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Posts Tagged ‘craft beer’

Interview with “Teachings From the Tap” Author Merideth Canham-Nelson

I chatted with northern California writer Merideth, about her new book Teachings From the Tap: Life Lessons From Our Year in Beer (Beer Trekker Press, 2012), as well as her thoughts on West Coast craft beer.

Beer West: What first got you interested in beer and writing about beer?

Merideth: My husband Chris, and I were lucky enough to live in Oakland in the early 1990s. This was a time when “micro-brewed” beer was gaining momentum. Turning 21 in the right place at the right time was the perfect combination for becoming a craft beer lover. Writing about our beer travels came about five years ago. We already offered blogs and videos on our website thebeekgeek.com and writing a book was an outlet for telling more personal, in-depth stories about our beer travel experiences.

BW: What have you learned about both yourself and beer while writing this book?

M: Over the years we have met some truly amazing beer people—beer experts, judges, and industry historians, as well as brewers and home brewers. As a beer traveler I didn’t fit into any of these established niches and it left me questioning what I had to offer the beer community. While writing the book, I came to understand and embrace my unique contribution. Through telling tales of our beer travels, I could hopefully inspire others to discover their own beer adventures.

BW: What was the most influential moment during your beer travels?

M: In 1998, Chris and I traveled to Ireland, our first overseas adventure. We left just after Christmas, the weather was cold, rainy, and windy, but it couldn’t have been more perfect. Enjoying a Guinness in a cozy Irish pub with a turf burning stove showed us the importance of drinking a beer within its own context. We instantly fell in love with international travel and have been over seas more than two dozen times since then.

BW: What inspired you to begin this journey?

M: In the early 1990s, I worked at Barclay’s Restaurant & Pub in Oakland, one of the first multi-taps in the Bay Area. I wanted to be knowledgeable about the 28 rotating beers I served, so my husband suggested visiting the breweries. Our travels started out as day trips and weekend getaways, and then expanded across the country and eventually to international destinations. Over 700 breweries later, it’s safe to say that our beer travel is a full-blown obsession.

BW: Out of the 700 breweries that you have visited around the world, which is your favorite?

M: Andechs, located south of Munich, is my all-time favorite. I am extremely partial to Bavarian culture, food, and beer, and Andechs embodies all those things. We have visited during the winter when snow covers the ground, the air is crisp, and the small crowd gathered inside sports an average age of 70. We have also been there in the summer when the sun-filled patio is jam-packed with young, jubilant tourists. Always a fun time!

BW: What is your favorite West Coast brewery and beer?

M: Magnolia in San Francisco is the whole package—fantastic beer, remarkable food, and an amazing location. They’ve created a neo-hippie atmosphere without smelling like patchouli. My favorite beer tends to rotate with the seasons, but a perennial favorite is Magnolia’s Kalifornia Kölsch. It’s a clean brew with a refreshing flavor and nothing to hide.

Check out Merideth’s book Teachings From the Tap: Life Lessons From Our Year in Beer (Beer Trekker Press, 2012) available on Amazon now. Stay updated with Merideth, her husband Chris, and all things beer at thebeergeek.com.

West Coast Breweries Clean up at World Beer Cup

OK, so maybe this is old news to some of you, but for those of you who didn’t have the pleasure of attending the 2o12 World Beer Cup in sunny San Diego last weekend, here’s a recap of the West Coast winners. And extra super special shout out to super young breweries Sound Brewing (WA), Columbia River Brewing (OR), The Commons Brewery (OR), Breakside Brewing (OR), and Logsdon Farmhouse Ales (OR) for their first WBC medals.

According to The Weekly Pint: “This year there were 211 judges from 27 countries tasting blind; 2/3 of the judges were non-U.S. to balance results in the age of American craft brew—and macro brew—dominance, with gold, silver, and bronze medals awarded in 95 distinct beer styles. The average number of entries per style: 41. And how about this for a tap list: there were 3,921 beers judged from 799 breweries in 54 countries (and 45 U.S. states). In addition, honors for best brewery and brewmaster combo were awarded as usual, a highly coveted honor reserved for the end of festivities.”

What to do with this (in no particular order list)? Seek and find the beers! Have fun!

