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Behind The Beer

KARL Invites You To “Try One, Have A Few” With Our Latest Release: Mosaic Session Ale

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Introducing a new beer is always exciting, but our latest brew has us particularly buzzing. The first of our “Tank Tap” series to be called up to the big leagues, it began as a humble one-off brew and has now graduated to a full on commercial release. The story begins back in 2013 when the head brewer at our Downtown Brewpub, Sean Albrecht, crafted the recipe for a small batch release he called “Mosaic Wheat”, an unfiltered American-Style Wheat Pale Ale. The light copper color and cracked wheat/citrus flavor combination was a hit and it was tapped out in a matter of days. “The first time I smelled Mosaic hops, I knew I had to brew a beer featuring them,” says Albrecht. “I was inspired to brew a hop bomb that Californians would love, but something that was drinkable enough to enjoy a few pints at a time. I started with a clean malt profile and then double dry-hopped for big citrus aromatics.”

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KARL’s 2013 Pro-Am Competition: A Tale of Chance, Tragedy and Triumph

ProAm Brew Bleke Citroen-6

It always amazes me when a seemingly straightforward story takes on new life and becomes entirely more meaningful once we take the time to look beyond the surface. Such was the case with our Pro-Am winner, Tim Taylor, and the tale of how his chance visit to a Karl Strauss restaurant saw him go from casual home brewer to having his creation judged on one the largest competitive beer stages in the world, and the near tragedy that weighed heavy on his heart throughout.

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Behind the Beer: Blackball Belgian IPA

In April 2010, Blackball Belgian IPA joined Big Barrel Double IPA in KARL’s Coastal Reserve, but this hoppy Belgo-American strong ale got its start long before the first bombers rolled off the line. In fact, the inspiration for this beer, like many of our most popular offerings, came from a small batch brewed at one of our brewpubs.   I caught up with brewer Nolan Clark to recount how his “Belgian Stranger” strong ale evolved into today’s Blackball Belgian IPA.

If I remember correctly, it was around this time four-years ago when you startedBlackball Belgian IPA brewing some crazy one-offs in the pubs. What’s the story behind the infamous Belgian Stranger?

“The Belgian Stranger came about when I was brewing downtown…  Some people don’t know me as a brewer for Karl Strauss but as a drummer, specifically for a local San Diego reggae band by the name of Stranger – hence the name of the beer. All the guys in the band love craft beer and enjoy drinking local brew just as much, so I wanted to create something as sort of a tribute to them. Long story short, I wanted to brew a high gravity Belgian Pale Ale with some of my favorite West Coast hops.”

Any particular reason why you chose to create a Belgian-style ale with a West Coast hop profile?

“I’d been drinking a lot of Belgian-style beers at the time but hadn’t really had many West Coast-style Belgian pales.  I like simple things that function well, so I went with a pretty simple recipe; Pale 2-row,  Carapils and C-40 for color – a pretty typical pale ale malt base that really makes the hops to stand out. I also chose an Abbey ale yeast from White Labs that could handle the higher gravity and would also impart the distinctive clove and spice notes characteristic of many Belgian styles. “

And the result?

“My simple approach ended up working really well. The Belgian yeast strain gave me a super dry and spicy beer that really allowed the citrusy Cascade and Amarillo hops to shine through. I also added some coriander and Curacao orange peel during the boil which added to the citrus and spicy notes in the beer.”

What did people think?

“It was so well received that Paul and the guys had me brew a second batch for American Craft Beer Week 2009, and ultimately we used the recipe to create what is known today as Blackball Belgian IPA.”

Are there any major differences between the original Belgian Stranger and Blackball?

“There’s really not too much difference between the two, other than the Stranger’s  alcohol content (10.6%)  and Blackball’s massive dry hop addition of choice New Zealand hops. Overall, if you put Stranger up to Blackball, you would notice that Blackball has a more pronounced hop profile, while the Belgian Stranger is a bit higher in ABV.  To this day, I still refer to Blackball as the Belgian Stranger. Maybe I’m a little too proud, but sometimes you gotta savor those moments of inspiration and creative satisfaction. Drink up ya’ll and don’t forget to share. Cheers!”

