In which we explore Craft Beers in San Diego

San Diego, capital of the West Coast Craft Brewery movement.

February 2020

We’ve been on the USS Midway, the WW2 Aircraft Carrier Museum and are now trying to get to 30th St, North Park, which is perhaps the centre of Craft Brewing in the city, thus on the west coast, thus in the USA etc etc…. Problem is, no taxis and we don’t do Uber… (part of our luddite boycott of big-tec, Amazon & co).

It’s after midday, we’re on holiday AND we walk past a bar. Lynette points this fact out and that it’s illegal under our holiday rules. Actually, I point out, it’s not a bar, but a brewery….

It’s the Bolt Brewery, which is on our list, so in we go.

Very friendly, very helpful – golly my first San Diego brewery.

I choose ‘Party On’ IPA. It’s mid-weight, light amber, very seriously hoppy and slightly orangey. Very drinkable, yes I’d have another please….. The hoppiness was, as I said serious, (almost OTT). Our food turns up. San Diego grub takes its cue from South of the Border and we have decent Shrimp Tacos and Cilantro Shrimps.

I try a sample of Bolt’s Anniversary Ale, which is thicker textured, higher ABV and bigger and less subtle than the ‘Party On’ IPA.  Ultimately, I find it less satisfactory; it’s a bit gloopy. Lynette tries the Pilsner, which is OK and kind of ordinary larger-like, rather than being definitively Pilsner-ey, which to my mind would be very dry and very fresh.

Interesting that the IPA is lower alcohol than other ales on the list, I would expect India Pale Ale to be a higher alcohol beer….. All of the beers are good though, these gripes are just definition issues. And the barman was super helpful about other good places to go and called a taxi to take us to 30th St, Northpark.

There are 150 odd breweries in town, so I suppose we might be back in a year or so’s time if we lived here…..

A Diversion

We’d already had a couple of craft beers from larger scale outfits on the commercial edge of ‘craft’. Pizza Port ‘Chronic Amber Ale’ and Ballast Point IPA.

Pizza Port Chronic Amber is a mid-weight amber, it’s supposed to be a bit ‘English’ but also some hemp seeds that well known ingredient in English Real Ale are added to the brew. Well, you wouldn’t know it was supposed to be ‘English’, nor would you know it was laced with dope….. It just wasn’t that special, and really was only one up from mass produced American beer. No, I’d rather have had an Anchor Steam or even a Coors, but not a ‘Coors lite’ or anything with ‘lite’ in its name.

The Ballast Point was heavily hopped and just didn’t have a fresh or pleasant aroma. Ballast Point is the granddaddy of San Diego Craft Breweries, so we may have been unlucky, then again, hard-core craft drinkers view them as a sell-out. Whatever, on another visit to San Diego I’d like to go their Home Brew Mart, which was seminal in the rise of Craft Brewing here.

It’s over 30 years since I took that much notice of the West Coast Craft Brewery scene, or Micro-Brewery scene as it was called then. That was 1989, and we weren’t really exploring beer, it was just collateral damage when we were setting up our first California Wine Tour.

At the time, Arblaster & Clarke had been running the Campaign for Real Ale Travel Club. We ran beer tours to Belgium, Düsseldorf, East Germany, Poland, various parts of the UK. So, I started planning a West Coast Micro-brewery tour. The CAMRA beer tours fizzled out, which I regretted somewhat and the West Coast Micro-brewery tour never happened, though I got to visit a few micro-breweries and even spent an evening in the San Francisco Anchor Steam Brewery.

1989 CAMRA Tour at Poperings.                                 (Us looking young at the top)

However, Arblaster & Clarke Wine Tours kept on the ground-breaking Belgian Beer tour, which I seem to remember was called “Trappists and Tripels”. There was something just so EXCITING about these weird brews, which including spontaneous fermentation beers, beers made with added cherries and spices and yes, sour beers.