Brewery Winners:

Brewers Association World Beer Cup 2012 Champion Brewery and Brewmaster

Mid-size Brewing Company
Firestone Walker Brewing Company
Paso Robles, CA
Matthew Brynildson

Brewers Association World Beer Cup 2012 Champion Brewery and Brewmaster

Large Brewpub
Pelican Pub & Brewery, Pacific City, OR
Darron R S Welch

Washington winners

Fish Brewing/Leavenworth, Dunkelweizen

Elysian, Great Pumpkin

BJ’s-Tacoma, Got Beer

Fremont Brewing, Bourbon Abominable Winter Ale

Black Raven Brewing, Great Grandfather Raven

Silver City, Winter Bock

Redhook Ale Brewery, Nut Brown Ale

Sound Brewery, Poundage Porter

Silver City Brewing, Old Scrooge

Pike Brewing, Pike XXXXX Extra Stout

Silver City Brewery, Imperial Stout

Oregon winners

Hop Valley, DD Blonde

Columbia River Brewing, Drunken Elf Stout

Upright Brewing, Oyster Stout

Bend Brewing, Ching Ching

Columbia River Brewing, Stumblers Stout

Pelican Pub & Brewery, Stormwatcher’s Winterfest

Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, Peche ‘n Brett

The Commons Brewery, Urban Farmhouse Ale

Laurelwood Brewing, Mother Lode Golden Ale

Pelican Pub & Brewery, MacPelican’s Scottish Style Ale

Caldera Brewing, Caldera Ashland Amber

Breakside Brewing, Breakside Dry Stout

California winners

Rock Bottom-La Jolla, Longboard Brown Ale

Bayhawk Ales, Chocolate Porter

21st Amendment, Hqt

AleSmith Brewing, AleSmith Decadence 2010 Old Ale

AleSmith Brewing, AleSmith Old Numbskull

Alpine, Odin’s Raven

Third Street Aleworks, Blarney Sisters Dry Irish Stout

Left Coast Brewing Co., Voo Doo

Island Brewing, Starry Night Stout

Mad River Brewing, Steelhead Extra Pale

Beachwood BBQ & Brewing, Foam Top

Firestone Walker, Mission Street Pale

Firestone Walker, Pale 31

Green Flash, Palate Wrecker

Pizza Port Carlsbad, Poor Man’s IPA

Half Moon Bay Brewing, Mavericks Amber Ale

Sierra Nevada, Bigfoot

Pizza Port Carlsbad, Great American Brown

Pizza Port Ocean Beach, Tarantulas 2.0

Bear Republic, Black Racer

Pizza Port Ocean Beach, Achievement Beyond Life’s Experiences American Stout Brit Antrim Benefit Beer

Pizza Port San Clemente, Nerf Herder

Pizza Port San Clemente, Way Heavy

Oggi’s Pizza & Brewery, Alyssa’s Attitude

The Bruery, Melange #1

Mammoth Brewing, Double Nut Brown

Pizza Port San Clemente, Pier Rat Porter

Feather Falls Casino Brewing Co., Blackjack Stout

The Lost Abbey, Carnevale

The Lost Abbey, Gift of the Magi

The Bruery, Oude Tart

Sierra Nevada, Ovila Dubbel

Karl Strauss, Two Tortugas Belgian Quad

Karl Strauss, Red Trolley Ale

Telegraph Brewing, Rhinoceros

Rock Bottom-Long Beach, Rocktoberfest

Lucky Hand Beer, Cali Common

Third Street Aleworks, Annadel Pale Ale

Firestone Walker, 805 IPA

Mammoth Brewing Co, Real McCoy Amber

The Bruery, Hottenroth Berliner Weisse

Pizza Port Ocean Beach, Bacon and Eggs Breakfast Coffee Imperial Porter

FiftyFifty Brewing, Donner Party Porter

Hangar 24 Craft Brewery, Hangar 24 Winter Warmer

Sierra Nevada, Kellerweis

Marin Brewing, Star Brew

Manzanita Brewing, Where There’s Smoke…

Telegraph Brewing, Petit Obscura

Green Flash, Green Flash Brewing Co.

Russian River, Supplication

Whew, that’s quite a list, and a lot of beers to sample. For the complete list of 2012 World Beer Cup winners, click here.

