San Diego Festival Season

Well it’s about to be that time of year again, and I’m not just talking about spring, its festival season in San Diego! As the weather becomes more fair, not that the weather is ever too bad here, San Diego becomes a hot bed for beer, cheese, wine and beach festivals alike and they seem to happen all time, sometimes with multiple festivals going on in one day. With so many options it becomes difficult to find the best festivals to go to. I’ve gone to and volunteered at many of them, especially beer festivals and I believe there are certain key factors that lead to having a great one. I will identify these factors and then give some examples of festivals that hit the mark.

First, and foremost having a killer brewery and beer line up is crucial. You can’t have a beer festival without breweries, so it only follows that having great breweries equals a great beer fest. When attending the Modern Times Festival of Dankness last year, they had this in spades, as they had some of the hottest breweries in the nation like Monkish and Other Half.  It is a lot of fun to get a chance to try breweries that you don’t get to see every day, it gives you great insight on how people interpret beer across the a country. Collabapoloza is another really great example of an excellent brewery line up, as everyone who is there collaborated on a batch with another brewery that was there. So you would get a lot of one off beers that would not be able to get anywhere else.

Second, have awesome food options. There’s nothing worse than sipping on some of the best beers around only to find that there are only two mediocre food trucks to choose from.  Its fun being able to try 2 or 3 small items from a few different places, especially when it’s something that you may not normally have. I even prefer that food options come included in with the cost of admission. That’s one of the reasons why Mission Valley Craft Beer and Food Festival at the end of March is so fun, here you can enjoy unlimited beer AND food tasters. Brilliant.

Third, have an awesome venue/location. It’s true what they say Location, Location, Location and this is especially true for beer festivals. Who wants to stare at bunch of nothing for 4 to 5 hours after a long boring week of work? A festival should be an escape from the mundane. Guild Fest comes to mind as having a great venue for their annual event in early November. They host this awesome event in San Diego’s very own Broadway Pier. Here you are in the middle of the downtown action while also having a view of the ocean and the amazing surrounding of former battle ships. You may not expect it but Hop Heads and Dreads has great location, but for a completely different reason. It’s held annually at the Harrah’s Casino in Valley Center, but what makes it a great option for a festival is because there is also a hotel so you can drink all day and not worry about finding a ride afterward.

Fourth and finally, have some good live music to keep the good vibes rolling. There is nothing better than achieving the perfect harmony of drinking amazing brews while also dancing around like no one is watching. This doesn’t always mean that you need to have the biggest acts, but getting fun local bands whose personality fits with the event can really elevate your experience to the next level. A great example of this was at last year’s Salt Dog Classic, a cool little beach festival on the grounds of the Seaside State beach in Cardiff. In addition to kayak surfing and craft beer, they also had some good local bands including a jammin’ Ska band that had everyone jumping and dancing around by the end of it all. 91X routinely throws music beer festivals, and they great but usually the bigger acts don’t come on until later, after the unlimited beer tasting session is over.

It was hard to narrow it down to only few festivals out of all the amazing ones that happen throughout the year in San Diego, but a few other exceptional festivals that are worth mentioning are Rhythm and Brews in Vista, you can never go wrong with a festival hosted by the Guild Fest and you usually get some pretty good bands. Then there’s Brewbies hosted at Bagby Beer Company (even though this one already happened this year), these guys definitely get an awesome brewery line up, including the likes of Russian River, also many places brew a beer specifically for this event. And finally the San Diego Homebrew Festival and Competition in North Park, this is a very unique and intimate event where you get try some of the best homebrews in San Diego along with some of the best professional breweries in town.

At the end of the day you can never go wrong great beer, tasty food, a sweet location, and rocking bands. So if you encounter a festival has part or all of these factors, chances are it will be a pretty damn good time and a worthwhile venture. Cheers!