Of course, since then, we’ve seen those spontaneous fermentation Lambic beers debased and flavoured with syrups. We’ve had alcopops and now cider has come to mean a hideous sweet fruit drink…… so I find it almost difficult to recapture that innocent excitement of the first time one tasted a Kriek Lambic.

Tim with a flight of great Belgians!

News of what the Belgians were doing arrived here on the West Coast, where anything is possible. There are now many hundreds or possibly thousands of small breweries in the USA and innovation and experimentation is the name of the game. Reinheitsgebot, the German beer purity law that allows only water, barley, hops and yeast as beer ingredients, (yeast was late addition), came to be viewed as a 400 year aberration.  

Hops, Cherries, Limes, Honey, Raspberry, Strawberry, Hibiscus, Coriander, Apples, Blackcurrant, Blueberry, Apricot, Peach, Pineapple, Oranges (of various types), Orange rind, Guava, Coconut, Watermelon, Agave, Grapes (of various varieties), Coffee, Peanut Butter…… In fact, just about anything that might conceivably be fermentable (or indeed not) could go in the brew kettle.

The fruit beers that fire people up here aren’t ‘girly’ sweet fruit infusions, they are ‘sours’. They are made with lactic ferments, perhaps using cultures taken from the sediments of Belgian Lambic bottles, and perhaps infected by Brettanomyces yeasts too. The hazy or unfiltered beers that 25 years ago were viewed as extreme are now considered tame or worse mainstream and commercial.  (Our natural winemakers have nothing on these extremist craft brewers).

Diversion even further….

There is something in this ‘ferment anything’ trend, really there is. In his “Ancient Wine” Patrick McGovern postulated that early wine was often not made just from grapes, a drink he describes as “Grog”, seems according to the evidence, to have been concocted from a mix of fermentables including grapes, malt and honey.

Ancient Brews by Patrick McGovern

Ancient Brews by P McGovern

Since then, he has developed the thesis that this ‘Grog’ wasn’t an accidental or improvised beverage, but a drink made to recipes with the mix of fermentable ingredients, herbs and spices, maximising the inebriating effect and having particular flavours. In his more recent “Ancient Brews. Ancient Brews rediscovered and re-created” he explored these brews from the dawn of history to come up with viable drinks. And yes indeed, McGovern worked on these with Dogfish Head Brewery, one of the leading US Craft Breweries, albeit not a San Diego one.

Reaching back into the past is one way to search for the truly profound.  Yes, I confess, I too am a natural ancient-booze maker, but I stopped short of going back to the neolithic and stuck with the Romans (or maybe the era of the Archaic Greek poet Hesiod). I also stuck with grapes and clean flavours. But why not reach back further or go closer to the edge? When you’ve been faced with a diet of Miller lite and Bud, who can blame people for wanting something extreme?

Our taxi to 30th St turns up; the brewery corridor, the epi-centre.

First to Belching Beaver

The Belching Beaver

‘Dam good times’ they promise and have another very helpful barman. Peanut Butter Milk Stout is the iconic beer here.

However, I feel I should try a yardstick beer first. A bit like when I’m weighing up Sicilian Gelaterias I go for the lemon water ice, here in San Diego I opt to try the IPA, specifically the ‘Mosaic Double IPA’. Lynette goes for ‘Here comes Mango’…. I was very happy with the IPA, a bit extreme perhaps, but good. Lynette was OK with the ‘Here comes Mango’; but compared to the best Belgian fruit beers, it was just OK. However it didn’t have the intensity and she didn’t think mango and beer were a match made in heaven.

‘Peanut Butter Milk Stout’ – delicious. Rich, slightly sweet and delicious. Apparently, this is based on the English Milk Stout style. I can’t remember if peanut butter in an ingredient in Milk Stout, but it’s been a while since I had one, maybe 30 years.

30th St San Diego, Fall Brewing

Still we had to move on, aiming vaguely for Fall Brewing.

