Last Sunday, my girlfriend, my brother-in-law, my sister, and I piled into a white limo that was made to look like a Bentley in the cheapest way possible, and we struck out for six hours of beer-tasting at four breweries in San Diego.
While people mostly think of it as "a magical place where Top Gun was filmed", San Diego is also one of the nation's true beds of hotness for innovative, balls-out craft brewing. Our needy livers took us to four stalwarts: Green Flash, Ballast Point, Ale Smith, and the new Stone compound in Liberty Station.
Over the course of the day, we sampled more beers than just the ones listed below, but I tried to keep 6% ABV as our absolute low end and ensure things were well above 8% whenever possible. The idea was to challenge these girls' palates and powers of description with beers that are only slightly less powerful than chloroform, and they responded with everything from nuanced flavor assessments to somehow-related discussions of Jo-Ann Fabrics.
Worth noting: my girlfriend prefers wine but is coming around on beer, with some very not-gentle prodding from me. My sister barely drinks. These are their notes.
GREEN FLASH BREWING CO.
Strong Beer No. 1: Green Flash Brewing Co. Trippel (9.7% ABV)
Sister: I just got drunk smelling that.
Strong Beer No. 2: Double Stout (8.8%)
Girlfriend: Tastes like a cookout.
Sister: Hey, Lou, gimme a milk! Chocolate! Why would you want to do that to yourself? You'd need, like, a hardcore nap right after it. You'd probably need about an hour-and-45-minute nap.
Strong Beer No. 3: Treasure Chest Belgian-Style Brown Ale (5.7%)
Sister: This one's interesting. I like this one. Usually brown things scare me. But not this.
Strong Beer No. 4: Green Bullet Triple IPA (10.1%)
Girlfriend: Tastes like cheese. Tastes like what ABC Beer Co. smells like.
Sister: I don't know. I don't think I like that one. My thing is, I really like to order a pale ale, then reject it.
Strong Beer No. 5: American Strong Ale (9.9%)
Girlfriend: Ooooh, this one's nice!
Sister: Oooh, no, I can't do that one
Strong Beer No. 6: 30th St American Pale Ale (6%)
Girlfriend: Everything tastes like a barn to me. It tastes like horse feed, which is good I guess. Horse feed but sweeter. It's good.
Strong Beer No. 7: Double Stout With Serrano Chile (8.8%)
Girlfriend: [Amazingly positive look on her face.] I'm gonna love this one. [Drinks it.] It's just great. Just a teeny, tiny kick.
Sister: It's like a midget kicking you. Is our driver taking selfies in front of the car?
BALLAST POINT BREWING CO.
Strong Beer No. 8: Homework Series Belgian Style Double IPA (10%)
Girlfriend: It's good.
Sister: It's just like being in Sister Eva's class.
Strong Beer No. 9: Tongue Buckler Imperial Red Ale (10%)
Sister: What's that one called? It's too hoppy.
Girlfriend: It just tastes like beer. It didn't really make me react either way.
Strong Beer No. 10: Black Eye IPA/Porter Blend (6.7%)
Girlfriend: [Horrible face] It tastes like candy.
Me: But you hate candy.
Girlfriend: Yeah, I hate candy. I don't like that one. I don't really... I really don't enjoy it.
Strong Beer No. 11: Abandon Ship Smoked Lager (6.5%)
Girlfriend: It smells like Christmas. I love it.
Sister: Yeah, I could see maybe "pig barn". It tastes like ham.
Girlfriend: Oh yeah! Christmas!
Strong Beer No. 12: Fathom India Pale Lager (7%)
Girlfriend: I wanna drink the homework.
Strong Beer No. 13: Serrano Pale Ale (5.2%)
Girlfriend: This one! It's full of chiles. It really hits you in the back of the throat. It's got a bigger kick than the one at the last place.
Sister: It's like if a normal-sized man kicked you.
Girlfriend: I didn't know this serrano thing was new. It's like Velveeta cheese dip, but beer.
ALESMITH BREWING CO.
Strong Beer No. 14: Wee Heavy Scotch-Style Ale (10%)
Girlfriend: [Twisted sour face.] It's something. I don't know what that is. PBR is gonna taste like water after this. Like actual water, not beer-water. Water-water. The cup is really cute.
Sister: I don't know about that one. Wear a kilt; just put a kilt on.
Strong Beer No. 15: Gran Cru Belgian Dark Strong (10%)
Girlfriend: Aren't these glasses sooooo cute?!?
Sister: This one's sweeter.
Girlfriend: They all have that weird thing in the back, like, you know, when you just threw up?
Strong Beer No. 16: Vietnamese Speedway Stout (12%)
Girlfriend: What's in there, coffee? Tastes like what my dad's office used to smell like, cause he had the coffee makers going, but there was no coffee, and the coffee would just burn on the bottom.
Sister: I don't understand how you drink a whole bottle of this.
Strong Beer No. 17: Old Ale British-Style Ale (11%)
Girlfriend: It tastes better than dirt. It's very candy-ish. It tastes like candy. Made popular by the Mandy Moore song.
Sister: It's for old men.
Girlfriend: It's where ale goes to die.
Strong Beer No. 18: Horny Devil Belgian Strong (10%)
Girlfriend: That one's, umm, Belgian?
Sister: Ooh, I like this one. I'll drink them all day -- I'll put magnets in them. [EDITOR'S NOTE: No idea.]
Girlfriend: This tastes like sunscreen.
Bro-In-Law: Which did you like best?
Girlfriend: The sunscreen one.
Sister: I could drink like six of both of these.
Girlfriend: Wait, they really were Belgian?
STONE BREWING CO.
Strong Beer No. 19: Farking Wheaton W00t Stout (13%)
Girlfriend: It's good. I've really run out of descriptive words at this point.
Sister: It's like business-meeting beer. Keep it serious. You gotta be official.
Strong Beer No. 20: Burton Snatch English India Pale Ale (7.6%)
Girlfriend: It tastes like you're walking into Pier 1 Imports.
Sister: I know exactly what you're talking about.
Girlfriend: Or Jo-Ann Fabrics.
Me: Aren't the two of those significantly different types of retail experiences?
Sister: It's the same demo. Someone in Jo-Ann Fabrics is always so pissed at you.
Strong Beer No. 21: Great Bowmans Beard Scotch Ale (9.5%)
Sister: Freedom!! I effing looove William Wallace.
Girlfriend: That smells like a basement.
Sister: I've never tried so many beers in the last five years.
Girlfriend: I don't have anything profound to say. I guess my stomach is confused. Everything smelled like a farm. And I'm never going to look at Jo-Ann Fabrics the same again.