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Suds Surfin' San Diego : 8th Annual Real Ale Festival
By Rich Link

I have to admit, I’m getting spoiled. Three times a year there are beer parties at Pizza Port Carlsbad, and every one of them is world-class. The events are organized by Tomme Arthur, Jeff Bagby and Tom Nickel. The Strong Ale Festival takes place in late fall, the 12-Hour Belgian Beer Party in March, and the Real Ale Festival (RAF) in June. This year’s Real Ale Fest on June 10–11 found 40 real ales being served via hand-pump or by gravity.

Real ale is defined as being unfiltered and naturally carbonated in the cask. Carbon dioxide is not used to force the beer through a tapping system. Hand-pumps draw the beer from the cask, or they are simply served via gravity through a tap in the bottom of the cask. These beers are served warmer than keg beers and have lower CO2 levels than most beers, thus having a softer mouthfeel. Also, many brewers add hops to the cask (dry-hopping), giving the beer a fresh hop aroma.

Since real ale is still a fairly new idea here in the U.S., there isn’t a huge demand for it. Therefore, brewers don’t make very much of it. Some brewers only make cask-conditioned beers for special occasions. It’s interesting to taste the cask-conditioned versions of beers that are normally kegged or bottled. Less gas and more hop aroma make for a perfect session of ale drinking. Fortunately, more craft brewers are adding real ale to their repertoire.

In the United Kingdom, most real ales tend to be under 5% alcohol content. Only two of the beers at the RAF came in under 5%. Most were between 5% and 8%, with a couple of others in double digits. The majority of the ales were IPAs or some derivative. Other cask styles included oatmeal stout, American red and mild ale.

Eleven San Diego breweries brought casks to the event. The rest came from other California breweries or breweries in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Oregon. I sampled my fair share of them on Friday evening. Most were excellent, garnering ratings of 7 to 9 on my 10-point scale. Some of the best were India Pelican Ale from Pelican Pub & Brewery in Pacific City, Ore.; Black Ice Imperial Stout from Santa Barbara Brewing Company; Lou P Lin from Pizza Port Solana Beach; and Ruination from Stone Brewing Company. Check out pizzaport.com for information on upcoming festivals.

Fortunately, more craft brewers are adding real ale to their repertoire.

Speaking of Pizza Port, some major personnel changes have been made there. First, longtime Solana Beach brewer Tomme Arthur has been named director of brewing operations. Arthur is tasked with overseeing the operations of the three Pizza Port locations.

Second, Kirk McHale, brewer at Pizza Port Carlsbad and Pizza Port San Clemente, is no longer with the company. Replacing McHale for the interim are three well-known local brewers. At Carlsbad, brewing duties will be shared by Tom Nickel, O’Brien’s publican and former brewer with the Oggi’s chain; and Skip Virgilio, formerly of AleSmith Brewing Company and Pacific Beach Brewhouse. Jeff Bagby, current Oggi’s brewer at the Vista and Carmel Mountain Ranch locations and former assistant to Arthur in Solana Beach, is taking on the brewing chores in San Clemente. Arthur and Assistant Brewer Jeff Helms will continue brewing at Solana Beach.

Arthur stresses that it will be business as usual at all three pubs. All of the beers that the public has come to know and love are still available in all three pubs. Arthur is currently accepting and reviewing applications for a full-time brewer position.

Also, Pizza Port is considering expanding its brewing operations. A larger off-site production brewery would allow Port Brewing to produce more of its award-winning beers for draft and bottle accounts.

La Jolla Brewery has opened in the site that formerly housed the On Tap! Bistro and Brewery in University Towne Centre. The new brewery restaurant has a similar menu to that of its predecessor. I recently stopped in for a sampler set that included six new beers. My pick for best of the lot was the brown ale. More on this brewery to follow in future issues.

Lastly, two popular beer festivals are coming soon. Stone Brewing Company’s ninth anniversary party will be held at the new Stone brewery in Escondido on Saturday, September 10. There will be two three-hour sessions. Last year’s fest was so crowded that the fest has been split into two sessions to help reduce the long lines for beer. Go to stonebrew.com for more info.

The San Diego Festival of beer will be held Friday, September 23, at the corner of Columbia and B Streets in downtown San Diego. Expect 50 breweries at the 11th annual version of this fest. Go to sdbeerfest.org for more information.

La Jolla Brewery
4353 La Jolla Village Dr.
San Diego, CA 92122
(858) 587-6677

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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