The following column from the November 2018 issue of West Coaster won first place in the “Best Beer Review” category at the 7th annual North American Guild of Beer Writers competition, announced October 4, 2019.
You never forget your first love.
It was nearly a decade ago when my wife and I started looking for our first single-family home. We were wrestling with the usual real estate concerns of affordability, safety, and getting into a school district capable of undoing all the shoddy parenting we had dispensed to date. After months of stalking properties and wondering why no one else found the term “Mello-Roos” as preposterous sounding as I did, we landed on a place with real potential. It had all of the above AND ready access to an expensive boutique grocery store — the perfect storm of suburbia. And yet, I found myself struggling to commit.
The reason was simple enough. It may seem a minor thing to whinge about, but I couldn’t fathom moving to a place with no local brewery. Knowing I was about to establish roots in a place with zero craft beer within stumbling distance soured the whole affair. I just loved the idea of having a neighborhood haunt, a place where everyone knew my name (even if it was only because I was a notoriously shitty tipper). Regardless, it was not to be, so I cast that hope onto the pyre alongside my dreams of being a featured Ice Capades performer, and went headlong into escrow.
Then it happened. Seemingly out of nowhere, Abnormal Beer Co. opted to make Rancho Bernardo its home. What’s more, they began churning out one solid brew after another (not to mention the commensurate volume of hype accompanying it). In one fell swoop I got my local brewery and RB got some much needed cachet. It was a match made in heaven.
Our connection was one for the ages. I knew nothing could tear us apart, except for the relatively commonplace occurrence of a head brewer departing for another gig. So, when that inevitably transpired, I found myself unceremoniously thrust into the metaphorical arms of new head brewer Nyle Molina. I felt so used.
It turns out that this transition was as jarring for Molina as it was for me. He had barely been working as an assistant brewer at Abnormal Beer Co. for 3 weeks when then head brewer Derek Gallanosa (miss you, Boo!) simultaneously announced his departure and recommended Molina to take over.
New as Molina was to Abnormal Beer Co., he was by no means a greenhorn. By the time he arrived there, he already had a culinary degree as well as bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management under his belt, along with production brewing experience at Funky Buddha Brewery, plus he had run the cask program at Green Flash. Now, out of nowhere, he was the creative force behind Abnormal Beer Co., positioned to make it something entirely his own. However, other than minor tweaks in malt bills and different approaches to production, Molina had no desire to cram the brand into a new mold. “We’re still doing the same thing, other than trying to throw some classic styles out there,” he shared.
I thought an embrace of classic beer styles seemed a bit out of place for a brewery best known by most for hazy IPAs and pastry stouts, but sales don’t lie. Time and again Molina found that customers in The Cork & Craft (the affiliated restaurant to Abnormal Beer Co.) favored Karl Strauss’ Windansea Wheat by a significant margin over the trendier options. Beer forum logic be damned. And so, the Abnormal Blonde and Abnormalweiss were born.
The Abnormal Blonde has a moderately grainy nose paired with soft floral and citrus notes, all of which is revisited in the flavor with a touch more pine. The balance marginally favors the hops, which isn’t entirely to style, but gives it massive crushability. The Abnormalweiss, however, fully embraces its malty nature. Its expressive banana bread aromatics are a fun headfake to the bright, refreshing citrus notes in the flavor. A marginal touch of oxidation didn’t help its finish, but overall I could see why diners flock to it.
True to his word, Molina has also released two new hazy IPAs. Hazy Dreams may sound like it’s designed to lull you into a calm, but its placid exterior and perfumey orange peel notes belie an aggressively hop-forward take on the style. If you like your hazy IPAs to bite back, don’t “sleep” on this one (rimshot goes here)! Foggy Remedy, however, doesn’t toy with your emotions quite so much. It is a tried and true NEIPA that doesn’t skimp on juicy orange and pineapple notes. It knows how that other beer has misled you and is ready to be your rock, your True North, your man that won’t run around on you like a dog. Foggy Remedy isn’t just tasty — it will help you learn to love again.
While Molina has secured a number of wine barrels for forthcoming sours, at the moment he is offering a kettle sour named Shane Eats World. I don’t like it, but that’s hardly news; my personal distaste for kettle sours has long been a matter of public record. The good news is I am a long ways from hating it. The tartness of this brew isn’t punishing, embracing a moderate lactic tone with vibrant strawberry notes. I am not so blinded by my hatred to understand why people would savor this brew. That’s about as close as I get to praising a kettle sour, so I’m going to leave it at that.
Curiously enough, the work I enjoyed most from Molina were his nods to cocktail culture. Tiki Life For Me, a tropical wheat beer available among their canned options, has a soft, fluffy texture that is the perfect conveyance for the delicate mango and boisterous kiwi notes. Similarly, Quad Fashioned pays homage to an Old Fashioned, nosing with brown sugar, soft mustiness, and enough booze to signal you’re in for something a bit different than the usual. The flavor opens with bright maraschino cherry married to toffee and a substantial citrus twist. Between that and the residual alcoholic heat, it leaves little doubt of the cocktail it means to emulate. Sure, the mild funk it leaves on the palate deviates from the Old Fashioned experience a tad, but Belgian yeast gotta Belgian. Can’t hate on that.
Now that I think about it, perhaps I had it the wrong way all along. Maybe this is one of those classic rom-com twists where my affections were actually misdirected the whole time. Maybe the draw I feel towards this renewed Abnormal Beer Co. is the love I’ve truly been waiting for. Of course, Nyle will probably awkwardly deny it, but, isn’t that just SO us?