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Thursday, July 13, 2017

San Diego 2017 - Part 3: All roads lead back to OB

Our day began with a visit to 32 North. I didn't remember visiting there two years ago, but as soon as we walked in, I remembered the place. Turns out our last visit occurred shortly after they opened in 2014, so they hadn't been open a year. I remembered not being completely sold on their beer, but I liked the place. Seems as though the last two years were kind to them, as their space grew to accommodate more tanks. Those tanks are churning out some pretty tasty beer these days.

I started the day with a pint of Best Coast IPA, the brewery's flagship IPA. This particular version was cask conditioned with whole cone Simcoe hops and served via beer engine. It did not disappoint. They bill this as a "throwback to classic IPAs" and I definitely agree. This took me back to a decade or so prior when we'd first visited San Diego and sampled a variety of West Coast IPAs for the first time. The mouthfeel of this beer was pure cask bliss, soft and supple with a sweet Simcoe nose of citrus fruit and pine sap. It even looked great in the glass. This one was meant for the cask!

My view from the bar at 32 North.

Brewslut grabbed a pour of Mighty Mouse, a session IPA brewed with more than 2lbs. of hops per barrel, giving it an invigorating hop aroma. It was pretty solid overall, but I was digging the Best Coast so much that I kind of shrugged it off. We completed our visit with a pint of Hello, Darkness, an oatmeal stout brewed with local Nomad Donuts coffee and served via nitrogen.

Pleeps loves his stouts!

Dano referred us to our next stop (although he hadn't been there yet). Thunderhawk Alements is a new kid on the block of the ever-expanding San Diego craft beer scene. Only open a few months, they are situated in a small industrial park in the midst of about a dozen other small breweries in the Miramar area. The name struck me as kind of odd for a brewery, but it was easy to remember because I once sat in with a country band called Thunderhawk for a few shows. True story! With about seven beers on tap, we decided to go with a sampler flight for four beers. Here's the low-down:

  • Westworld - pale ale dry-hopped with Cascade and Chinook.
  • Torreyana - saison brewed with orange blossom honey and ginger, and fermented with American oak.
  • Electric Youth - Coffee pale ale with Pacamara beans. I couldn't help but get the Debbie Gibson song stuck in my head for a while thanks to this beer's name!
  • Prince of Zamunda - chocolate stout with cacao nibs and Madagascar vanilla beans. This may very well have won the "best beer name" of the trip award... if such an award existed!

View from my barstool atThunderhawk.

For a start-up brewery, it appears that they're off to a great start! We enjoyed talking with one of the owners (unfortunately his name escapes me, although he reminded me of Tom Morello, guitarist for Rage Against the Machine). Rather than pick our favorite of the line-up, we decided to share a half pour of Over There, classic German dunkelweizen that was nice and roasty with minimal smokey character. Brewslut ain't down with smoked beers. This was a good interpretation of the style and stuck to the basics. I'd read about a big West Coast IPA called Punt Gun when I checked out their web site. Sadly, it was on recently but had kicked, so we wouldn't be trying it this time. The English major in me just loves the assonance in that beer name (plus I love using the word "assonance," so it's a win-win)!

Up next was a spot we visited many, many times in the past. However, on this particular visit, a new brewery moved into the premises. Since our last visit, Mikkeller had recently inhabited the old AleSmith brewery in Miramar. Yes, the renowned Danish brewery now has a tasting room in San Diego. And talk about a tap list! When we arrived, we were greeted to a veritable smorgasbord of interesting sounding beers. See?

Look familiar? 

Small pours and sample sizes were definitely appreciated, as we wanted to try an assortment of the beers available. I began my journey with Windy Hill, Mikkeller's interpretation of a hazy NE-style IPA with Mosaic hops. (Editor's note: I'm getting sick of typing hazy NE-style IPA... damn, there I go again!) Despite that fact, it was my favorite beer of the bunch. Hazy Hazemith was another hazy NE-style IPA we sampled, and yet another beer going after the "haze craze" with a clever name to boot.

20+ beers on tap at Mikkeller's tap room.

