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The Sip

Forging Ahead with AleSmith: Master brewer Peter Zien pairs a new cheese brand with his award-winning beer lineup


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The best way to get to know AleSmith Brewing Company is through its in-depth tour, held the last Saturday of every month and conducted by the owner and brewmaster, Peter Zien. Over the course of an hour, you’ll learn some of the ins and outs of brewing and understand why this 16-year-old, nine-employee craft brewery has been honored with numerous awards, including Small Brewing Company and Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year at 2008’s Great American Beer Festival.

Though the brewery continues to operate on a relatively small scale, 2011 has brought growth in the form of a 4,300-square-foot expansion to the Miramar Road location, which will make room for a state-of-the-art bottling system from Italy and increase production by 9,000 barrels. Fans are hoping the new system will enable AleSmith to bottle some previously draft-only beers like Nautical Nut Brown and other seasonals. The new space has also led to an increase of the bourbon-barrel-aging program to 24 barrels, producing vintages of three popular styles: Old Numbskull (a barley wine), Speedway Stout and a Scotch ale called Wee Heavy.

The tasting room is now open 16 hours a week and has doubled in size to hold more public events. Its 12 beer taps are augmented by a pilot brew system that will enable Zien and AleSmith’s brewers to create one-off beers available for special tastings.

Zien, the only Beer Judge Certification Program Grand Master Level One beer judge in San Diego County, refers to the brewery as an artists’ colony. His interest in craft food products is not limited just to beer. For the past 10 years, he has explored his hobbyist’s predisposition, once fulfilled by homebrewing, by attending artisan cheese courses and hand-making cheese, from cheese curds to Cheddar,
every Sunday in his San Diego kitchen.

Beer and cheese make a natural pairing (many say a better match than wine). Athough there is a long line of Belgian breweries that also make cheese, there are none in the United States. AleSmith, hoping to be the first, is looking into the possibility of an urban cheese-making facility in San Diego carrying the CheeseSmith label.

Zien will also source the milk locally. In the past, he collaborated with a Poway farm, donating the brewery’s spent grain to be used as goat feed in exchange for fresh milk. All the cheese will be designed to pair with AleSmith’s lineup or even include beer among its ingredients. Zien has already experimented with washed-rind cheeses (whose surface gets bathed in a liquid that adds flavor during the aging proc­ess), including one washed with Horny Devil, the brewery’s coriander-infused Belgian Strong Ale.

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