Brewers Association releases Top 50 Breweries in 2011

Because we have a crush on craft beer, we’re just going to focus on that list. For a full list of overall top breweries in 2011, check here.

PS-This list is based on 2011 beer sales volume.

The Brewers Association’s Top 50 U.S. Craft Brewing Companies


Rank Brewing Company City State
1 Boston Beer Co. Boston MA
2 Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Chico CA
3 New Belgium Brewing Co. Fort Collins CO
4 The Gambrinus Company San Antonio TX
5 Deschutes Brewery Bend OR
6 Matt Brewing Co. Utica NY
7 Bell’s Brewery, Inc. Galesburg MI
8 Harpoon Brewery Boston MA
9 Lagunitas Brewing Co. Petaluma CA
10 Boulevard Brewing Co. Kansas City MO
11 Stone Brewing Company Escondido CA
12 Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Milton DE
13 Brooklyn Brewery Brooklyn NY
14 Alaskan Brewing & Bottling Co. Juneau AK
15 Long Trail Brewing Co. Burlington VT
16 Shipyard Brewing Co. Portland ME
17 Abita Brewing Co. Abita Springs LA
18 Great Lakes Brewing Co. Cleveland OH
19 New Glarus Brewing Co. New Glarus WI
20 Full Sail Brewing Co. Hood River OR
21 Summit Brewing Co. St. Paul MN
22 Anchor Brewing Co. San Francisco CA
23 Firestone Walker Brewing Co. Paso Robles CA
24 Sweetwater Brewing Co. Atlanta GA
25 Rogue Ales Brewery Newport OR
26 Flying Dog Brewery Frederick MD
27 Victory Brewing Co. Downingtown PA
28 CraftWorks Breweries & Restaurants Chattanooga/Louisville TN/CO
29 Oskar Blues Brewery Longmont CO
30 Odell Brewing Co. Fort Collins CO
31 Stevens Point Brewery Co. Stevens Point WI
32 Ninkasi Brewing Co. Eugene OR
33 BJ’s Chicago Pizza & Brewery, Inc. Huntington Beach CA
34 Blue Point Brewing Co. Patchogue NY
35 Bear Republic Brewing Co. Cloverdale CA
36 Lost Coast Brewery Cafe Eureka CA
37 Big Sky Brewing Co. Missoula MT
38 North Coast Brewing Co. Inc. Fort Bragg CA
39 Saint Louis Brewery, Inc./Schlafly Bottleworks St. Louis MO
40 Gordon Biersch Brewing Co. San Jose CA
41 Breckenridge Brewery Denver CO
42 Founders Brewing Co. Grand Rapids MI
43 Saint Arnold Brewing Co. Houston TX
44 Karl Strauss Brewing Co. San Diego CA
45 Real Ale Brewing Co. Blanco TX
46 Mac and Jack’s Brewery Inc. Redmond WA
47 Smuttynose Brewing Co. Portsmouth NH
48 Utah Brewers Cooperative Salt Lake City UT
49 Left Hand Brewing Co. Longmont CO
t.50 Anderson Valley Brewing Co. Boonville CA
t.50 Four Peaks Brewing Co. Tempe AZ

And here is some worthwhile info on the classification of breweries from the BA:

¹The definition of a craft brewer as stated by the Brewers Association: An American craft brewer is small, independent, and traditional. Small: Annual production of beer less than 6 million barrels. Beer production is attributed to a brewer according to the rules of alternating proprietorships. Flavored malt beverages are not considered beer for purposes of this definition. Independent: Less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer. Traditional: A brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewer’s brands) or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.

²Flavored malt beverages are not considered beer for the Top 50 rankings.

5 Beers to drink this Earth Day

Based on the results of our recent green beer survey, more than 90 percent of our readers know of a brewery in their city crafting organic beers. Not too shabby.

