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Bob McPhail 8:30 a.m., Aug. 17
More breweries opened in San Diego County in 2012 than in any year prior. In doing so, many quietly creaked their doors open, instituting soft opens devoid of fan fare. This method allows businesses to train staff, work out kinks and get up to speed without an onslaught of clientele so that, when they’re officially up and running, they can deliver the product and customer experience they’re aiming for. It’s a smart approach, especially for what are, largely, companies being run by first-time business owners.
Recently, I visited the latest brewery to debut on the scene, Rip Current Brewing (1325 Grand Avenue, Suite 100, San Marcos). This much anticipated project from homebrewers Paul Sangster and Guy Shobe soft opened on December 5 (the anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition). Despite only announcing their arrival on Facebook, the place has enjoyed a high level of patronage. When I stopped in, ten minutes before they opened on an uneventful Thursday night, there was already a dozen or so people working their way through Rip Current’s opening line-up of beers. By the time I left, an hour and a half later, the place was completely packed with people still filing through the door. And these weren’t just everyday patrons. The majority were bar owners, craft beer industry insiders, and the beer enthusiast intelligentsia; a real San Diego beer who’s who.
So, why the big-time interest?
Sangster has won tons of awards, including the Ninkasi Award earned at the 2011 American Homebrewers Association’s National Homebrewers Conference, naming him the best homebrewer in the country. He is well versed in producing a wide range of beers deemed of high quality by beer fans and pro brewers. His ascent to the next level is something people have been waiting for for the better part of a year. Throw in Shobe, another award winner who brings a different style to supplement the lager and session beer ends of the spectrum, and you have an operation with a lot of promise.
In Rip Current’s first four offerings that promise has translated into some seriously good product. Three of their core beers were on-tap when I visited—Paddling Out Pale Ale, Barrier Reef Nut Brown, and Red Flag Double IPA. That last one is based on the recipe for Lupulin Lust, one of Sangster’s most popular homebrews. It’s high on IBUs and juicy grapefruit essence, which is especially impressive considering Sangster and Shobe weren’t able to secure the hops called for in the Lupulin Lust recipe. The inability to obtain popular varieties of hops is common, particularly with young brewing companies. Many fail to adapt, leading to subpar beer, but Red Flag is an example of artfully rolling with the punches to create something delicious.
Paddling Out is quite similar in flavor to Red Flag, again bringing on pronounced bitterness. This time, the taste of lemon zest is prominent. My favorite of the trio, however, was the nut brown ale, which trades in bitter chocolate and roastiness for drinkability and strong flavors of hazelnut. It’s a nice interpretation of this English style that’s unlike any in San Diego right now. Reputation and high expectations are responsible for the initial influx of visitors to Rip Current’s tasting room, but good beer is what will surely inspire imbibers to return.
If you’re eager to give the new brewery a try, there’s no time like the present. Rip Current will be open today, New Year’s Eve, from 3 to 8 p.m. Bonus: they’ll be serving a special 9.3 alcohol-by-volume black strap molasses oatmeal imperial Russian stout that's been aged for seven months. Other opportunities to taste Rip Current beers will be provided at a keep-the-glass event 6 P.M. on January 3 at Churchill’s Pub & Grille (887 West San Marcos Boulevard, San Marcos) and a meet-the-brewers event January 4 at O’Brien’s Pub (4646 Convoy Street, Kearny Mesa).