The landscape outside Double Peak Brewing is stunning: mountains and valleys, and covered in green and flowers when I visited in spring. I counted three peaks, but whatevs.
The exterior of the building is a bit forbidding—just a tall, concrete warehouse.. There is parking in the lot and more on the street.
Inside the tall, roll-up garage door, there is a four-seat bar and a scattering of high top tables. Down a small hall, you can see the tanks gleaming. Around the corner there is additional seating I hadn’t expected, and it looks like there is space to expand the tasting room more as popularity demands. The finishes are a step above the typical warehouse tasting room.
They were the final brewery to open at the end of 2018, so it has only been four months. Given the relative newness of the place, the beer is better than I would have bet on. Excepting a couple of missteps, the beer is really quite good. They were pouring seven taps on my visit, so I tried them all.
Nameless Amber (Amber Lager, 7.2% ABV). Malty goodness. I’m used to ambers as ales but this amber lager really works. Flavorful with a sharp clean finish. 3.75/5
Let’s Gose (Gose Sour, 5.1% ABV). The Belgian yeast note and cloves flavor are stronger than I expected. Bready, fruity, with a lager-like finish. I don’t detect the juniper berries. Not at all sour, not lemony. I don’t think it is a gose, it certainly doesn’t match the tasting notes, but it is not a bad beer overall. 3.25/5
Haboob (Red Ale, 5.8% ABV). Bread/cracker malt flavor, cloudy amber. Thin mouthfeel. Something a bit unpleasant on the finish I can’t place. (The handy-dandy Google machine tells me a haboob is a dust storm.) 3.25/5
1st Ascent (IPA, 6.4% ABV). This has a fruity opening and a pleasant floral/piney/earthy finish. An earthy astringency lingers a bit too much. Bright beautiful light amber color. 3.5/5
Resilience (IPA, 6.8%). This is the Sierra Nevada Brewing recipe that 1500 breweries made to support relief efforts for those affected by the major California brush fires of 2018. This version is excellent. I hope every brewery brews Resilience in perpetuity. The recipe is great, and the slight variations at each place make it really interesting to try and compare. 3.75/5
Portal Porter (Imperial Porter, 8.9% ABV). Smoky/roasty. Loads of flavor, maybe a bit out of balance. Mouthfeel pretty thin. Lingering flavor is delicious. 3.5/5
Black Mountain Stout (Imperial Stout, 10% ABV). Thick, roasty, balanced, tons of flavor. Too drinkable at 10%! 4/5
Service was good, though the bartender was mostly occupied with her two friends who were sitting at the bar.
Opened in January 2019, Kairoa Brewing occupies a large and beautiful space on a corner in University Heights. Street parking is a little hard to come by depending on the day and time, so be prepared to walk a block or two. There is also a bus stop right outside.
I visited a few weeks ago, just before the official grand opening. The atmosphere is lovely, with large windows opening onto an elegant space with lots of seating and a long bar. And that’s just the main room: Don’t forget to check out the perfect deck on the roof. It will be extremely popular, I’m sure, for summer day drinking.
As is to be expected with such a large venue, Kairoa is a restaurant as well as a brewery. It is in the same ballpark as Gravity Heights, but maybe not quite in the same league, at least so far.
The owners hail from New Zealand, which makes the theme of the place. The menu is seafood- and lamb-focused, though you can also find a New Zealand twist on chicken wings, burgers and chicken sandwiches, and a good selection of vegan and gluten-free options. Food prices are on the high side ($16 to $21 for the range of burgers, for example).
Service from the hostess and the bar was immediately helpful and friendly. The homey vibe at the bar was a nice contrast for the sophistication of the room.
The selection of beers was relatively small when I visited, and they had just begun putting on second batches of some of the beer. Given comments and reviews I’ve seen online (some people rave about the beer) taken together with my own experience (I thought the beer was just okay), I would say that they have not quite dialed in their beers from the point of view of batch-to-batch consistency. However, the highs indicate that they know what they are doing and the beers will no doubt be dialed in over time. If not, they do offer a full bar including a good selection of guest beers.
