I walked into SpecHops Brewing (1280 Activity Drive, Vista), took a seat at the bar and turned my attention to the menu board. Chalked across the top in a faux military stencil were the words “top secret” and “brew intelligence.” It was nice to see info about this operation so readily available. Months before SpecHops went online I tried numerous times to extract “brew intelligence” from its owners, but found it so difficult, it almost felt as though that info was, indeed, “top secret.” So, it was with great curiosity and anticipation that I ordered a flight of tasters and settled in to go through them.
Though more than half the beers available the day I visited were India pale ales (IPAs), they were about as varied as that style can get, with session, single, black, rye and Belgian iterations. That was the order in which I enjoyed them. Cointelpro Session IPA delivered a nice splash of bitterness with a dry finish, while Two/Four IPA was a nice hoppy beer for everyday consumption with light floral notes from the hops. The Activity Black IPA was a fair take on a style that, if not dead is so near expiration it might as well be, and the rye IPA was a bit low on hop profundity but featured nice spice from its augmented grain bill. Unfortunately, Frumentarii, the Belgian IPA, was not to my taste, coming across like old-school, lupulin-rich Pacific Northwest hops battling a Belgo yeast strain as opposed to the two working together to produce something cohesive.
Of the remaining eclectic quartet of beers, a saison dubbed Jedburgh was the best. It was well attenuated, not overly fruity or sweet, and most of its Belgian-yeast character, including a touch of bubble-gum flavor, came on in the finish. Beyond that, things were so-so. Culper Ring Stout lacked body, coming across more like a brown ale. Coldbore Pale Ale was soft-spoken, offering just a bit of tacky pine in the finish. And unlike most vanilla-infused beers, a cream ale called Codeword would actually benefit from additional sweetness.
While not perfect, SpecHops’ beers are free of defects. The space itself is a bit stark, as one might expect from a militarily geared business, but there are cozy cushions on the bar stools and the kindness of the staff goes a long way to softening the setting. Also endearing is the company’s support of U.S. Armed Forces veterans. Not only do they have a military discount, but they also have a studio area set up in the tasting room to film veterans (as well as members of public service agencies, contributors to charitable causes and others doing good things for their country and communities) telling tales of their service. That footage is then slated for sharing online. It’s a unique and welcomed value-added from people with a clear and palpable passion for people.