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.
From the Beer Writer: Few are the fruits that haven’t made it into the sour fruit of Council Brewing Company‘s labor care of its ever-changing line-up of tart saisons. One that was particularly successful gained its assertive flavor character from boysenberries. It was such a fruitful addition to the beer-board that head brewer Liz Chism decided to not just bring it back, but employ oak-barrel maturation when doing so. Enter Council Béatitude Boysenberry, an imperialized (i.e., higher-alcohol) version of the beer that spent several months in bourbon whiskey barrels. Though the beer is over double the strength of its progenitor and is big on acidity, it drinks smooth and easy. Its bouquet reminds me of wine grapes at first sniff, with an interesting PB&J quality arising upon further analysis. On the tongue, the beer conveys fruit-forward flavors that remind me of home-made boysenberry pie filling minus the sugar. There is a touch of sweetness and very slight traces of vanillins from the oak, and they round out the dessert-like qualities, but the wood-character blends in instead of taking over, leaving an earthiness behind that tastes delightfully like the seeds of fresh boysenberries. It’s a winner that’s currently available in limited supply exclusively at Council’s Kearny Mesa tasting room.
From the Brewer: “This beer was inspired through our Employee R&D program when our beertender, Candice Dowell, aged her favorite fruit, boysenberries, along with toasted American oak in the base-beer for Béatitude. We only made five gallons of this R&D keg and it didn’t last long. The flavor combination complemented the tart base-beer perfectly. As soon as I tasted it, I knew I wanted to build off Candi’s idea, and Imperial Béatitude Boysenberry was born. The original beer was only about 4% alcohol-by-volume. We decided this beer needed to be aged in Heaven Hill bourbon whiskey barrels, and 4% is rather low for barrel-aging, so we amped the malt bill up on this beer to 9.7% to stand up to the extended barrel-aging, and pitched our house Brettanomyces and lactobacillus ‘magic slurry’ culture. This, along with the intensely tart boysenberries, resulted in a beer that has much more perceived acidity than the typical beers in our Béatitude series. The deep red color from the fruit and the intense sourness makes this beer come across as much more of a sour red or Flanders-style red ale than a saison.”—Liz Chism, Head Brewer/Owner, Council Brewing Company