5pm Session Ale by Abnormal Beer Co., on tap at Hamilton's Tavern.
The best thing about my house is its location — just a few short blocks from Hamilton's Tavern. This is by design. The slightly divey taphouse has been one of our city's champions of craft beer for nine years now, and when I was looking for a place to live, anything within a one-mile radius became an automatic contender.
This affords me instant access to the bar's monthly Second Saturday tap takeovers, where one brewery after another brings lineups of casked core beers and special releases. Proximity does little to help me with the crowds, however. When there's a line out the door for the ninth-anniversary Second Saturday featuring Lost Abbey, for example, or when word gets out Pliny the Younger has been tapped, the place fills up and people from all over the county stand shoulder to shoulder drinking something delicious. Many a happy hour I've even chatted over beers with guys and gals making a day trip from Baja to sample Hamilton's draft list.
1521 30th Street, San Diego
My favorite time to visit is late at night. Whenever I find myself unable to sleep around 12:30 or 1 a.m. on a weeknight, I wander over to see what's pouring in the relatively uncrowded tavern. It beats counting sheep.
On my latest late-night visit I spotted a sessionable beer from Rancho Bernardo's Abnormal Beer Co. Dubbed 5pm Session Ale, it rates 5.2% alcohol and 26 IBU — not tremendously bitter despite being dry hopped with Mosaic, Nugget, and Cascade varieties.
From drinking it, I'd guess the "5pm" name suggests it's the type of beer you'd want to drink around quitting time at the office — something refreshing and light. Maybe even something resembling the macro lagers that still embody many Americans' notion of the perfect end to a workday.
I don't mean to suggest this beer tastes like Budweiser or Coors — that's definitely not the case. But it is similarly light and crisp, and I wasn't surprised to learn there're pilsner malts and wheat in the bill. Body-wise, it reminded me of a pilsner, with that lightly bready beer flavor that should be an enticement to non-craft drinkers to give this a shot.
And yet, however unaggressive its flavor profile is, this is decidedly a crafted beer, and artfully done. Abnormal's description of the 5pm Session refers to "tropical notes of pineapple, guava, and passion fruit," and I won't dispute that. However, these come across only subtly, and my immediate impression was that of a light floral taste dancing around the edge of that pilsner vibe. Let's call it a nuanced 5 p.m. refresher, possessing just a little extra something for the palate to hold onto while the easy-drinker goes down.