at O'Brien's Pub
Last February 14th, this website published my love story of sorts wherein I, like so many, fell for an Arrogant Bastard at a bar. It’s a tale as old as time and its backdrop was the San Diego craft-beer haven, O’Brien’s Pub. So, it’s fitting to spend another Valentine’s Day in that venerable locale, where I had my first beer and have enjoyed countless hundreds since, including the thesis of today’s essay: Mongo Double IPA.
A year-round Imperial IPA bursting with classic pine and citrus aromas and flavors from CTZ, Cascade, Centennial and Simcoe hops, it’s a pleasure to set a spell and down a few pints of this mainstay from San Marcos-based Port Brewing. Thanks to its (relatively) restrained 8% alcohol content, it’s one of the few double IPAs that allow for such an experience. And there may be no other place where that situation has been played out more often than O’Brien’s.
“There is a reason that O’Brien’s is known as ‘the hoppiest place on Earth’, and it’s beers just like Mongo,” says owner Tom Nickel. “This beer consistently delivers the old-school hop punch that our customers crave. It’s only fitting that O’Brien’s is the top Mongo account in the country.”
“There is zero doubt anyone is selling more Mongo than O’Brien’s. It’s quite staggering, really, how much their patrons drink,” says Tomme Arthur, co-founder and director of brewery operations at Port, as well as its three sister brands: The Lost Abbey, The Hop Concept and soon-to-debut Tiny Bubbles. “Mongo is one of my favorite beers that we brew. I love the way the citrus and piney notes play so well together.”
While the word “Mongo” would seemingly convey the big, bold nature of this IPA, its handle was inspired by a beloved resident of the brewery in which it was born.
“Mongo was the first of five felines that our brewery cat Cassie—which was short for Cascade—gave birth to,” says Arthur. “He was first-born and the largest of the group. His original given name was Columbus, but he was nicknamed Mongo when the other kittens booted him from their shared bedding. We quickly decided that name was better.”
When asked, Nickel echoes this origin story, one of the many insights into Port Brewing he possesses. The publican of 17 years is also a brewer, and while he currently helms his namesake Nickel Beer Co. in the San Diego suburb of Julian, he got his start working with Arthur at legendary SoCal Pizza Port’s original brewpub in Solana Beach. While his time there was brief (he went on to brew at Oggi’s, where he was named champion small brewery brewmaster at the 2004 World Beer Cup), his and Arthur’s friendship has endured for more than two decades.
Over that span, the duo went on to found Pizza Port’s famed Strong Ale Festival alongside Jeff Bagby, another Pizza Port alumnus and the winningest brewer in Great American Beer Festival history. That trio, later dubbed “the three amigos”, went on to initiate other festivals and collaborate on numerous beers, including the iconic Hop 15, an IPA hopped with 15 different varietals added every 15 minutes during the boil. That beer still rears its bine-crowned head on an annual basis courtesy of Port Brewing’s brew crew. With critical, enduring success like that, it’s no wonder the amigos still collaborate.
In recent years, O’Brien’s’ staying power has been the basis of such shared innovation. In celebration of the pub’s 25th anniversary, it tapped a barrel-aged English old ale brewed by Nickel and Bagby at the latter’s Oceanside brewpub, Bagby Beer Co., as well as a barrel-aged ale blend Nickel developed with Arthur at The Lost Abbey. They were two of an almost-unfathomable 25 collaboration beers Nickel and pub co-owner Tyson Blake brewed with a who’s who of the brewing industry that included Sierra Nevada Brewing, Russian River Brewing, Beachwood Brewing and Karl Strauss Brewing, as well as various smaller operations in San Diego and beyond. It was a way for the breweries that have long been inked on the pub’s menu board to show their appreciation for what Nickel and original owner Jim O’Brien brought to a once-fledgling, now storied brewing community.
“The pub has been around since 1994 and was always a destination for great beer,” says Nickel. “It was the first account for many San Diego breweries and the first spot to pour beers from many now-well-known breweries, including Pizza Port, Ballast Point, AleSmith, Kern River and scores more. The pub already had a great reputation for hoppy beers when I took it over in 2003, and though our lineup has diversified with sour ales, barrel-aged and Belgian beers, hops remain the heart and soul of the pub.”
And at the heart of that is Mongo, a double IPA that continues to set the pace in a spot known for hops in a community famous for hoppy ales. One so special—and special to Port Brewing and O’Brien’s Pub—that members of both will soon convene at the former to brew a special Mosaic dry-hopped version specifically for release at the latter. It’s the stuff on which love stories are based. Or this love story, at least.
Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.