Blackball Belgian IPA
Stats: 8.5% ABV – 14 SRM – 80 IBU
From the label: When checkered blackball flags dot the California coastline, experienced surfers migrate to advanced breaks where strangers to the sport dare not. Blackball is a Belgian-inspired India Pale Ale with a robust West Coast hop profile. Belgian ale yeast, coriander, and Curacao lend a fruity and spicy character for an ale bolder than your average IPA. A blend of New Zealand and Cascade hops add a vibrant floral aroma and clean citrus hop bitterness that lingers through its’ crisp, dry finish. Drink up while it’s young, heavily hopped IPA’s are best enjoyed fresh.

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Behind the Beer: Wreck Alley Imperial Stout

 Behind the Beer: Wreck Alley Imperial Stout

It was around this time last year when we were making the final tweaks to a beer that Wreck Alley Imperial Stoutwould become Wreck Alley, our Imperial Stout brewed with cocoa nibs and coffee beans. And as we look forward to releasing our first barrel-aged version of Wreck Alley on March 1st, we thought we’d share the story behind the original beer, or at the very least some of the interesting details that wouldn’t fit on the label.

Finding the right coffee…

In our search for the perfect coffee beans, we were certain about two things; first, we wanted a roast that would complement the dark chocolate flavors of the beer without adding bitterness, and second, we wanted to work with a local roaster. Fortunately, the folks at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters were not only willing to supply us with their award-winning coffee, but even offered to create a special roast for Wreck Alley Imperial Stout. After plenty of sampling, we landed on lightly roasted beans from Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee.  The flavors were delicate, and when cold-steeped, the coffee had a nutty, roasted, and toffee-like character.

What the heck are cocao nibs, why do I keep hearing about them, and what are they doing in a beer?

Simply put, cocoa nibs are cocoa beans that have been roasted, de-husked, and crushed into pieces– basically chocolate in its rawest form. In brewing, the addition of cocoa nibs will add to and accentuate the dark chocolate flavors in porters and stouts. The Peruvian cocoa nibs used in Wreck Alley are roasted and prepared by Tcho Chocolate Company on Pier 17 in San Francisco, CA.

Where does the coffee and cocoa come into play in the brewing process?

This step is what all the test batches were for.  We use coffee and cocoa nibs in Wreck Alley to lend their individual flavors to the beer, while complementing the flavors of the malts. Because both coffee beans and cocoa nibs can be bitter and acidic, we use a cold-steeping process where both ingredients are added to the conditioning tank after fermentation. This technique allows Wreck Alley to extract the flavors and aromas of the coffee and cocoa without adding bitterness or acidity.

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24th Anniversary Flanders-style Sour Red Ale

When I began my career in the craft beer industry, Karl Strauss Brewing Company had just celebrated 18 years of brewing in San Diego. It was 2007; San Diego was home to a close-knit band of breweries, and you could count the number of craft-savvy beer bars on one hand. San Diego’s beer scene was plenty mature at the time, but the cult-like demand for San Diego beers was still a few years away. And while high-octane hoppy beers were putting SD on the international map, a more experimental and lesser-known brewing practice was developing behind closed brewery doors.Sour Beers

Experimenting with different ingredients and techniques is one of the most exciting parts of brewing, especially when a little spontaneity or a happy accident leads to new discoveries and complex flavors.  The most exciting discovery of my first year with KARL was sour beers. In my life before beer, I knew nothing about spontaneous fermentation or wild ales; my only real experience was pouring a Duchesse de Bourgogne down the drain because it tasted like balsamic vinegar. That being said, my education began when I discovered a cache of dusty, cobweb-covered oak barrels in a dark recessed corner of the brewery. Curious,  I asked around and learned that these barrels contained sour and spontaneously fermented ales inoculated with lactic acid-producing bacteria and wild yeast. At first, I didn’t know what to make of folks using bacteria and wild organisms to make beer, but after reading up on the styles and doing a little bar stool research, I was hooked. (more…)


Parrot in a Palm Tree: Two Years Later

If you’re hoarding a private stash of our 2010 holiday offering, Parrot in a Palm Tree, there’s no doubt you’re wondering how well it’s aged – and to be perfectly honest, we were pretty curious ourselves. So, like any self-respecting craft brewery, we took matters into our own hands and recruited a few seasoned craft beer professionals to evaluate the first installment in our less than literal “Twelve Days” series of holiday ales.