This Earth Day, post up at your local brewery and drink organic pints to the planet. These are our recommendations:

1. Wild Salmon Pale Ale
Fish Brewing Company / Olympia, WA

Bright pale ale brewed with Yakima Cascade Hops with mellow sweetness and a crisp hoppy finish. 5% ABV

2. Kozlov Stout
Thirsty Bear Brewing Co. / San Francisco, CA

This beer was inspired by the brown ales of northern England. Malty and just a little bit hoppy. 6.3% ABV

3. Hopworks Organic Belgian-Style Abbey Ale
Hopworks Urban Brewery / Portland, OR

Abbey is made with five different organic malts and organic dark brown sugar. Fruity and effervescent, with a hint of caramel. 6.5% ABV

4. Butte Creek Organic Pilsner
Butte Creek Brewing / Ukiah, CA

This award-winning European-style Pilsner is as light and refreshing as the summer days are long. 4.5% ABV

5. Organic Acai Berry Wheat
Eel River Brewing Co. /Scotia, CA

This refreshing wheat beer is brewed with açai berries from Brazil and pomegranate. It is perfect for light fare. 4% ABV

What organic beer will you celebrate Earth Day with?

Widmer Brothers’ Omission Gluten-Free Beer

By Rebecca K. Clark

As the gluten-free movement heats up in the Northwest, Widmer Brothers cools things down with the introduction of its new line of gluten-free beers, aptly named Omission to demonstrate the uniqueness of the brewing process, which involves the removal of gluten from grain. Omission is a strong contender in the beer market, introducing a crisp, nutty lager, and a refreshing pale ale.

Producing great tasting, safe, gluten-free beer is a personal endeavor at Widmer Brothers. CEO and craft beer enthusiast, Terry Michaelson, was diagnosed with celiac twelve years ago; and brewmaster Joe Casey’s wife has been a celiac since 2006. It’s only natural that these two men came together to produce a delicious, gluten-free alternative that pleases all palates, including those of average beer drinkers and craft connoisseurs. But is it really safe?

The guys from Widmer Brothers say the brewing process is a secret, but they did explain that they are careful to test every batch to ensure safety. The gluten parts per million (ppm) for the lager and the pale ale is currently 5.0—well below the international standard for safety, which is 20 ppm of gluten protein.

According to Michaelson, he and several celiac and gluten intolerant people have enjoyed Omission beers on more than one occasion, and they have given them the all clear. I am gluten intolerant. I threw a couple back. I have no complaints.

Omission beers are not produced in a dedicated gluten-free facility. That made me feel squeamish at first, but brewmaster Casey reminded me that both beers are made from barley to start. To avoid cross-contamination, they brew Omission beers in the morning after everything has been sanitized. To ensure safety, each batch is tested to meet the international standards. That is why they can label their beers gluten-free, even though they’re not made in a dedicated facility and they’re made from barley. Speaking of safety, Widmer Brothers has chosen to sell Omission beers in bottles. This eliminates server error and cross-contamination from taps.

Michaelson and Casey are not only doing their best to ensure safety, because of their relationships to celiac disease; their passions and palates drive them to produce consistently great tasting gluten-free beer. Each batch must pass the standards of a tasting panel for quality control before being bottled and sold to consumers.

Brewing gluten-free has never been easy on the consumer’s pocketbook. Gluten-free grains are typically expensive, which hikes up the price of their resulting beers. I asked Casey if gluten-removal from the barley grain was expensive, and if it would affect the retail cost of Omission beers. He said it did raise the cost, and that each six-pack would be sold at the average price of a typical craft beer. ($9.99 was the rumored price.) If you think that’s expensive, peruse the single bottle, 16 oz. gluten-free beers at your local grocer, and you’ll think Omission is a pretty good deal.

While Widmer Brothers is looking to sell Omission beers beyond the Oregon border, they are staying local for now. Expanding distribution will be a matter of defining what is gluten-free from state to state.

Considering Portland and the local food scene, the Widmer Brothers Gasthaus Pub is now offering a gluten-friendly menu by request. The kitchen staff is prepared to do everything they can to keep sensitive eaters safe. Michaelson will probably do his best to make sure the kitchen keeps its safety standards high.

If you’re interested in trying Widmer Brothers’ satisfyingly refreshing Omission beers, you can find them at these locations.

Have you tried the Omission yet? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Fantastically Fruity

by Colin McElroy

Fruit beers have never been my thing. I don’t have an innate aversion to fruit and most certainly not to beer, but I have had some past experiences with fruit beers which I might compare to cough syrup. Widmer Brothers Raspberry Russian Imperial Stout does not draw this comparison.

