One of the hottest non-IPA trends out there has been the rise of the Mexican lager. Corona especially, but also Modelo and Pacifico seem to grow and grow. A new player is entering this style category, coming from where you least expect it. The world of coffee.
Joshua Zad founded the Alfred Coffee chain that stretches across L.A. and all the way to Japan and is entering the beer business with Calidad. Their new cerveza rolls out in mid-October on draft and in 12-ounce cans. Pure Order Brewing contract brews the beer in Santa Barbara.
A lot is being made of the fact that this beer is being pitched at the Instagram crowd. The publicity shots are all very product placement glamour focused almost as much on the models as the adobe yellow and rustic olde California font on the can. The term lifestyle beverage gets bandied about for Zad’s coffee and matcha and it will probably be applied to Calidad as well.
Is it slickly marketed? Yes. But it is also not just a brand extension. A coffee beer with the Alfred name would have been an easier entrance for beer geeks and current fans of his wall slogans and shop designs. What is in the can now is the fifth recipe that Zad and the brewing team worked on. He wanted Calidad to be just right. And his just right is a cold, refreshing beer. Calidad just so happens to be super easy to drink, bring to a party, and add a wedge of lime. Will it blow your beer socks off? No. But it is a solid beer for the category bringing a simple light malt character that notches it above other lighter more watery fare. The name of the beer translates from Spanish as “quality” and that was Zad’s aim.
There will be no taproom where you can go, though they do have a Casa De Calidad just off of trendy Melrose Place that is kitted out with the full Southwest vaquero theme as well as pool tables, photo-ready nooks and offices for the brand. There will probably be no second beer. Zad seems to have more interest in adding tequila or mezcal or even Mexican food to his portfolio.
Talking with Zad at the Casa while drinking my beer (sans lime), is not like talking with other people from the beer industry. He is pretty direct about what he wanted in the beer and his enjoyment of other mass marketed beers like Corona, Kirin, and Hite. There may be artifice around the beer and on the label, but for Zad, this is a business first built around a beer that he personally enjoys. He knows this beer and the competition in this style.
I was struck that this is a hybrid of sorts. The word quality and refreshing were brought up multiple times as were branding from logo-adorned can-shaped glasses and stickers to tap handles. It will be interesting to see how much the beer inside gets discussed. Or if it is just a pretty picture. I hope for the former because SoCal can always use more hot weather beer.
This week let’s compare and contrast a barrel-whispering regional brewery to something from our neighborhood. New Belgium has conspired with bourbon makers Knob Creek to create Oakspire. As the brewery described, this is “a unique bourbon barrel ale aged with bourbon-steeped oak spirals and char from inside the barrel.” Normally we hear about the wild and sours beers and the foeders of the Colorado brewery, but they are no slouches when it comes to bourbon barrels either, so expect some roasty and toffee like notes.
Now compare that to recently 2-year-old Frogtown Brewery who released their barrel beer last Saturday at their huge party at their taproom near the L.A. River. Prince George is a Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Porter that has an addition of Madagascar Vanilla Beans. This beer is super smooth. You get lots of sweet and sticky notes from the bourbon and beans, but neither really overpowers the other. At a hair over 11.1% ABV, this should be boozy, but is nowhere close to it.
It may be the tail end of Oktoberfest season here in Los Angeles, but I advise you to add some barrel-aged beers to your calendar on Saturday, October 6. Starting at 11 a.m., Cellador Ales will be hosting their 2nd Anniversary party. The first 250 people in line get exclusive Anniversary glassware inspired by Cellador’s 2nd Anniversary beer, Tautology. The take home glass for all others will be a brandy snifter. They have a nice, long list of beers from the wood to taste: Mellona Sage, Pluot Berlinerish , Peach Berlinerish, Most Unkindest Cut, Fraises et Rose (Beachwood Blendery Collab), Saison du Rosier Blend 2, Slide Down My Cellar Door Blend 2, Par le Ruisseau, The Gutless Wonder and Laplace & Napoleon. Bring cash though, because to cut down on line length, they will be going old-school cash only. All 6-ounce pours will be $5 cash except for the first pour, which is $10 and includes your take-home glass.
Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.