’s just say that if my past year had a pie chart for total beer consumed, November would probably make up 70% of that pie.

I'm finally starting to feel back to normal after the madness that was San Diego Beer Week which took place at the beginning of the month. The ten day celebration of our very own craft beer mecca was nothing short of amazing. With over 450 events to choose from, I definitely had a lot of choices as well as sacrifices to make for SDBW. It was a craft beer odyssey in which my taste buds ventured into the depths of hopped, malted and roasted blissfulness. I tried to make it to at least one event for each day of the fest so I’m going to try my best to tell this story as it happened. Full story after the jump.

Night one of San Diego Beer Week started at the Ballast Point Brewery in Scripps Ranch for their Victory at Sea night. I feel very fortunate to have co-workers that are just as passionate about craft beer as myself, so they happened to join me for the kick-off event at the brewery. Yes, it was pouring rain that night, but we all wanted some of this delicious beer in our hands. Ballast Point’s Victory at Sea is a Coffee Vanilla Imperial Porter that is released once a year from this one-of-a-kind brewery. It truly is one of their best brews and if you happen to get your hands on a bottle or two, it might be worth aging for a while before you drink it down. For their SBDW event, Ballast Point had six different versions of Victory at Sea available at their tasting room. This included the 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 version of Victory at Sea as well as a Bourbon-barrel aged version and a casked version. Unfortunately, the cask was tapped by the time we showed up to the brewery but we were fortunate enough to get the other five variations as shown below:

One of the greatest ways to learn about the flavor characteristics of beer is to try different variations of the same recipe. This, in my opinion, made this event such a memorable one. It was thrilling for me to taste a 2008 Victory at Sea versus a 2011. I noticed that the older the beers were, the more pronounced the sweet notes were in the flavor. There was almost a “sour” like quality in the 2008 Victory at Sea while the 2011 maintained a slight roastiness with a vanilla backbone to round out the beer. The Bourbon-barrel aged Victory at Sea was probably my favorite of the batch, having an incredibly potent initial taste (most likely from the barrel aging) that was brought back to the beer level with its vanilla and coffee aftertaste. Overall, it was a great start to the evening, but I had to go pick up the lady for dinner so we could make it to URBN Coal Fired Pizza in North Park for their Great Divide Night!

Ever since my trip to Denver for the Great American Festival earlier this year, I have been growing more and more attached to the beers of Great Divide Brewery. Whether it’s their simplistic yet memorable labels or their brilliantly executed brews, this small brewery from Colorado has been growing in popularity in the San Diego craft beer scene for the past few years. It goes without saying that I had to stop by URBN for their Great Divide night. To my disappointment, they were tapped out of most Great Divide beers when we got there. I was able to grab their Belgian Style Yeti which is a spin-off of Great Divide’s popular Yeti Imperial Stout and when I say spin-off, I mean in a Belgian, dark strong ale type of way. The beer poured black as night and tasted more like a barrel-aged stout than anything else, but this is never a bad thing for me. I was very impressed with the beer and was glad I was able to try it. It paired very nicely with the ricotta pizza we had ordered from the bar, which at this point, was devoured instantaneously. We were able to meet up with some good friends of ours at URBN and convinced them to join us for some more beers at O’Brien’s Pub in Clairemont for their Alpine Brewing Beer Bonanza!

O’ Brien’s holds a special place in my heart because it was one of the first craft beer bars that I went to in San Diego. It is also one of the only bars in San Diego that offers a 100+ bottle list where you can take the bottle home if your heart (or beer belly) so desires. The fact that O’Brien’s shares a close relationship with Alpine Brewing is a blessing in disguise for me only because I have not been to any other bar in San Diego that pours beers from this underdog brewery. It amazes me that Alpine makes some of the most deliciously crisp beers and you could fit their entire brewery in my living room. No joke! If you get a chance, go check the brewery out for yourself next time you’re in the Alpine area. We eventually made our way to O’Brien’s for their Alpine Beer Bonanza where they were pouring over 10 different brews from the brewery. I was able to try their American Pale Ale, New Millennium, which was a thing of beauty. Awesome malt and hop balance, with a floral and citrus-like aroma. I followed this up with a pint of Exponential Hoppiness and Pure Hoppiness to finish off the night...sike!

