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Not All Who Wander Are Lost

This quote from Tolkien strikes a chord with me. I guess I’m a bit of a restless spirit, and I’ve had a desire to travel and experience new areas for most of my life. One of the things my wife Kathleen and I have really enjoyed in our lives together has been the opportunity to live in different parts of the country, travel around different regions, work at different jobs, and experience and embrace different cultures and lifestyles.
I’ve had several major changes in my long career in brewing that in some ways have been fueled by this desire to explore, and now another change has come. I will be leaving Stone Brewing at the end of June to partner up with some brewing industry veterans on a new project. Stone made a video to announce my departure to the team, and I used this Tolkien quote in it, and it just seemed to fit.
My time at Stone has been nothing short of amazing. I’ve been given so many opportunities to brew great beer, travel to great places, and put myself in a position to represent and speak for Stone and for craft beer. There aren’t words to express how grateful I am to have had this role at Stone, and for everything I have been able to do with it. As excited as I am about this new project, it’s incredibly hard to leave a company that does such great things and that has treated me so well. And the hardest part about it is how much I am going to miss everyone at Team Stone that I’ve worked with over the past 10+ years. Team Stone is a great team of dedicated, skilled and passionate brewers and craft beer fans, and I cherish the time I was able to work with all of them. I consider my coworkers good friends and great ambassadors of craft beer, and I am sure they will continue to have major success and brew great beer.

Greg, Steve, and Pat (our COO) have been nothing short of incredible as we prepare for this transition. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but I think they get why I’m doing this and what it means to me, and they have been very kind and have expressed a lot of gratitude for my contributions. I respect and admire these folks so much, and wish them and Stone nothing but the best success as things move forward. We have pledged to continuing to support each other in the future, for which I am very thankful.
I will still be part of craft brewing as I work on this new venture. And once details can be revealed, they will be. But for now, know that I will continue to be an active member of the craft beer community, and I am looking forward to continuing to cross paths with everyone as this moves forward. I’ve been lucky to have made so many great friends in the industry-the best industry on Earth, and I look forward to making more friendships in the future and continuing to share beers with everyone at industry events.

Cheers,  Mitch

The real quality issue: Oxidation

The recent buzz about the lack of quality in some of the new breweries is gaining noticeable momentum on the internet and social media. I have written much in this blog about beer quality and what every brewer should have in their arsenal to deal with quality issues.
Many people talking about beer quality refer to infected beers, beers with diacetyl, DMS (creamed corn) and beers with acetaldehyde. Those problems still exist, but in my experience are becoming increasingly rare, because good brewers are starting to understand these compounds and how they are formed, much better than 20 years ago. As an example, I can tell you that in the late 1990’s, at beer judging events, diacetyl (butter) and acetaldehyde (pumpkin seed) were common defects. Now, not so much.

One quality issue that is rarely addressed by the general public, and even some brewers, is oxidation (excessive exposure  of beer to air). Air can come in contact with beer a number of ways: if tanks, hoses and piping in the brewery are not adequately purged w/ CO2 or hot water, if there are equipment issues, like leaking pump seals or damaged valve seats, and in the packaging process, and especially if bottles and cans are not properly purged and sealed, oxygen can get absorbed into the beer-and the oxidation reactions that occur create all sorts of bad flavors. Oxidation is hastened by warm temperature storage of packaged beers, and lack of care in avoiding air contact post-fermentation before packaging. There are several reactions that can occur in the brewhouse that can hasten oxidation in the finished beer, but the important thing is to control exposre to oxygen in finished beer before packaging. I’ve heard many brewers say “nothing good can happen to your beer once it is put into a package”. And by and large, that is true, though of course some higher alcohol beers benefit from the changes that occur with aging.

The bottom line is that once yeast has completed the fermentation, the beer needs to be kept oxygen free and isolated from any oxygen exposure or contact risk.
So what does oxidation tastes like? It really depends on the beer, but as a beer ages the following flavor changes often can be observed. Excessive air contact will accelerate this flavor development:

1. In a dry-hopped beer, the first thing that happens is a rapid loss of hop aroma and flavor
2. In most beers, the malt flavor changes from a clean fresh malt character, to a worty and grainy flavor, eventually morphing into a strong and coarse grainy character, then developing to the dreaded wet cardboard papery flavor.
3. In beers brewed with a high percentage of crystal malt, the caramel and toffee like flavors evolve into a dried fruit flavor, raisins or prunes. In addition, these oxidized crystal malt characters will also mask and hasten the loss of hop flavor, which is why many of the best IPA brewers use very little to no crystal malts in their IPAs.

Some air pickup during filtration and packaging is normal, and in many cases unavoidable. But managing the air pickup to minimize oxidation is where the skill of the brewer comes into play. It’s a notoriously difficult situation to control, and some brewers are much better at it than others.

Brewers should always keep museum samples of their bottled beers and evaluate them stored cold and at room temperature once a month for 3-6 months. The resulting flavor differences are staggering, which is why it frustrates me to see craft brewers put 6 month code dates on their beer. I wonder who actually bases their code length on taste and who is simply making a bad assumption.

How does a beer drinker know when a beer is hopelessly oxidized? The only way to really know is taste. That said, before purchasing a beer, here are some clues:

1. A liquor or beer store that stores their beer on a shelf without refrigeration. Dusty bottles are a dead giveaway. Oxidation reactions occur faster with warmer temperatures, so non-refrigerated beer on a shelf in a retail account is always a danger sign.

2. If the brewer date codes their beer (and all brewers should do this, but too many don’t) any lower alcohol beer (below 8% abv) that is more than 2-3 months from packaging should be approached cautiously.

3. Slow moving beers at large multi-tap establishments should be approached with caution. Especially the lower alcohol or hop forward ones.

Now that we are contemplating selling our beer in Europe, we are finding that many countries require ridiculously long code dates on beer. 180 days and 270 day code length requirements are not uncommon. Obviously we have a long way to go to educate people that beer, like bread, stales. I always tell people to treat beer like milk. Keep it cold, all the time. It won’t go bad and make you sick like spoiled milk can, but the flavor does change based on temperature, and for most beers the flavor changes are not good.




The return of Ballantine IPA

ballantine IPA label

While I was researching for my book on IPA, I really gained a huge appreciation for the influence of historical beers on today’s beer styles. Many of these influential beers no longer exist, yet they provided inspiration for many of today’s brewers, and it’s been quite rewarding to learn about many of these beers.

A great case in point is Ballantine IPA. I was somewhat familiar with Ballantine IPA before I started researching the book, mostly through an article that Gregg Glaser wrote for Modern Brewery Age back in 2000 (the text of that article is at the bottom of this post). And as I started researching American IPA brewing, I came to understand exactly how important this beer was. Not only was it one of the best selling IPAs in American history, with over a 100 year tradition, but it also provided substantial influence to both Fritz Maytag at Anchor, whose Liberty Ale was inspired by it, and Ken Grossman at Sierra Nevada, who has acknowledged that Ballantine IPA was an inspiration for Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. Pre-1970s Ballantine IPA is described in literature as a beer with a starting gravity of 18 degrees Plato, an alcohol content of 7.4%, 60 IBUs, aged for a year in oak vats, and dry-hopped with a unique process using Bullion (and apparently at times Cluster) hops. In other words, this was a real beefy IPA, similar in intensity to the best Burton IPAs of the 1800s and the best craft brewed IPAs today.

