Dictionary of must-try local beers

Bonobos San Diego Pale Ale


Covering a brewing scene as vibrant as San Diego’s is harder work than it may seem. I won’t lie, the many hours of labor spent on this job are offset nicely by the benefit of tasting exceptional beers. And thanks to years of tasting my way through local ales and lagers, I fluently speak the language of local beer, enough so that I’ve put together a glossary of standout brews in their styles.


Green Flash Brewing Co.

6550 Mira Mesa Boulevard, Mira Mesa

30th Street Pale Ale (thur-tee-ith-street-peyl-eyl), n.: 1. A component of Green Flash’s Hop Odyssey line of rotating, hop-driven beers, it started off as an over-the-top pale ale which blurred the lines between this style and the India Pale Ale. West Coast-style hopping (i.e., a massive dosing of hops against the lowest possible, yet still counterbalancingly effective malt backbone) with Warrior, Cascade, and El Dorado brings big flavors of citrus fruit and an undercutting bitterness to this brew. Orig. Green Flash Brewing Company, 6550 Mira Mesa Boulevard, Mira Mesa.

Culture Brewing Co.

111 S. Cedros Avenue #200, Solana Beach

Black IPA (black-ahy-pee-ey), adj.: 1. A well balanced iteration of the newest widespread style of India pale ale, utilizing dark roasted malts to create an onyx-colored IPA that still leads with hop bitterness while introducing flavors of dark chocolate, roast coffee, char, and/or black licorice. 2. Mild by comparison to other San Diego black IPAs (or Cascadian dark ales as they are referred to in the Pacific Northwest), it provides a delicate enough backdrop for taste buds to pick out the nuances of the individual hops without them being overshadowed by the accompanying cocoa notes. Orig. Culture Brewing Company, 111 South Cedros Avenue, Solana Beach.

Monkey Paw

805 16th Street, East Village

(Has gone out of business since this article was published.)

Bonobos San Diego Pale Ale (buh-noh-bohs-san-dee-ayh-go-peyl-eyl), n.: 1. A gold medal–winning beer from the country’s most prestigious brewing competition, the Great American Beer Festival, this is a quintessential West Coast-style IPA (read: bone-dry and hopped within an inch of its life). 2. Rather than take on the traditional name of India pale ale, Monkey Paw used the fact that this beer exemplifies local IPA brewing styles (low degree of malt against an over-the-top hop bill) as the basis for naming it a “San Diego Pale Ale” and doubling the beer’s role as both a mode of hop flavor and aroma conveyance, and a source of civic pride. Orig. Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery, 805 16th Street, East Village.

New English Brewing Co.

11545 Sorrento Valley Road #305, Sorrento Valley

Brewer’s Special Brown Ale (broo-erz-spesh-uhl-broun-eyl), n.: 1. A traditional English-style brown ale amped up to American strength (6.6% ABV) by an English transplant delivering a style from his homeland redefined via the brewing sensibilities of his current home. 2. This beer is low in sweetness and big on body, bringing on more roastiness than most of its contemporaries. Hops take a backseat for a refreshing change of pace, making this beer an exceptional complement to meaty proteins (beef, bacon, or dark-meat poultry) and nearly any dessert incorporating chocolate. Orig. New English Brewing Company, 11545 Sorrento Valley Road, suite 305, Sorrento Valley.

The Lost Abbey

155 Mata Way #104, San Marcos

Carnevale Ale (kahr-ney-vawl-eyl), n.: 1. Of the several American takes on Belgian-style farmhouse ales produced by the Lost Abbey, this tastes closest to versions produced in Belgium. A spiciness akin to white peppercorns increases an already profound dryness. 2. This saison, a seasonal offering released annually during its namesake holiday (prior to Easter) includes Brettanomyces, a form of wild yeast, ensuring that the beer becomes drier as it ages in the bottle, as well as fruitier and funkier. 3. This beer took a gold medal at the World Beer Cup in 2012 and Great American Beer Festival in 2009 as the best farmhouse ale produced in the world and U.S.A., respectively. Orig. The Lost Abbey, 155 Mata Way, suite 104, San Marcos.

