By Lauren Duffy
I’d be remiss to write a San Diego–based beer column without addressing the IPA. It is, after all, what this city does best. Nearly every brewery in the county makes a version, nearly every restaurant and bar has one on tap, and you won’t walk into a well-regarded beer store without finding a wide selection of this style.
IPA, which stands for India Pale Ale, is a style of beer that is hoppy and strong, and that was first brewed to withstand the long trip from England to India during the 18th century (hence “India” in the name). Hops, it was discovered, are a natural preservative, and so these IPAs were intently hoped, as well as made with a slightly higher alcohol content, which also helped beers hold up over weeks and months.
Fast forward to about 1980, when American craft brewers began to embrace the style, using American-grown hops and malt to create their own versions of this hoppy brew. While the name IPA stuck, the style began to diverge – American IPAs are much more bitter and aromatic than their British counterparts.
Then there’s the IPAs brewed in San Diego. Since the mid-1990s, this city has been brewing versions of IPAs that push the boundaries of the style, that embrace the hops, the alcohol, and the bitterness – sometimes to extreme amounts. In fact, it was in San Diego (Temecula, to be exact), that the first “extreme” IPA was brewed, which eventually led to the creation of an official style: the Double IPA.
Whether single IPAs or double, San Diego IPAs are known for their judicious use of hops throughout the brewing process. (Just look at the description on any IPA label to see the pride with which brewers use hops in their beers). Marked by an exaggerated, sometimes aggressive use of hops and a grain bill that pushes up the alcohol content, many of these beers are not for the fainthearted.
Still, the approach from brewer to brewer varies greatly, and it is possible to find local IPAs that fall all over the spectrum. There are subtle, delicate IPAs like Alpine Brewing Company’s Duet, which is lower in alcohol and bigger in flavor than many IPAs. And there are strong, bold versions such as Green Flash’s Palate Wrecker, an intensely hoppy, bitter specialty release. In fact, the world of San Diego IPAs is delightfully vast – here are just a few beers across the spectrum of this hoppy, hoppy world.
West Coast IPA, Green Flash Brewing Co.
West Coast IPA is a quintessential San Diego beer, and a balanced IPA that is not too aggressive, making it a perfect introduction to San Diego’s IPA style. The beer wonderfully integrates aromatic and bittering hops, playing out on the nose, the palate and the finish. Hints of fruit and honey greet the nose, followed by piney hop flavors that play out on the tongue. At 7.3 percent alcohol, this makes a strong but quaffable everyday beer. Available in six packs and 22-ounce bottles year-round.
Big Eye IPA, Ballast Point Brewing Company
One whiff of Big Eye and you know what hop-lovers are after. This is an aromatic beauty, a complex blend of grassy, floral, and citrus notes. This is an exceptionally composed beer, with a palate that pops of grapefruit flavor. A lovely citrus finish makes it crisp and refreshing. Once you’re a fan of Big Eye, keep an eye out for its also-excellent, albeit much stronger brother, the Dorado Double IPA. Available in six packs and 22-ounce bottles year-round.
Islander IPA, Coronado Brewing Company
This is the “milder” of Coronado’s two IPAs, if you can call a San Diego IPA mild. An aroma of flowers and citrus mingle with a honeyed sweetness. The dichotomy of hops and malt continues on the palate, a wonderful play between a light sweetness and a bitter backbone that is plenty apparent. At 7.5 percent alcohol, this is no light beer, yet it is nicely balanced. Look, too, for Coronado’s stronger version, the much-coveted Idiot Double IPA. Available in six packs and 22-ounce bottles year-round.
Pure Hoppiness, Alpine Beer Company
Experiencing this beer starts with a light, floral nose that is characteristically Alpine in aroma. A smooth mouth-feel offers gentle hop flavors that belie the beer’s 8 percent alcohol. In fact, this is one of the more well-balanced double IPAs out there, making it a beloved favorite of Alpine Beer fans. Well-integrated and balanced, it is complex and intriguing from nose to finish. Available in 22-ounce bottles.
Hop 15, Port Brewing Company
Bold, exaggerated and strong, this beer is not for the faint of heart. At 10 percent alcohol, this is a robust double IPA, with bold, caramel undertones that give way to a bold, bitter finish. The name is a nod to the 15 varieties of hops that were used in the brewing process, and to the 15-minute intervals hops were added throughout the boil. If you’re looking for a bold, strong San Diego IPA, this is it. Special release, available in 22-ounce bottles.
A few for the craft beer calendar
6/25-6/27: The San Diego International Beer Festival comes to the San Diego County Fair for the fourth year in a row. Tickets are $30 and include unlimited 1-ounce samples of more than 350 beers from 150 breweries. Buy tickets for one of four sessions at sdfair.com/beer.
6/25: The Dana Hotel on Mission Bay joins the growing number of local businesses celebrating craft beer with an event called “Brewcation.” The beer-focused evening will feature food and beer pairings from four area chefs and five local breweries: Stone, Green Flash, Lightning, Ballast Point, and Coronado. The cost is $40 per person, which includes eight food and beer tastings. To buy tickets, call 222-6440.
6/28: If you’re interested in becoming a more enlightened beer drinker, tonight’s class at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens may be for you. Stone’s resident Cicerone, Bill Sysak, will lead a class on sensory evaluation, showing students how to identify and describe flavors, distinguish between beer styles, and detect “off” flavors. The class is $20 and runs from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Call (760) 471-4999.
6/30: The Grill at Torrey Pines continues their “last Wednesday” beer dinner series with a four-course family style dinner featuring Lost Abbey beers, including the recently released Framboise de Amorosa. The cost is $65 per person and reservations can be made by calling (858) 777-6645.
7/11 At 5 p.m., La Jolla’s Trattoria Acqua will host “San Diego’s Best Beer Dinner,” a six-course beer-pairing dinner featuring award-winning San Diego beers. Expect pairings like cinnamon-dusted pork tenderloin with the Lost Abbey Lost&Found, fennel pollen-dusted scallop with Ballast Point Brother Levonian Saison, and chocolate porter cheesecake with Alesmith Speedway Stout. The cost is $45 per person, and reservations can be made by calling the restaurant at (858) 454-0709.