Artful Brews

A Magic Touch Missing from Red Solo Cups

Miramar’s AleSmith Brewing Company

Photo by AleSmith Brewing Company

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With over one hundred craft breweries located in San Diego alone, Southern California has a unique handle on the art of crafting a good beer. Whether you love IPAs or coffee- inspired stouts, local craft beer is always right around the corner. Nowadays, beer isn’t the mass-produced drink frat boys chug in college to get plastered; a good beer is art. Or, as Peter Zien (CEO and founder of Miramar’s AleSmith Brewing Company) calls it, beer is liquid art. “It is very difficult to find two beers that are greatly alike, much like looking at paintings composed by different artists,” he postulates. “We all leave our individual mark on our given work of art that we call our beer.”

Beer is an art form like any other, and the tasting room is a gallery—don’t let the giant tanks fool you into thinking it’s a cold, industrial process. The brewer manipulates different variables to create a subjective experience for the senses. But like certain arts with complicated sets of tools, beer requires science. Ehren Schmidt of Vista’s Toolbox Brewing believes a good craft beer combines science with creativity. “Brewers do not create beer,” Schmidt says. “Brewers create wort, or unfermented beer. Yeast is responsible for creating beer. Science allows me to create more interesting and unique beers, so I would say science complements the creative aspects of beer.”

Toolbox only brews wild sour beer, leaving in the microbes many other brewers take out. Schmidt spends enormous amounts of time in the lab isolating microbes in the wild from items like flowers, bark, grass and even air. The end product is a distinct taste that many people might not recognize as beer—it creates a new flavor unique to Toolbox.

The ability to infuse unique and memorable flavors into their brews is part of what separates craft beer from a macrobrew. Macrobrews are the big names you see lining the shelves of the supermarket—Bud Light, Heineken, Guinness, etc. Traditionally, macrobreweries produce greater than six million barrels of beer each year, while most craft breweries produce less than two million barrels a year. Coors Light, for example, produced 18.2 million barrels in 2011. In contrast, AleSmith Brewing produced only 25,000 barrels in 2015.

Latitude 33 Brewery

Another technical aspect that separates craft beer from macrobrews is water content. Adam Vickers from Latitude 33 Brewing Company in Vista explains, “The difference between Budweiser and Bud Light is the amount of water they add in the beer... Macro beer is very simple.” Craft beers focus more on flavor combinations, while macrobrews are focused on producing quantity.

While craft beers have more developed flavors, there is still merit to macro beers. Greg Peters from St. Archer Brewing Company believes in the power of beer—macro, micro, it doesn’t matter. “The majority of the beer I drink is local and ‘craft,’ whatever that means, but being passionate about beer means drinking what you like... Just because someone is drinking a macro beer, it doesn’t mean they don’t know beer. You would be surprised to see what some of the best brewers in the world have sitting in their fridge.”

Inspiration can stem from anywhere—even macro beers— but there is something great about beer handmade by an artisan. Despite Peters’s insistence that a macro can be on par with a micro, he really puts the “craft” in craft beer. “There are definitely shortcuts to the process, but we don’t take them,” he says. “The 300 pounds of coconut used in the [Imperial Coffee] Porter were hand-toasted in the convection oven at our friend’s restaurant in Oceanside. Instead of using generic cacao nibs and cinnamon, we went to extreme lengths to find a Mexican chocolate that was made using traditional techniques, and the results are noticeable.”