San Diego Beer Week (henceforth known as SDBW because I’m not getting paid by the word) is upon us and I have already passed my first hurdle – the annual Guild Fest at Port Pavilion on Broadway Pier. Year over year it proves to be one of my favorite festivals, so I constantly jockey to cover it for “journalism”. Normally I’d regale you with the sights and sounds of this flagship event, but internet style guidelines demand that my experience be somehow enumerated to hold your attention. So here are The Eleven Best Beers I Managed To Drink At Guild Fest 2016 In No Particular Order Which Are Not Necessarily The Absolute Best Since I Couldn’t Possibly Drink Through All The Offerings And I Don’t Wish To Marginalize Any Overlooked Breweries. NUMBER SIX WILL SHOCK YOU!
Little Miss Brewing – Hoperation Overlord Imperial Oatmeal IPA
You know a beer is good when it essentially creates a style category and simultaneously establishes an absurdly high standard for it.
In truth I’ve likely had a IPAs with oatmeal in them before, but none of them left an impression on me like this one. The indulgent floral and orange rind aromatics perfectly complemented the chewy pine notes of the beer. It was potent, dank, highly memorable, and easily the strongest beer to come out of the relatively young brewery to date. I liked Little Miss Brewing before, but now I’m excited about them.
AleSmith Brewing Company – Barrel Aged Vietnamese Speedway Stout
This beer smells like happiness soaked in bourbon. That may be a little redundant, but whatever.
The Vietnamese Speedway Stout is a tough one to improve on, but this does just that. It hits you with a quick boozy snap up front that initially diminishes its rich earthiness, but slowly gives way to dark chocolate and berry sweetness. It’s a masterstroke in making the barrel sing.
Pure Project – Keep Amurka Dank
I know a lot of folks are riding the Northeast-style hazy IPA hype train these days, but this was a top notch take on it. The haze offered a little supplementary heft without feeling like it was dosed with flour to thicken it like a gravy.
Its substantial fruity orange character aromatics were capably backed by a familiar blend of citrus and pine. It was a great example of simple flavors executed with incredible finesse.
Abnormal Brewing Company – All of the Lights
When faced with a description “Coffee Nutella Imperial Milk Porter”, you can be virtually assured one of the adjectives you’ll trot out to describe it won’t be “subtle”. Sure enough, the nose hovered somewhere between Nestle Quik and Cocoa Pebbles with an unmistakable roasted hazelnut tone to it. The beer had touches of earth and maduro cigar to it, but was primarily a nutty, chocolate-y juggernaut.
Seeing the word “coconut” in a beer name often gives me pause. When applied with some restraint it can add a beautiful texture to a brew, but otherwise it cruelly devolves the brew into a fizzy piña colada. Both of these managed to march right up to the edge of that cliff without tumbling over.
The coconut in Darkness Refined was true to its moniker, delivering a restrained, silky stout with a rich milk chocolate character. I could sip on this all evening without worries of suntan lotion-flavored belches. The Vacation IPA used it even more capably, maintaining an IPA-forward experience throughout. The nose was dominated by grass clippings, leaving a subtle coconut creaminess to bolster the floral and tropical fruit flavors.
Intergalactic Brewing Company – Planet Invader (with coffee) Russian Imperial Stout
The body on this imperial stout was lighter bodied compared to those in its cohort at the festival, but then maple syrup would be considered thirst quenching compared to some of the monsters this festival has had to offer. Still, its 11.6% ABV was masked to the point of being perilous.
The coffee burst out of the mix and had a delightful resonance on the palate. Planet Invader delivered the RIS embodiment of a stellar coffee liqueur without oppressive sweetness.
Lost Abbey Brewing Company – Track 8
This one is a bit of a cheat as I am all too familiar with this barrel-aged ale, but it still managed to stand out among its peers. It reminds of oatmeal raisin cookies soaked in bourbon, just like mom used to make.
Aztec Brewing Company – Bruja Rubia
This may well have been the sleeper hit of the festival. Unlike the innumerable, massive imperial stouts it was flanked with, this unique wheat beer seduced with subtlety. The combination of aging in white wine barrels with blue agave and apricots produced a restrained citric bite with loads of dried fruits and lemonade sweetness.
Groundswell Brewing Co. – Oathbreaker
I appreciated Groundswell Brewing’s approach to the massive signage for this beer. Compared to the standard notebook paper-sized most everyone favored, it was as imposing at the 13% ABV stout itself. It left little doubt that it meant business.
The nose was redolent with coffee, vanilla, and milk chocolate, but favored a palate of anise, dark chocolate, and coffee ground earthiness. It was surprisingly nuanced for something that could have easily been a booze-bomb.
Second Chance Beer Co. – Festa Imperiale
Yes, it’s yet another bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout. No, I won’t apologize for picking so many of them.
Festa Imperiale featured the coffee notes you’d expect, but emerged from its peers with its boisterous roastiness and light brandy sweetness. It also summoned notes of toffee and chocolate turtles without becoming cloying or oppressive on the palate. It had a depth of character often clobbered by the booziness of the barrel, which was remarkable.