While Orange County's brewing scene is wonderful, everyone acknowledges that the California kings are down I-5 in San Diego. More than 60 breweries exist in San Diego County, 32 within city limits. And let's not forget about the region's signature beer style, the West Coast IPA--a bitter, citrus-y brew that spread its influence out like tentacles and helped launch the modern craft beer movement.
Orange County, though later to the game than San Diego, has quickly absorbed this SoCal beer fervor and homegrown breweries from Bootleggers to Cismontane are rising through the ranks to become reputable breeding grounds for future beer talent. But it's not too often that a pair of brewers working at Orange County's world-famous The Bruery end up in San Diego, opening the most anticipated new spot in Beer City, USA.
"I really don't know how we got all the hype," said Societe Brewing Company's co-founder Travis Smith by phone earlier this week. "There are more than 60 brewhouses in operation in San Diego now and 20 more in planning. Why we got that hype? Maybe its our backgrounds, but I don't know. There are plenty of other breweries that have respectable backgrounds."
Smith and his partner in brewing Doug Constantiner met three years ago while working together at The Bruery in Placentia. At the time, The Bruery was barely a year old and its barrel room was only beginning to churn out the more experimental barrel projects beers that the brewery is now known for.
Discovering a mutual love of Belgian-style sours and West Coast IPAs, Smith and Constantiner say their brewing friendship was "love at first sight." With Smith's previous experience brewing at Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa (the first brewery in the country to specialize in both IPAs and sours) and Constantiner's stints at Pizza Port Carlsbad and Green Flash, the two formed Societe with the intention of brewing quality beers that they wanted to drink.
Their first few releases--which began pouring out of their Claremont Mesa-area brewery's tasting room in May--are mostly IPAs and well-balanced Belgian-style ales. Nothing too crazy-sounding in the scheme of things, just solid beers made by well-trained brewers that have won the overwhelming approval of San Diego's distinguished palettes.
"We have a different outlook on beer in general. You talk to different brewers and they have all these specialty beers, the idea of creating something new, something different, something with a new flavor to it," Smith says. "The flavor we're going for has been invented already--that's the flavor of beer. It's not about creating some gimmick or using some ingredient that has never been used in a beer before because it'll be a good marketing technique. It's about creating a product that we're going to enjoy ourselves. If we're not so passionate about the beer we're making, then how do we know it's as good as it needs to be?"
Being San Diego's most sought after new brewery has its perks, though. During the ten-day San Diego Beer Week, which started last Friday, Societe will be making an appearance at a major event nearly every day. And tonight, Urge Gastropub in the Rancho Bernardo neighborhood will be tapping seven Societe beers alongside five specialty brews from Smith's and Constantiner's recent OC alma mater.
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Though perhaps the events title--"Societe The Apprentice. Bruery The Master"--is a bit dramatic given Smith's previous years at Russian River, but the event will still provide an interesting juxtaposition between Orange County's bragging-rights brewery and San Diego's latest soon-to-be-releasing-sours pop-up.
"Beer is all about the experience. It's not about how rare a beer is or how strong it is or how many hops are in the beer or how long it took to make it," Smith says. "What it comes down to is if you're sitting down to drink it: is it fucking awesome or is it just something that you're doing? And beer should be fucking awesome."