Beer Maverick

Abnormal Beer Co., Rancho Bernardo

Rancho Bernardo’s Cork and Craft is home to both Abnormal Beer Co. and Abnormal Wine Co. That is abnormal. #craftbeer

Abnormal Beer Co. is the house brewery for Cork and Craft in Rancho Bernardo; kind of like how Automatic Brewing is the house brand for Blind Lady Ale House in Normal Heights, or Resident Brewing is brewed inside The Local downtown.

I visited Abnormal with my British friend who owns a craft beer bar. He describes the difference between our attitudes toward beer this way: I want to like anything I try, whereas he wants to find a reason it is terrible. Neither of us always succeeds in our respective desires, and we usually end up agreeing, more or less, on whether a beer is terrible, passable, or good–though his numerical scale is quite different than mine. (For me, something that is good but not great lands in the 3 to 3.75/5 range and something I would not willingly drink again but which isn’t absolutely terrible ends up in the 2 to 2.75/5 range. For him, just about everything rates under a 3, and his average rating is a 2/5. He also doesn’t use quarter-points, since they mean you are effectively rating out of 20 and he thinks that’s a false level of precision–a fair position.) When our rank orderings differ, it is often because of preferences about styles rather than being about the quality of the instance of the style in question.

I mention my friend as a way to say that I am not alone in being surprised at the extremely high ratings Abnormal beers have on Untappd. Several of them have average ratings over 4/5 with a few hundred or even more than a thousand raters. My friend and I agreed that the beers we tried (eight different ones) were certainly not that good. The most we felt we could honestly say about any of them was “mediocre.” The thought we kept returning to–because of slight flaws, weird interpretations of styles, and poor finishes–was “home brewer.”

I have a hypothesis about the ratings for Abnormal that I don’t have any evidence for except a hunch. It is this: Rancho Bernardo is pretty far out, and most serious San Diego craft beer drinkers don’t go there. (If they are trekking far, they hit the Hops Highway out by Vista; otherwise they don’t venture past Miramar.) The folks who are regulars at Cork and Craft REALLY like the place and, as is typical in small towns, local feeling means they rate their own highly. In addition, the phenomenon statisticians call “anchoring” may be in play: that’s where you see a number, then give your response relative to that number rather than relative to something more objective. (I’ve noticed a similar tendency to rate things more highly than they really deserve on the San Diego Yelp pages, too.)

Whatever the cause–and it is not just that my grumpy British friend skewed my own reaction to the beers, though I did consider that–in the context of the 100+ other San Diego breweries I’ve been to, my ratings for the Abnormal beers I tried are quite a bit below the average Untappd ratings for those beers.

Jolly Good (English Pale Ale, 5.5% ABV). This was malty and fruity, but pretty mediocre. 3/5

Bee Juice (Belgian Pale Ale with honey, 5.9% ABV). Hoppy with an earthy note and a fairly prominent malty backbone. It is better than some of their other offerings but does not rise to the level of “good”. 3.25/5

Old Money (Rye IPA, 7% ABV). I am normally a big fan of Rye IPAs (like Mike Hess’s Habitus). This one is a bit tropical, it has a cloudy rather than hazy appearance, and a bitter finish. Given that it was only released on 6/27 (nine days before I drank it), it is somewhat of a surprise to see how different it looks in people’s Untappd photos, ranging from deep orange to bright yellow, from muddy to less muddy. I’m not sure what’s going on there.  3/5

Maple Mornings (Imperial Stout with maple, vanilla, and coffee, 11.5% ABV). Ugly color, like mud. No head at all. The dregs swirling in the bottom of the glass looked just like chocolate milk. The flavor was all maple (I didn’t get any coffee, and the vanilla was subtle). It was VERY sweet and was almost syrupy in viscosity. I suspect this was the end of a keg that made particulates in it, or something, because the picture I took looks entirely different than the other pictures of this beer on Untappd (in which it looks crisp black, like a good Russian Imperial Stout). If it is supposed to look like the other pictures and if I were a bar manager who saw my staff member serve a customer what I actually got served, I would be very unhappy. 3.25/5

Mole Cuddles (Imperial Stout with chilis, 11% ABV). It tastes very much like a Russian Imperial Stout. I didn’t pick up an chili flavor. 3.5/5

All things considered, I suspect quality control issues in the brewery or the tap system.

Cork and Craft is a nice looking restaurant. We only had the poutine tater tots (just okay) so I can’t really comment on the food menu, but from the décor it seems they are going for something like a Ballast Point or Stone semi-lux experience. Service is not up to that level in my opinion–for example, when we sat down at the bar and made eye contact with the bartender and manager, they both just walked right past us without even greeting us, then disappeared for several minutes. I understand that bar employees have a lot to do, but a simple, “Hello! Someone will be right with you,” makes a way better impression.

Abnormal Beer Co. won a bronze medal for a chocolate and chili beer at the 2017 San Diego International Beer Festival. It wasn’t on the menu as far as I noticed.     16990 Via Tazon, San Diego, CA 92127