Karl Strauss is a special brewery to me. I came to San Diego in the early 90s and the bar taps featured your standard mega American beer selections. Nothing with any dimension – just flabby, watery, pale fizz. When Karl Strauss hit the taps in San Diego bars, I was more than excited. This was the dawn of a new beer era in this town. I had hope. And judging by how popular and widespread the signature Amber Lager became, the locals agreed.
The story goes a little like this: Founders Chris Cramer and Matt Rattner, fresh out of business school, convince Brewmaster, namesake (and cousin to Chris), Karl Strauss to come out of retirement and steer the controls of a new brewery. Chris and Matt go to work on the business and by February of 1989, San Diego’s first new brewpub in 50 years opened its doors.
Brewers seem to be intrinsically happy people to me, and these guys aren’t any different. I meet Chris, Matt, and Paul Segura (Karl’s Head Brewmaster) at the main brewery. It’s a hot afternoon but the brewery is cool and breezy and music echoes through the space. Everyone looks happy, even the crew hosing the yeast foam down the drains on the main floor.
Chris jokes that we should do some yeast-wrestling photos, while Matt suggests a slip-n-slide would be better. I’m all for it but instead I ask to shoot in the keg room where it’s a chilly 38 degrees F. We make a few shots (quickly) then Chris and Matt have to return to business.
I pack my light kit while Paul pours me a 1/2 pint of Tower 10 from the filter tank. We talk about how far San Diego beer has come and its odd rise to fame. Paul has been brewing in San Diego for 20 years and been with Karl Strauss for the last ten. He’s helped the local beer scene go from Underground to Over-the-Top. He tells me how the recipes have evolved at Karl Strauss.
In the earlier days, Karl insisted they keep the IBUs to a moderate amount, no more than 30. Now with Tower 10 clocking in at 60 IBUs, I can only wonder what Karl would think.
“Karl knew how to make beer that people would really like,” says Paul. “He could see the trends and would adjust the recipes. We’d be making it just like this even if Karl were still around.”
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the family of brew pubs. With six brewery restaurants going strong, they help keep their micro-brewery approach alive. Each restaurant has its own Brewmaster who is often brewing up his or her own recipes alongside the permanent selections. You’d be wise to stop in, grab a bite, and see what’s on tap at the various locations.
Sadly Karl Strauss passed away in 2006 but his namesake brew remains, for me anyway, the backbone of San Diego beer. Perfectly balanced, widely available, and always fresh. Cheers, Karl.
All photos © 2011 Gary Allard Photography
I meet Blair on a sunny Friday afternoon – the day after St. Patrick’s Day – in front of Hamilton’s Tavern, the South Park bar he opened in 2006. It’s a busy day for him and his crew. They blasted through no less than 8 kegs of Guinness between two bars in one night and were scrambling to replace them.
We step through the door of Hamilton’s and the midday sun dissolves into warm dim light, the corner jukebox jangles out The Stone’s “Aint too Proud to Beg” and suddenly I feel like this is the best place to be – the only place to be – on this sunny afternoon. The bar is buzzing with young hipsters, middle-aged couples, post-work colleagues, and seasoned barflies. A diverse crowd to say the least, all contentedly coexisting under the giant chalkboard listing the 28 taps of the day.
With the causal, comfy vibe, the chalkboard, the perfect jukebox, and the incredible selection of beer, Blair has crafted a bar that embodies all of the best alehouses, taverns and pubs he’s been to around the world. And the neighborhood obviously agrees.
The key to Blair’s success seems to be offering up just what the area needs, even if the neighborhood doesn’t know it yet. Small Bar in University Heights opened in late 2009 and quickly gained a dedicated clientele. It’s part gastropub, part alehouse, with a top-notch cocktail menu to boot. Simple, well crafted food and drink that was exactly what Park Blvd. needed. Eleven, which opened in Normal Heights last year is a rock bar and live music venue. Blair collaborated with Hamilton’s/Small Bar partner Dennis Borlek and brought in Louis Mello (of Liar’s Club fame) to run the joint. The result is the perfect rock and roll bar with a killer sound system and a savvy beer list.
Blair’s passion for finding good beer and good places to get it are infectious and this enthusiasm spills from each of his venues. He’s also a certified Cicerone™ and accomplished home brewer and more than happy to pass along the knowledge and insight that comes with it. Blair wants us all to live better lives and if that involves some great beer, good food and killer music, he can give you a few suggestions on where to start.
Hamilton’s Tavern: 1521 30th St., South Park, San Diego, 92102
Small Bar: 4628 Park Blvd., University Heights, San Diego, 92116
Eleven: 3519 El Cajon Blvd. San Diego, CA 92104
All photos ©2011 Gary Allard
Colby Chandler and the team of brewers are mad scientists of a sort. They have at their disposal an arsenal of ingredients at all times. In the back, the brewery can turn out relatively small batches of whatever they feel like making. This is the testing ground for the award-winning Ballast Point Brewing company and the birthplace of Sculpin IPA, the World Beer Cup Gold Medal winner of 2010.
