brut ipa thorn brewing

A Most Brut-iful Beer

One of the most exciting aspects of craft beer is the sheer creativity displayed by brewers all over the United States. The sky is the limit and while not all experiments get the desired results or reactions from beer drinkers, each creative brew brings about opportunities for new ideas and ultimately new beer. Over the last few years, we have seen Hazy IPAs rise in popularity and production. Now, the newest kid on the block is the Brut IPA, an IPA that is bone dry, pale in color and ebulliently effervescent. Created at San Francisco’s Social Kitchen & Brewery by brewer Kim Sturdavant, this beer has caught the fancy of craft brewers all over the country who are trying their hand at this brand new style.

What Makes It A Brut?

Brut IPAs came about by experimenting with enzymes. Amyloglucosidase is an enzyme commonly used to break down the sugars from malts to cut down residual sweetness by reducing sugar levels. Most often used when brewing Imperial stouts to make them more drinkable, Sturdavant began using it in his triple IPA to cut down on the malty sweetness that can be a second-hand effect of such a high ABV beer. He decided to try using the enzyme in a regular IPA and the result was the birth of a brand new style IPA.

While this style hasn’t even been in existence for a year yet, brewers are excited to get in on the Brut IPA action. Brut IPAs are so dry and light that they are the perfect antidote to the dank, juicy hazy IPAs that are everywhere, right now. This style allows the hops in the beer to be highlighted in a brand new way by pulling out different flavors from the hops. At this point, many of the hops used in Brut IPAs are the more tropical varieties found in hops like Cascade, Citra, and Centennial which are all considered New World Hops.

Staying Power

While no one can predict if the Brut IPA style is here to stay, the fact that it’s an IPA is a good start. IPAs are still far and away the most popular beer style in terms of craft beer sales. While many industry insiders have expressed hop-fatigue, the fact of the matter is that the average craft beer drinker still goes for an IPA more often than any other beer style. In fact, right now there are 849 brut IPAs rated on Untappd. Not too bad for a style that has only been in existence since November of 2017. If anything, coming up with unique names for this style of beer seems to be somewhat of a challenge considering on Untapped there are no fewer than 46 brut IPAs named “I am Brut.”

thorn beer brut ipa

Here at Thorn Brewing, we wanted to get in on the brut IPA action and brewed up a batch with our friends over at Pure Project. Houblon Grand Cru Brut IPA comes in at 7.4% ABV and is delightfully bright and effervescent. We caught up with Doug Pominville, Barrio’s head brewer, in the brewhouse recently and asked him about this collab:

“When a new style emerges in the craft beer world and catches some legs it’s always fun to give a go at it while its still evolving into its own. When Winslow hit me up to brew a collab at a Thorn it was an immediate, yes, then he mentioned a brut IPA and it was a no-brainer that we needed to get this on the brew schedule. While most breweries have been using rice to lighten the body and color while still adding fermentable sugars, we decided to use wheat instead. The wheat adds some mouthfeel to a beer with minimal body while helping to produce that straw yellow color you expect from champagne.  The hops we chose were selected to help bring out the flavors of an outstanding champagne; Pear, apple, white grape, grapefruit, & peach. The beauty of this beer style is that it’s low in calories and carbs. The enzymes we add break down the maltose and starch polymers into glucose so they can be fermented out by the yeast. This leaves a very dry beer with little to no residual sugar and starches. Making this beer perfect for the hop head who is trying to cut back on the LBs while still enjoying a tasty brew.”

We are releasing Houblon Grand Cru on Friday, August 31st at our Barrio Logan location in 750 ml cork and cage bottles and they will be available until we sell out!

tropic daze thorn brewing

Tropic Daze for Summer Days

Summer is in full swing and we are releasing the second IPA in our Essential IPA Series this week. Say a tearful goodbye to Got Nelson? and hello to Tropic Daze IPA!

We like to think of Tropic Daze IPA as an island oasis in your glass. With flavors of fresh-cut, juicy pineapple, pink guava, nectarines, passion fruit, and zested pomelo this 7% IPA is one for all your senses.  After one sip, you’ll feel the cool, ocean breeze on your face and the sand in your toes.  It’s the perfect addition to any staycation or afternoon at the pool.

This is the second IPA in our Essential IPA Series that will be housed in our sweet, Argyle can. We love to have fun and experiment with packaging and that is front and center with this can design. From the fresh, argyle pattern to the playful color scheme, we hope it stands out from the pack. For people wanting more information on which hop profile is in their Essential IPA, they can head to our page, http://thorn.beer/essentialipas/ to get any additional info for the beer. As always, if you aren’t sure which beer you have, just flip it over and see the name printed on the bottom. For people picking up six-packs, all the Tropic Daze six-pack holders are baby blue, like the perfect sky under which to enjoy this refreshing beer.

