December 29, 2014

Drinking San Diego Dry Part 1

Did you know border patrol sets up temporary stops on the highways between the San Diego and Los Angeles area? Neither did I until I went beer hunting in San Diego. San Diego is perpetually warm, which means mid-December is still a good time for IPA to quench your thirst. I'm not the biggest IPA fan although I have come around (somewhat) on the style. I can definitely understand why it is such a popular beer style in southern California. The dry and citrusy beers pair perfectly with the climate and their apparent affinity for Asian cuisines.

If you doubt my new found appreciation for hoppy beers then let me add--as a point of bragging--that I started writing this post at the tap room at Alpine Beer Company.

I tagged along to San Diego with my wife on one of her work trips. Her work sends her out to California, Denver and other places in the southwest so there are some great opportunities for us to share some time in these wonderful beer areas (partially on her employer's dime). So we hit several places in the San Diego area with a trip up through Orange County to The Bruery. I decided to slurp up some wifi at Alpine to start writing this post so I didn't get stuck trying to remember all the beers I drank a week later.

Green Flash Brewing Co.

I'll admit that I haven't been a huge fan of the Green Flash beers we get here in Texas. Sure, I like Le Freak but I hate the way each bottle pours out onto the counter rather than into my glass. Gushing bottles are a huge pet peeve for me. We don't get too many of their other beers so I thought it would be a good idea to see what else Green Flash has to offer before I declare them dead to me. I'm glad I did. The taproom, located in their San Diego brewery, has a wide array of beers to offer although as one would expect there are plenty of hoppy offerings to go around. Many of which I hope are someday exported to Texas.

The beers we tasted were:

  • Special cuvee trippel
  • Grand cru
  • Serrano double stout (on cask)
  • Crazy eight honey wheat wine
  • Road warrior rye imperial IPA
  • Cedar plank pale ale
  • Mosaic session ale
  • Symposium IPA
The beers I enjoyed most were the special cuvee trippel, the serrano double stout and the mosaic session ale. The serrano double stout was a nice level of heat without overwhelming the beer and a good mosaic beer can't be beat. The special cuvee trippel (their spelling not mine) was nicely balanced between spices and the yeast character.

The taproom list is pretty cool. It clearly identifies the beer along with the major flavor descriptors, which can be helpful for people who don't know what to expect from a beer just because it's described as "hoppy" or "juicy" (whatever the hell that means).


Alesmith Brewing Co.

Alesmith might be best known for their barrel aged line of high ABV beers but they have a nice line up of solid beers all the way around. Alesmith, like Green Flash, is located in the outer perimeter of San Diego but while Green Flash has a spacious building to themselves, Alesmith is tucked away in a business/industrial park like so many other breweries. The taproom gets reasonably busy with an after-work crowd during the week but keeps beer geeks happy on the weekends. The taproom features a number of taproom only beers, including random barrel aged versions of their beers. There are the malt bombs that everybody seeks but also some tasty hoppy beers to balance out the sweetness. (Sorry about the absence of pictures, I got very lazy about taking pictures after Green Flash.)

Beers enjoyed:

  • San Diego pale ale 3.94
  • Yulesmith
  • Evil dead read
  • Bourbon barrel aged nut brown ale
  • 2014 Decadence
  • X extra pale ale on cask
  • Anvil ESB
  • Double hammer head speedway stout
I'll talk a little about my three favorites. I really enjoyed X on cask. I have come to really enjoy the extra pale ale style (which I feel is just 1990s IPA with contemporary hop flavors) and I'm a sucker for a beer on cask so naturally I had a lot of love for this beer. Nice balance of pine and citrus without the overwhelming bitterness of a modern IPA. Going the other direction, 2014 Decadence was another favorite. Decadence is an annual release that changes each year and this year's release is a wheatwine, another favorite style of mine. The wheat pours out with interesting fruit and honey notes with a subtle layer of hops on top. Delicate flavors for a big 10% beer. Third was the bourbon barrel aged nut brown ale. Nut brown ales have fallen out of favor and have been relegated to "a good beer style for a new brewer" but it's a perfectly fine style when you want a little malt without more assertive flavors of a porter or stout. It's certainly not a style normally thrown in barrels but in this case it came out swinging with some caramel and vanilla notes intermingling with the base beer's cocoa and biscuit flavors. Interesting stuff and a nice change of pace from the usual BBA stouts.

Mission Brewery

Mission recently entered the Texas market with their comically large 32oz. cans but I haven't had an opportunity to explore their beers. Mission was only a few blocks off of our hotel in San Diego so we decided to stop in and check out some beer. Mission is located not far from the touristy gaslamp district in an old Wonder Bread bakery redeployed as a brewery with a serious 16th century sailing theme. Pirates and galleons as far as the eye can see. I swear I took some pictures here but they aren't on my phone so maybe the pirates absconded with them. The brewery set up takes advantage of the open space with a long bar on one side and the brewery on the other with a sturdy rope separating the beer making from the beer drinking. It's a fun little place but I can imagine it gets ridiculously busy on the weekends.

Mission is probably best known for their IPAs but the taproom features the full line of beers that range from the easy drinking lighter hefeweizen and blonde ale up to some excellent malty offerings. The taproom also has an interesting set of craft cocktails that seem to have a beer base and are fermented alongside the other beers on tap. I didn't get a chance to ask about them but they looked interesting. Anyway, here are the beers I checked out:

  • Steam Beer
  • Mission Holiday Ale BDSA
  • Bourbon barrel Dark Seas imperial stout
  • Brandy barrel Dark Seas 
  • Mission porter
  • Tominator doppelbock
  • Shipwrecked IIPA
My favorites were the steam beer, doppelbock, IIPA and both barrel versions of Dark Seas. I really enjoy a good brandy barrel aged beer (although I don't like brandy) so the brandy barrel aged Dark Seas was my favorite. I didn't know what to expect out of Mission but overall I was impressed by the beers. 

