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San Diego Is Home To America's Finest Craft Beers

A six-pack of locally brewed Stone Levitation Ale.
A six-pack of locally brewed Stone Levitation Ale.
San Diego Is Home To America's Finest Craft Beers
Why is San Diego considered one of the top beer cities in the world? We speak to Greg Koch, from Stone Brewing Company, and Pizza Port's Jeff Bagby about what makes their beers unique, and how San Diego has become the premiere craft brewing spot in the United States.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. San Diego, known for beaches, zoos, great weather and palm trees, is now also on the map for beer. San Diego County recently won 14 awards in the national Great American Beer Festival, and was named number one in a list of the “Top Beer Towns in the U.S." by the Men's Journal. Local brewers are becoming known for their quality and creativity, and they are riding a wave of enthusiasm for so-called craft beers. These special brews are the fastest-growing segment of the alcohol beverage industry, outselling wine, spirits and other types of beers. Here to tell us what it takes to make a great beer are two of San Diego’s celebrated local brewers. Greg Koch is CEO and co-founder of Stone Brewing Company. Greg, welcome to These Days.

GREG KOCH (CEO and co-founder, Stone Brewing Company): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: And Jeff Bagby is director of brewpub operations and head brewer for Pizza Port in Carlsbad. Pizza Port Carlsbad recently won "Large Brewpub of the Year" at the Great American Beer Festival. Jeff, welcome.


JEFF BAGBY (Director, Brewpub Operations, Pizza Port Carlsbad): Well, good to be here. Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: And for our listeners, now this is your opportunity to ask about beer. Do you want to know which beer goes with which meal? Do you have a favorite local beer you’d like to share with us? Give us a call with your questions and your comments. The number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Jeff, let’s start off by talking about the award…

BAGBY: Sure. Okay.

CAVANAUGH: …you recently won…



CAVANAUGH: …at Pizza Port. For Pizza Port, you were honored as the Best Large Brewpub of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival.


CAVANAUGH: About how many places did you have to beat out for that award?

BAGBY: Tough to say. There’s different categories that they give a brewery to year award in and there’s probably 40 or 50 large brewpubs, maybe more. There’s I think it’s 1300 brewpubs in the nation, somewhere around there.


BAGBY: And not all of them enter the competition and some of them are considered a small brewpub. It’s based on the annual production for the location or per location. And so it’s hard to say exactly how many.

CAVANAUGH: But around 40 or 50 so this was…

BAGBY: I think so, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: …this was big. I mean…

BAGBY: It was huge for us, yes.

KOCH: Yeah, it’s very prestigious. And we are all very proud of Jeff.

BAGBY: Thank you, Greg.

CAVANAUGH: Now, what would – Jeff, how would you describe your brewing style at Pizza Port?

BAGBY: We’re pretty open. I would say we’re – if you look at brewing in our category or in brewpub brewing, we tend to be on the more kind of artistic side, not as scientifically technical about our brewing, not as precise because we’re not packaging beer. Most of our beer is going for sale in kegs or, most of it, going right over the bar in the brewery. So our brewing style is broad. We’ve got something for everyone on draft, you know, we’ve got light beers all the way up to extremely dark, strong beers, aggressive beers. And we try to also make different styles, beers with English heritage, German, Belgian and American. You know, we try to run the gamut kind of.

CAVANAUGH: Wow. Now, I know, Greg, you’re – I see you two guys, you’re very supportive of each other.

BAGBY: Definitely.

CAVANAUGH: Greg from Stone Brewing Company, what is it that you like, Greg, about Pizza Port’s beer?

KOCH: Well, I’ve actually been a fan of Pizza Port from the original Solana Beach location since I first went there in 1995. And you mentioned the camaraderie that we have and it’s definite. In fact, Pizza Port in Solana Beach was the very first place…


KOCH: …in 1996 to ever put a keg of Stone on.

BAGBY: I was there that night.


KOCH: And I was there that night. And I didn’t even know Jeff so well at that time.


KOCH: And then Jeff had his first job in the…


KOCH: …brewing industry at Stone, starting off as a driver with us…


KOCH: …and then eventually he became a brewer with us for awhile.


CAVANAUGH: Do you like their beers? What is it that you like about them?

KOCH: Oh, that’s right. I didn’t answer that question. That’s okay. I’m happy to. You know, what I like about them is walking in and just I always gaze longingly at the board to see what beers are there every time I arrive. And I go by just what strikes my fancy knowing that whatever it is, it’s going to be a really great version of that. Admittedly, I tend to go towards their really hoppy pales and IPAs just because, one, it’s a specialty of theirs amongst a number of specialties, and, two, it happens to be a favorite style of mine.

CAVANAUGH: You’ll – Let me take you there then. What is the brewing philosophy at Stone Brew?

KOCH: Well, when we started 13 years ago, we had the basic philosophy, my partner Steve Wagner and I, to brew beers that we thought were great beers and not to brew beers that we thought the public might want. And what that does, if you try and brew beers for the public per se, you kind of pull your punches. You just – you’re making something that might be more commercially accepted. Instead, we took it from the artisanal approach of, look, we’re just going to work on creating amazing and let people decide for themselves if they like it. And that has led us to, admittedly, bigger, stronger more aggressive flavor profile, yeah, often more bitter. But, honestly, I think we’re also very good at it and, therefore, we brew beers that are pretty damn tasty.

