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SAN DIEGO BEER WEEK: Licorice Stout & Sacrifice Dinner

Picture it—Jerry Sanders in shades, flip-flops and an island-print shirt tapping a wooden beer cask in front a cheering crowd of 1,000-plus. That was the scene this Saturday when our mayor marched into the San Diego Brewers Guild Festival and officially christened the 2010 permutation of San Diego Beer Week. The beer in the cask he tapped was San Diego Beer Week Licorice Stout, a special limited edition beer brewed by the venerable Karl Strauss Brewing Co. to commemorate the 10-day affair.




San Diego Beer Week 2010 at Hotel Solamar.

Photo by Brandon Hernandez



San Diego is most known for its ultra-hopped high-alcohol India pale ales, so I was interested to find out how a low-hop, low-alcohol version of a beer style that is the polar opposite of an IPA came to be the fluidic face of San Diego Beer Week. So, yesterday, I snuck into a guided tour of Karl Strauss’ original Columbia Street brewery where I then systematically interrogated several of the minds behind the beer.

As it turns out, it was quite the collaborative effort, as is every beer created by Karl Strauss. The company relies on a brain trust consortium of sorts consisting of head brewer Paul Segura, members of his brewing staff and sales and marketing personnel (some of whom homebrew and all of which are devout fans of craft beer). Together, they have a collectively hefty finger on the pulse of San Diego’s beer drinking public and a vast knowledge of how to advance lofty concepts—like a semi-dry stout that tastes of licorice—into heady, tasty realities.

“I’ve been doing lots of stouts for a long time so I knew I wanted something dry and approachable,” said Segura. Given his experience, taking care of the first half of that equation was easy, but incorporating the flavor of black licorice—an ingredient Segura and his brew crew regard as love-or-hate for most people—took some creativity. A pilot batch turned up too much licorice flavor, so for the real deal run, he tweaked the level of the beer’s key taste ingredient, star anise, to create a final version with roasty front notes, a silky mouthfeel and a faint but unmistakable hint of lingering licorice in the finish. It’s just what they were going for and even licorice haters (myself included) can find the elegance in this black beauty.

My questions answered, I grabbed a growler of Karl Strauss Flan-Diddly-Anders Sour Ale (my personal favorite from them this Beer Week) and headed to Hotel Solamar’s fine dining restaurant, Jsix, for an event dubbed the Sacrifice Dinner. The mood was surprisingly jovial for an event with a name as dark as the aforementioned stout and a visage that included charred whole pigs and splayed roasted goat carcasses on an altar-like table in front of a large and rather risqué painting depicting a metaphorically veiled scene of a porn shoot. Surely the high spirits in light of this semi-macabre scene were due in large part to the extensive selection of beers from San Marcos’ The Lost Abbey that were present along with directory of brewery operations Tomme Arthur and his staff.

Arthur was invited in by executive chef Christian Graves, who last year, held three events during San Diego Beer Week and, this year, chose to do one grand evening building off his favorite of 2009’s trio—The Lost Abbey Art Show. Once again, the brewing company brought the framed original artwork for their bottle labels, but this year, the entire restaurant was converted into an art gallery equipped with four food stations serving whole animals including pigs, goats and crabs. The food was succulent and as much a talking point as the art, which depicted everything from biblical scenes to mixed-media to food still-lifes.

A fan and homebrewer of beer whose first foray into the medium was in his teens when his father brewed his own beer, Graves harbors a sincere appreciation for Arthur, who he struck up a friendship with in the wee morning hours following last year’s Lost Abbey event. They now communicate via text message and chat over beer at the brewery quite often, so it was a sincere joy for both of them to come together to achieve their individual goals, which for Arthur meant showcasing the works of his artist, Sean Dominguez, and, for Graves, meant serving whole animals, something he’s been wanting to do for some time and was very happy to do considering how well the concept fits into the scheme of The Lost Abbey’s religion and lore-fueled brand.

And for those wondering which beer features the soon-to-be-known-as porn shoot painting, it’s Amarosa, a fruity magenta sour ale. But don’t be surprised to find this painting has been cleaned up and cleverly cropped to make it acceptable to put on store shelves. Your best bet at seeing the real deal is by keeping an eye out for future exhibitions from Dominguez or art-centric events like this one from The Lost Abbey.

My picks for great San Diego Beer Week events on Friday (November 12)

Decade of Double Bastard, 11 a.m.

Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale is the beer that got America talking about San Diego’s brewing scene and Double Bastard took an already brawny brew to a new level. Limited versions dating back as far as ‘01 will be available on a first come-first serve basis.

1999 Citracado Parkway, Escondido, 760-471-4999

The Freak Show, 2-11:30 p.m.

Green Flash brewmaster Chuck Silva will guide Blind Lady Ale House patrons through a tasting of rare barrel-aged and wild yeast-stoked beers including Grand Mantis, his Grand Cru turned sour via aging in merlot wine barrels.

3416 Adams Avenue, Normal Heights, 619-255-2491

Attack of the Barrels, 4:30 p.m.

Tom Nickel, the owner of O’Brien’s Pub and liaison to breweries worldwide, will have over 50 (no, that’s not a typo) barrel-aged beers spanning all varieties and geographic regions for this very special Friday night affair.

4646 Convoy Street, Kearny Mesa, 858-715-1745

Lager Fest, 6 p.m.

The Linkery will host a night devoted to spotlighting lagers, the cold-fermented yang to the yin that is ale (which is a great deal more celebrated in San Diego) and representatives from Ballast Point will be there to describe these bottom-fermenting brews.

3926 30th Street, North Park, 619-255-8778

San Diego Brewers Rock

Check out the musical stylings of a band made up completely of members of the San Diego Brewers Guild at Eleven while partaking of the beers that, like sweet music (we hope), they created.

3519 El Cajon Blvd, Normal Heights, 619-450-4292