Undie 500 (American Pale Ale, 5.4% ABV). I found this to have a thin mouthfeel and at the same time a flavor profile a bit like a hoppy brown ale. I didn’t really “get” it. 3.25/5
Bright Lights (Brown Ale, 5.6& ABV). Muddy brown color and strangely cloudy. Belgian-like yeast esters that shouldn’t be there. Thin mouthfeel. A bit unpleasant. 2.75/5
Ostrich (Oatmeal Stout, 5.3% ABV). As a stout, it is unsurprising that this is completely opaque. But it is also muddy, and there is a strange grey undertone to the color. Flavor is fine, fairly roasty, but unexceptional. Mouthfeel is a bit thin for a stout. 3/5
Roll Call Red (Red Ale, 6.9% ABV). This is very popular with a lot of people. It’s average Untappd score is 3.86/5 (though on just 36 ratings). My experience was different. Something seemed to be missing/off. The recipe is not quite dialed in yet, perhaps. I thought I detected a hint of a band-aid-like off flavor. 3/5
While my impression of the beer wasn’t the best, I should say that I love the space and have high hopes for Kairoa becoming a hot spot for nightlife and excellent beer. People whose beer taste I trust have had Kairoa beers they loved. If nothing else, go check it out for the rooftop patio.
February 2019 had zero changes over January—no openings, no closings. March, however, was a busy month: three new tasting rooms added, and two breweries and two tasting room deleted. Cleaning up the list, I’ve changed the way tasting rooms for guest/contract breweries are listed, which creates the impression of two new tasting room locations though they have actually existed for a long time. San Diego County is now home to 158 breweries, 46 satellite tasting rooms, and 217 beer locations in total (net +1 over January). In addition seven new projects have been announced in the last two months. I expect about 29 more locations to open before the end of 2019.
NEW FEATURE: The LIST of breweries and tasting rooms is now available as a sortable spreadsheet.
In Like a Lion
March dawned with two quick opening announcements, followed by another less than two weeks later.
(1) Mike Hess Brewing is in soft opening at their third San Diego tasting room, in Imperial Beach. Hess now has five locations including the brewery in North Park, the original location in Miramar, plus tasting rooms in Ocean Beach, in Imperial Beach, and in Walnut Creek, near San Francisco. They make some of my favorite beer (hello, Habitus Rye DIPA!). The new location is just off the beach, offers tacos and a large outdoor area with games, and it is kid- and dog-friendly.
(2) SouthNorte beers are now available at the main Coronado Brewing location in Bay Park (technically Bay Ho, but no one seems to use that name). This one is a serious challenge to my classification system. Skip to the next paragraph if you don’t care about such details. I count SouthNorte as a “guest brewing company” since, while they are owned by Coronado Brewing Company and brew on CBC equipment in Bay Park, they are a separate company. Their brewmaster, Ryan Brooks, makes their flagship beers in San Diego, but has also opened a second SouthNorte brewing operation in Tijuana, at the Telefonica Gastro Park where they do smaller batch beers. All of SouthNorte’s beer is excellent, by the way: their Agavamente Mexican lager with hibiscus and agave nectar deservedly won a GABF medal within months of the creation of the company. Anyway, SouthNorte isn’t just a brand of Coronado, as Hop Concept is a brand of Lost Abbey, or as Owl Farms is a brand of Booze Brothers, since it functions independently. Hence, I call it a permanent guest brewery, at least as far as the San Diego location goes. But how do I categorize the new tasting room situation? A guest brewery with a tasting room? A new tasting room in an existing tasting room that happens to be the location of the guest brewing? A guest brewery’s guest satellite tasting room? Hell, I don’t know! I’m just going to continue to count it as a guest brewery and and a satellite tasting room. It is duplicative in a way, but will cease to be so if SouthNorte ever moves into its own brewery (and keeps handles at Bay Park).
