Bruce Glassman

“Props” for Hops: San Diego’s Sensational Session IPA Craze

San Diego Session IPA
San Diego Session IPA

San Diego Session IPAs offer a big, satisfying flavor without the knock-you-on-the-floor punch after a pint or two. Courtesy of The San Diego Brewery Guide/©Georgian Bay Books

San Diego is world famous for the quality of its craft beer, and also the creativity and innovation of its brewers. Of all the styles of beer the county produces, it is probably most famous for the creation and development of the “West Coast” or “San Diego Style” IPA, which is – above all other things – a super-fresh, super-hoppy, full-bodied beer that makes most other American IPAs seem like Pilsners or Kolschs. This “no excuses” style of IPA has become one of the hallmarks of San Diego brewing, but it has also presented one downside: The bigger beers tend to also be higher in alcohol and, thus, limiting in the amount that can be responsibly consumed.

When you talk with brewers, you find out that most of the great innovations in craft brewing start with what the brewers most want to drink for themselves. Being consummate hop-freaks, brewers – like any craft beer fans – want to be able to enjoy a big, satisfying flavor without being knocked on the floor after a pint or two. Enter the latest (and greatest) trend coming out of our brewing community: The San Diego Session IPA. The goal with a session IPA (named for its ability to be consumed in a “session,” meaning more than one) is to provide all the bright hoppy aromas, flavors, and body of a West Coast IPA without the attendant higher ABV. Needless to say, for the most die-hard hop-heads out there, this brewing trend is nothing short of manna from heaven.

How Do They Brew Session IPAs?

Each brewer has his or her own unique technique, and each is striving for a specific flavor profile. In most cases, brewers rely on the dramatic effects of heavy dry-hopping or “hop bursting” to pump up the aromas and flavors of their session beers. And many brewers have employed newer varieties of hops – recently released onto the market – to provide higher alpha acids, aromas, and compounds that more efficiently produce the desired effect. Mosaic and Galaxy hops have become quite popular in this regard, as are other newer hops – such as Cashmere, Motueka, El Dorado, and Meridian.

Lots of San Diego brewers have embraced the session IPA concept, so you’re likely to find some sort of session offering at a majority of tasting rooms around the county. For our purposes, I have defined a session IPA or pale ale as anything 5.5% ABV or below. Here is a small (and very incomplete) listing of session brews (in ascending order by ABV) that are especially notable for their great hop aromas, flavor, body, and ultimate drinkability. So go out and start a session today!

8 Great San Diego Session IPAs:

  1. Even Keel Session IPA (3.8% ABV) – Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits
  2. Go To IPA (4.5% ABV) – Stone Brewing Co.
  3. Citra Session IPA (4.5% ABV) – Green Flash Brewing Company
  4. Hop Solo Session IPA (4.6%) – Mother Earth Brew Co.
  5. Tush Session IPA (5%) – Acoustic Ales Brewing Experiment
  6. Penalty Shot/Evacuation Pale Ale (5.3%) – Nickel Brewing Co.
  7. Monkey Paw Hooked on Chinook American Pale Ale (5.3%) – Monkey Paw Brewery
  8. Publican IPA (5.5%) – Societe Brewing Co.
Brent Bernasconi

San Diego Brewery Tour – 3 Beer Stops with Brew Hop

Toasting the Groom - Societe Brewing Co.

You know the drill: boy falls in love with girl, boy asks girl to marry him, girl says yes(!), boy asks best friend to plan his bachelor party, best friend decides to book a guys weekend including: a bungalow at The Lafayette, Cards Against Humanity and a brewery tour.

There are plenty of good reasons to book a brewery tour when visiting San Diego: a designated driver, behind the scenes access to the brewery, a knowledgeable tour guide who will select beers based on individual tastes, and of course, plenty of beer samples to be enjoyed with friends. Even Greg Koch of Stone Brewing Co. knows the value of a great brewery tour:

Setting Up The Brewery Tour

I called up Summer at Brew Hop to set up the bachelor party brewery tour. With more than 80 breweries throughout the county, it can be hard to narrow it down to just 3 stops. Thankfully, Summer spent a good amount of time with me working out the perfect schedule. I really wanted to make Societe Brewing a stop along with Ballast Point Scripps Ranch/Old Grove since the groom’s brother lived in that area. We finally decided on a route that optimized our time and included 3 great San Diego breweries: Societe, Ballast Point and Helm’s.