Societe Brewing Co.

Societe (pronounced like society) is an interesting brewing with soft application of a Victorian theme with beer names like Haberdasher and Roustabout. Their beers are all over the map but loosely categorized into hoppy, Belgian, malty and sour (although I do not believe any of the sour beers have been released yet). Societe carries a deservedly solid reputation in southern California brewing with sixteen beers in normal rotation. There is an unsurprising number of IPAs and other hoppy beers in the lineup but thankfully Societe stayed away from making an endless stream of double IPAs to cash in on easy sales. Instead the lineup ranges from light session beers to malt bombs and gently hopped to aggressively hopped. It's a testimony to the brewers' skills that they can regularly make such a wide range of beers with such skill.

Beers we enjoyed here:

  • The Jackeroo IPA with southern hemisphere hops
  • The Butcher imperial stout
  • The Haberdasher English IPA
  • The Harlot Belgian extra pale ale
  • The Debutante Belgian amber ale
  • The Spelunker brown ale
My favorites were The Jackeroo and The Harlot. Both beers were similar in big fruity flavors, one displaying those flavors from hops and one from yeast. I can't say I would call The Butcher my favorite stout out there but it certainly isn't among the worst I have had. Otherwise, I was generally impressed with the beers I tried. What I find interesting is that people tend to talk favorably about Societe but the ratings on the beers are lower than what you would expect from a well-regarded brewery. I think this is easily explained by looking at the specs on the beers. Most of the beers are in the 5-6% ABV range and hopped to a more approachable bitterness than most other IPAs around San Diego. They just aren't extreme enough to create the hype necessary to reach those higher rankings. Which just goes to show how silly beer rankings are.

Pizza Port Solana Beach

For most of us outside of southern California, Pizza Port and Port Brewing is something associated with the more famous Lost Abbey beers. However, all of these identities originate from the Pizza Port located in Solana Beach. Located in a shopping center on the Pacific Coast Highway, this place is tucked away in a beach-side, affluent community just north of San Diego. Although the business is successful, the Solana Beach location looks like a place that has been open for decades (and brewing beer for 22 years) with no renovations. It is disorganized and cluttered but I suppose that is part of the charm of this place. If you didn't know any better, you would probably assume this place is serving up good pizza (it was crowded inside) but lousy beer by the pitcher. Instead, they serve up good pizza with good beer.

We were hungry and needed to wind down on drinking by the time we got to Pizza Port so I just tried two of the beers available. One was the Gingerbread Chateu, a very busy saison with ginger, candied ginger, molasses and raisins. There was, as you can guess, a lot of ginger going on. It wasn't my favorite. I have a limited tolerance for ginger in my beer and this one exceeded that limit. The other beer was Gobble Gobble wheat ale with cranberries. It was a light American wheat with cranberries adding some tartness and fruit flavors over the wheat. It was interesting but easy drinking, which made it a good beer to pair up with pizza.

Lost Abbey/Port Brewing Co.

So naturally we had to hit the Lost Abbey/Port Brewing location in San Marcos. Port Brewing and Lost Abbey are the same company brewing out of the same brewing facility. They are a spinoff from Pizza Port and although they brew some of the same beers as Pizza Port, their versions of the beers are slightly different from the original Pizza Port beers. Port Brewing/Lost Abbey is a distinct business run separately from the Pizza Port business. The Belgian/French beers brewed by this company are packaged under the Lost Abbey label while the other beers all go under the Port Brewing name. (For the sake of brevity, I'll just refer to this entity as Lost Abbey.)

Lost Abbey brews out of Stone's former brewhouse in the middle of a business park across several suites. The tasting room is largely a bar and some seating roped off from the brewhouse and fermentors. You can peek into the barrel room but it is made clear that customers do not belong there. The tap list offers a generous selection from both the Lost Abbey and Port range of beers and one can buy from a healthy selection of bottles from both. It is worth noting that the taproom closes early each evening so if you plan a visit be mindful of the hours and that traffic getting there can be brutal during the late afternoon.

The beers tasted:

  • Lost Abbey Gift of the Maji biere de garde with brett, frankincence and myrrh
  • Lost Abbey Devotion
  • Lost Abbey Avant Garde
  • Lost Abbey Lost and Found
  • Lost Abbey Witches Wit
  • Lost Abbey Road to Helles
  • Port Brewing Santa's Little Helper imperial stout
  • Port Brewing Board Meeting brown ale with coffee and cocoa nibs
My favorites out these beers were Avant Garde, Board Meeting and Witches Wit. Avant Garde is an interesting biere de garde on the lighter end of the style that gives you a big helping of biscuity malt flavor with some light fruit notes on the edges. It's brewed with a lager yeast and there is an unmistakable lager yeast signature about the beer. Witches Wit is a solid wit (obviously) and spiced with coriander, orange peel and grapefruit peel. It's nicely fruity but you get some acidic bitterness from the citrus fruit and spruces up the beer. Board Meeting was a nice change of pace for coffee beers. While many coffee beers are made out of stouts that create beers with roast on top of roast, the brown ale offers a malty base that mellows the roast in the coffee. The cocoa then comes in and wraps the whole thing up into a complex truffle-like experience. I wish I had spent more time at Lost Abbey but with their tasting room hours it just didn't work with the schedule (and traffic).

Alright, this is a good stopping point for the first part of this beercation. Part two will feature Stone, The Bruery and a couple other places.

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