Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Quick Trip to SoCal

So no blog last week.  That's because I was actually in Southern California (or on airplanes flying there and back) for most of last week.  I needed to attend some training for my day job in Irvine on Thursday and Friday, so my wife Elaine and I flew down on Wednesday and back on Sunday.  Once I finished my training at 5 PM on Friday, visiting breweries moved to the top of the agenda.

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
Friday night we drove up to The Bruery, a few miles north of Irvine.  By "drove", I mean we crawled through bumper-to-bumper LA traffic for 90 minutes to go less than 10 miles.  Living in Alaska, one forget the madness that is California driving...

Click to enlarge
Anyway, when we arrived at around 6:30, the tasting area was busy and the food truck parked outside was doing a brisk business.  I ordered a goblet of their Mischief, a Belgian Golden Strong Ale. After all that traffic, I needed something with a little kick and the 8.5% ABV Mischief fit the bill perfectly.  It was a beautiful clear gold with an excellent white head and good lacing, as you'd expect for the style.  Besides the hops, I was sure that I was picking up some brett on the nose, but the server swore that there was no brett in it.  They do make a bottled version with brett, called Mischief Gone Wild, but he said their regular version had none.  Carbonation was excellent, hoppiness superb, and the beer was amazingly fresh, of course.  As good as the beers from The Bruery that I have tasted in the past were, they didn't have the kind of freshness you get drinking them at the source.  A superb beer from an excellent brewery.

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:

What you don't see in these pictures is the back of the store, with the deli case full of cheese and cured meets and the 30-tap beer tower and the tables for people to sit and enjoy a beer or a glass of wine.  I was also happy to see half a dozen or so beers from Midnight Sun among the bottles on offer.  Needless to say, I walked out the door with several purchases (more on that later).

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.
Stone also seems to be doing an amazing amount of business.  When we arrived at 11:30 am (without a reservation; it's that Alaskan thing again), we were told the first available one would be at 1:45 pm.  Fortunately, we could get the full lunch menu at the bar.  We split an appetizer of pretzels, and then I had a roast beef melt sandwich and Elaine had a chicken schnitzel; it was all delicious.  For beer, I started off with a Smoked Porter, thinking it would go well with my sandwich.  This is a beer we can get here in Alaska, but once again, it was wonderfully fresh, drinking it at the brewery.  I noticed that they also had a beer engine and asked if they had a cask on.  At first our bartender said no, but then checked and found out that the cask was still on from the night before, their just released 2012 Old Guardian Barley Wine.  Since I'm a sucker for almost anything on cask, I had to have a glass of that as well.  As expected, the cask-conditioning gave it a more delicate, creamier carbonation.  I thought the hop aroma was more pronounced in this year's version and struck me as a bit less "English" than I remembered.  When I asked the server, he informed me that, sure enough, this year they had replaced the East Kent Goldings with a mix of American hops, Chinook, Calypso, & Cascade.  In fact, he said this is the first time Stone has ever used Cascade hops in any of their beers.  Very nice and I'll certainly be looking to pick up some in the bottle when it makes it to Alaska.

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 Brewing has announced that they will be expanding into the Texas market this spring, which is a big leap forward for them.  Also, the next beer in the 22 oz. Pilot Series will be Alaskan Birch Bock, an 8.5% doppelbock made with birch syrup.Here's how it's described in the press release:

" 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!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bill - Sounds like you had a great trip! I enjoy your blogs!
Dave D