To call this solely a fruit beer would be to overlook so many of it’s other qualities. This beer is a stout at heart, having its roots in Widmer Brothers KGB Russian Imperial Stout. With slight raspberry fruit tartness balanced by a toasty chocolate aroma you get the sense that the brewer really didn’t want this to be categorized as a fruit beer. The addition of Midnight Wheat to the boil adds smoothness and an extra layer of complexity.

The Raspberry Russian Imperial Stout is the second offering from Widmer Brothers recently launched Alchemy Project. Though the beers in the Alchemy series can be consumed immediately, they are designed to develop with age.

While this beer has helped partially mend my fear of fruit beers, I continue to be understandably weary. The toughest thing about trying this beer last night and taking a few bottles home is knowing that I have to (er, should) wait to drink them.

Learn more about this beer from Widmer Brothers brewer, Ben Dobler:  Raspberry Russian Imperial Stout. You can find 22-ounce bottles of Raspberry Russian Imperial Stout at your local beer retailers.

One Night In Bangkok

Congratulations to Cory Mimms who won our travel story contest with this tale of navigating the streets of Bangkok in search of his brother and an ice cold beer. Sounds like that beer was well deserved, Cory.


A river of businessmen and tourists flow out of the airport into a sea of Thai cabbies. Briefcases and ties tangle with framed backpacks and bandanas, and all of them are being cajoled into unmarked cabs. A skinny flip-flop-clad man lifts my bag into his car and says with an accent, “Where?”

My hotel, the cheapest one I could find, is on Khaosan Road. I’m meeting my brother there, whom I haven’t seen in two years. He arrived yesterday.

The cab slowly rolls away from the airport. As soon as the driver sees an opening he slams his foot on the gas and we’re off, speeding down a freeway. Bangkok’s skyline glares at me from the dark. I pull out my hotel confirmation and read it to the driver.

“Sawasdee Bangkok Inn?” I ask.

The cabbie raises his hand. “Sawasdee.”

“You know it?” I ask, but he says nothing. “Sawasdee Bangkok Inn?” I repeat. Sawasdee is a common greeting in Thailand, so he might just think I’m being friendly.

Again, the cabbie raises his hand and says, “Sawasdee.”

I lean back, not sure what to say. After several toll booths we exit the freeway and enter immediately into stop and go traffic. Scooters zip by the cab, bravely weaving between trucks painted pink and blue. A few miles later the cab stops. The road is blocked by thousands of people wearing yellow shirts; I later learn they are celebrating the king’s 60th anniversary on the throne.

The cabbie turns to me and points out the passenger window. “Khaosan,” he says, and then makes his fingers walk across the seat.

Because of the celebrations this is as close as he can get me. I hoist my bag onto my back and start walking. People clap and sing around me and I become disoriented. I turn up a side street and walk past a few restaurants, and then I see a purple sign. It says Sawasdee Inn on it. Inside, a 
well-groomed woman with a wide smile says, “Sawasdee.” She glances at the paper in my hands. This is the Sawasdee Banglamphu Inn, not the Sawasdee Bangkok Inn. I keep walking and by luck pass Khaosan Road.

Men lean against three-wheeled cabs—motorized rickshaws—and call out to me like birds, “tuk-tuk, tuk-tuk.” Clothing vendors line the street and sexy maître d’s smile from behind podiums, luring people into their restaurants. Old women carrying trays of jewelry and wooden frogs buzz around patio tables where patrons shoo them away like flies.

I pass another hotel, the Sawasdee Khaosan Inn, and stop to ask for directions. The staff isn’t sure where the Sawasdee Bangkok Inn is, but they have a room available if I would like to stay here instead. Thanks, but no. I’ve paid for three nights in advance and my brother is waiting for me.

I walk up and down Khaosan Road twice, reading hundreds of signs that are plastered on the buildings and stick out into the street. The street is only three blocks long but it takes me 25 minutes to navigate through because of all the people. Sweat moistens my shirt, and my shoulders slump under the weight of my pack. It must be more than 100 degrees. All I want is a chair and a beer.

