San Diego Shows Off Its IPAs at the Summer’s Biggest Beer Fest

Joshua M. Bernstein

"Pliny for breakfast is a great idea," Russian River co-owner Natalie Cilurzo tells me, eyeing my red Solo cup filled with her brewery's cultish (and, anywhere east of the Mississippi, rare) IPA. "It robs you of all your ambition."

Most mornings, I would not have cracked a double IPA before my first cup of coffee. But most mornings, I'm not riding a pimped-out bus packed with multiple kegs of beer, a five-pound bag of tortilla chips, plenty of Pop Tarts, and some of America's finest brewers. It's not enough that I'm simply drinking Pliny the Elder at 10 AM. I'm drinking Pliny the Elder brewed by Vinnie Cilurzo, who's sitting in the back of the bus and sipping a bloody Mary made with Ballast Point–brand mix. Of course, Ballast Point's head brewer and distiller, Yuseff Cherney, is mixing the drinks himself. Victory Brewing's Bill Covaleski would like a bloody, as would Firestone Walker's Matt Brynildson. Ken Grossman, Sierra's founder? He'll help himself to a glass of dark and rich Maillard's Odyssey poured from a keg.


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It's the second day of the Beer Camp tour, and we're barreling from Valencia to San Diego, the clock ticking to the San Diego event's kickoff at a downtown marina. There are 95 brewers slated to participate today, which comes as no surprise. In San Diego County alone there are 91 breweries, ranging from heavyweights such as Stone, Green Flash, and Karl Strauss to up-and-comers like Automatic, Belching Beaver and Monkey Paw. The only thing more abundant than breweries in Southern California is the sunshine, which seriously influences the beer scene.

"San Diego loves dry IPAs," says Julian Shrago, the brewmaster at Beachwood BBQ & Brewing, out of Long Beach, California, which makes 30 to 35 different IPAs annually. "The weather definitely plays a role. I don't think I've met anyone in San Diego wearing pants."

The San Diego IPA, as popularized by the likes of Stone, Alpine, and AleSmith, are lean and bone-dry, with aromas of grapefruits, pineapples, oranges, lemons, mangos, and lychees. These are fresh, vibrant beers that trample taste buds, with a sticky bitterness and a pungency that calls to mind marijuana. That's not to say that Southern California has a mono-track bitter mind. Hess Brewing makes a marvelous pilsner and a killer cream ale, and few folks do barrel-aging and wild ales better than the Lost Abbey.

In other words, there will be an insane amount of world-class beers available in San Diego today. I finish my Pliny the Elder. And then I resist the urge to grab another bottle. I'm going to need all the ambition I can muster.


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