Interview: senior brewer Bill Batten (AleSmith Brewing Co.)

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Craft Beer San Diego


I love Sierra Nevada. Those guys have really taken something and run with it. To get to a point one day when we can have a glimmer of what they have. Their footprint is very small. They’re up in the mid to high 80% return on their green footprint. I look at that.

I really look at the community. I love the community. Being with AleSmith for 11 years has really allowed me to watch San Diego grow and see just this amazing community of people working together. Brewers move on to making their own thing. I don’t personally have that desire because I love where I’m at over there. I work with a great team.

Is there a beer style that you would like to see develop a bigger following?

That’s a really hard question, because there are definitely some beer styles out there where I’ve seen it happen. Like the cream ale. That’s a beer we’ve started making again. It’s really funny to see it’s started to pop up more. I don’t necessarily want to see one certain style, but I really want to see people go back to the basics and bring back beer styles that have been around, have been tried and true, and bring ‘em back into the mix. In San Diego especially, there are a lot of hopheads, and that’s all they want to drink, IPA. They’ll go hang out at Toronado and everybody walks up and all they order is Pliny. Hey, it’s a great beer, but there are a lot of other beers out there that people should try. To have breweries promote some classic styles is really nice to see.

Where do you see the San Diego craft beer scene in five years?

Blowing up, still. Growing and flourishing. We’re at like 75 breweries down there now, with multiples in planning. San Diego is not as big as L.A. by any means, but there are still a lot of people out there that don’t understand craft beer, or even know that they have this amazing scene in their backyard, so there’s still a lot of room for more breweries. It’s still going to be about education, getting out there, spreading the word, doing work.

Is there an aspect of craft beer culture that you’ve seen in another state or country that you’d like to see more of in San Diego?

Not really. San Diego’s really got something good going right now, but I’m honestly not that familiar with that many other scenes, because I unfortunately don’t get to leave San Diego that often. Somebody’s got to brew the beer. Somebody’s got to make the donuts.

Is there a brewery or beer you wish you could get in San Diego that you cannot?

That’s a good question. Udder Love from Beachwood. We never see it down there. I know Julian [Shrago]’s been hearing it all over from everybody down there. We’re pretty lucky down there. Really, the beers we don’t see much are the sours. Cantillon is hard to find. When I first started at AleSmith, I remember being able to go down to Whole Foods and grab an Iris off the shelf for $15. Nowadays, you’re lucky to find it for less than $30, if you can find it at all…I’m going to GABF in a couple weeks, so that’s when I’ll really be trying to find some new stuff.

What are some of your most satisfying moments in working with craft beer?

That’s a good question. For example, AleSmith IPA is not a super bitter IPA, it’s got a little bit of a malt backbone to it. When I get someone who says, “I don’t like IPA,” and they look at it and go, “Oh.” Some IPAs tend to be aggressively bitter, so to have somebody try an AleSmith IPA and go, “I like this.” People have these connotations – that’s how it’s going to taste, it’s always going to be that bitter, that strong – to have them taste something and be like, “Oh, I guess I do like that style. This is a beer I do enjoy.” Education, that’s really what it’s about. As a brewer, as somebody who champions the beer scene, we’ve got to get out there and educate people.

What would it take for you to consider the work you’ve done with craft beer a success, if it isn’t already?

I think it’s pretty successful. Right now, we’re just pushing our market. We’re just trying to get it out there, getting people aware and involved.

Address: 9366 Cabot Drive, San Diego, CA 92126

Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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