Ballantine Shepps TX ballantine_india_pale_ale_poster-re561ef9be5514219bb93f79c3e32c8f5_5jt_400

Ballantine IPA fell victim to the homogenization of American beer in the 1950s-1970s, a development I detailed at length in my book. The demise of many regional breweries and classic beers styles occurred as the American Lager gained a stronger and stronger stranglehold on the American beer scene. With the buyouts and closings that occurred during this time, Ballantine went from being the 3rd largest brewer in the US in the 1950s, to eventually being sold to Falstaff, and having the brewing moved from Newark, NJ to the Narragansett Brewery in Rhode Island. The Ballantine IPA recipe went through several modifications and was eventually dumbed down to the point of being a shell of its formal self.

The history of Ballantine IPA has been well documented on the internet, on sites like this, JessKidden’s great documentations of historical breweries here and here, and Bil Corcoran’s blog site My Beer Buzz. I used all of this as part of my research for the book, and since the book was published, I’ve been able to be involved in the brewing of two Ballantine IPA-inspired beers. The first was this Collaboration originally done with Dave Yarrington at Smuttynose Brewing Company and Tod Mott, then at the Portsmouth Brewery, a beer we called Cluster’s Last Stand (the name came before we decided the recipe). The grain bill was from the first Ballantine recipe in my book, and we hopped the beer with Bullion and Cluster hops, and a bit of Tomahawk hops. Dave at Smuttynose has now rebrewed and packaged Cluster’s Last Stand a couple of times, and somehow our co-founder and CEO Greg Koch was able to take part in one of those re-brews. I’m not sure how I missed out on that brew day! The second was a recipe that I asked Kris Ketcham, our Brewing Manager at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens-Liberty Station, to brew, and it used the same grain bill and 100% Bullion hops. Kris released this in February 2014 and called it Valentine IPA, an homage to Ballantine. Both beers were resiny, hoppy, extremely bitter, and delightful.


So I was quite excited to see that Pabst was reintroducing Ballantine IPA this September. I am seeing a lot buzz around this beer on the internet. Articles and blogs like this one are popping up all over social media sites. And a very gratifying development regarding the release of Ballantine IPA is that my IPA book had a role in it.  The Pabst Brewmaster in charge of developing this beer, Greg Deuhs, has given me a couple of shout outs in this story here and on this radio interview on WILK 103.1’s Friday Beer Buzz , and I’m beyond pleased that some of what I was able to cobble together about Ballantine IPA played any part in its resurrection.

I was lucky enough to have a a colleague “with connections” send me a prototype unlabeled can of the new Ballantine IPA, which I tried very recently with a friend. The beer is a beautiful amber color, hoppy as hell, huge powerhouse of hop aromatics, lots of citrus and herbal earthiness. This is a beer I definitely order again, just a really intense American IPA.



The late, great Ballantine.(traditional American ale)
From: Modern Brewery Age | Date: 3/27/2000 | Author: Glaser, Greg
Modern Brewery Age

The real story of the greatest of the traditional American ales.

Mention the name Ballantine to beer lovers, especially beer lovers with more than a few flecks of gray in their beards, and more often than not they will begin to rhapsodize rapturously about this famous ale. You’ll hear stories of old bottles mysteriously and wondrously discovered and tasted; tales of long-discarded techniques employed by the original brewers; accounts of the slow, steady decline of the beer’s greatness as it passed from brewery to brewery, the result of corporate takeovers.

Beer writers often praise Ballantine. Michael Jackson, writing in the August 1980 British beer journal, “What’s Brewing,” described Ballantine IPA as “wonderfully distinctive … an outstanding American ale unique in its fidelity to the East Coast tradition of Colonial ales.” More recently, in the February-March 2000 “Celebrator Beer News,” Fred Eckhardt wrote, “Ballantine IPA would be a good choice for the greatest and most enduring American brewing triumph of the early and mid-20th century.” Pat Baker stated in an interview, “Ballantine IPA was just such a beautiful looking beer. It had a deep amber color and a sparkling head. And of course the hops were just monstrous. It was one of those beer tasting experiences that just stays with you.”

Intrigued by such writings and comments, I decided to delve deeper into Ballantine lore and search out its history. This is what I discovered:In 1830 Peter Ballantine, a Scottish brewer from Ayr, emigrated to the U.S. Several years later, in 1837, he opened a brewery in Albany, New York, and named it Peter Ballantine and Sons. The brewery moved to Newark, New Jersey, in 1840, where it remained until purchased by Falstaff in 1971. (From 1879 to 1911 Ballantine operated a second Newark brewery, and in 1943 the company purchased Newark’s Christian Feiganspan Brewery and ran it as a Ballantine plant until 1948.) At its peak in the 1950s, P. Ballantine & Sons brewed five million barrels a year.

Production of all Ballantine beers (there were several) moved in 1971 to the Narragansett Brewery in Cranston, Rhode Island. Narragansett, which opened in 1890, was purchased by Falstaff in 1965 and closed in 1983. Falstaff, bought by Pabst in 1975, moved Ballantine production to their Ft. Wayne, Indiana, brewery in 1979, where the brand remained until 1991 when the plant closed. (This was the old Berghoff Brewery, purchased by Falstaff in 1954.)

From 1991 to 1996, Pabst brewed Ballantine in Milwaukee. There is a possibility that towards the end of this time Ballantine may have also been brewed at the Heileman Brewery in Lacrosse, Wisconsin, where some Pabst brands were made. During 1996 to 1999, Ballantine came out of Pabst breweries in Tumwater, Oregon, and San Antonio, Texas. Today the brand is solely brewed at Pabst’s plant in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, the original 1972 Schaeffer brewery that was later sold to Stroh in 1980 and acquired by Pabst in 1999.

Through all these moves, Ballantine ales constantly changed character. The brands most often brewed were Ballantine XXX and Ballantine IPA, the latter being the most widely loved and praised. In Newark, Ballantine IPA was a strong, 7.5% abv amber ale with great hop bitterness (60 International Bittering Units or IBUs) and a powerful hop aroma. This aroma came from hop oils distilled from Bullion hops at the brewery and added to the storage tanks. These tanks them-selves were unique, in that they were made of oak. Ballantine IPA was aged for a full year in the wood, a technique unheard of today except for the most artisanal microbrewery. The woody character found in Ballantine IPA was as important to the beer’s profile as were the hop oils. The Newark brewery also produced a special ale named Ballantine Burton. This extra strong beer, perhaps 10% abv, was aged an amazing ten years in wood and bottled sporadically as holiday gifts to brewery employees and friends. The labels created for these bottles would sta te the date the beer was brewed and bottled and the name of the recipient.

