By BeachRock Bill
Some do, other’s just blog about it
Head brew-master and North Park Beer Co. proprietor Kelsey McNair’s dream of owning a brewery started out small, with a homebrew set-up in a North Park garage. The dream became reality in 2016 with the opening of McNair’s well-appointed brewing facility and taproom right in the heart of North Park San Diego.
A quick pint to relax
Finding Saturday night parking in North Park can be challenging, and while we wanted to sample several beers on the board this visit, wife Helen and I opted to start with full pours of things we knew we would enjoy and help us decompress. We made our selections and headed outside to the sunny (Covid era) seating along University Avenue to enjoy the So Cal sunset.
My starter was a no-brainer, 2021 GABF silver medal-winning Art Is Hard–currently one of my top 5 favorite beers. In the glass, the appearance is straw pale and EXTREMELY hazy–we’re talking opaque, with a wonderful aroma of citrus, passion fruit, and earthiness derived from the Citra, Motueka, and Simcoe hops used. On the tongue, there is a big tangy juiciness with tangerine and orange notes finishing with just the right amount of bitterness. Damn, I love this beer!
With two triple Hazy IPAs to choose from, Wife Helen had the tougher choice, and eventually decided on a full 10 oz. pour of an NPBC/Pure Project/Harlan collaboration called PHUTURE III. This 10% ABV triple dry-hopped Triple Hazy had big pleasing amounts of dank fruitiness on the nose. I begged to get a taste before it was gone. Fortunately, Helen was nice enough to offer me a tiny sip. In the mouth, I caught notes of mango and tangerine, finishing with just a hint of ….strawberry? Like all high ABV beers, there must be a counter note (typically bitter and/or sweet) to balance the “hot” alcohol flavor, and typical to style, Phuture III had a pronounced (but not cloying) sweetness that made it deceptively quaffable. We both deemed it delicious.
No tasters? We need back-up!
The one roadblock to our night of beer tasting is NPBC doesn’t offer taster sizes–the smallest option being half pours, and while the Tapsters are generous in offering splashes of anything to sample, we were hoping to leisurely enjoy our selections at our sunny outdoor table, and after starting hard by chugging our initial “attitude adjusters,” Wife Helen and I knew we needed some help to get us safely through the next round of choices.
Thankfully son Carl, and his fiance Cassie live just a few blocks away and were eager to assist us in our quest for beer knowledge.
On arrival, Cassie needed to unwind from a stressful day as an exotic dancer with a full pint of Mr. Hoppy, listed on the board as a dank West Coast IPA. Carl, Helen, and I came up with 4 half pours we could all agree on:
- Bird Park–a classic GABF medal winning Bohemian Pilsner
- ParkMan–a triple dry hopped Triple Hazy IPA
- Pierponts–a bourbon barrel-aged (BBA) Imperial Porter, and
- Frosecito–NPBC’s first ever foray into smoothie beers (good luck wrestling it away from Helen)
Fiance Cassie was nice enough to share a little of her Mr. Hoppy for me to sample (she’s a keeper). Pilsnery-pale and crystal clear–Mozaic, Nelson, and Strata-hopped Mr. H was bursting with citrusy, tropical, and dank aroma. Just one sip carried these flavors over onto my taste buds, finishing with just the right amount of bitterness. A great example of a newer school West Coast IPA that we both really enjoyed.
Contemplating the order of consumption for the other 4 selections, I was worried that the big complex IPAs we had just consumed had deadened my taste buds. Regardless, I opted for the lightest of the bunch and went for the Bird Park Pilsner first. Medium gold, very clear, it is an expertly crafted example of a classic Czech style lager (think Pilsner Urquell, one of my favorite “imports” from my college days). The clean aroma and crisp slightly malty characteristics were all there, but as I suspected, we didn’t do this beer justice by having it follow the IPAs. While a great refreshing beer on its own, we were all ready to move on after only a few sips each.
For our next sample, it was no surprise Helen would choose the other triple dry-hopped Triple Hazy on the board, dubbed ParkMan. With creamy mouth-coating notes of mango, pineapple, and berry, what I loved most about ParkMan (sorry Helen) was its easier drinkability for me personally, being slightly more bitter and less sweet than the earlier sampled Phuture III. Bottom line–even with our varying taste preferences, all of us rated it extremely delicious.
Our next selection, the BBA Imperial Porter, is a style I have found to be challenging for many brewers. Unlike big-bodied syrupy BBA Imperial Stouts, the smaller amount of big bold heavily roasted grains used in the mashing often leaves many examples of this style seemingly thin–without enough body to balance out the high alcohol. Fortunately, Pierponts hit all the right nails on the head for this style–deep dark maltiness, slight bitterness, and subtle sweetness. We all deemed it wonderfully complex and drinkable.
Finally, the no-brainer was to finish up with NPBC’s first foray into the controversial but hugely popular smoothie beer style–a collaboration with Cucamonga’s King’s Brewery called Frosecito. Unlike some of the other big thick glass coating smoothie beers we have had recently, Frosecito appeared way more like a thick hazy beer, and the look carried through to our first sip–tons of orange, pineapple, and banana flavors in a creamy but not thick package. As an added bonus, there was a sour crispness throughout that balanced everything nicely. More beer than smoothie, this turned out to be one of my favorite smoothie beers of all time.
Hop-Fu! meet Mr. Hoppy
As we settled back and noticed all the good work (empty glasses) we had done sampling North Park Beer Co’s beers, I noticed fiance Cassie was still not finished with her pint of Mr. Hoppy. So in the interest of beer knowledge, as I went up to close the tab I decided to bring back to our table a half pour of Hop-Fu! and do a side-by-side comparison with the Mr. Hoppy.
One of the most acclaimed home brews of all time, Hop-Fu! is arguably the recipe that NPBC was built on. In the years since Hop Fu! charged onto the craft beer scene, West Coast IPAs have evolved to become lighter in color and body, with more citrusy, tropical notes than the traditional piney floral resin-y ones. This was a new school vs. old school battle in the making, and I was excited to see how Hop-Fu! was holding up to the changing times.
Pouring a moderately clear, light, 2 amber, Hop-Fu! blasts you with aromas of pine, melon, and stone fruit. With more body than Mr. Hoppy (2 row vs. pilsner malt?), Hop-Fu! still comes across refreshingly clean and chug worthy, with flavors of tropical fruit and a hint of pepper rolling off the tongue, and a sublimely bitter finish with lingering berry notes. Sorry Mr. Hoppy, but your big brother is still relevant, and is one damn good beer!
Good Times Ahead
As we headed out to dinner nearby, we all had big smiles on our faces thanks to the delicious beers we tried. I want to give a shout-out to everyone at North Park Beer Company for a great evening, and thanks to son Carl and fiance Cassie for helping us explore many of the choices on the board. As always, many thanks to my supermodel wife Helen for sharing in my passion for the craft.