Pizza Port OB

1956 Bacon Street, Ocean Beach

Chronic (krawn-ik), adj.: 1. An amber ale dating back many years, it remains a respected and coveted version of a style (amber/red ale) that is often associated with a time during the American craft-beer boom of the mid-1990s when large corporations attempted to enter the market with tame beers built to be compatible with macrobeer drinkers’ palates. 2. Though well balanced and easy-drinking, this beer’s hop presence provides added flavor and appeal. It’s that hoppiness that is the source of its longevity even as San Diego brewers push the envelope in myriad ways. Orig. Pizza Port, Locations in Bressi Ranch, Carlsbad, Ocean Beach, Solana Beach.

The Stone Brewing Company Store

2215 30th Street, South Park

(Has gone out of business since this article was published.)

Enjoy By IPA (en-joi-bahy-ahy-pee-ey), v.: 1. An intensely resinous, citrusy, dank double India pale ale designed to communicate the importance of consuming hoppy beers at their freshest. Thirteen hops from around the world go into this beer, which is packaged in bottles displaying “enjoy by” dates so consumers can be sure to drink the beer within 35 days of its bottling. Any beer not sold by the enjoy by date is pulled from shelves, though massive demand keeps that from happening. 2. The yin to the yang that is Stone Enjoy After IPA, a similar recipe to Stone Enjoy By IPA that is brewed with fewer hops and fermented using Brettanomyces. Rather than enjoy within 35 days, fans are encouraged to cellar the beer under proper temperature and light conditions to taste what it becomes 365 days after bottling. Orig. Stone Brewing Co., Locations in Escondido, Downtown, East Village, Oceanside, Petco Park, Point Loma, San Diego International Airport, South Park.

Rip Current Brewing

1325 Grand Avenue #100, San Marcos

Lupulin Lust (loo-pyuh-lin-luhst), n.: 1. The most award-winning India pale ale recipe of homebrewer Paul Sangster, who earned bragging rights as the top amateur brewer in the country at the 2011 American Homebrewers Association’s National Homebrewers Conference, this beer has gone on to become the most popular offering at his (and brewing partner Guy Shobe’s) professional brewing company. 2. Designated as a “San Diego–style” IPA, it features vibrant citrus fruit notes resembling grapefruit, lemon, and clementine. Despite a relatively high ABV of 8.3%, the beer drinks like a less alcoholic, single IPA, adding to its overall appeal. Orig. Rip Current Brewing Company, 1325 Grand Avenue, suite 100, San Marcos.

Karl Strauss Brewing Company

1044 Wall Street, La Jolla

Mosaic Session IPA (moh-zey-ik-sesh-uhn-ahy-pee-ey), n.: 1. One of a rapidly growing number of locally produced session (low alcohol, highly hoppy) India pale ales, which also embraces a secondary trend — single-hop brewing. The latter utilizes one variety of hop so that imbibers can clearly taste and become familiar with the flavor characteristics of said hop. 2. In addition to winning a bronze medal in the Session Beer category at this year’s Great American Beer Festival, this ale also helped win compliments from local beer fans and industry personnel, and improve perceptions of Karl Strauss, San Diego’s oldest brewing company. Its success is such that the brewery and restaurant chain will soon release a second single-hop beer, NZ Pacifica Session IPA. Orig. Karl Strauss Brewing Company; Locations in 4S Ranch, Carlsbad, Downtown, La Jolla, Pacific Beach, Sorrento Mesa.

Alpine Beer Company

2351 Alpine Boulevard, Alpine

Nelson (nel-suhn), n.: 1. An India pale ale that is so unique it stands out in a county known for distinctive IPAs, thanks to heavy reliance on Nelson Sauvin, a New Zealand hop variety that brings about bright tropical fruit flavors. A touch of rye adds subdued spice. 2. This beer helped to introduce local drinkers to the glories of Nelson Sauvin, a hop that is in scarce supply as a result of its flavorfulness. 3. While an agreement to contract-brew this beer on a quarterly basis at Green Flash Brewing Company has upped its availability, many contend the IPAs produced at the original source in Alpine are better. Orig. Alpine Beer Company, 2351 & 2363 Alpine Boulevard, Alpine.