When Ballantine moved to Rhode Island, the IPA aging was first lowered to nine months, then six and finally to five. Oak barrels were replaced by wax-coated cyprus, according to Bill Anderson, Narragansett’s master brewer in the early 1970s. Hop oils continued to be used for a while, with a distillation unit on premises, but this process was later abandoned. Overall IBUs for the IPA dropped to 50, then 45. Bullion hops were used at first, but were later changed to a blend of Brewers’ Gold and American Yakima. The IPA was dry hopped in storage tanks after the hops were put through what Anderson called a hammer mill. “We ground them to a consistency that was a cross between corn flakes and sawdust,” he remembers. The strength of the beer remained constant during most of the Narragansett years, at 7.5% abv, but Anderson says this was later reduced to 6.7%.

In that same 1980 What’s Brewing article quoted previously, Jackson wrote of the Ballantine IPA: it had a “thick, rocky head, delightfully hoppy nose, powerful and lasting bitterness, extremely firm full body, superb balance and soft natural carbonation.” Alan Kornhauser, a Ballantine aficionado and brewmaster for Pabst Brewing Company, Far East Division, based in Zhaoqing, China, remembers the Rhode Island-brewed Ballantine IPA as, light and refreshing, with great hop aroma.”

Ballantine Burton was never brewed outside Newark, but XXX came out of Narragansett as a golden ale of about 23 IBUs and 5.6% abv. Another ale produced there was Ballantine Brewers’ Gold, a strong (7% abv), moderately hoppy (30-34 IBUs) golden ale. A lager was also made.

Once Ballantine production moved to Ft. Wayne, a decidedly different beer emerged. Gone were the wooden aging casks; gone were the hop oils. “It stopped tasting like Ballantine at that time,” recalls Kornhauser. “It must have been a different formula and maybe not even an ale yeast. And the hop aroma was gone.” Pat Baker remembers much the same: “The wood character disappeared and the hop character faded.”

I couldn’t find anyone to provide notes on Ballantine when it was brewed in Milwaukee, Tumwater or San Antonio, but I did speak with Dan Melideo, master brewer at Pabst’s Lehigh Valley plant, Ballantine’s present home. Melideo says that today Ballantine XXX, the only Ballantine in production, finishes with a strength of 5.45% abv (a far cry from the original) and is hopped to a bitterness of about 22 IBUs (again, much lower than in the past). And the hops have changed again. Melideo uses Cascade hops in the boil and also in storage to dry hop the beer. Aging in wood remains a thing of the past. Jim Walter, VP of Business Administration for Pabst, explains that Ballantine XXX is marketed primarily in the northeast corridor with some sales in the Mid West and West Coast. He says that in the future Pabst may also see a market develop for Ballantine IPA.

Before joining Pabst in China, Alan Kornhauser was a brewer at Portland Brewing in Portland, Oregon. While there he wanted to recreate the Ballantine he knew and loved from years ago, and to introduce this re-creation to West Coast beer lovers, unfamiliar with the old ale. He says he brewed the best version of Ballantine XXX he could in 1996. The beer, originally named Summer Ale, is now called Portland Pale Ale in some parts of the country, and Kornhauser’s Oast Ale in the Pacific Northwest, where it is available from April through August. Kornhauser wanted to use hop oils just as was originally done in Newark and Rhode Island, and he built a still to extract oils from Oregon-grown Brewers’ Gold hops. Not completely satisfied with the results, he sent a batch of hops to England where he knew of an established hop distillery. The hop oil returned to Oregon was blended with the oil he extracted and used in his ale. The result is a 4.7% abv ale with about 28 IBUs and a highly aromatic fragrance from the hop oi ls. In comparing it to his benchmark, Ballantine XXX, Kornhauser says that for flavor it rated eight on scale often, but for hops it was a perfect ten. “The burp after a few sips was all hop oil,” recalls the proud brewer. The Narragansett-brewed Ballantine IPA was the model Kornhauser used when he developed Woodstock IPA for Portland Brewing, a beer in year-round production. Woodstock is a 6.3% abv ale with 45 IBUs (no hop oil, but plenty of dry hops) and a noticeable woody flavor from Kornhauser’s “secret oak aging process.”

“These were two of my favorite beers in the world, Ballantine Ale and IPA, and I was very fortunate that Portland Brewing allowed me to try to recreate them as best I could,” says Kornhauser.

It’s safe to say that bottles of the old, original Ballantine IPA, the Newark and even the Rhode Island versions, are not to be found today. If any exist, the beer would have aged into something completely different, as have old bottles of Ballantine Burton. With regrets, none of us can taste this highly lauded ale. With Pabst’s Ballantine XXX being brewed so differently from the original, it’s hardly fair to compare it with the older version. The most that diehard beer lovers can do is read the reviews of the past, talk with any gray-beards they can find who tasted the original Ballantine ales and search out microbreweries such as Portland Brewing Company who brew hoppy ales. Those are our best chances of getting even the slightest handle on the late, great ale they called Ballantine.

Gregg Glaser is a beer writer and educator who makes his home in Wilton, CT. His writings are a regular feature in Modern Brewery Age.

My Favorite Beer Cities

Another one I never got around to posting because sometimes life gets in the way:

Stephen Beaumont wrote a post a while back on his World of Beer site that “there is no such thing as a “best beer city””, his point being that the enjoyment of beer relies as much upon atmosphere, situation, and history as much as the overall beer and brewery selection in any given city. I kind of agree with him, despite the fact that I called Portland, Oregon America’s best beer city in a previous post. But this is highly subjective, admittedly, and so I thought maybe I’d just list my favorite beer cities, and why I enjoy them as much as I do, without trying to decide which is best, because I like them all for different reasons.

I did not list any cities I haven’t been to, so if a great beer city is not on the list, that would probably be why. So here they are, in no particular order, and special thanks to Stone’s Brewery Reps in each of these towns, because they are the ones that always show me what’s new:

Portland, Oregon: Nowhere I’ve been is craft beer as pervasive as I’ve seen in Portland, OR. I go to Portland about once a year, and every time I go, I get to visit many new craft beer bars or breweries. There is always something new and incredible. And craft beer is literally everywhere, it’s harder to find a restaurant or bar that doesn’t serve craft beer than it is to find one that does. Portland has a great craft brewing tradition, one of the pioneering towns of the modern day craft beer movement, so it is full of 30 year “tradition” and also some groundbreaking innovation. The Craft Brewers Conference will be in Portland in 2015, and I think we’re cooking up some big activities while we are there. Cannot wait for this.

San Diego, CA: Okay, I’m a homie now, after 8+ years of being here. There are currently over 80 craft breweries in San Diego County, and the beer scene is amazingly innovative and vibrant. There’s a beer style for everyone here. If you want a lager, an English Ale, a sour beer, or a west coast IPA, you can find excellent examples of all of these being brewed within miles of each other. I’m proud to be part of the beer community here, I just wish I lived a little closer to San Diego itself and all the great beer bars there, like Hamilton’s, Blind Lady, Small Bar and Toronado just east of downtown, and The Neighborhood and The Local in downtown. I just read that the ~20 mile stretch along Highway 78 from Escondido to Oceanside is home to something like 30 breweries! My favorite place to get a beer and a meal in the San Diego area is URGE Gastropub in Rancho Bernardo, in between San Diego and Escondido.