(3) Knotty Barrel in Rancho Peñasquitos soft opened on March 11, 2019. In addition to a full kitchen and a full bar, this will serve as a tasting room for Knotty Brewing of East Village.
Considering the SouthNorte case has made me think more about the contract breweries in general. High Spot Beer Co. is the house brand for Bluewater Grill. I have added the Carlsbad and Coronado restaurants as satellite tasting rooms for this brand. It is not a perfect arrangement, but the case is similar to Hodad’s, Ketch and SouthNorte, so for consistency I’ve made this change.
The swift and vicious internet backlash to a tone-deaf/racist Facebook post from the owner of Reckless Brewing has caused him to decide to close at the end of March. You can see Beth Demmon’s illuminating post on the subject here.
Barrel Harbor is closing their tasting room/tabletop gaming space next to At East games in Miramar. Apparently they’ve been operating at a loss there since they opened in 2016. West Coaster has a piece about it here.
The Ballast Point Scripps Ranch location has had its farewell party in mid-March and the tasting room has closed. Brewing ceased there last year. JuneShine Kombucha is moving in to that location this spring/summer.
Align Brewing in the Miralani Makers District is up for sale. In a special announcement on Instagram the owner/brewer explained that he is moving to Hawaii to start a production brewery with an existing Hawaii-based brewery (no details announced yet) and that May 11, 2019, would be the Align 2nd Anniversary/Farewell Party. Align is there up for sale. (There had been a recent news item that Align was considering a new production brewery in San Diego, but that plan either changed or was misreported.)
I count seven new announcements of soon-to-open breweries and tasting rooms since January. That brings the total to 36 projects in planning, about 29 of which seem likely to open before the end of 2019. It is going to be a busy nine months!
Original 40 will open a brewpub in North Park; the January announcement I saw said that would happen in March, though a social media post I saw hints that it might be more like mid-April.
Beerfish, a craft-beer-focused seafood restaurant in North Park is going to challenge my classification system, too, since they are opening a brewhouse on site but will operate it with a rotating cadre of guest brewers. It is an intriguing concept, though I am slightly concerned about consistency and quality if brewers don’t have a chance to learn the system. I think I’ll just count them as a brewery-with-tasting-room and put a note in the comments section.
Invoak Brewing and Blending has started gathering barrels of wort to age in its Miramar facility, but it likely won’t be serving those beers until 2020. The business model seems to be similar to the smash-hit Horus Aged Ales, but focused on sour beers.
Creative Creature will open a tasting room in East Village, co-located with Red Hat Coffee. The West Coaster article announcement said they would be open later this year.
West Coaster says Two Roots Brewing is planning a tasting room in East Village, but I have been unable to find any details about it.
The Karl Strauss project in Santee passed a major hurdle when they made a deal with a local environmental group that had been objecting to the plans. A functioning brewery on that site is probably at least two years away, however.
Little Miss Brewing is looking for a site in La Mesa for their fourth tasting room.
The Black Market Brewing brewpub should be open soon in the College area near SDSU. The latest info I can find is an Instagram post where they say, “hopefully April-May.” Black Market is another challenge to my classification system since they are actually based in Temecula. But they plan to brew at this location so they will count as a San Diego craft brewery, just like CAVU and Melvin that are also headquartered outside of San Diego County. By the way, Black Market has three GABF medals since opening in 2010, including in gold in the Hazy DIPA category last year, one of the categories with the largest number of entries.
Guadalupe Brewing’s tasting room in downtown Vista must be almost open by now? They must feel like they are living Zeno’s Paradox of Motion, always getting closer but never crossing the finish line.
Harland Brewing has been posting stories to Instagram of the build out of their (huge!) warehouse space and the installation of their (very large) brewing system. The brewery is being constructed in Scripps Ranch and looks like it should be ready by summer. Their beer is already being contract/guest brewed and is in distribution at bars in the area.
I've been to the craft beer bar Tiger!Tiger! several times over the past few years, but somehow I've forgotten to review it as a tasting room for Automatic Brewing. So here we go!
