The Epic Bottleshare

Last month, I attended a special bottle share fundraiser at Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach in support of one of the bar’s regulars, Mike Murray, and his family as he battles brain cancer. It was an event co-hosted by the owners of Beachwood and Stearns Liquor, a popular bottle shop in Long Beach. Gabe Gordon and Danny Dib, the proprietors of each establishment respectively, donated bottles from their own cellars and raffled off other rare bottles of beer and whiskey. Two sessions were held for three hours each and attendees were encouraged to bring their own bottles to share.

Straight Outta Alpine

I went to the second session and, figuring that most people would be bringing high ABV beers and sours (i.e. the beers that cellar the best) to share, came with a fresh growler of Underneath the Pine, the newest Pale Ale from Cellarmaker Brewing in San Francisco. I walked in and grabbed one of the dozens of clean glasses waiting to be filled with three hours of non-stop beer. Before I could even ask how the event was going to work, a bottle of Alpine Chez Monus was opened and flowing into any glass pointed in its direction. I’d never had any of Alpine’s sours but had heard nothing but glowing reviews about them and was blown away. Chez Monus (say “shame on us”) is a sour Belgian-style ale with white peaches and apricots added and aged in wine barrels. The aroma and flavor of the stone fruit leapt out of my glass and set the bar extremely high for the rest of the night. In fact, the next beer to be poured (for me, at least; there were many bottles being opened and poured concurrently) was a Cantillon Kriek. I generally consider Cantillon to be the greatest brewery in the world, or at least the best sour house, but from my initial take on the back-to-back offerings, I actually preferred the homespun sour from San Diego over the beer from Brussels.

It was at that time that I realized I was in for an absolutely outrageous night of trying some of the finest beers ever brewed. After all, my first two were rated 100 and 97 on BeerAdvocate respectively and there was a long way to go. I tried my best to write down tasting notes and talk about the beers that I was trying, but they were being opened so frequently it was hard to keep up. Here are a few of the beers I tried: DeGarde Poppy Van Ambre, Cisco’s Cranberry Woods, Jester King’s World’s Worst Twin, Horal’s Oude Geuze Mega Blend, Firestone Walker Abacus (back from when it was still called Abacus), Firestone Walker 11th Anniversary Ale, Rare Barrel’s Map of the Sun, Russian River’s Beatification, Russian River’s Framboise for a Cure, Cascade’s Sang Royal, The Bruery’s Chocolate Rain, Cantillon’s Iris, Drie Fonteinen’s Golden Blend Geuze, and The Alchemist’s Heady Topper. There were more that I tried and don’t quite remember and a few other standouts that deserve extra attention.

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Seemed nice to me…

I’ve been wanting to try anything from the Maine Beer Company for a while now and got my wish that night. There was a bottle of their Mean Old Tom, a stout aged on vanilla beans, which drinks easily but has the flavor of a beer with twice the alcohol. It was sweet, roasty, chocolatey and perfectly balanced, and made me want to book a trip to New England. Another offering from the land of the Red Sox came from the Boston Beer Company, better known as the brewers of Sam Adams. Gabe, the owner of Beachwood, prepared flights of Utopias, the beer that is so over-the-top in every way that it’s not really beer anymore. The flight consisted of the 2009, 2012, and 2013 releases of the 28% ABV “beer” that’s released in miniatures copper pot stills at well over $100 a bottle. If you think of it as beer, it’s pretty awful. There’s no carbonation, way too much alcohol, and borderline offensive aromas if you sniff it like you would a beer. Treated like a hard alcohol, however, it becomes delightful. With lighter intakes of the aroma, the drink is sweet and slightly floral. The flavor is incredibly complex, with notes of dried fruit, oak, spices, and molasses all swirling around in the glass. After drinking the flight, I needed a glass of water and a Kern River Session IPA to act as a palate cleanser.IMG_4911

The growler I brought was divvied up in dozens of four-ounce pours, which zoomed around the room on serving trays held by the wait staff. I was pleased to see that so many people would be able to enjoy my contribution to the night and one whiff of the delectably piney notes of the pale ale confirmed that I would enjoy it as well. Cellarmaker brews excellent beers, but none better than their pale ales. They craft easy-drinking beers that burst with hop flavor and aroma, and Underneath the Pine is no exception. It combines pine and tropical fruit aromas by using two dual-purpose hops, Mosaic and Citra, a pine-forward hop, Centennial, and a juicy, tropical fruit hop, Motueka. These combine to be exactly the flavors I enjoy most when drinking a Pale Ale or IPA.

