Benchmark Brewing in the Grantville neighborhood of San Diego just released their first triple IPA, Hildegard IIIPA. While “triple IPA” is not an official beer category, think of it as a double IPA amped up that much more with hops (added at different stages of the brewing process) and elevated alcohol content. February turns out to be be a big month for triple IPAs, with the annual release of the much-coveted cult beer Pliny The Younger from Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, California.
Benchmark’s Hildegard is heavy on the Citra hops, lending it a nice citrusy aroma and a bit of tropical fruit on the finish. Brewer Matt Akin brewed this to be the first of 20 San Diego beers created as fundraisers for the Lupus Foundation of Southern California, with a percent of all sales (liquid and t-shirt) going to this cause. The beer is tasty and seductive, but don’t let that fool you as it weighs in at 13.5% ABV. Get it now, get it fresh…this is a limited supply beer!
Benchmark Brewing Company
6190 Fairmount Ave, Suite G
San Diego, CA. 92120
It’s already been a full 12 months since Latitude 33 Brewing Company opened their doors in the Vista facility formerly occupied by Green Flash. I only get up to North County tasting rooms once every month or so, but Latitude 33 is a definite standout in an ever-growing cluster of breweries located in the Oceanside/Vista/San Marcos corridor. When I first visited, I found myself trying far more tasters than I had planned for, and bringing home a growler of their Dry Hump IPA. Latitude 33 has a really talented brewing staff, and every beer they put out is ready for prime-time. While a small number of their more “adventurous” beers venture into taste experiments that exceed my current palate, there isn’t a single one on the menu that that can be said to bland or mediocre. Their beers aren’t yet available in bottles or cans, so their success so far has a lot to do with a dedicated fan base of North County drinkers and keg sales to restaurants.
For their first anniversary party held March 9th, Lat33 went all out. There were plenty of craft beer events on the San Diego calendar for that weekend, but I made sure this was the one I was going to. They held two tasting sessions, one beginning at 12 pm and a later session at 4 pm.
I went to the later session (after a few stops at AleSmith and Rip Current along the way from central San Diego). It was a gorgeous Southern California day, with a sneak preview of springtime sun and breezes. A ticket got you a taster glass, 8 tasters, an anniversary t-shirt, good company and live music entertainment.
I started off my tasters right, going right to the new anniversary ale, “Biere de Mars”, described as a “fresh Alsatian-style beer brewed with coriander.” Mmmmm….tasty! Now this was a beer that immediately stood out as an original. I followed that with the Straw Horse Wheat Ale, a light and crisp beer in the German or Czech style…a departure from the hoppier or bolder beers I’d be venturing into, but definitely an enjoyable beer for a lazy summer afternoon. For the more adventurous, they had a side bar in the back where they poured a special edition of Biere de Mars brewed with sage and grains of paradise. That was absolutely incredible…while it lasted! They also offered limited pours of “Spicy Camel IPA” with smoked ghost chilies, “Toasted Pirate” rye stout with rum-soaked oak chips and coconut, and “Chili Brown” brewed with habañero peppers.
Lat33 also offered a taste of local music talent, and Big Shot Reub and the Reloaders did not disappoint as they tore into covers of The Doors, CCR, the Stones, and Santana, as well as a few of their originals that can be found on their CD Roundhouse Blues. If you get a chance to check out this band, do so! Some of the best local blues-rock guitar bands I’ve heard in awhile.
We caught up with Latitude 33 head brewmaster Kevin Buckley a few days after we had all recovered from the anniversary.
V&S: Happy anniversary! Tell us about the best and worst (or most challenging) moments of your first year:
Buckley: The worst had to be trudging through all of the paperwork and waiting to get our licenses to to get our doors open. So far the best was seeing the number of people that turned out for our first anniversary party. Now we get to look to this next year knowing that this crazy ride has only just begun.
V&S: What can we expect in the coming year for Latitude 33?