BAGBY: Very consistent as well.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take a call. We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Josh is calling from La Mesa. Good morning, Josh, and welcome to These Days.

JOSH (Caller, La Mesa): Well, good morning. I’m calling to give my accolades to these brewmasters and just say this is a good time to be alive and drinking beer, especially in San Diego County. Between Stone and Green Flash and Ballast Point and the host of craft breweries we have here in the county, we’re blessed, that’s for sure. My comment in addition to my accolades is this past summer I did a two month road trip through Wyoming, Idaho, Montana visiting multiple breweries all around the country – the west. And there’s craft beers alive, thank God, just outside of Southern California, but many of the breweries are starting to put some of their finer ales in cans. Now I myself enjoy rafting, backpacking, rock climbing, I’m an outdoor recreationalist, and it’s really hard for me to bring my favorite bottle of Ruination IPA out, you know, rafting because of the glass. So I’m curious to know if especially Stone, since they have the size and might be able to make the initial investment, is considering possible canning?

KOCH: Well, we have stainless steel growlers available for you to use when you come by and fill up your fresh growler at our brewery in Escondido. But currently there are no plans to package in cans. I agree with you, it’s a fantastic package, and some fantastic craft brewers in a variety – various parts of the country have legitimized the can. It was once held to be lonely and unworthy of a great quality beer. They’ve taken it and given status to that package. Of course then, now, it just depends on what you put in it rather than the package itself. So it’s a handy package but, no, no current plans.

CAVANAUGH: Jeff, the craft beer, as we just heard from this last caller, I mean, he’s finding craft breweries all across the country as he travels. Why do you think that this is exploding the way it is?

BAGBY: All over the country?


BAGBY: I think in the last probably, I’d say, maybe five years or so, I think that it’s grown a lot because of just these smaller brewers are making really, really good beers and they’re getting really, really creative and doing – I don’t know how to describe – maybe more and more eclectic beers. And I think that that’s creating a buzz so to speak. So the people that were just, you know, going into the pub and, oh, yeah, that’s a brewery and, oh, okay, I’ll have the amber ale, now they’re going, okay, I’ll have the Imperial Amber Ale that was aged on bourbon chips for three months and then, you know, dry hopped and put on tap, you know, something – So this has helped, I believe, to kind of create this buzz. You’ve also got online rating sites. They have beer – You know, people can post their write-ups on the beers or even the breweries that they go visit and try. And I believe that’s also helped get the word out about these different beers and kind of created even more of a buzz. And there’s beer trading that goes on and, you know, people that don’t have access to beer and they live, you know, farther – really far away from the brewery can get online and trade with somebody who’s got the beer and, you know, lives near the brewery. So, you know, it just – it creates this buzz and creates a demand and there’s, you know, space for more and more breweries to pop up, more and more beer to be consumed. Everybody’s making more beer every year. I know we are at Pizza Port. I know Stone is growing in leaps and bounds every year. It’s just – it kind of fuels itself.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s talk to the people who kind of left their beer palate maybe 10, 15 years in the past, okay, and it seems like beer has been the poor relation of the alcohol beverage industry for a long time. You know, we even have the phrase ‘Joe Sixpack,’ you know, average guy, average can of beer. What do you guys think is wrong with the yellow, the foamy, the mass-produced beer? What is it that you have that that doesn’t have?

KOCH: Well, yes, I like to lovingly refer to them as the fizzy yellow beers.


KOCH: Fizzy yellow beers are – represent the commodity side of the beer industry. And there’s always been an artisanal side of the beer industry, however, it’s been suppressed to this infinitesimal percentage and only for maybe the enthusiasts within the very narrow physical range of a given artisanal brewery. Now, as Jeff was referring, with the internet and sites like and, that allow for the connection of information – we’re in an age now of specialization, and enthusiasts can communicate with each other all over the place. Historically, you would’ve had to only – you would’ve only been able to find out by word of mouth of some small little brewery somewhere. Now you can find out about it through an online enthusiasts’ forum. So the ability to spread the word and communication is no longer just the stuff of the TV commercials with the pretty girls.

CAVANAUGH: Right, right. I want to know, Jeff, what did you start out drinking when you started drinking beer?

BAGBY: Oh, boy. Let’s see, I actually got into craft beer…

CAVANAUGH: Really early on, huh?

BAGBY: …pretty much right off the bat. Yeah, I, you know, in college and, you know, that’s fizzy yellow beer’s prominent, you know, at least when I was in school. And now I’m noticing a big switch, that younger drinkers are going straight to craft beer. But, you know, I did drink fizzy yellow beer at first but that was more of a financial reason than anything else and, you know, once I started tasting beers like Sierra Nevada, Anchor, Anderson Valley, you know, all these bigger craft beers that have been around for awhile, I realized that, wow, this really tastes a lot better, you know, and then, yeah, you can buy large quantities of fizzy yellow stuff but, you know, I realized that I liked the taste of something that was well made and, you know, was a pale ale or a stout instead of, you know, a blander American style lager.

CAVANAUGH: I want to go to – and go through a little beer basics when we come back from a break. But I wonder just if either one of you has anything to say about what – why here? Why here in San Diego? Why has this taken off the way it has? So that to the point where we’ve really become one of, if one can say, the great beer cities of the United States. Why has that happened, Jeff?

