Sure, Southern California may have immaculate beaches, relentless sunshine, and beautiful people, but don’t forget: there are also plenty of other reasons why you should feel terrible that you don’t live here. Our beer, for example. From the craft brewing epicenter of San Diego all the way up to coast to the rolling hills of Paso Robles, here are the top nine beers the best part of the Golden State has to offer.
Modern Times Beer, San Diego
Crisp and light like an ice-chest Corona, yet nonetheless flushed with a litany of hyper-forward and savory IPA flavors, Fortunate Islands almost demands to be drunk under the pounding sun on your favorite beach. But be warned. With its mix of semi-tropical notes (tangerine, passion fruit, and fresh cut straw) and creamy but elusive wheat maltiness, it’s far too easy to open can after can of these dangerously drinkable dirty blond ales. Your next day may very well greet you with equal parts sunburn and hangover.
Hangar 24 Brewery, Redlands
Holy shit, Betty pulls no punches. Here’s an IPA with an aroma akin to dragging your face across a freshly cut golf green, and a bite like sinking your teeth into barely ripe Fuji Apple. But be assured that this brew will slowly (but surely) mellow out. By the time Betty has walked her way across your tongue, that grassy aroma and cidery, faintly spicy start will have faded into a soft melon flush. Savor it.
WEST COAST IPA
Green Flash Brewing Company, San Diego
One big, bold, finely honed flavor from start to finish—West Coast IPA may be simple, but what it does, it does damn right. Under a classically California hop aroma of pine needle and juniper, this deep amber brew neatly folds its robust and malty core of marble-rye bread into a soft Champaign fizz. Relentlessly smooth and utterly devoid of the sharp edges that often come hand-in-hand with a Double IPA, we suggest you break out this beer after working outside on a long, sun-soaked day.
Firestone Walker Brewing, Paso Robles
Impressively balanced and meatier than a thick-cut steak, it’s probably best to just go ahead and tell you right now that Double Jack is not a barrel aged beer. Why? Because everything else about this magnificently woody ale will have you believing otherwise. With its earthy, squaw-bread and sawdust malt, and loamy hop swirl of grapefruit rind and stone fruit, do yourself a favor and drink this unpasteurized ale as fresh as possible. You’ll thank us.
The Bruery, Placentia
Although it drinks like crisp prosecco, this wild dog of a farmhouse ale is all over the map. A single swig gives two gnarled middle fingers to traditional flavor boundaries while delivering tastes as disparate as peppery pear cider, rich cream, hot rye bread, and pink lemonade. Indomitably feral yet undeniable delicious—for an American Saison, Saison Rue is unparalleled.
Alesmith Brewing Company, San Diego
Southern California’s very own Pliny the Elder (the ridiculously highly-acclaimed IPA, not the dead guy); one sip and you’ll see why this dusky-gold, hyper-balanced brew is worth drinking again, and again, and again. With a cleanly floral, yet heady and resinous hop profile that’s been effortlessly melded into a body of biscuity, shortbread crust—AleSmith IPA is the type of beer you’ll drink anywhere, but may be best served while soaking in a book on the beach. Although, given the brew’s relatively high ABV…maybe take a picture book.
STONE CALI-BELGIQUE IPA
Stone Brewing Co., Escondido
Just one of an endless line of damn good Stone beers—Cali-Belgique is distinguishable in that it’s easily the least-aggressive beer in the crew. But if compromises were made to keep it drinkable, we can’t tell. Sturdy yet complex, here the brewers have combined a few of the funky flavors Belgian ales are known for (chiefly overripe tangerine, hibiscus, and a touch of alluringly brackish water) with the classic citrus hop and subtle malt combo that Stone Beers win awards for. Yes, there’s bitterness here too, but it appears slowly, a bit like a drunken sunburn.
The Lost Abbey, San Marcos
This is one of the most deceivingly named ales we’ve ever had. There is no inferno to be found in this rich gold beer. No, in lieu of intensity, Lost Abbey has taken the best parts of an amaretto-leaning Belgian ale and blended them with a nutty, hoppy American pale ale. Dry, almost chalky, yet bubbly with the effervescence of citrus and lemongrass—at best you might be able get away with calling it Purgatory.
VICTORY AT SEA COFFEE VANILLA IMPERIAL PORTER
Ballast Point Brewing Company, San Diego
One of the very few dark beers SoCal deserves to be proud of, Victory At Sea is also the most original. Not to be confused with its far more common cousin, the imperial stout, this darker, thicker porter blends three distinct flavors that, by all accounts, should be at odds with one another. First, the bitter, mildly acrid bite of gas-station coffee. Second, An oatmeal, and heavily-vanilla cookie malt. And third, the idiosyncratic tanginess of… pomegranate? Strange, yet somehow the combo works brilliantly. And unlike most other 10%+ ABV dark ales, you might even find yourself having two.