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San Diego Beer News

SD Homebrew Festival and Competition Returns on March 10

Feb 2

Winners of the 2017 SD Homebrew Fest’s Competition (left to right) Darrel Brown (1st place), Doug Brown (3rd place), and Sean Thompson (2nd place)

The premier homebrewing event in the region, The San Diego Homebrew Festival and Competition, will take place on March 10th in the lot behind the historic North Park Theatre building (the future site of the North Park “Mini-park”), from noon until 4:00 PM! This will mark the third annual Homebrew Fest, and a significant expansion from its predecessors, featuring more homebrewers, more licensed brewers, and more food vendors. For a measly $35, guests receive unlimited tastes of more than forty different brews of every imaginable style.

This year, 35 homebrewers will compete for bragging rights as San Diego’s best backyard brewmeister. In addition, ten local licensed breweries will contribute kegs, and three food vendors will be on hand to feed the adventurous beerheads. Among the licensed brewers, we are proud to include Savagewood Brewing Company, owned by Darrel Brown, who launched the brand after winning last year’s Homebrew Fest. Brews will be judged by trained experts, and the winners will be announced at the end of the event.

In addition to beer and food, guests can also participate in games, a silent auction, a chance to vote for the People’s Choice award, and of course, plenty of opportunities to nerd out with local beer experts.

Not only will you enjoy a truly unique experience that stands out from the ubiquitous, generic craft brew fests in San Diego; you will do so knowing that all the proceeds go toward supporting North Park’s neighborhood public school, Jefferson Elementary.  Friends of Jefferson, the beneficiary of this fundraiser, is a non-profit foundation that supports education and enrichment programs at Jefferson that are not covered by the School District budget, including weekly gardening classes, art classes, after-school clubs, and more. Jefferson Elementary is a SDUSD public school in which more than 70% of students are eligible for free meals; and given the District’s ongoing budget woes, community support for public schools like Jefferson is more crucial than ever.  Community partners including Homebrew Fest sponsors Waypoint Public, The Homebrewer, Community Realty Co, North Park Lions Club, Damian Luna Designs, KFMB and The CW, and Observatory North Park have been invaluable in the efforts to expand opportunities for Jefferson students.

This is a sponsored post by The San Diego Homebrew Festival & Competition.
For more information and tickets, go to

Beer of the Week: Horton’s Hef

Feb 2

Horton’s Hef from The Bell Marker in downtown San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter

From the Beer Writer: Back when I was just ankle-deep into the craft-beer waters that would one day consume me, not as many beer styles were available as there are today. IPAs were fewer and you could almost always count on a venue offering three ubiquitous styles: amber ale, stout and hefeweizen. The latter was my favorite type of beer early on. I enjoyed their trademark banana-and-clove character and added body. Today, nearly every beer style known to mankind is being brewed, with new sub-styles being created on the reg. Hefeweizens are still around. They’re still rather popular…just not in San Diego. For whatever reason, few local breweries venture into this wheaty Germanic territory, which made me all the happier on my first visit to The Bell Marker. This downtown brewpub opened last month pouring the initial liquid stock of head brewer (and former Pizza Port standout) Noah Regnery, my favorite of which was The Bell Marker Horton’s Hef. It showed up at my table with all the cloudiness of a hazy IPA, and even some of the lemon-zest notes one might encounter with that New World style. But on the palate, it was all Old World…and old San Diego (if the late-nineties is really all that “old”…no need to chime in on that, thanks). Banana bread and light clove came on with the slightest touch of orange, all delivered on a creamy Bavarian wave.

From the Brewer: “Horton’s Hef is a traditional, Bavarian-style wheat beer with notes of banana and clove. It pours hazy yellow with a soft, pillowy head and lively carbonation. The style is beautiful in it’s simplicity as the vast majority of it’s character is derived from the yeast. The name is a nod to nearby Horton Plaza, which itself was named for Alonzo Horton, a man largely credited with the founding and development of San Diego. Here at The Bell Marker we will aim to specialize in classic beer styles, of course adding our own twists along the way. Our lineup will vary from time to time and feature myriad styles, from German, to English, to Belgian, and of course there will be no shortage of hoppy offerings.”—Noah Regnery, Head Brewer, The Bell Marker

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The Bell Marker lures more Pizza Port talent

Feb 2

The Bell Marker brewer Ignacio “Nacho” Cervantes

Last month, The Bell Marker debuted in the former home of defunct Gaslamp Quarter brewpub, The Beer Co. While little was known about the project leading up to its opening, one solitary fact created a great deal of optimism for fans of San Diego beer: Noah Regnery was helming brewing operations.