Cleveland, OH: I’ve traveled for Stone a few times to Cleveland OH, and always have a great time. There is a hard-core craft scene here, while it might not be as big as the scene is in some other cities, it is passionate, down to earth, and intense. There are some great breweries in Cleveland, including Fat Heads, Market Garden, and Great Lakes, and the city’s residents have really embraced Stone, which always makes a visit fun. I love the restaurants in Cleveland also, not only are there several Michael Symon restaurants, there are places like Melt and Winking Lizard that serve lots and lots of craft beer, and have delicious comfort food with generous portion sizes. Lilly’s handmade chocolates is not only a craft beer bottle shop, but they make incredible chocolates, many of them made with beer. The home brewing scene is big also. Plus it’s also home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so it scores double for me.

San Francisco Bay Area: Will always have a spot in my heart. I grew up in the Bay Area, and got my first brewing job here. The brewing scene is widespread here, so like most people, I tend to lump many Northern California breweries together as part of the SF Beer scene. I love the breweries here, the ones I knew in the 80’s when I first started brewing, like Anchor, Triple Rock, Sierra Nevada and Drakes, and the great ones that have come since I left, like 21st Amendment, Faction, Russian River, Bear Republic, and Lagunitas. The Bay Area is home to The Brewing Network, and a bunch of great craft beer bars, and is also home to some of my closest friends in the business. My only gripe about the area is that there are still some craft beer deserts-like the San Jose area and the Diablo Valley, though they are getting better. The East Bay is home to me, but I just wish craft beer would take off in my hometown, Walnut Creek. Ol is a good start, but come on! At least Concord “gets it”, kind of. But like people say when I visit the East Bay and ask where I should go:   “you need to drive through the Caldecott tunnel or take BART to get to a great beer place”.

Denver: I lived in Colorado for 3 years, and absolutely loved it. Denver is a cool town, the LoDo area was just taking off when we lived there. The brewing scene in Colorado is legendary, with breweries like Wynkoop and Breckenridge, and there are exciting new brewers popping up all the time. It’s a fun town to visit, which I get to do just about every year when I go out for the Great American Beer Festival. Falling Rock is the legendary beer bar, and is so packed post GABF sessions that I usually end up going somewhere else. But I love to go there in quieter times. My favorite place in Denver: Euclid Hall, a craft beer centric German-inspired gastropub. But downtown is just loaded with great brewers and great beer bars, all pretty much walking distance from each other. When I lived in Colorado, I was in Ft. Collins, and that town is simply amazing, with brewers like Odell and New Belgium, and several others that have opened since I left.

Seattle: Seattle’s scene is legendary as well, and every time I go there-which is on a pretty regular basis because of its proximity to Yakima (where almost all our hops are grown)- there always seems to be a new brewery that is creating a lot of buzz. I like the old standbys, like Pike and Elysian, and love Brouwer’s Cafe, which always has amazing Belgian beer selections. I’m looking forward to trying Toronado next time I’m there, which will be soon.

Philadelphia: I have to admit, I have a hard time figuring out Philly’s beer scene. Not that it isn’t great, but it is a bit unusual in that it seems to be dominated by beer bars and restaurants as opposed to breweries. There are some great breweries in the area, like Victory, Yards and the Iron Hill pub chain that wins so many awards at the GABF every year, but when I go to Philadelphia, I usually end up in a Belgian beer bar-there are several awesome ones in the town. Monk’s is the “must-visit” place in Philadelphia. But Eulogy Belgian Tavern is also great, and I’ve also enjoyed the times I’ve visited the Belgian Cafe, Tria Cafe, and Jose Pistolas.

Asheville: I went to Asheville twice in 2013, and there aren’t words to describe how cool the brewing scene is there. For a town of 80,000+ people, it certainly has a lot of really good breweries and beer bars, and I can see going there a LOT in my future. Wicked Weed Brewing, The Thirsty Monk, and Jack of The Wood are all great places to hang out. I have told my wife more than once that I want to retire there. It’s beautiful, the people are friendly and kind, and the beer is great. Can’t really beat that, can you?

Boston: I lived in the Boston area for 6 years while working for Anheuser-Busch, and the beer scene at the time was pretty much dominated by Sam Adams and Harpoon. I became friends with many of New England’s craft brewers while I lived there and active in the New England District of the Master Brewers Association. I think New England’s craft beer presence was clouded a bit in the early days by the rampant use of Ringwood yeast, but there are many amazing beers there now. I love New England and would move back in a heartbeat if Stone were to move their headquarters there (yeah, right. Probably not going to happen). If you include Maine and Vermont as part of the overall scene, you get some world-class craft brewers like The Alchemist and Allagash added to the mix.  If I had to name a “best beer state”, Vermont might be at the top of my list.

Burlington VT: Simply one of my favorite towns. It’s beautiful, and has a great vibe, and good beer. Not only are there several world-class breweries within the town limits, it’s also just a short distance away from brewers likeThe Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, Otter Creek, and so many other great Vermont Breweries. I wouldn’t mind retiring here either, if I can still deal with the cold and snow by the time I get to be retirement age.

St. Louis: I lived 5 years in St. Louis, and of course, Budweiser was king there when I lived there. But I went back last year for the first time in about 7 years, and was excited to find a vibrant craft scene, that includes the great Schlafly beer, and also newer brewers like 4 Hands and Urban Chestnut.  The town will always be beer centric, and it’s great to see people embrace craft beer since the sale of Anheuser-Busch to Inbev.

Austin: Like most people, I tend to think of music first when I think of Austin, but the beer scene is really great. I wrote a lot about the town in a previous post, but there are great craft beer bars and restaurants all over town. And yes, 6th Street, where a lot of the music is, is a bit of a craft beer desert, but you can find good beer if you look hard enough, and on the perimeter of 6th street are some great craft beer places, like Easy Tiger and Star Bar

Temecula:  This is my hometown, and I have to admit, I didn’t like it much when I first moved here over 8 years ago. It was chain restaurant hell, but in the past several years it has became home to some great gastropubs, like The Public House and Sorrel, and there are a bunch of breweries that have opened on the west side of town. Black Market opened a few years ago, was really the first brewery here after Vinnie Cilurzo’s Blind Pig Brewery closed, and they brewed a great Hefeweizen and GABF winning Rye IPA when they first opened up. Since Black Market, several breweries have also opened, owned by really super people who are brewing great beer. The list of brewers in Temecula now includes Black Market, Iron Fire, Refuge, Aftershock, Wiens and Garage Brewing. Many of these breweries sell much of their beer out of their tasting rooms, and are within either walking distance from each other or just a short drive, so a safe brewery crawl is always fun and safe to do on a weekend. Riverside County and Los Angeles are no slouches either when it comes to craft brewing-there are some great breweries that have opened up across the region, and some of my favorite beer bars, like 38 Degrees, Blue Palms, Najas, Haven, Lucky Baldwin’s, Congergation Ale House, and Mohawk Bend are located near LA.

