In an area mostly surrounded by hospitals slightly northeast of the intersection of the 15 freeway and the 8 freeway are two breweries within a quarter mile of each other. Both Benchmark Brewing and Groundswell Brewing opened during 2013 so I had to come down to try both of them in one trip. Both have signs on the street to indicate where they are though Benchmark has the larger banner that is much more visible. I stopped by Benchmark first so Groundswell will be in the next post.
Benchmark Brewing has a simple yet modern look to the tasting room with wooden tables and wooden benches inside. Most people when I went decided to stand around the bar so they could chat with Rachael Akin, the Co-Founder who was tending the bar. I went straight for a flight and got a total of seven tasters. Thankfully I was with a few friends so I didn’t have to drink them all on my own. I might not have made it to the second brewery otherwise.
Benchmark has just the right amount of brews available for a newer brewery. I appreciate this as well because I can try everything in one go. The first thing I noticed was that the beers are mostly on the lower alcohol side. Even the IPA is only 5.1%. Normally this might mean a bunch of light beers with no flavor but I was surprised to find that most of them were quite good.
First was the blonde. It had lots of flavor and was quite drinkable. Had a bit more flavor than I typically expect from a blonde. Next came the brown ale. It was also surprisingly flavorful. I quite enjoyed the smoky flavor with a hint of chocolate. I could see myself enjoying multiple pints of either of these beers with no problem. Next I had the cask brown ale with coffee. Because of the lighter alcohol content, the coffee flavors dominated this beer. It had a nice flavor like a smooth ice coffee. The cask smoothed out the beer nicely. While I appreciate the flavor I’m not sure I would have wanted a full pint of this one.
The oatmeal stout is a nice lighter stout just under 5%. My friend who really likes oatmeal stout was satisfied. Next came the IPA. At 5.1% it is almost closer to a session IPA. The average IPA is between 6 and 7%. The IPA was smooth and had a nice citrus aroma and flavor. It has just the right amount of hop flavors without being overly bitter or heavy.
UPDATE January 2015 – While the early IPA might be easily considered a session, the latest batch is quite bitter and full of flavor. It seems to have been changed quite a lot since I was last there. I would have a hard time believing this IPA was only 5.1% if I hadn’t seen the board. Though the IPA is now a more balanced beer it is very flavorful and quite bitter. It has a lot more body and bitterness than the typical “session IPA” around San Diego.
The table beer was only 4% but had a nice Belgian flavor to it. I ended with the Belgian Dubbel. While I could taste the Belgian flavors under it that I expect in a darker Belgian style beer, I found that the flavors were overpowered by a strong alcohol taste. I did not have very much of this taster.
Overall Benchmark has a solid lineup to start with. I probably would have been content having a pint of either the brown or the IPA if I was not planning on hitting up another brewery after. I would like to see what Benchmark can do with a heavier double stout or IPA in the future. I could see the IPA being labeled a session and a stronger beer taking over as the main IPA. If you crave something a bit stronger I would wait to see what they add in the future. I don’t think the Dubbel would satisfy much.
Update September 2014:
I came back to Benchmark a number of months after my first visit to see if anything had changed. The core beers are still the same but I did see a Wee Heavy that was new. I was told that I had missed a double IPA they made earlier this year and they are working on a new double IPA that should be on soon.
The Wee Heavy was surprisingly tasty. Though it was a little sweet it had a nice balanced flavor with some roasted malts and a solid plum malt flavor that wasn’t overpowering.
Update January 2015:
Aside from the IPA differences noted above, I was also quite impressed by the Brett Table Beer. The Table Beer being so light I thought I would try it with the wild yeast commonly known as Brett. The addition of this yeast added a very mild amount of tart flavors as well as some apple flavor that gave the table beer that extra kick that some might find the regular version to be missing.
I also was visiting for the release of the Hildegard, a massive 13.5% Triple IPA. It seemed to be almost too strong with much of the extra alcohol giving it a high amount of sweetness. However, it was also really flavorful with some apple and resin flavors that were very enjoyable. The bitterness was pretty dialed back so it won’t quickly kill your palate. If you happened to be in on January 31, 2015 for the release of the Hildegard you also will have gotten a fantastic glass that is perfect for those extra strong IPAs.