Beer Birthday: Brandon Hernández

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Today is the 40th (maybe) birthday of Brandon Hernández, who is the Marketing Manager for AleSmith Brewing, but was a beer writer long before joining AleSmith, and continues to write for the San Diego Reader and the West Coaster, as well as other publications. And he’s published the Complete Guide to San Diego Breweries. For a time, he was the Senior Communications Specialist for Stone Brewing, but left to join AleSmith. I run into Brandon fairly regularly at beer functions and he’s become one of my favorite people to hang out with. Join me in wishing Brandon a very happy birthday.

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Nice towering press photo of Brandon.

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With fellow writers at the opening event for the CBC in Washington, DC in 2013. From left, Stephen Beaumont, me, Steve Shapiro, Gail Williams, Brandon and Chuck Cook.

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At Churchill’s in San Diego with Tomme Arthur in 2012.

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With a bevy of Celebrator writers in Chico for Beer Camp #93 in late 2012, to make a beer celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Celebrator Beer News. That’s Brandon sporting blond hair fourth from the left.

[Note: photos 1 and 3 were purloined from Facebook.]

Beer Birthday: Paul Sangster

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Today is the birthday of Paul Sangster, who is the brewmaster of Rip Current Brewing in San Marcos, California and a co-founder with his partner Guy Shobe. By a strange coincidence, Guy’s sister is our neighbor across the street at the home we bought nearly five years ago and his niece is one of my daughter’s best friends. So I’ve met Paul and Guy a couple of time now, and it was great seeing them win big at the 2015 GABF. Paul is a longtime San Diego homebrewer and won numerous awards before leaving his career in 2014 to turn pro.

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Picking up a medal at the 2015 GABF awards. That’s Paul in the center next to Charlie Papazian, and his business partner Guy to Charlie’s right.

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The Rip Current crew off the stage.

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On stage again, winning Very Small Brewing Company of the Year in 2015.

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Winning his third straight brewing machine award at the AFC in his final homebrewing competition before opening his own brewery [photo purloined from Facebook].

Beer Birthday: Dr. Bill

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Today is also the 54th birthday of William Sysak, better known to the beer community as Dr. Bill. Dr. Bill’s massive tastings are the stuff of legends, and he’s now transported them — albeit on a smaller scale — to working at Stone Brewing’s World Bistro & Gardens. He has impeccable taste, be it in beer, wine, whisky, cigars, what have you, and is one of the most fun people to taste with. Join me in wishing Bill a very happy birthday.

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Dr. Bill and me sharing a plate of frites before the final judging at the Hard Liver Barleywine Festival in 2008.

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Dr. Bill with Matt Bonney, from Brouwer’s/Bottleworks in Seattle at Slow Food Nation 2008 at Fort Mason.

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Dr. Bill at Falling Rock, hosting one of his legendary tastings, during GABF in 2006.

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Dr. Bill’s player’s card when he joined Stone Brewing.

Beer Birthday: Travis Smith

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Today is also the 37th birthday of Travis Smith, who’s a co-founder of Societe Brewing Co. in San Diego. Before that, Travis brewed at Russian River Brewing for a number of years, before moving south, where he brewed at both The Bruery and the La Jolla Brewhouse. His brewery has quickly become one of the destination spots in San Diego, and his beers are especially tasty, standing out in the area surrounded by numerous great breweries. Join me in wishing Travis a very happy birthday.

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Travis “MacGyver” Smith showing off the cork gun he made with spare brewing parts lying around the Russian River brewpub. It shot a beer cork a pretty fair distance and would pierce cardboard at 100 feet.

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Travis with Patrick Rue, from The Bruery, at GABF in 2009.

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Agostino Arioli, from Birrificio Italiano in northern Italy, with Vinnie Cilurzo and Travis, at Russian River Brewing in 2008 working on a fun collaboration beer, La Fleuette.

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Travis behind the handmade redwood bar at Societe a few days before they opened.