I’d tangled with Fall Brewing’s Crystal Mess IPA the night before. It’s a first rate West Coast IPA with a massive bitter dry hit of Crystal hops and a name that’s just maybe a pun on ‘Crystal Meth’, another dangerous and potentially addictive substance. Fall Brewing, which looks more like a showroom, warehouse or garage than a bar is about 15 to 20 minutes up the road from the burping Beaver and it brews on site.. 

At the Bar, Fall Brewing

We lined up a ‘flight’ as follows:

Industrial Accident, (great name!),

Your Pretty,

Magic and Delicious,

Watermelon Sour,

Googoo Muck IPA.

‘Industrial Accident’ – Very hazy, complex nose with obvious hoppiness and scent of apricots. Fairly bitter-hoppy on palate with a nice sour tang bringing freshness and interest. Loved the name! Yes I would reorder it too.

‘Your Pretty’ – Fresh, pretty, lively hoppiness. On second look not that clean and a bit lacking excitement. OK though.

‘Magic and Delicious  Pale Ale’ – Seriously hoppy nose. Mid-weight and a bit exotic but with its feet on the ground. Long citrussy finish. The more we tasted it, the more we liked it.

‘Watermelon Sour’. – This beer stank. The predominant aroma was old socks, hmmm and a bit of vomit. Surprisingly then, we tasted it and the palate was refreshing with a sweet / tart balance – but then I caught a whiff of god knows what again. I’ve never come across a beer that has a whiff of buteric acid while still in the glass…. I’ve looked up this beer and it gets really good reviews. For me though, it is comes from where ‘natural’ and ‘faulty’ collide. My notes add “clothes peg job”.  Lynette hated it from the start. I gave it a fairly low mark then downgraded it…

‘Googoo Muck Unfiltered IPA’. – Hazy, very hazy golden liquid. Fruity, complex hoppy nose – dried fruit, pine, hay. Fresh palate – Fall Brewing seems good at “fresh”. Not excessively bitter for the hoppiness (so maybe dry hopped?). Fruity tart-apple finish. Really, a wonderful summer drink, this beer got our highest scores of the day.

This small brewery seemed to sum it all up, some stunning beers and a couple that for us were misfires. Is this experimentation? If so, then great (!) all oddities forgiven OR, alarming prospect, were some of the weirder flavours just what the local craft beer drinker is looking for? I have a feeling that it’s both.

Fall Brewery: “This is not my beautiful Wife Pale Ale”

And here’s the thing, if you don’t just bin Reinheitsgebot, but declare it to be heresy, what are we to make of beers that have aromas of pine and citrus? Do we think that these characters come from sophisticated use of hops or from armfuls of pine-needles, lemon zest or, god forbid, aroma concentrates?  As long as the Craft Breweries are run by fanatics and craftsmen this may not matter, but once Private Equity or the Big Brewers get involved, you know what will happen.

Hmmm. So that was that, just a walk back to our hotel. Yes indeed, San Diego is a city you can walk in!  Then, oh dear, another brewery, so we blunder in…

This was Poor House
Poor House Brewing

Poor House Brewing

A brewery, not just a tasting room it is, complete with fermentation tanks on the edge of the drinking area.  There are a couple of pool tables (but no one is playing) and several large screen TVs showing basketball, which no-one is watching.

I’m trying to decipher my notes, which are written on a beer mat. Darned thing has a lot of print on the front and is near black on the back. Don’t they know that beermats are for writing things on, like to do lists, poems, business plans, beer notes.….  My scrawl goes round and round the beermat in circles, which is nothing to do with this being the 4th brewery of course. A couple of weeks later, it could be enigma code.

It’s difficult to get attention, the barmaid is chatting to friends or bikers or regulars, but eventually we’re served (in an off-hand kind of way). This is certainly unlike any of the other breweries. Everywhere else the staff couldn’t have been more friendly or helpful, telling us lots of stuff about the beers with great enthusiasm, soliciting our opinions and freely giving advice. Maybe we’re too old or something for the crowd here.