Automatic is based at Blind Lady Alehouse(BLAH) in Normal Heights, the owners of which also own Tiger!Tiger! You'll see similarities in the relaxed atmosphere with long wooden tables, a menu of fancy-fied comfort foods, and the proliferation of bearded hipsters. Maybe that last part is just North Park in general. BLAH had skateboards hanging on the wall as decoration when I was there last; Tiger has bicycles. Speaking of North Park, check out the beer tour of that neighborhood that I have put together here.
It is dark inside Tiger!Tiger! even during the day, partly from lighting design, partly from the dark woods everywhere. A hint of wood smoke from the brick oven seems to permeate the place every time I've been there—I always worry I'm going to smell like a campfire when I leave, and I think it has some effect on how beers taste. If the dark and smoke are not to your liking, check out the back patio. During limited weekend hours, the bar out back serves a small selection of local craft beer. At other times you can take your drink and food back there just to sit on the partly covered, also-wood-themed patio. And you can always go inside to the main bar to order from the extensive and very well curated list of craft beers available on draft and in bottles. And I really mean it when I say the craft beer list is good: both Tiger!Tiger! and BLAH have been included on Draft Magazine's list of the nation's 100 best beer bars every year they have been open.
On this visit, only four house beers from Automatic were available. (On one visit in 2016, there were ten.) I've previously been somewhat unimpressed with Automatic beers, but they seem to have stepped up their game. In fact, two the three beers I tried on this occasion were very good. The other two were not my favorites but only because I'm not really a fan of saison. It is a bit odd to have two "sour saisons" (that's how they are listed) on a menu of just four beers, but it is a chance to compare two different preparations—one with grenache blanc grapes and the other with zinfandel.
More Barke (Dortmunder Lager, 5.5% ABV). Fruity/malty lager with a malty sweet backbone and a very clean finish. Slightly hazy straw yellow with a very persistent fine white head. 3.5/5
Lil' Luci (Dark Lager, 6.6% ABV). This is very good. Roasty, slight smoke (or is that just the kitchen here?), clean finish. Deep brown with a persistent tan head. Could have several. 4/5
There was a beer in Canada when I was growing up that used the slogan, "People who like it, like it a lot." I think the same can be said of Tiger!Tiger! And Automatic Brewing is pretty good, too.
In March 2019, I recently invited to start writing a twice-monthly column on beer for The Coast News. Coast News covers Carlsbad, Del Mar, Encinitas, Escondido, Oceanside, Rancho Sante Fe, San Marcos, Solana Beach and Vista. So, North County west of the 15, more or less. They have a print distribution of over 100k, a vibrant online presence, and they just won a “Best of the Best” award from the Association of Free Community Publications. I’m excited to be a part of this excellent community paper.
If you have an news, upcoming events or beer-locales in North County that you think I should cover, drop me a line.
Green Flash invited me to a tasting/pairing/branding-reveal at their brewery in Sorrento Valley a few weeks ago. It was a great time. Speaking of Sorrento Valley, be sure to check out my beer tour of the seven breweries and tasting rooms in that under-appreciated part of San Diego.
I haven’t been to the brewery in ages, since before the foreclosure/sale in spring 2018. Back then beer Twitter was “Le Freak-ing out” about the situation. (Why has that phrase not caught on?) Things seem to be stable now, a year later, with signs of growth coming. Nothing crazy has happened to Green Flash or their brand Alpine. While the previous owners clearly made some bad business decisions and treated their partners and investors poorly, I haven’t heard that the current owners have done anything improper or questionable. In fact, my impression is that they are working hard to put the company back on a solid footing, to keep people employed and to stay local and independent of big beer. Beer quality seems to have increased, and they seem to be making smart business decisions.
On the night of my visit, the tasting room was busy even besides the event I was attending. There was a good vibe from the crowd and the staff. There was an air of excitement in the place and patrons seemed happy to be there. Beer Twitter’s angst (over whether GF still counts as independent even though it is owned now by a private equity firm and is heading by an ex-AB InBev employee) was not in evidence.