London: I’ve been so fortunate to have been able to travel to London about 6 times in the last 5 years. I love the city, and I love the pub scene in England. Some of my favorite stops in London: The Fuller’s Brewery is still amazing after all these years, and some of the newer craft breweries, like The Kernel and Beavertown are brewing really exciting beers. Meantime in Greenwich does a great job brewing both German style beers and historically influenced English Ales. There are some really great craft beer pubs around London too, including The Rake in the Borough market area, The Craft Beer Co. in Clerkenwell, and the Euston Tap, just outside the Euston train station.

Montreal: Fortunately, I got to Montreal twice when I lived in new Hampshire. It’s a great beer town full of Belgian influenced brewers. I have very fond memories of doing an all day walking brewery/pub crawl with several friends from the Brew For or Die homebrew club. And our Unibroue stop was epic. I’ll never forget going into an Irish pub on St. Catherine Street and hearing an Irish band play Metallica.

Brussels: I’ve only been to Brussels once, and for the best reason: to visit Cantillon. Steve Wagner and I stopped there for a night during one of our trips to London. Jean Van Roy was very generous with his time and his sampling when we told him where we were from. And in the town center, there are the world famous beer bars like Delirium Tremens. The Belga Queen was one of the best dinner experiences I have ever had. Boon Gueze on cask–all night.

Grand Rapids, MI: Made my first visit to Grand Rapids for the American Homebrewers Conference in June, and it’s really a very cool beer town. Founders is right there-their beers are fantastic, and their restaurant serves great sandwiches. Walking distance from Founders is Hop Cat and several other great beer spots. And Brewery Vivant was a fun last minute stop-they are killing it. Lots of really great places. And nearby, Kalamazoo (home to Bell’s) and Ann Arbor-Home to Ashley’s and close to Jolly Pumpkin, are no slouches either!

Now that Stone is working on opening up breweries in Berlin and in a location TBD on the East Coast, I am looking forward to expanding my knowledge of the world’s great beer towns.


Beer Historian and Author Ron Pattinson visit

Ron Pattinson, author of the The Home Brewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer, will be in the San Diego area this coming week. He is the author of many books and the blog Shut Up About Barclay Perkins. He is well known for deciphering brewing ledgers from hundreds of years ago and in the process, has helped debunk many of the brewing myths that have been out there for years. Ron has brewed historical beer recipes at many breweries, including Fuller’s in London and Pretty Things in Massachusetts. Additionally, he helped me a ton by providing analytical data,  and proofreading my book on IPA. If you are a home brewer or professional brewer and want some unique and interesting historical beer recipes, his new book has over 100 recipes going back hundreds of years. Ron doesn’t often travel to the US. He spends most of his time in Amsterdam and the UK, so don’t miss this rare opportunity to meet a great person and knowledgeable beer historian!

The schedule
Thursday, May 15
Ron will brew a historical East India Porter recipe with me and Liberty Station Brewing Manager Kris Ketcham at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens-Liberty Station. Post brew, Ron will have a book signing and meet-and-greet with several members of Stone’s Brew Crew from 5 to 7 p.m. while Liberty Station holds its One-Year Anniversary Celebration. Ron will have books available to sell and sign.

Friday, May 16
Ron will be at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens-Escondido for a casual meet-and-greet and book signing from 4 to 6 p.m. Afterward, he will travel south to be on the FM 94/9 Rock and Roll Happy Hour with me and Ken Wright at 7 p.m. I recently found out that Ron and I share a love of 60s Garage Band music, so I hope to have a nice selection of tunes to play on the show.

Saturday, May 17
From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Ron will be at ChuckAlek Independent Brewers (2330 Main St, Suite C, Ramona) doing a homebrewer Q&A and book signing. That evening from 6 to 8 p.m., he has agreed to conduct a talk geared at professional brewers regarding Brettanomyces in regards to British brewing practices. That will be held at The Brew Project (1735 Hancock Street, San Diego) in Mission Hills.






World Beer Cup Judging

As I was watching the live stream of the 2014 World Beer Cup awards ceremony the other night on the The Brewing Network, I noticed in the chat room a lot of suppositions about how the competition is run. As a long time judge, I thought I might take a little time to explain how the competition for the WBC (and the GABF) is organized and how the judging process works. Special thanks to Technical Brewing Projects Coordinator and long time Competition Manager Chris Swersey from the Brewers Association, who reviewed this post and added some valuable detail about the process.

First off, the competition is blind, meaning that judges do not ever know what beers they are tasting in any given session. The only information provided is a random identification number and a description of what (if any) special ingredients might be in the beer (about a third of all beers are entered in styles allowing entering brewers to specify fruit, spices, type of wood, etc.). The random numbers assigned to each specific beer change for each round they are judged, making the process truly a blind competition.

Judging sessions are divided into a morning session and an afternoon session for each day of the judging. In each approximately 3 hour session, 6 or 7 judges are assigned to sit at a specific table, and they judge 1, 2 or 3 flights of beer (most often 3). The judges stay at the same table for each half-day session. Each round consists usually of 10-12 beers, so there can be 20-30 beers total in each session, and with 2 sessions per day, that results in 40-50 beers being judged by any particular judge over the day. Unless it is a medal round, the table is usually split in half, and one side of 3-4 judges gets one round of samples, the other side of judges get a different round of samples, though they are always the same style. Morning sessions tend to focus on lower alcohol styles; afternoon sessions tend to include higher alcohol or higher flavor styles. This is not a hard and fast rule, just a general theme. Also, at any given table styles tend to be scheduled as less flavorful followed by more flavorful – for example, golden ale followed by stout.

It is common to have 2 different styles judged in any session, though for each individual flight in a session, they are all the same style. So for example, in one session, a team of judges at a table could have 2 flights of American Pale Ale, then 1 flight of Imperial Stouts (I am not divulging what styles I judged). Categories with 12 or fewer entries are judged in one first and final round, meaning all 6-7 judges taste all the beers, choosing (usually) 3 winners.

Categories with 13-24 entries are judged at one table, but in two flights. In the first flight, the table is split in half. Each group of 3 or 4 judges evaluates half of the entries, passing 3 on to the final round. In the second and final flight, all 6-7 judges taste the 6 finalists, choosing (usually) 3 winners.

Categories with 25-48 entries are judged at two tables, in two flights. In the first flight, half of the total number of entries is assigned to each table, and each table is split in half. Each of the four groups of 3 or 4 judges evaluates their share of entries (never more than 12), passing 3 along to the final round at one table, for a total of 12 finalist entries. In the final round, all 6-7 judges taste the 12 finalists, choosing (usually) 3 winners.

Categories with 49-72 entries are judged at three tables, in three flights. In the first flight, one third of the total number of entries is assigned to each table, and each table is split in half. Each of the six groups of 3 or 4 judges evaluates their share of entries (never more than 12), passing 3 along to the second round at one table, for a total of 18 second round beers. The second round table is split in half, with each group of 3 or 4 judges evaluating 9 beers and passing along 3 finalist entries. In the final round, all 6-7 judges taste the 6 finalists, choosing (usually) 3 winners.