Buckley: This year we will start out bottling operations. Hopefully, placing the order for our bottling and labeling line in the next couple of weeks. 22 oz bottles on local shelves as well as Orange/LA County. We are also starting our barrel aging program. So far we have an imperial stout aging in bourbon barrel as well as a batch of Vanilla’s Tart ( sour porter aged in wine barrels with vanilla beans and tart cherries.)
V&S: I loved the 1st anniversary ale, Biere de Mars. Tell us about the ideas you had for this beer, and will we possibly be seeing more of it?
Buckley: Brewed each year to celebrate our anniversary, the Bière de Mars (French for “March Beer”) is a farmhouse ale closely related to Bière de Garde and Saisons. Native to Northern France, but not uncommon in Southern Belgium and Germany, this early spring brew is lighter and drier than its cousins. Our Bière de Mars makes a nod to the German Marzens with an addition of chocolate malt that gives it a red-amber color with a light, creamy off-white head. The aroma is sweet malts, dried fruit and spices with a hint of floral notes. Mouthfeel is light and the flavors are toasted malts, biscuit, tart apple and pear. The finish offers a note of spices and a crisp bitterness that does not linger. A very refreshing beer to enjoy on a sunny spring day.
V&S: Any last thoughts on the anniversary?
Buckley: It was really great to see so many people having a good time with friends, family and our brews.
All I gotta say is that Latitude 33 delivers, and I wish them the best as they continue to put out some really good beer in the ever-crowded market of San Diego craft breweries. Their anniversary ale was one of the best beers I’ve ever tried, and it’s still on tap at the brewery for the short term if you go visit their facility in Vista.
For more information about Latitude 33, visit their website: www.lat33brew.com.
(Make sure to click on “Beer Locator Map” for the nearest bars and restaurants carrying their brews).
You can find out more about Big Shot Reub and the Reloaders (and purchase their music) at the following links: www.cdbaby.com/cd/bigshotreub
Each February, Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, California releases Pliny The Younger, a limited-release triple IPA that is probably the biggest cult beer in the world. Rated 100 out of 100 on RateBeer.com and currently placed as the #2 best beer in the world on BeerAdvocate , plenty of interest has gathered around Pliny The Younger’s release each year, motivating long-distance travel plans for a few of us extra-special beer geeks and just the willingness to stand in long lines for the rest of us “average” hopheads.
Although I have visited RRBC and frequently sip beers like Damnation strong golden ale and Pliny The Elder (double IPA), I have never made the necessary effort to get my hands on a glass of Pliny The Younger. I figured I can always get a pint of Pliny The Elder or any one of literally dozens of IPAs or Double IPAs from local San Diego breweries to satisfy my bitterness cravings. But this year was going to be different…I was not going to let the 2013 Pliny season pass without this rare assembly of hops and barley passing my lips.
Being the craft beer capital of America, we San Diegans are lucky to have several craft beer bars that will be carrying Pliny The Younger (dates and quantities will vary, as do prices, I discovered). Since O’Brien’s pub is located about a stone throw’s from my place and probably has as close a relationship with RRBC owner/brewer Vinnie Cilurzo as I can imagine, I knew this would be the spot to go to. I got the heads up that they would be tapping PtY this past Saturday, and made plans way ahead of time to be there.
The line at O’Brien’s started forming about an hour and forty minutes before tap time, and quickly increased to wrap around the block outside the Kearny Mesa strip mall. I was well within the first 30-35 people in line (well, I had to polish off my Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA inside the bar first…), so wasn’t worried about being left out on my fill. The line was filled with opinionated craft beer enthusiasts, so there was plenty of opportunity for idle chatter about one of our favorite topics…sure beats standing in line for the Matterhorn at Disneyland and trying to talk to the people in front of you about whatever changes were made to the ice monster a decade ago!
I checked in with a few of my fellow hops addicts in line for the promised fix of Pliny The Younger, to ask them both about the hype and the beer itself.
Jonathan Diaz was at the head of the line, determined to get his taste before anyone else.
