Brew It To Me One More Time
Marina's English Ales Brewery does local beer-drinkers proud.
Thursday, January 9, 2003
Around 230 years ago, the American colonists decided that they had had enough of the British. King George was being unreasonable and they were feeling a bit impetuous, so they sent the Redcoats home to England and kick-started their little democracy. Perhaps they were a bit hasty, for otherwise we might not have needed Marina''s English Ales Brewery.
America grew but our beers didn''t. They evolved into today''s generally insipid, light, mass-produced refreshment made for pounding ice-cold at frat parties. Hence the standard joke among British brewers: "American beer is like sex in a canoe-fucking close to water." Consequently, when it came to enjoying their favorite drink-a pint- transplanted Brits and lovers of British-style beer have suffered on these shores.
Oh, there are British beers imported from the old country, but they "spend a long time on the water" traveling here, according to English Ales Brewery owner Peter Blackwell. Blackwell, a native Brit himself, wanted to do better. "I just wanted to get an authentic English Beer," he says.
Blackwell started by visiting quality breweries in England and attempting to convince the owners to license their beer to him so that he could make it fresh here in California. One day, a pub owner recommended that Peter speak to Steve Winduss, of Hampshire Brewery. Steve was open to the idea and the Blackwells (wife Rosemary is also involved) were on their way.
Originally they wanted to open in Monterey, but the water costs were prohibitive, so they found a nice little spot on Reindollar Road in Marina and built (they did most of the work themselves) a genuine English down-home, beer-making brewpub. They opened in 2000, as a commercial brewery with attached brewpub. From gleaming stainless fermenation vessels poured true English Ale. Now all that remained was to sell it to the public. Enter Jeff Moses, director of sales.
"It was tough in the beginning, starting out with a new product with no advertising. I used to carry around a five-gallon keg with a gas bottle of ''1066 Ale'' (English Ales'' flagship beer), set it up and let the restaurant owner taste it," Moses says. "Now it''s like, ''of course we''re reordering.'' Now we''re running out of beer, we''re pressed for space and contemplating a move up to the next level."
Peter, originally from Portsmouth, is pragmatic, thoughtful and just a bit cautious when he says that he envisions English Ales as a nice regional brewery in the western United States. "Growth becomes difficult with the money demands, but we are open to the possibility of investment from outside sources," is all he''ll say.
Head brewer Ramsay Borthwick says that when he was a kid in Taunton, Somerset, in the southwest of England, he used to steal apples from local orchards to make cider. "One of the kid''s dads had a press," he recalls. "We''d go out to the shed and make our own cider. It was rot stuff, man." Now he brews authentic beers that would be served proudly at any establishment in England. Even the water is treated, double filtered to remove all impurities and additives, then salts are added to duplicate the conditions of the particular place where each specific type of beer is done best.
"If I''m making a stout, I''ll try and match the water to something like Dublin, which is very soft. It gives stout that rounded feel," Ramsay explains. "If I''m making a lager I''ll try to match to somewhere in Czechoslovakia and that''s got a very flinty water. It gives you a dryness that you associate with a good lager."
These beers reflect commitment to purity, quality ingredients and devotion to the art. I think they are simply the best beers available on the market. At the comfortable brewpub, which serves excellent pub grub and enjoys a nice following of interesting, loyal patrons, you can try the ten different varieties of English Ales beer, including cask-conditioned beer, which is really the real thing. Cask-conditioned beer is less gaseous than the usual libation, and is drunk at slightly warmer temperature (ideally, 56 degrees). It is magnificent. Instead of giving the usual bloated feeling, cask-conditioned beer is much smoother, tastier and a joy to experience.
English Ales recently presented its first bottled offering, "Edinburgh Winter Ale, Special Reserve 2002" an old style ale with winter spices and a rich flavor. It is the finest example of the style I''ve ever experienced. This month, the wildly popular "1066," a classic, strong English Pale Ale, will be bottled and sold in outlets around the area and beyond. Any local eatery or retail beer store that does not carry the English Ales line is missing the boat. This is as important a local resource as any of the wineries, fisheries or other produceries we have. Jump on this bandwagon now.