A flight at Bitter Brothers, starting with a pilsner, ending with a sour.
Last week, a pilsner made by Bitter Brothers Brewing Co. won the first annual Pilsner Blind Tasting Championships, held at O’Brien’s Pub. This style, once a rarity in San Diego, has become a prestige beer for those local breweries who can master it, and in this case, Bill’s Pils topped stiff competition, including several pilsners I know and admire from Fall, Eppig, Burning Beard, and Societe brewing companies.
4170 Morena Boulevard, San Diego
To accomplish that, it had to be good. True to a Czech pilsner, it’s made crisp with Saaz hops. Without the benefit of a side-by-side comparison, I’d say it has a more robust hop profile than those other San Diego pilsners. I have another favorite in the bunch, but that didn't stop me from ordering a second glass.
I drank it at the Bitter Brothers brewery in Bay Ho, where more than one customer has told me they stop in for a beer every time they visit Costco, just half a mile up Morena Boulevard. On a Sunday afternoon, I met a healthy mix of first-time and regular visitors filling the small taproom. A few were drinking here for the most organic reason I know — they were in the vicinity and thirsty — while regulars in the crowd included a former wildland firefighter on the cusp of his 90th birthday, enjoying the pilsner because his go-to weekly beer wasn’t available today.
One of Bitter Brothers’ top beers is the citra-hopped Little Brother IPA. As I learned from chatting with staff, the small business had good reason to be short on a flagship or two: the Brothers’ distributor had abruptly found an increase in demand, and cleared out the brewery’s inventory.
Bitter Brothers has only been around a couple years, barely enough time to think of the craft brewer as underrated. However, as it hasn’t garnered a lot of press, nor picked up a huge social media following, I have wondered whether the brand was destined for best-kept-secret status. But finding a well-attended tasting room, and hearing about the increased demand for its cans and kegs, I’m left to imagine word has gotten out.
As I assembled my nine-dollar taster flight of five four-ounce pours, I made sure to include a couple of sour beers in the bunch. The people behind Bitter Brothers are foodies, and acidic beers tend to be especially food-friendly, so sours have been a strong focus here.
Besides its IPAs, the brewery’s rep is built on Family Tart, its canned Berliner weisse series that features rotating additions of seasonal fruit. White peach was on tap, but I couldn’t say no to the less familiar, prickly pear version. While the cactus fruit was vaguely reminiscent of melon, the appeal of any Family Tart starts with its sourdough-like base, which is only mildly puckering; it’s more tangy and refreshing than sour.
If it’s high acidity you want, seek out O Brother Where Tart Thou. Like the Berliner weisse, it started as a milder kettle sour, but spent months aging in wine barrels, and was made more acidic still with the addition of apricot. The one-off beer won’t last long, but a stack of barrels in the back corner of the brewhouse suggest that Bitter Brothers’ future remains sour.