The 78-freeway starting in Oceanside CA. through Vista CA. and now spreading out into the suburbs is becoming one of the most famous Craft Brew destinations in the world.
This is now known as the Hop Highway and with good reason. This is where Stone Brewing Co. has their production brewery, along with dozens of new players such as my new favorite Burgeon Brewing.
When I first moved to San Diego with my wife, we started out on a quest to visit every craft brewery and brew pub in San Diego County. As Former East Coasters where the craft beer scene is red hot, we were super excited to get out and explore the Southern California beer scene, where many argue it all started!
We started out by Downloading apps like 99brews to track every brewery and beer we tasted. We were super stoked to travel North county San Diego to taste the 1000’s of craft beers available here. (Currently there are over 200 breweries in San Diego.)
In the beginning, I rated the brews using a number scale, thinking that was the best way. After enjoying a few dozen brews at some amazing breweries and brew pubs, I quickly concluded that craft beer cannot be described by reducing it to a number. Each craft beer is unique and a work of art. As such, it deserves to be thoughtfully evaluated.
Craft brewing is about the creative details involved in the brewing process. Tasting craft beers and evaluating them should be aligned with that creative process. Like building a snowboard, I believe beer is constructed and shaped into its style by how ingredients are layered and manipulated through the brewing process. When I taste craft brews, I am evaluating them based on elements making up those layers, e.g., water profile, temperatures, malt and hop characteristics, and yeast influence.
Instead of reducing a beer to a number, like I used to, I’m now taking time to experience the beer. Now when I taste beer, I’m stopping myself to be in the moment. This method of tasting beer allows me to see, smell, breathe, taste, and feel those unique colors, aromas, textures, and flavors that beautify craft beer creations.
There are numerous ways to rate and taste beer: from quick and easy ways, such as Jeff Alworth’s “See, Smell, Sip, Swallow” method, to very serious and comprehensive methods used by certified beer judges. I sometimes use the RateBeer Beer Tasting & Rating Sheet or Beer Judge Certification Program’s Beer Scoresheet as a guide because it gets at the attributes of beer that I personally appreciate as a home brewer. But I also like the hedonic approach to tasting, i.e., letting my senses be my guide to discovering the complexities of craft brews, and going with the flow. This natural method of tasting gives me the best impressions.
Lately, I’ve been reading what Jeff Alworth has to say about tasting craft beer. He says, “The true apex of appreciation is the ability to locate the sublime in any style.” Alworth says this means “being able to pick up a glass of any craft beer and find aromas and flavors as pleasant and satisfying as when you taste a barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout.” Recently, Alworth wrote the following which resonates with me as a craft beer consumer:
“Beer appreciation is not linear, it’s circular. First you love beer naively, out of simple joy. Then your head gets filled up with a bunch of crap about “what’s good” and begin to dislike certain beers out of prejudice. Finally, you come back to appreciate beer for its own nature.”
Right now I am coming back full circle in my appreciation for craft beer, enjoying it “for its own nature.”
This is my goal as a craft beer enthusiast. So next time you in San Diego be sure to check out the hops highway! There are plenty of professional tours available for large and small groups. You can also Uber yourself around to most of them for under 50$.