San Diego, California
Moving past a welcome sign out of the bright California sunshine I ducked inside Societe Brewing Co. and let my eyes adjust. The taproom was small. Lots of open floor space with a few tables and benches. The bar extended the length of the far wall and the limited space in the taproom reserved plenty of room for Societe to conduct its brewing operations just beyond. The whole atmosphere was rustic, wooden paneling, hanging farm tools, and rusty lanterns graced the walls. I felt like I had stepped into an old barn on some mountain Montana ranch rather than a Southern California drinking establishment. The small decorated setting gave Societe an intimate vibe, a place you wanted to cozy up in.
Stepping up to the row of taps I checked out the menu. Societe breaks its beers down into three major categories; Out West, Old World, and Stygian. Out West featured the most variety and is Societe’s claim to fame. San Diego and the West Coast in general is famous for its variations of the hop centric beer, some of the best hoppy IPAs and bitter pale ales come out of the region. Societe’s Out West family of beers is toted as a celebration and exploration into the world of hops and the different aromas and flavors they produce.
Gazing down at my tasters I was skeptical. I never jumped on the IPA craze and would only occasionally find myself in the mood for the super hoppy type of beer. Here I was in a city where the IPA reigned king, still I knew for me it would be a tough sell. Looking down the line of tasters I imagined them all blurring into one big bitter flavor.
“Giv’em a try.” the guy at the tap encouraged me. “You’ll be surprised at how different they all are.”
Sipping on The Apprentice I was first hit with the aggressive bitterness of the hops. What followed was a sweet taste of pine and citrus, I could just make out the flavor of grapefruit as I finished. Moving down the line I was expected to be hit by more of the same. I was wrong. The Pupil smelled fruity and tropical and when I sipped this hoppy IPA I wasn’t hit with that expected assertive bitterness. It was hoppy but smooth and I caught a tang of a fruit I couldn’t put my finger on.
“That’s guava.” The bartender informed me. “You might catch some mango in there as well.”
I did. And it was delicious. I was impressed further after trying The Scrapper. Skeptical right from the get-go the beer had the appearance of a dark brown ale. None of that light cloudiness typical of IPAs. Tasting the Scrapper was a marriage of both these worlds. Hoppy bitterness combined with roasted malts and nutty flavor is the perfect crossover for dark beer fans into the IPA realm.
For those not wanting to venture into the world of pale ales and IPAs the Old World series provides variety with a lineup of brews made in the European Belgian style. Beers like the Debutante and the Gleaner offer a spectrum of dark malts and caramels to light and fruity saisons. The Stygian series offers three beers for the hardcore fans of super dark stouts and porters. The Bellowsman lends its flavor to smoked cherrywood and oak while the roasted malts of the Butcher explode with flavors of smooth chocolate.
Each beer on Societe’s roster lends its name to a diverse figure of old world England. The taps were adorned with the dark silhouettes of figures clad with top hats, evening gowns, and peacoats. The cast of characters reminiscent of 19th century London society.
The brewery gets its name from the founders belief that beer has the power to be a great unifier. A pint could be shared by all peoples regardless of creed, religion, ethnicity or social class. Aside from being a pillar in the local craft beer scene, Societe goes further to demonstrate this belief in community. Introducing a new line of sour barrel aged beers Societe is celebrating the release of the Urchin to coincide with a food drive to give back to its local neighborhood. Make a fifty pound food donation to the drive and get a big bottle of the Urchin in return for your contribution.
Societe’s beers are truly brewed with passion and art in an intimate personal setting where I really felt like I got to know the staff. All this was combined with an honorable mission and vision that gives back to the community, bringing people together. For me, the brewery is a gem and a perfect first stop in a city inundated with craft breweries. Walking back out of the building I gazed backward at the simple welcome sign. To me it said so much more.
Welcome to craft beer.
Welcome to San Diego.
Welcome to Societe!