The Pupil

The Pupil

Societe Brewing Company

8262 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Kearny Mesa

The Pupil (thuh-pyoo-puhl), n.: 1. One of two Societe India pale ales (along with the Apprentice) that are big enough cult favorites to inspire their fans to split into teams. Members of Team Pupil tout exquisite tropical flavors of mango and papaya that wash away against a crispy, dry finish. 2. Though the debate rages on between Teams Pupil and Apprentice, the former have bragging rights from this year’s Great American Beer Festival, where the beer took a bronze medal in the International Style Pale Ale category. 3. The beer’s name refers to cofounder Douglas Constantiner, who is “the pupil” to brewer and co-founder Travis Smith, who served as “the apprentice” to world-renowned IPA and sour-beer expert Vinnie Cilurzo while working at Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa. Orig. Societe Brewing Company, 8262 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Kearny Mesa.

Speedway Stout

Speedway Stout

AleSmith Brewing Company

9990 Alesmith Court, Miramar

Speedway Stout (spēd-wā-stout), n.: 1. A stalwart within the local brewing scene as well as the entire national craft-brewing industry, this imperial stout is considered by many to be the world’s best. 2. The beer features flavors of semisweet chocolate combined with vanilla and java roastiness brought about by the infusion of local beans from San Marcos’ Ryan Bros. Coffee. All of the flavors meld together seamlessly, creating a beer that is perfectly suited for pairing with confections or serving as dessert on its own. 3. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this beer is its drinkability. Despite coming in at 13% ABV, the beer is smooth and exhibits only the smallest traces of alcohol “hotness,” a sign of deft brewing staff. Orig. AleSmith Brewing Co., 9368 Cabot Drive, Miramar.

Benchmark Brewing Co.

6190 Fairmount Avenue, Suite G, Grantville

Table Beer (tey-buhl-beer), n.: 1. A Belgian-style ale named for the style it imitates, the lowest-alcohol offering in the monastic line of abbey ales that includes, in order from lowest to highest ABV, singels (table beers), dubbels, tripels, and quadrupels (though the latter is a commercially inspired style popularized in the late 20 Century). Despite not being a popular style and extremely low in alcohol — 4% ABV in largely imperial (i.e., high-alcohol) San Diego — this easy-drinking beer has become a favorite of local beer connoisseurs. 2. Esters emitted from Belgian yeast during fermentation bring about citrus character that goes well with light spice notes that help perk up what is a typically, one-dimensional beer historically brewed solely to sustain monks. Orig. Benchmark Brewing Company, 6190 Fairmount Avenue, suite G, Grantville.

Council Brewing Company

7705 Convoy Court, Kearny Mesa

Tart Saison (tahrt-sey-sawn), n.: 1. A Belgian-style farmhouse ale that’s an ever-present value-added on tap at newly installed Council. The beer shows up in its unadulterated form as well as infused with fruits. To date, the brewery has tapped versions spiked with blueberries, kumquats, mandarin oranges, mangoes, passion fruit, and pineapple. 2. The base beer for this acidic number is similar to the company’s saison, Farmers Gold, which exhibits a fruitiness of its own from Belgian yeast as well as a touch of peppery spice. Trying both beers side-by-side provides an interesting and enjoyable taste experience. Orig. Council Brewing Company, 7705 Convoy Court, Kearny Mesa.

Ballast Point Brewing Company Home Brew Mart

5401 Linda Vista Road, Linda Vista

Victory At Sea (vik-tuh-ree-at-see), n.: 1. An imperial porter infused with whole vanilla beans and cold-brewed coffee, the latter of which is procured from North Park’s Caffe Calabria. First produced half a decade ago, the seasonal beer has since become a cult favorite in its base form as well as augmented by flavorful additives ranging from chocolate to chili peppers to Cap’n Crunch (Victory at Cereal, anyone?). Such quaffable oddities pop up from time to time at Ballast Point’s tasting rooms. 2. Though sweet, the bitterness of the coffee keeps the beer from drifting too far into the sugar zone. As such, the beer brilliantly complements dishes including venison, bison, beef, and pork. Orig. Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits; locations in Linda Vista, Little Italy, Miramar, Petco Park, Scripps Ranch.

Related: Top 12 San Diego breweries | Best new breweries | Best spots to have a beer

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