Taste of Wine: Cheers for craft beers

Taste of Wine: Cheers for craft beers
Stone Brewing began in Escondido, co-founded by Greg Koch and Steve Wagner in 1996, and is often called “the all-time top craft brewery on Planet Earth.” Photo courtesy Stone Brewing

More than 4,000 breweries now operate in the U.S., including more than 100 in the San Diego County area and over 400 in California.

The recent San Diego Brew and Food Festival at Waterfront Park in San Diego drew over 200 different craft beers including Ballast Point, which was sold to worldwide spirits company Constellation for $1 billion, Kona, Alesmith, The Lost Abbey, Pizza Port, Green Flash, Anchor, Bolt, and the king of the hill — Stone Brewing of Escondido, which is now in Berlin, Germany and soon to be in Napa.

Craft beer is booming!

Now, I have to be transparent here. Before TASTE OF WINE came along, I managed the largest Oktoberfest in north San Diego with lots of beer from Karl Strauss of San Diego.

A young, scrawny looking guy named Greg Koch came up to me at the Oktoberfest back in 1997 and proclaimed he was making Stone Beer —it was better than Karl Strauss and could he sell at the event.

Naturally I said no.

Little did I know I was talking to the future king of craft beer, now employing 1,100 around the planet, with two San Diego environmentally applauded restaurants in Escondido and Liberty Station San Diego.

Ballast Point is another San Diego area brewery with a great story, this one founded by Jack White, in 1996.

He was a backyard brewer, but decided to open commercially with Home Brew Mart selling supplies and ingredients for others as well as his own Ballast Point brews.

White’s success is driven by the never-ending search for flavor and aroma.

“We started this business with a vision to produce great beer that consumers love,” White said. “Our Gold Medal winning Sculpin India Pale Ale is a great example of what got us into brewing.  After years of experimenting, we knew hopping an ale at five separate stages would produce something special and pack a bit of a sting, just like the Sculpin fish.”

Ballast Point emphasizes the sea and its inhabitants, in all their marketing, including names of beers.

Constellation Brands, owner of many top-drawer wineries like Robert Mondavi and Kim Crawford and international beers like Corona, Modelo and Pacifico, realized it didn’t have a driver in the craft beer space, which had doubled its share of the market in just five years.

Sculpin IPA (India Pale Ale) is Ballast Point’s best selling craft beer and comes in three formats. Image courtesy Ballast Point

Sculpin IPA (India Pale Ale) is Ballast Point’s best selling craft beer and comes in three formats. Image courtesy Ballast Point

So in came the mind-boggling $1 billion offer to Ballast Point, which is on pace to sell nearly four million cases — more than 100 percent better than the previous year.  It employs more than 500 people in four facilities in San Diego.

Most craft beers in San Diego are shooting for the “hoppy” flavored IPA style, accenting the pale ale as the preferred taste.

Hops are the flowers from a vine that give beer its bitterness. Some of the most sought-after come from Washington State. It increases the alcohol levels so that now, 9 percent alcohol can be found in some styles.

The city of Vista, it seems, is bent on being “beer town” in the San Diego County area with 12 breweries and a $2 million-plus fund to subsidize this plan.

It includes an idea to change the name of Highway 78 as it passes through Vista, to “Hops Highway.”

Oceanside, too, wants to open up the coastal districts of its city to breweries to help make it easier to establish and operate these businesses.

They have attracted eight breweries in the city, with two more in the planning stages.  We have a lot more to tell about this phenomenon in beverage consumption, so with your indulgence we’ll occasionally visit craft beers.


Wine Bytes

A great place to start for sampling local craft beer breweries is Chandler’s in the Cape Rey Resort in Carlsbad on Thursdays starting at 3 p.m., “Hoppy” beers with $6 pints of featured crafts will be rotated, all will be local.  Call (760) 683-5500 for details.

A Maddalena Wine Dinner is planned for BICE Ristorante, in the Gaslamp district, downtown San Diego July 14 starting at 6:30 p.m.  The winemaker will be there to explain the acclaimed wines and perfectly paired menu.  Cost is $79.  RSVP at (619) 239-2423.

The Art of Baja Wine & Beer Dinner will be held at The Grill at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, July 15 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Executive Chef Jeff Jackson presides with a four-course family style dinner with showcase wines  and fine Mexican style craft beers; cost is $125 per person.  RSVP by calling (858) 777-6660.

The SoCal Food & Wine Festival is July 19 from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Ramona Mainstage on Main Street Ramona. Ten top chefs will cook different dishes with 10 different wineries offering their varietals, including entertainment.  Cost is $89. Event to benefit the Center for Community Solutions with prevention and intervention.  Information at (760) 789-7005.


Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator.  He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web.  View his columns at tasteofwinetv.com and reach him at mangiompc@aol.com.  Follow him on Facebook.


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