Drink Local, Save the Planet

One of the great aspects of the craft beer scene here in San Diego is that by supporting your local breweries, not only are you helping to stimulate the local economy but you are also playing your part in saving the Planet. Hold on- did you hear that? Drinking craft beer at your local brewery can help save the world.  I’ll explain more…

One of the most overlooked factors in centralized, mass-produced beers is the environmental cost of shipping. If all of your beer is produced in a factory in Colorado, for example, then it must be packed onto a truck and then driven to all corners of the country. Consider the amount of fossil fuels burned in this process. A craft brewery in San Diego where you drink your beer on the same grounds where it was brewed cuts out that environmental cost completely! And with more restaurants and bars supporting local brewers every day, the shipping distance and therefore the environmental costs are minimized.

Another factor that comes into play when we consider the vast amount of breweries dispersed around the county. Driving on any of the freeways here gives us a rude awakening of how many cars are on the road on a daily basis. By having more taprooms available around the county, it reduces the distances we beer drinkers have to drive to find high-quality brews! It’s a win-win situation for consumers and also Mother Nature!

One final thing to consider is the waste from packaging like cans, bombers, and cases. Wouldn’t it be awesome if there was a beer vessel that was reusable and fashionable? I think you know where I’m going here… the growler is the perfect container. Not only is it environmentally friendly, but it’s also great for sharing with a friend.

In summary, protecting the environment can be a lot easier than you think. You don’t have to start compost in your backyard, buy a hybrid car, or wear clothing exclusively made from hemp. You can start by visiting your local brewery for a growler fill of the house IPA!

Hops, the Least Important Ingredient?

Nowadays there are no shortages of different ingredients that can be added to beer, everything from spices like coriander and cinnamon to herbs like rosemary and sage. But by in large the main ingredients for beer are Water, Hops, Yeast and Grain. With these four ingredients alone you could make hundreds, maybe even thousands of different combinations of recipes, but what if I told you some ingredients were more important than others? What would you say is the most important ingredient in beer?

If you consider yourself a hop head like me, you would probably put hops at the top of the list. I believe the majority of people, hop heads or not, would say they are the most significant ingredient in beer. Well, I am here to tell you that you are wrong! In fact, I contend that hops are the least important ingredient of the four listed above.

But how can this be so, you say? Well first off, hops are a relative newcomer to beer. According to Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher, hops were first used in the beer making process around year 1000 in the North German town of Bremen. Before then beer was made with a herb and spice combination called gruit that contained things like Bog myrtle (sweet gale), Yarrow, and Rosemary to name a few. Hopped beer wasn’t even fully accepted until around 1500 when it started showing up in England, introduced by Flemish immigrants, whereas beer was first made around 10,000 BC and became well established by the year 3,000 BC.

So are hops really that vital if beer has been brewed for thousands of years without them? Even today only a few beer styles contain massive amounts of hops (although they are some of my favorites). Styles such as Stouts or Lagers have a much greater emphasis on grains and yeast character, which are defining for their respective styles.

Ok, so hops aren’t the “most important” ingredient, but com’on they aren’t the least important, are they? If I were to rank the ingredients from most to least important it would go something like Yeast (1), Water (2), Grain (3) and Hops last, but this can kind of vary based on style.

I say yeast is the most important ingredient because it is the biological machine that actually makes beer, beer. It takes the sugary water that is extracted from the grain and does all the manual labor of converting the sugars into alcohol. This process is so powerful and mysterious that in olden times it was thought to have been magic that causes this transformation before science was able to explain the phenomenon.

Another thing to consider, from a brewing perspective, is that hops will not necessarily ruin your beer if they are not used properly or are of poor quality. Brewers often have to overcome bad hop harvests and can still produce a beer that is of the same quality. However, if you mess up the yeast, whether it be fermenting at too high of a temperature or if it becomes infected, this can render your beer virtually undrinkable.

Water is also very important; it was once thought impossible to brew a pale beer in Munich because the water chemistry was such that it did not allow for it. It was not until the 1870s that water treatment was understood and various local styles were then able to be brewed almost anywhere. In fact, you could say the very reason there are different styles of beer is because the local water would dictate the type of beer a region could produce. Beer is almost entirely ALL water, I mean ya that is kind of important. It is also important to note that the brewing process uses about five liters of water for every liter of beer produced.

