19 beers of the 19-day #covid_19 ‘antine: Paper Edition

Yesterday’s bottle (Fifty/Fifty Eclipse) wasn’t the only bottle I’m still holding dating back to 2009. This is from Placentia, CA’s The bRUEry and the name, Papier, kicked off its ongoing series of bbl-aged anniversary beers named for traditional anniversary gifts (but in French, like the name Rue itself).

I’d discovered The Bruery right after they debuted when my friend and roommate at that year’s Great American Beer Festival, Jesse Friedman (who was still a couple years from co-founding Almanac Brewing), dragged my then-girlfriend and I to their booth on the GABF floor. Patrick Rue and his wife, Rachel, tasted me on their offerings which were pretty mind-blowing at the time. I mean, Black Orchard, a Belgian White Ale but black!? And a Belgian trippel with Thai basil in it!? Not to mention, a saison. Saison was the 2014 gose of 2008. Oh yeah, I also tried a beer the brewery would soon be bottling, a near-20% ABV bourbon-aged imperial stout called Black Tuesday.

Papier is the only beer in the ongoing anniversary series that isn’t made in the solera method (of blending newer stock into the older). Chiefly, because there was nothing older with which to blend (although it is a blend of 25% bourbon-aged Old Ale and 75% “oak-aged” though I’m not clear on whether that means old ale aged on oak chips or in some non-bourbon cask or whatnot. Papier, at this point, is an apt word since, yes, the 14.5-percenter has gone a bit papery. This is, after all, the 11th anniversary of this 1st anniversary beer and oxidation–even in a wax-dipped bottle–will do that. Still, the malt makes for a decadent after-supper sipper and the booziness does likewise. Once again, I was unable to polish off the bottle by myself and the chalice I’d rested on my nightstand perfumed my dreams. It literally made me wake up and think about last night’s beer first thing this morning.

The journey of The Bruery over the last dozen years has been, as Paul McCartney put it, a long and winding road. First the Rue family tree grew by a daughter. Then the Bruery family started selling sour beers under the Bruery Terreux label, and then non-Belgian, non-aged beers under the Offshoot imprint. Then, of course, the Rues sold a majority share to private equity, which enabled them to move from Orange County to Grape Country, Napa, where they just launched Erosion Wines. Pretty bad time to start a new business, but hey, if anything’s gonna get us through this pandemic and quarantine, it’s wine and beer.

Of course, seeing as Bruery bottles occupied an entire shelf in the beer cooler, this means I’ve got 11 more including my now-last Papier, Cuir-Bois (2nd-5th anniversaries), a couple from the 12 Days of Christmas series dating back to ’09’s Two Turtle Doves, several sours, and, of course, some variants of Black Tuesday. If the quarantine warrants a second 19-day cellar-clearning (and sadly it probably will) look for The Bruery to be featured again.

So I raised this glass to that nice young couple who branched out from beers that were the norm of the mid-aughts craft beer scene and started to make the kinds of beers they wanted to see and became quite influential in the process.

NewSeries: 19 beers of the 19-day #covid_19 ‘antine.

Projects. If there’s one good thing that comes out of this Novel Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 is that it’ll be remembered as that time we all GSD. All the home repairs we always vowed to do “someday,” the books we’d bought but never read, the bingeable shows we meant to watch, the time we wished we had to spend with our kids, the longer walks we pretended were around the corner, now is the moment we’re actually Getting Shit Done.

One of those, for me and many a beer geek I know, is finally drinking down our beer cellars.

The bottles we’d held off for some celebration that didn’t seem to come (5 or 9 years back). The bottles that got pushed to the back and since out of sight means out of mind we’d just forgotten we even had that amazing looking thing. Whatever the reason, it’s dusty and forlorn and yet it may be brilliant still so since if there’s another thing a pandemic is good for it’s reminding us that we’re here for a good time, not a long time.

I kinda doubt this extended isolation will only last 19 days, but in honor of this COVID-19 virus that’s stopped the Earth from spinning, I’m gonna drink/document 19. Starting with this purple-wax-dipped bottle of Eclipse Imperial Stout from 2009, emanating from Fifty/Fifty Brewing in Truckee, CA in Lake Tahoe.