“The Essential IPA can is a game-changer by allowing our IPAs to evolve with hop availability and our ever-changing palates.” Dennis O’Connor, Thorn’s CEO and co-founder said. “If you like fresh, these IPAs are your best bet.”

Want more of the Argyle? We also have these sweet Essential IPA Series socks available for $10 at both tasting rooms and in our online store.

tropic daze socks thorn brewing

Tropic Daze is now available throughout San Diego, Orange County, and Los Angeles, so grab yourself an essential six-pack today!

thorn brewing barrel aged beers

Barrel-Aged Beers

Barrel-aged beers are all over the craft beer scene and with good reason. Delicious, deep, and dark, just like your secrets, barrel-aged beers are a lovely addition to any brewery’s portfolio. They definitely aren’t for everyone, however. Someone looking for a light, refreshing, hoppy beverage isn’t going to find those characteristics in a barrel-aged beer, but they will find a sultry, rich, taste-explosion that is created by the use of wood barrels and their influence on the beer housed in them.

While aging beer in barrels is nothing new to the beer scene, using bourbon barrels is something that has jumped to the forefront since the mid-90’s. By most accounts, the first brewery in the U.S. to use bourbon barrels to age their beers was Goose Island. Now, if you are a follower of this blog, you know that Goose Island is owned by AB InBev, and in fact was one of the first craft breweries bought by big beer back in 2011. But one thing is for sure, their Bourbon County brand not only paved the way for hundreds of other breweries to follow the bourbon-barrel train but is also still killing it in this niche market.

Why Bourbon Barrels?

Barrel-aging has always imparted flavors into beer but bourbon barrels are something special. First, wood gives off chemical compounds that will be absorbed into the beer. Lactones, organic compounds in the ester group help impart a floral aroma and flavor. Phenolic aldehydes give off vanilla and the simple sugars in the wood help bring out caramel notes from the beer. In the start of its barrel-journey, the beers will absorb strong vanilla and caramel flavors as well as the leftover flavorings of the bourbon that used to live in that barrel. The cool thing is that over time, the beer becomes one with the barrel, in a way. It soaks deep into the staves before being pushed back out which helps it to absorb not only the rich flavors of the previous spirit but also the wood itself. That’s one of the fun things about bourbon barrels. It’s a bit like wild yeast, you don’t know exactly what you are going to get from the cocktail of compounds in the barrel.

Barrel-Aging Factors

There are a few major factors that are at play when one thinks about barrel aging a beer.

Type of Beer

While brewing is all about experimentation and probably all styles of beer have been aged at one time or another with varying degrees of success, beer best suited for barrel aging is strong, dark and of high alcohol content. Any beer that counts on “freshness” as a flavor (sorry IPAs) wouldn’t be a good fit. But this does make Imperial stouts and Belgian strong ales great candidates. For Thorn’s first barrel-aged bottles we used an Imperial Russian Stout and a Belgian quad ale. Both of these beers can stand up to the flavors that are imparted by the bourbon-barrel and they only get better as they get older as freshness is not really a huge factor in either of these beers when aged appropriately.

The Barrel

While most any barrel can be used to age beers some are better than others. This time around we are using bourbon barrels from Four Roses but previously we have aged beers in red wine barrels that made delightful sours like our Carneros Crush Sour. While bourbon barrels are the most popular to use because the flavors of bourbon already play well with the flavors of most dark beers, there is a rise in popularity of using tequila barrels to age beer too. Most barrels used to age liquor and then beer are made of white oak. Oak is an incredibly strong wood and also imparts flavors that work with liquor and beer.

Time

How long beer is barrel-aged for is really dependent on what the brewer is trying to achieve, flavor-wise. Beer can be aged for as little as 1-2 months if wood and bourbon notes are the goal while aging for 6-12 months will bring out the deeper floral and vanilla notes from the barrel. The more time in the barrel the more time the beer gets to soak into the staves of the barrel and during temperature changes, this becomes really important.

Temperature

Temperature is a crucial factor in barrel-aged beers. While conventional barrel-aging wisdom says that it’s ideal to keep barrels at a constant temperature between 55-60 degrees, that’s not necessarily the case for many barrel-aging programs. Variations in temperature will make the wood contract and expand which helps in the staves absorb and extract the beer throughout the aging process, lending all the delicious flavors that we know and love. In fact, many breweries, including Thorn don’t use any temperature controls in their barrel warehouse precisely to get the substantial temperature swings provided by the natural climate.