We decided to go Belgian and order ‘Dying Midwestern’, which advertised itself as a “Belgian-style Blond Ale” and ‘Dead Man’s Dubbel’. The Dying Midwestern was OK, but a ‘Duvel’ or a ‘Hapkin’ or an ‘Arabier’, it was not.

By the bar, Poor House on 30th

More problematic was ‘Dead Man’s Dubbel’ which was wildly over-hopped; in Belgium surely only the ‘Poperings Hommelbier’, an exhibition beer that was designed to show off Belgian hops, has anything like this level of hopping. Certainly, no Dubbel is like this. However, if you forget it’s supposed to be a “Dubbel style”, it’s enjoyable enough. There’s some Belgian-ness to it in its aroma and weight and there was a good after-taste.

After this I have an ‘OG’, which is billed as a “Belgian Strong Golden Ale”, (not “Belgian-style” note). Yes, it is kind of Belgian-style and reasonably decent too and the hoppiness is under control and again the aftertaste was good.  Of course, it was too cold.

Dubbel, Saison, Amber, Death, Belgian. Words thrown around as though they are no more than a collection of letters.

And then it struck me, and then we realised the problem, (and it wasn’t just about the Poor House beers), ALL of them were served too COLD. Reinheitsgebot might have been binned as a concept but the American First Amendment of Beer, that it should be COLD, remains inviolate.

And perhaps, because the beers are going to be served so cold, they have to be exaggerated in order to taste of much. But maybe in the end this was our problem, not the beers’ problem. After all, I don’t whinge that German beer is too cold and I’m happy to accept even Retsina for what it is. So maybe there’s something in us and we just can’t take the New World for itself. I have the same issue with the likes of Screaming Eagle and other Californian wines.

After this little flash of self-knowledge, there seemed little point in asking anything about the beers or the outfit, so we slip out without paying the service charge and go off into the night in search of something to eat. “Middle-aged Brit skinflints” the bar-girl might have thought.

Ma’s Spiced Christmas Ham Recipe

Turkey is a boring bird, why have it at the Christmas feast?

We’re not, we’re having a GOOSE. However, we’ll demolish the whole thing in one lunch with only a few bits left over for a snack supper with bubble & squeak. So we need something else to feed the assembled hordes and that, is a spiced Christmas Ham.

Ingredients:

1 Large Smoked Gammon ham, rind on, off the bone. A green Gammon can be used if you prefer. (Mine is 8 kilos ie 17 lb). Actually, I’ve done it on the bone too – it’s just that it bigger and more cumbersome.

Several pints of vegetable stock, spiced with a small handful of All Spice and several Bay leaves.

Cloves (lots of them), soft brown sugar, demerara sugar, Ginger Ale, Cider and Mustard powder.

For the final phase: 4 large unwaxed oranges. Squeezed the juice, grate the zest of the peel.

Method:

First, weigh you ham and work out how much stock you will need….

Make the vegetable stock if you haven’t already. Grate up a couple of large onions, a washed leek, a couple of large carrots, a few sticks of celery, a parsnip and some lovage if you have any. In a large pan, fry it all together in basic olive oil, tossing and stirring for a few minutes. Add a few bay leaves, a small handful of all spice, black pepper and maybe some thyme or lemon thyme. Then add the water – you’ll need several pints – enough to cover the ham when you boil it. Bring to boil and cook pretty vigorously for 10 minutes.

Ham into very big pan – add the stock, straining it. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 12 and a half minutes per pound, (30 minutes per kilo) – then let the ham sit in the stock as it cools.

Fish the ham out of the stock and then carefully strip off the skin, leaving on all the fat.

Make a series of deep incisions into the fat (not quite to the meat) across the whole ham then at right angles, making diamonds which should be about 1 inch across.

Stud the ham with cloves, putting a clove into the centre of each diamond and one in any odd triangles of fat. You want a lot of cloves…..  It should look a bit like “Pain” from “Hellraiser”.  If you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, no matter, you need a LOT of cloves.

