Southern California seems to have an extremely mature craft beer culture. For example, Thursday evening we went out to dinner at a chain seafood place, McCormick & Schmick's. It's evidently quite a large chain, though not one I'd ever heard of. Anyway, looking at the menu, I noticed the front page was food, while the back page was wine. Bracing myself for the usual disappointment, I asked the waiter about beer choices. He returned a few moments later with an entirely separate menu, listing their quite extensive bottle and draft choices, as well as tasting notes and suggested food pairings! Then he pointed out the line of ales brewed on-site. Color me impressed! Some of the "fine dining" places in Alaska could learn a lot from this California chain restaurant.
|The Bruery Tasting Room|
|Click to enlarge|
By now, Elaine and I we starving, so we took some advice from the server about where to head for food and made our way to Old Town Orange County to a gastropub called The Haven. We found the place without much trouble, but we hadn't reckoned on it being a Friday night in CA and weren't interested in waiting 45 minutes for a table. So headed back through the streets of Old Town, looking for a place to eat without having to wait. We eventually ended up at a BBQ joint, one that served up a delicious rack of St. Louis-style ribs. As luck would have it, right across the street was The Bruery Provisions, a combination of a beer & wine bar, and beer & wine bottle store, and a gourmet deli. After we finished dinner, we checked it out.
I pretty sure that Alaska's rather silly liquor laws would make it very difficult to open a store such as The Bruery Provisions, which is really too bad, as it was a great place. Here are some pictures:
Next day, we headed south toward San Diego County and two of the biggest names in craft brewing: Stone Brewing Company and Lost Abbey/Port Brewing. We headed for Stone first, since we knew they served food and we'd be arriving around 11:30 am. Arriving at Stone was interesting; there's no sign (I seem to remember an interview with Greg Koch in which he was quoted as saying that there was no sign because he wanted people to have to come there on purpose rather than just see it while driving by), and it's the only brewery/brewpub I've ever been to with valet parking! We skipped the valet, parked ourselves, and walked in.
|The outdoor dining area|
It's an absolutely amazing facility. Besides the brewery (visible through a huge glass wall from the bar area) and a very large store, there's a large outdoor dining area/bar, that overlooks the "beer garden". The beer garden is perhaps an acre of land that has been turned into a 21st century California version of an old-fashioned German beer garden. There are small streams (crossed by foot bridges), numerous benches and tables and rocks to sit on, scattered through out the garden, off the path that winds through the entire area. You can buy a beer up at the deck bar, then walk down into the garden area with your friends and enjoy it. It was extremely cool!
|Part of the garden. Seats near the water.|
|Another part, with shade to get out of the sun.|
|Inside Stone's bar from above.|
After our lunch and strolling through the beer garden, we headed out for Lost Abbey/Port Brewing, about a ten minute drive from Stone. Located in an industrial park, the brewery was easily spotted by the number of cars parked around it and the ubiquitous food truck parked in front. It was a release day for their Box Set Track #2 Beer, blend of their Cuvee, Angel Share, and Project X beers. I was hoping to snag a bottle to bring home and share, but they were only selling it for consumption on the premises. Since I'm a little funny about being told when and where I can drink something I've paid for, I decided to pass and had a pint of their Midnight Expression Black Lager instead. As you can see these photos, the place was packed:
The Midnight Expression was an excellent black lager, completely opaque with a long-lasting tan head. The aroma was of nice, roasty malt and the taste was extremely clean, with excellent balance and very refreshing. It was a great beer for a warm California afternoon. Of course I couldn't visit Lost Abbey and not pay my respects to its Brewer/Guru-In-Residence, Tomme Arthur. I was honored that he actually remembered the last time we met, when we had dinner together (along with a lot of other people) during the 2009 National Homebrewers Conference in Oakland. As always, I gave him my pitch to send more of his brews to Alaska, for all of us up here to enjoy. A fantastic visit to a fantastic brewery.
So what did I bring back with me (besides a renewed respect for the brewers of SoCal)? Here's a photo of my beer plunder:
I could probably have managed a couple of bottles more, but I didn't want to risk my suitcase going overweight, with all the extra $$$$ that entails. I was on the lookout for the Alesmith Brewing's Wee Heavy Scotch Ale (see my review on 12/22/2010) since it's both fantastic and unavailable in Alaska, so when I saw a bottle at The Bruery Provision, it was a no-brainer.
I chose the two beers from The Bruery based on how interesting they sounded. Acer Quercus is a collaboration brew with Lawson's Finest Liquids, a nanobrewery in Vermont. The beer has been "oaked, smoked, and mapled", not necessarily in that order. At 9.5% ABV, it sounded totally unique. The Saison De Lente is their spring seasonal, a 6.5% ABV, 35 IBU saison with brett added.
Finally, I snapped up a bottle of Lost Abbey's Judgement Day Quadruple. I could write about it, but why listen to me when you can have Tomme tell you himself (if the embedded player doesn't work, click here):
Yes, it's one I'll be cellaring for a special occasion or the End of the World, whichever comes first.
OK, with the trip report done, let's move on to local news.
St. Elias Brewing will be putting another cask of their Vanilla Bean Porter on hand pump this Friday. I missed this brew last time around on cask, so I'll definitely be stopping bye to grab a pint this time. Zach Henry added extra vanilla beans to the cask, so this one should be extra delicious.
I saw Joe Gilman at Kenai River Brewing on Wednesday. He's recovering from his elbow injury, doing physical therapy, and hoping to be allowed to start lifting things with his arm in a few weeks. Stay with it, Joe!
Kassik's Brewery is getting big time press coverage! They will be on KTUU's "Assignment Alaska" during the 6 PM news hour on Thursday, 23 February. So set your DVRs!
Gabe Fletcher at Anchorage Brewing Company has finally found time to get his website up and it looks pretty cool! Check it out here. Now all Gabe needs to do is claim his Facebook page!
" Alaskan Birch Bock is a tawny, copper-colored ale with lightly toasted and caramel malt highlights and the earthy undertones of birch, figs and spun sugar. Birch Syrup adds a subtle woodsy and sherry-like character that mingles with the hop bitterness to create clean and dry finish that nicely masks the spice of alcohol in this medium-bodied beer. "
Release date will be 1 March, so look for it at your local beer store in early March.
Finally, it's not too soon to start thinking about American Craft Beer Week, which will take place May 14-20 this year, followed immediately by SE Alaska Beer Week, 18 to 26 May, which will culminate in the 20th Annual Great Alaska Craftbeer and Homebrew Festival in Haines, on Saturday, May 26th. Everyone I've ever talked to says this is a fantastic festival, so if you can be in Haines, Alaska at the end of May, it should be a great time. Stay tuned for more details in future blogs as we get closer and the event schedules firm up.
Well, that's about it for now. I should have some more beer reviews next week, as I get caught up after my trip. Take care and keep drinking that good craft beer.
Until Next Time, Cheers!