V&S: Tell us why you’re here
Diaz: “I’m here to taste Pliny The Younger!–almost the number-one rated beer on Beer Advocate, great beer…”
Diaz: Nope, never had it before.
V&S: What are you expecting out of Pliny The Younger?
Diaz: “I’m expecting it to live up to the hype. I hear, “oh it’s the best beer ever, best beer ever“, and I’m a big Double IPA fan. I’ve never really liked triple IPAs like Exponential Hoppiness (Alpine Beer Co.), everyone says, “oh it’s super good, it’s super good“–I’ve tried it…it’s way too much alcohol for an IPA, you really don’t enjoy the hops much. So I’m seeing if Younger is as good as they say it is.”
Ismael Silva first tried Pliny The Younger last year (2012), and was back for more. “It’s just an extremely well made, well-balanced beer…very high alcohol but you can’t even taste how high it is; just exceptionally smooth. You can see the hop oils on it, just really hoppy…just the perfect beer, really.”
V&S: What would you rate it on a scale of 1 to 100?
Silva: “Ten thousand. It’s just amazing.”
Rob Binkley waxed philosophically about balance. “There’s four ingredients of beer, and pretty much the same four ingredients make every single type of beer. It’s the ratios that make beers interesting, tasty, beautiful, and different. And if you think of really hoppy beer, Pliny has one of the best balances with hops in it, it’s like GREAT… not too strong…, well it is pretty strong, but it’s hops that’s not overly bitter, not overly controlling, it’s just a great…smooth…pretty much the greatest beer ever!!!
V&S: “On a scale of 1 to 100, what would you give it?”
Binkley: ” Ummm…that’s a trick question, because it’s like millions, billions… (laughs)
All right, so there you have it…it’s apparent that many Pliny fans do not understand the limits of a scale ending at a mere 100. That’s just a small sampling of semi-organized thought about this beer that in just the past few years has become an obsession among craft beer drinkers whose tastes are geared toward the same end of the beer spectrum as myself (that is to say, hop-heavy American Pale Ales, India Pale Ales and Double/Imperial IPAs ranging from the bitter to the extreme bitter). But is Pliny The Younger all hype? What’s the deal? I was about to find out as it was nearing tap-time.
As tastings began, O’Brien’s skilled servers processed pours in an efficient “Soup Nazi” style….fork over your cash, hit the tip jar, grab your glass and step aside for the next guy in line! So I finally got my taste on…Like a lot of freshly brewed and poured IPAs, Pliny the Younger has a fresh and citrusy aroma. On first taste, you get pleasant hoppy bite on the mid-palate, but it was definitely not as astringent as many other “triple” IPAs and hop-bombs that I have tried; as aforementioned, this is an extremely well-balanced beer for the insane amount of hops that go into the recipe and being nearly 11% in alcohol (I think I was told this year’s batch was 10.8%); it tastes more like a 7% IPA. There was some fresh evergreen oil (yes, Pliny is piney), and some orange rind in the flavor profile. The finish was clean, and left some lingering hops bitterness…afterglow for beer geeks!
So how do I rank Pliny The Younger? I will give it a 96. It is an excellent beer that hits the spot for me with the qualities that I often look for in a beer. However, as a spoiled San Diegan craft beer drinker, I also know there are several other local beers that hit that same spot for me. This is something I pondered over a glass of The Roustabout double IPA at nearby Societe Brewing Company an hour later. I wouldn’t often think of standing in long lines and spending the kind of money that bars are charging for a small glass of Pliny, but this is once a year…and an opportunity for IPA enthusiasts from all over to meet and celebrate something special. And so the very next day I found myself doing it all over again, this time at Toronado in North Park. Why not?!
