2005 | REGIONAL | WEST COAST
Suds Surfin' In San Diego : 8th Annual Strong Ale
By Rich Link
After a year of beer events, traveling around the country,
even going overseas, it’s always nice to attend something
local. Fortunately, San Diego is host to several of the year’s
best beer fests. The Strong Ale Festival, held at Pizza Port’s
Carlsbad location the first weekend of December, exhibited
more than 70 beers with an alcohol content of at least 8%
by volume. Although my allotted time at this eighth annual
version of the SAF was limited, I was able to taste my way
through about a third of the offerings. What a way to end
I was unable to attend the Friday night opening of the fest,
and I was worried that many beers may have been consumed come
Saturday morning. Nonetheless, I grabbed my camera, water
jug and notepad and made the 40-minute drive to Carlsbad.
The weather was cool with scattered showers, so I grabbed
my umbrella and stood in line at the gate. As the gate opened,
I made my way, along with 50 of my new best friends, to the
tasting bar, where I set up shop and set about my “work.”
One of the most exciting aspects of the SAF is the new beers
that local brewers send to the event. San Diego is home to
arguably the most passionate and inventive brewers in the
country, and it’s always a treat to taste their latest
creations. The beer menu listed the local beers separately
from the out-of-town brews. There were 28 beers from 19 of
the local-area breweries. Another 45 or so beers came from
such places as Hawaii, Oregon, Belgium and Canada.
My first choice was the strongest beer on the local list.
Alpine Beer Company’s Good weighed in at approximately
17% alcohol by volume. It had a huge hop nose and a big full
body, with warming alcohol tones and lots of lingering bitterness.
Owner/Brewer Pat McIlhenney brewed this huge barley wine with
the intent of aging it in used Jack Daniel's barrels. He ran
out of barrel space and sent some of the leftover beer to
the fest. This beer was the result of a double-batch brew
that was boiled for three hours with Chinook and Sterling
hops. After a week of fermentation, he started adding sugars
such as fructose, dextrose, honey and some other odd sugars
he had lying around. After another 10 days, he added champagne
yeast. A couple of weeks later, the beer had finished out
with a specific gravity of about 1.011. Pat estimated the
alcohol content based upon the starting mash yield and the
added sugars. Look for the barrel-aged beer to go on sale
in 16-ounce bottles late this spring.
My second sample was Caber Tossed Wee Heavy, a malty, chewy
ale with lots of caramel flavor along with a slight peat aroma
and finish. This beer was brewed by Jeff Bagby of Oggi’s
Vista, and it had won the silver medal at the 2004 World Beer
Cup. The last of Bagby’s Hop Whompus, a gold medal winner
at the Great American Beer Festival, was also on tap. Festivus,
brewed by Kirk McHale at Pizza Port Carlsbad, was an 11.5%
abv barley wine brewed with 1,600 pounds of two-row malt to
make 11 barrels. It was liberally hopped with Amarillo and
Tomahawk hops, and dry-hopped with Simcoe and more Tomahawk.
Tomme Arthur from Solana Beach Pizza Port brewed an imperial
IPA that took the honor for the best-named beer of the event.
Lou P. Lin, named for the lupulin gland that makes hops so
wonderfully bitter and aromatic, was served on a handpump
and had a nice fresh aroma and lasting bittering from the
Phoenix, Simcoe, Amarillo and Centennial hops.
Other local beers included Come About Stout, an imperial
stout from Ballast Point Brewing; Stone Brewing’s Whiskey
Barrel Double Bastard; and Green Flash Brewing’s Second
Anniversary Ale. Some of the notable out-of-town beers were
Eye of the Goat Double Bock from Craftsman Brewing in Pasadena;
Da Kind Grind Buzz Kona Coffee Stout from Kona Brewing Company
in Hawaii; Black Ice Imperial Stout from Santa Barbara Brewing
Company; and The Beast, the 18% abv Belgian-style ale from
Colorado’s Avery Brewing Company.
According to Tomme Arthur, more than 1,200 people attended
the festival. Although the weather that weekend was cold and
rainy, people were still pouring into the event late Saturday
night, just a couple of hours before it shut down. Tomme Arthur,
Tom Nickel and Jeff Bagby deserve a big toast for organizing
such a great event. If you have never attended this festival,
make sure you put it on your calendar for 2005.
Rich Link is an associate editor of
the Celebrator Beer News. He lives in Santee, Calif., and
has been brewing beer at home since 1980. He can also be reached