13th Annual San Diego Strong Ale Festival 2009 (Part 1)

by Beer Answers on December 6, 2009

On Friday evening, we attended the 13th Annual San Diego Strong Ale Festival 2009 at Pizza Port, Carlsbad. Overall a great event with no lack of great ales to taste.  Lots of fun loving craft beer fans in attendance!

There were 82 different strong ales to taste (the sheets they gave out were numbered to 84 but no 68 or 69 were listed).

Eleven ales were aged in barrels that previously were used to age bourbon. Additionally, there were three ales that were aged in wine barrels; one Cabernet, one zinfandel and one unspecified wine. We tasted 5 of the bourbon barrel aged ales and 2 of the wine barrel aged.

Jim liked the idea of trying the bourbon barrel aged ales, but found that, in most, the taste of the bourbon overwhelmed the ale. It was as if you had ordered a “Depth Charge”. He prefers it when there is a subtle flavor of bourbon where the sweetness of the bourbon enhances the ales flavor. He particularly like “Cask 77 Black Ice” an imperial stout, with an ABV of 10.5%, from Hollister Brewing of Goleta, CA.

Mead Ale

Jim also got GiftofMagito taste his first mead, Black Raspberry, from Redstone Meadery, Boulder, CO. It was a combination of Blackberries and Raspberries with Honey. We had run across mead as we researched beer and ales but just never had an opportunity to taste any.

Jim thought this was interesting. A pleasant taste that was closer to a Riesling or dessert wine. It was a challenge drinking this in between strong ales. You finish tasting a strong ale and then sip the mead, your taste buds are set for a hoppy taste. So the mead tastes sweeter. When you switch back to the ales, the opposite happens and the first ale tastes more bitter than it actually is.

Local Favorite, Lost Abbey

One surprise we discovered, we recently had Lost Abbey, Gift of the Magi, at the final day of San Diego Beer Week and really liked it. Lost Abbey brought a barrel aged version to this event. We were amazed at how different this was and we liked it even more. It underscores the concept of the brewer having more control of the final product whereas nature has more control in the wine making process.


Being new to the field, we assumed that “Strong” equated to the alcohol content. The ABV’s ranged from a low of 8% to a high of 14.1%. Almost half had an ABV of 10% or greater.

With your admission, you got tickets for 8 tastes. With such high ABV’s, 8 tastes were enough! Especially, since there were two of us, which meant we could taste a total of 16 different ales; truly tastes not glasses otherwise we would have been going back home by cab. Not so bad since we are from Carlsbad.

We ran into a few folks who traveled to the event and were staying local and walked to the event. In fact a couple intended to come back on Saturday and continue tasting. At $30 admission and a wide array of choices, this was a worthwhile event.

We are looking forward to the 14th Annual San Diego Strong Ale Festival next year.  In our next post, we’ll talk about some other ales we loved.


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