Beer Birthday: Chris White

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Today is the 48th birthday of Chris White. Chris founded the yeast company White Labs in 1995 and he’s also on the faculty of the Siebel Institute. He’s also a fixture at virtually every brewing industry and homebrewing conference, and was kind enough to talk to my SSU beer appreciation class about yeast. Join me in wishing Chris a very happy birthday.

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Chris and his brother Mike bookending Chuck, from Green Fash Brewing, Natalie Cilurzo, from Russian River Brewing, John Harris, from Full Sail Brewing, and Vinnie Cilurzo, also from Russian River, at CBC in Austin, Texas in 2007.

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Chris at the new White Labs taproom during the Craft Brewers Conference a couple of years ago in San Diego.

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Surly brewer Todd Haug with Chris.

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Chris with Technical Sales and Marketing Coordinator Ashley Paulsworth at the NHC.

[Note: last two photos purloined from Facebook.]

Beer Birthday: Jeff Bagby

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Today is the 42nd birthday of Jeff Bagby, who until a few years ago was the head brewer extraordinaire at Pizza Port in Carlsbad. There, you used to be able to read the entire biography of Jeff “Extra Spicy” Bagby. I’m not sure when it was written, but it’s no longer there, but it ended with the following sentence. “Jeff has his sights set on winning a GABF Brewpub of the Year award and we most definitely believe it is in his future as well.” Six years ago at GABF, Jeff won an amazing seven medals and Pizza Port Carlsbad was awarded the Large Brewpub and Large Brewpub Brewer of the Year. That means his plaid pants got to go up on stage a record eight times! You can see a retrospective of Jeff’s plaid choices over the years, too, at Jeff “Lucky Pants” Babgy Wins Big. Once he started working on opening his own brewery, I suggested he should consider “Plaid Brewing” or some variation of that idea, like “Plaid Pants Brewing” or “Lucky Plaid Brewing.” Unfortunately, he went with a more sensible Bagby Beer Co., which opened two years ago. All, well some, kidding aside, Jeff is a terrific brewer and a hell of a washoes player, though I still think Dave Keene and I could beat him and Tomme again. Join me in wishing Jeff a very happy birthday.

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Jeff with his then-girlfriend, now wife, Dande at GABF a few years ago. And yes, those are his lucky pants.

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Greg Koch and Jeff at the Falling Rock.

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Former Drake’s brewer Melissa Myers with Jeff at an event at Anchor celebrating the Toronado’s 20th anniversary.

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Sam Calagione, Bruce Paton and Jeff at the Lost Abbey for a beer dinner during CBC.

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Jeff at the Toronado for the annual Belgian Beer Dinner in 2012, with owner Dave Keene wearing his “Who the F@#k is Jeff Bagby?” T-shirt.

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Dandelian and Jeff Bagby in the upstairs loft dining area of their new brewery. The plaid back of the bench seating was inspired by Jeff’s winning plaid pants that he used to wear for GABF award ceremonies, as I detailed several years ago in Jeff “Lucky Pants” Bagby Wins Big.

Beer Birthday: Pat McIllhenney

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Today is the 62nd birthday of Pat McIllhenney, brewmaster and founder of Alpine Beer Co. near San Diego. Pat makes some amazing hoppy beers. Unfortunately, his beers are hard to find up our way, but that hopefully will be improving since last year Alpine was acquired by Green Flash Brewing. Join me in wishing Pat a very happy birthday.

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Pat manning his booth at the Firestone Walker Invitational.

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Pat at GABF in 2008.

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Pat at the Boonville Beer Festival, also in 2008.

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Pat with Tomme Arthur at the inaugural Firestone Walker Invitational four years ago.

Beer Birthday: Steve Wagner

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Today is Steve Wagner’s 58th birthday. Steve is a co-founder of Stone Brewing and the president of the California Craft Brewers Association. In the late 1980s, Steve was a member of the band “The Balancing Act,” who put out several albums on I.R.S. Records. Now he just presides over one of the most successful microbreweries in the U.S. Join me in wishing Steve a very happy birthday.

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Mitch Steele, Stone Brewing’s brewmaster, with Steve, at CBC when it was in Austin, Texas.

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The Stone crew: Arlan Arnsten, Steve and Greg Koch at CBC in San Diego 2008.

