The 10 Best Beers from Rhythm & Brews 2017
Sudsy surprises from some of the little guys
Photo: Bruce Glassman
Beer festivals are a great way for the beer-curious to sample and explore a wide variety of styles and flavors in one fell swoop. Festivals are also a great way for established beer lovers to enjoy great variety and also to potentially try new styles that don’t typically present themselves in the course of everyday drinking.
Festivals like Rhythm & Brews—and its sister event, the Guild Fest in November (both sponsored by the San Diego Brewers Guild)—are some of the year’s largest and best-represented beer gatherings, and they’re some of the best opportunities to get a broad perspective on what’s going on in the San Diego beer scene. For me, festivals like these present a unique opportunity to check back with a whole bunch of breweries I haven’t been able to visit in a while (too many new breweries to cover!). I’m always happy to go back and re-taste beers from breweries that I might have written off initially—folks who may have opened before they had dialed in their systems completely, who were under pressure to start selling beer before it was ready, or who simply hadn't learned (yet) from some of their mistakes.
At this year’s Rhythm & Brews, I was especially pleased to find a whole bunch of breweries that I feel have evolved and improved significantly since I first tasted their wares—which, in some cases, was a year or so ago. For me, having a chance to re-assess and improve my perceptions of certain breweries is the greatest benefit in attending events like this. Of course, it’s also great to have the chance to taste great beers from the established stars, and to re-confirm initial assessments of brewers who have only just recently joined the community.
About 60 breweries participated in this year’s Rhythm & Brews, offering more than 130 beers. Overall, the quality, variety, and brewing skill on display were quite impressive. Although I did not taste all 130 beers, I did get sips and tastes of nearly half of them. Here are the 10 beers that stood out for their ingredients, balance, flavor, and quality:
1. Newton’s Graff Apple Ale (Arcana Brewing Company)
Something between a light lager and a hard cider, this beer was crisp and refreshing, and refreshingly different. Nice floral apple aromas came through on the nose, and the body was well-balanced, bright, and bubbly, with low hop and malt character, but lots of bracing acidity.
2. Your Worshipfulness Peach Weizen Ale (Intergalactic Brewing Company)
The idea of combining fruit and wheat beer is, of course, not groundbreaking, so it’s all about balance. The really good hefs, wits, and other wheat beers that incorporate a fruity component do so by adding a complementary element without obscuring the essential flavor of the beer. This peachy wheat is just peachy enough to enhance the light esters and bready aromas of the beer, producing an enticing, crisp, light, and refreshing elixir that really works well.
3. Guava Islander IPA (Coronado Brewing Company)
See comments about fruiting beers above! Again, this beer—which started out as a delicious, well-balanced IPA—is beautifully enhanced by the tropical, fruity, and flowery aromas and flavors of guava, which—in the proper proportion— make the tropical components of the beer’s hops really sing.
4. Pretty Fly 4 No Rye (Fallbrook Brewing Company)
Here’s a unique and interesting take on Saison that really produced a distinct beer. Enhanced with tangelos and avo honey, this brew had a heady mix of citrus and spice on the nose, with a slightly sweet, mildly bready, and ester-laden flavor profile that was well integrated and well balanced.
5. Fish Face Berliner Weiss (Culver Beer Co.)
Culver won the daily double at Rhythm & Brews: I’m including both of their beers on this list. The Berliner was a perfectly tart, light, crisp, and refreshing kettle sour that delivered exceptional flavor and surprising mouthfeel in a 3.7% ABV beer.
6. Strange Ways Hoppy Belgian (Culver Beer Co.)
Hoppy Belgians and hoppy wheat beers are big these days, and for good reason: Lots of them are delicious. This Belgian-style ale strikes just the right balance with a restrained breadiness and ester component that combines perfectly with the big citrus and tropical components of Mosaic hops.
7. Chesty Irish Red (Legacy Brewing)
Amidst all the sours and fruited-hoppy concoctions, a few malt-forward beers really shined. This one stood out for its classic and comforting balance of caramel-biscuit malts and a restrained but detectable bitterness from judicious use of Magnum hops. A great food beer.
8. Woofle Dust (Council Brewing Co.)
The folks at Council have been doing impressive things with aging, barrels, and sours for a while now, so it was no surprise that this beautiful American golden sour, aged in oak foeders with apricots, was a stunner. With just the right level of tartness and fresh fruit flavor, this beer was as wonderfully complex as it was crisp and refreshing.
9. Most Wanted Citra IPA (Dos Desperados)
Kudos to these folks: It’s not easy to have a straightforward IPA that grabs your attention at a San Diego beer event, but this beer did. It’s not breaking any rules or pushing any envelopes, but this Citra dry-hopped IPA provided an impressive blast of grapefruit, orange, and apricot on the nose and followed up with wonderfully juicy, clean, and crisp flavors that brought the beauty of Citra front and center.
10. Deliverance (The Lost Abbey)
It’s only fitting to cap this list with a stellar offering from one of San Diego’s best Belgian-inspired breweries. This heady dark ale—a brandy-and-bourbon-barrel-aged blend—was dark and boozy, with rich flavors of raisins, dried stone fruit, vanilla, and chocolate. Few breweries can coax as many layers of flavor from a barrel-aged beer as the team at Lost Abbey.
You can stay on top of lots of local beer events by checking in with the San Diego Brewers Guild.