Thunder Hawk has been in the planning stages for many months before finally opening in the crowded Miramar area of San Diego, which already houses over 10 breweries. Some would argue that it is growing too fast for the demand, and we will soon see if all the breweries can survive. Thunderhawk came in with a lineup of beers that are different from the usual style for the area. They aren’t following the trends but are instead making beer in a classic style.
When I first visited the brewery in the first week of November, 2016 they had only four beers on tap because they have been selling their beer faster than they can brew it. On tap were an ESB, two pale ales, and a saison. The saison is also usually available in a version made with local pine needles. They also brew a popular double IPA and dopplebock. None of those beers were available at that time which is a good sign for them. An earlier version of their menu suggests that they consider the pale ales to be “West Coast Style.” I disagree with that but that doesn’t mean they are bad beers.
One of the pale ales is made with more typical piney hops. The other is made with mosaic and citra, both known for their fruity and citrus character. Both beers were classic style with a balanced malt backbone and an underlying bitterness. I didn’t think the mosaic and citra beer tasted like I expect from either of those hops but it was dank, balanced, and clean. The Westworld pale, the piney of the two, was a bit herbal but still similarly balanced, dank, and not too bitter. These beers don’t have the same flavors everyone else around town is chasing with the juicy IPA craze but this gives them a longer shelf life and the flavors will stick around longer.
The ESB initially was not a beer I could be very positive about. I got a lot of notes of overripe fruit from it and not much apricot or caramel like I would expect from the style. A friend of my mom’s who joined us at the brewery that evening was a huge fan of this beer though. She enjoyed it more than any of the other beers and didn’t taste the same flavors as strongly. Thankfully this seems to have been an issue with that batch and newer batches have come out much better as described below.
The oak aged saison was my favorite of the evening. With both ginger and honey I was worried that either of the two flavors would overpower the rest of the beer. Thankfully, everything was perfectly balanced with the ginger sitting in the back and the honey adding just the right amount of body to the beer. The oak gave it a fantastic smooth finish.
I came back a week later and their Dunkel was on along with their vanilla stout. The Overture dunkelweisen was smooth and balanced with notes of caramel and burnt toffee, an impressive beer and one of the few San Diego versions of the style I can drink. The Rise of Zemunda stout had tons of vanilla with some mild chocolate. It was very flavorful for a low alcohol stout.
For my third visit before this post, I stopped by November 23 and tried their ESB wet hopped with Brewer’s Gold hops, regular ESB to compare, and the Punt Gun IPA. The Wet Hopped ESB was very tasty and had a nice mix of caramel malts, mild hops, and some mild coffee notes in the finish. This was so much better than my experience with the regular ESB that I asked for a splash to compare and the overripe fruits I had a problem with earlier were all gone. Their ESB is now a very enjoyable beer. The Punt Gun IPA has a ton of followers online but I hadn’t been able to taste it until today. I can see why. It is a really clean balanced IPA with notes of mango, apricot, an,d other tropical fruits with a mildly sweet finish.
Thunderhawk has a gorgeous interior with lots of wood accents and a beautiful outdoor space that help set it apart from the rest of the breweries in the area and will go a long way towards bringing more people inside. Based on my repeated visits, i expect any issues I had with early batches will be remedied shortly. The excellent beers I have tried show me that the brewer will soon dial in any beers that aren’t quite there yet.
Punt Gun IPA