I learned two things about Karl Strauss Brewing Co. on Saturday.
1. They throw a kick ass party.
2. They offer so many more beers, good beers, than Pintail, Red Trolley & Tower 10.
The Karl Strauss Changing of the Barrels 26th Anniversary was a big deal. A much bigger deal than I realized when I was driving over there. Held from 6-9PM on Saturday Feb 7th, there were already cars lined up and down Santa Fe Street when I arrived fashionably on time at 6pm. Two lines had formed at a tent outside the front doors for guest-listers and ticket-holders checking in. People were hand shaking and kissing hellos. A group of well dressed men and women made me briefly wonder if my green chinos and hipster plaid button down weren’t dressy enough, but then I remembered I was at a brewery, in San Diego where flip-flops are perfectly acceptably dinnerware attire.
At the check-in I received a solid full-size Belgian snifter glass, a pencil and a checklist of all the beers available for the evening. Holy shit. That is a lot of beers. 27 of them. I had no idea they even had 27 beers. I’ll save you the suspense. I tried 9 of them before settling on repeats for the final bit of the evening. Right inside the doors of the tasting room is the bar on the right. There was a crowd of people. But on the left a table with no line was set up with tacos in cups and a tap of Mosaic Session Ale. Mosaic will be a year round beer soon, and in addition to the bourbon barreled stuff was the talk of the night.
The taco is spicy & delicious. All of the beer was paired with foodstuffs from MIHO Gastrotruck. MIHO is a catering company in a truck. The food was fucking delicious. Flatbreads, fish tacos, cheeses & chocolates. I wasn’t disappointed in the food at any point in the evening. After Mosaic, I found myself instinctively avoiding the crowd moving in the door and out on the back patio. I make my way all the way to the back where a lovely lady was pouring the 26th Anniversary Bourbon Barrel Aged Strong Ale accompanied by Oyster topped flatbreads.
Whoa! That was a big, smooth, carmelly jump from the session ale. It is so smooth I feel like I should have a rocks glass with a big square ice cube instead of the snifter. These pours are generous, and I can feel the Anniversary Ale swimming in my brain a little bit. I made a mistake driving here. Time to call my wife and ask if she will kindly Uber here later to pick me up (she would, did and is lovely).
I move back towards the main room and hop onto a brewery tour with head brewer Matt Johnson. The tour is short and concise starting in the lab & making it’s way through the brewing towers to a hidden beer tap with a preview of the 27th Anniversary Ale. It is a Double Chocolate Russian Imperial Stout being poured by Amanda, another great KS employee I met that night. We got to sample it before it would be barreled for next years party.
On the tour there are questions about chemistry, yeast culturing and the always asked “How much beer is in here?” Answer: about 9000 kegs worth. I’m always surprised by the level of advanced beer intelligence the consumers in SoCal are. I’m a big beer guy. I’ve worked in the industry for 20 years, been actively (some might say aggressively) consuming and educating myself on craft beers for the past 12. And still, on this abbreviated tour there were several questions asked that were way above my pay grade. When I mentioned it to Head Brewer Matt, he agreed saying that even he gets stumped once in awhile on brewing questions from the local beer drinkers. It is a testament to SoCal that the people are not only great beer drinkers but smart beer drinkers as well.
After the tour I continued make the rounds sampling specialty beers like Wreck Alley Imperial Stout, Under the Stairs Passion Fruit Wild Ale, Jolt N’ Joe (which is the Wreck Alley blended with Mostra Cold-Pressed Coffee) and finally Big Barrel IPA. Big Barrel IPA is a 9% Imperial IPA using New Zealand hops. It is delicious. I can’t believe I haven’t had it before and I can only blame myself. It is not as if I have been avoiding Karl Strauss beers, but I also haven’t been seeking them out. They have been around so long, and some of their mainstay beers have gotten so mainstream that I kind of forgot about them. I took for granted their status in the SoCal beer industry, and kept seeking out craft beers further and further from home. I won’t make that mistake again. I will be seeking out Big Barrel on the regular from now on.
It is then that Brewmaster Paul Segura stepped on the patio stage to eloquently thank us for being there, supporting Karl Strauss and let us know how much they appreciate their beer drinkers. It was short and sweet. Then he introduced Dead Feather Moon. The evenings entertainment. As a band they were mostly bearded, indie looking dudes. And they fucking rocked. I know that beards don’t actually enhance a musicians talent but they don’t hurt either. DFM was one of the best live bands I’ve seen in a while. I settled into a rhythm of Big Barrel IPA tasters, watching the band, smiling and nodding, and trying to avoid the inevitable truth that the end of the evening was soon approaching.
Karl Strauss put on a well conceived event. Even though they sold tickets I doubt they made money on the event, and maybe didn’t even break even. Rather it was a fun, relaxed celebration of beer, San Diego & Karl’s place in it. It was never too crowded to find a beer, snack or someone to chat with. The vibe was happy and celebratory, like going to a company holiday party. Which, in a way, it was. I’m already gearing up for next year.
Karl Strauss Brewing Co. has a tasting room and several brewpubs. You can find one near you here.
Beers imbibed at the Karl Strauss 26th Anniversary Celebration:
- 26th Anniversary Ale – Barrel Aged Belgian Dark Strong Ale
- 27th Anniversary Ale preview – DBL Chocolate Russian Imperial Stout
- Red Trolley Ale
- Tower 10 IPA
- Wreck Alley Imperial Stout
- Big Barrel IPA (personal favorite of the night)
- Mosaic Session Ale
- Jolt ‘N’ Joe (Wreck Alley Mixed with Mostra Cold-Press coffee)
- Under the Stairs Passion Fruit Wild Ale Aged 23 months in oak barrels