Strawberries grow well in San Diego, turning up mid to late spring in great quantities all over the county. With the fruit-beer trend in full swing, it shouldn't be a surprise to see strawberry in San Diego craft beer. But all fruits aren't created equal in beer. Plenty are cheaper and easier to work with, and for every strawberry beer on the market there seems to be at least ten with grapefruit or tangerine.
Nevertheless, for the past several years, Acoustic Ales Brewing Experiment has been adding 250 pounds of Carlsbad-grown strawberries to batches of its Blondie Belgian blonde ale, calling it Strawberry Blondie. The seasonal release has become popular in the brewery's lower Mission Hills tasting room, and scattered accounts around town. I heard good things about last year's batch, but being later in the summer I couldn't find it in bottles. I tried to chase it down on draught with the Taphunter app, but every bartender told me the same two things when I arrived: the keg kicked, and it went fast.
This year, I kept an eye out, and picked up the first bottle I saw. I almost didn't notice the other strawberry beer on the shelf, also by Acoustic. Named Strawberry Fields, this was a kettle soured version of the Blondie, made with 600 pounds of fruit per batch. A comparison was in order.
The Strawberry Blondie poured closer to orange in hue, with a potent fresh strawberry aroma. I really let my nose linger over this one, enjoying the sweet fruity fragrance that showed enough grain to keep it from smelling like a wine cooler. The strawberry showed up as tart in the otherwise refreshing Blondie — a little bit in contrast to the smooth underlying ale. Likewise, it drank wet with a hint of pucker at the finish.
By contrast, the kettle sour was a pinker, though lighter shade of orange, smelling more of strawberry preserves, darker and sweeter than a ripe berry. It drank sharper on the tongue, much drier with sour candy tartness throughout, and par-baked dough lurking in the background.
I'd call Strawberry Blondie a pleasant shareable fruit beer for a sunny day or summer brunch. Ultimately it tastes like a light Belgian with local berries added for fun — Acoustic does call itself a "brewing experiment." The fruit adds to the base beer, but I wouldn't call it a seamless fit. Though I expect this varies with the sweetness of the berries from year to year.
Strawberry Fields comes across more as a beer crafted around strawberry flavors, making a case kettle souring favors this particular fruit's flavor profile — as opposed to cherries, which many beers have proven compatible with oak barrel aging.
Both work, though the kettle sour works a little better. In the spirit of eating and drinking locally, I do have to give both beers props for being genuine San Diego seasonals, and look forward to Acoustic's strawberry affection continuing next year.