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Over the past two months, I’ve written a lot about San Diego breweries creating beers for local bars and restaurants. Arguably no other establishment has had as many crafted for them—and definitely none in the span of the past year or two—as Churchill’s Pub & Grille (887 West San Marcos Boulevard, San Marcos). Owner Ivan Derezin has been in cahoots with numerous North County craft breweries for years, working with them to get custom beers for his popular English-style brew haven. And not just simple, standard-issue varieties. Derezin has procured barrel-aged imperial stouts and sours three years running.

Last weekend, during Renaissance, the biggest Churchill’s event of the year, six of the pub’s namesake beers were on the beer board—Churchill’s X IPA, Wins-ten Decade DIPA, Churchill’s Finest SOUR, and three vintages of Churchill’s Finest Hour imperial stout. The X was the first of Derezin’s collaboration with a brewery outside of San Diego County. That IPA, ultra refreshing and juicy with tangerine and passion fruit flavors, was created by Sonoma’s Bear Republic Brewery, who are best known locally for their prominent Racer 5 IPA. The other IPA of the bunch, an imperial version triple dry-hopped with Citra that came across like a clean and efficient hop assault on the back of my palate (in a good way), was the product of Vista’s Mother Earth Brew Co.

The “Finest” line of beers were all produced by Derezin’s long-time San Marcos neighbors at The Lost Abbey. This team-up started back in 2011 when Derezin got his hands on a pair of Jack Daniels whiskey barrels and handed them over to world famous barrel-aged beer master, Tomme Arthur, The Lost Abbey’s director of brewery operations. Those barrels yielded the first batch of Churchill’s Finest Hour, which was offered up on draft and in wax-dipped bottles at the inaugural Renaissance event. It’s become a tradition, and tasting all three versions side-by-side this year allowed me to pick up on the subtle differences between them.

The 2013 batch was, as expected, the crispest and hottest of the group, exhibiting bright coconut and chocolate character. At 13.4% alcohol-by-volume, it’s the strongest version of this beer to be made to date (2011 and 2012’s vintages came in at 12% ABV). The 2012 batch had a prevalent sweetness, a woodier profile, and hints of chocolate-covered dark fruit. Version one was soft and smooth with coconut and dark chocolate melding instead of competing with the mellowing background booze. All three were delicious and served as nice reward to the droves of early-birds who lined up before 5 a.m. for the chance to purchase a bottle of this year’s release.

The yin to Finest Hour’s yang, Churchill’s Finest SOUR is a version of The Lost Abbey’s biere de garde, Avant Garde Ale, that’s been aged with guava in used Chardonnay oak barrels over a two-year span. The result is a full-bodied golden sour with a bit of sweetness and a creaminess brought on by malolactic fermentation. The round and pronounced tartness comes across like a ripe Meyer lemon. It’s a beer that’s easy to love and one I was glad to see make it back on the list after my first sip at last year’s Churchill’s Sour Fest.

I'm a creature of habit. It takes a lot for me to break my schedule and post the Beer of the Week on Tuesday instead of Friday, but I wanted you to have the chance to taste some of these. While not all of the beers are still in stock, some are still on tap and available in bottles. Fans of good beer would do well to call ahead and take a quick field trip for these limited edition, high quality suds.

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arthurpendragon March 8, 2013 @ 1:30 p.m.

Nice article. One correction: "This team-up started back in 2011 when Derezin got his hands on a pair of Jack Daniels whiskey barrels". The Jack Daniels barrels were for the 2010 batch which rested for roughly a year in the barrels so 2009 is probably more accurate for when the "team-up" started. 2013 Finest Hour is the fourth batch.


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