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AUG/SEP 2005 | REGIONAL | WEST COAST

AleSmith Brewing Company : A Decade of Decadence
By Rich Link

AleSmith Brewing Company, the small microbrewery in San Diego, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. The brewery got its start when Ted Newcomb, a local homebrewer with a passion for English ales, purchased some used dairy tanks, stuck them in a warehouse a few hundred yards from Miramar Air Station, and brewed AleSmith ESB. All that happened in 1995.

Newcomb and Skip Virgilio, formerly of Pacific Beach Brewhouse, guided the brewery through its infant stages. The early beers were mostly English-style, with some Belgian-style beers offered as well. Newcomb eventually sold the brewery to Virgilio, who sold the brewery to Peter Zien in 2002.

Today, AleSmith still uses the original logo, an English pint glass sitting atop an anvil, symbolizing the beer’s hand-forged origin. And some of the early beers are still around. AleSmith ESB, the first AleSmith brew, is now known as AleSmith Anvil Ale, and there is still an AleSmith IPA, plus many others.

To celebrate 10 years in existence, Zien and brewer Tod Fitzsimmons thought about many options for the special commemorative brew. After careful consideration and, undoubtedly, many pints of AleSmith beers, the two came up with a plan to brew a beer in the old English ale style. However, the beer will not fall within the “normal” alcohol levels of 6–9%; it should be greater than 11%. And what will the name be? Well, I was privileged to be the first to learn of the name: Decadence! The name says it all. It states how AleSmith brews its beers, and it also contains the word “decade.” A perfect fit for a 10th anniversary beer.

I wish I could tell you more about the profile of this most special ale, but it was not ready for serving at press time. However, I can tell you that the original gravity was 1.103, it contains four different sugars, and it was brewed with a special blend of White Labs 10th Anniversary Yeast, which consists of four of the original White Labs yeast strains. Zien and Fitzsimmons have done some early sampling and assured me this will be a great beer when it is released. Look for this beer to be available in mid-September.

AleSmith decided to focus on brewing its big and exciting brews, and it is now clear that the risk has paid off.

For the second year, AleSmith is celebrating “Christmas in July” with a special summer release of YuleSmith Holiday Ale. This hop monster of an imperial IPA has been tweaked even further toward the hop side of the scale. It is lighter in color and body, the alcohol content approaches 9%, and IBUs have been boosted by 60%! This year’s version was double-double dry-hopped. That is, twice the hops, with two dry-hop additions. I only hope there’s still some of this left in your favorite liquor store. If not, be consoled by the fact that the winter YuleSmith has already been brewed and will be available in November.

When Zien bought the brewery three years ago, he and Fitzsimmons decided to take a bit of a risk. They discontinued contract brewing, which was a full 50 percent of their income. Instead, they decided to focus on brewing their big and exciting brews, such as Horny Devil, a strong ale in the Belgian tradition; Speedway Stout, an imperial stout with added coffee (one of the best beers in the world, in my opinion); and Old Numbskull, a barley wine that fits somewhere between the classic English and American versions of the style. Production has steadily increased, and it is now clear that the risk has paid off.

Zien and Fitzsimmons had heard the cheers — and the cries of frustration — from both consumers and distributors concerning some of the more exotic AleSmith brews. Sure, the beers were great, but they were not always available. A pub would serve a keg to the public, the public would proclaim the beer to be great and then ask for more, but none was available — a bit of a tongue-tease that left some disillusioned. The problem was that these beers were only being brewed once a year or so, but the demand was much greater than that. Now these beers and other AleSmith favorites are being brewed more often and are more readily available.

One group of consumers, the folks at ratebeer.com — the geekiest (most enthusiastic?) of beer geeks — have rated AleSmith as the best brewery in the world for the second year in a row. It is for people like this that AleSmith has decided to concentrate on beers with more body, character and flavor. Zien and Fitzsimmons, both homebrewers, can relate to the ratebeer crowd, for they share the same enthusiasm for great beers.

AleSmith is also well-known for its barrel-aged beers, of which Speedway Stout has become a legend amongst beer enthusiasts. Old Numbskull and Wee Heavy have also received the barrel treatment. Perhaps Decadence and YuleSmith will be next?

Cask-conditioned ales are another AleSmith strength. At least once a month you can find an AleSmith cask at one of San Diego’s top pubs. Check out the Liar’s Club, Callahan’s or O’Brien’s for your best chance at an AleSmith cask.

Now, if all of this talk of celebration and premium ales sounds interesting to you, you should try to join the AleSmith gang at the brewery for the big 10th anniversary bash. The date is Saturday, August 27. Beers will be flowing, and who knows what else will be on tap.

AleSmith Brewing Co.
9368 Cabot Dr.
San Diego, CA 92126
(858) 549-9888
alesmith.com

Rich Link is an associate editor of the Celebrator Beer News. He lives in Santee, Calif., and has been brewing beer at home since 1980. He can be reached via e-mail at linkbrew2@cs.com.

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