One of the owners of Thunderhawk mentioned Foggy Figures, NE style Black IPA with Columbus, Simcoe and Chinook Hops, so I had to try that one as well. I must admit that I hadn't yet come across a hazy NE-style black IPA in my travels, so this was a first. This one was pretty dank and roasty, and not bad in the grand scheme of things. Up next was Don't Call Me Ol' Fashion, a dark lager with raspberry, tangerine, cherry and vanilla sugar. Weighing in at 11%, we felt it prudent to get a sampler size pour of this sucker. Overall, this beer sounded better on paper, although it was still enjoyable. I think the flavor profile would have worked better in a lighter style such as a cream or amber ale.

There were a lot of high octane beers on tap in the 10% ABV range, which we unfortunately (albeit understandably) avoided in lieu of allowing for more quantity and thus more brewery stops during the day. Our last beer was a hoppy pilsner called Midwest Dream that was well-done.

Cool, colorful mural at Mikkeller.

Pure Project is located right next door to Cy's new Amplified location in Miramar. I'd read good things about this new brewery, which was not in existence during our last visit. They had plenty of variety on the tap list, so we opted for a shared sampler flight. Here's the deets:
  • Sunset Crush - cream ale with organic strawberries and vanilla.
  • Valle Pura Vida - blonde ale with ginger and orange peel.
  • La Vie En Rosé - hibiscus saison with local honey.
  • Evangeline - Gose brewed with 100% European barley, organic California grapefruit, organic coriander from Egypt and pink Himalayan sea salt from Salt Farms in San Diego.
FIVE... five beers... a ha ha ha haaaaa!

If you notice, the picture above shows five beers. However, when I consulted my Untappd check-ins after the trip, I only noticed four beers listed. D'oh! Brewslut seems to have also missed one, so the fifth beer here is a mystery. Perhaps Pleeps chugged it when our backs were turned. 

After spending some time at Pure Project, it was off to another new brewery. Longship Brewery opened its doors in June 2016 and joined the ranks of dozens of other small, hopeful breweries in the area. I'd gotten in touch with my old high school friend, Nicole, who'd been living in San Diego for several years now. We'd gotten together two years ago at Mother Earth for a beer after having not seen each other since high school graduation. Turns out her husband Jon is really into the beer scene as well, so he was happy to join us at a few breweries in their backyard.

Digging the fonts at Longship.

They arrived at the tail end of our visit to Longship. While we were there, we encountered a mixed bag of beers (including one that was unfortunately not enjoyable due to heavy diacetyl). Still, I enjoyed the Funeral Pyre, one if not the only smoked porter I encountered during our trip. The other beers we sampled were Topaz SMASH, a hazy (there's that word again) juicy IPA brewed with Topaz hops. Olaf the Stumbler (another awesome beer name) was the other. This dry, hoppy India Pale Lager featured tropical fruit notes, but if memory serves me correctly, this was the one that was flawed.

We also encountered an awesome, chill brewery dog at Longship whom garnered much of my attention. Sadly, I can't recall the mutt's name. But this is him.

Coolest dog of the trip... besides Stubby, of course!

Nicole and Jon joined us at Green Flash, another place that has blown up since we first started visiting San Diego. Their new-ish brewery and tasting room seems to keep expanding every time we visit. As you probably know, Green Flash acquired/joined forces (whatever you want to call it) with Alpine Beer Company, one of favorites of the old guard. Their hoppy beers used to be some of my absolute favorites. Sadly, beers like Nelson and Duet just don't have the same impact on me since Green Flash and Alpine became one entity. Of course, I always hate when people complain that "Nugget Nectar isn't as good as it was when they brewed it in Harrisburg," so I guess I can chalk it up to my ever-changing palate and not - as many would think - changes in beers' recipes.

Jon was talking up a new IPA called HFS. Brewed with Mosaic, Citra and Simcoe hops, I assumed this is an acronym for "holy fucking shit." It was good, but not that good! Brewslut opted for What's Golden IPA, a collaboration with Parallel 49 Brewing based out of Vancouver, BC, Canada. To quote the breweries: “We’ve matched a West Coast style IPA with techniques common to the newly popular New England IPA. Hop aromas of citrusy tropical fruit combine with a smooth and creamy mouth feel for a winning East-meets-West collab.” So there you go.

After a fun stop at Green Flash, we parted ways with Nicole and Jon and headed back to Dano's to regroup and plan our evening. Turns out we were heading back to OB again for another romp around Newport Avenue. Fine with me!