After checking in for the event, they offered me a “walking around beer,” one of my favorite parts of a brewery tour. I had a sample of the Resilience just to compare it to other examples I’ve had around town (it was good). Then I had an IPA that wasn’t on our agenda for later in the evening (also good).
It has been so long since I’ve been to this location I can’t be sure, but it felt like they have added some additional seating near the entry and a few more tables and rails to stand at in the main room. My initial reservations about the bar staff on my original visit in 2017 were completely overturned on this occasion: this time, I received quick, friendly and informative service from two different bartenders while waiting for the special event to start.
The head brewer, Erik Jensen, gave us an informative and entertaining tour of the facility. The brewing operation is a lot bigger than I had consciously realized. After the tour, we got to try each of the four new core beers, which were paired with some delicious small bites. The CEO, Matthew Taylor, and several others spoke about the current status of the brewery, its plans, and this new branding launch. I was impressed with the enthusiasm, pride and knowledge evident in all of them. They clearly care about making Green Flash the best it can be. (And given the CEO’s comments, I am nearly certain that Green Flash is not the target of acquisition by a marijuana company that had been rumored a few weeks ago on social media.) All in all Green Flash treated us very well, and gave us six beers to take home, plus a glass and a shirt.
The focus of the night was sampling the four beers in the new core: West Coast IPA, Tropical DNA (hazy IPA), Soul Style IPA, and GFB Blonde Ale. In addition to these core beers, GF will add rotating special release beers. They are soon transitioning to cans for the core beers (cans and bottles both, I think I understood).
I didn’t ever try West Coast IPA in its original formulation back in the day (they stopped making it in 2013, a year before I moved to California), so I can’t say whether this new one is really the old recipe. I can say it is a good beer. Fruity/floral, bitter but not killer, maltier than most contemporary IPAs but balanced and tasty. Overall, I rate it 3.75/5, which is to say very good but not outstanding. That might be perfect for a core beer that is supposed to appeal to a wide audience. However, I’m not sure this beer is one that will bring new drinkers to the brand—hazebros will dismiss it as too malty, and new-to-craft people will think it is too bitter. But perhaps folks who haven’t had it for awhile will come back for the nostalgia and stay for the quality.
The new bottle shape is cool, kind of retro. I’m torn re: the art for West Coast IPA—it looks good but I feel like a non-beer person would assume it was grape soda or a wine cooler. (The colors in the other packaging don’t lend themselves to that interpretation, they are clearly beer.)
The other non-hazy IPA, Soul Style, is a real winner in my book, and my favorite of the night. I rate this one a 4/5, and if I saw it on tap somewhere I wouldn’t hesitate to order it.
The blonde, GFB, is a solid example of the style. Nose is fruity/malty. There is interesting lemony/citrus note on the finish. Blonde is a style I don’t find particularly exciting, so for me it is a 3.25/5 even though it is well made; your mileage may vary.
The hazy IPA, Tropical DNA, comes in my favorite packaging of the group. It lives up to its name. Prominent tropical fruit and citrus on the nose and palate with a pleasingly bitter finish. Quite tasty. It is not as hazy or juicy as hazebros typically want, but it is very good for a mass-market version of the style. 7% ABV. 3.75/5
I had been hesitant about Green Flash since the change of ownership last year, but this event changed my perspective. I think they are on the right track. Check them out and let me know what you think.
Many people don’t think “beer” when they think Sorrento Valley. The area east of the 805, west of Mira Mesa and north of Miramar is home to Qualcomm and a plethora of tech and other companies. Maybe Sorrento Valley is just a bit too far north for some people, and a bit too far south for others. Maybe the mass of beer in Miramar is just too great, and beer lovers are inevitably drawn there instead. Gravity Heights might be a big enough attraction, now, though, to get more people into the Sorrento Valley orbit. Check out my beer tour of Sorrento Valley to explore the six breweries and one satellite tasting room in the area.
