I don’t remember where I was or what I was doing when I read about a beer brewed with coconuts, kaffir lime leaves, cayenne pepper, and madras curry but I know I was intrigued. And pissed. I also know that I was most likely minding my own business while possibly working up my design for Bose Fool Cancelling Headphones™ (more on that another time). Then I read what had to be a preview of this very limited release by Ballast Point in San Diego and all bets were off. So much for minding my own business. Now I had to make it my business to get a hold of that beer when it was released. That’s where the pissed comes in (I’m pretty sure nobody else typed those words in that exact order anywhere else in the world today – or yesterday – and I should probably apologize for it but I’m in a bit of a mischievous mood so I won’t).
Ballast Point is a pretty small operation in the first place. They pulled distribution of their regular lineup from NJ (and I believe the rest of the Least Coast) for a couple of years around 2010/2011 because they couldn’t consistently meet demand. Fortunately, Philadelphia is their top distribution market outside of San Diego and Southern California so if I needed a fix of Sculpin or Sea Monster it was occasionally available across the bridge (although you’re really crossing the river and since the river and the bridge are, by necessity, perpendicular, you can’t cross both at the same time. Geometrically impossible. Maybe the people with bridge phobias simply figured that out a long time ago).
So anyway, the words “very limited release” really meant “no f’n way you’re getting your hands on this one out in New Jersey.” Very well. The coconut shells and imaginary horse are next to the craft beer fridge for a reason. The next Quest for the Holy Ale is on! Soon enough, some reviews are popping up about Indra Kunindra. I managed to ignore the details (didn’t want to be influenced and they’d probably be wrong anyway) and focused on the location of the reviewers: all San Diego/SoCal. Appeared to be no distribution outside of that region. Not one to be easily turned into a newt I started practicing my coconut shell clip-clops.
Most of the reviews were from people lucky enough to sample it at the source – the brewery at Scripps Ranch. Thanks to my newfound fear of bridges I didn’t see myself driving out to San Diego anytime soon. Especially not with that huge river bisecting the country – pretty sure I’d need to use a bridge to get across it. Hope of a successful quest was beginning to fade when an opportunity presented itself to actually go to San Diego on an airplane. No need to confront a bridge. I hadn’t been to San Diego in over 10 years and the closest I came then to craft beer was craftily throwing back insults at Dick’s Last Resort in the Gaslamp Quarter. The timing was perfect – or so I thought. Indra was still pouring in the tasting room based upon the website and Twitter feed. The day before I left they let me know that they thought I’d arrive before it kicked. Panic.
No time to pack the coconut shells or invisible horse. Not sure how the TSA luminaries would handle them anyway. The Quest was going old school: Planes, Trains & Automobiles (moving walkways replacing the trains). I arrived mid afternoon and headed straight for the prize. Finding the brewery proved a bit challenging. I passed it twice before realizing that it’s a stealth brewery. Completely unassuming space in a small section of a large corporate park facility. No glitz, glamor, or stools in the tasting room either. No matter, I’d been seated in a D14 next to a custom chicken coup designer for the past six hours so I didn’t need a stool – I needed an Indra Kunindra.
Just in time! If I’d gotten there a few hours later I’d have been out of luck (though they still had some Indra bombers in the fridge to take home as stowaways – which I took advantage of). The pint glass at the lower right corner above is the beer I’d flown 3,000 miles for (well, not exactly but we’ll go with that for now). More often than not I find that beers brewed with unusual ingredients are actually quite tame. The exotic additions used so sparingly as to require focused dedication just so that you can say, with absolute confidence, that you’re pretty sure you taste them. Not so with this brew.
Indra Kunindra is everything the name implies – whatever that is. It’s nothing short of astounding in terms of huge, aggressive, diverse, and completely unexpected flavors – despite the fact the label tells you exactly what flavors to expect. It’s that different. Pours a clear onyx with faint ruby highlights with a very thin disk of a medium brown head. The aromas more than hint at what’s to come. Lime, toasted coconut, cocoa, and anise fill the nose. The first sip is borderline stunning. If you didn’t pay attention to the aroma or to the label you’d probably think you were having a sensory seizure – signals crisscrossing and colliding at frightful velocity. The tart kaffir lime smacks the front of your tongue followed by heavily roasted barley, coconut, dark chocolate, curry, and burnt toast. Three or four sips later I’m wondering if I missed the lit matches I must have unwittingly swallowed before realizing the the letters on the label spelling out “cayenne pepper” meant that cayenne pepper was in here too – and a healthy dose at that. The mouthfeel was silky with prickly carbonation and the finish extremely dry.
I love Thai food but hate Thai beer (the real Singha Thai beer that is). Ballast Point’s Indra Kunindra is Thai Coconut Curry in a pint glass. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily pair it with Thai Drunken Noodles or Evil Jungle Prince Curry – the flavors are too similar. I loved this beer but couldn’t drink two of them. Probably couldn’t drink two in a week. It’s just that intense. Certainly not for everyone. A polarizing brew to be sure. I was able to bring a bottle home to share with G-Lo of the Booze Dancing Crew and his impressions were similar to mine.
Turns out that if I’d been more patient I wouldn’t have had to endure airport security lines or a TSA fondling because this past winter Ballast Point ramped up production of Indra and it’s been freaking out lesser brews on craft beer shelves all around here. I even had a chance to share a one-off Sculpin at Philadelphia’s Good Dog Bar with the brewer who created Indra’s recipe and earned the chance to brew it at Ballast Point (later to be hired there) during Philly Beer Week last year.
Like I said, Indra Kunindra is not for everyone, not by a long shot, but I really enjoyed it. Then again, I really enjoyed One Crazy Summer and Fog Of War too but don’t hold that against me.
This guy really liked it too:
Let me know how much you loved, hated, fear, or need to find this brew…