“Well, here we’ve come to the holy grail of geekdom, the very core of radical brewing. With a strange mashing procedure, years-long wild fermentation, stale hops, blending, and many other unusual and archaic techniques, lambic is one of the most fascinating beers in the universe, as well as a challenge to brew.” – Randy Mosher, Radical Brewing
Simon Ford, a San Pedro native, is an attorney by day, and a master home brewer by night. He has been home brewing in California since 2006. A close friend of his exposed him to the craft when he was living up in Santa Clara and soon after he picked up the hobby with help from his local home brew shop, Fermentation Frenzy, now MoreBeer. The real serious home brewing didn’t start until he moved back to San Pedro 2 years ago where he shifted his focus to the sour side. He now brews 10 gallon all-grain batches in his garage.
Lambics and the funky stuff are Simon’s specialties. He brews by himself in his garage and then moves everything down into his cellar temperature basement where the real magic happens. Stainless steel kegs, plastic fermenters, and a giant wine barrel all house various long term sour projects. The wine barrel is an impressive sight, and although we didn’t have a chance to open it up and peer inside, Simon explained that it’s full of various Lambic blends, cultured bottle dregs, and hard working bugs. He hasn’t opened it since he filled it and doesn’t plan to until it’s good and ready which, by reading his calendar, isn’t due to happen until April 2013.
Taking thorough notes and staying as organized as possible is key to creating consistently good beer. To keep track of all these different beers, he uses a white board detailing the scheduling, pull dates, and specifics of each batch. As you can see from the pictures, he has quite a few simultaneous batches going on. As Lambics and sours are long term projects, extensive planning is necessary.
Simon also organizes his finished beers. On large metal racks he stores his home brewed beers, his commercial collection, and cleaned empty bottles. He also has several secret hiding places where he stores some of his more coveted beers like a set of Cantillon Lambics, among others.
Simon’s focus may be on Lambics and sours, but he does branch out with other brews as well. He has several saisons, one dark and one light, aged with brett, some meads, an ice distilled sour, and a very unique Basque style cider. Basque Cider, or sagardo, has many rich traditions surrounding it, among them pouring the cider into a barrel from high up with a continuous stream of cider filling mugs like a water fall, and the fact that it’s served still, not sparkling. For Simon’s version, he uses local organic apple juice every year and uses the dregs from a traditional Basque cider as his yeast source. His still, like the traditional Basque counterpart, is served still, not sparkling.
The fact that these beers are home brewed may shock many. Simon’s beers have depth, complexity, and are expertly crafted. They could easily stand up to some of the coveted bottles from Belgium as well as some of more local bottles from Northern California. You don’t have to have a professional brewery to make good beer. This may be something that more and more people are realizing as both home brew and craft beer continue to grow in popularity. Brewing is the perfect marriage of art and science and one of the last great “craft” frontiers. Seeking out these master Home Brewers may actually be as, if not more, exciting than seeking out the hip beer bars and rare brews.
I had the opportunity to try many of Simon’s beers and can safely say that they are all very well made. I wasn’t a sour drinker until recently so it’s still a new frontier for me. Experiencing beers like Simon’s with incredible complexity and depth is a good reason for anyone that hasn’t at least tried funky and sour beers to start.
- Home Grown Saison
- All Bret Amber
- Cabrillo – sour quad
- Ice Distilled Cabriollo
- Pipe Line Sour
- Imperial Stout
- Unblended Lambic
Rather than going into too much detail on each beer we sampled, I’ll talk about my favorites. Simon had a very light and refreshing “Home Grown Saison” on tap that was a real pleasure to drink. He also had a really nice straight Lambic, pleasantly tart and effervescent. But my favoritte by far was a beer he calls Cabrillo, a brownish sour quadruple aged on oak and with cherries. You can find more about how he makes it in depth on his site Overcarbed.com. Cabrillo is one of those beers that evolves in your mouth. From the get go you get a pleasant tartness which is quickly backed up by balanced oakiness, vanilla almond flavors, and is finally rounded out with a subtle fruitiness from the sour cherries. Asking for a second glass, though I wanted to, wasn’t an option as the beer clocks in at 11% ABV. He is also working on an ice-distilled version which is equally complex and powerful at 22% ABV.
Simon is focused on provisioning his ingredients from local sources. He ages his Banning sour on apricots he received from a friend and has recently acquired a massive number of persimmons for a secret project he is working on. Like many other home brewers and small commercial craft brewers, Simon’s focus is on the community. Locally sourcing ingredients and supporting local business is one way to bring the craft and community together. People associate a home brewed or commercial beer with the various people and ingredients involved. Rather than make a massive quantity of something, Simon believes in creating local loyalty and encouraging people to come and get his beers at the source.
It’s this attitude that dominates Simon’s beer program. He’s also working on some cool side projects that will hopefully be announced sometime soon. Until then, Simon continues to make excellent beer in his San Pedro home brewhouse, or “Overcarbed HQ” as he calls it. Expect great things from this guy: thought, talent, drive, and meticulous care like this doesn’t just go away.
*Simon is a member of the Los Angeles (Craft) Beer Bloggers, a group of beer centric writers in the greater Los Angeles Area.