After this, and knowing I had work in the morning, I slowed down considerably and took the time to slowly sip some of the barleywines I had passed over during my sour beer frenzy earlier on in the night. At this time, the raffle started and two of my friends happened to win six items between them, including a Westvleteren XII and Ballast Point’s nearly-impossible-to-find Devil’s Share Single Malt whiskey. I looked around and saw that everyone else seemed to have the same contented expressions on their faces that I was wearing. It seemed we had all reached beer nirvana. It’s a state of mind that I believe we should all strive to achieve.

 


Even if you missed the share, you can still donate directly to the account set up to help Mike and his family here.

 

Get to Know: Alpine Beer Company

Note: This is my first post in the “Get to Know” series, which will provide you with enough knowledge to walk into the breweries I’ll be featuring like a pro. Enjoy!

Thinking of San Diego usually conjures images of palm trees, ocean breezes, beaches, and the Chargers underachieving year in and year out. However, if you are in search of the Holy Grail of San Diego beer, you must put these notions out of your head and set your sights to the East. Nestled in an old building 33 miles inland from the nearest beach, Alpine Beer Company quietly makes some of the best beers in the country in a chaparral environment more likely to remind you of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly than The Endless Summer. But that’s fine with the folks who populate the brewpub, who are either thirsty locals or beer aficionados who have made the pilgrimage in order to try the world-class ales.

Alpine Beer Company, usually just called Alpine, currently has eight beers on the BeerAdvocate’s user-rated list of the Top 250 beers. They have limited distribution; kegs sometimes make their way as far as San Francisco, but bottles are hard to come by outside of San Diego county, and when they are, they go fast. Alpine is known for their IPAs, Duet and Nelson, which are each excellent in their own respects. Duet is a quintessential West Coast IPA, employing Simcoe and Amarillo hops, which are outstanding individually but have a synergetic effect when combined. This hop-forward beer has crisp, fresh pine notes complemented by the zesty citrus flavors that the Amarillo hop provides. Nelson, so named for the judicious use of the Southern Hemisphere Nelson Sauvin hop, is on the other end of the spectrum as far as IPAs go. It pours a hazy golden-orange color and the aroma is bursting with tropical fruit—a hallmark of New Zealand hops. It is brewed with rye in addition to the standard barley malt, which adds a slight spiciness and a more delicate mouthfeel. These beers alone warrant a trip to East county San Diego if you’ve never tried them before.

Alpine

She’s not much, but she’s home.

Such a trip becomes even more worthwhile when you arrive at the brewery, which might look more like a motel if you didn’t take a good look at it. The combination taproom/restaurant and the brewery are separated by three other businesses that rarely seem to be open, and the space between them is often populated with people waiting in line to fill growlers. By the way, growler fills and bottle sales must take place at the brewery itself while it is open; after hours, bottles are available at the pub. The pub, which is nearly always packed, has about a dozen tables, a bar with eight stools, and an outdoor terrace with a handful of tables. Waits for tables regularly exceed 30 minutes, but space at the bar or outside can usually be found. Alpine keeps eight to ten taps flowing most of the time, including one guest tap that seems to be a surprise every time. In addition to the two standout IPAs, beers to look out for include Hoppy Birthday Pale Ale, Keene Idea Double IPA, Good Barleywine (and Great, the Barrel-Aged variant), and their sour beers, which are usually gone in a flash.

The menu is barbecue centric and most of it fits into the categories greasy, cheesy, or spicy. This isn’t to suggest that it’s not tasty, but be prepared for red baskets and squeezable sauces, not narrow rectangular plates and aioli drizzles. The strong presence of hoppy beers complements the overall spiciness of the menu, and the ability to order half pints of beer makes trying many of them simple and affordable. Just remember to bring a designated driver, because after visiting the brewery, it’s a (relatively) long way back to San Diego.


What are your thoughts on Alpine and their best beer(s)? Did I leave anything out? Let me know in the comments!