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With Stone Brewing co-founder Greg Koch in a publicity shot (by John Schulz Photography).

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The day after we tried all of Stone’s Vertical Epic’s in San Diego; with Steve, me, Joe Tucker, Jason and Todd Alstrom and Greg Koch.

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Lee Chase with Steve on April 14, 1999 celebrating their first bottling run on their then new Maheen bottler. [Note: photos purloined from Stone Brewing’s website.]

Beer Birthday: Lee Chase

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Today is the 43rd birthday of Lee Chase, co-owner of Blind Lady Ale House in San Diego, and brewer at Automatic Brewing, located in the Blind Lady’s back room, and brewery consultant to the stars. Chase was also the head brewer at Stone Brewing for nearly a decade and oversaw the building and installation of the new brewery in Escondido. Lee’s a terrific brewer and a great beer ambassador, and also great fun to hang out with a share a pint, which I was able to do a few Decembers ago at the Stone Vertical Epic Tasting. Please join me in wishing Lee a very happy birthday.

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Lee at Beer School for CitySearch San Diego in 2008.

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Lee, with Meg Gill, Garrett Marrero and Matthew Brynildson at CBC in San Diego a few years ago.

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Greg Koch and Lee at the Stone 5th Anniversary Open House Celebration, which later became the “Stone Anniversary Celebration & Invitational Beer Festival.”

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Lee with Stone co-founder Steve Wagner on April 14, 1999 celebrating their first bottling run on their then new Maheen bottler. [Note: photos purloined from Facebook & Stone Brewing.]

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Lee, and several other Stone employees, along with some other beer people, around 1996.

10 Barrel Hoping To Open San Diego Brewpub

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You’ve probably heard the rumors and the news that 10 Barrel Brewing, acquired by Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2014, is trying to open a new brewpub location, this one in San Diego, California. Today I received a press release from ABI, detailing the trouble they’ve met in trying to expand into the Southern California market. Here’s what they had to say:

This will be the first non-craft brewery, per the Brewers Association’s definition of a craft brewer, to expand into San Diego — which is already home to 117 local craft breweries, with 40 more in planning. The news has been met with strong opposition from members of San Diego’s craft beer community, including the San Diego Brewers Guild, who’s mission is to promote awareness and increase the visibility of fresh, locally brewed beer.

10 Barrel has applied for a permit to construct a brewpub in San Diego’s burgeoning East Village, at 1501 E Street, and has proposed a “full-service restaurant with accessory alcohol manufacturing.”

Today, February 17th, representatives of 10 Barrel will present on behalf of the project to the Downtown Community Planning Council (DCPC), an advisory group, and a decision is expected soon.

Apparently, the biggest opposition they’ve received is from local brewers already in the market, in the guise of the San Diego Brewers Guild. This is setting up to be an interesting battle. San Diego business owners clearly want to keep their local angle for the businesses, though how that will square with the acquisition of Saint Archer by MillerCoors remains to be seen.

Curiously, ABI’s press release also includes that opposition, in fact is more than half of what I received, giving voice to their complaints. According to them, “Representatives of the San Diego Brewers Guild, including President Emeritas Kevin Hopkins, will speak at the meeting on behalf of the Guild,” and also circulated the guild’s official statement:

“The acquisitions that transacted last year and the news of AB-InBev’s intentions to open up in San Diego through 10 Barrel highlights the fact that San Diego is truly a world-class brewing center. That reputation is due to the hard work of locally-owned breweries and the San Diego Brewers Guild. Historically, it has been independent brewers who have built the thriving beer community that San Diego is now known for around the world. The risk underlying the acquisition of breweries by large, international corporations and the risk of businesses like the proposed 10 Barrel brewpub in San Diego is that beer drinkers here may think that when they patronize these businesses, and buy and drink beer, that they are supporting the local brewing community. That is not the case. Should the 10 Barrel project open in San Diego as proposed, consumers need to know that it is owned by Anheuser-Busch and not a local craft brewery or a craft brewery in general. Now more than ever, with the introduction of non-craft breweries to San Diego’s craft landscape, it is important to continue to support locally owned and operated San Diego breweries, like the brewer members in the San Diego Brewers Guild.”

