TapHunter.com’s American Craft Beer Week blogging series continues with an in-depth look at brewer Lee Chase’s efforts to raise the beer bar (part 1 and 2 here). Above: Chase writing up his beer offering for the first in a series of coffee beers by Automatic Brewing. More on Chase’s coffee series and what we can expect to drink by summer time, below.
Artisan pizza pies from Blind Lady Ale House decorate the cover of this month’s San Diego Magazine, the perfect snack to accompany Candice Woo’s Critic’s Pick for ‘Best Craft Beer Selection’ in town. BLAH’s curated selection of craft beers from around the world to those small batches made in-house represent brewer Lee Chase’s dedication to quality, a relevant concern as San Diego breweries and pubs grow in numbers. Curious to find out more on Chase’s quest to raise the beer bar, TapHunter.com asked a few questions exploring BLAH’s involvement with the Honest Pint Project, the quest for clean beer, and an expansion for Automatic Brewing Company debuting this summer.
TapHunter: What did you learn at Stone Brewing Company that you still put to use and think about in your endeavors at Blind Lady and/or Automatic Brewing Co?
Chase: Undoubtedly, I learned a ton from my years working at Stone: We grew the brewery from 0-55,000 barrels of beer per year over the 9+ years I was there. However, a lot of that growth was applying what I’d learned from studying Malting & Brewing Science at UC Davis. What do I still put to use? I’m not sure. Blind Lady Ale House is completely different than a production brewery, and Automatic Brewing is nothing close either. It’s very, very small, and I have no employees to manage at Automatic. At Stone, before we moved into the new brewery, I operated a high-quality, fast-growth brewery on a really tight budget, and when something needed to be done, you made systems to make it work—so I guess I still put that creative engineering to work. That’s why they call it “Craft” brewing: you’re always crafting some piece of equipment to keep the process moving. MacGyver should have been a brewer.
TapHunter: How did you get involved in the Honest Pint Project? What are some signs beer drinkers can look for that indicate a ‘dishonest’ pint?
Chase: Funny story. In, like, 1997 I was at a bar and ordered “a pint”. The waitress came back with a cheater-pint: the ones with the big glass base, and a large dimple on the bottom of the glass. I told her that I was LEGITIMATELY concerned that Weights and Measures might take issue with this. I ordered 16oz. She gave me 14. (I know a guy who got cited, and had to back-pay taxes, for years of over-ﬁlling beer bottles!) Anyhow, the owner of the bar comes up and asks me to follow him to the back of the restaurant…where he says “You giving my waitress a hard time?” I say no, I respect that they serve the beer I brew, and didn’t want them to get into trouble. He says “you know how much money I make on that scam? Over a grand a week!” Scamming customers?! What a Dick. That’s when I knew I liked the idea of the Honest Pint Program. It’s like saying “Hey, we made a conscious decision NOT to rip you off!” People should know how much beer they are paying for.
TapHunter: What do you think of the Cicerone program? Do you predict that more San Diego establishments will require formal training for their beer tenders?
Chase: I like the idea of the Cicerone Certiﬁcation. It helps people behind the bar guide customers to a good beer experience. And as for hiring new people, if they have Cicerone on their resume, I know they are pretty serious about beer. I don’t think it is required, but like any certiﬁcation, it certainly helps you get a job and shows you have studied the subject.
TapHunter: Tell us why you decided to install an all stainless steel direct draw tap system at BLAH. Where did this idea come from, what are the beneﬁts, and why aren’t there more systems like this in San Diego?
Chase: As a brewer, you would never want your beer to touch brass, nickel, aluminum, or chrome. Those metals don’t clean well, and diminish the ﬂavor of the beer. So when I began building our draft beer system, I went for it: all stainless steel parts are kind of hard to ﬁnd, and when you ﬁnd them, they’re expensive! But they last forever, clean easily, and–most importantly– keep the beer tasting as good as possible. So that’s the stainless steel part of it.
The other key features I wanted to have: super-short draw from the keg to the glass, and the ability to replace the beer tubing with ease. “Direct Draw” means the kegs reside directly behind the taps. The beer tubing is accessible from inside the cold box–and easily replaceable. Our selection rotates quite a bit, but the ability to change beer tubing completely in 5 minutes ensures perfect ﬂavor. So, if we had a Framboise Raspberry Belgian ale, and now are now tapping a Pilsner on the same tap, we can make sure it’s not accidentally a Raspberry Pilsner. Some ﬂavors are impossible to remove from the beer tubing, so…we just replace it with new tubing. I think of it as doing the most we can do to preserve the hard work that went into making the beer. Oh, and we rinse all of our glasses with fresh, ﬁltered water to remove the Sanitizer from the glass before we ﬁll it with the beer. Quality is a big concern at BLAH: these beers aren’t easy to get–or to make.
TapHunter: Can you give us the scoop on Automatic’s brewing schedule and varieties out this summer?
Chase: The idea right now is not to schedule much, but I have committed to making 4 more coffee-infused beers this year. Look for a Coffee-Schwarz Black Lager, a Coffee-Belgian Tripel, and a Coffee-IPA at some point before 2012… hopefully one of those will be in the new brewhouse I’m building, but I’m not sure that will happen (is it really almost Summer?!?)
TapHunter: Are there any consulting gigs you’re involved with that you’re particularly stoked on right now?
Chase: With the fabrication of a new brewhouse and keeping Blind Lady/Automatic going, I have temporarily passed on taking any new consulting work… (but I did go to Guadalajara recently for a night.)
TapHunter: Do you have any craft beer pet peeves?
Chase: It’s not their fault, but I cringe a little when I see people drink a beer before they smell it. Aroma is a big component of a good beer. And there are some beers that you may decide NOT to taste once you have smelled it. We try to help people appreciate the ﬂavors and aromas of beer so that they can really enjoy the beer.
TapHunter: What do you think is preventing San Diego from surpassing the other Beer City USA contenders as #1?
Chase: Dunno…Medal Winning Breweries??? Oh, wait…Nope: That is CERTAINLY not the case. Maybe just the fact that so few San Diegans realize that we have the best beer scene in the world. And that we all like to be out surﬁng, skating, biking, and hiking rather than voting repeatedly on-line. (Looking at you, Asheville, NC.). They DO have a great beer scene there…but still…C’mon.
Above: In fall of 2010, Chase was brewing a batch of beer when Will Ferrell stopped into Blind Lady one night and inspired the name for Automatic Brewing Co.’s second release, Sex Panther, a strong pale ale.