I’m always intrigued by new breweries, but one’s institution of a motif inspired by a literary masterpiece made me extra eager to check it out. That operation is Circle Nine Brewing (7292 Industrial Road, Suite C, Kearny Mesa), an interest founded by a pair of homebrewers with fondness for Dante’s elliptical nonet diagramming of the afterlife. Together, Darren Baker and Andrew Campbell have forged a humble, comfortable brewery and tasting room given additional panache by a bar that extends from the taps into a rounded service area creating a cul-de-sac effect. Table seating is available beyond that along with a rail bar that, although a bit too slim by my assessment, can get the job done on a busy night.
Beers fall into different “circles” based on their robustness. The chief occupant of circle one—Dante’s ground level—is Limbo Lager, a light beer built to appeal to the masses, particularly guests with less pronounced craft-beverage affinity. Knowing the intentions behind it, it comes across nice with lemony citrus appeal, though the beer-fan in me craved a little more body. Following that introductory quaff is a trio of diverse India pale ales (IPAs), the best of which is River of Acheron, a session IPA with flavors of tropical and stone fruit that has a crisp, dry finish. My only beef with it was its 5.8% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) status, which comes in well above the generally accepted five-percent-or-under requirement to be dubbed “session” in nature. An English-inspired IPA called Argent was all orange with considerable malt presence, while a double IPA designed to be “in your face” certainly was; perhaps too much for my taste. Its flavors—caramel, grapefruit pith, cut-grass—seemed to compete versus coalesce and there was an unrefined graininess that was a tad unpleasant. Of all the beers, it needs the most work.
The ninth circle of Hell has the greatest population density, with three versions of Circle Nine’s 9.2% imperial stout, The Relic, currently on the beer-board. The base version is luxurious with big chocolate notes, a touch of juniper and roasted coffee notes in the finish. It was my favorite of this new brewery’s offerings. Served on nitro dulls its aromatic appeal and some of its finer flavor notes. Skip that iteration and go for one aged in Bourbon whiskey barrels for just under three months. It’s rich with vanilla-tinged booziness and an increased ABV of 10%.
All of the beers I tasted were from Circle Nine’s first runs through their three-and-a-half-barrel brewhouse, so the need for some fine-tuning is both understandable and acceptable. It’s a nice little newcomer to the Kearny Mesa brewery scene (which is currently six strong after the recent shame-ridden exodus of Magnetic Brewing). It’s not to die for just yet, but it’s a great deal more hospitable than the locale for which it’s named.