Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin: Fruity Beer Done Right
Beer: Grapefruit Sculpin Brewery: Ballast Point Brewing Co. Style: IPA ABV: 7 percent
There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to beers brewed with fruit: Hooray! and How Dare You? Given the number of examples on shelves crafted to be sickeningly sweet or brewed with more artificial additives than you'll find at Ladies' Night in Scottsdale, the partisanship is understandable. But when the right fruit is chosen -- one that enhances the base beer rather than overpowering it -- beer made with produce can produce some very happy drinkers.
In 1992, homebrewing enthusiast Jack White opened Home Brew Mart in San Diego -- a shop filled with supplies, ingredients and instructions for helping his fellow brewers make better beer at home. A simple shop it remained until Yuseff Cherney, an award-winning homebrewer himself, hopped aboard. The two men opened Ballast Point Brewing in the back of the store in 1996. It's since grown just a bit: The brewery sold more than 80,000 barrels of beer last year, making it the 29th-largest craft brewery in the U.S. It exists at three separate locations in San Diego, and a fourth location -- which will be Ballast Point's largest -- is set to open later this year.
While Ballast point makes nearly 40 varieties of beer (as well as seven different spirits, distilled at their Scripps Ranch facility), the best known is probably Sculpin, an American-style IPA. Named after a type of fish that, though equipped with poisonous spikes, is also considered very flavorful, the brew is hopped at five separate stages during the brewing process, including a final dry-hop with the pungent American varieties Amarillo and Simcoe. Sculpin's flavor and sting have earned it several medals over the years, chief among them a 2007 bronze and a 2009 silver at the Great American Beer Festival, and golds in 2010 and 2014 at the World Beer Cup.
Grapefruit Sculpin is this same IPA brewed with grapefruit rind. Pour it into a snifter or another inward-tapered glass to capture all those beautiful aromatics, and what you'll see at first is a liquid colored deep gold, yet cloudy as a day in San Fran. This is a phenomenon called chill haze -- proteins that obscure a beer at colder temperatures but disappear when it warms up. Doesn't hurt the aroma or flavor at all, but if you like your brew crystal-clear, just wait a few minutes and you'll be able to see right through it. Atop the beer we find a frothy layer of pure white bubbles that cling to each other and the glass in sizeable globs.
The aroma is replete with grapefruit pith and juice -- and why not, since the fruit is in the name? But the supporting cast shouldn't be forgotten, especially in such an award-winning IPA. The hop blend on Sculpin has always leaned more tropical, so instead of a contributing bouquet that enhances (or competes with) the citrusy additives, the hops just get out of the way. Mango and papaya play off to the sides while honey and a hint of just-baked French bread provide solid ground for them to do so.
When discussing beer flavor, you usually talk about it arriving in three distinct stages: the front, the middle and the finish. Grapefruit Sculpin is more of a two-stage ordeal, with the front being controlled by the citrus. Pith and pulp from grapefruit - I'm guessing of the ruby red variety - make for a very sharp, bright flavor in the fore, with a level of bitterness that seems higher than the documented 70 IBUs. It's a little excessive, honestly - like biting right into a grapefruit rind. But balance returns to the force when pale, sugary malt and tropical hop notes, now seasoned with pineapple and peach, emerge at the finish.
For now, Grapefruit Sculpin is only available at Ballast Point locations and better beer shops around San Diego. If you go, try to also grab a sixer of the Habanero Sculpin, Sculpin's spicy cousin.
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