Since before Prohibition, Americans have been celebrating Saint Patrick's day by drinking green beer. While green food coloring doesn't technically violate the Brewers Association definition of craft beer, most beer dyed green tends to be of the macro lager variety. And most San Diego beer enthusiasts seem content to leave the awkward tradition behind.
In Alpine, for example, customers were drinking beer of a very different color to mark the occasion — red. I paid an afternoon visit to the recently remodeled Alpine Beer Co. tasting room, where McIlhenneys Irish Red was (appropriately) on special — in bottles, on tap, and on cask.
This is the beer that started Alpine Beer Co., when founder Pat McIlhenney began contract brewing it in AleSmith's Miramar brewhouse back in 1999. It went on to win several medals, including gold at the 2004 World Beer Cup, thanks to an exceptionally smooth body and malty profile grounded by subtle use of hops and a touch of rye.
On St. Paddy's Day, I found McIlhenney standing beside the bar, drinking some of his namesake red ale. He was relaxed and friendly, enjoying some well-deserved downtime after years of working as both a brewery owner and firefighter. He joined me in being impressed with how comfortable the tasting room remodel turned out.
Less than a year ago, this was the charmingly dilapidated site of the Alpine Company Pub, a dive bar and barbecue spot that happened to served some of the county's best beers, brewed next door. A line to get in to the small capacity pub was to be expected on weekends, even with the brewery side of the building handling growler fills much of the time.
Over the summer, Alpine opened a much larger restaurant down the road, easing congestion and rededicating this space as a tasting room in late 2015. A long bar has been replaced with a smaller pouring station, and since food is no longer served, all the low-top tables are gone in favor of standing room and a few bar stools, including at counters built along a couple of large windows. These were wide open this sunny day to give the wood-trimmed space a free flowing airiness. For a full outdoor experience, a back patio provides plenty of seating in the form of long picnic tables.
Visitors hoping to find brewed-in-Alpine versions of the brand's most in-demand IPAs will be disappointed. Nelson and Duet are distributed nationally now, brewed entirely at Green Flash in single batches larger than the Alpine system could produce in a busy week. However, if you subscribe to the notion Alpine's local well water makes its IPAs special, finding small batch recipes and barrel-aged rarities still make a 30-mile growler run worthwhile. I went home with a made-in-Alpine growler fill of the company's latest bottle release — the passion-fruity Hop Boxed IPA. And even though it wasn't made here originally, a locally produced bottle of McIlhenneys Irish Red. In deference to one Pat or another.