Beer Maverick

Black Plague Brewing, Oceanside

Beer is safer than water. And much tastier–especially at Black Plague Brewing in Oceanside. #craftbeer #sandiego

A discussion came up on beer-Twitter recently about poorly or lazily named breweries, where the name turns off, confuses or offends potential customers. The theory is that a good name is better at promoting your brewery than a bad name. A name that isn’t memorable, or that does not send the message you want, is not going to do a good job of leading customers to your door. I have to admit that I was surprised to see Black Plague Brewing mentioned as an example. Maybe it is because of my interest in history of science, but I kind of like the name, especially together with the great graphic design in the logo and other advertising. But I guess I can see why some people would be put off by it: The association between drinking craft beer and dying of a horrible disease is not comforting; even “infected beer” is a connotation most brewers and drinkers would want to avoid. The Black Death is a name for a devastating pandemic that peaked between 1346 and 1353, killing 30-60% of Europe’s population, and between 75 and 200 million people worldwide. (Thanks, Wikipedia.)

Black Plague Brewing doesn’t seem to care about those associations; in fact, they riff on them in slogans like “get infected”. The beer names, too: for example, “Atra Mors” (Black Death) and 1347 (the year the Mongols introduced plague into Europe by catapulting dead bodies infected with the disease over the walls of the city of Kaffa during a siege).

That irreverence and dismissal of traditional conventions is a good thing. A sense of fun pervades the place, from the art (including a huge version of the logo, and a life-sized human skeleton sitting at one of the tables in anticipation of Halloween) to the events (e.g., a viewing of the Friday the 13th movies, and upcoming live music plus skateboarding demonstrations).

It is a pleasant environment, with plenty of seating; the design is a step up from most warehouse-based brewery tasting rooms. The bar staff are welcoming and friendly, and the crowd when I was there late on a Thursday night was large and happy, with a significant proportion of passionate regulars. They have extensive opening hours, much more than a typical brewery in San Diego. (More should follow that lead, in my opinion.)

Most importantly, the beer is very good. My flight of five included no duds, and the bartender gave me a couple of other samples after we got talking. By the way: there is a glycol-cooled copper strip down the middle of the bar: rest your glass on that to keep your beer cold.

1347 (IPA, 7.1% ABV). This is very good. Very close to 4/5. Balanced but aggressive, with a big hit of piney/tropical hops. It is a great choice for Black Plague’s flagship beer.  3.75/5

1347 with Pineapple (IPA, 7.1% ABV). Just one of 6 fruited variations on the base IPA. Pineapple adds a bit of sweetness and the hops are slightly muted (or maybe that difference is just because it is a different batch?).  3.5/5

1347 with Peach (IPA, 7.1% ABV). Nice. The peach enhances this beer really well. I think I like this fruited version more than the base beer, which is unusual for me.  3.75/5

1347 with Habanero (IPA, 7.1% ABV). Woah! There’s burn but it is not killer. There is also an umami deepness from the peppers that changes this beer completely. It is delicious but it is not one I would be able to drink several pints of in a single sitting. 3.75/5

Nelson Pandemia (IPA, 6.8% ABV). Bam! A whole mouthful of Nelson hops. Really good.  4.25/5

Atra Mors (Imperial Red Ale, 9% ABV). Given the other beers, I was expecting something more aggressive, but it is almost a brown. It is certainly did not taste to me like 100 IBU, despite what the menu claimed. (Then again, bitterness is subjective and how we experience it isn’t well captured by the IBU calculation.)  3.5/5

Samoa Cookie Milk Stout (% ABV). Very good. Nice malts, and a definite chocolate note. Not as sweet as expected from the description.  3.5/5

So, don’t let Black Plague Brewing’s name put you off. The beer is well made, innovative, and delicious. You’ll enjoy your time visiting the tasting room–however much time you have left in this world.  Happy Halloween!     2550 Jason Court, Oceanside, CA