Grain could be argued as the most important ingredient, as this is where the sugary goodness comes from that the yeast later converts to alcohol. Grain is also responsible for much of the flavor and texture you find in beer. Grains can be lightly malted to produce pale beers, or more roasted to create darker colors that contribute caramel and chocolate flavors, and the type of grain you use can really dictate the style of beer.

Now do not take this rant to mean that hops aren’t important, they are, and as an admitted hop-head and red blooded San Diegan I love them. Everything from the wonderful aroma and the balancing effects of their bitterness, to the preservation qualities that hops provide, make them the perfect complimentary piece to beer. But the way beer is marketed to the mainstream today it can seem that the only thing to beer at times is hops. So I say let’s slow our roll here, step back and appreciate the other fine qualities that go into making beer. Cheers!

The 10 Commandments of the Brewery

Thou shalt not:

  1. Impose your beer dogma on others. Craft beer is the ultimate expression of individuality and freedom of choice- principles upon which our great nation was founded. At the present moment, there is no objective method of measuring the quality of beer which does not involve individual tastes, preferences, or experiences. Every single beer is different and it is the responsibility of each individual to determine the quality of a beer.
  1. Leave wounded soldiers. Leaving an unfinished beer could be the highest form of disrespect to a brewery. I don’t want to get all on my high horse explaining why you shouldn’t do this, but just keep in mind a lot of work goes into making these craft beers so have the common courtesy to finish it. There’s always exceptions, if you received a dirty glass, if your beer was served at an improper temperature, or if the beer is sour where the style does not call for it (a sign of dirty tap lines), then you should return it to the beer tender in exchange for another pint for free and with no hassle.
  1. Bring young children to the brewery. Just because you can, does not mean you should. The brewery is no place for babies or young children who cannot look after themselves. If your child is not old enough to be left alone for the weekend, then they have no place being around adults consuming alcohol. For those who do bring their children to the brewery do not dare ask me to not smoke or swear- it will not end well.
  1. Be cheap, tip your beer tender. Listen, I get it. You’re not rich, and all they did is pour you a beer, but if you received good service and you had a good time then do the right thing. And it doesn’t have to be anything crazy, conventional wisdom says a $1 per beer tip is respectable. But don’t be afraid to do more especially if you plan on being a regular, you will be surprised how quickly you make friends.
  1. Complain about the prices of the brewery. Nobody is forcing you to buy their beer. The employees do not set the prices they only do their jobs. If the brewery down the street offers a better deal, then walk your ass down there buy their beer. If you do not like the prices of a brewery, then make your own beer.
  1. Hold up the line when ordering. There may not be anything that drives me crazier than someone who has been standing in line and then doesn’t know what they want when they get to the front, meanwhile you’re standing there ready to go. “It’s shit or get off the pot time.” Know what you want before you get in line or make sure you have enough time to figure it out, and this goes double if you are getting a flight.
  1. Ask for excessive samples or “tastes” of beer. There are other customers waiting. There is no exact limit to how many tasters you should have, but be respectful of the institution. Only ask for tasters of the beers which you intend to purchase. If you want to taste all of them, then order a flight.
  1. Select your beer solely on the basis of Alcohol-by-Volume Percentage (ABV). Microbrews often contain a much higher ABV than macrobrews due to the traditional brewing methods. Brewing is an art form and to reduce this artistic expression by only choosing beers based on ABV is to disrespect the hard work and creativity of your brewer.
  1. Ask for a free drink on your birthday. A brewery is a business, not a charity. Congratulations, you were born on this day- so were millions of others. Nobody cares about your birthday.
  1. Use your cell phone in the company of others. Just a commandant for decent, civilized people. Be in the present moment and look your friends in the eyes when you talk to them. If you absolutely must answer a call or send a text, step outside to do it.