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10 Things I'm Drinking to This Thanksgiving

More than ever, we can be thankful for beer


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We should be thankful that beer makes us happy. | Photo Bruce Glassman

'Tis the season for reflection and giving thanks. With all that’s going on in the world, there’s plenty of cause for anxiety—tax battles, health care debates, the threat of nuclear annihilation, to name a few—so my thinking is that we should be thankful for the things that can actually help us get happy despite our anxiety. And that brings me (inevitably!) to beer.

It may seem like a relatively small element in the overall scheme of things, but I believe beer has the power to bring people together. It’s often called a “social lubricant” because—in the right settings— it can actually foster human interaction, discussion, and (I'd like to think) greater understanding between folks. It can make a lot of things better. It’s a happy beverage. And, on top of everything else, it’s delicious.

Here’s my Top 10 list of beer-related things I’ve come to appreciate this past year. I’ll be toasting them at our Thanksgiving feast, how about you?

 

The Top 10 (Beer) Things I’m Thankful For

 

10. Lower ABVs

I love IPAs and IIPAs, but it’s nice to finally have so many super-flavorful options that satisfy without knocking you off your bar stool after one or two pints. San Diego-made kettle sours, lagers, and pale ales in particular have become my go-to quaffs when I visit a local tasting room—at 5% or 6% average ABV, they’re the kinds of beers you can enjoy for hours without getting into trouble.

 

9. Taster Glasses with Room

Tiny tasting glasses filled to the brim is a bit of a pet peeve; that's why I appreciate when a tasting room provides taster glasses with enough space to allow a beer to be properly enjoyed. Too many breweries use those little shot-glass-style things and then fill them to the rim. Not only does that force you to drink before you smell (spillage!) it also prevents proper aroma enjoyment. Tiny glasses just don’t do a beer justice. Kudos to Stone, Wild Barrel, Ballast Point, and Burning Beard for some of the best taster glasses I can think of, and honorable mention to Council, Toolbox, AleSmith, Coronado, and Bay City for smaller versions and the right idea.

Tasting glasses with room for aroma make a huge difference when tasting beer. | Photo: Nate Glassman-Hughes

 

8. Good Logos/Swag

I’ll admit it: I’m more open to liking a brewery if it has a well-designed logo and some good looking swag, like a cool T-shirt or hat. Maybe it’s my book publishing background (I like typography and design) or maybe it’s just that a brewery with a well-conceived logo says to me that you’ve thought about the details and taken the time (and money) to do it right. That’s usually a good sign.

 

7. Lagers

I recently wrote about the “lager renaissance” currently underway here in San Diego and, frankly, it’s a development I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. I’m still crazy for a great hoppy pale ale or IPA, but the recent focus on big-flavored but light, crisp, and clean lagers has added a whole new dimension to the lineup in many tasting rooms. The lager boom has also shown us that lagers are not only light golden beers with subtle maltiness and restrained hoppiness, they can also be highly malty, highly hoppy, and accentuated by richer flavors such as caramel, coffee, corn flakes, tropical fruit, and toast.

 

6. Comet and Galaxy Hops 

As an avowed hophead, I’m always on the lookout for new beers made with new hops. Sometimes, even if the hop variety isn’t new, it comes back into fashion for one reason or another and brewers start using it more and more. Comet is a good example. Comet is a non-patented hop variety that was launched into obscurity during the alpha acid craze of the late ’90s, when colossal-style IPAs started to gain popularity. Developed by the USDA in the 1960s, Comet is a gently bittering, aromatic hop that bursts with dank citrus, grapefruit, and tropical fruit. Similar to Citra (another hop variety I love), Comet is often referred to as “Citra’s little sister.” Galaxy hops come from Australia, and they are commonly used for both bittering as well as aroma. Usually described as having a passion fruit character with aromas of fresh citrus and peach, Galaxy also often adds a lush component of pineapple, mango, and guava.

 

5. Saisons

It’s not fair, but I tend to skip over saisons when I’m out in a bar or tasting room. For some reason, I don't tend to want them on their own the way I do pale ales, sours, or stouts. But pair a saison with food and—bang!—I remember just how great a food beer saison can be. And saisons are so versatile and well-balanced, they can pair with an incredible range of cuisines and flavors—everything from curries to Cajun to citrus to chiles. I’ve even had a few killer desserts paired with saison! It’s simply the world’s most food-friendly beer.

 

4. Crowlers

For those of you who have yet to discover the wonder of crowlers, they are the large 32-ounce cans that can be filled at the tap and sealed for beer to go. Thanks to the advent of crowler machines, you no longer have to lug heavy glass growlers around to many of your favorite smaller (non-packaging) breweries, and you can get a wider range of beers by not having to commit to 64-ounces of the same style (or to purchasing multiple 32-ounce glass containers). Unopened crowlers will also keep your beer better and longer than glass containers with caps, and they travel every bit as well as cans. The only downside? Like a can, once they’re opened, you have to finish a crowler (but is that really a downside?).

Crowlers and crowler machines have replaced costly and inconvenient glass growlers in many places. | Photo: Nate Glassman-Hughes

 

3. Brettanomyces 

This genus of yeast, informally referred to as “Brett,” is commonly used in brewing to impart funky aromas and flavors that can’t be reproduced by any other ingredients. In fact, because this strain is related to ancient wild strains found on fruit skins, it can be somewhat unpredictable in the results it yields. But that’s also what makes it so great. I love Brett beers, not only for their “funkiness” (the aromas it creates have been described as everything from “barnyard” and “wet hay” to “cat piss” and “sweaty gym socks”), but also for the wonderful fruitiness, spice, and earthiness those beers contain.

 

2. San Diego Beer Week

You may think the opposite, but most brewers don’t tend to get out much. That’s why SDBW is such a great annual tradition. During this week, a whole lot of brewers come out to socialize and share in a unique community that’s bound together by brewing. SDBW is also great for beer fans, of course, but the fact that all members of the beer industry can gather to toast each other, show off their beers, and revel in their common love of San Diego and awesome beer is—to me—what makes San Diego Beer Week so gratifying.

 

1. New Brewers

Man, you’ve got to have a lot of guts to open up a new brewery in San Diego these days. The competition is fierce (friendly, but fierce), the pitfalls are many, and San Diego beer drinkers have some of the most demanding palates around. That means—no matter what you brew—it’s got to be great. Despite all the possible negatives, lots of brewers are identifying real opportunities that still exist in our county. Areas like Barrio Logan, East County, and Ramona are starting to come alive as beer hubs, and other new brewers are focusing on more offbeat styles or unique brewing techniques to set themselves apart from the establishment. How many more breweries can we support? Hard to say. But I do know that I’m constantly encouraged when I see a new place open up with truly excellent beers because I know, even though the playing field is super crowded, there’s always room for one more terrific brewery.

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