I bought this while living not too far from there in San Francisco, probably at City Beer Store. Furthermore, I never would’ve bought it if it wasn’t for something my then-girlfriend did for me just a year earlier. She busted through my self-imposed price ceiling on any given bottle of beer which had been $20. But, while in Chicago on my cross-country book tour promoting Red, White, & Brew, which was her last stop before flying home, we went to an awesome wine shop across the street from Barbara’s Books where I’d done my reading/signing and she bought me a bottle of Naughty Goose, a bourbon-aged imperial brown ale from the local, independent brewery Goose Island. It cost her $30. Outrageous. And also, permission to move my own cap up that high when necessitated. I don’t recall for sure, but I think I dropped $25 for this 22oz’er in ’09 and kept buying a couple bottles each year until the price tags reached over $30. And now, there are so many such barrel-aged beers in my cellar that I’ve stopped amassing them altogether. I noticed that Fifty/Fifty switched from bombers to 500ml packages, which is smart. I confess in advance I didn’t even finish this bottle, but think I got 16 ounces down.

And this barrel-aged number from Fifty/Fifty felt so necessary. In an era when next to no craft breweries had yet developed a barrel program of any note, Eclipse had debuted a couple years earlier. What I didn’t know at the time was that I’d get to write about it a year later and, more interestingly, the man-behind-the-scenes who made it possible. This profile of Tom Griffin, a man known to select brewmasters from coast-to-coast as The Barrel Guy, remains one of my most favorite stories I’ve ever written. (And frankly, since Draft Mag is long gone, I can’t believe the link still works.)

So Eclipse is in the pantheon of bourbon barrel aged beers but back in 2009, it was the first year the brewery even released various versions and used the wax color to denote which specific barrels were used for maturation. There were 3 in ’09. Last year they released 17 editions and, being ’19, one’s aged in Yaegermeister barrels while one’s a pastry stout emulating banana fritters. But this bottle I’d saved to kick off the 2020 Quarantine was aged in Elijah Craig barrels, one of my fave bourbons.

Either despite or because of the 11 years that have come and gone, the beer was a little languid but a lot lovely. Viscous and semi-flat, it oozed with a richness messieurs Penzzoil and Valvoline could only dream of and I do mean the sense of being rich, not of being crude and oily. Lava cake, Little League catcher’s mitt, and damp tobacco leaves rounded out the heady brew. It cast a shadow over most such BBA-RIS libations I’ve had in its wake.

I’m now on the lookout for some sub-$20, 500-ml variants of Eclipse 2020… if we’re around by the time it comes out.

Brewmaster Chuck Silva Returns to the Central Coast

Even in this era with thousands of breweries, hundreds of which have made a name for themselves based on brewing destination-worthy beer, surprisingly few brewmasters have the type of name recognition that Chuck Silva has earned. That’s due, in large part, to being a veteran of nearly a dozen years at San Diego’s Green Flash Brewing, where he garnered nearly a dozen GABF medals. This is the story of how he came home to Paso Robles where he and his wife Mary Jo to create Silva Brewing.

Teaching Beer 101 at my Alma Mater

I much prefer writing about other people than other people writing about me, but when it’s a story about a new beer class I’ll be teaching–and it appears in the student newspaper, the Daily Nexus, of my alma mater because said class will be at UCSB–I’d say that slaps. OK, I shouldn’t say anything slaps because I’m no longer one of the young people. But I’m honored–and as a flashback I’ll add that I’m stoked–to have created the University’s first-ever beer tasting and appreciation class. The pitch was fairly simple: the University has offered its wine tasting class for decades (I took it in the ’90s), it’s time to get with the 21st century and put beer education on equal footing (even though Santa Barbara is, by and large, wine country.)

With Beer 101* I’ve created a curriculum that covers, however sparsely, the entire 10,000 year history of mankind’s foibles in fermenting grain as well as deeper dives into the chief regions and styles of beermaking today. It’s an eight-week course, open to anyone over 21, not just students! Sign up, join us, and if you’re not careful, you just might learn a thing or two.

*Updated 9/10/19: The beer class will henceforth be known as The Beer Class

My pick for #FlagshipFebruary? My local DBA

I was honored to be invited to write an essay for the inaugural #FlagshipFebruary campaign.  In my essay about Firestone Walker DBAclick here–I open with a quote on craftsmen and craftsmanship by legendary designer Charles Eames. But here’s his quote that served as a bookend.

In 1957 Eames declared that the title of craftsman “places a tremendous responsibility on those who claim it.” He then referenced a fellow architect named Mies van der Rohe who Eames claimed once said, “I don’t want to be interesting. I just want to be good.”

