As many of you know, I recently took a 5 day road trip back home to sunny and HOT Southern California, primarily San Diego and environs. The outward reason for the trip was to deliver our 3 boys to their grandparents for a vacation. Partly for them but mostly for my wife and I. For me it was 5 days of brewery visits, seeing old friends, pub crawls and most importantly, Stone Brewing’s Annual Sour Fest. I’ll get to the sour fest, but first a rundown of the trip:
It all began on Thursday with an advance visit to Stone in preparation for the sour fest, visiting friends employed at Stone and to check in with Dr. Bill Sysak, the beverage coordinator for the Stone Bistro and director of the Sour Fest. Bill gave a quick tour of the festival area, a rundown of the pouring stations and schedule and of course, the exact location of the VIP area for all of the rare bottles. Bill was also kind enough to invite me to go on a pub crawl on Saturday with visiting brewers and other industry folks!
Bill, knowing my love of hops (and sensing my BC induced withdrawal from said hops), immediately poured a fresh Pliny The Elder from Russian River Brewing. How fresh, you ask? The date on the kegs said they were filled on Tuesday, arrived at the Bistro Wednesday, poured into my glass on Thursday! I also sampled an array of well hopped local beers, including Ballast Point, Alpine* and Port Brewing.
We sampled the Stone 13th Anniversary Beer, a dry hopped Imperial Red with tons of Simcoe and Centennial hops. Definitely one of the best Imperial Reds I’ve had. Very well balanced for such a big beer. I also had a pint of the Sublimely Self Righteous Ale, originally brewed for Stone’s 11th Anniversary. A wonderful black IPA that is amazing. HUGE hop presence, with enough malt to hold it all together. It is my personal favorite of the recent anniversary beers, and I’m glad they brought it back.
*I was crushed when they told me that they had just blown the keg of Nelson, one of my favorite beers of all time. I was forced to ‘settle’ for Ballast Point Even Keel. Poor me!
From Stone I made my way to Churchill’s Pub and Grille, my home away from home. Churchills recently discovered some problems with the fooring and plumbing under the main bar, and is undergoing a MAJOR reconstruction project. Normally “Church” has 20 taps, 250 Bottles and at least 1 beer engine. During the construction they are pouring 6 beers from jockey boxes. When the re-opening happens in the next month or 2, they should have 30+ taps and 2 beer engines running full time!
While at Churchill’s I ran into much of the production and management team from Lost Abbey and Port Brewing. I smuggled a bottle of Lambic from Storm Brewing in Vancouver to share and the responses were unanimous; James is a genius! We sampled James most recent creation, a 12 year old geuze infused with 30 lbs of fresh Okanagan Valley cherries. The Lost Abbey crew are big fans of sour and barrel aged beer, and their praise of the lambic from Storm was high praise indeed! Ivan Derezin, the owner of Churchill’s was also kind enough to break out a bottle of Deschutes Black Butte XXI, their 21st Anniversary beer. Building on the existing chocolate notes already present in Black Butte Porter, brewers added cocoa nibs, 1000 pounds of locally roasted Ethopian and Sumatran coffee, and then aged a portion of it in Stranahan’s Colorado whiskey barrels. Wow!
Friday brought me to Green Flash Brewing, where I was able to spend some time with Brewmaster Chuck Silva. We chatted about everything from the beer scene (or lack thereof) in BC vs. San Diego, ingredients, recipes and so on.
The highlight of my trip also happened while at Green Flash. Chuck and I had a detailed discussion regarding his award winning Hop Head Red and our inability to get it into BC. Tree Brewing has a registered service mark on the phrase ‘Hop Head’, and therefore Green Flash can bring their other beers into Canada, but not Hop Head Red. Chuck was very understanding of the reasons that he could not export the Hop Head Red, and holds no animosity towards Tree Brewing whatsoever.* As a matter of fact, Chuck stated that if the tables were turned, he would have to do the same thing!
Being somewhat of a Beer Ambassador, I suggested a solution to Chuck;
Why not have Chuck come to Tree Brewing in Kelowna, work with their brewer and make the Hop Head Red in BC? Chuck was VERY enthusiastic about the idea, and basically said that if it’s cool with Tree, it cool with him. Of course, I immediately called my friends at Tree and passed along the idea. They were also pretty enthusiastic about the plan and hopefully we can see something happen soon. Cross your fingers, BC beer geeks!