A pudgy, middle-aged man stops me and asks in perfect English where I’m going. Before I can answer he says he can show me Bangkok’s nightlife and whips out a smile that would make Lucifer shudder. I glance at the crowd of drunken backpackers behind me. Isn’t this the nightlife? I hand him my hotel reservation and ask him if he knows the location.

“This hotel isn’t on Khaosan,” he says.

Great. I’ve been duped.

“It’s one block over.” He points behind me.

I walk up a covered street lined with fold-out tables sagging under the weight of stacks of cheap T-shirts, and then I see it: the Sawasdee Bangkok Inn. Rejoice! The reception desk is attached to a courtyard with a bar. I drop my bag and fan my shirt. From behind me I hear my brother’s voice. Before we hug he hands me a tall beer bottle with an elephant on the label and says, “Sawasdee.”

You can read Cory’s story, and a lineup of other beer travel content in our Spring Travel Issue, on newsstands now!

The Hop Shop: Chuck’s 85th Street Market

A North Seattle Entrepreneur Revitalizes a Corner Market into a Craft Beer Haven

By Keith Lockwood

Tucked away in the sleepy borough of North Seattle, at the corner of 85th and 8th, lies an unassuming little piece of craft beer heaven.

When  I walked in after the store re-opened two years ago I couldn’t help notice the unbelievable metamorphoses it had gone through.  Usually, the re-opening of the neighborhood corner market is a small event consisting of a splash of paint and dusting of the same old shelves.  But gone was that which defined the previous establishment; bars in the windows, the adult entertainment section, knives, cheap wines, and assorted “other” paraphernalia.  Replacing it was a well-lit and inviting environment featuring Dreyer’s ice cream by the scoop, fresh pizza by the slice, and beer… really good beer.

An extremely polite gentleman still working on building the new shelves came over to greet us as we sauntered in.  We had to ask what happened and who had performed such a miraculous resurrection?  He introduced himself as the new owner, Chuck.  His explanation was simple: “Well, I like beer, ice cream, and pizza.”

Chuck’s 85th Street Market, or Chuck’s Hop Shop as it is affectionately known, has since that day become one of Seattle’s premier gathering places for beer enthusiasts.  It boasts hundreds micros from around the world, a superb selection of more than 20 beers on tap, kegs to go, a big screen television, and IPA-boiled bratwursts on the grill.  Chuck’s also offers t-shirts, pint glasses, specialty bottles and coozies.

Friday evenings at Chuck’s are usually reserved for beer tastings from Port Townsend, Iron Horse, and Sierra Nevada, to name a few.  Chuck has also held wine, mead, barley wine, and even homebrew tastings.

Chuck has provided a setting where you can sample, drink, purchase, and discuss great beers at length, with the game on in the background and with a brat in hand. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Hops and Props 2012

An Aerial View From The Museum of Flight’s 10th Annual Fundraiser

By Colin McElroy

Hops & Props alone would be an amazing beer festival, with more than 50 breweries serving local and international beers and an all-you-can-eat buffet. But what takes this festival to the next level is its location, The Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington.

For me, the idea of drinking a Fremont Brewing 77 Select Session IPA under the worlds fastest airplane, the SR-71 Blackbird, is epic to say the least.

For those not as excited about the planes as I am, there are food and beer pairings guided by a special guest (this year’s was Charles Finkel, President and Founder of Pike Brewing Company), live music, and an impressive lineup of breweries pouring their beers.  Some of my tasting highlights were Elysian Brewing’s Idiot Sauvin IPA, Dick’s Brewing Company’s Working Man’s Brown Ale, and Two Beers Brewing Company’s Evo. IPA.

A full list of all breweries in attendance can be found at The Museum of Flight website.

All proceeds from the festival will go toward supporting The Museum of Flight, an independent, non-profit organization.

I’m already counting down until I can encounter the Blackhawk next year.

