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Hoptown Girl: High Hopes for San Diego Beer

Posted: September 30th, 2011 | Food & Drink | No Comments



By Lauren Duffy Lastowka |
SDUN Columnist

By the time you read this, many of San Diego’s brewers will be en route to Denver, where many have traveled with high hopes that they and their beers will bring home the gold–the GABF gold, that is. GABF, the Great American Beer Festival, is one of America’s most longstanding and highly regarded craft beer competitions for professional brewers–this year marks the 30th annual competition. Year after year, it also happens to be one of San Diego’s most impressive collective craft beer performances.

Last year, local breweries came home from GABF with 17 medals; in 2009, they brought home 14; and in 2008 and 2007, there were 13 medals won each year. While close to 300 medals are awarded annually, the competition is stiff: this year 522 breweries and 3,900 beers have entered. So when a handful of San Diego breweries can consistently lay claim to over 5 percent of the awards, well, let’s just say not many other cities can pull that off.

Of course, my favorite part of GABF happens a few weeks after the event, when many of the breweries tend to re-release their award-winning beers on taps around town. Until then, while your favorite brewers are off in support of their beer (and many local beer fans fly out to Denver to join them), you can still take this weekend to savor what this city does best. Here are just a few releases I’m looking forward to until those medals come home and those award-winning beers hit the taps around town.

Alesmith’s fall seasonal, Evil Dead Red, snuck onto the scene earlier this month at a 4th anniversary dinner at Ritual Tavern; it will return to the 30th Street restaurant in cask form this Friday, for September’s 30th on 30th celebration. The seasonal red ale is only released on draft each year, and is a rich, hearty reminder that a malty backbone can stand up quite well to a playful, hoppy palate. It should start to pop up on taps around town, and is also being poured at the brewery, where it will be available for tasters and growler fills as long as this year’s batch lasts.

While no hops are involved, I can’t help but be excited about Julian Cider’s latest release, the Cherry Bomb hard cider–especially when it also chose a North Park location, Sea Rocket Bistro, for it’s restaurant debut earlier this month (in case you missed it, the menu pairing was a brandy-soaked, sour cherry and almond bread pudding). Tart, slightly sour Montmorency cherries were used to make this variation, making it a tangy departure from Julian’s flagship apple cider. Cherry Bomb will be available in 22-ounce. bottles starting the first week of October; the company
suggests Whole Foods and BevMo will be the first to carry the bottles.

If you’re willing to take a drive, Alpine Brewing Company has a few tricks up their sleeves next weekend. Most notably, the release of a bourbon barrel-aged version of Oden’s Raven, Alpine’s imperial stout, is slated to go on sale on Oct. 7. Quantities will be limited, and, according to Pat Macilheney, 22-once bottles “will be pricey,” but the rare barrel-aged beer promises to be quite a treat.

Also on Oct. 7, Alpine’s annual fresh hop beer will debut, playfully named “Whale,” as in wet-hop-ale. The beer will be available only in Alpine for growler fills and pints, but if fresh Simcoe and Citra hops sounds enticing, I’d think it’d be worth the drive.

Speaking of fresh hops, over the past few weeks many of the season’s limited fresh-hop beers have debuted, unofficially announcing the arrival of fall. Made from hops that are fresh off the vine (in the small window of time before they are dried and packaged to be used throughout the rest of the year), fresh hop beers have a delicate, almost muted hop profile. Fresh hop beers are one of the truly seasonal delights of the craft beer world, and this year promises to be no exception. This year’s local fresh hop releases include annual releases such as Ballast Point’s Schooner Ale, Port Brewing’s High Tide IPA and Pizza Port’s Low Tide Pale Ale, as well as a few newcomers, including a Port Brewing beer made with local Fallbrook hops. As usual, O’Brien’s Pub in Kearny Mesa will host a wet hop festival in case you miss the fresh hop beers that pop up around town. This year, it will be Oct. 21-23.

No matter what you reach for to quench your thirst this weekend, think of all our talented brewers in Denver, and be sure to raise a glass and wish them luck. We all wait with baited breath to see what medals San Diego returns with this year, but I have a hunch we’ll be proud.

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