3 Amazing Beer Stops

Want to make the groom (and the groomsmen) feel like a VIP? Just have Summer pull up in the luxurious Brew Hop Escalade with a cold beer waiting for him inside. The six of us loaded ourselves into the SUV, took heed of the safety and decorum speech (you are on the tour to have fun, not be a drunken jerk) and headed off to our first stop.

Societe Brewing Co.

Toasting the Groom - Societe Brewing Co.

Toasting the groom while enjoying amazing beer from Societe Brewing Co.

It did not take long for Societe to become one of San Diego’s most popular breweries. It’s head brewers Travis Smith and Doug Constantiner spend most of their time focusing on perfecting their good ol’ fashioned house beers. You won’t find any crazy concoctions here, just delicious and flavorful classic brews.

We pulled up to one of the tables and Summer brought forth plenty of samples based on individual tastes ranging from IPAs, to ales to stouts. After a few tasters, we had the chance to go behind the scenes to tour the brewery and learn about the brewing process while still enjoying their amazing brews.

Brewery Tour with Summer of Brew Hop

Getting the lowdown on Societe’s brewery with Summer from Brew Hop

The big question when leaving Societe is are you on #TeamApprentice or #TeamPupil?

Where: 8262 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, San Diego, CA 92111
> Find out more about Societe Brewing Co.

Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits – Scripps Ranch/Old Grove

Two Thumbs Up - Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits - Old Grove

We give Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits Two Thumbs Up

Ballast Point is a San Diego beer institution. If you have never had a Sculpin IPA, you need to rush out and find one. You can thank me later!

Summer knew that since our party comprised of all local boys and the we had had our fair share of Ballast Point beers, she selected some of the more interesting brews included a few spicy/chili-infused beers. One of the aspects that makes San Diego beers so interesting is the experimentation that brewers are willing to try with spices and even peanut butter (check out Karl Strauss’ Beer Week special release).

Since the place was packed we were unable to take a tour of the brewery but that was just fine since we still had plenty of samples to try before moving onto the last stop.

If you are also into craft spirits, Ballast Point offers daily tastings at the Old Grove location.

Where: 10051 Old Grove Rd, San Diego, CA 92131
> Find out more about Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits

Helm’s Brewing Co.

In Helm's Brewing Freezer with Brew Hop

Our last stop was Helm’s Brewing and we took a few minutes to check out the freezer…since it was so hot outside!

Our final stop on the brewery tour took us to one of San Diego’s newer breweries, Helm’s Brewing Co. There I discovered the amazing Hop the RIPA, a red India Pale Ale, and the seasonal Samuin Harvest, a spiced beer that tasted like autumn (trust me on this one).

Since we were with Brew Hop, one of the owners stopped by to say hello and spent some time chatting with us about the brewery and the business behind running one. It was fascinating to learn what it took to go from home brewing in a garage to a fully armed and operational brewery.

Where: 5640 Kearny Mesa Rd. Suite C/N, San Diego, CA, 92111
> Find out more about Helm’s Brewing Co.

As we headed back to the bungalow in North Park, we enjoyed our slight giddiness by trying to decide the best beer of the day. Of course, we could not choose a winner since we each have different tastes. For one friend it was “The Butcher” at Societe, for another it was Ballast Point Black Marlin with Chipotle, for me it was Hop the RIPA.

However, that’s the beauty of a brewery tour, everyone will find a beer they enjoy all while having a great time. So what are you waiting for? Book your brewery tour today and explore San Diego’s Craft Beer!

> Check out all my photos from the brewery tour with Brew Hop

Brew Hop Information

Phone: 858.361.8457
Email: info@brewhop.com
Cost: $75-$169 per person as of April 2014
> Find out more about Brew Hop

Other brewery tour companies include Brewery Tours of San Diego and San Diego Beer and Wine Tours.

> Read about my Beer Train Tour with SD Beer and Wine Tours.

To top things off, a contest winner took the brewery tour right before ours! Make sure you follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ to never miss another chance to win a San Diego prize package.