After being introduced to Societe at the NKOTB beer event, I arranged a guided tour and tasting at the brewery for me and a few friends on September 14th. I was excited they were willing to take us around their facility and talk about their beers. They were the surprise hit of the NKOTB and I was impressed with their quality beer instantly.
When we arrived at the brewery I was really happy with the facility. It was a large open tasting room, with clear views of all the brewing equipment and the cold room where the barrels for the sour beers are stored. The tasting room has large benches, stand up tables and a lot of bar space. It felt comfortable, open and inviting.
Travis Smith introduced himself (he’s one of the founders), and we jumped right into tasting the first beer, the Harlot. After we grabbed our beers, we started the tour. As we entered the actual brewing section, he explained the Harlot was the first beer produced by Societe. It’s a light, crisp Belgian that really has something special in the subtleties of the taste. You get a mild floral and fruitiness that goes with tons of food or moods, a versatile beer that could easily be an everyday drinker. He said that’s why this is the beer he drinks the most – life is about occasions, and the Harlot goes with any.
Travis explained what the equipment does, the different tanks, and the progression of the beers through the brewery during the brewing process. What stood out to me was his real satisfaction and pride regarding his brewery; you can really tell he is living his dream and I believe we can taste it in the final products.
We then moved into the star of the tour, the cold room. It was over 100 degrees in San Diego that day and walking into a giant cold room kept at 65 degrees was a wonderful relief! The room is 1/2 full of barrels and this is where our tour turned to talk about Societe’s future, sour beers. Sour beers are aged in barrels to reveal the potential of the brew.
He explained that the process to produce the sour beer typically takes about a year. That is a level of commitment I was surprised by. Here we have a brewery that has only been selling their products for 5 months, and they are making a beer we can’t even taste for at least another 6-7 months. Talk about believing in what you are doing! I am excited to revel in the fruits of this labor as soon as it’s possible.
The barrels they are using were previously used for wine, so as the beer ages it will pick up hints of the wine originally stored in them and characteristics of the oak itself, as well as the deepened mature flavor of the original Belgian beer. Most breweries making barrel aged beers are focusing on bourbon barrels. Societe feels that is already being done well, so they have chosen to focus on wine barrel aging for their sours. Just listening to Travis describe what he expects the final product to be reinforces what is good in the world, people doing what they are passionate about and doing it extremely well.
My friends and I spent most of the time in the cooler, asking Travis questions about the brewery in general and talking about how nice it was in the cold. But we knew we were missing out on more beer, so back to the counter we went to try some more.
The second beer, the Debutante, was wonderful. It is a full bodied Belgian, with deeper malts and a richness I was surprised by. If you are a Belgian fan I think you will love this beer, with enough body and malt to give you a complex and enjoyable flavor but not enough to catapult the alcohol content to a one-and-done level. This is a beer for people who want the best of both worlds.
To close out the Belgians we moved onto the Widow. This is the heavyweight of Societe – deep malt richness, hints of smokiness and coffee flavors, followed by a slightly sweet finish. This beer comes in at over 9% alcohol so be careful; it’s so good it will sneak up on you fast and you’ll find your head swimming. Between me and our friends it was decided that a growler of this heavy hitter was coming home with us. I have to say that traditionally I am not the biggest Belgian style beer fan but these beers have focused on the area of flavors I enjoy. When all I can taste is the fermented sweetness in a Belgian I am turned off, but that is not the case here at all. Each was very enjoyable.
Moving into my favorite area of beer, the IPAs, we started with the Dandy. The Dandy is the perfect name for this light, easy drinking beer. In most of the world this would be considered an extremely hoppy beer but by San Diego standards it is a mellow, refreshing drinker with a mild bitter finish. I would classify the Dandy as an introduction IPA, meaning if you have a friend that feels the big San Diego IPAs are not their thing, this would be a happy middle ground to begin an appreciation for the amazing beer a hop can produce.
They followed up the Dandy with the Apprentice, which was the first IPA Societe brewed. With a slightly deeper flavor than the Dandy and a solid hop nose and taste, I found the Apprentice very enjoyable. To brew beer in San Diego you have to have a solid IPA and I think the Apprentice delivers just that.
For me, the last two beers are the winners at this brewery, starting with the Pupil. The Pupil gives us big IPA flavor that lesser breweries would call a double IPA. Fresh hoppiness on the nose, some tingle on the tongue and a great clean finish made this beer my favorite of the night. I was discussing with Travis the hint of fresh hop taste just as the beer enters the mouth and told him about the one time I got to fresh hop a beer at Lost Abbey. That led to him going and grabbing a fresh hop cone off the vines outside the brewery. I ate part of the hop, something I don’t recommend to normal people, and was ready for the big double IPA to finish out the night. This beer came home with me in a growler and I was extremely happy with every ounce of it.
The last beer we got to taste was Everyman’s Double IPA. Giant hoppiness smell wakes up your senses as you first taste this big beer. I was instantly blown away by this quality beverage and really wish there was more of it available. This is a top level Double IPA and should not be underestimated. If you are not a fan of crazy hopped beers, this is not for you. I could not be happier with this beer unless they go totally insane some day and combine it with their Imperial stout (no stout was available on the day of our tour but it is highly rated). If they would have let me I would have taken a growler of this home but there simply is not enough. You can only get it at the tap, and probably only for a few more days. Travis told us more than $4000.00 of hops were used in brewing this beer and you can taste every (s)cent of it. This beer will not be brewed again in the foreseeable future, you have been warned.
5 out of 5 of us that toured Societe agree this is a great brewery well on their way to making a mark in San Diego. We were divided 2 to 3 on whether the Belgians or IPAs were better, with the Belgians getting the winning vote. Personally I found this brewery to be what the San Diego beer world needs: owners that are passionate about the beers they are making, top quality brewing process and equipment, and a great tasting room that encourages what beer is all about: fun times with your friends. I highly recommend you get out and visit Societe Brewing and see for yourself. One upcoming, interesting way you can get a great feel for their beers is the Five Chef Societe Dinner during San Diego Beer Week. I will be there and hope to see you as well!
Here are a few photographs from the tour. Have you visited this great new brewery yet? How was your experience?