I don’t know why it took me so long to get into the Home Brew Mart. I’ve seen it for years. It’s conveniently located in the middle of San Diego and close to my home. But with all that going for it, I had never been inside. If I’d known they serve up incredible beers on tap daily, it may have changed things.
Colby slides me a 4 oz. taster of Black Marlin Porter spiked with cocoa nibs and chipotle chilies. A “beer hot chocolate” if you will. It’s unlike anything I’ve had, unclassifiable, but good. It grew on me quickly and I later found myself a little disappointed that my next beer didn’t have hot chilies in it. He fixes that with a taste of Piper Down Scottish Ale, bourbon-barrel aged and infused with habanero peppers. Owner Jack White takes a sip and lights up. This is what the Home Brew Mart is all about: Innovation, experimentation and sharing that knowledge with other brewers.
The vibe around the shop is laid back, very friendly, and above all, collaborative. Colby tells me the biggest asset they have are their customers, the home brewers. Everyone is eager to share recipes, swap tips and help each other make better beer. I’m all for that.
The shop is open daily or check out the store online where you can get everything you’ll need to start making great beer. Drop by for a tasting of some specialty beers or refill your growler. And you’d be wise to get on their mailing list where you can get the lowdown on special events. The last 2-course beer dinner featuring MIHO Gastrotruck and chili-beer inspired Fiji Yogurt was not to be missed.
Home Brew Mart
5401 Linda Vista Rd. Suite #406
San Diego, CA 92110
Phone: (619) 295-BEER
Toll Free: (800) 581-2739
All photos © Gary Allard, All rights reserved.
Passion for beer runs deep at Stone Brewing. It’s immediately evident as Greg Koch and Steve Wagner sit down with their glasses and survey the pour. It’s not quite right. There are some tiny bubbles clinging to the side. Greg gets up and returns to the tap with a new glass. This one is better. Dark, thick headed, picturesque. Deliciously photogenic. Now we’re ready for our close up…
Steve and Greg founded Stone Brewing in 1996 and have been making highly respected craft beer since. With the opening of the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens in 2006 they upped the ante and created a craft-beer Shangri-La. BeerAdvocate Magazine named them the “All-Time Top Brewery on Planet Earth” proving that Steve the Brewmaster and Greg the Bizmaster have got a good thing going. There is even talk of a possible European-based brewery and the opening of a new spot in the South Park area of San Diego.
After we shot a few frames, shared a beer and had a bite (I highly recommend Meatless Monday in the Bistro) I browsed the shop for some new releases. The Lukcy Basartd Ale [sic] and Cali-Belgique IPA are my top picks at the moment with Ruination IPA and Vertical Epic Ale rounding it out.
If you want some first-hand knowledge, Stone offers daily tours and tastings. Get in there!
Stone Brewing Co.
1999 Citracado Parkway
Escondido, CA 92029
The name says it all. Sid Mikhail runs this shop-inside-a-shop located in the Super JR Market on 7th avenue. Last week I met up with Sid and we popped open a Russian River Temptation, spent some time talking about his special inventory, and I shot a few frames after the shop closed for the night.
The store is family owned and Sid came into the business not long ago. Originally he and his brother wanted a little piece of the beer cooler to stock some of their favorite craft beers. Soon a small following of craft-beer fans developed, more hard to find beers were stocked, then a complete remodel to the store to fit the now 700+ brews on hand.
Sid isn’t in it to make huge markups either. It’s nice to see the pricing consistently below any other source in the city – even the breweries themselves. Sid wants to share the bounty of brew, pass along knowledge and is more than happy to give plenty of suggestions based on your taste. He’ll even do private beer tastings and customize the styles for your guests.
With the Temptation gone, he sent us on our way with a newly procured bottle of Hercules Double IPA from Great Divide, something that more than a few beer geeks are very happy about. Go see Sid, ask him what’s good these days and he won’t let you down. And, with the selection, you won’t leave empty-handed.
I had the pleasure to spend a morning talking with Jack White of Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits. Jack showed me around the brewery, gave me free rein to shoot wherever I wanted and then set me loose in their tasting room. Not a bad way to spend a Tuesday morning.
Jack and Yuseff have the beer thing down. Beer connoisseurs in San Diego surely know about the Home Brew Mart set up by Jack back in 1992. What some people may not know is that Ballast Point has quietly been distilling top-notch spirits— namely gin, rum and whiskey. That’s right. Whiskey. From San Diego. Ballast Point is the first and only distillery in San Diego and I’m hoping micro-distilleries like this become a trend in America.
Other news of note is that the beloved gold medal winning Sculpin IPA is coming to a six-pack near you within the month.
Clockwise from top left: Ballast Point Bloody Mary Mix and Sculpin IPA; Founder Jack White and Brewmaster Yuseff Cherney; Ballast Point Spirits Distillery room; Yuseff Cherney; Yellowtail Pale Ale ready for packing.
All photos © Gary Allard, All rights reserved