Have you ever walked the walk of shame? Where you do something so shameful and regretful that taking a cold shower doesn’t even seem to cleanse you of the mistakes you made? Well, it happened after O’Brien’s when we made our way to The Blarney Stone in Clairemont. By far, one of the diviest dives I’ve ever been to, where Boddington’s is the closest thing to craft beer on tap and not even a night full of SDBW drinking gets you close to how drunk the patrons were that evening. I don’t think I’ve even been to a bar where the house band full on endorses a boobie fight in the front row! But it happened, and I had to carry on because this was only night one of beer week, right?

There’s only one cure for an SDBW night one hangover and that’s a beer festival. The next day we joined a few friends for the San Diego Brewer’s Guild Festival at Liberty Station in Point Loma. This was the official kick-off event for San Diego Beer Week feauring a whole slew of local breweries as well as live music from Dead Feather Moon, the Bloody Hollies and Stone Foxes. I’ve got to say, I’ve been to a lot of beer festivals, but this was by far the worst one I’ve ever been too. Not only was it completely oversold, but the logistics of the festival were just downright stupid. The stages for the bands were on the complete opposite side of the field away from the brewery booths. It’s a little difficult to enjoy some good local music while I’m waiting in a half hour line to get a four ounce pour of beer. I wish I was exaggerating. The line for the bathroom took a good 45 minutes before I could take care of business. There were a lot of great beers being poured at this festival, but halfway through, most breweries had tapped out. Some of the honorable mentions included San Diego Brewing Company’s Hopnotic Double IPA and Stone’s Double Dry-Hopped Ruination. I was lucky enough to run into the lovely Rosemary Bystrak and talk to her about beers and music, but besides that, I was not to thrilled by how this festival panned out. I hope the Brewer’s Guild takes not of comments left on their Facebook page and gets their shit together for next year’s fest. Needless to say, I was still a little tipsy and had forgotten that I still had to play a show with my band, The Gore Horsemen, that night at The Shakedown in Point Loma. Let’s just say Phil’s BBQ and a shot of Whisky made the rest of that night possible.

According to the Christian religion, Sunday is the day of Sabbath. For me, it was the third day of San Diego Beer Week. My Sabbath consisted of celebrating SDBW at Toronado for their IPA Day. With over 49 IPA’s on tap, it was only fitting and proper to celebrate my favorite style of beer at Toronado. I was able to try a few great IPA samplers as well as meet the head brewer from San Diego Brewing Company. Nate from Toronado also gave me a pint of Hollister’s Hippie Kicker IPA. This beautifully crafted Pale Ale had a sharp and crisp initial taste with a long and hoppy finish. My girlfriend at this point was ready to go home and nap for the rest of the day, but I busted out the “puppy eye” stare and convinced her to go to Hamilton’s for their Dogfish Head Bonanza.

Of course, Hamilton’s was packed to the brim, especially since the Chargers game was on, but they still had a fair amount of Dogfish on tap for us to sample. The very limited 120 Minute IPA as well as Dogfish’s tribute to Miles Davis, Btiches Brew, were already tapped out by the time we got there, but we were still able to try a few beers I had never had and they were exceptional. These select few included the Indian Brown Ale, the My Antonia imperial pilsner and the Olde School barleywine.Of course, all these beers fell onto the opposite sides of the spectrum, but each held its own ground in creativity and quality. The India Brown Ale was a malt bomb but remained tolerable with its sufficient hop profile. My Antonia was my favorite of the bunch providing a floral and hoppy aroma with a golden appearance all while delivering the crispness of a pilsner. Olde School was sweet and pungent but drank surprisingly smooth for a barleywine. Not to mention that all of these beers paired extremely well with our apple and onion grilled cheese sandwich, hmmmmmmmm. We called it night after that. We had to catch up on The Walking Dead and Dexter on our couch at home since it was our Sabbath Sunday.

I know most people hate Mondays, but this particular Monday, I was ready to continue the beer week extravaganza. O’Brien’s was having a Dogfish night with over 12 taps of my favorite brewery flowing for the masses. I was able to meet up with some friends that we had made while we were in Denver for GABF and they managed to grab a table at O’Brien’s on this most ridiculous of nights. I only say ridiculous because they had Dogfish’s 120 Minute IPA, Bitches Brew, Hellhound, Chicory Stout, 90 Minute IPA, Palo Santo as well as six other of their beers on tap. Bitches Brew happens to be one of my favorite beers of all time and they had it on tap. This beer is a combination of three types of imperial stout blended with a gesho root honey ale and let me just say, being a fan of jazz fusion, that this beer encompasses the essence of what Miles Davis brought to the jazz world. It is bold, innovative, risky and tasty all at the same time. I wish I could say the same about 120 Minute IPA, but I honestly have to say I was slightly disappointed by this beer. I have never had the opportunity to try this hop bomb of a beer before, and barely had the opportunity to do so since the line wrapped around the block, but nonetheless, I was able to get a taster. It was like eating a candy cane that had been dipped into a pot of boiled hops. Bittersweet in it’s purest form. Maybe this year’s batch was a little too malty for my palette, but I just couldn’t convince myself that it was better than the 90 Minute IPA. In any case, I was extremely glad I was able to try it and hope that the bottled version, which is being distributed as I type this, will be more enjoyable. Regardless, the obligatory Chicory Stout goblet was passed around the bar and I was fortunate enough to be one of the first to take a sip.

Bear Republic is a top notch brewery, period. Their beers makes me wish I lived in Central California just so I could go to their tasting room every night and be the annoying regular that would only leave at the hand of their closing bartender. But the fact of the matter is that I don’t live in Central Cali, so when O’Brien’s hosts a Bear Republic Beer Throwdown night during SDBW you better damn well believe I’ll be there throwing back a few. That’s exactly what I did on the 5th night of beer week. I was a little worn and torn by this point so I made a promise to myself to not have more than two pints that evening. My two pints consisted of Bear Republic’s Racer 15 IIPA and the Apex American IPA. The Apex was a little maltier than I expected and had an almost cream-like mouthfeel to it, but it was still delicious. The showstopper of the night was definitely the Racer 15, a well-balanced double IPA with tons of hop notes but complimentary citrus flavors as well as piney aftertastes.

One of the up and coming breweries rapidly making its way into the spotlight is Orange County’s The Bruery. Their finely crafted brews were featured at the High Dive bar on Morena Blvd. for the 6th night of beer week. I made my way there with a few friends to try out some of their brews. I must confess that I was not too familiar with The Bruery until this particular evening and I was floored. The Mischief Golden Strong Ale and the Humulus Imperial Lager blew my mind, literally. My brains were blown skyward and dripped off the ceiling only for me to be lying underneath drinking my beer soaked brain shrapnel. Alright, I apologize for the gross imagery, but I come from a zombie B-movie upbringing and I can’t help myself sometimes. It doesn’t matter because The Bruery makes some damn good beers. Not only did The Mischief pour a beautiful golden hue but it also finished smoothly with a sweet and spiced finish. The Humulus Lager tasted more like a West Coast Pale Ale than anything and lent itself to a hoppy and spicy aroma with a palette cleansing finish. On top of everything, I had never been to the High Dive bar and absolutely loved the bar atmosphere. It was dive with a hint of fuck yeah.

You would think that night seven of San Diego Beer Week would be the last night, correct? Oh no my friends, only in San Diego does a seven day week turn into a ten day week! My girlfriend and I made our way to the Monkey Paw Pub in downtown SD. This craft-beer-serving, cheesesteak-flinging bar, lying on the outskirts of downtown SD, is fairly new and belongs to the same owner of Hamilton’s Tavern in South Park. They were hosting a Sierra Nevada night with 22 taps of the Chico-based brewery on tap! In no particular order, here’s the tap list from that evening:

CASK of Torpedo!
Snowed In Stout
Hellraiser Chocolate Chili Imperial Stout
Yippie Rye Aye - Rye Pale with black peppercorns
Celebration Ale
Pale Ale
Northern Hemisphere Harvest Ale
Pro-Am Old Ale
Loch Hop & Barrel Strong Scotch Lager
Hopsichord IPA
2X4 Belgian Quad
Russian Imperial Stout
Bigfoot 2011
Jack & Kens
Wood Aged Life and Limb
3 varieties of 20th Street Ale (Chinook, Citra, and Cascade)
2009 Wood-aged Porter
Wine Barrel Ovila Saison
Back Porch Lager
Black Hop Rising

In the wise words of Will Farrell, “Holy Santa Claus Shit.” Never in my life had I seen so many taps from Sierra Nevada in one place. On top of that, I had never seen most of these beers at all. Unfortunately, Monkey Paw was not offering tasters of these beers so we had to order pints. We did get to try the Hopsichord IPA, Wood Aged Life and Limb (Dogfish and Sierra Nevada Colloboration Brew), Chinook and Citra 20th Street Pale Ales and the Black Hop Rising. Let me start off by stating that the Black Hop Rising was fantastic. In this day and age of black lagers and IPA’s, it’s very hard to pull off a well balanced version of this beer, but Sierra Nevada did just that. The Wood Aged Life and Limb had an overwhelming coffee-like flavor to it, but smoothened out with it’s birch wood notes and a mild hop finish. Of the three 20th Street Pale Ales, the Citra version stuck out the most and was the most refreshing hop variety of the bunch. This was my first time to Monkey Paw and I was pleasantly surprised.

The 8th night of San Diego Beer Week happened to be 11.11.11, which also happened to be my dad’s 77th birthday. This was the only night off I decided to take off during beer week and drove up to L.A. to spend the evening celebrating with my father. The family and I decided to go to The Proud Bird, an aviation themed restaurant, located right next to LAX. My pops is a very special person in my life and I was very glad to be there for his most rare of birthdays. I wanted to buy him a bottle of Stone’s 11.11.11 Vertical Epic, but he doesn’t drink so I spared him the trouble.

The following day, we made our way back down to San Diego. My girlfriend and I were feeling a little adventurous and wanted to try out a new spot, somewhere that we had never been to. As I scrolled through SDBW’s poorly organized events page, I saw that OB Noodle House was hosting a Brewdog Night. Our dinner had been decided. A coworker of mine had told me good things about OB Noodle House a while back so I was excited to see what it had to offer.
Brewdog hails from Scotland and contains some highly experimental beers in its repertoire including the Dogma, Punk IPA and the mighty Tactical Nuclear Penguin. I often describe these guys as being the Stone Brewing of Europe. This particular evening at OB Noodle House they were pouring the 18.2% beast that is Tokyo. It was not a cheap drink, but I got to keep this killer Brewdog glass so it made it worth my money:

The Tokyo totally broadsided me. I was halfway expecting an overly sweet, overly malty, full-bodied stout but this beautifully crafted beast was one of the best beers I had during SDBW. According to Brewdog’s website ( they brew this beer with an abundance of malts, jasmine and cranberries which is then followed up with a dry-hopping process and aging the beer with oak chips. The beer was very smooth and maintained a medium body. It’s earthy flavor profile probably came from the taosted oak chips which was immediately followed up by what I can best describe as a Jolly Rancher finish. Despite the 18.2% ABV, the beer was completely drinkable and covered by the perfect fusion of ingredients. Bravo Brewdog.

After the OB Noodle House, we made our way to O’Brien’s in Clairemont for their Night of A Million Zillion Speedway Stouts. The event, which happens to be one of the most popular during beer week, had 12 different variations of Almesmith’s signature Speedway Stout. Here were the different variations:

I was fortunate enough to get samples of all the stouts except for the Toasted Coconut and Vanilla Bean Speedway. This was my favorite selection from last year’s event so I was a little bummed out not to get it again this year. Something I didn’t get to try last year was the Kopi Luwak Coffee Speedway. This bold version of the Speedway uses coffee beans extracted from the feces of an Asian Civet cat. It happens to be one of the most expensive coffee beans in the world to get and Alesmith manages to make a batch of this controversial stout every year. To be honest, it wasn’t my favorite of the bunch. It pours a dark brown color with a light brown head and gives off a oomplete coffee aroma. It definitely had the coffee flavor and roastiness present in every sip and finished strong like a black coffee. I’m not a coffee drinker so I couldn’t get much into it. I can appreciate a mild coffee flavor in a Porter or Stout, but when it makes up the entire taste of the beer, I can’t say I’m crazy about it. Probably my favorite version of the Speedway was their Dry-Hopped Stout. I suppose it’s the hop head that I am, but having the hoppy finish to an Alesmith was perfection in a glass. When you’re night starts with an 18.2% Brewdog Stout and ends with 12 variations of Speedway (all 12% ABV), you know it’s going to be a rough morning, so we called it a night after O’Brien’s.

This brings us to the final day of San Diego Beer Week. We made our way to the Tap Room in Pacific Beach where they had tapped a whole slew of beers from local breweries. I was able to get a flight of some beers from Stone, Green Flash, Karl Strauss and Ballast Point. This inlcuded:

Stone’s Vertical Epic 11.11.11
Green Flash’s’ Green Bullet Triple IPA
Karl Strauss’s Imperial Amber
Stone’s 2011 Double Bastard
Ballast Point’s Brotehr Levonian Saison
Ballast Point’s Victory at Sea on Cask

Stone’s 11.11.11 and the Karl Strauss Imperial were really nothing to brag about, but Green Flash’s Green Bullet is an excellent triple IPA. It pours a clear, golden hue with a thin head. The aroma is full of pine and floral notes and the beer is sharp on the first sip. My girlfriend stuck to orange juice at Tap Room considering we had nightmares about a million zillion Speedway stouts the night before.

With the end of the day approaching, there was one last stop I wanted to make to close out the 2011 San Diego Beer Week. The Regal Beagle in Mission Hills was hosting a Great Divide Tap Takeover. Considering the Great Divide night at URBN was a dissapointment due to most the beers being tapped out, I decided this would be the closing event for us. We each got a final pint which included their Fresh Hop Pale and Oak Aged Rumble IPA. The Rumble was as delicious as it sounds, but the Fresh Hop really hit it out of the park. Great Divide’s Fresh Hop pale ale is a well-balanced west coast style pale ale, with plenty of citrus and hop notes to accompany it’s medium-bodied malt backbone. It was the perfect beer for the occasion. It amazes me how much craft beer has exploded over the past few years and with more and more cities around the country starting their own “Beer Week” festivals, I’ve got to say that San Diego is probably one of the best around. With so many breweries to choose from and a city full of enthusiasts, there’s no doubt that we will continue to grow within the craft beer revolution.

And just like that, beer week was over and I was punished. We went home and my eyes struggled to stay open through The Walking Dead and Dexter. As a matter of fact, my eyes struggled to stay open for the rest of November as 8 hour work days turned into 12 hour work days. Thanksgiving came and went but left us with pounds of leftovers in the fridge. I managed to help my girlfriend brew her first batch of beer which was a Chocolate Pumpkin Porter. I promise to write about that another time, but it’s December now and we have to settle down for the holidays, correct? Wrong! Tonight, we are driving up to Carlsbad for Pizza Port’s Strong Ale festival in which they will be serving over 80 different types of strong ale all above 8% ABV. Motel 6 will be hosting my bed for the evening up in Carlsbad so we’ll be there all night. I went to this festival last year and it was great. If you’re in the Carlsbad area tonight and looking for something to do, come check out the fest. General Admission tickets will be available at the door. Here’s the link for the event:

Until the next time, cheers!

-Charles Eck

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