Yes, it’s August 2nd and in case your lame calendar didn’t say so, it’s IPA Day! For the uninitiated, IPA is India Pale Ale, a style of beer originally brewed by the Brits back in the 19th century, adding extra hops to the ale to preserve its voyage on ships headed around the Cape of Good Hope to colonial India. More recently, west coast U.S. brewers have taken this beer style to a new level, amping up the hops and daring your taste buds to engage in the resulting bodacious bitterness. It’s what’s made San Diego famous for its beer.
So today I salute you, coming at ya from Downtown Johnny Brown’s with an IPA from Manzanita Brewing Company (who just celebrated their 2nd anniversary), to be followed by the newest double IPA (“Hop Therapy”) from newcomer Rough Draft Brewing. Now I should mention that double or imperial IPAs are what you get when a bunch of insane west coast beer geeks decide that “regular” IPA recipes need to be tweaked, adding even more hops–sometimes at different stages in the brewing process–resulting in the kind of bitterness that is sure to baffle and offend drinkers of cheap domestic light “beer” swill, as it should! In fact, while I don’t know how long the popularity of Double/Imperial IPAs will last, I will declare this as the reigning beer style for 2012.
Here are some more local San Diego County IPAs I can recommend; let me know what your favorite is or what you’re having!*
- Stone IPA
- Alpine Nelson IPA
- Green Flash West Coast IPA
- Pizza Port (Ocean Beach) Jetty IPA
- AleSmith IPA
- Hess Intrepidus IPA
- Mission IPA
- Ballast Point Big Eye IPA
- Karl Strauss Tower 20 (double) IPA
- Coronado Idiot (double) IPA
- Stone Ruination (double IPA)
- Ballast Point Sculpin (double) IPA
(*these are in no particular order nor is this list meant to be exhaustive)
Get your hops on!!!!
“MixTape”, as a nod to those artfully and thoughtfully put-together music experiences of yore, is a unique blend concocted by Greg Koch and Laura Ulrich of Stone Brewing Co., and includes their Levitation, LeVariation, Sublimely Self-Righteous ales, Smoked Porter, Cali-Belgique, 2011 Imperial Russian Stout, and 2011 Belgo-Anise Imperial Russian Stout…they seemingly just put all those beers in the blender with some added peppers, sage, lemon thyme, and Citra hops (as if Stone beers need any ADDED hops!)…and voila! Pop this one in the tape deck of your ’91 hooptie for a trip into a zone forbidden to sippers of fizzy yellow beer !
As you can see, the MixTape pours dark, with a thick head of foam from all that ale and stout interaction. Surprisingly to me, it drinks quite well…this is not just some evil dare handed down from the Stone gods to college fraternity brothers looking for something new to push on recruits. A little on the smoky side, some of the character of those herbs and spices definitely coming through….reminds me a bit of the Stone 15th Anniversary Black IPA with a touch of Belgian malts….but there’s more going on here. Basically a complex dark ale, heavy but not overwhelming on the hops, with some spice. Something for the stout and porter drinkers (which I’m not particularly) and something for the hoppy ale and Belgian lovers (yeah, that’s me!). Nicely balanced, just like those TDK high bias 90-minute cassettes I used to fill up with my own patented blend of alt-college rock, punk, new wave, hip hop, funk, reggae, and Jerky Boys prank phone calls.
And for a limited time, you can also pick up this handsome pint glass with the saying of the week, “Don’t Bro Me If You Don’t Know Me”…a Neighborhood exclusive, and a quote which I shall not speculate upon since that’s already been done by fellow bloggers. Cheers, and keep mixing it up!
So here we are at the grand opening of Rough Draft, the latest of a string of new breweries opening up during the past month here in San Diego. The tasting room is very spacious, with a long tasting bar and TVs already mounted, ready for you to pair up beer tastings with the sports game du jour.
Currently, Rough Draft has just four beers on tap: a Belgian-style blond ale, an amber ale, “What the Ale” American pale ale, and Eraser IPA. I’m told they will soon offer a double IPA, and plan to have a total of 12 beers on tap by the end of the year. The grand opening event includes tastings of all 4 aforementioned beers, plus a 64 oz. logo growler with a fill of your favorite, all for $20. It sold out last Sunday, so you’re not alone if you snoozed and missed out on your ticket to this one (Terry!)
