Rip Current is not so very small anymore

The winning formula of a San Diego–based brewery of the year

Paul Sangster and Guy Shobe hold trophies as Rip Current wins Very Small Brewery of the Year.
  • Paul Sangster and Guy Shobe hold trophies as Rip Current wins Very Small Brewery of the Year.

In September, Rip Current founders Paul Sangster and Guy Shobe brought five beers to the Great American Beer Festival, the nation's biggest beer contest. The former homebrewers returned victorious, with two medals and the distinction Very Small Brewery of the Year.

What may surprise Rip Current fans is that one of those five beers was not the brewery's popular IPA, Lupulin Lust — despite its recent silver medal showing at the International Beer Festival competition.

According to Sangster, that has to do with the timing of the Great American Beer Festival competition. "They require you to send your beer way in advance," Sangster says, "Like two months. Beers that taste great fresh — that's not what they're going to taste like when the judge gets [them]."

Sangster knows very well how the judging works. The certified master judge has experience with both sides of beer competitions. Knowing the hoppy aromatics of Lupulin Lust wouldn't last two months to reach the judge's table, he and Shobe decided to focus on styles that could handle the lag time.

Rip Current's collection of hardware coming back from the Great American Beer Festival 2015.

Rip Current's collection of hardware coming back from the Great American Beer Festival 2015.

"Our specialty is that we make a really wide variety of styles," Sangster explains, but for the competition each brewery is limited to five. "It was kind of a hard question — out of the 25 beers we make how do we choose five?"

The first beer they chose was Break Line Bock, which wound up winning gold in the Bock category. The competition's rules state the traditional dark brown German style should be made with all malt, possessing toasted or nutty flavors and aromas, but not caramel. "That's the first one that really stood out to me as a great example of the style," Sangster says, adding, "That's where the beer judge experience comes in. You kind of take a critical review how they match style guidelines."

The rest of the winning lineup included Night Surfing Munich Dunkel, Take Off Belgian Tripel, and Black Lagoon Scottish Strong Ale, the silver medal winner. The fifth entry was What Would Dave Drink?, a Belgian Dark Strong recipe by late homebrewer Dave Levonian, who had been a popular member of the same homebrewing club as Sangster and Shobe.

Rip Current qualified as a Very Small Brewery because it produced under 1000 barrels in 2014. However, due to recent expansions to its brewing system, Sangster anticipates the San Marcos brewery will finish 2015 closer to 1600 barrels. That means next year it will qualify as a Small Brewery, competing with producers of up to 14,999 barrels.

It also means new beers are on the horizon, and that the brewery will explore bottling its beer in 2016. Next up for Rip Current will be a pair of special releases. A double IPA version of Lupulin Lust will clock in about 10% ABV and be available at Rip Current tasting rooms and at Rip Current affiliated events during November's beer week. Around that time the brewery also hopes to release its first official barrel-aged beer, an 18-month bourbon-aged take on silver medalist Black Lagoon.

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