BAGBY: I believe it’s – there’s several reasons. I’ve thought about this lately since the Men’s Journal rated us, you know, the Number One Beer City in the world or the country…?

CAVANAUGH: The country.

BAGBY: The country, okay.

KOCH: The world, as far as I’m concerned.

BAGBY: Yeah. I’ll go with that. That sounds good. I think geographically, San Diego being where it is, was kind of part of the reason that we just weren’t exposed to all these great beers and you had a lot of fans and a lot of people in San Diego that were home brewing. And those got – those, you know, guys and gals expanded their home brewing talent into actual breweries. One brewery in town still has a home brew shop in its – part of its thing and that’s Ballast Point Brewing Company and they own Home Brew Mart, is actually right in one of their breweries. So they’ve continued to, you know – they went from just making it for their friends and family to making it for the rest of the general public. And I think that happened to so many people in this town, and that’s kind of their background and combine that with wanting to be creative and wanting to try different styles and kind of make things – You know, the San Diego pale ale has kind of been deemed a style in its own because of so many breweries in town making extremely hoppy beers, normally called IPAs or India Pale Ales. And that kind of flavor was distinct in San Diego.


BAGBY: And a lot of breweries were making beers like that. So we kind of created this buzz and, you know, we’re making some really good beer in this town and, you know, we go to the national competitions and we have beer festivals on our own and, you know, it just – it just kept growing and people are noticing, you know.

CAVANAUGH: Lots of people are noticing.

BAGBY: Yeah.

KOCH: If you look at 20 years ago, there was arguably zero beer culture in San Diego. As a result, we had a blank slate. We had…


KOCH: …a clean canvas with which to paint upon. And add into that mix then some individual brewers that just so happened to converge on San Diego who are creative thinkers, who are very capable. At Stone, although we started 13 years ago, earlier in the curve of the grand, you know, San Diego movement, we were inspired by the beers that Pizza Port in Solana Beach had been brewing. And I love these big character beers, and also beers that had been brewed by our friend Vinnie Cilurzo up at Rus – excuse me, now with Russian River but up at Blind Pig in Temecula. And we, in turn, inspired others. I think if Stone ever inspired anybody it was to inspire other brewers to say, wow, this beer that I wanted to brew, Stone has showed us that that actually can sell, it actually can be successful brewing these big character beers. So if anything, we just showed that it was a possible business model and so we inspire each other, definitely.

BAGBY: Yeah, definitely.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take a short break. I’ve been speaking with Greg Koch, he’s with Stone Brewing Company, Jeff Bagby with Pizza Port in Carlsbad. And we are taking your calls about beer. The number’s 1-888-895-5727. When we come back, we’re going to take a taste here on These Days here on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: We’re talking to a lot of people who like beer this morning. We’re talking about San Diego’s craft brewers, what’s made them so popular. San Diego County has recently been named number one in a list of Pop Beer Towns in the U.S. by the Men’s Journal. We keep winning awards, and we have two of the beer craft masters here in our studios. Well, I want to welcome back Greg Koch. He is CEO and co-founder of Stone Brewing Company. Jeff Bagby is director of brewpub operations and head brewer for Pizza Port in Carlsbad. And we’re joined by another guest. Tim Felten is KPBS technical director and apparently this morning, official KPBS beer taste tester.

TIM FELTEN (KPBS Technical Director): Yeah, I just got nominated.

CAVANAUGH: It’s a tough job. Somebody’s got to do it, Tim.

FELTEN: Glad to do it.

CAVANAUGH: We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. In fact, let’s take a call. Mark is calling from UTC. Good morning, Mark. Welcome to These Days.

MARK (Caller, University Towne Center): Good morning. I have a question for the Stone Brewery brewmaster.


MARK: My favorite beer is the Double Bastard and I’m new to the area. Where can I find it on tap?

KOCH: Well, you’re in luck with your timing. Double Bastard Ale comes out once—just once—each year at the beginning of November. And we actually list on our website at all of the places that you can get any of our beers in Southern California. So just a few clicks away from that piece of information and certainly – We actually just went through a ten-year retrospective of Double Bastard Ale for San Diego Beer Week just this past week, so we still have some remnants of what’s left over from some of the kegs on tap at our bistro where we have, well, 32 beers to choose from on draft. So…

CAVANAUGH: You know, your – the names of some of your beers, Greg, just barely make it on the air. You know that.

KOCH: Well, the word ‘double’ refers to beer, it’s not really in any negative context at all.

CAVANAUGH: Right, right.

KOCH: Yeah, please don’t take that word to be…

CAVANAUGH: But your one – You’re famous for Arrogant Bastard.

KOCH: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: Yes. Why – What makes that beer unique besides the name?

KOCH: Well, usually that’s a question asked by somebody that hasn’t tried it before. Have you tried it before, Maureen?

CAVANAUGH: I have not.

KOCH: Well, there you go. So we can answer that very definitively here in the studio so I’m going to hand it over to our new lovely assistant that just walked in.


KOCH: Term being used loosely. So Arrogant Bastard Ale is all about big character. It’s got over-the-top hops and along with over-the-top malt. When we first released the beer in 1997, there was no other beer on the market that was anything like it.


KOCH: And Arrogant Bastard Ale is so named because of the beer itself. I’m going to pass this along to you.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. All right.

KOCH: He wasn’t shy on the pour, so we’ll talk to you later.

