Lost Abbey Bourbon Barrel-Aged Angels Share and Ballast Point Barrel-Aged Victory at Sea
Choosing an event to kick off beer week was a challenge, but we settled on barrel-aged night at Downtown Johnny Browns. A tucked away 25-year-old sports bar on the outskirts of downtown, the bar is one of the more underrated craft beer spots in San Diego. From the well-curated 20 taps of barrel-aged beers, we found two of our favorites, and settled down on a rain-kissed patio to savor the week ahead. As for the beers, let me just say this: if you’ve never experienced barrel-aged Victory at Sea, please make it a mission in your life to seek it out. The wood-treated coffee imperial porter is rich with coffee and chocolate notes, bursting with vanilla from aroma to aftertaste, and has the mouthfeel of melted ice cream. To say it is decadent is an understatement.
Green Flash 9th Anniversary IIIPA
It wouldn’t be San Diego without at least one one over-the-top IPA, and Green Flash’s 9th anniversary beer proudly filled the role. The 11% ABV triple-IPA might sound over the top, but it was a justified anniversary creation for a brewery whose past year was huge: moving into a new state-of-the-art facility, doubling their batch size from 25 to 50 barrels, and opening a tasting room in a well-trafficked part of San Diego. If I were Chuck Silva, I’d make a big beer to celebrate a big year, too.
The IIIPA is fantastic. A subtle yet familiar hop aroma greets the nose, followed by a surprising and absolutely delightful palate of tangy, clean grapefruit notes. For an 11% beer, it is exceptionally well-balanced, with a fresh, sweet, and crisp flavor that hides all but a hint of the alcohol. Best of all, the beer was on tap seemingly everywhere this week, providing ample opportunities to toast one of the best breweries in town. (This generous pour is from the Regal Beagle in Mission Hills.)
Russian River Supplication and Consecration
Sour nights abounded during beer week, and it was tempting to hit up several. We made it a priority the second night, especially because it provided an excuse to dine at the freshly opened Tiger! Tiger! in North Park. The casual restaurant and beer bar is the second establishment to open by Lee Chase (who you may know as the co-purveyor of Blind Lady Ale House and former head brewer of Stone Brewing Co.). Squeezed into a corner of the bar right in front of the open kitchen’s wood-burning oven, we got our sour fix the proper way, with a one-two punch of Russian River Supplication and Consecration. The fireside setting may have been the result of crowds, but for a moment, with two perfect beers and a perfect fireside seat, it was as intimate and comforting as beer week gets.
Bruery Four Calling Birds on Cask at Local Habit
I’d been itching to get my hands on the latest release in the Twelve Days of Christmas series from the Bruery, and when Hillcrest-based Local Habit announced they were serving a cask of the Belgian strong dark ale, I jumped at the chance. The subtly spiced beer pours jet black and greets the nose with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. Caramel and anise notes dance across the palate just before a smooth, clean finish. It’s a fantastic winter warmer, and I already hope I get a chance to taste the barrel-aged version that will be released to those in the Bruery’s Reserve Society next year.
Allagash Interlude ‘10
The biggest surprise for me all week was an impromptu visit to Tiger! Tiger!’s “The Maine Event” Allagash showcase, where I was fortunate to have the Allagash Interlude ‘10 catch my eye on a well-endowed beer list. The Brett-spiked farmhouse ale, aged in merlot and syrah barrels, was one of the most delightful experiences of beer week, fruity and toasty, crisp yet tangy. For nostalgia’s sake, I also ordered a Curieux (back left in the photo), which had been my first foray into Belgian-style barrel-aged beers; perhaps it was the milieu of all the other outstanding beers this week, but the Curieux was far from the big, bourbony ale I remembered. Still, though, the barrel-aged tripel did not disappoint.
Green Flash Hamilton’s 5th Anniversary “I Plead the Fifth” Black IPA
There is perhaps no better single word for San Diego’s beer scene than this: collaborative. Whether it’s growing breweries passing down their equipment to newcomers, seasoned brewers reaching out to top-notch homebrewers, or two to three brewers reaching across company lines to team up for a special release, not a month passes by without some form of eager and creative collaboration. This month, the best example of this has been “I Plead the Fifth,” Green Flash’s Hamilton’s 5th Anniversary Black IPA, a beer brewed by North Park resident Chuck Silva to celebrate five years of a South Park bar that arguably helped put 30th Street on the map. The roasty, delicately hopped ale is surprisingly tempered, a balanced version of the style that favors roasted malt over hops. The 7% ABV beer may be tame for an anniversary beer, especially for two establishments that have been known to go over the top, but it is also a delightful reminder that not every hoppy creation in this town always has to go all out.
Beer and food parings at Torrey Pines Beer Garden
The culminating event of Beer Week is the Chefs’ Celebration Beer Garden, a Sunday afternoon garden party overlooking the Torrey Pines golf course and the Pacific Ocean. The classy affair always seems to make the past nine days of drinking justified, or at the very least, makes slipping in one last Sunday afternoon drinking session seem, uh, par for the course. Here, the food shines just as much as the beer, with ten area chefs working with two local beers each to create a dish that complements both. Highlights included smoked trout and potato-fennel-apple salad paired with the citrusy AleSmith IPA; Maine Lobster “salchicha” with San Diego Brewing Company’s delightful Julian hop “Freshly Yum Yum” ale; and, pictured here, green coconut pork belly curry with Pizza Port’s Hakuna Ma Ta Tas Breast Cancer Awareness Month Pink IPA. After ten rounds of succulent small plates and perfectly complementary beers, we, believe it or not, were already looking forward to next year.