The 12 Best Beers from Rhythm & Brews
The haze craze took over the Vista festival this year, but lots of other styles were shining
The 8th Annual Rhythm & Brews Festival was held in downtown Vista last Saturday, May 4
The annual Rhythm & Brews Festival, sponsored by the San Diego Brewers Guild, is the official bookend event to Guild Fest, which is held during Beer Week each November. For this year’s festival—the eighth annual—more than 50 breweries poured upward of 100 craft beers for attendees, who also savored a fine selection of food trucks and other craft beverages.
It was a hot but comfortable day in downtown Vista, so the lighter beers had the edge for quaffing appeal, though many darker, heavier beers also showed very well (especially in the VIP area). A few beers I had never tasted—one a porter, another a blood orange wild ale, another a barleywine—made a big impression with their perfectly executed and creative combinations of flavors and ingredients. More on those below.
Despite the range and variety of beers that were available, the big trendy story of the day was all about hazy IPAs. It seemed everyone had one; at least, everyone had something they called a hazy. This trend was a bit irksome, because a good number of the beers being called “hazy IPAs” actually weren’t. Some brewers wanted to jump on the hazy train for marketing purposes, but were unwilling or unable to produce a hazy that’s true to style. An honest New England–style hazy IPA has bright and bursting fresh hop aromas, an elevated silky mouthfeel (I call it umami), a cloudy appearance, and a somewhat tamed bitterness. Many of the so-called hazys being poured did not fit this description. So, listen up brewers (you know who you are): Either do it right or don’t call it hazy.
Enough soapboxing. There were more than enough awesome beers at Rhythm & Brews this year, and here’s my list of what I considered the 12 best. They’re not in any particular order, but they are grouped loosely by category.
Saison Solare (Second Chance) 6.1% ABV
Second Chance uses lemon peel instead of the traditional orange peel for this saison, which gives the beer a unique profile. Aromas of stone fruit and flavors of peppery grains of paradise and toasted sourdough are perfectly balanced in this crisp, light brew.
Meister Light Wheat Ale (Eppig) 5.3% ABV
Subtle, lightly toasted malts on the nose, with a hint of richness for mouthfeel, this wheat ale drinks like a lager. Light, clean flavors of toast and hops with a slight tang and just a hint of vanilla make this refreshing beer surprisingly layered.
Domestique Blonde Ale (Rouleur) 5.6% ABV
A beautifully balanced, light and crisp Belgian-style blonde, this summer sipper delivers plenty of malt toast and soft honey notes to be supremely satisfying.
Snow Blind American Wheat Ale (Booze Bros.) 5.7% ABV
The inclusion of wheat gives this beer a slight haze and an extra bump in richness for mouthfeel. Lightly toasted pilsner malts combine with citrus-laden hops to create a wonderfully balanced beer.
Citrus Sin American Wild Ale with Blood Oranges (Lost Abbey) 5.8% ABV
As is often the case, the most memorable taste of the festival came from The Lost Abbey. The base beer is aged in oak foeders for 12 months before being transferred to wine barrels and then blended with golden ale and fresh blood oranges. A mind-blowing combination of funk, oak, and citrus waft from the glass, with bold but perfectly balanced flavors of lemon peel, toast, earthy funk, and orange in the mouth. Exceptional complexity and flavor for a light, accessible, but still complex beer.
Tart Cherry Wit (Culture) 5.2% ABV
Light, crisp, and perfectly tart, this wins the prize for the most refreshing beer at the festival. Fresh cherry aromas on the nose meld with sour cherry flavors and a hint of sweet malt in the mouth, giving this beer just the right balance. At the end of the festival, this was the sip to finish the day with.
Juice Press Hazy IPA (Burgeon) 6.8%
In my estimation, this was one of only a few true hazys at the festival. Hopped with copious amounts of Galaxy, Vic Secret, Simcoe, and Citra, the hop aromas blast out of the glass. Cloudy and almost golden-banana colored, the rich, umami mouthfeel and restrained bitterness make this a truly excellent example of the style.
Haze Solo IPA (Belching Beaver) 6.5%
The other best in the hazy IPA category, this beer had bold, fresh aromas of citrus and tropical fruit on the nose, a silky mouthfeel, the right amount of haze, and excellent tropical juiciness with reduced bitterness. If you like Phantom Bride, you’ll take a big shine to this IPA as well.
Fear of the Tart Wood and Barrel Aged Sour (Karl Strauss) 4.8% ABV
This beer never fails to wow me. Complex, funky aromas of raisin, molasses, dark cherry, and caramel dominate the nose, with layered flavors of dried fruit, wine, coffee, light oak, and bittersweet chocolate in the mouth. And it’s all balanced by tart acidity and earthy, bretty funk.
Royal Nottingham English Barleywine (Resident) 9.7% ABV
Deep aromas of toffee, caramel, and butterscotch are followed by flavors of vanilla, bubblegum, and toast. Rich mouthfeel, medium-to-heavy body, but balanced by the right amount of crispness from subdued hops.
Rolling Oats Oatmeal Porter (Burgeon) 6% ABV
Big aromas of freshly brewed Honduran coffee and vanilla lead to a chocolatey, vanilla-tinged beer with a sweetness like a pastry stout. This dark beer is rich, but well balanced and frightfully easy to drink.
Coconut Chai Porter (Kilowatt) 6.2% ABV
Kilowatt wins the award for most innovative style and flavor combination at the festival. The chai adjunct works surprisingly well with the decadent chocolate, coconut, and coffee-like aromas and flavors of the porter base beer, which still shines through and is not overwhelmed by the chai component.
Most of these beers are likely still available at each brewery’s tasting room, but some are available only for a limited time. If you missed them at Rhythm & Brews, you might want to make time this weekend to seek them out at their places of origin before they disappear.