At an hour-and-15-minute drive, Julian's about as far as I can go from my house and still drink beer in San Diego County. That's not a drive I make often, so when I found myself out that way last week I made sure to pay a visit to Nickel Beer Co.
1485 Hollow Glen Road, Julian
Tom Nickel's beers make it into town periodically — he owns O'Brien's Pub, after all — but he brews Nickel Beers in small enough batches that you often need to be in the right place at the right time to find them. I was fortunate to be in the right place to try his fresh-hopped My Way IPA this fall. Brewed with picked-that-morning hops grown in Ramona and Valley Center, the beer was the number-one, best-tasting IPA I tried in 2015.
That beer was long gone in late December when I rolled up to Nickel Beer's green-brick brewhouse about a half mile east of Julian's main drag. It seemed quiet on the outside, but the parking lot was full, and the small tasting room warmly packed with beer fans studying a menu rife with interesting choices.
The former Brewmaster of the Year has been brewing professionally about two decades now, and the beer list suggests a guy who wants to keep pushing his creativity. Popular among the visitors that day was the Jalapeño Back Country Gold, a pepper-infused take on Nickel's cream ale; and a Belgian quadrupel aged in rum barrels, cleverly named Double Dubbel Animal Style. I could not resist trying the Apple Pie Ale, a beer/cider hybrid made using local apples and holiday spices; nor Sour Wholly CRAB!, the Apple Pie Ale blended with a barrel-aged sour.
Sixty miles was too far to go without trying each of them, so I aimed for five-ounce tasters, served up to six at a time in a cupcake pan. With little room available inside, I joined some friends in sipping beers on the wood furniture of the drinking patio, enjoying the crisp air as the sun slowly warmed the cool afternoon.
Each of the tasters proved worth the visit — all were quite drinkable, without flaws and as interesting as their descriptions suggested. However, the standout turned out to be one I almost didn't order, one that didn't seem as important to try, because among all the interesting brews on tap, it seemed like just another IPA.
Granted, it did have a hilarious name. We all had a good laugh about the Hopster Douchebag, but I wound up wanting to drink the 8.5% double IPA in big gulps. Tasting notes attribute its juicy, grapefruit flavors to "Massive amounts of Simcoe, Citra and Amarillo…dry hopped with Mosaic and Cascade in the serving tank."
I highly recommend taking a designated driver to Julian, because Nickel Beer's wide array of flavor profiles will surely turn up something that suits your palate, even if you need to broaden your horizons with a few other beers first.