Thorn Barrel-Aged Beer

We are releasing our first bottled, barrel-aged beers on July 29th and are throwing a party to celebrate! Not only can you come and pick up a bottle of both the barrel-aged Dark Tsar Imperial Stout and the barrel-aged Abbey Roof Abbey-style ale, but you will be able to taste these two beers as well as three other barrel-aged beers that we have had cooking in the back over the last year. There are only a few tickets left for our VIP experience where you get two bottles, a glass, a guided tasting through all five of our barrel-aged beers, BBQ lunch, brew tour and $5 beers the rest of the day (which is a smoking deal for barrel aged beers). Or just stop by and taste through the beers, listen to live music, enjoy food from the Meat Locker BBQ and grab a couple of bottles to go. For more info on the event head to Eventbrite or the Facebook event page.

hopster pot thorn brewing

Haze Craze: Hopster Pot, the Juiciest Beer in San Diego?

Chase away June Gloom with some haze of your own; Thorn’s Hopster Pot Hazy IPA. Now, you can get this delicious beer in six-packs all over San Diego and L.A.! We are so excited for this can release because not only is Hopster Pot the juiciest beer around, but it also brings many of the Thorn team back to their roots.

Let’s Get Hazy

Let’s be clear about this cloudy trend: Hazy IPAs are here to stay. While some may have thought this style was a flash-in-the-pan, it is showing some serious hop-legs. Not only did GABF add a hazy beer category this year, but the BJCP just released style guidelines for New England Style IPAs. Their comments on this type of beer:

“An American IPA with intense fruit flavors and aromas, a soft body, and smooth mouthfeel, and often opaque with substantial haze. Less perceived bitterness than traditional IPAs but always massively hop forward. This emphasis on late hopping, especially dry hopping, with hops with tropical fruit qualities lends the specific ‘juicy’ character for which this style is known.”

The “substantial haze” is created through a few different brewing steps. First, the beer is aggressively dry-hopped. Dry-hopping is when hops are added to the tank after fermentation but before packaging. Adding hops at this stage doesn’t add bitterness, but it does add delicate hop aromas and tastes that can otherwise be lost in the boil. While the addition of tons of hops at the end helps with the haziness, this isn’t the only factor. It also can depend on the use of high protein grains like flaked oats and wheat as well as the type of yeast used. Many of the hazy IPAs from New England use Vermont Ale yeast while many San Diego breweries, including Thorn, use London 3 yeast for their hazy beers giving West Coast hazy IPAs a slightly different profile. Hazy beers also have higher fruity esters and lower flocculation than many clear IPA counterparts. Additionally, even the make-up of water has an impact on this type of beer. When you put all this together, the old saying, “hazy = lazy” just doesn’t make sense. When done correctly, hazy beers are harder to brew than clear IPAs making hazy the opposite of lazy.

Hopster Pot Love

We have been getting a lot of love for our newest addition to the Thorn can line-up, Hopster Pot Hazy IPA (7% ABV). This hazy wonder is hopped with Amarillo, Citra and Ekunnot hops but each new batch will use a different blend of hops. To find out what hops are in your Hopster Pot, check out our Hazy Beer Page on our website.  We like to think of our hazy IPA as more of a West Coast Hazy IPA than the full-on New England Style IPA. It’s slightly drier and slightly more bitter, with brighter hops than many of the East Coast IPAs. Hopster Pot is like a hazy-hybrid, bringing together the style, methods of a New England style IPA with some West Coast twists.

This beer is really a labor of love for the whole Thorn team. While our three original owners/brewers are all San Diego natives, we also have a lot of East Coast transplants. Doug Pominville, our hazy head brewer, is from New Hampshire, cellarman, Kenny Maguire, is from Connecticut, sales-guru, Tom Kiely is from Massachusetts, Dave, our warehouse manager is from NY and I’m from Vermont, myself, so there is a full chain of New Englanders taking this beer from tank-to-shelf and everything in between!

Now that Hopster Pot is available throughout San Diego, Orange County, and Los Angeles, it’s even easier to get your hands on some of this juicy wonder. For info on where to get our beer check out our interactive map here…http://thorn.beer/buy-our-cans/

What is your favorite hazy beer in San Diego?

 


For the Love of Cans

The Brewer’s Association just released a report outlining Craft Beer Packaging Trends in 2017 and what was found is that people are loving beer in cans! Cans saw a nice jump in growth the last year for two main reasons. Not only are breweries switching from bottles to cans but also, breweries that have a higher can share are growing at a faster rate than breweries that have a lower share of cans. This can be attributed to the size of companies where smaller breweries tend to be able to grow faster than larger breweries.