An honest and snob-free evaluation of Parrot in a Palm Tree by Ryan Ross and Randy Clemens:

Parrot in a Palm Tree – Holiday Baltic Porter 2010
8.5% ABV – 50 SRM – 35IBU
Original Description: Aged three months in San Pasqual Tawny Portbarrels, this winter warmer boasts a complex bouquet of dark fruits, espresso and chocolate, with hints of oak in its warming finish. Raise a glass to 2010 or save a bottle, as this limited release will age with the best of them.

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San Diego Beer Week Peanut Butter Cup Porter

When San Diego Beer Week kicked-off for the first time in 2009, we brewed a special release Imperial Pale Ale to commemorate what has become an annual celebration of San Diego’s vibrant brewing community.  The following year we made our SDBW special release an annual event with a small batch of SDBW Licorice Stout, and in 2011 we kept the tradition going with the release of our SDBW Double IPA. For this year’s beer week release, we chose a more experimental recipe conceived by our very own brewer John Hunter. Inspired by curiosity, Halloween candy, and a borderline obsession with peanut butter and chocolate, John convinced Brewmaster Paul and the rest of the Karl Strauss team to brew this year’s special release – SDBW Peanut Butter Cup Porter.

San Diego Beer Week Peanut Butter Cup Porter – An English-style Brown Porter brewed with organic peanut powder, cocoa nibs, and vanilla beans. The resulting brew is a beer’s answer to the peanut butter cup – a medium-bodied porter with smooth layers of peanut butter and milk chocolate.
Stats: 5.6% ABV – 56 SRM – 30 IBU

FAQ: I have a peanut allergy, will this beer make me ill?
Answer: YES! 

SDBW Peanut Butter Cup Porter Float
1 16oz Pint Glass
2 Large scoops Vanilla Ice Cream
8oz SDBW Peanut Butter Cup Porter
1 Peanut Butter Cup

If you’ve made a root beer float, this should be a no-brainer. Add two scoops of vanilla ice cream to an empty pint glass, pour chilled beer over the top, and garnish with a peanut butter cup. Growler fills of our SDBW Peanut Butter Cup Porter will be available 11/2 – 11/11 at each of our San Diego Brewery Restaurants. Mention San Diego Beer Week on Friday 11/2 or Friday 11/9 for an $8 ½ gallon fill.

Peanut Butter Porter Float

SDBW Peanut Butter Cup Porter Float


Mouette à Trois: A Holiday Fruitcake Ale

With Two Tortugas taking home medals at both the Great American Beer Festival AND the World Beer Cup, it’s safe to say the bar has been raised on our “Twelve Days” series of holiday ales. This year’s beer is Mouette à Trois, a San Diego spin on the traditional Three French Hens. Long story short, we don’t have French Hens so we’re compromising with French Seagulls. As for the beer, rather than selecting a more traditional beer style like the Baltic Porter (Parrot in a Palm Tree) or a Belgian Quad (Two Tortugas), we went the experimental route. We wanted to create a flavorful winter warmer that captured the perfect mix of holiday cheer and holiday cliché, so we brewed beer’s answer to fruitcake. Think of it as a blend of “HOHOHO Merry Christmas!” and “Hallelujah! Holy sh*t! Where’s the Tylenol?”

Have a look at the label below, keep your fingers crossed that it does well at GABF, and stay tuned for a sneak preview in our Brewery Restaurants.

Mouette A Trois Label

Mouette à Trois – Holiday Fruitcake Ale
8.5% ABV – 35 SRM – 10 IBU

From the label: Mouette à Trois est la meilleure bière que vous avez jamais goûté ou notre nom n’est pas Karl Strauss.  Mouette à Trois, meaning Three Seagulls, is the 3rd installment in our less than literal “Twelve Days” series of holiday ales. Brewed with fresh apricots, cherries and a blend of spices, the resulting strong ale is Belgian Dubbel meets fruit cake. Rich layers of candied fruit and warming spices are punctuated by notes of toffee and fresh-baked bread. Aging on brandy-cured French oak adds hints of vanilla that linger through a warming finish. Don’t. Even. Think. About. Regifting.