All breweries have a core beer, or series of core beers. They’re the year-round offerings, often the beers they spent brew session after session perfecting until they got it just right every single time at the beginning of their brewing journey. They’re the beers that become synonymous with a brand. Think Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Firestone-Walker 805 or Stone IPA or Modern Times Blazing World.
For many craft beer drinkers, a core beer is where we got our start. Unlike seasonal or the continually evolving one-off double hazy IPA, the core beer is always available, always the same, and if a brewery begins distributing to retail, it will be the beer that you’ll find on the shelves of your local grocery, Costco or corner store.
In the past, distributing to retail seemed more like a choice about how the brewery wanted to grow, or not grow. Many breweries choose to sell direct to consumer to cut out the middle man or just because being a neighborhood brewery was their focus, but in a year in which the pandemic forced many of us to spend months at home, inspiring us to start ordering groceries instead of buying them, the core beers have been going through a renaissance of appreciation. For the next few weeks I’m going to be adding a six-pack to my grocery order and reporting back to you.
A conversation with Thorn Brewing’s Taylor Allen inspired me to look to the south, and so this week I snagged some Thorn Relay IPA to drink on the patio. I let the sun warm my outsides while the beer did its job cooling off my insides. How beautiful has the weather been lately? Everything crazy thing in the world seems better with a beer and some sunshine.
Relay is a 7.2% ABV, West Coast (American) style IPA. You can check out the Brewers Association definition for the technical description, or just read the following description of this beer! It pours a translucent goldenrod color. The head is thick and lustrous. This can is packed full of a murderer’s row of hops. Citra, Centennial, Simcoe, Amarillo. There are more hops here than you’d find at a bunny rabbit convention. It is the Amarillo that hits my nose first. The pine breaking free from the citrus and grapefruit notes underneath to punch me square in the nostrils.
The first drink is just as punchy, workmanlike as it hits the mouth and moves on down the throat without pretense. Even the head disappears quickly, almost courteously, as if to acknowledge its own appearance is an unnecessary frill, but it still wanted to say hello, just briefly, to respect tradition.
This beer inspires me to gaze off into the future. To let my brain wander to some of the outdoor spaces I love, or have yet to explore, but can’t get to without a little effort. Joining me in my daydream is a two-dimensional raccoon riding a 19th century bicycle on the front of the can. We’re looking toward those adventures together.
Once upon a time, Thorn Brewing was merely a workmanlike brewery in the North Park San Diego neighborhood, but when they looked to the future they saw a gleaming 30 barrel brewhouse that manifested itself in Barrio Logan, beyond that a third tasting room in Mission Hills, beyond that, well … who knows? It depends where all this the hard work takes them.
The Relay IPA is crisp, brisk and will be a classic on a long enough timeline. It will feel equally at home post-hike, during a working lunch, or near any sort of lake, stream or river. It has enough oomph to appreciate, but not so much it will blow out your taste buds. It is the epitome of a core beer — drinkable, consistent and appealing in a wide variety of scenarios.
As I sit here paddling an imaginary kayak around the Agua Hedionda Lagoon in my mind, I am struck that often when I find a new brewery I get beer FOMO, and start my sampling with the wilder beers, the one-offs, the fancy stuff I find instead of going for the core products they’ve worked hard to perfect. I’m still doing beer pickups around town so those only-every-so-often brews might make their way into the fridge. But I’m also committing to reacquainting myself with the local cores like the Burgeon Brewing Treevana IPA or Booze Brothers Penny Blonde. They are the foundation everything else coming out of the brewhouse is built on, and I’m looking forward to exploring them. Cheers!
Be sure to check out the most recent episode of the Cheers! North County podcast featuring my conversation with Priya Bhat-Patel, Carlsbad Councilwoman and candidate for California State Senate in 2022. Check out the shows homepage to listen or find links to all of your favorite podcast platforms.