But why the shift? There are a few different reasons why many breweries choose cans over bottles.

Light

Light is one factor that can stand in the way of optimal beer flavor and is responsible for the dreaded, “skunked” beer. This off-putting flavoring is due to the light-sensitivity of the hops in the beer. In fact, the term “skunked” is scientific in its basis. Chemists from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill studied what makes a beer skunky and found that when they hit three isohumulones (the compounds responsible for the light sensitivity in hops) with enough light, it created a compound called “skunky thiol” which has the same chemical make-up as a skunk’s noxious spray. While brown bottles help the issue somewhat, cans and kegs are really the best way to make sure that light doesn’t change the flavor of a beer.

Oxygen

While oxygen is both a friend and an enemy to beer, the process of oxidation can be damaging when it’s introduced after early fermentation. Oxidation can cause that “stale beer” taste and is most often detrimental when it occurs during packaging. Before that, if oxidation occurs, it will be caught by the brewing team and not packaged at all. Air doesn’t act alone when it comes to oxidizing beers, however. Temperature also plays a major role in oxidation and the resulting stale beer. Cans are better than bottles at keeping oxygen out because of how they are filled in the canning line. Also, there are issues with oxygen exchange through bottle caps that can tamper with the flavors.

Environment

Using cans to package beer is better for the environment for a couple of different reasons. First, because cans are lighter in weight and often can fit more cans in a specific space (like the back of a delivery truck) vs. bottles, they leave less of a carbon footprint. More beer on a truck means fewer trips for that truck and a lighter weight mean less gas is used for those deliveries. Second, cans are made from a higher content of recycled material than bottles (cans are 70% recycled materials) and people recycle cans 20% more often than they do glass.

Cans are a win/win for the brewery and the consumer so the next time you are faced with the choice of what beer to buy at the store, make it beer in a can!

 


Clarity Ferm to the Rescue

2017 was a good year for gluten-sensitive beer drinkers. After growing 136% between 2013 and 2015, the gluten-free food and beverage category continued to see strong growth throughout this past year. While people who suffer from Celiac Disease have long omitted gluten from their daily lives, there are more and more people who have chosen to cut it out for diet or health reasons. Luckily, thanks to a little product called Clarity Ferm and the growing use of it by local breweries along with gluten testing, many are now able to add craft beer back into their diets.

Clarity Ferm Fun

Clarity Ferm is an enzyme that breaks down proteins and has historically most often been used in the brewing process to reduce chill haze. Chill haze is different than the haze we see in all of the New England style/hazy IPAs. It happens when proteins from the malt form a bond with the hop polyphenols, which are seen as suspended particles in the beer and create a yeasty, hazy color in cold beers. To get away from this, brewers have long used Clarity Ferm to reduce the chill haze as well as increase shelf stability of their beers. With the rise of the gluten-free movement, this enzyme is now also sold as a solution for lowering gluten levels in beers to incredibly small parts per million. In fact, using Clarity Ferm can reduce the beer’s gluten to well below the international standard of 20 ppm for calling the beer gluten-free. The U.S. has a higher standard for use of the term “gluten-free” so here in the states, these beers are considered gluten-reduced rather than gluten-free.

For many people who are gluten-intolerant and even some people with Celiac, this realization that many of their once beloved craft beers are actually ok for them to drink has been a huge boon. Furthermore, Clarity Ferm shouldn’t affect the taste of the beer so while a beer may be labeled “gluten-reduced,” it is not going to taste differently from that same beer were it not to use the Clarity Ferm and in some cases, blind tasters thought that the beer using Clarity Ferm tasted better than the original.

Gluten-reduced vs. Gluten-free

In the U.S., any beer that uses ingredients containing gluten, even if the gluten is reduced to the international standards of gluten-free, can’t be called gluten-free. The only beers that can be called gluten-free are beers brewed with alternative ingredients like sorghum and rice.

So how do you know which beers you may be able to try if you are on the wrong side of gluten? While a lot of your favorite breweries are using Clarity Ferm, if they aren’t testing the gluten levels then it’s probably not a good idea to wade into the gluten-waters unless you contact them directly or go to the tasting room and talk to the beer-tenders/brewers to find out for yourself if the beer you would like to drink is tested.

