When I hear the term “Big Beer” in Colorado, I immediately think of Avery Brewing and Great Divide Brewing. Both have a vast selection of big beers ranging from 8%+ ABV Imperial Stouts, Double IPA’s, Barleywines and so on. When I hear the term “Big Beer” in reference to Southern California, I think of San Diego’s AleSmith Brewing. AleSmith has been serving up tasty brews since 1995 and over time, they’ve grown their line to include a variety of fantastic, high ABV beers.
AleSmith might be best known for their popular Speedway Stout, which is a 12% ABV Imperial Stout brewed with coffee. Speedway Stout is full of chocolate, coffee and roasted malt flavors. The thick, creamy mouthfeel lingers and leaves you wanting more. Speedway variations spring up from time-to-time in the tasting room. Past experiments have included batches brewed with dried sour cherries, mint chocolate and peanut butter & cacao nibs. Wow! Send some to Colorado. Please??
Old Numbskull Barleywine is an American-style Barleywine that weighs in at 11% ABV. If you’re not a fan of the big hop flavors found in fresh batches, tuck some away in the back of your cellar for a few years. The caramel and malt notes that come through once the hops fade after a year or more are divine. Fresh, aged, both, whatever, it’s a great take on the style.
Scotch Ale fans never seem to have very many options. That poor beer just doesn’t get enough respect in my opinion. Luckily, AleSmith gives the style its’ due with their Wee Heavy. The 10% ABV Wee Heavy is a sweet, smokey, lightly hopped traditional Scotch Ale.
The Grand Cru might be the most complex beer in their year-round big beer lineup. This one is a 10.5% ABV Belgian Strong Dark Ale that is brewed with dark Belgian candi sugar and fermented with authentic Belgian trappist yeast. The dark brown brew has flavors of dark fruit, vanilla, brown sugar and caramel.
Don’t forget the Grand Cru’s little brother, known as Horny Devil. This bad boy is an 11% ABV Belgian Strong Pale Ale. Like the Grand Cru, the Devil is also brewed with Belgian trappist yeast, but uses a lighter Belgian candi sugar and coriander seeds in the brewing process. The result is a beautiful golden beer with citrus, bread and spice notes.
AleSmith has a small barrel-aging project and many of the barrel-aged releases are only available on draft in the tasting room. They occasionally release 750mL bottles of their Barrel-Aged big beers like Speedway Stout and Old Numbskull, which are only available during release parties at the brewery. Take note beer traders, I highly recommend seeking these bad boys out.
While the big beers tend to take center stage, don’t ignore the smaller, more sessionable brews like their IPA, Anvil ESB and X Pale Ale or their great seasonals like YuleSmith, My Bloody Valentine or Decadence (their Anniversary beer which is a different style every year).
Drop by the tasting room on your next trip out west to see what they’re all about and grab some bottles to bring back for your cellar. You’re gonna love ’em!
AleSmith Brewing is located at: 9368 Cabot Dr, San Diego, CA 92126. 858-549-9888