For seven years, brewers from throughout California have convened in Los Angeles for the L.A. IPA Fest. As with many festivals, this hop-driven event includes a brewing competition component, and as with many brewing competitions, this one involves bragging rights and is hard fought. From 2013 to 2018, three breweries—Orange County’s Green Cheek Beer Co. (2019, 2018) and Noble Ale Works (2014, 2013) and Los Angeles’ Highland Park Brewery (2017, 2016)—combined for two first place finishes apiece. But this year, a San Diego brewery took top honors for the first time. That operation was North Park Beer Co., which won for Sorta Mostly Dead, a double-dry-hopped West Coast IPA brewd with Citra, Cryo Mosaic and Strata hops. That beer beat out 59 others for the title.
“I think this means a lot because San Diego has been known for being an IPA town for years. Our legacy in brewing is the West Coast IPA,” says North Park Beer owner and brewmaster Kelsey McNair. “Over the years, San Diego has grown and matured as a beer city and the brewery tap lists have become more diverse, but the common denominator on those tap lists is West Coast IPA. A win like this is a great reminder that San Diego breweries are still making some of the best West Coast IPAs out there.”
The competition was held on February 29 and while its participant list read like a who’s who of California breweries. So, too, did its judging panel, which included accomplished brewers from all over the state. San Diego judges included Automatic Brewing owner and brewmaster Lee Chase, Burgeon Beer Co. head brewer Anthony Tallman, Modern Times Beer Co. brewer Kolaan Busbice, and Stone Brewing’s Liberty Station brewing manger Kris Ketcham.
Though this was the first time a San Diego brewery nabbed first place, the county’s brewing companies have faired well at the competition in other respects. Burgeon’s Time Sensitive IPA took second place at the 2018 competition and the products of three local interests have been won the People’s Choice award: Phenomenal Liar IPA from Fall Brewing in 2019, Nelson IPA from Alpine Beer Co. in 2014 and The Pupil IPA from Societe Brewing in 2013.
“Last year, I went to LA IPA Fest and tried most of the beers entered by the winning brewers. While I had tasted beers from these breweries before many times, having the opportunity to taste them side by side with our entry, Hop-Fu!, made me realize that West Coast IPA had evolved quite a bit from the versions that we had been making,” says McNair. “All the winning beers were lighter in color, having virtually no discernible malt character and especially no caramel or crystal malt. The hop character was intense and extremely fruit forward, yet these beers were all bitter, crisp, clean, and crystal clear. Following the event, I began tearing apart our approach, rethinking the entire style from the ground up, and then started applying changes to all of our West Coast IPAs, including our flagship, Hop-Fu! Fast forward a year and I put together a new recipe called Sorta Mostly Dead featuring three of my favorite hops specifically for this event. I was very happy with how the beer turned out, but I had no idea that it would win.”
Sorta Mostly Dead is currently available on draft and in four-packs at North Park Beer Co., which is located at 3038 University Avenue in its namesake community.