This was a recent topic of conversation on a craft beer industry Facebook group and there were some exciting additions to the list of breweries who use Clarity Ferm and also test for levels of gluten. Here is an unofficial (and incomplete) list of San Diego breweries that use Clarity Ferm in some or all of their beers:

  1. White Labs (all + tested)
  2. Bolt Brewery (all + tested)
  3. Stone Brewing (Delicious IPA)
  4. Alpine Beer Co. (all + tested)
  5. Second Chance Beer Co. 
  6. Duckfoot Brewing (all + tested)
  7. Mike Hess Brewing (all)
  8. Council Brewing (70% of beers)
  9. New English Brewing
  10. Booze Brothers
  11. Wavelength Brewery
  12. Culture Brewing 
  13. Abnormal Beer Co.
  14. Amplified Ale Works
  15. Burgeon Beer Co.

At Thorn, we often have a gluten-reduced option for people to enjoy. Most recently, we brewed an Aussie Pale Ale called Mick Dundee, a hoppy, bright and dry pale ale that tests below 10 ppm.

We would love to add more San Diego breweries to this list, so if you work in or know of a brewery that also uses Clarity Ferm in one or more of their beers and tests for gluten levels, please comment or email us at info@thorn.beer and we will update the list accordingly.

Also, please do your own research before trying these beers if you are gluten-sensitive. Most info can be found on the linked brewery websites, but if not, just give them a call and ask. Brewers are some of the most helpful and science-minded people around and many want their beer to be consumable by everyone, even those who have sworn off gluten.

 

relay ipa in the sun

Hello, I Love You, IPA

Whether you love ’em or hate ’em, IPAs are a formative beer in the craft beer universe. Still far and away the most popular craft beer style, IPAs are known and loved for their ability to wake up the taste buds with a kick to the face of hops and bitterness. Yes, it’s an incredibly delicious kick to the face, but it’s the reason why many people love, and other hate, the mighty IPA.

IPAs are King

First, let’s get into the fact that Americans love IPA. In fact, they love IPA so much that the dollar shares of IPAs are nearly double that of the next most popular beer style on the list, Seasonal Ale. What’s interesting about this graphic from the Brewers Association is that Pale Ale is so far behind IPA on this list. It’s been a conversation in our brewery as well as many others as to what defines a Pale Ale vs. a Session IPA with different opinions coming from different brewers. In the end, it seems to be a naming choice that the individual brewer makes. While Pale Ales generally have a slightly maltier backbone than many session IPAs, this difference tends to disappear more when you get into the category of West Coast Pale Ales, which to many can seem like lower-alcohol but just-as-hoppy IPAs. This graphic highlights the reason why so many brewers decide to call their lighter IPAs “Session IPAs” because when it comes down to it, IPAs just sell better than Pale Ales.

What’s With the Origin Story?

We’ve all heard the rumors: IPAs were invented by a brewer named George Hodgson, they were high in alcohol to survive the long journey across the seas and were made for British troops to enjoy while overseas. While none of this is far off, it isn’t exactly correct either. In the late 1700s, the East India Company was shipping supplies to British forces overseas, in India, on their way to fill their ships with spices, silks and other valuables from the Far East. Here is the first inaccuracy. Even though the beer was on a boat shipping supplies to British forces, the beer wasn’t really favored by the troops, who in fact still favored porters. The beer was consumed mostly by middle and upper-class British expats in India who had been consuming Pale Ales since the 17th century.  You also might have read that IPAs came about because stouts and porters of the time were sub par beers to ship across the violent seas and they often ended up stale, spoiled or infected. But all beers ran this risk at the time, including pale ales. While hops do act as a preservative, they were no match for the more primitive means of storage and shipping that beers faced during this time and arrived spoiled just as often as darker beers. In order to expand the market, George Hodgson’s Bow Brewery decided that instead of sending a porter, they would try to send what was called an “October Beer.” This strong, pale beer was brewed at harvest time and loaded with just-picked hops to keep a fresh taste even when it was aged, sometimes for years. Apparently, the rough, ocean journey matured this beer much like it would taste after 2 years aged, so when it arrived, it was at peak flavor. The resulting brew was a hoppy success and popularized the taste for Pale Ale in India as well as back in Britain, though this style of beer wasn’t called IPA until 1835.

Double IPA = Imperial IPA

Being that Americans do everything bigger, it was only a matter of time before we started producing a super-sized IPA. While Imperial Ales, in general, have been around since the 1700s, the term “Double IPA” is quite new. It was first coined in 1994 by Blind Pig brewer, Vinnie Cilurzo, who was playing around with his IPA recipe and the amount of hops that were usually used in such recipes. What came out of this was a hop-bomb that excited the palates of Southern Cali craft brewers at the time and then exploded nationally.

