Dan Lawrence at the Helm – Helms Brewing

Helms Brewing in Kearny Mesa Photo by Brian Riehm

Beers by the Bay

By Brian Riehm

A little over 3 years ago, four San Diego shipbuilders brought their passion for beer together and opened Helms Brewing in Kearney Mesa.  As a Navy man myself, I wanted to make sure that Helms was one of the first few breweries I reviewed for the Clairemont Times.  My brother Dean and I made a mid-week trip to the tasting room and brewery and talked to Dan Lawrence, Head Brewer.  Dan came to Helms about two years ago, after the operation was up and running, from Ellicott Mills Brewing in Maryland.  Dan keeps busy with a very full line up of beers at Helms.  In spite of their small size, they currently have 16 different beers on offer at their Ocean Beach tasting room. He said that the variety and number of beers in their lineup is what sets Helms apart.  He also said that the atmosphere here is much more competitive than back east, due to the large number of excellent breweries nearby. Helms is looking into expansion in the near future, with their beers currently shipping all over America, including the east coast.  (They are often locally available at Keil’s foods.)  I asked Dan what presented the most challenge to him as a brewer. It is the Low Tide Blonde, because it is lighter, it is less forgiving of error.

The brewery itself is set in an industrial park at 5640 Kearney Mesa Rd. 92111* not far from Societe, reviewed two months ago.  Once you walk past the fermenting tanks, the nautical theme takes over.  There are some great ship photos on the wall, as well as the longest panoramic view of San Diego harbor I have ever seen. The names of the beers feature nautical themes as well. No pretensions here, with sports on TV and chips for sale to go with your beer.

Most importantly, Helms is brewing some excellent beer.  I tried a flight of five 4 oz. samplers for $10. I started off with Summer Equinox IPA.  This is called a Session IPA, due to its lower alcohol content, allowing one to drink a few beers in a “session.”  Beer Advocate has a nice article on the origin of this term.  This IPA was crisp but plenty hoppy, a great way to start our session. I went with another lighter beer, a collaboration with Monkey Paw brewing, Ninja Monkey Pirate.  This is a well hopped Saison, which retained the great flavor and character of a Saison even with the extra hops.  Dan explained that this was due to the dry hopping, which limited the hop exposure of the beer. He also pointed out that Saison’s in general are a French farmhouse styles that get a unique flavor from Brettanomyces, a type of yeast.  Next up were two flagship beers Wicked as Sin and Hop the RIPA.  Wicked is a very floral IPA that I really liked, also because it is different from the normal West Coast IPA.  Hop the RIPA is a Hoppy Red that is the beer that I think Stone’s Arrogant Bastard should be more like.  The underlying red ale base isn’t covered up by the hops. I ended the flight with Dark Waters, strong Belgian Dark ale.  It didn’t disappoint.  Even though it had 9.5 % alcohol, it wasn’t boozy.  There was a little smokiness to this ale that balanced nicely with the Belgian spices.

Helms Brewing is doing great work across a wide variety of beer styles, with something for everyone.

* Also visit their tasting room in Ocean Beach: 4896 Newport Ave 92107

Brian Riehm is a long-time Clairemont resident and follower of the local craft beer scene. You can keep up with all his beer reviews by following @BrianRiehm on Twitter and reading his blog (brianssandiego.blogspot.com/)

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