*A sharp lesson for all of you BC beer geeks who keep slamming Tree! If Green Flash is OK with it, you need to pipe down!
The idea of a cross-border collaboration is very intriguing. The ‘new’ beer could be co-branded, with a detailed description of the collaboration on the label, and Green Flash and Tree could share the proceeds. It could also allow Tree Brewing an inroads to distribution in the US! Imagine the media coverage! “US/Canadian Beer Detente” “Beer Diplomacy” It would be heavily covered in the beer press as well as the mainstream press on both sides of the border. You can’t buy advertising like that! And did I mention that I was involved? (Shameless self promotion, eh?)
So after a morning and afternoon of recovery on Saturday, I made my way to the Stone Bistro for the beginning of the pub crawl. Had a Stone 9th Anniversary beer, a wheat wine that seemed to be lacking when it was released back in 2005. The last 4 years have been nothing but good to this beer! Wow!
Imagine my unbridled joy when I saw that Nelson was on tap! Nelson is one of my alltime favorite beers and is only brewed once or twice a year. The name of this Rye infused IPA come from the Nelson Sauvin hop from New Zealand, a wonderfully fruity and citrusy hop. Alpine uses roughly 18% rye malt in the grain bill, giving the body a dry,sharp intensity which allows the Nelson hops to shine through. We were also graced with a visit from Sean McIlhenney from Alpine.
Sean was kind enough to share some of his secrets with me, so hopefully we’ll see a BC version of Nelson and/or Duet in the near future.
From O’Briens we ventured south to Toronado San Diego, sister pub to the world famous and original Toronado in San Francisco. There we were joined by Eric and Lauren Salazar from New Belgium Brewing, in town to pour some of their creations at the Stone Sour Fest.
The evening quickly accelerated at this point, as the rare bottles began appearing at our table. The amazing selection of bottles provided by Ian of the Toronado were Amazing! Cantillon Original Geuze, Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek, Allagash Confluence, Toronado 20th Anniversary from Russian River, Russian River Consecration, and the big one; a Magnum of Anchor Brewing Barrel Aged Reserve.
The Anchor Reserve is incredibly rare, the first and only time I have had the pleasure. Rich, malty, smoky, vanilla…pure heaven. Very reminiscent of Firestone Walker 11, another amazing barrel aged beer. We also had a few bottles of North Coast Old Rasputin XXI, their barrel aged anniversary edition of their venerable Russian Imperial Stout. The bourbon barrels amplify the intense espresso and chocolate flavors, yet soften the finish with subtle vanilla notes.
From there we moved on to Boulevard Brewing Barrel Aged Stout, a very limited release.
Amazingly rich and complex the barrel aging again intensifies the already present coffee and chocolate flavors, and adds a note of vanilla that softens the finish into an symphony of joy.
At this point we were all feeling pretty good, and some of the crew wanted to take the party to Hamilton’s Tavern just a few blocks down 30th street. Being in no shape to drive, I was lucky enough to have run into old and dear friends Scott and Abby who offered to let me stay with them. Considering that they live only a few blocks from Toronado SD, how could I refuse?
But we couldn’t finish the evening without a nightcap could we? Of course not. And it just so happens, another of my favorite San Diego hangouts, The Ritual Tavern was right across the street! The Ritual only has 6-8 taps, but the taps are always occupied with local beer. They have a very impressive bottle list as well. There is always a cask on, and as a CAMRA guy, I had to have a pour from the beer engine. On this evening was a cask of Red from Rock Bottom Brewing. Nice malty character with sufficient hops to balance nicely. The cask really softened the hop bite and brought out the rich malts. While at the Ritual, we met Larry and Natalie. Larry is the manager/beer buyer for Father’s Office, one of the few true taphouses in Los Angeles. They were in town for, yep…Sour Fest. We made arrangements to meet up at the Sour Fest so we could share and compare.
At this point we were getting pretty tired, and need to rest up and recover for the Stone Sour Fest on Sunday. After a quick stop for some greasy, yet incredibly satisfying Carne Asada, we retired to Scott and Abby’s for the night.
Considering that I am already over 1700 hundred words in this post, I think I’ll have to recharge with a pint or 2 and give all the gory details of the Sour Fest in my next post.
…to be continued…
Andy The Beerman