5985 Santa Fe Street, Pacific Beach
How does a modern day San Diego brewing business go about celebrating a quarter-century of continual operation? It’s a daunting task and there is no blueprint for it, as none of our county’s 70 brewing companies have been around that long, save for Karl Strauss Brewing Company. That trailblazing interest hits the big two-five this year, and has a lot to be proud of. What started out as a single brewpub in downtown San Diego has grown into the country’s 39th largest craft brewery. Today, Karl Strauss has eight brewpubs in four Southern California counties and its beer is distributed throughout the state.
Just as toast-worthy is the company’s increase in innovative beer styles. In the beginning, like most companies that opened prior to 1990, Karl Strauss’ offerings were extremely straightforward. For the longest time, all most people knew of the business was its Amber Lager, Endless Summer Light, Windandsea Wheat Hefeweizen, and Red Trolley Ale (which continues to win many high-profile awards as the American archetype for an Irish-style red ale), which was all well and good. But recognizing craft beer enthusiasts’ tastes were evolving, the company made a concerted effort to keep up with the times and join with other San Diego breweries to set the tone for sudsy creativity in America’s Finest.
Tracking Karl Strauss’ annual anniversary beers demonstrates that effort. To celebrate 20 years in the biz, the company released its first barrel-aged beer, a Belgian-style tripel. For 21, a Belgian ale brewed with old vine Zinfandel grape juice and aged in American oak. The next three years brought forth an imperial vanilla porter, old ale, and Flanders-style sour red ale, all of which were barrel-aged. Surely, the original Karl Strauss, a former German Master Brewer who later rose to VP of production at Pabst Brewing Company, who believed in the importance of sticking to familiar lagers and ales patrons would be able to get their heads around, would never have seen things going so far in the avant garde direction, but surely he’d be proud to see the successful result.
Tonight, Karl Strauss will debut its anniversary beer at its annual Changing of the Barrels event (taking place at the company’s Pacific Beach tasting room from 6 to 9 p.m.), where barrels containing this year’s anniversary brew (which has been aging in oak for 12 months) will be emptied and next year’s celebratory offering, a Belgian dark strong ale, will begin its woody journey to maturity. For year 25, brewmaster Paul Segura and company went with a style that fits well into its lager-centric history: a doppelbock. Bready, with dark fruit notes, and a round vanilla presence from bourbon barrel-aging, Karl Strauss 25th Anniversary Barrel-Aged Doppelbock comes in at 9.5% alcohol-by-volume and will be available at all of the company’s locations for a limited time.