Pour some Ginger Ale over the ham, then dust with a little mustard powder and sprinkle well with soft brown sugar.

Put on a roasting tray that allows you to baste. Slam it in a hot oven 230c. fat side up for 20 – 30 minutes (according to size).

After a few minutes, pour some cider over the ham..

a few minutes later pour some ginger ale, then again orange juice.

Shut the oven double quick each time.

After this, baste with the pan juices dredging up the sugar. Repeat this, 3 times.

Take out of the oven and pile up a crust of demerara sugar and course-grated orange zest on the fat.

Return to the oven at 180c. for 30 minutes. Do NOT baste. Drink the remaining cider.

Just as good cold as hot, if not better!

I got this recipe from my mother a few years ago and it’s the delicious Christmas flavour from my childhood. I’ve never had a ham like it but I don’t think it’s an original. I’m pretty sure it came from Constance Spry and she modified it a bit.

Sorry haven’t got a photo of this. I will have after Christmas, but that, is a fat lot of use!

Autumn recipes. Time for Ceps!

The first of the food blogs 

Autumn;  game, mushrooms, fruit, nuts….. especially mushrooms, especially if it stops raining and we have a few warm dry days.  Yes, we do get Ceps in Hampshire, they like warm sandy sites. Also some of the other Boletes, such as Bay Boletes and Red-cracked Boletes are pretty common and useful too.

The Cep, Porcini or Penny Bun, king of mushrooms

The first recipe is a northern Spanish classic. I first had it when we were setting up the Rioja Vineyard Walk and was hooked instantly. The trick is to get the liquid right, you don’t want too much of it coming out of the Ceps (and prawns) at a late stage in the process.

The second is a Veronese Risotto. Hence super-absorbent Vialone Nano rice and not much stirring. It should be creamy but the rice grains should be fairly firm still. 

And the third is one of my own, a rich Pheasant casserole-roast

  

REVUELTOS CON SETAS (Scrambled Eggs with Ceps)    Serves 2

 Ingredients:   4 large good quality Eggs.  

16 medium sized prawns (Optional)

100 – 150g Ceps

Dash of mild olive oil    30g butter / Bertoli              

 A little lemon juice   Salt   Chopped Parsley

 

PREP. Discard any damaged parts of the Ceps.

Cut Ceps into thick slices

If using uncooked prawns, cook on a high heat for a couple of minutes.

Beat the eggs in a bowl. Season.

 

Fry the Ceps with little mild olive oil in a non-stick frying pan on medium heat for about 2 minutes – stirring.

Add a few drops of lemon juice and some salt, but NO pepper. Vap off any juice.

Bring the temperature down and add the Prawns if you are using them.

Add a little butter / Bertoli or something similar, to the pan.

Pour the egg into the pan and cook on a gentle heat stirring continuously with a wooden spoon until it is cooked.

Add chopped parsley and serve.

 

Wine: Delicious, but pretty hopeless with wine. Better than straight scrambles eggs, I suppose, so you could try Champagne….

 

FRESH & DRIED BOLETUS RISOTTO         Serves 4

Ingredients:   Double handful fresh edible Boletus, ideally Ceps.

                        Dried wild mushrooms.

                        150 grams Nano or Arborio Rice

                        1 medium onion

                        1 medium Leek

                        Half bottle dry white wine

                        Clove of garlic, crushed.

                        Mushroom stock –  (or some good chicken stock).

                        Chopped parsley leaves and Chopped parsley stalks.

                        Salt

           

PREP: Soak Dried Mushrooms in hot water for several hours.

Then cut into julienne strips & half these lengthways,

the pieces will be roughly the same size as a fully inflated grain of Nano rice.

(The dried Mushrooms bring great flavor, but their texture is uninteresting).

Reserve the juice.

Cut the Fresh Mushrooms into ¾ inch-ish hunks.