Categories with 73-96 entries are judged at four tables, in three flights. In the first flight, one quarter of the total number of entries is assigned to each table, and each table is split in half. Each of the six groups of 3 or 4 judges evaluates their share of entries (never more than 12), passing 3 along to the second round at one table, for a total of 24 second round beers. The second round table is split in half, with each group of 3 or 4 judges evaluating 12 beers and passing along 3 finalist entries. In the final round, all 6-7 judges taste the 6 finalists, choosing (usually) 3 winners.

Categories with more than 96 entries are judged at tables increasing every time another 24 entries is added.

Most categories have 2-3 rounds. Categories with more than 192 entries like India Pale Are are judged over 4 rounds. For most styles, the tasting flow is structured in multiples of 12 or 24 entries. For certain high alcohol or high BU styles the multiple is 10 or 20 instead of 12 or 24.

During the first round (only) comments are filled out that are returned to the entering breweries:


The beer evaluation form used for beers in the first round of WBC and GABF. Judges who don’t write a lot of comments on this form may not be invited back. It’s important feedback for the entering brewers.

In rounds 2, 3, and sometimes 4, for each category, 3 of the 10-12 samples are again selected for moving on to the next round. By the time the beers make it to the final round, they have been selected and passed through as being one of the top 3 in each previous round. The final round (the medal round) can consists from anywhere from 6-12 samples that have arrived via a process of elimination. If a table is doing a medal round, the table is not split, and every one of the 6 or 7 judges tastes and evaluates the same beers to award the medals. Note that you may taste 2 rounds of a certain style, yet may not judge in the medal round, which can get sent to a different table of judges.

The judging requires consensus on the 3 beers being passed forward. It is not based on scores. No scores are given, unlike in the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) homebrew competitions (see below for their scoresheet). The 3-4 judges at WBC and GABF have to all agree on which 3 beers are the best of the round and are deserving of being passed on. This can take a fair amount of discussion, though the process is helped by the fact that each style has very specific Style Guidelines and each judge is required to use those guidelines for the basis in which they judge the beers. And if a beer is not perfect in any way with respect to the style, it will not be given a gold medal. Which is sometimes why there is no gold medal awarded in a category. It’s not a ranking contest, medals are given based on very specific guidelines for gold, silver and bronze awards.

BJCP Judging Scoresheet includes a detailed scoring system-not used at WBC or GABF

By the time the judges get the remaining beers for the medal round, the beers are, by and large, world class examples of the particular style. And determining which get awarded medals can be tough and at times contentious. The discussions and debates that occur are always respectful, but judges are not always in agreement over which beers deserve to be awarded a medal.

This year there were 94 separate categories that were judged. All the judges have proven skills in taste evaluation of beers and knowledge of beer styles. In an impressive showing, 75% of the judges this year were from outside the United States. And no judge is allowed to judge in a category that they have a beer entered in. It was a pleasure and an honor to sit at the table with some of the best brewers in the world and judge this year’s World Beer Cup. The integrity of the competition is at the highest level, and my congratulations to all the winners this year, many of whom are good friends.




UK Brewing Part 3: Our pub visits

Without a doubt, one of my favorite things about England is the traditional pub. There is something I really enjoy about a comfortable, warm room, no television, a great selection of mostly lower alcohol but flavorful cask beers, and great conversation. I’ve never found much in the United States that compares to the beer environment and beer drinking culture you find in a proper English pub. In the United States, we have many “English” or “Irish” pubs that usually serve Guinness, and maybe Harp and Bass, and then a selection of American Lagers, and have a bunch of pictures and memorabilia hung on the walls. But that does not necessarily make these places authentic pubs, though I do enjoy them from time to time. And I have found some pubs that hit pretty close to the mark in New England.

So what’s different? I think it’s a reflection on our countries’ different cultures more than anything. Americans drive everywhere, so the concept of a “local” within walking distance of business or home is not something that there is necessarily a need for. Plus, the idea of spending several hours in a pub, where everyone in the group takes a turn buying a round, is not really practical here with beer alcohol levels being as high as they are. I would love it if there were a good pub walking distance from my home, but there isn’t, and I’ve never lived anywhere where there has been a pub within walking distance. Maybe that’s why I like pub visits in England so much.

So when Jeremy and I went to England to brew with Adnams, we arranged to have a couple of days in London to visit some of our friends and our favorite pubs. This is a synopsis of some those visits, and I will include some of the good ones we missed as well. Sorry in advance at subjecting everyone to our trip photos…

It’s become a tradition for me, upon arriving at Heathrow Airport and taking the Paddington Express train into London, to immediately stop at The Mad Bishop and Bear, a Fullers Pub at Paddington station. There is nothing like celebrating arriving in England like having a fresh pint of a Fuller’s beer-it just sets a great tone for the rest of the trip! We arrived Monday mid-afternoon, and Ian Jeffrey, who works for Naked Brands and sets up these JD Wetherspoon brewing trips with the American brewers, knows me well by now, and suggested a quick stop there before we went to our hotel. I got an ESB for the first pint, and then tried a half pint of Wild River, a new beer with a more intense American hop character (I believe Cascade and Chinook are two of the hops used in this one). I absolutely love Fuller’s beers, and no trip to London is complete without stopping by a few of their pubs. One of my favorite beer experiences ever was having my first pint of Fuller’s London Porter on cask about 6 years ago on my first trip to the UK with Stone. The malt aromatics were so intense in that beer, you could easily transport yourself to their brewhouse and imagine smelling that brew mashing in when you drink it.

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My first pint in England on this trip: Fuller’s ESB. Perfect.

After we checked in, Ian left us to our own devices. So Jeremy and I immediately walked to Kings Cross station and visited, yes, another Fuller’s pub: The Parcel Yard, thanks to a recommendation I saw on a comment on a previous post here. This time I got a pint of London Pride.

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After that quick stop, Jeremy and I walked back towards Euston Station and visited one of my favorite pubs, The Euston Tap. This is a craft-beer centric pub that is located just outside Euston Station, and therefore is a great stop  for commuters. Some of my favorite beers of this trip we got there that Monday night, including Thornbridge Jaipur IPA, and a wonderful Citra Pale Ale from Kernel. They also carry some Stone beers, we had a Stone Smoked Porter on tap there as well!

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Euston Tap, packed with commuters on a Monday evening. Very tight quarters inside, standing room only on the first floor, up a circular staircase to a small sitting area upstairs. Most people hang out outside.

Another good pub, just around the corner from the Euston Tap (behind the Ibis Hotel) is The Bree Louise, where I’ve had some great beers from local brewers like Windsor & Eton, among others. This place is a CAMRA (Campaign For Real Ale) stronghold, it seems like every time I’ve stopped by, it’s been packed with CAMRA members (you can tell by the beer-centric conversation, among other clues).

The next day we went to Southwold, and over the next couple of days, spent time at each of the 3 Adnams pubs that are located in the town, including The Crown Hotel, where we stayed, and The Lord Nelson. One of the really great things when visiting the brewers in these towns is getting to know their pubs, and getting to know the brewers over a few pints. This was one of the most enjoyable parts of the experiences when we brewed at both Shepherd Neame in Faversham, and at Wadworth in Devizes. The Adnams pubs in Southwold had a wide range of great food selections, and of course the Adnams ales were great. We had nice visits at all of them, and the dinner we had at The Crown was absolutely delicious.

