San Diego’s oldest craft beer producer, Karl Strauss Brewing Company, will celebrate the grand re-opening of its northernmost brewpub at Universal CityWalk tonight with a ticketed tasting buffet, showing off its makeover to Angelenos, and inaugurating its newly re-focused brewing program.
Karl Strauss flack Melody Daversa says the remodel was much-needed, as the 10 year-old brewpub’s interior had come to resemble a 90s chain restaurant.
“Like an Islands?” we asked.
“More like a Coco’s,” Daversa replied. Yikes.
Luckily, the remodeled space looks nothing like a Coco’s — or an Islands.
“It feels less busy, and a little more masculine,” says brewmaster Paul Segura.
It certainly does feel more brewpub-y. (And the conspicuous lack of flashing neon lights offers a welcome respite from the otherwise unmitigated sensory assault that is Universal CityWalk.) But exposed brick, distressed wood and subdued earth tones aren’t the only changes you’ll find inside the renovated brewpub.
Segura says that the company plans to revamp the in-house brewing program at the CityWalk location. That means Karl Strauss flagship beers like Tower 10 IPA and Windansea Wheat Hefeweizen will no longer be brewed on-site.
“They were tasting too different [from the ones brewed in San Diego],” Segura explained.
So instead, a rotating bevy of experimental and specialty beers will be brewed on the bar/restaurant’s diminutive seven barrel system, with the brewpub serving as a sort of pilot program for new and interesting Karl Strauss beers.
The changes at CityWalk — both to the look of the restaurant and the contents of the tap list — reflect the company’s ongoing efforts to adapt to the changing cultural climate surrounding craft beer production and consumption in Southern California and beyond. When the founders of Karl Strauss introduced their first brewpub to Downtown San Diego in 1989, they were leading the vanguard — the first craft beer producers to appear in the burgeoning city since the end of Prohibition.
But since 2002, when craft beer began its rapid rise out of the niche marketplace and into the cultural mainstream, Karl Strauss, with its historic emphasis on crisp lagers and easy-drinking ales, began to look increasingly like a craft beer dinosaur — a relic of a “first wave” craft beer movement that many had come to associate with inferior craftsmanship, Big Beer buyouts, and a general lack of imagination.
So in 2008, Karl Strauss Brewing Company set out to radically revise not only its image, but also the way it brewed beer, improving many of its classic recipes, and focusing on ways to transform its brand into something the new generation of beer drinkers would find relevant. Because craft beer drinkers, the company realized, had begun to evolve from casual consumers who desired a simple, “drinkable” alternative to industrial lagers, to connoisseurs who truly valued nuance, complexity and innovation.
For Segura, the modernization process at Karl Strauss has largely meant brewing bigger, bolder, hoppier beers. But it’s also provided him the opportunity to explore underrepresented styles, like the barrel-aged Baltic Porter he brewed late last year, dubbed Parrot in a Palm Tree — the first installment in a 12-year Twelve Days of Christmas holiday series. (The folks at Karl Strauss say that they came up with the idea shortly before the Bruery released Partridge in a Pear Tree in 2008, but were slow to implement it.)
Segura’s take on the Eastern European classic is without a doubt one of the best on the market (if you can still find it). It’s also one of our favorite beers from 2010, and proof that Karl Strauss Brewing Company, while maybe not quite so dynamic as some if its younger competitors, is still fully capable of brewing world-class beer.
The company hopes that the renovated brewpub at Universal CityWalk will help spread the Karl Strauss gospel to Los Angeles, which according to Meg Gill, member of the 2011 Craft Brewers Conference organizing committee, is the fastest growing craft beer market in the United States.
So if you’re curious to taste what the new Strauss is brewing up, grab a ticket online and head over from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. All food and beer pairings are covered by the $10 admission fee, including unlimited access to a cask-conditioned keg of Karl Strauss’s Pintail Pale Ale. And don’t forget your IDs; the event is 21 and over.