First up, of course, was PPOB. I never turn down an opportunity to stop here for a beer. On this occasion, I went with Same Hops Different, a... wait for it... hazy NE-style IPA. This particular one was hopped with Mosaic and Citra. Can't go wrong with those hops. This style has become so popular that even Pizza Port took a stab at brewing one. This was tasty as expected, but I'll stick with their West Coast style IPAs, which are some of the best out there.

Back at Kilowatt, it was packed. Cy and some friends were out at a nearby restaurant and ended up here at the same time as us, so we hung out for a bit. Luke was also working his shift, so we got hooked up. On this particular visit, I opted for the Red Wine Barrel Aged Wheat Wine, which I was eyeing up the other day. This rich, high gravity ale aged in red wine barrels boasted bready wheat and fruity yeast flavors. I enjoyed it, but not as much as the Gin Barrel Aged Tripel, which was phenomenal. During our visit, we enjoyed a pour of the Passion Fruit Green Tea Ale, a pale ale infused with green tea and passion fruit as the name would imply. I also tried the 250 KWH IPA, Kilowatt's flagship and best-selling IPA. This IPA features a bunch of rarely seen hops including Kohatu, Rakau, Southern Cross, and Falconer’s Flight to produce a melange of piney, floral, fruity and citrus notes. (Editor's note: Sorry for the lack of pictures for the last few paragraphs. I was too busy being social with, you know, actual people!)

Somewhere along the way, I grabbed an amazing vegan hot dog from a street vendor. By this time, I don't remember much about it other than it was the greatest thing I ever tasted. This happens quite often after I've been drinking all day. I can't tell you how many times I've had "the best INSERT FOOD HERE in my life" after a full day of drinking. At some point, we also stopped at another bar for a quick cocktail, however both Brewslut and I abstained and rested our livers, if only for a brief amount of time. Dano's girlfriend Jen doesn't drink beer, but she will imbibe in the occasional wine and mixed drinks. Fair enough, especially since she has to hang out with three beer geeks all night.

Our final stop of the evening was OB Brewery. This was our first visit to OB Brewery, as they were not yet open during our previous visit. Brewslut decided to follow the lighter path and ordered a pour of Long Time Coming, a straight up cream ale. Me? Not so much. I settled on Malicious Journalist, a dry-hopped DIPA hopped with Citra, Simcoe and Cascade. Unfortunately, I can't tell you much about the beers since I had them at the conclusion of a long, productive day of brewery crawling. But we did have an awesome view.

View from the rooftop at OB Brewery overlooking Newport Ave.

See? Great view, right? After a fun night bopping around Dano's old stomping grounds, we Ubered back to his place and, to be honest, I don't really recall much of what else happened that evening. Must have been fun, I suppose. Until next time, I'll leave you with this...

Another drunken selfie at unknown whereabouts.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

San Diego 2017 - Part 2: Welcome to the Flavordome

Our second full day in San Diego just may have been our most ambitious day of the trip. Kicking off the day with breakfast, we were bummed to learn that our favorite spot, Rancho in OB, was no longer open. Apparently some racist landlord caused the owners to vacate the premises. Turns out they are operating under a new name at the same location and with the same menu. D'oh! Unfortunately, we found out about this on our last day in San Diego, so next time we'll need to make up for it. Today, however, we grabbed breakfast at a sweet little nook called Breakfast Republic. It was 10:30 a.m. and they had a pretty solid tap selection with some choice local nuggets. Never one to utilize a "drinking clock," I subscribe to the rule that "it's always 12 o'clock somewhere." That somewhere was here and that someone was me. I needed a beer...Now.

Cue Magical & Delicious, a Pale Ale from one of our favorite finds from two years ago - Fall Brewing. I couldn't help but think about the Lucky Charms cereal commercial. They're magically delicious, you know. Thankfully, this beer carried me off to a far-away land completely devoid of annoying, messy children - much like the ones that were at the table directly next to us, but I managed to mute them somehow. I'm much better at this than my travel mate, Brewslut. She need some kind of mantra when we encounter these little shitballs while we're trying to be productive (i.e. out drinking). Although the place was loud and booming, the food was bangin' and filling, and the coffee was good. A lot of the places we visited had hot coffee and little dixie cups outside while customers waited for tables. What a splendid idea! Plus, its logo is a big cock, so that's a plus in my book.

Early goat gets the beer.