So what’s the difference between Imperial IPAs and Double IPAs? The answer is nothing, really. Imperial, double and even triple IPAs are labels to connote more hops, more malts, and more alcohol but there is really no standard for when a brewer has to use the term or which term to use. The terms are pretty interchangeable, though double/triple is most often used in terms of IPAs here in the states. Another thing to think about is that the U.S. craft beer movement is heavily influenced by Belgian beer where there are dubbels, trippels, and quads. They also refer to the beer being a bigger version itself, with more hops, malts, and increased ABV. Their origins, like most beer history, are also somewhat murky but one theory is that it has to do with Trappist Monks marking two, three and four X’s on a bottle of beer to denote how strong it was and what number it was in a series.

The Constant Evolution

One of the coolest things about the craft beer industry is that it seems to be in a constant state of creative development and experimentation. This idea is front and center with IPAs and the ever-evolving use of hops. While most people know the big proprietary hops including Amarillo, Citra, Mosiac, Simcoe, and Warrior, there are tons of other varieties of hops out there that brewers are brewing with which create exciting new flavor profiles in IPAs. All About Beer published a piece on “Hops to Watch in 2017” that included Idaho 7, Azacca, Cashmere, Jester, and Comet (described as Citra’s little sister) varieties. To push the creativity even further, many brewers have started using Lupulin power and hop oil in their brews which only adds to the complex flavoring that a beer can provide.

In the end, while IPAs aren’t for everyone, they certainly are loved by many, if not most, craft beer consumers. So raise a pint of your favorite IPA in honor of National IPA Day (Thurs, August 2nd) and savor the flavors that evolved over the last few hundred years to get us to the delicious state of beer we are in today.

man in store looking at beer package

It’s All About the Package

While it’s no surprise that consumers, in general, are influenced by product packaging, it was certainly surprising to learn just how much craft beer packaging influences what people choose to buy. Recently, Nielsen released data on craft beer packaging and the role it plays in who ultimately purchases the beer.

It’s All About the Packaging

First of all, we found out that 70% of craft beer buyers make their decision when they get to the store vs. ahead of time. With more than 3,905 new beers on the shelf in the last year alone, it makes sense that most people wait to decide what they are getting until they get to the store and see the selection.  So what steers people to buy a specific beer the most? A nice package.

In fact, 66% of people surveyed said that they were “very likely” to buy a beer based on its packaging and label. Furthermore, 71% say they more likely to try a brand that has bold and interesting packaging. But what do people like when it comes to a beer’s label? Different features such as brand name, logo, color scheme, bottle shape and color, and the box or carrier that hold the bottles were all evaluated. Interestingly enough, the box/carrier came out on top as having the most influence, at 48%. Where the beer is produced came in second at 43%. They also found that more consumers were drawn to illustrations and logos vs. what was actually written on the labels.

Brands On Top

For the study, Nielsen tested 17 different brands that are top sellers with a nearly equal split between East Coast and West Coast beers. The brand that fared the best was Kona Brewing, which came out in the top two designs in both East and West coast demographics. Deschutes and Saint Archer rounded out the top 4 spots, after Kona’s Big Wave Golden Ale and Castaway IPA. What’s interesting is that While Kona and Deschutes are similar in their graphic, illustrative style, Saint Archer is quite different from both of these other brands. Maybe its clean cut, more modern design might help it stand out from those more illustrated styles or maybe it even speaks to a different consumer.

package of craft beer

Coming Soon…

With all of this info in mind, Thorn Brewing Co. is entering the craft-beer-can-fray. We are really excited to announce that in mid-July you will be able to get 6-packs of Thorn Brewing cans in stores and bottle shops throughout San Diego. We are starting with four of our core beers; Relay IPA, Rock the Pale Ale, Foreplay Belgian Blonde, and Barrio Baja-style Lager. Here’s a sneak peek at what they will look like…

Now, it will be even easier to take our beer on-the-go whether you are heading to the park, the beach, a friend’s BBQ or just home to enjoy a cold one. Soon the canning line will be up and running down at our Barrio Logan location and we will be able to can even more of your favorite Thorn beers.

To wrap it up, yes, labels are important when buying a beer, but don’t let that outshine what is actually in the can or bottle. We’ve said it before and we will say it again, the thing you should be the most concerned about on a bottle or can is the freshness date or bottled-on date. The beer’s freshness is likely going to be the biggest influence on how your beer tastes no matter what the style is, but this is especially true for IPAs. That’s why we will be putting freshness dates on all of our cans so that you can make sure you are getting a fresh Thorn beer no matter if it’s here at the brewery or out in stores. And for those people who don’t know just how delicious our beer is yet, hopefully, our packaging will entice them give us a try.

