With alternative craft beverages such as cider, mead, and sake gathering momentum in San Diego, local beer producers have taken note, and in recent months brewers of all kinds have gotten together to experiment with cross-brew collaborations.
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Second Chance Beer Co. and Newtopia Cyder kicked off the recent trend, brewing an apple-beer collaboration this spring. Dubbed Hoppily Apple Grafter, the brew was billed as a graf: a cider-and-beer hybrid that apparently sprung from the imagination of author Stephen King, as a fermented drink that didn't exist in reality but was enjoyed by characters in his Dark Tower series.
That was brewed on Second Chance's license at its Carmel Mountain brewery, meaning it was required by law to be fermented with at least 51 percent grain. Second Chance brewer Marty Mendiola added Newtopia's proprietary five-apple blend to a pale ale wort, then dry-hopped it to produce a tropically fruity beer with a juicy finish.
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The playful collaboration happened to be Second Chance's first — it has yet to release a more traditional co-branded beer with another brewery. The graf was Newtopia's first collaboration as well, but the two companies have already applied the lessons they learned to a second apple-beer: Red-y-Set-Graf, made with Second Chance's Legally Red red-ale base and flavored with cinnamon and vanilla.
This time, Newtopia cofounder Rick Moreno answered with a cider version of the collaboration, blending 75 percent cider with 25 percent Legally Red and adding cranberry and red rose petals to a beer-cider blend he's calling Red Velvet.
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Miramar nanobrewery Thunderhawk Alements has also gotten involved. Moreno got together with Thunderhawk founders Jonathan Barbarin and Bill Lindsay to blend what they call New Thunder Cyderweiss. Barbarin and Lindsay started with a half-wheat, half-pilsner recipe from their homebrewing days, then blended Newtopia cider and pomegranate to achieve a ratio of 20 percent juice, 80 percent grain, finished with an Abbey ale yeast to produce a crisp Belgian wheat with a tart finish.
Moreno's cider version is called Thunderheist Abbey Ale Cyder, also incorporating 25 percent of base beer, provided by Thunderhawk.
The cross-brew concept seems to have taken hold. Newtopia's already working on a third Second Chance collaboration, and another with both Maui Brewing Company and Mason Ale Works. Thunderhawk's got a beer in the works with sake brewer Josh Hembree and his Setting Sun Sake.
Meanwhile, startup Escondido mead producer Meadiocrity has teamed with Ballast Point's R&D brewery in Little Italy to produce a traditional mead-and-beer hybrid called a "braggot."
Founder Mark Oberle contributed Meadicrity's alfalfa honey to the brew called Seaside Braggot, added just after the boil so the honey would retain its characteristic esters, then flavored with ginger, lime, and thyme.
Oberle notes, "The honey with the grain gives it additional texture you don't get anywhere else." He says Meadicrity has collaborations in the works with other large local breweries. He says he hopes the exposure created by cross-brew experiments will inspire beer fans to further explore beverage alternatives. "Mead is a great product," he says, "but people don’t really seek it out if they’ve never had it before."