Gravity Heights is the newest of the seven craft beer locations in Sorrento Valley, having opened in January 2019. In terms of setting, design, and vibe, it is unquestionably the best of that group, and one of the best in all of San Diego. Owned by the same restaurant group as Catania, Whisknladle, and Park Commons (coming summer 2019), it is clear that a lot of thought—and money—went into creating the venue.
In addition to a large brewing area (visible through large windows from the parking lot) and the kitchen, there is a main interior dining room, a covered garden dining area, an uncovered outdoor patio with various seating areas, a covered outdoor bar, and an astroturfed area with a few games and some lawn chairs. Finishes are elegant and comfortable. Every place you could sit is bright and airy, most have good protection from the wind, half are covered, and those that aren’t indoors have heaters. On the hottest, coldest or rainiest days of the year the patio or the bar wouldn’t be the best places to sit, but for the vast majority of the year this sort of outdoorsy venue is a perfect fit for San Diego. I’m already looking forward to spending a summer evening on the patio there.
In terms of food, the only real competition from other Sorrento Valley breweries is the Karl Strauss tasting room location, which also competes on setting (and nearly wins because of its koi pond). That the food is good is no surprise given the owners; by the same lights, it is also not-unexpectedly generally a little on the expensive side. That said, you can find good options from veg to meat at several price points. The $10 pizzas on the happy hour menu are apparently very popular. I had a delicious grilled chicken sandwich that tasted smoky and came on a perfect potato bun with avocado. The shoestring fries were acceptable, though they are my least favorite potato-and-oil delivery system.
In terms of service, Gravity Heights gets it exactly right. They have plenty of staff, all of whom seem to be well-trained and do a great job interacting with customers. My impression is that they all like each other and work as a team, which is a sign of a good operation.
In terms of beer, it also will be no surprise to long-time San Diego beer fans that Gravity Heights has a large, diverse and excellent set of offerings: Skip Virgilio, original co-founder of AleSmith, is in charge of the beer program, and the head brewer is Tommy Kreamer, who cut his teeth at Lost Abbey/Port Brewing. Further evidence of the sense and good taste of the brewing team, should it be required, can be found in the fact that when one of the Gravity Heights assistant brewers got off shift and came for a bite to eat at the bar, he brought with him a Benchmark Brewing growler to fill and take home with him.
On the day of my visit they were pouring thirteen house beers, four Gravity Heights collaborations with other excellent local breweries, and one guest beer (a dry-hopped lager) from North Park Beer Co. They offer three curated flights of tasters or any combo you want. They also offer seven hard kombuchas on draft and an extensive wine list.
I sampled five of the beers and thought all of them were good. My two favorites were:
Torrey Porter (American Porter, 6.7% ABV). Thick, rich, deep-roasty—almost gritty/burnt, but in a delicious way. It has a soft, thick mouthfeel with a very persistent latte-like tan head. It several ways it reminded me of a more sophisticated version of Guinness. I would love to try it on nitro. 4/5
Red Tide Ryesing (Double IPA with Rye, 8.3% ABV). Bright amber and clear. Persistent beige head. Hoppy/dank on the nose, add bitter and pine/earth on the palate with a red/rye bite. Overall a well balanced beer with a clean finish. 4/5
Parking immediately next to Gravity Heights can be tight on Fridays or at lunch times, but there is a large lot immediately adjacent plus on-street parking to take up any overflow. During those busy times, reservations are strongly recommended: I tried to drop in for a late lunch on a Friday and couldn’t even find one empty seat at the bar, the place was so full.
It will be very interesting to see how the beer at Gravity Heights evolves over time. They are not yet at the level of New English, Green Flash or Karl Strauss, but even after just three months in operation they are already very good. Given the food and the setting, it won’t be any hardship to return again and again to keep an eye on things.
Miramar’s second-cousin hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. But now that the outstanding Gravity Heights brewery and restaurant has opened there, Sorrento Valley might have enough “gravity” to attract the attention it really deserves.