 

four beers in a flight enemies

The Biggest Enemies of Craft Beer

With all the recent talk of big beer attacking craft beer from the inside out, you might think that the four biggest enemies of craft beer would be the big four in macro beer. Nope, the biggest enemies of craft beer are much more subversive, extend throughout the whole industry and in some ways are easier to fight. It turns out, time, light, oxygen and temperature are the four biggest issues facing craft beer and any one of the four can undo all of the hard work the brewers put into making that beer taste delicious.

Time

The fresh-factor is one of the biggest issues facing craft beer when it comes to taste. While there are certainly some beers that are meant to be aged, like barley wines, imperial stouts, Belgian strong ales, and lambics, most other styles of beers are really best fresh. IPAs, pale ales, and ambers are just a few of the beers that fit into the “consume fresh” category. Specifically talking about IPAs, the fresh, bright, hoppy characteristics that we love so much don’t often age well. In fact, hoppy beers will start to lose their aromas and hop presence when sitting in a bottle or a can for too long and the malty sweetness often becomes cloying in an older IPA. Thorn Street Brewery brew master, Eric O’Connor explains it like this, “Hoppy beers need to be consumed the fastest, as the hops drop out and the lack of specialty dark malts which can lend additional balance lead to a sweet and overly malty out of balance beer.”

So how long is too long? For IPAs, it’s best to drink them in the first 60 days. They aren’t going to spoil or become undrinkable on that 61st day, but they also probably won’t be as delicious. During the first 60 days, beer recipes are designed to be in harmony regarding malt sweetness, bitterness, hop aroma, and flavor. After that two-month period, this harmony can fall out of balance. Sometimes the imbalance isn’t horrible or that off-putting, but it’s also not the intended experience from the brewer.

This is why it’s so important for breweries to put “Enjoy By” or “Bottled On” dates on their packaging. Next time you are at your local shop looking for a beer to take home, start checking dates. If it’s a “bottled on” date then try and get ones that were bottled within 60 days of the day you want to drink it. Many bottles and cans still don’t have freshness dates on them so in this case you need to think about where you buy your packaged beer from. If you buy your beer from a liquor store or beer store that is popular and goes through a lot of inventory, you are probably good to go. If you are buying it from a random store in an area where craft beer isn’t that popular, that beer may have been sitting on their shelves for quite a bit of time and it’s best to be wary.

Light

Light is another thing that can stand in the way of optimal beer flavor and is responsible for the dreaded, “skunked” beer. This off-putting flavoring is due to the light-sensitivity of the hops in the beer. In fact, the term “skunked” is scientific in its basis. Chemists from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill studied what makes a beer skunky and found that when they hit three isohumulones (the compounds responsible for the light sensitivity in hops) with enough light, it created a compound called “skunky thiol” which has the same chemical make-up as a skunk’s noxious spray. While brown bottles help the issue somewhat, cans and kegs are really the best way to make sure that light doesn’t change the flavor of a beer.

Oxygen

While oxygen is both a friend and an enemy to beer, the process of oxidation can be damaging when it’s introduced after early fermentation. Oxidation can cause that dreaded “stale beer” taste and is most often detrimental when it occurs during packaging. Before that, if oxidation occurs, it will be caught by the brewing team and not packaged at all. Air doesn’t act alone when it comes to oxidizing beers, however. Temperature also plays a major role in oxidation and the resulting stale beer.

Temperature

Last but not least, temperature can be a killer of good tasting beer. The 3-30-300 rule has been conventional wisdom in the craft beer world for some time. While who commissioned the research is somewhat hazy (Ninkasi just says “a brewery,” while Mad Tree Brewery says the info comes from macro beer), the science is real and what was uncovered was that when it comes to storing beers, in 3 days at 90°F  you would get the same age-related flavor development as you would in 30 days at 71°F and 300 days at 33°F.

The best thing to do is keep your beer cold. While you can’t control how the beer is stored before it gets to you, and in fact, it’s likely it has already been up to room temperature a few times, you can only do so much when it comes to being vigilant. Some aging of the beer is expected and adjusted for in brewing recipes. Higher temperatures will just speed up that process past the, “oh this taste different but still good” to “WTF happened to this beer?” Just please don’t leave your beer in your car as this is a surefire way to skunk it. Furthermore, be wary of stores that have their beer on shelves where sunlight hits and warms them higher than 70 degrees on a daily basis. Based on the 3-30-300 rule, beer should probably not be kept at room temperature for more than 30 days if freshness is a factor in its flavor.

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask

If you want the freshest beer available, drink at the source! Luckily, for most of us here in San Diego, we live within a few miles of a brewery. There is nothing better than freshly kegged beer, so don’t be afraid to ask the beer-tender which beer on tap was recently kegged.

