There can only be one undistributed beer of the week. The competition is fierce in San Diego's beer community, but someone has to take the title. This week's best undistributed beer is ...
NICKEL BEER COMPANY: C.C. O'NEILL'S IRISH RED
Style: Red Ale - Irish
ABV: 4.5 percent
Pair with: Roasted lamb or duck
Head out to Julian to enjoy this malty, Irish Red Ale from Nickel Beer Co.Sometimes, all you need is a malty brew to warm you up on a brisk January day. When heading up to Julian, a must-stop for a great beer is Nickel Beer Co. This week's brew comes to us from Tom Nickel, owner and brewer at Nickel Beer Co. Nickel also owns O'Briens Pub and West Coast Barbecue & Brew in San Diego.
C.C. O'Neill's Irish Red is a malty treat with bites of roastiness throughout, and minimal hop influence. It is a happy accident of sorts, that has our taste buds buzzing for more. Its style is not common to find on tap in San Diego, where hops take the front seat and red ales are lucky to even be invited on the trip. If you're looking for a craft beer that isn't over complicated, but does not skimp on the flavor, this would be it.
The Irish red ale was not, however, meant to be something that became a regular in the lineup at Nickel Beer Co., but after its debut on St. Patrick's Day in 2014, it was became a constant request from customers. By St. Patrick's Day 2015, it was pretty much a part of the family and no longer a mere seasonal brew.
"It was originally just meant to just be a kind of one-off beer for St. Patrick's Day," Nickel said. "My wife and I also own O'Briens down in San Diego, and so we thought, okay perfect, we can brew an Irish Red here and serve it up at the brewery and down at O'Brien's for the occasion. It was intended as a one-time seasonal, but it's popularity, especially amongst the locals up in Julian, is what made it a year-round beer. You want to brew what people want.
"There aren't necessarily a lot of malty or red beers available in San Diego so I think it's one of those things that when people try it, they're like, 'Wow, that was different!' you know?"
It's easy to see why this beer made it to the main lineup. Upon sipping this red-hued, malty beer, you will be wildly refreshed, palette wise. Since it truly is a bit rare find to find a strong and well-made Irish red ale here in San Diego, you know a good one when you find it. C.C. O'Neill's Irish Red is an easy drinking beer that's really quite classic, smooth and approachable. All the while, it's bready, balanced and full of delicious flavor.
"It's malty, without being sweet. It finishes with a light breadiness and a hint of roasted character in the background," Nickel said. "This is one of the least hoppy beers we brew. As far as the process, it's not much different than other beers except we use a British-style yeast strain on this one. It's different than the American-style yeast strain we use for most of the other beers. This beer uses English barley for its base and British hops, as well."
That use of British yeast lends way to a very malty, rich beer that separates this from a more lager-like red ale. It's also a good middle ground for those stepping into the craft beer world who just want a good, smooth beer that packs a ton more flavor than your average ale would. It's an easier transition into craft beer because it offers drinkers flavor and color, without a ton of hoppiness, Nickel explained.
"I mean, you don't just go from drinking Coors Light to sipping on a Double IPA. It takes time to get there, you know. I've noticed that people will come in and dip their toe in our golden at first, then try the red," he said. "They get some roastiness from that and they like it. Then they want to try the stout."
The brewery sees a lot of locals during the week, with many more out-of-towners making their way over when they can drive up to Julian on the weekends. One of the coolest parts about this beer is its tie to an old relative of Nickels, which is similar to his own experience of owning a brewery and a craft beer bar.
"My favorite part about this beer is probably its name," Nickel said. "The full name of the beer is C.C. O'Neill's Irish Red and it was named for my great grandfather, who was Charles Clementine O'Neill. He used to own taprooms in Minnesota at the turn of last century. He was an immigrant, an Irish Catholic who ended up in Minnesota and opened several different pubs in different cities as he moved around."
C.C. O'Neill's Irish Red is currently available on tap at Nickel Beer Co. Get it while it's cold!
Nickel Beer Co., 1485 Hollow Glen Road, Julian. nickelbeerco.com