CAVANAUGH: Now I’m just going to take a moment and look at it and then have a sip. I want to ask, you know, some people who are listening may not, you know, I mean, let’s face it, you call it yellow foamy beer or something, fizzy beer.

KOCH: Fizzy yellow beer. Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: This may be their idea of beer, so let’s talk about some beer basics before we continue. Beer breaks down into two basic categories, right? Tell us about that, Jeff.

BAGBY: That’d be ales on one side and lagers on the other.

CAVANAUGH: And what do we know when, you know, if you have a six-pa – a Miller Lite six-pack or something like that? What kind of a beer is that?

BAGBY: That would…

CAVANAUGH: Technically.

BAGBY: It’s a lager.


BAGBY: Most mass produced – I think, well, the figure’s probably changing now that the craft movement is growing. Most craft beer is ale. There is a lot of lager out there being made on the craft level but most of it’s ale. And most of the beer produced in the world is lager, just by tradition and that’s the way it’s always kind of been done. But, you know, the craft movement and all these fun ales that we’re all making is probably changing that number quite a bit, so…

CAVANAUGH: I’m trying to open my mouth after having it.

KOCH: This is an aggressive place to start off the morning with…


KOCH: …the Arrogant Bastard Ale. We intended to start you off a little bit – ease you into it.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Tim, as the official taste tester, have you tasted some of the Arrogant Bastard beer?

FELTEN: Oh, yes I have.

CAVANAUGH: And what do you think of it?

FELTEN: Very bold.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, yes. I completely agree as I’m now losing…

KOCH: There’s a couple of other lighter ones we probably should’ve gone with first.

CAVANAUGH: …losing feeling in the fingers but that’s okay.

KOCH: You know, Maureen, let me just tell you, I think the easiest way to tell the difference between the major brand, the fizzy yellow beers and the artisanal beers that the likes of our companies are producing, it’s kind of like the difference between Wonder Bread and your corner bakery or Velveeta and artisanal cheese. Yeah, they’re both, you know, those are breads, all of those are breads, all of those are cheeses, however, the intent for an artisanal cheesemaker is to make it flavorful, to make it out of pure ingredients, to make it natural, and you can get so much more. There are actually more ingredients in Wonder Bread than there are in the bread that they make at the corner bakery, however, the corner bakery, of course, fresh, and you just walk in and you just want to fill your lungs with the wonderful aroma and there’s no preservatives in the wonderful pumpernickel, rye and sourdough and twelve-grain, you know, all these things. You can get so much more…


KOCH: …out of less.

CAVANAUGH: I want Jeff to have the opportunity of opening his…

BAGBY: Sure.

CAVANAUGH: …his sample there. But I also want to take a call. We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Dennis is calling from Brooklyn, New York. Hey, Dennis.

DENNIS (Caller, Brooklyn, New York): Hello.

CAVANAUGH: Hey, what goes on?

DENNIS: Ah, just out here enjoying the fine fall weather. And actually I just had a quick question for both Greg and Jeff. Big fan of yours and just wanted to find out as far as the movement of collaborations and, you know, I think that’s something that’s kind of unique to the craft beer industry where actual brewers get together and I think the – you know, one of the first examples of that was definitely Avery and Vinnie from Russian River with the collaboration—not litigation since they both were brewing a beer called Salvation—and then also with, you know, just Stone collaborations that they’ve done, L. Smith at Kelleher, Jolly Pumpkin, Nonye, Blue Dawg, Cambridge, Ken Schmidt and Maui and then even Brooklyn…

KOCH: This guy knows his stuff.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah. What about – Yeah, Dennis, I think we’ve got it. If I can just say what about the collaborations? Is it a lot of cross pollination going on here in the way you guys make your craft beers?

BAGBY: Definitely.

KOCH: It’s fun. You know, I used to be in the music industry and I can relate it to that. Musicians love to collaborate because you always create something new, not necessarily better but you create something together that you would never create individually. You know, the big guys don’t collaborate because it just – it doesn’t work that way. I suppose they collaborate on, you know, shipping prices or something, and trucking. You know, we collaborate on the artisanal side. It’s a blast and we – At Stone, we’ve been creating these collaborative beers that are – three, ourselves and then two other breweries. Jeff has done a variety of collaborative beers.

BAGBY: I have done a few, yes. We’re actually planning to do one with Alpine Brewing Company in town.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, really?

BAGBY: We’re actually going to invite them into our brewery and we’re going to make one of their beers on our system and then they’re going to invite – in turn, going to invite us over to their brewery to make…

CAVANAUGH: Now what do you learn when you do that?

BAGBY: Well, you learn a lot. You know, you’re – you know, the craft beer, yeah, that some people have some secrets but for the most part, you know, people are pretty open about it, so you learn a little bit like, oh, I’ve never thought of trying it that way, you know, when you bring somebody in. So it can really be fun. I actually am – A rare treat, I’m leaving for Rome tomorrow morning and I have a collaboration brew set up with a small, believe it or not, pub on the coast that makes—the coast of Rome—that makes a pizza and beer.


BAGBY: So kind of a Pizza Portish type of brewpub in Italy. And so I…

CAVANAUGH: That’s great.

