Rip Current Brewing in San Marcos offers a wide variety of beers, many of which have won prestigious brewing awards. Photo by Bill Vanderburgh
Columns Craft Beer in North County

Craft Beer in North County: Award-winning Rip Current Brewing has pedigree and performance

Rip Current Brewing (1325 Grand Ave #100 in San Marcos) is in the interesting position of being one of the most highly regarded breweries in the area, having won a slew of medals including the 2016 Small Brewery of the Year award at the Great American Beer Festival, and yet relatively little-known outside of brewing circles.

What makes Rip Current so highly regarded? Both pedigree and performance.

Paul Sangster opened Rip Current Brewing in August 2011 with business partner and fellow homebrew enthusiast Guy Shobe. Their passion for good beer means they have an exceptional focus on quality at every stage of the brewing process.

Paul Sangster, co-owner of Rip Current Brewing, posing with some of the San Marcos brewery’s many beer awards, including 2015 Small Brewery of the Year. Photo by Bill Vanderburgh.

Sangster’s medal-winning ways began as a home brewer. In the three years leading up to the decision to open a brewery, Sangster won over 150 homebrewing medals. That’s a stunning number in such a short time, but even more impressive is that he won medals in every BJCP beer style category. (The Beer Judging Certification Program defines style guidelines for beers collected into 34 categories as of the 2015 guidelines.) He won the Ninkasi award at the 2011 National Homebrewers Competition, which is also called “the best homebrewer in the world award.”

Having been a member and officer in both the Society of Barley Engineers and QUAFF, San Diego County’s two largest homebrewing clubs, Sangster is still very close to the local homebrewing community.

To a greater extent than I’ve noticed at any other brewery, it is a common occurrence to find homebrew enthusiasts at the bar or coming in when there are special bottle releases.

Originally trained and employed as an engineer, part of Sangster’s success as a brewer can be attributed to his close attention to technical details, measurements and consistently repeated processes. His focus on quality can be seen in the fact that instead of opting to use a mobile canning service when Rip Current wanted to start canning beer, they decided to buy their own canning line.

The large capital outlay was worth it, from their point of view, because owning their own system means being able to control every detail of the process.

Sangster told me that one reason San Diego is so well known for West Coast IPAs may be local water, especially before the desalinization plant came online, is pretty much ideal for that style of beer. Other beer styles need different pHs and mineralities, so even before they opened, Sangster insisted on investing in an expensive reverse osmosis water conditioning system that allows them to precisely control the water profile of each beer.

When I asked Sangster what he thinks people don’t know but should know about Rip Current, his response was that people tend to think of them as specializing in certain styles, but in fact they do pretty much everything, and they have the awards to prove that they do them all well.

When you ask folks about who makes good lagers in the area, Rip Current isn’t always at the front of mind, even though they have probably won more medals for lagers at major competitions than any other brewery in the county. For example, Breakline Bock, a dark German lager, has won 15 medals at major competitions including two golds at the Great American Beer Festival, silver at the 2018 World Beer Cup, and Best in Show out of the 1,266 beers entered into the 2019 California Craft Brewers Cup.

Another part of the Rip Current brewing program that people don’t know enough about is that their barrel-aged beers include a variety of sours and fruited beers in addition to bourbon barrel aged stouts and the like. The barrel program is run by Justin Stambaugh, who is also the owner at neighboring Stave & Nail Brewing Co. where the focus is barrel-aged sours.

Rip Current’s stouts and porters are my personal favorites. They consistently win medals for those, too: For example, Rescue Buoy Imperial Stout won bronze at the 2019 Great American Beer Festival and gold at the 2019 California Craft Brewers Cup.

The day I visited Rip Current for this column was the first day that a batch of a bourbon barrel aged Scotch Ale was ready. The previous batch of this beer, Black Lagoon, won silver at the 2019 U.S. Open Beer Championships.

This batch was aged 31 months in Heaven Hill whiskey barrels. Rip Current describes it as, “Silky smooth, having a dark malt character with rich caramel, toffee, and hints of chocolate and dark fruit that melds with the bourbon and oak notes.” I was the first non-employee to get to sample this beer, and I can confirm without hesitation that it is fantastic.

The bottles went on sale last Friday, but there may still be a few left if you visit either the San Marcos or North Park tasting room within the next few days. It will also be available on tap while supplies last, but that won’t be long.

The good news is, whenever you visit Rip Current Brewing, you are bound to find excellent beers across a variety of styles. More at ripcurrentbrewing.com.

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Stone Brewing is hosting a “Paints and Sips” event from 6 to 8:30  p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 19, at their main World Bistro and Gardens (1999 W Citracado Parkway, Escondido).

For $40, participants will get supplies and a painting lesson, and a beer to enjoy while doing painting under the stars in the gardens. Fifty percent of proceeds will go to support the Arts & Autism initiative. Register here or search for Stone Brewing Paint & Sip on etsy.com.

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