We arrived at Toronado to "officially" kick off our day right when they were supposed to open. That would be 11:30 a.m. However, the bartender was a bit tardy, so we had to wait outside for about five minutes until she unlocked the door. C'mon! Your cuttin' into my drinkin' time, Toronado! Seriously, though... don't let it happen again! All kidding aside, we were the first customers to show up, although a few stragglers wandered in shortly after we arrived. I'd noticed that several of the beers had changed since we visited less than 48 hours ago. More hazy NE IPAs have infiltrated the San Diego scene. Like I said, I can't help but order these when I see them on tap. We settled on two pints -
Hitched on Haze from the unknown-to-us Burgeon Beer Co. and 28 Haze Later from the more familiar Beachwood. Perhaps the word "haze" will end up getting overused for the names of these beers, much like "Gose" (i.e. "There Gose the Neighborhood") or "Hop" for IPAs (i.e. "Hop" then insert any word here to indicate it's an IPA). Both satisfied my curiosity and craving for hops, but they were essentially the exact same beer with virtually no discernible differences other than a subtly different hop finish only an advanced palate such as mine could detect. OK, that sounded kinda cocky. But you catch my drift.

Pleeps is in a daze... I mean haze.

After a pair of pints at Toronado, it was off to one of our favorite spots, the Modern Times "Flavordome." What a great, evocative name for such a hip place. Like she always does, Brewslut recognized the bartender from two years ago. After jogging my memory, I remember that we talked to her last time and also realized that her best friend was our tour guide at Stone several visits ago (she now works at Modern Times). Go figure!

What to get... what to get...

On our last trip, we visited each location twice so we could try everything they had available. Yeah, that's how much we liked this brewery. This time, I came up with an ambitious scheme to visit one of the Modern Times locations each day of the trip for at least one beer each. Sadly, that never panned out. A few years ago, we did actually visit Pizza Port OB every single day of our 11-day trip and had at least one beer each. If that's not commitment, I don't know what is!

The many different shades of Flavordome.

For this particular visit, we'd limit ourselves to two half pours each, then share them. That way, you drink the equivalent of a single pint but get to check in four new beers on Untappd. See? We have this shit figured out. First up was Orderville, described as its "most palate-crushing IPA to date," and City of the Dead, a foreign export stout loaded with bourbon barrel-aged coffee beans. Let's just say it was good to be back.

I noticed a guy sitting at a nearby table wearing a Bitter Brothers shirt and baseball cap. They were on my list of "new places to hit" based on recommendations from a few on-line San Diego magazines I checked out in advance. I thought it might be prudent to research the highest-rated new breweries of 2015 and 2016 prior to our trip. Bitter Brothers was one that had opened within the span of our last trip. I asked about the beer, and he revealed that he was a sales rep for the new brewery. Needless to say, he thought the beer was good. But he also said he was a fan of Modern Times, (hence him being there and, you know, drinking their beer) so I knew he had good taste. He gave me his business card and said to give it to the bartender for a complimentary sampler flight. That was mighty nice of him. His name was Corey, by the way. But more on Bitter Brothers later.

Pixelated diskettes plaster the walls at Flavordome.
For our second beers, we opted for Fruitlands, their rotating Gose fermented with different types of fruit. This one featured blood orange and hibiscus, and the two flavors played together quite nicely, like 6-year-old best friends in a sandbox. Promising to take my palate to "Party Town," Tetra City DIPA featured an abundance of hops - namely Citra - for a punch of tropical fruit. (Editor's note: Check out Modern Times' beer descriptions on Untappd. They're pretty funny.)

"I get the rest!" - Pleeps

Fall Brewing was another great find for us two years ago. This place is about as DIY and punk rock as you can get (although I loathe punk rock and consider it "anti-music"). We actually though the brewery had closed since our last visit because Fall didn't appear on the San Diego Craft Beer Guild map we were using. Turns out this actually served as an "F-you" to the establishment. Like I said, punk rock.

First on the agenda was Weekend Pirate #8, part of its IPA series they've dubbed "a random IPA adventure." So the pirate theme is fitting. For this particular outing, Fall utilized Nelson, Dr. Rudi, Mosaic, Denali, Calypso, Southern Cross and Simcoe hops to create an overload of fruit on the palate. Any time I see Nelson hops used, I tend to order it. Some of the others were new to me or rarely seen (Denalo and Dr. Rudi, for example) while others are tried-and-true favorites (Nelson, Mosaic and Simcoe). Needless to say, this one was pretty enjoyable.

