AUG/SEP 2005 | REGIONAL | WEST
||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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.