Green Flash/Pizza Port Carlsbad/Stone — Highway 78 Scotch Ale — 8.8%

Named after the highway that starts in Oceanside and runs east across the state, this beer is like a one-off album from a San Diego super group. All three of these breweries are well known for producing well-designed and perfectly executed beers—often hop-driven monsters that demolish rules and taste buds with equal impunity.

While many super group projects suffer from the “too many cooks” syndrome, this one, as they say, is a different kettle of … well, beer—a collaboration that, in their own words, lacks “bells, whistles, crazy ingredients, or strange techniques,” just three master brewers working a style that doesn’t get a whole lot of play in Southern California. [A brief caveat: San Diego-based AleSmith makes a Wee Heavy that I would love to pair with this to do a horizontal tasting if I could find it up here in the soggy north.]

This Scotch ale pours toffee brown, producing a small, tight head that dissipates pretty quickly. That’s the first clue that this is not going to be yet another hop bomb. Upon first sip, luxuriant strains of butterscotch caramel, toffee, and blackstrap molasses seem layered one atop the other leading toward a mellow alcohol finish, surprising for a brew that’s almost 9%. In fact, it is the smoothness of this Scottie that really stands out.

Spicy hops and licorice linger on the tongue until it’s time for another pull. Like any strong ale, this one’s a sipper, but given how smooth this one is, you have to be careful or it’s gonna get on top of you.

Grade: A-

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