Beyond the pint glass, craft beer takes over the plate

Posted: November 12th, 2010 | Arts & Entertainment | No Comments

By Lauren Duffy Lastowka | SDUN Hoptown Girl

A tower of Misty Birchall's cupcakes of Pubcakes bakery are made with beer.


“It’s a one man show—just me,” says Pubcakes’ owner and baker, Misty Birchall. More accurately, though, the operation is a one-woman show. “I’m a beer girl,” she explains of how she came upon the idea to marry the widely diverse worlds of cupcakes and beer. A baker at heart, Misty had been baking cakes for friends and office celebrations for years when she came across a recipe for a stout cake. “It’s pretty common,” Misty says of the recipe. Except that when she found it, sparks flew. She transformed the stout cake recipe into “Irish car bomb” cupcakes, using Guinness as the cake base and Bailey’s Irish Cream in the frosting. Soon she was hooked on baking with beer—and so were her friends. “I would bring them into Toronado on Monday nights and just give them away,” she said of the dozens of cupcakes she was baking but couldn’t possibly eat herself. Finally someone told her they were good enough to sell.

So Misty created Pubcakes, a beer-friendly bakery that exclusively makes beer cupcakes. “I try to stick to local beers if I can,” she says. She uses the beer in the cake batter, and then creates frostings, fillings, and garnishes to accentuate the flavor of the beer.

As for the flavors, they are a result of “lots and lots of research— and sampling.” Sometimes, Misty explains, she’ll be inspired by a beer and work to create flavors that complement it. This was the case with her Top Ten Cake. “I knew I wanted to do an IPA beer,” she explains, but realized the challenge, as IPA’s characteristic bitterness is a complete clash with sweet flavors. She chose Karl Strauss’s IPA for its mild hop profile, and then created a quadrant of flavors to surround the beer: “spicy, sweet, tart, and smoky.” The result is a hoppy cupcake base garnished with cayenne caramel, cherries, and ancho chiles. Misty does not mess around.

Other notable flavors are her Beer for Breakfast cupcake, which pairs Alesmith’s Wee Heavy beer with bacon and maple cream cheese frosting (yes, you need to try it), and her Stoned Portzilla, which marries Stone Smoked Porter with coffee ganache and caramelized coconut.

The future has a lot in store for Pubcakes. Misty is working on a collaboration with homebrewer and North Park Beer Co. owner Kelsey McNair, who is brewing a beer specifically for her to incorporate into a Red Velvet cupcake. She’s also in the process of partnering with Treehouse Coffee, a local coffee company and coffee roaster, to open up a shared storefront in La Mesa. Misty expects the store to open in late December or January.

Until then, you can find Pubcakes at Toronado in North Park, the Tipsy Crow downtown, and KnB Wine Cellars in the College Area. You can also order a dozen or more cupcakes through her website,

Mike’s Beer Cheese

Normal Heights resident Mike Palmer has a pretty sweet gig. He’s the creative director at Stone Brewing Co. and spends his days working with, thinking about, and promoting beer. So it’s no surprise that over the past 10 years he has taken his appreciation of beer in a wildly creative direction: cheese.

Mike’s Beer Cheese is a simple and delicious concept: a spreadable concoction made from shredded cheese and beer. “My original inspiration came from a cookbook in an antique store,” says Mike of the pre-Prohibition recipe he found for “Old Kentucky Beer Cheese.” Fast forward 10 years, and Mike’s creations are a bold departure from the original recipe. “They might be very upset if they tried my version,” Mike says of the original recipe writers.

Mike’s beer cheeses marry the distinct flavors of beer with wild and downright addicting flavors. New this year is the 10- 10-10 cheese, which pairs Stone’s 10-10-10 Vertical Epic with six-month aged Winchester Gouda, coriander, cumin, and Clementine peels. “It’s outside of the box,” Mike says of his newest creation. Other tried-and-true favorites include the Stone Smoked Porter & garlic cheese, a Stone Pale Ale cheese with sundried tomatoes and fresh basil, and a Stone Ruination cheese with fresh hops and mustard. Then, of course, there’s the Napalm Bastard—a fiery concoction of Stone Arrogant Bastard, fresh jalapeño, Serrano and Thai chilies, bell pepper, and an Indian chili powder called reshampatti. “It’s really hot,” Mike says, which is a bit of an understatement.

The flavors, Mike says, are simply “based on what I think will taste good.” He explains that when he’s drinking a beer, he will imagine what flavors would go well with it. “I actually wrote the recipe for the Ruination [cheese] while drinking a beer,” he says. He tries to keep the recipes basic, allowing the subtleties of each beer’s flavor to enhance the cheese.

When I caught up with him, he was in the midst of making 250 pounds of beer cheese for San Diego Beer Week. Most of it was served at Stone World Bistro and Gardens on Nov. 7, where a special Beer Week event featured appetizers and entrées showcasing his cheeses. Right now, Mike is making the cheese mostly for Stone special events, but he hopes to expand in the coming year.

In fact, as Mike approaches the 10th anniversary of the first beer cheese he made—“for my cousin’s Super bowl party”—he has a keen eye toward the future. His goal is to get his beer cheese onto menus at bars and restaurants around town, and eventually, to package it for retail sale. “We’re almost there,” he says, predicting that you’ll find his beer cheese around town as early as next year. Keep abreast of developments at

Doggie Beer Bones

The colorful packages of spent-grain snackables made by Golden Hill resident David Crane aren’t exactly for the human palate. But they’re quite popular with the canine set. In fact, Doggie Beer Bones was born when Crane’s friends encouraged him to take his spent-grain doggie treats from a seasonal holiday gift to a year-round business. So, just a few months ago, Crane launched a website, designed packaging, and started selling his doggie treats at the Little Italy Farmers Market and Super Junior Market Downtown.

The treats, which come six or 12 to a package, are baked with spent grain from David’s homebrewing batches, along with peanut butter, eggs, and flour. “This is from a batch of pumpkin ale I made,” David explains as he points out an array of light colored treats, “while these are from an oatmeal stout.” The grain bill depends on David’s homebrewing schedule, although he thinks the treats probably have a pretty consistent flavor. “It’s the peanut butter that dominates,” he says.

Despite the name, the treats don’t actually contain any alcohol—the grain is used early in the brewing process, before the sugars are converted to alcohol. Still, being able to offer your canine companion a beer-friendly treat just seems like something that should be possible in this beer-friendly city. To order online or

learn more about David’s treats, visit

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