10151 Prospect Avenue, Santee
When most San Diegans sit down to a heady pint of a red ale, they expect a nose full of piney hoppiness followed by flavor that matches that olfactory promise. Living here, it’s no wonder. Most of the red ales produced within our lupulin-obsessed county contain a higher percentage of hops than versions made outside San Diego. Textbook examples include the original version of Green Flash Brewing Company’s Hop Head Red, which was an imperial red ale before being bumped up to red IPA status, and Port Brewing Company’s Shark Attack Double Red Ale. But there’s more to red ales than hops.
More traditional (i.e. not San Diegan) red ales celebrate the malt bills that compose them and cover a broad spectrum of flavors from cocoa to toffee to caramel to bread to spicy grain. Hops take a backseat, merely balancing things out. I am a fan of reds that come across with a nice chocolaty flavor. For the longest time, the only locally produced crimson ale that delivered that taste sensation for me was Coronado Brewing Company’s Mermaid’s Red, but four years ago, she of the scaled tail got company in this department when Manzanita Brewing Company opened in Santee and began brewing its red. The company has since changed names, but Twisted Manzanita Rustic Horizon Red Ale remains a pleasant alternative to its many ultra-hopped contemporaries.
Brewed with a hefty dose of caramel malt, the beer is mildly sweet with a presence on the tongue and dryness in the finish that provides breadth while maintaining drinkability. And though it’s not hopped within an inch of its life, botanicals come about before being replaced by the aforementioned chocolate notes and a hint of brown sugar. Throughout the rest of the country, this would be a standard red, but here in America’s hoppiest brewing locale it’s a diversion from the norm. Ditto its packaging. Twisted Manzanita Ales recently debuted new cans bearing artwork featuring landscapes built to match the company’s home region-inspired beer names. Gillespie Field, downtown Santee, and Iron Mountain look good on their aluminum canvasses, as does the scarlet sunset adorning the carrier for this soft standout.