There are technically six breweries and tasting rooms in Sorrento Valley, but I’m going to make it seven for the purpose of this beer tour: New English Brewing is officially in the Torrey Preserve neighborhood, but no one ever uses that term and NEB is on Sorrento Valley Road just a mile and a half from the nearest Sorrento Valley beer location. You can get to all seven locations in about an 8-mile trip. This area is definitely not walk-able.
My recommendation for a “top three” tour would be New English, California Wild Ales, and Gravity Heights. New English has the best beer, California Wild Ales has the most interesting beer, and Gravity Heights is the best overall venue in the area. That’s assuming you have been to or will go to another Karl Strauss location another time—Karl Strauss was the Great American Beer Festival’s Mid-Size Brewery of the year in 2016, and completely deserves the accolade. Their Sorrento Valley location is tucked away in a quiet garden with a large koi pond. I should add that if you have an affinity for or nostalgia for Green Flash, that is also a very good stop. Karl, Gravity Heights, GF and Rough Draft all have kitchens; New English and the others often have food trucks. There isn’t a bad option in the bunch. Don’t sleep on the Bottlecraft craft beer tasting room and bottle shop nearby, either: It sells excellent beer and has a wonderful patio.
The most efficient route to hit all seven of Sorrento Valley’s craft beer location.
For years I’ve had the idea in the back of my mind that two drinks per day is healthy for normal adult males (one per day for women). Not just that two wasn’t too bad for you, but that it was positively good for you. I’ve been trying to lose some weight recently and so I started reconsidering my habits again, and it struck me that I’ve been doing the math wrong. Perhaps dangerously wrong.
A recent meta-analysis published in The Lancet, a leading medical journal, examines how life expectancy is affected by various rates of daily alcohol consumption. Taking account of other behaviors and health conditions, the analysis included 83 independent studies and almost 600,000 current drinkers in total. It shows that even a slight increase over the two standard drinks per day leads to a noticeable decrease in life expectancy. A 40 year-old who has two drinks per day will thereby shorten their life by half a year; but if they drink four drinks per day, their life expectancy will be decreased by almost five years.
BUT—and this is a huge but—“two drinks per day” refers to two 12 ounce beers containing 5% alcohol by volume. A lot of the beer I buy to consume at home comes in a 16 ounce can or a 25 ounce bomber. And almost none of it is 5%. In fact, I have purchased some so-called “session” beers lately that were 5.5%. Much of what is in my fridge is in the 7 to 8% range, and it isn’t unusual for me to have a 10 or 12% beer, especially when it is an imperial stout or something barrel-aged.
How much alcohol do I actually drink, anyway?
Let’s consider two of my favorite evening drinks, a 12 ounce can of Mike Hess Habitus Rye Double IPA, or a 12 ounce bottle of Bell’s Two Hearted IPA. The Habitus clocks in at 8%, and the Two Hearted is a sneaky 7%. I say “sneaky” both because it doesn’t taste that strong and because they don’t put the ABV in an obvious place on the bottle. For reference, 5% of 12 ounces is 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. But 7% is .84, and 8% is 0.96 ounces of pure alcohol. A 12 ounce serving of 8% beer, then, is 1.6 “standard” drinks; and that’s 1.4 standard drinks for the 7% beer. So if I have two of those in a day, I’m actually drinking 3.2 or 2.8 drinks per day. If I treat myself to a third one, I’m consuming a massive 4.8 or 4.2 standard drinks. That’s well into the “danger zone” defined by this study.
If you are drinking a 5% beer in a 16 ounce pint can or on draft, that’s 1.3 drinks. But a pint of 7% is 1.82 standard drinks, which means two pints of 7% beer is actually 3.64 standard drinks. ONE pint of 8% is 2.08 standard drinks.
The gorgeous 16.9 oz bottle of 13% BBA stout I’m saving for a special occasion is a tad more than a US pint but when you do the math that one bottle contains 3.7 standard drinks. A bomber (750 mL or 25.4 oz) of Speedway Stout (12% ABV) contains 5.08 standard drinks.
