By BeachRock Bill
San Diego County is blessed to have dozens of some of Craft Beer’s most acclaimed breweries. While many San Diegans can and do purchase beer directly from these breweries, the majority of beer consumed here in San Diego, and by beer drinkers everywhere, is purchased at neighborhood groceries, liquor stores, and box stores.
Heavily hopped styles like IPAs are extremely susceptible to oxidation as they sit long on store shelves. However, being close to the breweries enables most stores in Southern California to have a wide variety of locally produced FRESH young beer. Some stores are obviously better than others at keeping their stock moving and rotated, but thankfully a lot of the guesswork has been eliminated with nearly universal “made on” and “best by” dating stamped on the cans by the craft breweries during packaging.
This SCCBB San Diego correspondent–with a little help from my friends–thought it would be fun to buy 10 six-packs at various markets nearby, and do an evaluation to determine our favorite Go-To Daily Drinker West Coast IPA.
Keeping it simple, we did West Coast IPAs only- no hazys, doubles, or fruited.
Six-pack format — these are daily drinkers after all. While there are a plethora of delicious four-pint packs of names including Modern Times, Burgeon, and Abnormal, we decided six-packs are a better indication of a “Go-To” beer.
Price — Regardless of volume (pints vs. 12-ouncers), the price limit was capped at $16 per six-pack. Our score sheets had a “calculated price per 16oz ‘value’ category” that played heavily into the rankings.
San Diego Breweries only — San Diego is fortunate to have IPAs from breweries all over California on the store shelves. Having to draw the line somewhere, we stuck with beer only brewed in San Diego County. After all, it’s the birthplace of the West Coast IPA!
Freshness Dating — all of our aspiring “Go-Tos” must have some form of best-by dating. Most of the choices were under one month old, and all were well under three months.
We appreciate that dating cans adds complexity and expense to breweries during production, and it creates the potential for having unsold inventory to be returned and disposed of. For us consumers, however, dating is a wonderful boon that separates the Craft from the conglomerates, and lets us always choose the freshest beer. Freshness dating should ALWAYS be a requirement when buying anywhere but the brewery.
Purchased at grocery stores close to home, the line-up included most of the well-known San Diego IPA producers. Many big names missing from this list either do four-packs only, or they don’t date their beer.
- Stone IPA (Lazy Acres- $12.99 for 6-12oz)
- Pizza Port Swami’s (Trader Joe’s- $12 for 6-16oz)
- Coronado Weekend Vibes (Trader Joe’s- $12 for 6-16oz)
- Societe The Pupil (Trader Joe’s- 11.99 for 6-12oz)
- Port Brewing Wipeout (Lazy Acres- $15.99 for 6-16oz)
- Second Chance Seize the IPA (Lazy Acres- $13.49 for 6-12oz)
- Ballast Point Sculpin (Lazy Acres- $14.99 for 6-12oz)
- Karl Strauss Aurora Hoppyalis (Sprouts- $14.99 for 6-16oz)
- Alpine Duet (Whole Foods- $13.49 for 6-12oz)
- Alesmith Party Flavors (Whole Foods- $14.99 for 6-16oz)
Everyone’s palettes are different, so to be fair and to help me consume all this beer now occupying my two fridges, I called on some friends and family for help. All beers were to be rated 1-5 on weighted categories ranked in this order:
- Appearance, and most importantly for a daily drinker
- Crave factor — “I think I’ll have another!”
Finally, in case of a tie, we decided to choose our favorite can artwork.
All of us participating were big fans of IPAs–all except Wife Helen and Mabel the Dog Walker, that is. Those two ended up turning in half-completed (and thus disqualified) score sheets with mostly 1s and 2s before grabbing some Pure Project Triple Hazys from the fridge. Luckily, we were joined by more bitter-tolerant palettes such as Son Carl and his Fianceé Cassie, their good friends Carlos en Fuego and his fianceé Saticoy, Cassie’s brother Gonzo Baltimore, and finally our neighbors Josh and Morgana.
Pens, score sheets, and glasses in hand, we went to work.
In general, most of us were on the same page with our favorites and least favorites.
The Alpine Duet, Port Wipeout, and Karl Strauss Aurora Hoppyalis were drinkable but received only “meh” reviews.
The biggest mystery turned out to be the Stone IPA, which–according to its can dating–was only six weeks old. Yet this “iconic” IPA was already showing signs of oxidation in aroma, flavor, and color. Improper storage? Regardless of the reasons, the oxidation factor caused the Stone IPA to be near the bottom of everyone’s “Go-To” lists.
The biggest surprise turned out to be the Sculpin. While having unanimously high scores in everyone’s aroma category, Sculpin earned the lowest average scores on just about everything else. To cap it off, it was the big loser in the value category, being significantly more expensive than the other 6 packs, selling for a whopping 66% more than the lowest-priced Coronado and Swamis. Gonzo Baltimore however, loved the can art.
I think everyone was expecting Pizza Port’s Swami’s to score well, and this legendary IPA did not disappoint. Swamis ranked near the top in every single category, including crave factor and value, and at the end of the day turned out to be on top of everyone’s list.
The Second Chance Seize the IPA was a solid scorer, but being a 12-ouncer, lost out in the value category. The pleasant surprises turned out to be two beers I hadn’t tried before–Coronado’s bargain-priced Weekend Vibes, a well balanced flavorful beer with tons of delicious dank aroma, and Alesmith’s Party Tricks, with a hat trick of big aroma, smooth finish, and a high crave factor.
The big winner of the evening, however, that topped our list along with Swami’s as our favorite “Go-To” was The Pupil from Societe. Bucking the headwind of being at the higher end of the price per ounce ranking, the Pupil is one great beer, with huge notes of dank cannabis on the nose, tons of citrusy hop flavors in the mouth, and the perfect balance of body/bitter finish at the end. The Pupil led every category except the Value and Crave categories. Due to its perfect bitter/body balance and higher alcohol content, the 7.5% ABV Pupil can be a deceptive daily drinker, and craving a lot more of this delicious beer will likely get you in trouble. For this reason, however, it was decided that The Pupil shouldn’t lose points for its 12-ounce packaging, and since The Pupil is currently available at San Diego area Costco stores, it can also be a great value.
In the end, our quest to find the perfect “Go-To” San Diego daily drinker IPA turned out to be tons of fun.
Congratulations to Pizza Port and Societe for making two delicious and quaffable Daily Drinkers.
As always, many thanks to family and friends who joined me in my ongoing quest for beer knowledge and enlightenment. Special thanks to Wife Helen and Mabel The Dog Walker for at least attempting to participate in sampling a style of beer they find difficult.
See you in the beer aisle at the grocery!