Apocalypse Pony was up next. Fall brews this rich Imperial Stout with local Dark Horse coffee and real vanilla beans, then serves on nitro for a creamy texture.

Then came Nuclear Strategery, a blended (bourbon and rum) barrel-aged Imperial Stout with coconut. This was one of my favorite beer names of the trip. Any time a brewery can make a great beer and simultaneously poke fun at George W. Bush in the process is OK by me. Because idiot.

Walking back to our car, Brewslut wanted to slide in to a small tasting room called Living Tea, which featured an assortment of kombucha. We'd been to a few kombucheries in the past, most notably Urban Farm in Portland, ME. While I enjoy it, I decided to sit this one out and let Brewslut enjoy a few samples before moving on to the next brewery.

Reminds me of Yellow Submarine.
The boasted an extensive of interesting sounding concoctions including Cherry Chai, Mango Green Tea, Apple Pie, Coconut Peach and a number of others. They also featured an assortment of tea and coffee, as well as something called Kava. We didn't ask about it, sample it, or even research it during the trip. We probably didn't even notice it. Either way, here's what it is. Thanks Wikipedia. Brewslut enjoyed her samples, but alas it was time to move on to more urgent matters.

Variety abounds at Living Tea.

Moving on from the North Park area, it was time to head north to Miramar where the new Amplified Ale Works location is housed. We were happy to see Cy and his brewery growing by adding a new taproom in this beer-soaked area of San Diego. The new digs were less than a mile away from AleSmith (slated as our next stop) and in close proximity of Saint Archer, White Labs, Hess, and one of Ballast Point's many locations. We'd be skipping all of those in lieu of getting some hang time with our pal, Cy. The first time we met Cy, he was working at Ballast Point, and I had the pleasure of sampling some of his tasty home brews at the Homebrew Mart location. I hadn't even started blogging yet. He later moved on to Alpine before finally venturing out on his own with Amplified. (See L'Eggo my San Diego! for reference.) The original location is along the main strip in Mission Beach, a trendier, not-as-laid-back-as-OB beach community. With tourist and beach traffic at its peak near the brewery and parking difficult to secure, I was always less than thrilled about the drive to get there. The destination... well, that's another story.

Outside Amplified's new Miramar digs.

It was great to see Cy and catch up after two years. I had been following the brewery on social media, and was excited to see Amplified hook up with a recent East Coast favorite, Ocelot, to brew a collaboration beer during the Craft Brewers Conference (which was in DC earlier this year). Cy was also quick to offer up some beer, which we were of course happy to sample!

I started light with Power Chord, a Galaxy hopped extra pale ale, which went down too easily. After that, he started with some serious heavy hitters. To quote Dudley "Booger" Dawson: "Step aside mama, I wanna see some of that muff!" Big Muff, that is. Named after a guitar effects pedal that creates a fuzzy, distorted tone, this Big Muff is a rich, boozy barleywine. We tried this side by side with the bourbon barrel-aged version, which was fantastic. Think caramel, toffee, chocolate, and nougat with a slight alcohol tang and you might get a feel for the muff.

Speaking of barleywines, we sampled another one while we were here. This one was named Harmony. The name was fitting considering it is a blended barleywine aged in vintage barrels. All of the flavors were working harmoniously to deliver a complex, malty delight.

Harmony by Amplified Ale Works.

Next up was the barrel-aged version of Rare Form, a Belgian-style Quad. We had the standard version during our last visit, which Cy graciously shared with us. But this barrel-aged version (the 4th release of their annual Quadruple) was off the hook! It was definitely one of my favorite beers of the trip. I'll include the description of the beer to give you an idea of the complexities found inside this bottle:

Aged for 6 months in bourbon barrels, Rare Form is adventurous. It starts out with black cherries, raisins, and figs, and then elegantly transforms into burnt caramel, dark chocolate, and brown sugar before finishing with a kiss of alcohol. 

As if that wasn't enough, Cy whipped out a bottle of Drunken Barrel Reserve #1, a sour Belgian pale ale brewed with Amarillo hops and aged in Cabernet barrels for 15 months. This was indeed a special treat and put a cap on a great visit to Amplified's new tasting room.

Slow down, Pleeps!