Likewise, a good rule of thumb when you go to a bar or a restaurant is to ask the bartender which kegs were tapped recently. Although this doesn’t always mean its the freshest keg, it gives you the best chance of not getting an old beer.

To recap, drink your beer as fresh as possibly, keep cold, buy cans when possible, and if you want the best beer experience, walk down to your local brewery for a fresh pint.

craft beer sign for trends

Year in Review: 2016 San Diego Beer Trends

Recently, the Brewer’s Association put out their Year in Review infographic for 2016 showing national beer trends. Here’s the breakdown of the info that they provided: There are now 5005 active breweries in the U.S. and craft beer has grown 8% year-over-year. IPAs account for 1/4 of sales in Craft Beer making it the most dominant style, though 65% of craft beer lovers say that they drink craft because it offers a wider variety of styles than traditional beer. We are shipping more craft beer abroad than ever before, and Portland was named #1 on the Beer Tourism Index (we already have talked about our disdain of the Beer Tourism Index).

None of this is particularly surprising so we thought we would do our own Year in Review and look at some of the beer trends we saw coming out of 2016 that interest us and how they impact the San Diego craft beer community.

Hazy IPAs

2016 was the year that hazy, New England-style IPAs jumped onto the national beer scene making its way to the West Coast. For years, Vermont breweries like The Alchemist and Hill Farmstead have been brewing these juicy, hazy, hoppy IPAs, with the whisperings of this unfiltered brew making their way to the West Coast. Lucky for IPA lovers like us, the style is now appearing all over San Diego beer menus. From Modern Times’ Blam Blam, to beers from Abnormal, Knotty Brewing and even Stone, New England is making itself known as a distinct style here in SD. Pure Project has some of the best SD examples of this style with their Murklands IPA, a hazy pale ale with Citra hops and Murk of the Beast brewed with Nelson, Citra and Mosiac hops. Both are delicious, juicy (as they say) and a delicious turn in the world of IPAs. Even more exciting, keep an eye out for our recent collab brew with Pizza Port of, you guessed it, a hazy IPA!

SD Loves It In The Can

Cans have made a big impact on the SD beer scene this in 2016. Many breweries are choosing to add cans to their offerings or (like we will be doing) going to canning altogether. Coronado Brewing, 32 North, Novo Brazil and Stone are just a few of the breweries who have gotten in the can-game this year. Why cans over bottles? First, they are better for the environment. They are lighter and more compact to ship than bottles, allowing for more to go in each shipment and requiring less fuel to move them. This lowers transportation costs as well as their impact on the environment. Also, cans are recycled at a much higher rate than bottles with cans containing on average 40% recycled material compared to the 27% average in bottles.

Another reason why many breweries have moved to canning is that cans are a superior package to bottles when it comes to preserving the quality of beer. Head Brewer here at Thorn Street Brewery, Scott Smith, explained it simply, “No air, no light…cans are just better for the beer.” Light and oxygen are two factors that play a crucial role in the flavor of the beer, so if they are better controlled with canning, then that means less waste and less of a chance that someone’s going to get a skunked beer.

Slow Growth for Big Craft Beer

San Diego was not immune to the reported slowdown in craft beer sales that we saw this year. While 8% growth is considered quite good in most industries, it’s down from the double-digit growth the industry has enjoyed for the last number of years. Nationwide, Sam Adams (Boston Beer Co.) is struggling, with sales falling from 5% in the first two quarters of 2016 to 8% in the third quarter. Sierra Nevada and New Belgium have also experienced their sales dropping this year and Stone Brewery had to lay off 5% of their workforce recently because of less-than-projected-growth.

This is a case of bigger is not always better. In fact, if you removed the biggest craft beer breweries, Boston Beer, New Belgium and Sierra Nevada from the data set, craft sales would actually be up 16% mid-year according to Brewbound. People are turning to more local, more independent beers. Even in the case of Stone, which is local to San Diego, they are getting hurt by people turning to hyper-local breweries to get their craft beer fix. People want the beer that was brewed in their hood, which brings us to our next point…

More Neighborhood Breweries

We love a good neighborhood brewery. Neighborhood breweries are walkable, bikable and surrounded by great restaurants, shops and other things that you can’t get in a business park. 2016 saw more and more breweries in San Diego opening their doors closest to your front door! Barn Brewing in North Park and the long awaited North Park Beer Co. both opened in 2016 along with Burning Beard and Finest Made in El Cajon and Santee respectively. While it’s completely understandable why business parks are the homes of big breweries pushing out thousands of kegs a year, we love the trend of neighborhood breweries opening too. A closer UBER ride is always a good thing!

What beer trends did we miss? Let us know on FB or in the comments here!