The same weekend Kip and John were busy schlepping grain and sparging their first batch of LA Aleworks beer, I was getting drunk… uh, I mean hard at work “researching” the latest edition of Beer, Brett, and Baseball. That’s right; it’s summer so I’m bringing you more hops and hardball. But first, a trip across the pond.
Earlier this summer I was lucky enough to visit London with a bunch of craft beer enthusiasts from the USC Band. (We were also there to perform a pre-Olympic tour, but whatever). In between stops at corner pubs with their hand-pumped cask ales we visited BrewDog, a craft brewery in the hipstery borough of Camden. Camden can best be described as a landlocked Venice Beach complete with canals and replete with tchotchke kiosks, head shops, and tattoo joints stuck in the middle of London.
Just don’t call BrewDog an English brewery. This Scottish operation is at the forefront of the craft beer revolution in stodgy Great Britain; brewing’s self-described “punk” movement. But as cool as its craft brew cred was, the main attraction that got us on the Tube headed toward Camden Town was the Tactical Nuclear Penguin beer we’d heard so much about. Beyond its awesome name, the Penguin has 32% ABV, making it the strongest beer in the world… in 2009. The next year, another brewery made a 40% beer, and BrewDog countered with Sink the Bismarck (41%!). I ordered them both. They were, to say the least, strong: syrupy and pungent; a great nightcap before stumbling into the night to find one of London’s ubiquitous kebab stands.
The packed BrewDog pub had unfortunately stopped serving food by the time I arrived. I would have loved to order a Los Feliz burger or Eagle Rock pizza with a Stone brew to wash it down. You may be asking, what’s up with all the Cali love in the middle of dreary ol’ England? Well, before starting the brewery, the co-owners of BrewDog visited San Diego breweries for inspiration, abosrbing the wild, devil-may-care experimentation of the Southern Californian brewers.
Which brings us to Beer & Baseball. Many of the same guys who went to BrewDog gathered in early July to head south on a similar pilgrimage to visit the center of California’s beer renaissance. Our group of about ten guys (and girls) with colorful USC Band nicknames like ManBearPig, Fetch, and Sticky first headed to sleepy downtown Vista in North County.
Mother Earth Brew Co. is located in a storefront on Vista’s main drag. On a hot Saturday afternoon, the recently-opened tap room was the happening spot on Main St. The cool thing about Mother Earth Brew Co. (not to be confused with Mother Earth Brewing in North Carolina) is that it’s a combination brewery and home brew supply store; doubly promoting the craft brew culture. We didn’t get a chance to check out the merchandise though because we were too busy drinking in Mother Earth’s spacious open tap room. On one wall was a sampling of graffiti art and on the other a rack of classic beer cans behind glass. Which display did I study longer? What do you think?
To the beer. We all ordered a flight of Mother Earth beers. Six samples for $6, 27 total ounces of brew? Yes, please. Our bartender poured all sixty beers at once: a beautiful sight. The six beers offered were Ryzen Weizen, Double Decker, The French Connection, Caledonia, Beedazzled, and Real Deal. As a malt head, I appreciated that Mother Earth had a nice variety of styles – Blonde, English Brown, Hef, Honey Golden – unlike other San Diego brewers who want to overhop everything. There were various opinions on what was the group favorite but Caledonia seemed to stand out: an English IPA that was hoppy, yes, but also had a softer malt feel with hints of citrus and honey.
Our caravan moved south to a more established craft brewery: The Lost Abbey in San Marcos. Don’t worry, it’s not that hard to find even though it’s tucked into an industrial park like so many other San Diego breweries. Beckoning us in was a silo painted to look like a giant wooden barrel and emblazoned with Lost Abbey’s trademark Celtic cross. The tasting room was packed. Nearly as overwhelming as the thirsty throngs were the list of beer options.
Lost Abbey is actually a brand of the Port Brewing Company, which produces both it and its eponymous line of beers on-site. The brewery is a spin-off Pizza Port, the famous San Diego pizza restaurant and brewhouse. But even though the pizza place and the brewery brew beers with the same names, they’re not the same. Confused? Yeah, me too. You can read their explanation here: Lost Abbey FAQ. All you really to know is that Port Brewing produces American/West Coast-style beers and Lost Abbey does Belgian and specialty brews.
Approaching the bar, my eyes were drawn to the sign advertising the Mo’ Betta Bretta, for obvious, vain reasons. Brettanomyces yeast – which gives the beer its name – is a strain used most often in Belgian ales like Saisons and Lambics and is notoriously difficult to control during the brewing process. It gives Belgian ales their characteristic sour taste. The yeast is such an important part of the Lost Abbey ethos that a sign over the barrel room reads “In Illa Brettanomyces, Nos Fides” which in Latin roughly means “In the Wild Yeast We Believe.” Word of warning, however: If you get Brett in your home brew, throw it away.
Maybe betta than Mo’ Betta Bretta’s name is the fact that it’s a collaboration between Lost Abbey and my favorite brewery-ever: Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing. (Don’t worry, LA Aleworks, you’re moving up the list). Mo’ Betta Bretta was first produced by Port Brewing and New Belgium in 2004. After fermentation, flavors like oregano, pineapple and garlic salt are added. Watch more about the brewing process:
Many in the group sipped their beers in Lost Abbey’s barrel room. In the darkness you can relax on kegs with comfy, edible cushions – 50-pound sugar bags. It was difficult to pull ourselves away but there was a baseball game starting soon at PetCo Park! More on that in the next installment of Beer, Brett, and Baseball.
In Part II, we just miss Charlie Sheen, visit the Disneyland of craft brew and discuss the bias against Karl Strauss.