Every time we visit AleSmith, it seems like they get bigger each time. The new tasting room is a far cry from the original tiny room we'd first visited 10 years ago. Each time we return to San Diego, it seems as though they've continued to grow. This visit was no different. As a matter of fact, this was easily the most impressive metamorphosis AleSmith had experienced between our visits.

"How can less be more? That's impossible. More is more." - Yngwie J. Malmsteen

This time, I was happy to see a few of the Speedway Stout variations on tap, namely the Nibs & Beans and Thai versions. Speedway has long been a favorite of the Pour Travelers since our first introduction to AleSmith through Deuane many moons ago. Needless to say, we tried both. The Thai version featured notes of lemongrass, ginger and coconut. The aroma was quite pungent and the flavors definitely overpowered the base stout. Nevertheless, it was still an enjoyable variation of this San Diego staple stout. The cacao flavor really shined through in the Nibs & Beans version. Since Speedway is already a coffee stout, I didn't really notice any additional coffee "oomph" with this. But the chocolate was a nice addition and softened it up even more.

Now that's a tap tower!

Since we missed the release of the brand new AleSmith /PPOB collaboration, Logical Choice Triple IPA, I was glad to see it on tap during our visit to AleSmith. This was a sweet, juicy hop bomb of a beer that was actually quite balanced despite its hefty ABV and abundance of hops. I would have liked to have had a full pour of this at some point during the trip, but this wasn't the place, especially with not one but TWO Speedway variations available (both ~ 12% ABV).

The always photogenic Pleeps.

Back near home base, we swung into Bay City, which Dano recommended as a good new brewery. He typically drinks there before and/or after hockey games, which take place in the nearby Valley View Casino Center, just a short stumble from the brewery.

Since we went a bit overboard at Amplified, we decided to stick with a shared sampler flight. Here's the run-down:
  • Coffee Pale Ale - one of my new favorite styles. Coffee flavor and aroma with a light body and hop presence. The coffee really shines through without all of the additional dark malts. 
  • In My Younger Haze - Another "haze" name. See what I told you? This one's a... yup, you guessed it... a hazy IPA. 
  • The City - Double IPA
  • Power Play IPA - a Citra-hopped IPA.

All of the beers were solid, and the place had a casual, spread-out feel. I can see why Bay City is a great spot for hockey pre-gaming. The bartender was also super friendly, and she referred us to a brand new brewery called Battlemage. Apparently, these guys were into Magic the Gathering. I mean, really into it. But more on them later. Since we were only following a very loose itinerary, it was great to get recommendations from the locals, which happened several times on this particular outing.

Mood lighting at Bay City Brewing Co.

We discovered Thorn Street on our last trip two years prior, when we were spending the afternoon brewery hopping with Luke and a group of his friends. I remember the beer being pretty good, but most of my memories of that place involve reading Trivial Pursuit cards with the bartender for like an hour. For some reason, this place feels like I'm drinking in Philly. I don't know why.

Thorn Street, yo.
This visit would be a quicker one, because they were approaching closing time. After perusing the beer board, I opted for a pour of Cocomotive Coconut Porter. Brewslut decided on the Caneros Crush, a kettle soured Saison. Both were pretty tasty, but we were a bit rushed during our visit, so we hung at the bar and chatted with the bartender for a bit. We had met him earlier in the day at Modern Times, the same visit where we met Corey, the sales rep for Bitter Brothers. Seems like everyone in town knows that Modern Times rules!

Just up the street, we stopped in at South Park Abbey to close out the day. Dano had also recommended this beer bar as a potential good stop near Thorn Street. We entered, and this place struck me as your typical craft beer bar with a better than average tap selection mainly consisting of local and regional Cali beers. We snatched two seats at the bar and felt at home with the group of friendly beer drinkers among us.

Random pic I have no idea why I snapped.

I picked one from a brewery with which I was unfamiliar. The beer was Sink with California, a pale ale from King Harbor Brewing based out of Redondo Beach, CA. I typically have difficulty remembering the last stop or two of any given brewery tour day, and this day was no different. I do remember that we enjoyed some comical discussions with a disparate group of what seemed like regulars. Of course, the topic of conversation is a little (OK... a lot) blurred due to my haze (there's that word again) from drinking all day. Trust me, though. It was funny.