If you think these calculations of “standard drink equivalents” are confusing, the British system of “units” of alcohol is even worse. (One unit of alcohol is equal to 8 grams of alcohol, which is the amount in roughly 6.9 ounces of a 5% ABV drink.)
What it all really comes down to is how many grams of pure alcohol you are ingesting on a daily or weekly basis. Of course, alcohol isn’t served by weight. So here’s an online calculator I found that helps you figure out your “dose”. Authorities in the US recommend a target for best health and longevity of no more than 196 grams of alcohol per week (28 grams per day). Most craft beer drinkers who indulge daily or several days per week will likely find they are way over that limit. I know I have been. A four pack of pint cans of 7% beer is 104.53 grams of alcohol all on its own—more than half the weekly max. And for context, note that the British health authorities recommend about half the maximum alcohol intake the US does.
Lessons from the study
The meta-analysis I mentioned above considers a large number of factors but this, I think, is the key take-away: People who consume more than 350 grams of alcohol per week shave almost five years off their lives compared to people who drink less than 100 grams of alcohol per week. Those who consume between 100 and 200 grams per week (close to the US recommended limit) have a decreased life expectancy of about half a year compared to those who drink less than 100 grams per week. (The life expectancy lost decreases as the subject increases in age simply because we don’t have as much life left to lose at those higher ages.)
Note that the baseline of comparison is 100 grams of alcohol per week, not zero. That’s because people who consume less that 100 grams per week actually have worse health outcomes. The effect seems to be mostly due to a decrease in cardiac events associated with consuming a small amount of alcohol regularly.
What can we do about over-consumption of alcohol?
I’d be in favor of breweries including the number of standard drink equivalents on their packaging, kind of like how food labels tell you how many servings are in a container. Grams of alcohol would be handy info. And quit hiding the ABV at the very least.
I’m even more in favor of breweries reducing the percentage of alcohol of their beers. Once again I find myself wishing we had more access to British-style beers in the 3% ABV range. Here’s the key consideration for breweries: If you make lower-ABV beers, I will buy more of them.
Another study I saw last year showed that people who take one day off from drinking each week have much better health outcomes than those who drink every day. Besides decreasing your total intake, it gives your liver time to regenerate and heal. One day off of drinking per week is much better than a month off once a year, by the way, despite what advocates of Dry January might tell you, because of the weekly rest and regeneration for the body.
A related topic that has been on my mind lately is being over-served at beer festivals. I went to one recently where the standard ticket got you ten 3-ounce pours of barrel-aged beer that was in the 14% range. Every single person in the place was over-served by a wide margin, by design: That’s seven standard drinks in just a couple of hours. It is also 98 grams of alcohol, half the weekly max consumed in a single session. That sort of thing is irresponsible on the part of the brewers and festival organizers.
This image is “Figure 4” from this article in The Lancet (April 2018). It shows the correlation between increased weekly alcohol consumption and decreased life expectancy.
It comes down to your personal choices
I’m not a doctor—well, I am a PhD, but I’m not a medical doctor—so don’t take my word for it. But do stop to make a conscious choice about your drinking habits instead of accidentally falling into a pattern that will shorten your life.
Importantly, deciding how much to drink is partly a value choice: it might be worth it to you to have an extra drink per night in terms of enjoyment, even if it means shaving a statistical two years off your life. For me, I know I would much rather enjoy my next 46 years slightly tipsy rather than living 48 perfectly dry years. That said, at age 40, shaving five years off your life is like losing ten percent, or more, of your remaining life. That seems like too much to me. So I’m going to try to stick to the recommendation of staying below 196 grams of alcohol per week, and I’ll take a day off drinking each week, too.
Naturally, the whole decision process changes completely if you have an alcohol addiction. In that case, get help and stop drinking. In San Diego, the central number for Alcoholics Anonymous is (619) 265-8762.