Regnery is well known locally for the many award-winning beers he crafted while a member of the Pizza Port brewpub chain. The highlight of his success with that organization was winning Small Brewpub of the Year for its San Clemente location at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival (GABF). He left the company in 2011 to become head brewer at Hollister Brewing Company in Goleta, California. Following that, he moved to Healdsburg to help run his family’s restaurant before accepting a director position with Los Angeles-based Artisanal Brewers Collective, the parent company of The Bell Marker.

Today, news broke that another key member of the Pizza Port team is joining The Bell Marker brewing team. Ignacio “Nacho” Cervantes has resigned from the company he spent the past 11 years at to assist Regnery. It’s a high-profile move for a high-profile brewer who previously oversaw Pizza Port’s Carlsbad and Ocean Beach brewpubs.

During his tenure with Pizza Port, Cervantes earned gold and bronze medals at GABF as well as a pair of awards at the bi-annual international equivalent of that competition, the World Beer Cup. Acquiring this talented brewer’s services is quite the coup and will undoubtedly draw interested beer enthusiasts to the spacious downtown brewpub.

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Plates & Pints: Tommy Morstad @ BLAH

Feb 2

Tommy Morstad at Blind Lady Ale House. Photo by Keaton Henson

When former Stone brewmaster Lee Chase opened the doors to Blind Lady Ale House back in 2009, neither it nor its Normal Heights environs looked all that different than they do now, but the beer-and-food landscape was worlds different back then. Craft beer was on the rise and, slowly but surely, eateries celebrating that liquid medium were popping up around San Diego, but finding a restaurant that put equal focus on beer and food was a bit challenging. The arrival of Blind Lady (or BLAH as it’s affectionately known), a seemingly simple spot offering artisanal Napoletana pizza and an epic assemblage of ales and lagers, gave foodies and beer nerds alike a dependable, approachable and very welcome haven.

Tommy Morstad was sous to then exec-toque Aaron Lamonica in those early days, a time he refers to as the most special moments of his career. This, even though he proceeded to earn numerous awards after moving on to cook for Daniel Reed Hospitality in Savannah, Georgia in 2011, before returning to San Diego to work for Blue Bridge Hospitality in 2013. It’s the affection he harbored for BLAH that led him to accept an invitation to return, this time as executive chef. He’s been in charge ever since and, though much time has passed, not much has changed in the back of the house either. The past nine years have been more a period of refinement than revamping.

“Pretty much everything we do now, we were doing day one, but we are doing it better and more efficiently now,” says Morstad, who says the best part of returning is the like-minded and skilled individuals he gets to work with. BLAH has been a fully-from-scratch, authentic-as-possible operation since day one. From in-house curing of charcuterie meats to the use of DOP Italian products and devotion to supporting local farmers—they have never sourced from Sysco or US Foods—BLAH’s culinary staff has maintained the noble, heartfelt course it charted nine years ago.

Photo by Keaton Henson

“We started out using as many local farms as we could, many of them as they were just opening, and we have continued that tradition ever since, developing meaningful relationships with many local farmers,” says Morstad. Among those purveyors were Suzie’s Farms, Sage Mountain Farm, Wild Willow Farm, Stehly Farms, Be Wise Ranch, Life’s a Choke Farm, New Roots Community Farm and Crow’s Pass Farm. “We’ve always strived to be true to the community and our neighborhood by serving fresh, sustainable local food in a casual setting at accessible prices.”

Though, for many, BLAH’s initial draw was a worldly beer list masterfully curated by Chase and company, and eventually beers brewed via the former’s in-house and often outlandish fermentation component, Automatic Brewing Company, patrons quickly fell for the dishes coming from its kitchen. In addition to authentic Napoletana-style pizza, that included an array of vegetarian and vegan dishes that made it easy for people of any dietary ilk to enjoy good food and good beer. In addition to menu compatibility, the communal nature of BLAH’s dining room keeps things light and fun.

Photo by Keaton Henson

“Eating should instigate conversation and drive people together. It’s important to all of us—the staff and the owners—to involve our customers in how we run things here. They guide us and we guide them. It’s a real give and take,” says Morstad, who has decided to go all-in with the give part of that equation by offering three recipes from BLAH’s playbook.

