As if it weren't already hard enough on a beer reporter's narrative flow to discuss the multi-label San Marcos brewhouse known as Port Brewing and the Lost Abbey, earlier this year it launched yet another entity under the same roof: Hop Concept. As you might guess, IPAs are the specialty of this third offshoot of the company that is affiliated with, yet separate from, Pizza Port.
Thus far, the Hop Concept has strictly released seasonal IPAs collectively dubbed the Hop Freshener series. Each 22-ounce bottle release features a hop cone shaped label designed to resemble the sort of cardboard air freshener you might hang from the rear-view mirror of your car.
If all this branding sounds confusing, bear with me, because here's where it finally gets simple. Each Hop Freshener release gets a name describing exactly what you can expect from the beer, boiled down to a two-word descriptor. So, in February it released a green label IPA called Dank & Sticky. In May came Citrus & Piney, an IPA brewed with orange zest and with an orange label. In August we got a third release: Lemon & Grassy. Brewed with lemon zest, that gets a yellow label, naturally. And guess how it tastes?
I picked up a bottle at the Best Damn Beer Shop in Golden Hill's Krisp Market — because this story is already about complicated brand concepts, so why not include a bottle-shop chain that only exists inside a grocery chain? I will say this about the Best Damn Beer Shop: its selection is impressive. Its prices are not. In my experience, local beers here cost 10 to 30 percent more than elsewhere. My Hop Concept cost $7.99 before tax, and I've heard rumors the same has been found at Trader Joe's for as little as $5.99.
Back home, I poured Lemon & Grassy gently into a pint glass, resulting in very little foam though still quite a bit of lively carbonation. This is one sparkling amber beverage.
The lemon notes hit on the aromatic side, brought along by the combo of six hop varieties including the notably fruity Galena, Lemon Drop, Nelson and Sorachi Ace. The inclusion of lemon zest didn’t strike me as juicy the way other recent rind-brewed beers have, like Modern Times' Fortunate Islands with grapefruit zest.
Instead, Lemon & Grassy was brought down to earth by the grassy half of the equation. The dank fresh-mowed lawn flavor all but consumed any malt profile, coating my tongue with a full and thick bitterness, while the citrus notes played across the roof of my mouth. It's lemony, yes, but mostly this drinks like a throwback — something from another time, before the expression of fruit became a big selling point in IPAs.
It finishes that way as well, with a lingering, roundly bitter aftertaste. I look forward to comparing it to the next release in this series, Tropical & Juicy. Something tells me that will deliver an altogether different experience.