The restaurant business can be rife with failure, so when there’s an establishment that makes it out of the danger zone of the first three years, it’s a sure sign that something good is happening. When Urge American Gastropub first opened in 2010, there were already some restaurants that fully embraced the craft beer scene, but nowhere near the plethora of beer-centric eateries that dot the landscape today. With a half-decade of successful longevity amid fierce competition in mind, it’s only fitting that the Rancho Bernardo stalwart mark five years with an over-the-top anniversary party, which kicked off on Friday.
While Urge’s anniversary celebrations always feature extreme food offerings like ghost chili wings and otherworldly burgers –more on that later—the real star of any party at this venerable establishment is beer. On normal days, the list of 51 taps is usually populated with a formidable lineup of brews, but Grant Tondro and brothers Zak and Nate Higson always manage to take it to that next level for special events. With vintage offerings from breweries like Dogfish Head, Russian River, Firestone Walker and Deschutes on the docket, a quintet of beers created just for this milestone garnered the most attention.
As a testament to Urge’s gravitas, each year of operation is represented by a commemorative libation crafted by a different brewery. Sierra Nevada’s Maison Saison is a straight-forward example of the style with French yeast, while Noble Ale Works’ Stranger Danger is an Imperial Gose with chocolate, cocoa nibs, caramel and sea salt. On the barrel-aged front, Dogfish Head rested a batch of its Black and Blue Ale in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels, and Mother Earth created a pomegranate Belgian quad aged in bourbon barrels. These four brews were certainly great, but the real show-stopper was AleSmith’s offering: Velvet Speedway.
There are few things that whip craft beer fans into a frenzy more than scarcity, and Velvet Speedway has it in spades. This beer is a barrel-aging battle royal, as Speedway Stout sat in Evan Williams whiskey barrels for more than a year, and was then blended with Wild Turkey barrel-aged Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee by Mostra and a vanilla concoction that Grant Tondro made by soaking vanilla beans in rye whiskey for six months. Anticipation for this brew started as soon as it was announced, and the frenzy peaked with an online sale of 450 bottles that sold out in a logic-defying 5 seconds.
Back to the food, Urge always offers a special burger for its anniversary, and this year’s offering is as food-coma-inducing as ever before. Chef Marc Liautard starts by stuffing an 8 ounce patty made out of a blend of chuck and short rib with Scamorza cheese, and then topping it with kale slaw, applewood smoked bacon, fried onion strings and 3 ounces of braised short rib. The whole creation is served on a beer-glazed bun smeared with a smoked Urbock aioli. This delicious terror is only available during the celebration, so get there between Lipitor refills.
Friday was only the first day of the anniversary party, and festivities will continue throughout the weekend with live music and t-shirts screen-printed in real time by Viva Merch. For those who were shut out of the bottle sale, Velvet Speedway will be available at various times throughout the celebration, but Friday morning’s keg kicked in a mere 18 minutes. Your best chance for success is to show up early, but be warned: the first people in line on Friday were there at 7:45 a.m., which was just shy of three hours before the doors opened.