The Belgian-style blond was nice and light, floral character. This was quite similar to some of my favorite blond ales imported from Belgium. A refreshing beer for a summer afternoon, a way to go light without being wimpy and selling your soul to the devil from St. Louis or Milwaukee. I also enjoyed the Amber ale–approaching a more medium to full body with a very malt-forward caramelish flavor, and packing 7.5% ABV although you wouldn’t know it from the taste. The “What The Ale?” American pale ale took us into hoppier territory, albeit on the lighter side of that style’s popular embodiment, Sierra Nevada P.A. Good clean citrusy finish. The Eraser IPA seemed to be a revved up version of the pale ale, but obviously with more hops–bold but not exactly knocking over any of the many other IPAs within this hop-friendly county. Being an IPA guy, I chose this as my growler fill and will be enjoying this tomorrow on my Sunday afternoon in the patio.
This latest Stone collaboration beer just came out last week, and I couldn’t wait to try it. I had hoped to fill up a growler at the 30th Street tasting room this past Friday, but things came up, and when I made it in Saturday afternoon the kegs had already been tapped out by my fellow beer enthusiasts. Luckily, they had some 12 oz. bottles sitting in the fridge!
This time Mitch Steele at Stone joined with co-conspirators Richard Norgrove, Jr. of Bear Republic Brewing and Matt Cole of Fat Head’s Brewery (out of Cleveland, OH) for what’s described as an “extra hoppy brown ale brewed with brown sugar and molasses.”. It seems Cole took the lead in the enthusiasm generating this project, with fond recollections of one of his first home brewing experiments from the early ’90s being in this style.
The result is a brown ale with a lower gravity than most, and a hops-forward flavor that will find immediate enjoyment by West Coast hopheads. Nicely balanced, easy drinking, and with an understated sweet finish that shows off the brown sugar and molasses that went into the recipe. This beer probably won’t be around too long, so seek it out and drink what you can before it goes dry like a sagebrush landscape in the Lone Star state! (Rating on a scale of 10…I was gonna go modest and say 8.75, but it’s a 9, solid! Now let me stop typing and enjoy this….)
Breakwater Brewing Company is the northernmost craft brewery in San Diego County, nestled a block away from the ocean on 101/North Coast Hwy.
I tried a taster set of 6 beers: Beach Honey Ale, Railside Red ale, Beachbreak Brown ale, Eric’s Quadrupel Belgian-style, Maverick’s Double IPA, and Walkabout IMP Stout.
The Beach Honey ale was light and refreshing, not too overpowered with honey and with a nice infusion of grapefruit for a citrusy finish. The Railside Red was okay, very drinkable but didn’t do much for me as far as a standout beer. Beachbreak Brown was a very nicely balanced ale made with Cacade hops, that hides the fact that it’s 7.8% ABV. Next up was is Eric’s Quadrupel….taking the ABV up to 9.6%, a dark Belgian-style with coriander and chamomile in the recipe by Eric Magruder, a local homebrewer who took home an award and then Breakwater picked it up and made it available to the North County masses. Maverick’s Double IPA was my type of beer, they bill it as a “hop monster” but I could handle more hops…good, but not particularly notable among hoppy IPAs and Double/Triple IPAs being put out by other brewers around the county. The Walkabout Stout was sweet with a delayed lingering finish of vanilla…tasting partner Terry says it was kinda flat overall (I’ve never been much of a stout guy). Also of note: Kali Kush, a medium-bodied special pale ale with a touch of local sagebrush, and Old Blue Eyes, a malty “Old Ale” style of beer that is extremely low on the hops while upping the ABV to 9.1% .
When in Oceanside, surf your way in to Breakwater for a wide selection of hand-crafted beer! Most recommended: Beachbreak Brown, Kali Kush.