BAGBY: …they wanted to make a San Diego style hoppy beer for their winter special beer and they asked me to write a recipe and to collaborate with their brewers on it. So that’s going to be something really fun. I have no idea – You know, I haven’t met these guys, I’ve never tasted their beers before. So it’ll be really interesting to walk in and see how an Italian brewpub brewer goes about making his batches of beer versus what I do here in Carlsbad.

CAVANAUGH: San Diego hoppy goes international…

BAGBY: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: …that’s great. Now you just poured out some beer for us…

BAGBY: Yes, this is…

CAVANAUGH: That’s the one. What is this?

BAGBY: This – Sorry, this is our Good Grief Brown Ale. It’s an English style brown ale so it’s going to have some darker caramel malt so a little bit of chocolate but it also has somewhat of a dry finish to it even though the aroma’s in the caramel – kind of lends to a sweetness when you drink it, it finishes dry.

CAVANAUGH: This is about as different from a regular beer as you could possibly get.

BAGBY: That it is. That it is.

KOCH: Oh, and this is a nice smooth one to start out the morning. Yeah, it’s little bit more appropriate for a morning beer, at least the first morning beer.

BAGBY: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Tim, have you sampled this?

FELTEN: Yeah, I just tried it.

CAVANAUGH: And what do you think?

FELTEN: Sweet. I don’t know if oaky would be a characteristic to use but it tastes great.

KOCH: A little bit – you know, some of that nuttiness will come through. Some of that character, yeah.


BAGBY: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: You can taste…

BAGBY: It has a little bit of nuttiness to it. It’s got some darker malts that have a hint of smokiness and roastiness to them, yeah.

KOCH: Yeah, it tastes great.

CAVANAUGH: We are talking about beer on These Days. My guests are Jeff Bagby. He is director of brewpub operations and head brewer for Pizza Port in Carlsbad. And Greg Koch, CEO and Co-Founder of Stone Brewing Company. We’re taking your calls about beers, varieties of craft beers. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. Let’s take a call. Al is calling from Carlsbad. Good morning, Al. Welcome to These Days.

AL (Caller, Carlsbad): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: How can we help you?

AL: I’m very jealous listening to the conversation this morning, and I have a question for your guests there. I had to give up drinking alcohol about five years ago for health reasons and I really miss beer and I’ve been relegated to Beck’s and St. Pauli and some of the other really horrible non-alcoholics that are out there. So I guess my question to you is would you consider making some of these beers that you described in non-alcoholic versions?

KOCH: I’ve got…

BAGBY: You want to take that?

KOCH: I’ve got some very sad news for you.

BAGBY: My heart goes out to you.

KOCH: Yes.

BAGBY: I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t have beer anymore.

KOCH: Here’s the reality, craft brewers, artisanal brewers like us, we only make things that exist in nature.


KOCH: Non-alcoholic beer does not exist in nature. It requires processing and technical chemistry of which I do not possess and do not want to possess and, therefore, the sad answer is no.

CAVANAUGH: No. How much alcohol is in these beers? Is it more than the regular beers you could pick up at the grocery store, Jeff?

BAGBY: I would say, on average, if you tried – you know, we have – I think we have 15, 16 beers on tap in Carlsbad right now. And if you, you know, took the average alcohol percentage between all of them, it’s – be somewhere around 6%. Your typical fizzy yellow beer is between, you know, well, all the way down to two and a half percent but all the way up to around 5%. And I know Greg’s – your average is probably pretty high so…

KOCH: Well, it ranges. We make beers at Stone that range from 4.4% with the Stone Levitation Ale to 12.5% -- or, 11.25% with the Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine.


KOCH: You know, and I understand the tendency to want to compare it to, quote, unquote, regular beers…


KOCH: …but that’s sort of like identifying, you know, what would be regular music. Maybe, let’s say Kenny G was the only thing that we ever heard and everything was then compared against that. You’re putting your hand over your mouth in like an oh-my-goodness and I don’t blame you, Maureen. That’s how we feel every time that we get compared to the fizzy yellows just because of its volume, not because of its respective position in the ranking of the world of great beer.

CAVANAUGH: Exactly right, but I think people might be concerned, you know, just going in, having a few, it means that they’re going to come out probably a little bit more impaired than they would if they had a…

BAGBY: That’s true.

CAVANAUGH: …kind of the normal beer that they’re used to on tap.

KOCH: Well, again, Stone Levitation Ale is 4.4%...


KOCH: …so that’s lower than this quote, unquote, regular beer. Or it’s similar to, you know, it’s in that range because most of these regular beers, they range between 4 and 5%.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Yeah.

BAGBY: I’d also say that, you know, especially at our pub, you know, we encourage tasting…


BAGBY: …and trying new things and not selling in volume.

KOCH: Right.

BAGBY: And that’s the idea, kind of like what we’re doing today, share a beer with your friends. You know, beer’s a very social thing and that’s, you know, kind of how its background is and, you know, that’s what I strive for. You know, if you come into Pizza Port, there’s – we have long picnic tables and you’re forced to sit by your neighbor and say hello and rub elbows a little bit. And, you know, we don’t go for the volume. So if you come into our pub and you have one or two beers, you know, our beers range in alcohol similar to Greg’s, from somewhere in the low fours to we make a few sub-4% beers all the way up to about 11% as well. And if you come in, you know, you only need one, you know, and there’s a reason for that.