One of the big highlights of this trip was spending time at The Anchor at Walberswick, the pub that Mark and Sophie Dorber have run since 2006 or 2007, after a successful tenure at The White Horse at Parsons Green in London (still one of my favorite pubs). The Anchor is just a short drive from Southwold, so we went there for dinner after the brew at Adnams. It was great to see Mark, who helped me immensely with setting up much of the research in Burton-On-Trent for the IPA book. That book would not have been what it is without Mark’s help.


The Anchor at Walberswick


Mark serves a great variety of beers, including Belgians, local English brews and American beers


And Mark pulled out all the stops during our visit. After a couple of pints by the fireplace in the bar area, we sat at a table for dinner, and Mark started pulling beers out of his cellar. The first was a nice surprise, Cantillon’s Rose de Gambrinus, I think from about 2006. Mark didn’t tell us what the beer was when he served it, and he made us guess the brewer. I was glad I got it right and passed the test!

The food at The Anchor is wonderful, we got a great selection of appetizers and an entree, and it was all incredible, and paired great with the beers. I know English cuisine gets a bad rap, and yes, fish and chips, mushy peas and meat pies get old quickly, but some of the food I’ve had at these pubs has been as good as anything I’ve ever had in a gastropub in the United States. And Mark is such a great host. This was one of the most enjoyable evenings we had.

Mark broke out a couple of rare strong ales, including a bottle of Bass No.1, and a 1995 JW Lees Harvest Ale, one of my favorite beers. The Bass No. 1 was amazing, sherry like, with substantial bitterness. The JW Lees Harvest Ale, which is brewed once per year with fresh harvest Maris Otter malt and East Kent Goldings hops, is a great example of a traditional October Ale. It is boiled for many, many hours in the brewhouse to get the deep amber color and the high gravity.


Bass No. 1 Barley Wine-first taste ever!


Can’t go wrong with a Duchesse de Bourgogne!

One of the fun stops we made was after Peter Simpson took us to tour Simpson’s Malting. He wanted to have us visit a small brewery/pub called The Green Dragon. It was small brewery in a small village, brewing traditional ales, and for some reason Peter seemed concerned that we wouldn’t like it. But of course we loved it! The beer was good, the patrons were friendly with us, and it had a great atmosphere.


The open top fermentor at The Green Dragon

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When we got back to London, our first stop was at the JD Wetherspoon Crosse Keys, in the City of London. This majestic pub is built into an old bank building, is huge and really ornate. I have been here several times, including the release party for the first beer we brewed at Shepherd Neame. They always have an amazing selection of cask beers, and the place is always packed. During this visit, we met up with our friend Matt Cole from Fat Heads Brewery in Cleveland, who had just brewed one of the best-named beers ever-Sunshine Daydream. We took some photos for the upcoming Real Ale Festival, and ate some good curry and had a couple of pints.


Matt, Jeremy and Mitch pouring pints

From there, it was a very short walk across the London Bridge and through the Borough Market to The Rake, owned by Mike and Rich from Utobeer. The Rake is one of my favorite pubs, it seems like every time I go there, there are many friends hanging out, including owners Rich and Mike, Glenn Payne, Glyn Roberts, and Angelo Scarnera-who brews right around the corner at Brew Wharf, which is a wonderful restaurant and brewery. And just down the street is The Market Porter, a really good real ale pub. One of the best beers I had that night at The Rake was a Citra hopped Pale Ale from Oakham Brewery in Peterborough. John at Oakham was one of the first, if not the first, UK brewers to feature Citra hops in his beer. We visited him on a previous trip-he’s about an hour train ride north of London, and Oakham has several restaurant/pubs in the town as well as a production brewery brewing traditional and America-influenced beers. The Rake serves a fair amount of John’s beers, it seems like an Oakham beer is always pouring when I visit.

On the following day , after our wonderful dinner at Brew & Que (described in the previous post) we went to another great craft pub, called The Craft Beer Co., located a short walk from the Farringdon Station in Clerkenwell. This has become one of my favorite stops, they always have an amazing selection of cask and kegged craft brews. They now apparently have 4 locations, and the beer program is run by our friend Tom Cadden, whom we got to know several years ago when he was cellarmaster at a pub in Glasgow. We met up with several friends who graciously waited for us as we finished up at Brew & Que, and had a wonderful evening of great pints and rare bottled beer, including a Cantillon Gueuze, DeStruise Pannepot Wild, and a 2008 De Dolle Special Reserve brought by our friends Mes and Sim. It was here that I shared a bottle of barrel-aged Adnams Broadside with cherries that Fergus gave us, which was really nice.

Saturday, after our visit to Kernel and Brew By Numbers, we made another trip to The Rake, with Shaun, Nico and Don from 21A, and Glenn Payne, who has become a great friend and London pub crawl companion over the last few years. We wouldn’t have found our way around town without Glenn’s help!  This quick visit was highlighted by tasting a cask of Imperial Jack, the beer that Shaun and Richard Brewer-Hay brewed with Angelo at Brew Wharf.

The Rake

The group toasting Richard Brewer-Hay at The Rake! Wish you were here!

Some of the pubs we didn’t get to that I highly recommend if you visit London:

Two Fullers Pubs that have become our favorites: The Dove, located on The Thames River, just a short walk from the Fuller’s Brewery. This is a very quant, traditional pub. The atmosphere is classic English Pub, it just makes me feel instantly relaxed. The other Fullers Pub that I like a lot is the The Churchill Arms, in the Kensington area, a reasonable walk from Paddington. They serve really good Thai food in the back of the pub. I’m sorry we missed it this time.

The The White Horse Pub at the Parsons Green Underground station is legendary. It still has a great tradition of serving a wonderful selection of beers, and is a must-stop for any beer enthusiast visiting London. This is the first time that we missed it!

Another location I’m sorry we missed is the The Greenwich Union, which is Meantime Brewery pub. We had planned on visiting Alastair Hook at Meantime, but our visit to Fullers took a little more time than I had anticipated, and we simply ran out of time. Next time I hope!



My Favorite Beer Festival

Bluesapalooza, held every August in Mammoth Lakes, CA is by far my favorite beer festival.
I’ve been going to beer festivals for 25 years now, and I guess I’ve become jaded, but I don’t look forward to them as much as I used to. For the most part, it’s hard to relax at most beer festivals-they are a ton of work, and as I get older, my tolerance for lines, crowds, and the occasional stupid drunk is rapidly diminishing.