Those are fitting words for DBA’s epitaph, yet DBA will never die. Not DBA’s somewhat fierce, perhaps nostalgic, decidedly local fans (myself included) have anything to say about it.

How a Beer Writer Writes About Wine

As the great American philosopher Fred Eckhardt declared, “Listen to your beer.” And since beer speaks to people, at least those smart enough to listen and thoughtful enough to hear it, it speaks of hops growing on the bines, amber waves of barley blowing in the field, or yeast hitchhiking on the breeze.

Brewmaster Matt Van Wyk’s beer obviously sings to him. He, along with brothers Brian and Doug Coombs, are the composers behind Alesong Brewing and Blending in Eugene, Oregon. And while they create a wide range of barrel-matured beers from earthy saisons to viscous imperial stouts, no doubt it’s the emphasis on vinous, wild ales that is music to sour beer lovers’ ears. But if their newest GABF medals are any indication, they could almost rename the brewery WineAlesong. And there are others singing similar tunes. For this reason, I got to write about those brewing at the intersection of wine and beer for CraftBeer.com.

SB’s oldest brewery becomes its newest

Photo: Paul Wellman, SB Independent

In 1995 when Santa Barbara Brewing Company opened, the country was home to about 800 breweries. By January 2019, there were some 900 craft breweries in California alone (it hit 1,000 long before year’s end). Over the years, that made Brew Co., as it came to be widely known, a little less special — so much so that Brew Co. is now dead. But long live The Cruisery, which is taking over the iconic space.

Pilgrimage to the Jun & Gruit Capital

IMG_3592My second story for Beer Paper gets upgraded to a column. And the column gets its own name: Yaeger Shots. (Get it?!) This shot is of the fermentation scene in Carp, the sleepier, surfier town just south of Santa Barbara. It’s where there are two businesses, side by side, each small and each doing wildly unique and tasty alcoholic beverages made from local honey, local apples, local herbs, local microorganisms, and sometimes local loquats. Pick up the September issue to read about brewLAB and The Apiary.

Pacific Prost

The drive from San Diego to Seattle covers 1,500 miles of ridiculously gorgeous Pacific coastline along Highway 101 (or sometimes Highway 1 in California). It could technically be tackled in two 15 hour driving shifts but I don’t recommend that. In fact, it took me nearly 40 years to have tackled the entire shoreline. So I reflected back on some favorite breweries along the way and wrote up this epic 15-brewery drive along the Pacific CoastEpic-Craft-Beer-Road-Trip-Pacific-Coast-Breweries.

Brewery Buyouts Follow Me to Santa Barbara: Epic Bought Telegraph

I remember when AB-InBev bought Goose Island, but that wasn’t terribly shocking since Goose was already part of the Craft Brew Alliance family, which itself was minority-owned by ABI. I remember when the house of Budweiser bought 10 Barrel out of tiny Bend, Oregon and THAT felt like a big deal. I was surprised that such a behemoth in the beer world was interested in an upstart crafty company in a remote pocket of Oregon. As the wheel keeps turning, we’ve seen major acquisitions (Lagunitas, Ballast Point) and some less earth-shattering ones (like when Heineken-owned Lagunitas bought minuscule but mighty Moonlight Brewing or Green Flash bought infinitesimal but incredible Alpine Brewing). So it is with today’s breaking news that Utah’s Epic Brewing, which already has a satellite brewing in Denver’s booming River North District, has agreed to purchase Telegraph Brewing based right here in Santa Barbara.

When I went to school here at UCSB in the mid-nineties, Santa Barbara Brew Co. opened during my senior year. The Brewhouse was a couple years from opening when I graduated. Heck, even Firestone Walker, which in 2015 was folded into the Belgian-owned Duvel-Moortgat, hadn’t started slinging its pale ales (to say nothing of its 805 blonde ale juggernaut). In other words, the last time I lived in this tropical oasis, it was a beer desert. As the Prodigal Gaucho returns, I have found a quaint little brewing scene (keep in mind I moved here via Portland a.k.a. Beervana). SB is home to six breweries (Telegraph, founded in 2006, being the third oldest and arguably the best). North a bit in Goleta there are four good breweries. Down in fire-ravaged Ventura there’s a mini boom going on where the eighth, Leashless, just opened. This reminds me, I hope the unfortunately-named Smoke Mountain Brewery is okay!