BAGBY: And, you know, if you’re going to have more than one then hopefully you have a lighter one and then a heavier one so that you get the taste rather than just, you know, kind of numbing my taste buds, keep drinking this 4 or 5% bland beer.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, because it’s a different idea.


CAVANAUGH: The whole idea is the taste and the quality…


CAVANAUGH: …of the beer itself. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Let’s take a call from Rose in Escondido. Good morning, Rose. Welcome to These Days.

ROSE (Caller, Escondido): Good morning. I am a home brewer and I’m a hop grower, so I appreciate what both of you are doing and I thank you for your great beer. I have a question about the cost. You know, there’s a new – you’ve surpassed the price at BevMo for a six-pack of Stone IPA, it’s, you know, it’s above $10.00 a six-pack. And, you know, to fill a growler, just if you cost it out per ounce, it’s more to fill a growler than to buy a six-pack of the most expensive bottles. And I’m trying to understand, you know, here we’re local in Escondido and, you know, when I was up in Washington, it was less to buy it up there and I know some of it has to do with distributing but, you know, it doesn’t cost too much to deliver it two miles down the hill and I’m just trying to understand the cost that we’re paying here and also why is it so expensive to fill a growler?


BAGBY: You want to…? I was just going to say at Pizza Port, we charge growler fills the same price as what it would cost to come in and buy a pitcher. It’s the same amount of beer. And we found that we had to do that because people would just come in and buy a jug of beer and drink it, you know, in our place…


BAGBY: …rather than staying and having a pitcher amongst friends. So, on our side, that’s why it costs a lot. And the ingredients at the time to make these beers and put them together, is very valuable and the ingredient cost has not dropped at all. In fact, some of the cost for hops have skyrocketed in the last couple years here. So, you know, you’re seeing that on the other side. I’m sure Greg could – can add about the difference in geographical pricing.

KOCH: Yeah, you know, I feel – I understand and I feel the pain but every single thing, every single step of what we do in a small brewery costs more. Personnel costs more, transportation costs more because we’re not shipping in the same kind of volumes. All our raw materials cost more because we don’t buy in the same volumes and we use a lot more in each one of our recipes. And it would really take this show and more to kind of really give the full picture so I’m sorry I’m not able to do that but we just hope and by our trajectory of sales suggest that there’s value for beer enthusiasts that they buy it because when they do, they say to themselves, hmm, that was worth it.

CAVANAUGH: We have to take a short break. I’ll return and we’ll continue speaking with Jeff and Greg. How you doing over there, Tim?

FELTEN: Doing fine.


FELTEN: I just got into the Stone IPA here.

CAVANAUGH: All right. All right there. Tim Felten is our official KPBS beer taste tester this morning, and doing a magnificent job if I may say. 1-888-895-5727 is our number. We have to take a short break. We will be back in just a few moments. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. My guests are Greg Koch. He is the CEO and co-founder of Stone Brewing Company. Jeff Bagby, director of brewpub operations, head brewer for Pizza Port in Carlsbad. And, of course, the KPBS beer taste tester, otherwise known as KPBS technical director, Tim Felten. And we’re all here talking about beer, the great craft beers coming out of San Diego. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. A lot of people want to join this conversation but before we start to take the phone calls, I just want to ask, you just poured out an ale, right?

KOCH: Right.

CAVANAUGH: A Stone Brewing ale? For me to try?

KOCH: Yes, actually it’s Stone IPA. Every beer you’ve had so far this morning has been an ale.

CAVANAUGH: An ale. Okay, now, can the color of the beer tell you anything? Because I’ve had two dark ones and now this is a light one.

KOCH: It’s a hint.


KOCH: It’s a hint. Color, has no carbohydrates, alcohol, calories, viscosity…


KOCH: …has no bitterness. So color will give you a hint but a lot of people have been taught by TV commercials, which is not an especially effective way of communicating or learning that the color has more to that.

CAVANAUGH: Right. And what does IPA mean?

KOCH: IPA stands for India Pale Ale, and it’s a style of beer, much like a merlot or a cab are styles or varietals of wine, and IPA is a style of beer just like also you had a brown ale from Jeff earlier and that’s a style, another style of beer.

CAVANAUGH: I see. And what’s the major difference between ale and lager?

KOCH: The yeast used and lager yeast does not tend to contribute flavor profiles to a beer and ale yeast does contribute flavor profiles to beer. That’s the thumbnail.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. Let’s go to the phones and hear from Matt in Mission Bay. Good morning, Matt. Welcome to These Days.

MATT (Caller, Mission Bay): Hi. First of all, I just want to say America really is – I mean, San Diego really is America’s finest city with the brewers we have. My comment was that an earlier question about why San Diego? And my thought was that when we all grew up here, went to college, we drank a lot of Mexican beer and we went down to Mexico and we had Dos Equis, we had Tres Equis, we had Negro Modelo, and I wonder if that kind of made San Diego taste a little more sophisticated. Any comments?

KOCH: I’ll be gentle here. Fizzy yellow beer is fizzy yellow beer no matter what country it comes from.

BAGBY: I will say that, you know, all of Mexico’s brewing traditions came from Germany. They make a lot of lager. And, actually, Dos Equis Dark is a really nice Vienna style lager. I will say that they do, in fact, make some good beer down there at Pacifico’s around this…

KOCH: And you’re getting a look from me right now of a dubious nature.