An Interview with a San Diego Craft Beer Renaissance Man

By Brandon Hernández

Scot Blair is one of the most notorious characters in San Diego’s vibrant craft beer scene. Since opening Hamilton’s Tavern in 2007, he’s devoted his life to raising the bar—the craft beer bar, that is. His venues have helped to revitalize some of San Diego County’s most formerly lackluster neighborhoods, providing plenty of innovative ideas for other business owners along the way. Today, Blair’s beery empire totals four unique spots—the iconic Hamilton’s Tavern, a beer and spirit den called Small Bar, an epicenter for quality taps and live music dubbed Eleven and, his newest project, a brewpub by the name of Monkey Paw. We caught up with this trend-setting bar impresario to seek out his impressions about the thriving San Diego scene, then and now, and his part in helping make it all it’s become.


What inspired you to go into the beer bar biz?

I always wanted to own a bar. I traveled all around the world spending a lot of time in pubs and had always talked about the monumental importance of a good tavern in a community. It wasn’t until I spent time in San Diego’s O’Brien’s Pub and Liar’s Club (now closed) when I decided I wanted my offerings to be as important as my atmosphere. The area I lived in was an absolute desert and it was a shock anytime you could get something decent or surprising. I felt a desperate need to do it for our community and the men like myself who wanted better beer in a better environment.

You were notoriously highly confident going in—what inspired that?

Probably my naivety and youthful dreaming!

I figured if I came at it from my heart and created an atmosphere that I liked and served products I liked, folks would dig it. I had to commit to my concept and say, hey, the customer isn’t always right if they don’t have all the data to know right from wrong. I said to myself, if it fails, I will feel comfortable I did my best. The only thing I had to lose was money and money doesn’t control my soul or my motivations…my cause does.

How you see the evolution San Diego’s beer bar scene and your role in it.

I see our footprint on many levels all over this city during this mini craft beer renaissance, with installed beer brunches that never existed before Small Bar and the mass craze on the mega beer events that Hamilton’s is known for like our 2nd Saturdays. I’ve seen niche market bars expand their beer offerings because of what we’ve done in a certain area or district. I’ve been here and I remember how desolate it was and, now, each week something new is popping up and even the simple pizzeria now has craft beer options. That was sort of the goal.

Who are other San Diego bar owners who’ve also been influential in advancing the scene?

Jim O’Brien, the original owner of O’Brien’s Pub, and present owner Tom Nickel [who also owns and operates Julian Brewing Company, Bailey’s Wood-Pit BBQ and West Coast BBQ and Brew]; Scott Stamp and Lee Doxtader of Callahan’s and San Diego Brewing Company; Ivan Derezin of Churchill’s Pub; Vince and Gina Marsaglia from Pizza Port and Louis Mello of the defunct Liar’s Club.

What would you say are some big contributors to San Diego’s success story?

Karl Strauss Brewing Company, Stone Brewing Co. and Home Brew Mart opening—I think, without those three, San Diego would still be far behind. Clearly Pizza Port and all the other notable breweries winning awards the last several years has shined a Batman-like spotlight onto our city. Definitely all of our wonderful and increasingly knowledgeable consumers who finally made a conscious decision to demand better beer and are becoming more excited about beer, festivals, San Diego Beer Week and the like. All of these are having the impact that makes me proud to be a part of this scene.

Do you see any negative developments associated with San Diego’s high profile craft beer city status?

The only bad thing I see coming out of the boom has been with retail.  Now is the time all these entrepreneurs come out with smoke and mirrors, the large distributors start tailoring tap houses and you start seeing all these Disneyland beer bars. But the real craft beer fans will know the authentic places to go. At the root of it all, it’s all about the liquid. I hope to see you soon for a great pint of ale in our wonderful city!

On that note, tell us about your newest spot—Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery.

We have a new pub and small manufacturing brewery with a five-barrel brewhouse and five 10-barrel fermenters. Brewer Derek Freese, a good friend and a well-recognized homebrewer, took over the reins and has been working hard on creating styles he likes and things I’ve asked him to work on. Try our Oatmeal Pale Ale on cask with cacao.

Brandon Hernández is a San Diego-based freelance beer and food journalist. He has been featured numerous times on Food Network, is the San Diego correspondent for Celebrator Beer News and has contributed articles to various national and local magazines, newspapers and Web sites, including Wine Enthusiast, The Beer Connoisseur, Beer Magazine, West Coaster, San Diego Magazine, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The San Diego Reader, Riviera, Pacific San Diego and Edible San Diego. Follow him on Twitter or drop him a line at bhernandezsd@yahoo.com.