Cut leaks into 1 inch by ¼ inch-ish strips.

 

Heat oil, add rice & chopped onion.

Fry the rice, but do NOT burn.

Once it has gone white / brown round the edges, add half bottle of white wine;

vap this off on a high heat for a couple of minutes.

 

Turn heat down to medium.

Add a small mug of stock, the crushed clove of garlic and a little salt;

Cover. Do not stir.

 

After 5 mins, add leak, dried mushrooms.

Test the rice, add another cup of stock.

Cover. Do not stir.

 

A couple of mins later check the rice again, it should be nearly cooked and fairly dry.

If it’s still hard, add more stock….

 

When the rice is nearly cooked

add the chopped fresh Mushrooms and chopped parsley stalks.

Add large knob of butter or Bartoli, stir in.

 

Stir well, scaping off the bottom and folding back in.

Add rough chopped parsley leaves.

Check seasoning and add more salt if needed

and SERVE.

 

OPT. You can add Parmigiano, but take care it doesn’t swamp the flavor.

Note: You can dry your own Boletus. Ceps can be found in Southern England, and there are many other members of this family which you can find even more easily such as Red cracked Boletus which do dry well.

 

WINE: This is a Veronese style Risotto so it calls out for a good Valpolicella Classico.

 

     

    PHEASANT, CEPS & ROSEMARY                Serves 4!

    Ingredients:   2 young pheasants

                            Olive Oil

                            Rosemary – a couple of large sprigs

                            2 cloves garlic

                            Double handful of Ceps and other wild mushrooms.

                            2 medium onions rough chopped.

                            Some red wine

                            Salt & Pepper

     

    PREP: Take 2 young pheasants that died off fright rather than getting both barrels.

    Make sure that ALLthe shot and bits of feather are removed.

    Cut the Pheasant in half down backbone, and remove ribcage.

    Reserve breast.

    Remove legs & cut off the drumsticks which go into the stockpot.

    Debone the thighs. Reserve thigh meat.

     

    MAKE THE STOCK: Chop up carcass with a small axe.

    Put it in large saucepan with small bits of meat and fat, skin and drumsticks.

    Add a little oil & rosemary, brown.

    Cover with boiling water. Boil to make stock. If you have tons of time before serving make a concentrated stock now! 

    Or if not, GET IT GOING and get it well reduced by serving time….

     

    ROAST: To a large deep frying pan, add some olive oil, the Pheasant pieces, salt and black pepper, several 2 inch sprigs of Rosemary and a couple of cloves of chopped garlic.  Brown the Pheasant!  

    Remove and put in a casserole /oven pan.

    Arrange so breasts are skin-up. Make sure there is a sprig of rosemary under each piece.

    All thigh-meat and any small bits should be lumped together so they don’t dry out.

    Add a couple of slugs of red wine and some stock (esp the fat from the top).

    Put into oven @ 200 for 30 mins, basting after 15 mins with more fatty stock.

    Then take out of oven, rest in a warm place.

    Put the rosemary & juices into the stockpot.

     

    FINISHING THE SAUCE:

    Get 2 rough chopped medium onions on to fry in olive oil for several mins.  

    Deglaze the cooking pan with a decent slug of red wine. – Add to stock pot which should still be reducing well. 

    Add the small Pheasant bits & thigh meat to the onion. 

    Add sliced ceps & other mushrooms.

    Add the reduced stock through a sieve.

    Check seasoning, adjust salt and pepper in needed, (however the Roast Veg should be well salted so the stock should not need more).

    The final consistency is a reduced sauce, not a liquid!

    SERVE:

    On each plate, place a breast and cover with sauce, making sure all get some thighmeat and plenty of mushrooms.

    Accompanied by Roasted root veg, including sweet potatoes.  

    And roast potatoes of course.

    WINE: A really good red burgundy with a few years ageing behind it. A Nuits-St Georges, Vosne from the south side of the village, a Gevrey or a Pommard should be ideal.