So what makes the Mammoth Bluesapalooza so special? For me, it is 3 things:
1. The fest itself is low key and amazing, with a huge turnout of actual brewers, probably second only in Southern California beer festival brewer participation to the Firestone Walker Brewers’ Fest in June. This makes it a great experience for me, I don’t see my fellow brewers as much as I’d like to, especially in a situation where we can relax and have a beer. The lines aren’t long and it’s easy to walk from booth to booth.
2. The music is incredible. The organizers have grown this festival every year, it’s now 4 days of music (4 days if you want, there are several options for attending 1 day or just a couple) and the blues artists they get are top notch. Some of my favorite artists have play here at this event.  And the other thing that makes this so nice is that when you need a break from Saturday’s beer festival, you can wander down the hill to the large natural amphitheater, sit in your lawn chair, and listen to some great blues music.
3. The setting. Nestled in a pine forest in the beautiful town of Mammoth Lakes, it is a perfect escape from the Southern California desert. Usually very comfortable temperatures, sunny skies and the scent of fresh pine everywhere.

The Bluesapalooza Beer Fest

The Bluesapalooza Beer Fest

So after a 5 year absence, this year I was able to coordinate my family and work schedules to take a couple of days off and get to the fest. Here are my top memories:

1. Gary Hoey. This guy is an amazing guitar player. Two things stand out from his show: Twice he handed his guitar to someone standing at the front of the stage, and let them jam on a tune. The first tune was a slower version of Crossroads,and the second was a slow blues number. Both players in the crowd absolutely shredded their solos, and it was fun to see Gary Hoey working the pedals on the stage while they played. Plus he did a killer version of War’s Low Rider, including his bass player’s fantastic solo. After his show, Gary hung out and signed autographs, sold CD’s and took pictures with his fans. I offered to take a friend’s picture with him, and while doing so, told him I was a New Hampshire guy, like him, which was cool-we talked about about New Hampshire, and then I got a picture with him. Super personable guy, and a great guitar player.

Mitch and guitar god and New Hampshire guy Gary Hoey

Mitch and guitar god and New Hampshire guy Gary Hoey

2. Jimmy Thackery has absolutely mastered the Fender Stratocaster. He gets an amazing array of tones from it, and he was able to play hard blues to country blues to surf, all incredibly well. He has got the chops. If you are not familiar with Jimmy Thackery, check him out. He also used to play in a blues band from the DC area called The Nighthawks. They are still around too-just a great band.

Jimmy Thackery rockin’ the Strat

3. Tinsley Ellis has been one of my favorite guitar players since the mid 1980’s. He plays like a cross between Stevie Ray Vaughn and old school Bluesbreakers/Cream-era Eric Clapton. He played a Gibson 335 semi-hollow, and later at the end of his show, switched to a Stratocaster. And when he put the Strat behind his back and played it, like Jimi Hendrix and others used to do, the bass player, who had also switched from a Fender electric bass to a big stand-up bass, did the same thing. I have never seen that before- and he was rocking the bass while struggling to keep it elevated behind his head. At the end of the show, Tinsley brought out Jimmy Thackery for a guitar crossfire on Let The Good Times Roll. Amazing.

Tinsley Ellis Rocks!

Tinsley Ellis Rocks!

Tinsley Ellis and Jimmy Thackery

Tinsley Ellis and Jimmy Thackery

4. The beers: Some of my favorites from the fest that was held on Saturday from 11:00-5:00 included Ritual, Kinetic, Golden Road, The Bruery, Wiens, Ironfire, and of course Stone. All the brewers brought their “A-game” for this one. Some of my favorites included Kern’s Single Track, a dark sour from Eagle Rock Brewery, The Bruery’s Berliner-Weisse, 21A’s Back in Black, and several beers from Ritual and Ironfire. Plus there was an awesome bottle share Friday night after the brewers reception-more on that in another blog.
5. Mammoth Brewing Company: They put on this event every year, and their beers are available throughout the music (the beer fest only runs for Saturday afternoon, but there is also music on Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday). I really appreciate what they do, and what they have done to make this festival such a success, and their beers are fantastic.
6. Schatt’s Bakery-right in the center of town. Seems like everyone goes there in the morning to get coffee, pastries and artisinal bread. I guess they have several stores in the area-perhaps owned by different brothers? Sheepherder’s Bread = delicious. And they make great coffee.
7. The Stone crew that set up the fest did a great job. I took some vacation days to go, so I wasn’t officially working (which probably explains why I enjoyed it so much), but these folks did a great job selecting the beers, setting to booth up, and securing a firkin of Stone IPA that was a huge hit.
8. The Alpine Fire (18,000 acres at last check) was burning close by, and smoked the area out a few times, depending on the wind and the time of day and the temperature. I learned a lot about forest fires as we monitored the progress of this one, such as how the smoke settles in the canyons in cooler temperature (making the mornings relatively smoke free). In the afternoon, as temperatures warm up, the fire starts generating wind, and changing wind patterns. The firefighters were struggling with knowing where to drop their water on the flames, because the smoke was so thick.

9. Did I mention the beers? The picture below was taken Friday evening. Carolyn Wonderland from Texas had a great set, she’s a guitar-slinger with some serious skill on both the Telecaster and a lap steel, and her vocals have some similarity to Janis Joplin.  Her keyboard player handled bass with his left hand on a keyboard, like Ray Manzarek of The Doors. Really one of my favorite acts from the weekend. Friday night’s beer offerings were all from Mammoth Brewing Co. including a wonderful IPA, and their well known 395IPA, that is brewed with local sage.

Blues and a Brew! My kind of event.

Blues and a Brew! My kind of event.

10. The drive. I always tell my wife that the hardest thing about living in the San Diego area is that you have to drive through some real “armpits” to get anywhere else nice (and by that I mean through the desert, the central valley, or through Los Angeles). And before anyone gets offended, Los Angeles itself isn’t an armpit, but driving through it is traffic-laden hell, and something I always dread. Driving to Mammoth requires a lot of desert, 2-line highway driving, and it’s tough on the senses. Traffic is challenging, negotiating around semi’s and motor homes and trailers. But in the end it’s worth it!

I hope to be back next year!


Cheers to Brit Antrim

Short notice, but if you are in the San Diego area looking for some great and rare beers for a good cause, I highly recommend you stop by O’Brien’s Pub this afternoon, where there is a fundraiser for Brit Antrim happening, with lots of special beers, raffles, and a silent auction.

From O’Brien’s:

“On Saturday the 27th we are hosting a very special fundraiser for our friend Brit Antrim. Brit is a San Diego native and former brewer at Anderson Valley, Kona and Great Divide who suffered a severe spinal cord injury.  From noon to 6 pm we will be tapping some very special beers and holding a raffle and silent auction to help raise money for Brit’s medical care.  We’ll have unique beers from Avery, Automatic, Port Brewing, Hollister, Russian River, Sierra Nevada, Maui, Stone and more.  The auction will have some amazing items including a beer engine, rare Westveleteren, a Lost Abbey box set and Great American Beer Festival tickets.”

Here is the flyer for the event  liquid-therapy-july-27-2013

I got to know Brit over several judging sessions for the Great American Beer Festival, and have always enjoyed having a beer with him. He has a great sense of humor and is a very talented brewer. I found out after his accident that he is also a fine photographer, and has been able to continue that passion after the injury.

Many brewers in the craft industry typically get little or no insurance benefits, and Brit’s medical bills are so massive that he needs all the help we can muster. Please join me in supporting Brit’s recovery.