My last post on this blog, more than a year ago, was a beer-related roundup of 2011. To keep that one year tradition going (and to prevent a total no-show on this blog for 2012), here is a similar post for the current about to end year.
The ever-growing craft-brew culture of San Diego, a burgeoning brew(gatro)-pubs and bottle-shops scene, combined with business travels and a long road-trip meant that I was once again fortunate enough to taste a wide range of quality beers in 2012. The year also witnessed a consolidation of beer-knowledge(/geekery/snobbishness) that started in 2009 with my move to this city and getting into home brewing as a hobby. So here are some beer-related highlights from the year.
To put it another way: this is all I recollect after recovering from terrible hangovers.
Lagers/Pilsners: There wasn’t anything that came close to beating last year’s favorite, Lightning’s Elemental Pilsner, though I did enjoy Lagunitas Pils, Hangar 24 Helles Lager and Mammoth Brewing’s Golden Trout Pils. The last one tasted particularly delicious in the unseasonably hot Mammoth Lake area during a road-trip this August.
American Pale Ale: The style continues to be my favorite as a anytime, anywhere go-to beer. There is a great deal of variety within APAs, but my personal favorites are those that have a good balance between hop bitterness and aroma, specially with a citrus or piney finish. This works well with the general year round San Diego weather as well. The Alesmith X continues to excel, and my other local favorite mentioned last year, Karl Strauss‘ citrusy delight, Pintail Pale Ale, is now a year-round beer rather than a spring seasonal.
Others in this category that I discovered and loved this year include Deschutes’ Mirror Pond, Friestone Walker’s Pale 31, and Port Brewing’s Kung Fu Elvis Pale.The Pale 31 in particular is a delight when consumed fresh on tap – with strong aromas from the big C hops (Chinook, Centennial, and Cascade) being very prominent.
India Pale Ale: Anything with the grown Nelson hops, with its wonderful grapefruit-y aroma, continues to be a favorite. Last year’s top IPA, Alpine’s Nelson remains at the top of the list. This New Zealand grown hops (insert Hobbit joke here) looks to be more readily available here in the US with several breweries trying it out in their IPAs including this humble home-brewer . One of my favorite local brewery, Lightning Brewery also made their foray into (Imperial) IPAs – the Double Strike IPA, dry-hopping it with Nelson. I haven’t had too much of this beer this year, and that is clearly my loss. As with most Lightning beers, this has a strong malty character that goes very well with the blend of hoppy bitterness and aromas. I do hope that head-brewer Jim will consider putting some of this beer into a barrel for aging.
The Duet with Simcoe and Amarillo hops by Alpine was another excellent IPA.
A serendipitous discovery for this year: Kern River Brewing’s Just Outstanding IPA. I was making a pit-stop at Bakersfield, CA while on a business trip and went to local brew-pub, Lengthwise Brewing Co. that had turned up on a Google search. The Lengthwise beers were good, but not exceptional. I was talking to a local at the bar, and she suggested I try out this IPA from this brewery an hour up the mountains from Bakersfield. I am glad for that advice since the IPA blew me away by its floral and citrus aromas. Just Outstanding is not easily available in San Diego, but I made a stop at Kernville – at the southern end of the Sierras and famous for its white water rafting and fishing – during my summer road-trip, even making sure to book a motel right next to the brewery so as to taste more of this deliciousness directly from the source. Apparently their other IPA, a seasonal called Citra is even better, but gets consumed pretty quickly. That simply means – another road-trip!
In other news about IPAs, I am pretty happy to have converted former bitter-beer hating people into this category! I count this as a significant achievement for 2012.
Saison: Continuing the trend from last year, there was a definite uptick in the availability and the brewing of Saisons – the spicy, yet refreshing Belgian-style farmhouse ale. Usually the spiciness of this ale comes from the phenols produced by the yeast, especially at the high tempertures these beers are fermented at (>70-80F compared to 65-72F of most ales). Unfortunately, there has been a trend recently to supplement with real spices and even fruits. Some of them work, but at least for me – most don’t (agave Saison, ugh!). I enjoy my Saisons simple without overbearing added flavors. Having said that, I found two wonderful experimental Saisons this year.
First, all the way from New Zealand, Saison Sauvin by 8-wired Brewery, a Saison that marries the best of the style to my favorite hop Nelson (which is appropriately from New Zealand). Floral and pine aromatics are blended nicely with the natural spiciness produced by the yeast. Unfortunately I have been too lazy to go find more bottles of this awesomeness, found at am equally awesome beer store, Clem’s Bottlehouse, in North Park. If you are a fan of Saisons and aromatic hops, do not miss this one.