Having said that, it’s not exactly like California’s Central Coast is even a burgeoning beer Mecca. The Golden State’s already got San Diego and the Bay Area. Russian River put Sonoma County on the map while even late-to-the-table Los Angeles is now charging ahead as a boomtown. Heck, even East Coast centric BeerAdvocate is hosting its first Extreme Beer Fest-LA this weekend (that I hope to attend but those aforementioned wildfires will likely keep me from being able to make it). So one of the things I’ll be diving into in upcoming coverage is how, exactly, Utah’s four-time GABF winning brewery that produces 27,000 barrels a year singled out Santa Barbara’s six-time GABF winning tiny brewery. From a recent phone conversation with founder Brian Thompson—who I first met when I ambled unannounced into his fledgling brewery in 2006—I gathered he was feeling the heat of today’s beer industry logistics. But when faced with a rumor that his was the brewery listed on an industry board as being for sale, he shot down that notion! Perhaps hearing his name in the rumors got his own wheels turning. Stay tuned for more. And if you’ve never tried any Telegraph Beer, go out and buy some and see what Epic is already hip to.

Here’s the release sent out today:

 Epic Brewing Completes Purchase of Santa Barbara’s Telegraph Brewing Co.

Salt Lake City, UT— On December 6 th Epic Brewing purchased Telegraph Brewing Company, Santa Barbara’s first and original craft brewery, and has announced investment plans to expand Telegraph and broaden the brewery’s reach as an additional brand in the Epic family.

Telegraph Brewing has been operating in Santa Barbara since 2006 when Founder Brian Thompson opened his dream brewery, focused on high-quality, Belgian-inspired, uniquely-Californian beers produced with local ingredients.

“So much has changed in the craft beer world since I started Telegraph, back when hazy beers were just called unfiltered and there were fewer than 1,500 brewers nationwide,” Thompson said. “Today, with the number of breweries approaching 6,000, the craft brewing landscape is radically different. We are extremely proud of what we have accomplished, but the increased competition from the likes of AB-INBEV’s “crafty beers” as well as new startups is requiring everyone in the industry to recalibrate their plans for the future. Earlier this year I began looking for ways to strengthen our legacy, and entering into a transaction with Epic was the right fit, both strategically and culturally. This partnership will allow us to nurture our deep California roots, retain and expand our amazing staff, and continue to develop our brand in new and innovative ways. My team and I are excited that Telegraph Brewing will remain a small, independent craft brewery and at the same time have the support and drive provided by one of the nation’s most creative, fearless, and fastest-growing brewery.”

With Epic’s investment, Telegraph will not only continue brewing its well-respected beer, but will begin expanding its brewing operations. There are immediate plans to increase the production capacity and offer new packaging options, including several new 12-ounce cans under the Telegraph brand. Epic will also move seven of their foeders—large wooden vessels for aging sour beer—from their Denver brewery to Santa Barbara, enabling Telegraph to produce more of its award-winning sour beers. California locals can also look forward to a new series of modern IPAs including some juicy and hazy styles, which will be sold fresh from Telegraph’s brewery.

“It’s a long-term dream come true” says Dave Cole, Co-founder of Epic Brewing. “I fell in love with craft beer living in California and that love didn’t diminish when I moved to Utah despite the beer scene at the time. I feel like I’ve come full circle. We have been actively looking for great breweries to purchase for the past 18 months and bringing Telegraph Brewing into the Epic family is exciting. We are investing in the future of Santa Barbara and are thrilled to have a direct and local connection to the amazing California craft beer community, where we share so much history. To be part of such a well-regarded brewery like Telegraph is something I’ve always hoped to do and now it’s finally a reality. It provides us an avenue to combine our teams and build on Telegraph’s portfolio with our innovative vision. This couldn’t be a better fit – including some advantageous distribution overlaps that create opportunities to expand both brands across California and beyond.”

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Epic Brewing Company, LLC was opened in May of 2010 in Salt Lake City and expanded to Colorado in 2013. Epic is 100% independent and family owned and is known for its innovation of style and wood aged beers, currently producing over 27,000 Barrels a year. Epic is distributed in the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, New Jersey, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Virginia & Washington D.C., Washington, Wisconsin, & Wyoming.

Telegraph Brewing, Santa Barbara’s original craft brewery, sold its first kegs in 2006 and specializes in brewing uniquely American and Belgian-inspired beers. Telegraph uses 100% domestic ingredients and as many local ingredients as possible, capturing in each sip the unique culinary and agricultural traditions of Santa Barbara and California’s Central Coast. Since 2011, Telegraph has won six Great American Beer Festival medals and two World Beer Cup awards.