Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits is such a fixture in San Diego that it’s tough to happen on many bars and restaurants where the companies Pale Ale, Calico Amber Ale or ubiquitous-for-a-reason Sculpin IPA aren’t on tap or in-bottle. Big Eye IPA and Wahoo Wheat Beer also dominate. Then there are specialties like the ultra-hopped malt behemoth Tongue Buckler, ancient recipe apricot boozer Barmy, and the Caffe Calabria java-stoked Victory At Sea Coffee Vanilla Imperial Porter. This is just scraping the surface of Ballast Point’s extensive portfolio. What’s made this company such a standout (it was voted best small brewery in the world in 2010) is its brew crew’s ability to produce a wide variety of styles while maintaining to-style quality with all of them.
5401 Linda Vista Road, San Diego
10051 Old Grove Road, Suite B, San Diego
But here’s the thing. With so many beers to a brewing company’s name, some are bound to slip through the cracks. In my mind, this is what’s happened with one of their most exceptional brews — Sea Monster Imperial Stout. Back in the day, the mention of this annual first quarter seasonal was enough to get beerophiles, myself included, to cancel an afternoon’s plans to venture out to BP’s tasting room 10051 Old Grove Road, Scripps Ranch) or the sampling bar at the company’s Home Brew Mart location. It was hard to get.
Thankfully, it’s being produced in greater quantity these days. It’s now available nationally and internationally, and I’ve seen more bottles in local liquor stores—a sight that elicits a smile from yours truly—but it seems for many, this brew’s fallen from the lofty stature it enjoyed prior to the introduction of Ballast Point’s more esoteric and outlandish beers (e.g., Victory At Sea, the curry and Kaffir lime-infused Indra Kunindra India-Style Export Stout, chili-infused versions of many of BP’s beers). This is a shame, because although it’s what some beer geeks might refer to as “just an imperial stout,” it’s still one of the best local examples of this deep, dark, burly style around.
Fans of rich, roasty brews will be enamored with Sea Monster. It pours black as night and, though thick, isn’t viscous to the point of rivaling a can of Quaker State. In fact, before it warms up, it’s downright lively on the palate with a dry finish. Most of the flavor comes on up front with notes of chocolate, allspice, coffee, and black licorice. The latter is introduced by the addition of dehusked Weyermann Carafa II, and imparts something only one other San Diego imperial stout I can think of brings to the tasting table.
Even with the world class status of AleSmith’s Speedway Stout and the emergence of new high quality imperial stouts like The Butcher from Societe Brewing Company, Sea Monster is a beast to be reckoned with and cozy up to. Those looking to get cuddly would do well to age several bottles in order to enjoy them in a mellower state down the road.