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
Beer festivals and events are a dime a dozen these days in San Diego. Every seasonal occurrence seems to now have its accompanying beer festival, and non-profit and for-profit organizations seem eager to use San Diego’s craft beer culture to raise funds and visibility. Even the hardiest craft beer fan with endless time, wallet resources, and liver health couldn’t possibly attend all of these events. So which ones should you make the effort to attend? I’ve attempted to put together a list of the Top 5 San Diego beer festivals; however, as you will see this attempt is incomplete, and I invite your research and personal opinions to help make this more comprehensive!
Taking place each November during San Diego Beer Week, this is the place to be for celebrating the beauty and diversity of San Diego craft beer. Any brewer worth his or her salt is going to be representing at this festival, and you’re likely to discover the very newest breweries that have just opened their doors in time to be a part of this event. I attended the last 2 years, in 2011 at the park in Liberty Station in Point Loma and in 2012 at the Broadway Pier downtown. As more people turn onto this festival, the challenge for the guild will be to limit tickets in order to have a well-managed event as far as crowds and beer lines…that might mean moving again to a larger venue in next year or so, but we’ll see.
The mother of all beer festivals! Featuring an exhaustive array of beers from all over the world (many of which you’ll have trouble finding anywhere in retail stores), the San Diego International Beer Festival is the epicenter of hops and barley malt over the course of three days each June during the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar. General admission gets you 4 hours of unlimited 1-oz. pours of over 300 beers…sample everything from Finland to Belgium to New Zealand. There are a hefty number of breweries from San Diego and from across the United States, and while they are winning the awards the main focus here is really on the international selection.
You won’t be able to try everything, so go in with a mission of what you want to try. Remember to bring along a water bottle, and to take pictures of what you liked so you won’t forget the next day.
Each year in August, Stone holds their anniversary celebration on the grounds of Cal State University San Marcos. Many of your favorites from Stone will be available in limited-edition recipes, and you’ll be able to try their anniversary beer. The subtitle of the event is “Invitational Beer Festival” so it’s not just Stone beer…you’ll see beer from dozens of other breweries from San Diego County and beyond. You might get to try some of the regionally famous Mike’s Beer Cheese (if you’re into that sort of thing), and you’ll definitely get to hear one of Stone CEO Greg Koch’s evangelizing sermons about converting the tastes of the yellow fizzy swill-drinking masses. They don’t call him Beer Jesus for nothing!
The main event takes place with two sessions on Saturday, but if you get the chance spring the extra bucks for the more low-key Friday evening Brewers’ Reception, featuring complimentary gourmet food offerings and unlimited tastes. They offer lower-priced admission for Designated Drivers, who will get to enjoy everything except the beer, so remember to bring along your teetotaller friends or relatives for a good time and a a safe ride home. This year will be Stone’s 17th anniversary, and tickets just went on sale, so get on this soon if you have any intention of being there!
This festival’s been around longer than any of the others, and this September will be the 19th annual fund-raising event put on by San Diego Professionals Against Cancer. It’s situated in the streets and parking lots of downtown, a stone’s throw from the civic center to the east or the now-oldest San Diego brewery restaurant (Karl Strauss on Columbia Street) to the west. In years past, this could be considered an also-ran beer festival, but new local breweries are putting some new blood in the veins of this annual institution, and it’s always a good time to be out on a September night with so many beers for a good cause. This year’s festival will be held on Friday, September 20, 2013 and tickets are not yet on sale.
Okay…that’s four festivals. What else needs to go on this list? There was the Mission Valley Craft Beer Festival at the Handlery Hotel, which I could never quite afford to attend, and has recently announced this past festival would be the last…so I didn’t give them the consideration. The Epic Beer Festival (http://www.epicbeerfestival.com/)was held last month at the Convention Center, but they’re only one year into doing this and it seems to be more of a traveling festival with the same event held in other cities, so I’m withholding putting them on the short list until they get more…epic. I also just missed the (2nd annual?) Brew Classic that took place at Mission Bay along with the long-running Crew Classic. It doesn’t appear to be that large of an event, but maybe a very nice one given the occasion and the location. http://crewclassic.org/for-spectators/social-events/brew-classic/
I’ve enjoyed attending the Karl Strauss “Beach To Brewery” event in years past, but it hasn’t been held lately due to renovations at their main brewery in the Pacific Beach/Rose Canyon area, and it’s unannounced if they’ll be doing the event this year. I believe it’s only Karl Strauss beer on tap (with proceeds to the Surfrider Foundation), and by definition I tend to think that a beer festival should feature offerings from multiple breweries.
I haven’t gone to the CityBeat Festival of Beers, which is coming up April 20, but I feel that CityBeat mismanaged the beer festival they put on at the Adams Avenue Street Fair a few years ago. (It took them a full 45 minutes to move the line of ticketholders into the event area after starting time, promising they’d deliver what we paid for, then began allowing non-ticketholders to come in and purchase full pours and empty the kegs before it was over! Clue: This is NOT how to run a beer festival!) Maybe someone has an another opinion…. http://www.sandiegomusicfoundation.org/beerfest/
So that’s where I’m at. Does this list of 4 beer festivals hold? Did I miss something? What other event(s) should be included for a neat and definitive Top 5 list? This is where you come in.
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
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!!!!
Lagunitas Brewing Company, out of Petaluma in Sonoma County, I feel is often overlooked here in San Diego with all of our local brewers taking up (deservedly) so much of the spotlight. Yet Lagunitas has been growing by leaps and bounds, experiencing a 55% increase in the volume of beer sold over the last year alone, and is now the 11th largest craft brewer in the U.S. according to industry estimates put out by Beer Marketer’s Insights (http://www.beerinsights.com/).
And they’re putting out more and more specialty beers and limited releases, mostly in the 22 oz. format. Look for them in your local discriminating beer shops. I’ve been holding on to this limited release Bavarian-styled Doppel Weizen from Lagunitas for a few months now, and it’s time to pop the cap and see what’s going on here…
“Weizen” or “Weiss” is German for “wheat”, and this beer is a double-wheat with 55% wheat going into the malt, and fermented with a yeast strain that Lagunitas obtained straight from Bavaria. This beer pours a cloudy golden/orange color, with little carbonation and almost no head (unlike the picture on the label). Like a lot of wheat-based beers (check Karl Strauss’s hefeweizen) the aromas of cloves and bananas are abundant. On the first taste, again–a lot of cloves and bananas–but also some honey or nectar sweetness coming through and a hint of citrus. Medium-bodied, some light hops character just to add balance but not bitter at all This is an interesting release and would make a nice session beer for a warm springtime afternoon on your patio, if it weren’t for that meddling alcohol content (8.5 percent!)
Question for my readers: What limited release or seasonal beers have you tried lately? Do tell.
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….)