The New Other Best Beer

I like to do beer reviews from time to time, especially when I discover a new beer that sets my heart a flutter.


Such was the case recently when I was out to lunch at a beer chain place called Yard House with my father and brothers. I was looking over the comprehensive list of beers on tap, including plenty of favorites and plenty I’d never heard of, when I spotted a chalk board with some special selections. I picked one whose name I liked, and which was local — Ballast Point Sculpin IPA from San Diego. And imagine my surprise when here, in my glass, was one of the best beers I’d ever tasted!

It must’ve been a zeitgeist kind of thing, because suddenly I was noticing Sculpin references everywhere — the way when your heart is broken every sad song you hear is speaking directly to you. My pal Nat showed up at my house one evening with a couple of bottles; I went to a party, and there they were; and perhaps most significantly, strolling the beer aisle of my local supermarket, they practically leapt out at me from the top shelf. I’ve had some in my fridge ever since.

It wasn’t with that first beer — or two — at lunch at the Yard House that day, but rather as I shared Nat’s beers and enjoyed the ones in my fridge, that I had an epiphany. This beer tasted very much like one of my other most favorite beers, the ridiculously impossible-to-get Pliny the Elder. For months, I’d hunted Pliny all over the city and written about it in a three-part series on my blog before scoring a cherished six bottles (which I still haven’t drank, by the way). I’d felt foolish, sitting at a traffic light in some remote part of the metropolis, en route to a potential Pliny source, certain everyone in all the cars around me were laughing and pointing.

Like Pliny, the defining characteristics of Sculpin are a fresh, piney happiness that is up front but not overwhelming, a gentle tingly carbonation, and a light sweetness that lingers on the palate.

I googled “Ballast Point Sculpin + Pliny the Elder” and found that I was not the first to notice a similarity — the web was already alight with comparisons. One beverage blogger and his mates did a blind tasting, and discovered that to-a-man, they all preferred the Sculpin. Since I had a couple bottles of Pliny in the cupboard, and a couple Sculpins in the fridge, maybe I’d do a taste test myself.

Not that it really mattered much. I didn’t need to pick a favorite, I loved both beers. But besides costing considerably less, Sculpin had one great advantage over Pliny. I could buy it at the grocery store 10 minutes from my house.

Take that, Pliny.

13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. M. R.
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 02:56:10

    … and I don’t even drink beer!
    (1) I was just wondering where you’d got to;
    (2) When I opened this post and saw among the tags ‘Pliny the Elder’, my heart sank and I thought “Uh-oh … we’re gonna get a historical or philosophical— BEER story?????”


  2. jc williams
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 05:52:36

    O.M.G. Just read all your Pliny posts. I too am a Pliny afficionado, which I had at an Italian joint in downtown Napa and which I’m convinced is the most amazing $12 beer I’ll have in my life. Somewhere, I have a grainy cell phone photo commemorating the event. Viva Pliny the Elder, I say!

    But on your recommendation, I’ll be on the look out for Sculpin. There’s a Yard House in mdr, I think, and now I have an excuse to go.


  3. pal-O
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 14:37:46

    What varieties? I note the IPA but does Sculpin do others like a Pils? My taste for IPA and overly hoppy beers has abandoned me, sadly, but I cannot abandon beer, gladly! Glad to see you back in the blogging biz my brother!


    • scolgin
      Feb 21, 2014 @ 18:38:51

      Sculpin IS the IPA, the brewery is Ballast Point. They make several other beers but I haven’t tried them. Sorry you’ve hopped off the hop bandwagon. That happened to me for a spell, but it was thankfully only temporary.


  4. JC Williams
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 05:55:51

    They still have it (the place in dpwntown Napa, I mean)! The Blind Pig is supposed to be good, too…but once hooked on Pliny, have had no desire to switch –>


  5. coffeetablecookbook
    Mar 26, 2014 @ 16:53:11

    Thought you might like this…Pliny made the list near the top, alas Sculpin did not 😦

    Also, have you noticed the similarity between scolgin and sculpin? Hmmmmm, maybe this beer was just meant to be.


    • scolgin
      Mar 26, 2014 @ 19:40:42

      What do they know… 😉

      Actually I noticed most of their favorites were dark or malty beers, which I tend to find too sweet.

      I had never noticed that similarity… but I LIKE your keen power of observation!


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