BAGBY: But, all in all, yeah, one or two beers out of the gamut that’s down there’s actually some brew pubs in Mexico now as well. But, yeah, for the most part, most of those are fizzy…

CAVANAUGH: The whole concept that maybe it opened up our minds to other tastes in beer and that – You’re not going for that.

KOCH: No, just – just, yeah. No. Kenny G collaborating with Yanni is still…


KOCH: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Gotcha. Tim, you tasted the ale?

KOCH: I’m all heart, aren’t I?


FELTEN: Oh, the IPA?


FELTEN: Oh, it’s delicious. It’s one of my favorite beers.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, how would you describe it?

FELTEN: Sharp, hoppy, good.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. All right then.

KOCH: Crisp.


KOCH: A lot of fruity aromatic overtones, yes.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, now…

KOCH: I’m going to open for him the Stone 090909 Vertical Epic Ale.

CAVANAUGH: And tell us a little bit about that. You only make it on certain occasions.

KOCH: What we do is we have a series of beer called the Vertical Epic Ale series in which we release a new version every time that the year, the month and the day all match.


KOCH: Thus the 090909 just came out on September 9th. And we’re continuing this series all the way to 12-12-12. Each one of the bottles are ageable until 12-12-12 or after. And…

CAVANAUGH: Ah. Aha. That’s very good. I like that. Has a sort of circularity to it. Let’s hear from Teresa in North Park. Good morning, Teresa. Welcome to These Days.

TERESA (Caller, North Park): Hi.


TERESA: I like the beers you guys are talking about. Stone does a wonderful Porter and Arrogant Bastard cracks me up because of the copywriting. Who does your copywriting?


KOCH: I would be to blame for that. Although I really blame the beer because it inspired me as I was enjoying it to – Shall I read a quote from the back of the bottle?

CAVANAUGH: Please do.

KOCH: Okay. It reads, Arrogant Bastard Ale, this is an aggressive beer. You probably won’t like it. It’s quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth. We would suggest that you stick to safer and more familiar territory, maybe something with a multi-million dollar ad campaign aimed at convincing you it’s made in a little brewery or one that implies that their tasteless fizzy yellow beer will give you more sex appeal.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, you know, I’ve been on your website and – for the Stone Brewing Company and it’s really, in parts, quite terrifying.

KOCH: Yeah, I know but our use of local organic ingredients in our restaurant and hormone-free meats and that can be…

CAVANAUGH: Well, that part wasn’t but, in fact, I think we did have a caller who wanted to talk about the artwork on your bottles. Tell us about the gargoyle.

KOCH: Well, gargoyles are historically known as protectors so we used our gargoyle to clearly convey our philosophies in beer. Our gargoyle protects our beer from the modern day evil spirits of beer, which are chemical preservatives, cheap ingredients, and pasteurization. So it’s really – it’s a qualitative statement about our approach and what we think is the right way to brew and representing that. And, yes, we use strong imagery to convey that message but, ultimately, gargoyles are protectors and they’re agents of good and purity.

CAVANAUGH: So how’s the 090909, Tim?

FELTEN: It’s pretty strong. What’s the percentage on this?

KOCH: The 09 is at 8.5% -- 8.9%, excuse me. And, you know, with some beers that are a little bit stronger, not necessarily the only determining factor, you can age them. And, as I said, this can be aged for many years. The first one in the series, the Stone 020202 Vertical Epic Ale, you know, I saw somebody sell one on eBay about a year ago for six hundred and fifty bucks.

CAVANAUGH: Wow. That’s interesting. Do you think it’s the cumulative effect that’s actually strong, Tim?

FELTEN: I don’t know.

KOCH: It’s just got a big flavor profile. I’m just going to help Tim out here a little bit…


KOCH: …because I’ve been using these terms for a little while. But, you know, it’s got a lot of chocolate, coffee overtones in it. It’s got some…

FELTEN: Oh, yeah, I taste that.

KOCH: …vanilla backnote that’s really actually emphasizing some of the chocolate-iness in it. We use a lot of tangerine peel in it so you’re getting some backnotes of citrus. This is an extremely complex beer. We use a Belgium yeast so it’s a Belgium style porter. And, yeah, this is something that you just want to sit back with, contemplate life, take it easy. This is a completely different approach to beer than, of course, to, you know, buying it by the soup case at the supermarket.

BAGBY: I wouldn’t mind having this beer actually a little warmer. It’s got a very delicate finish and…


BAGBY: …I believe that even more of that would come out if it was more around 50 degrees or so.

CAVANAUGH: Like the British. Do you normally chill your beer?

BAGBY: We serve our beer cold at the pub, yeah.


BAGBY: But different styles of beer, we’re actually, you know, more flavors are pulled out when – and released when the beer’s warmed up.

CAVANAUGH: That’s interesting.

BAGBY: It’s a reason why you go and you get a fizzy yellow beer, it comes in an ice cold, frosty mug, so cold and so frosty that sometimes ice forms around the top of the rim…

CAVANAUGH: That’s right.

BAGBY: …or in the beer and that’s numbing your taste buds, you know, and dumbing down the flavors and aromas that are in the beer so it’s a really bad thing.

CAVANAUGH: I want to take a couple more calls because we are running out of time. Let’s hear from Paul in San Marcos. Good morning, Paul. Welcome to These Days.

PAUL (Caller, San Marcos): Good morning. You know, I’m interested about how like two of the major distributors in town, I guess it was Crest and…

KOCH: Mesa.