The first is for “vesto,” a vegan pesto that serves as the condiment for a pizza Morstad and Chase say pairs well with The Apprentice IPA from Societe Brewing. The other two are a Green Goddess dressing and pickled carrots, both of which make it into a farro salad the duo likes to serve alongside La Vie En Rose Saison from Pure Project Brewing. Make them yourself or drop into BLAH for a taste of the genuine article, perhaps during their ninth-anniversary festivities, taking place from February 19 to 25.

(Click for recipes below)
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Craft Q&A: Grant Tondro

Feb 2

Partner, 3 Local Brothers Restaurant Group

Prime geography in San Diego proper nabs the rapidly expanding hospitality empires of the Consortium Holdings and Cohn Restaurant Groups of the world a lot of attention. Meanwhile, 3 Local Brothers Restaurant Group has rather quietly built itself up from a soft-spoken wine-centric neighborhood eatery in Rancho Bernardo to a half-dozen diverse concepts that includes multiple brewpubs, a coffee roaster and one of the largest restaurants in the county. And, oh yeah, they have a combination resto and tasting room launching in Carmel Valley this spring, another restaurant under construction in Baja and a newly established beer distribution company. With all that going on, we sat down with co-founder Grant Tondro to inquire about the latest and greatest in the 3LB universe.

What will the Carmel Valley project entail?
We’ve always wanted to do a second location of our first place, The Barrel Room, but have been pretty busy growing Urge and launching Mason Ale Works the last couple of years. Our new spots will be at 5550 Carmel Mountain Road. The Barrel Room will be about 5,000 square feet, which is about 50% larger than its predecessor with a nice patio that wraps around the dining room. It will have a full liquor license, unlike the first location, and a banquet room. Chef Trevor Chappell will leave his post at the original Barrel Room to helm kitchen operations at the new spot. Attached to the new space will be a Mason Tap Works and Kitchen, a tasting room for all things Mason Ale Works but with a small, streamlined kitchen for patrons. Chef Trevor will be overseeing an in-house charcuterie program inside the space, so we will have some amazing meats and cheeses as well as flatbreads, sandwiches and a few other small, shareable items that pair well with our beers. We were careful to select a location for Tap Works that was far away from accounts that are currently buying our beers. We don’t want to be competition for our supporters, but want to bring awesome craft beer to a beer desert while familiarizing more people with Mason. It will also give us an outlet for more of our small-batch beers that our head brewer Matt Webster has been working on and aging in barrels for the last year.

What will the Carmel Valley tasting room look like and when is its projected opening time frame?
A lot of the design will be inspired by the San Marcos Urge Common House location—industrial with rolled steel and rivets, Edison bulbs, some white subway tile and some of my favorites like black walnut table tops from North Carolina and these hand-hammered, distressed yellow table bases for a pop of color. There will be 20 taps of core and specialty beers as well as plenty of one-off beers to go. It’s projected to open in late March or early April.

What led 3LB to start a distribution company and open a bar across the border?
Mexico is a fascinating market and I will be the first to admit that I was skeptical. It was really my business partner, Zak Higson, who was banging the drum in the beginning of 2017 to get things going. There is a very underrepresented segment of the market down there that is thirsty for craft beer, and some great up-and-coming breweries that are responding to that demand. That being said, there are some challenges with starting a craft brewery in Mexico and quality assurance can be a challenge. We’d already had a few bars bring our beer south the old-fashioned way, so we felt like starting a distributorship was the next logical step. Once we were working on that, the conversation led to the types of things we would have liked to have seen from a distributor in the US, and a spinoff conversation started around doing a tap room to show off the brands in our portfolio. That, in true 3LB fashion, grew to what is currently under construction, which is a full restaurant with 20 taps.

Including your own distribution company’s territory, where all is Mason available now?
We are currently distributed throughout Southern California, Arizona and Mexico—predominantly Baja for now. We just launched Colorado and Northern California, and are planning on adding Idaho and Nevada distribution by the third quarter of this year. We’ve had conversations about additional states, but we are probably in a wait-and-see mode after this additional pickup.

It sounds odd to ask, but is there anything else exciting going on?
This year will be about growing our selections, both in-house and for distribution. Each month in 2018, Mason Ale Works will release one new beer into the general market and one new beer each week into our restaurants. The barrel-aged beers and sours will start to come out in April. We are working on getting our retail license in San Marcos as well so that we can do brewery releases, too.

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