Surfing sells. Brewmasters know this and style some of their beers accordingly, but how do the surf-themed suds go down after a long session? I decided to take one for the team and engage in a personal tasting of a smorgasbord of beers, all of which had surfy names, or pictures of surfboards on the label, or some other means of cozying up to surfing’s marketability. These five were the champions of my grueling taste test. Fair warning: Great Lakes Brewing is not available in California, so unless you’re on the East Coast, actually live in Cleveland, or have industry contacts, you aren’t gonna find it. And you’ll have to visit the Surf Brewery in Ventura to sample Oil Piers Porter, but that’s good news, because they have many other fine surf beer choices on tap.
Port Brewing “Wipeout” IPA. San Marcos, CA
If you find yourself getting drilled like the guy on the label, a strong (7% ABV) IPA like this would help ease the pain. It’s not really the kind of beer you want to drink on the beach though. Too rich and hoppy for that. What you want is a nice pierside or beachside bar with a patio and a big plate of fish tacos. Drown your sorrows, squirt some lime from the tacos on your reef cuts, and imagine what that barrel would have been like had you not blown the drop. Kook.
Kona Brewing “Longboard Lager” Kailua Kona, HI
Now this is the beer you want on a hot beach day. Smooth, refreshing, uncomplicated. It’s the old-fashioned single-fin longboard of beers; user friendly, but extremely hard to do properly at a world-class level. This would actually be a fine beer to drink while riding a longboard. It comes in cans too, so you could stuff one in the wax pocket of your trunks, crack it open after takeoff, and just stand there with your beer. God, that would be cool.
Karl Strauss “Big Barrel” Double IPA. San Diego, CA
Ever been barreled in New Zealand? That’s what this beer tastes like. Intense, sometimes a little scary, but not overly threatening. In fact, it may be the most aptly named beer on this list. Approach this beer the wrong way and you’ll run into trouble. At 9% alcohol in a 22oz bottle, you don’t want to recklessly throw down three or four of these. You need to respect a beer like this and work your way up to it. Take the slabby, chunky righthander on the label as a warning. There’s beauty and lots carefree pleasure in this beer, but it will absolutely slap your unsuspecting ass down if you don’t approach it with the right attitude.
Surf Brewery “Oil Piers” Porter. Ventura, CA
I have a vague memory of having surfed Oil Piers once before Mobil tore down the pilings. But I’ve drunk so much beer that my memory can’t really be trusted. I try to think back to the late ‘90s, but I was so young, the memories are hazy, dark, kinda bittersweet, and before too long, they’re gone. Like this beer. Pitch black, roasty, and malty. Coffee-like. When Oil Piers broke at all, it broke in the dead of winter. This is EXACTLY what you’d want to drink if you were all-daying it on the beach back then. Say, February, 1997, the year before they tore the pier down. Build a fire, paddle out into the shadows of the piers, nab a few lumpy rights til you get cold, then sip on some Oil Piers Porters on the beach. Surf Brewery wasn’t around back then, but you get the idea.
Great Lakes Brewing Co. “Alchemy Hour” Double IPA. Cleveland, OH
According to Great Lakes Brewing, “Alchemy Hour” is something we say on the west coast when the “waves are breaking just right and you can ride them forever.” Though I’ve never heard anybody say that. I’ve also never seen a picture of anybody surfing in Cleveland before, but, there it is on the label, and yes, people apparently surf Cleveland’s Lake Erie beaches. I bet that after they do they knock back a couple Alchemy Hours. This beer tastes like San Diego—the IPA capital of the world. It’s bright, citrusy, and powerfully hoppy. You could probably ride a few frigid, piddly Lake Erie waves, pop open an Alchemy Hour, take a sip, close your eyes, and just for a second, imagine you’re posting up with a burger and beer in Encinitas. But you’re not. You’re in Cleveland.