PAUL: …what was the other one that merged?


PAUL: Mesa, yeah, and so now there’s only like two major distributors in North County and I’m wondering, you know, what does that mean? I mean, are eventually are we just going to have one major distributor and where do the craft brewers like yourselves fit in with this, you know, the fact that it’s turning into a monopoly with distribution?

BAGBY: It’s interesting that you bring that up. I – You know, at Pizza Port, we serve guest beer and at our location in Carlsbad we have a bottle shop that carries over 600 different bottles of beer. And I, you know, I realize the big Crest-Mesa merger was an issue and a source of, well, are we still going to get these craft beers? And are they going to be represented as well? And they’re doing a really good job so far of maintaining their craft brand portfolio. And I actually – there’s a lot of distributors out there that’s actually enabled a few smaller distributors to start up almost like craft distributors just like the craft brewery, you know. So I don’t really think it’s been necessarily a bad thing yet, and I don’t think we’ll end up with one big beer distributor. I don’t think it’s possible for any one distributor to handle all that. And Stone Distributing itself distributes a lot of craft beer in our area and beyond so, you know, I probably deal with 10, 12 different distributors…


BAGBY: …so there’s definitely a lot still out there.

KOCH: Yeah, essentially that was the merger between the large Miller wholesaler and the large Coors wholesaler and they each had a portfolio of specialty brands also within their books and, yes, they’re a larger company but they also – in North County’s the Anheuser-Busch whole – and Bev wholesaler and then Stone Distributing, which is not really a public side, you know, the public face of what we do at Stone Brewing but we represent probably some of your favorite craft brands.

BAGBY: Yeah.

KOCH: So we represent an amazing portfolio and we distribute throughout Southern California. So there’s a lot of times that these things aren’t necessarily that visible to the public because they don’t have a public face.

CAVANAUGH: Do you ever give people any tips as to what beers go best with what kinds of foods?

BAGBY: Definitely.

KOCH: Absolutely.


CAVANAUGH: Can you give us a little bit of an idea about that?

BAGBY: I would say the best thing is to look at, you know, the flavor profiles of both and see if you want to have a contrasting beer, something that maybe cuts what you’re eating, or if you want to complement it or if there’s a spice in the beer and there’s a spice in the food – I mean, the possibilities are absolutely endless…


BAGBY: …for pairing beer and food.


KOCH: I recently just did the third of three beer versus wine dinners at Rancho Bernardo Inn’s El Bizcocho restaurant, very fine dining restaurant. They flew down a Napa for the third year in a – excuse me, flew down a sommelier from Napa for the third year in a row and he paired a wine to go with each course and I paired a beer to go with each course. I just won, a couple of weeks ago, best two out of three. Beer won. Beer was voted by all the people at a fine dining wine-centric, chef-driven restaurant to be a better pairing for fine dining food than wine.

CAVANAUGH: And because…

KOCH: And that’s because of the flavor profiles and the character and the nuances and this matching capabilities of the world of great beer.

BAGBY: There’s actually more flavor compounds in beer than there is in wine.

CAVANAUGH: And if somebody goes into Pizza Port and has, let’s say, a burger, what kind of beer would you tell them to get?

BAGBY: Well, we actually don’t serve burgers. We’re just pizza and salads.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.

BAGBY: No, that’s fine. You know, a tasty burger’s a great thing. I made one last night at my house.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, that’s…

BAGBY: And I had a Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale with it and it went great. Burger or beef is somewhat of a richer meat and so a bigger, bolder beer went great with it. So…

KOCH: And I understand the tendency, Maureen, but why did you not ask how it would pair – what you would pair with osso bucco…

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh, right. You’re right.

KOCH: …or a spicy lime-encrusted, you know, tilapia.

BAGBY: Right.

CAVANAUGH: Absolutely right, yeah.

KOCH: Because beer, sure, it’s the known quantity that beer and pizza and burgers and beer, great. Absolutely, there’s so many winning combinations but also when you get into the fine dining, and outside of the, you know, the known quantity is when you can really open your eyes…


KOCH: …to some wonderful pairings.

CAVANAUGH: Right, right. And, Tim, which one would you have with a burger?

FELTEN: Oh, I would have Yellowtail or of these? Or just…


FELTEN: …any beer?

CAVANAUGH: No, of those.

FELTEN: Of these? Oh, I’d go with the IPA.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. All right, just so we know. And I want to – And my final question to you because we’re running out of time.

KOCH: Okay.

CAVANAUGH: Pizza Port is expanding to Ocean Beach?

BAGBY: Correct. Yes, we hope to be open at the end of February or sometime in that range. We had to do quite a bit of work to the building…


BAGBY: …and it’s still going on. But the brewing equipment has arrived. I just looked at it on Friday. And we’re getting really excited about putting that together.

CAVANAUGH: I have – I want to thank you so much. We had so many people we couldn’t talk to on the air. Please, you can post your comments at Greg, Jeff, thanks so much for coming in and thanks for bringing all the beer.

KOCH: Yeah.

BAGBY: Thanks for the invite.

CAVANAUGH: Hey, Tim, ready to go home?

KOCH: Or maybe the couch.

FELTEN: Yeah, take a little nap here. Thanks, guys.

CAVANAUGH: Thanks so much, Tim Felten. Thanks for listening. You’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS.