Thursday, April 16, 2009

San Diego Day 2: Friday 4/11/09

Frisbee Golf: My new favorite sport

On Friday, we got a relatively early start with a game of Frisbee golf at a Balboa park. I suck, but it was a lot of fun just walking around and throwing the disk. Somehow, I was not hung over in the least.

Sean, Clarissa, and Sean at Green Flash Brewing

The first brewery for the day was Green Flash. We tried quite a few beers in the tasting room, and we were lucky enough to meet with brewmaster Chuck Silva. Chuck had just been interviewed for the Brewing Network's Jamil Show recently, so it was cool to talk to him a little about that and thank him for basically giving out the recipe for the Green Flash West Coast IPA. On the show he also revealed some interesting and unconventional yeast practice: Green Flash ferments with Cali ale yeast (same strain as Sierra Nevada and many other American craft breweries) as high as 72 degrees. The norm would be to ferment at 66-69 degrees with this strain, and most breweries would not go higher for fear of getting off flavors like diacetyl, fusel alcohols, or increased ester production. But Chuck is producing excellent beers at higher temps, which should also help with shortening the fermentation cycle. He also revealed that he has no problems re-pitching yeast from the IPA and sometimes even the Imperial IPA. Conventional wisdom and research says that you should not re-use yeast from beers with alcohol levels of higher than 7% ABV, or hopping rates of over 50 IBU's, but here we have an example of a brewery that is doing both and achieving excellent & consistent results.

Green Flash's tasting list: Many great beers, but the Hop Head Red was excellent!

My favorite Green Flash beers were the Hop Head Red (very sessionable), Le Freak (Belgian IPA), Tripel, and their seasonal low- alcohol saison ( I guess it's never too early for summer beer in San Diego!)

We had to move on. The next stop was Lost Abbey / Port brewing. Like most San Diego breweries it is set in an industrial warehouse area, but inside it was a different story:

The Lost Abbey has the most wood-aged beers I've seen in one place.

The interior of this brewery is dark, moist, and stacked to the ceiling with oak barrels side by side. A bar runs the wall with tastings available for a low price. Most of the beers we tasted were the non-barrel aged Lost Abbey ales, of which the clear favorite was the newly released Serpent Stout, an Imperial Stout at 10.5% ABV.

All the brewery equipment seemed to be a piecemeal assembly of used brewing equipment that had grown almost organically as the brewery expanded production. At least half of the entire space was devoted to barrels! The sign in the above picture is Latin, and if you could read the whole thing it would say "In Brettanomyces We Trust." Not, as I thought: "This is where the Brett be Illin'." I guess I listen to too much early Beastie Boys.

Photo op with Tomme Arthur: A beer geek's idea of a celebrity encounter

We also had a chance to meet Tomme Arthur. He must have known I was a beer geek because I just opened up with a "Hey, can I get a picture with you?" And, you can tell that Tomme is passionate about his product. He told us a lot about the barrel aging they do, and showed us around the new bottling line. Here are a few facts I learned about the Lost Abbey bourbon barrel aged beers:

All barrels are bought from a bourbon distiller (sorry, I don't remember the brand) after having been used only once. They come to the brewery fresh and sealed with a bung. Tomme orders them as he needs them to age the Angel's Share. When they arrive at the brewery, they are simply opened and the fermented Angel's Share is transferred in. No washing, cleaning, or even dumping out of left-over bourbon! Contamination is probably not an issue, because the beer is already over 10% ABV,
and remember, bourbon is usually diluted after barrel aging. So the dregs are probably the high-test stuff! The Angel's Share spends 6-9 months in the barrel before being bottled. Then, the barrels are used only one more time to age the Older Viscosity (a barleywine). After the second use, the barrels are sold to a local gardener / plant seller to be chopped in half and used as planters.

One more thing about Tomme that I can appreciate: He doesn't believe in going to brewing school. I can appreciate that since I'm trying to get into brewing professionally and I haven't had a formal education. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, but it's cool to see guys like Vinnie Cilurzo and Tomme Arthur, who are living proof that you don't need a formal education to produce outstanding beer.

The last stop for the day was Stone Brewery & Bistro. Unfortunately, we did not make it in time for a tour. There was only so much time in the day, and Stone beers are very easy to get here in NYC. It goes without saying that it's an excellent brewery.

The newly expanded brewery and bistro looks like a beer theme park. You enter from a huge parking lot (I think there are even row numbers), and enter through a huge castle-like door. Inside, high ceilings and a "giant rock" theme abound. There is a gift shop where you can buy Stone hoodies, road bike shirts, socks, pretty much anything you can get with a big Stone logo & gargoyle. When we finally made it into the bistro, the food was overpriced and underwhelming. But the beer list was excellent, including Stone beers and a variety of things we couldn't find back out east.

My overall opinion of Stone is great beer, great marketing, but simply too image conscious for my tastes (It's certainly not something that would stop me from enjoying a fresh pint of Ruination!) I would have liked to do the tour, and I think it would have helped me to appreciate what they have achieved. Also, it's worth noting that we probably wouldn't even see beers like Green Flash or The Bruery out east without the help of Stone's distribution clout. I'm not sure of the details of this arrangement, but Stone helps the little guys distribute farther, which helps a small business make it in a specialized market. That is incredibly cool.

That about wrapped it up for Saturday. Clarissa was nice enough to drive us back and I think I passed out in the car before we made it back (I'm starting to notice a trend here).

To Be Continued...

1 comment:

david said...

Speaking of the Bruery, I was quite surprised to see one of their beers in my local supermarket, the Black Orchard. Can't say, I'm a huge fan, probably just heightened expectations.