By Lauren Duffy Lastowka | SDUN Columnist
As the first week of the new year unfolds, I’ve thought a lot about my priorities (I’m guessing I’m not alone). I’ve thought about how I want to spend my time, what I want to work towards, and what I hope to accomplish in 2011. But among my wishes for health, happiness and quality time with friends and family (and sausage making, which I’m determined to learn), is a strong undercurrent of desire. I’d like to devote a lot of my time this year to beer.
Seriously. The more I drink and learn about the beer in this area, the more I realize just how spectacular it is. There’s something special here—a craft beer community that thrives on camaraderie, community and creativity. Craft beer is a quintessential part of life here in San Diego, and to enjoy it, to explore it, is to take advantage of one of the greatest assets our region has to offer.
I’m reminded of this often, but especially when entertaining out-of-town, beer-friendly guests, which happened a lot last year. Whether I’d bring them to beer bars or open a few bottles at home, they all marveled at the selection, the choice, and the sheer diversity of our beer offerings. Recently, two friends of mine from Missoula, Mont., were dumbfounded to see the lineup of beers planned for South Park’s Hamilton Tavern’s upcoming Second Saturday celebration. This month’s event happening Jan. 8 features Missoula-based Big Sky Brewing, and of the nearly 20 beers that will be offered, my friends proclaimed: “We can’t even get most of those by visiting the brewery!” Special indeed.
So as with 2010, this year I’m determined to take advantage of what our craft beer scene has to offer. I hope you too will resolve to further explore the wonderful world of beer this year. Pardon the pun, but I’ve put together a few New Beers’ resolutions to get you started.
Branch out and explore new styles. Whether you resolve to try one new style a month or just one new style this year, branching out is one of the best ways to improve your appreciation of beer. The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) style guidelines, which are widely used in most of the craft beer competitions across the country, defines 81 styles of beer across 23 general categories, and new categories and styles continue to be invented each year. Even the most avid beer drinker always has something new to explore, and some of the most enticing styles are those you have yet to try. You can view a list of styles at bjcp.org or you can also download the BJCP Style App for Android or iPhone.
Learn more about pairing beer with food. Craft beer has emerged as a wonderful counterpart to food, and frankly you are missing out if you don’t explore the pleasures of pairings. A great starting point is the book “The Brewmaster’s Table,” by Brooklyn Brewery founder Garrett Oliver, which covers food pairings for most of the main beer styles. For a more hands-on approach, check out the monthly Craft Beer and Food Series at the Grill at Torrey Pines, which feature a five-course meal created to pair with five local beer selections. The next event in the series is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 19 at 6:30 p.m., and will feature Point’s Abandon Ship Smoked Lager, Habanero Sculpin IPA, and Smoked Chipotle & Cocoa Nib Black Marlin Porter, among others. The cost is $55 per person; call (858) 777-6645 for details.
Visit one (or two or three) new breweries and meet the brewer. It’s been 15 months since Men’s Journal counted the number of breweries in cities across the U.S. and declared San Diego the top beer town in America. Since then, the number of breweries in San Diego has not stopped growing. New additions include Mother Earth Brew Company in Vista, Hess Brewing in the Miramar area, San Diego Beer Company located downtown, the new Pizza Port location in Ocean Beach, and Automatic Brewing, the nano-brewery located at the Blind Lady Ale House in Normal Heights. My hunch is that 2011 will see quite a few more opening, so best not get too far left behind.
Start (or step up) your homebrewing game. There really isn’t a better city to homebrew in than San Diego. For one, the weather is amazing, making outdoor brewing possible close to year-round. For another, the support is phenomenal— you’d be surprised at how many people in this town also try their hand at the sport. I’ve gotten homebrew advice from a bartender, a salumi maker, a chicken farmer, and several professional brewers. There’s also QUAFF, San Diego’s homebrew club, which meets monthly and has close to 200 members. Whether you’re just getting started or are a seasoned hobbyist, the Ballast Point Home Brew Mart in Linda Vista is one of the best area homebrew resources for equipment, ingredients, and books. Also check out quaff.org.
Introduce a friend or family member to the pleasures of beer. This is my top recommendation not only for 2011, but for every year. Bring beer, rather than wine, to your next dinner party. Invite a few friends over for a tasting of several beers of one style. Organize a trip to a new pub or brewery. Give a growler as a gift. Do whatever you can to share your love and passion for beer, and watch your friends’ appreciation grow.
Here’s to a happy and hoppy 2011. I look forward to another year of exploring, savoring, and writing about beer!