Second, an off-beat Saison produced through the collaboration between our local brewery Green Flash, and St Feullien in Bewlgium: the Friendship Brew. This dark Saison, with an oatmeal stout malt-base and a ‘secret’ blend of spices has been the perfect beer for the somewhat chilly evenings we have had in San Diego recently.
Darker (Red/Brown) Ales: Usually I don’t drink much of browns, and reds – something I hope to redress next year by seeking out more varieties. On recommendation from a friend, tried the Moose Drool Brown and liked it. But the best would have to be Mammoth Brewing’s Double Nut Brown Ale. Among reds, I enjoyed a special seasonal, hoppier than usual, version of the La Jolla Rock Bottom’s usual red ale.
Ashamed to Admit I Drank it Beer of the Year: Pacifico lagers (with that piece of lime wedged into the can)! In my defense – this was in Mexico, and most of the consumption was on beach-side taco shops and accompanied with Margaritas.
Most Unlikely Place for Great Beer (and food): At Pappy & Harriet’s in Yucca Valley near the Joshua Tree National Park. The pub is located in Pioneertown, a town built in the 40s as a live-in set for shooting Westerns. Much of the town was destroyed in 2006 by the Sawtooth Complex fire, but most of the movie set and the building where Pappy Harriet’s is located survived. While practically in located in the middle of nowhere in the Californian desert, the place is famous (and gets very crowded quickly) for hosting various notable musicians. (It also happened to be featured on an Anthony Bourdain ‘No Reservations’ episode.)
They had a mesquite coal-fired grill going in the back-yard and the meat servings were appropriately succulent. But they also had an excellent selection of beers on tap, which they serve in mason jars. Several jars of Lagunitas IPA and half a pound of baby back ribs later, I was a happy camper ready to tackle the Ryan Mountain hike in Joshua Tree very early next day. If you are ever driving in this direction, make this a must-stop location.
Best Pub Experience: The Trappist in downtown Oakland. Several dimly-lit rooms with old furniture connected by dark and narrow passageways gives this place a great deal of ambiance. More importantly, there are three separates bars with a wide selection of Belgians, manned by professional and knowledgeable bartenders. Had a great time drinking several Trappists beers and shooting the breeze with an old friend out here.
Favorite New Brewery: 2012 was the year of brewery explosion in San Diego. New breweries opened up at more than one per month, including four new ones just within a 2 mile radius of my work! Quality of beers from each of these range a bit, but the good news is that each brewery seems to excel in at least one style or brew. In case of Societe, pretty much all their beers are awesome (but then they have a strong brewing pedigree as well). However. my personal favorite new brewery was New English Brewing. New English is not exactly a new for 2012 given that head brewer Simon has been brewing on leased space for a few years now. But he opened up his own location along with a tasting room early this year. They focus on English-style ales: the malty Explorer’s ESB is quite easily the best around, and so is the Brewer’s Special Brown. Simon also brews an excellent IPA, the Trooper’s Tippel, which is much lower in alcohol and hop content than the usual west-coast style in-you-face 100+ IBU beers that dominate San Diego. That make it a very refreshing session ale. This is helpful since I have spent most Thurs and Fri evenings of the year at this place, ostensibly avoiding the evening traffic. Additionally, Simon usually has one of these beers on cask, where you get a much smoother taste. The very best are his barrel-aged delights, especially the bourbon barrel-aged brown ale served on nitro.
On top the libations available at New English, the attraction is the friendly neighborhood pub feeling. Through the year, I have gotten to know the brewer, as well as many of the regular patrons.
Home-brewing: Beer brewing activities slowed considerably this year as various things in life intervened. After brewing 30+ beers through ’09-’11, only five got brewed this year. Unfortunately the Oktoberfest lager did not come out as well this year, and was slightly on the sweet side, in contrast to the perfection achieved last year. But the weissbier brewed for the same party was top-notch. Also two brews towards the end of the year were pretty good: a nut brown ale, which came very close to the north English style – hints of roasted malt, and a bit dry. The second one was a Bavarian hefeweizen spiced with cinnamon and cloves made for our annual neighborhood block party. Next up is my own version of the hoppy American Pale Ale with Cascade as the base bittering hops, but lots of added flavor from late additions of Cascade, Challenger, Willamette and Nelson.
Recurring Unfulfilled Wish: I would love to visit Paso Robles and drink Pliny the Younger when it is released in February. Sadly, given my schedule early part of 2013, will have to put it off for another year.
Hope you all have a hoppy new year, and here’s to another year of non-sobriety. Cheers.