I’m a little baffled by that. Are they looking for sympathy for their cause. On one hand it’s certainly understandable that San Diego brewers would prefer to not have a carpetbagger come into their midst, but as Thorn Street Brewery owner Eric O’Connor said in a letter of opposition, “large companies have the right to open and operate where they see fit.” I’m sure I’d feel the same way, but I’m not sure what anyone could do about it. As long as consumers support the venture, it will continue to thrive. If everyone agreed to not patronize it because its ownership wasn’t local, it would likely have to close. But how realistic is that? I’m not trying to be difficult, I honestly don’t know. We all talk a good game about supporting local and not spending money with breweries who’s ownership has changed and/or is not to our individual liking. But Goose Island, 10 Barrel and even Blue Moon continue to do quite well despite all the foot stomping. And this is not a new problem. People said the same thing about Redhook and Widmer when ABI acquired just a minority interest in them in 1994, and both are still in business over twenty years later, so I’m not sure a boycott would really work, nor could this sort of hand-wringing do any good.

In O’Connor’s letter, he adds that if 10 Barrel does come, “there should be complete transparency of who the ownership is and where the money is going.” But isn’t there already? Don’t we already know that ABI owns 10 Barrel and that’s, of course, where the money will go. MillerCoors isn’t hiding the fact that they own Blue Moon, or Saint Archer. Likewise, it’s not exactly a secret who owns Goose Island, Blue Point, or Shock Top. But that’s because there’s a tiny sliver of the market that actually pays attention to who owns what. Most of the world is busy doing something else, living their lives, and drinking whatever they want, oblivious.

And believe me, my sympathies are with the San Diego brewers, but I don’t see what they can really do. ABI also included a pdf of all the complaints their plans have received, including letters from other local bars and brewers. The gist of them is that “beer drinkers here in San Diego may think that when they patronize a business like what 10 Barrel is proposing, and when they buy and drink 10 Barrel’s beer, that they are supporting the local brewing community.” And they’re probably right to be concerned about that, but I think it’s more of a problem because most people don’t care as deeply about that as we do. Mike Sardinia, president of the guild, insists “it is vital that consumers need to know that it is owned by Anheuser-Busch and not a locally operated brewery.” In his conclusion, he warns that “[i]t is important that the City not make it easy for Anheuser-Busch to open in San Diego without due diligence and without a full review of its application and its intentions with the 10 Barrel project.”

The irony there is that in the early days, small brewers were complaining that it wasn’t fair how difficult the then Big 3 (Bud, Miller and Coors) made it for them to obtain distribution, tap handles and generally succeed in a market that they dominated. I’m certainly glad we have more power now, and have, in many cases, succeeded spectacularly, but I’m still not sure this, while understandable, is the best way to use it.

Last month, Peter Rowe, in the San Diego Union-Tribune, asked rhetorically, An Anheuser-Busch brewpub for San Diego? Toward the end, he even mentions that “some threaten to picket and boycott 10 Barrel, when and if it opens,” which also seems silly. If people in San Diego, like most places, are really as supportive of local-only businesses then it will fail all by itself. But I think the real fear is that everybody loves the locals on Twitter, or Facebook, or when answering a pollster, but not when it comes to reality. Like it or not, national brands in every industry are popular precisely because they’re familiar, widely available and the same everywhere. It’s certainly true that artisanal products, like cheese, chocolate, bread, etc. are all doing great, but the big brands are still the big brands, just like with craft beer. Dents have been made, but they still have a majority marketshare.

But headlines about this from mainstream news are along the lines of Local craft brewers to Anheuser-Busch: Keep out. It feels strange to side with the big guys but it doesn’t feel like they’re doing anything particularly wrong here. I understand opposing this or even working together to promote their own local-ness as a positive attribute, but this feels like a case when turnabout isn’t fair play. We should be better than that. If San Diego brewers are making great beer — and they are — and if people in their market are willing to support them, then this is something that will take care of itself, and that, I think should be the goal.