All in all, it was a memorable day in San Diego. We set the bar pretty high for the rest of the trip after this day. Thankfully, San Diego has no shortage of amazing breweries. And it was our job to hit as many of them as possible. I mean, who better than us? Sometimes I feel embarrassed when someone asks me, "What did you do on your vacation?" and I reply, "Went to breweries." To which they reply: "Cool. What else?" My response? "Um... that's it." Usually, most people think that's cool. Then I realize that we have no kids, no pets, no "real" responsibilities other than the average everyday ones like bills, mortgage, etc. So I suppose it's OK for us to spend a week or so in a great city and dive deep into its beer culture. One of these days we'll get around to doing some extracurricular activities while traveling. We did, after all, go on a hike in the Rocky Mountains when we visited Colorado. We even went to Ben & Jerry's on a Vermont beer trip. So I suppose we CAN find other things to do. The question, though, is this: Do we want to do anything else? The answer, more often than not, is no. So continue with us on our adventures around San Diego and perhaps you'll come across a few more picture like the one below. Until next time...

Me at the end of the day.
But since we want you to come back and read more, I'll leave you with something a bit more palatable, like this shot of the Mrs. and I:

Thanks for reading.
Or even better, this one:

The REAL star: Pleeps being Pleeps!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

San Diego 2017 - Part 1: Entering the whale's vagina

According to Ron Burgundy, the words "San Diego" translate to "whale's vagina" in German. Aside from the beer, the climate, the vibe, and the fact that one of my oldest friends lives there, I knew there was something else about San Diego that I loved; I just couldn't put my finger on it. Yes, kiddies, it's time once again to trip the Left Coast fantastic with a visit to our favorite city - San Diego!

After an amazing trip to Portland, OR last year, we'd decided it was time to head back to Cali to witness first-hand how the craft beer scene had grown since our last visit (a mere two years earlier). I was on "blog hiatus" at that time, so unfortunately I didn't not document our trip with a "Pour Travelers" treatment (aside from Untappd check-ins a-plenty). This time, we flew out of Baltimore's familiar BWI Airport, and we used the later flight time to our advantage. Since we typically fly on Tuesdays or Wednesdays due to cheaper flights, we sometimes run into issues with beer spots not being open earlier in the day, especially Tuesday (the "travel day" this year). A bunch of new breweries had opened in Baltimore since we'd last visited; unfortunately, only one was open for lunch on a Tuesday. Good thing it didn't suck!

...and so it begins!

We arrived at Brewhouse No. 16 shortly after opening time (11 a.m.), and we'd planned on getting some lunch as well as a few beers. Typically, we fast during the day, but since we were on vacation, lunch was in order. Besides, we wouldn't be fed on the plane, right? Situated in a century-old stone building in Baltimore’s historic district, Brewhouse No. 16 once housed a fire company. Now, it operates as a family-owned brewpub featuring food from scratch and some tasty house beers.

First beer of the trip!

Speaking of tasty beers, Brewhouse No. 16 had a small but respectable tap list for a brewpub, which included everything from a blonde ale to a barrel-aged pineapple saison. For my first beer of the trip, I went with Belvedere, a Belgian-style pale ale. An odd choice for me, I know, but thankfully it wasn't too heavy on the Belgian yeast and had a pretty nice hop profile. I really wanted the Barrel-aged Pineapple Saison, but I knew Brewslut would order it. Even though we share our beers, it's usually a 60/40 split based on who ordered the beer (in case, you know... it sucks)! Luckily, neither sucked and both were enjoyable. We were really digging the BA Pineapple Saison, which was pretty unique. It boasted moderate acidity amid the sweet/tart pineapple notes.

Interior of Brewhouse No. 16
After perusing the lunch menu, I was torn between a veggie burger and house-made falafel. I asked our waitress, and she recommended the falafel. I opted for it since I don't come across it all too often in our travels. Turns out it was the right decision. It was fantastic!

I wasn't sure what to expect from this place, but since it was the only brewery option open to us on a Tuesday, it was either Brewhouse No. 16 or nuthin'. I'm glad we stopped in. The beers were solid, the food was great, and the ambiance was spot-on. There's just something special about drinking in an old, re-purposed building that heightens the experience for me. Places like McMenamin's Kennedy School in Portland, OR, Church in Pittsburgh, and even Oakbrook in Reading (another old firehouse) all come to mind. I'm sure there are a ton more, but these were the first to enter my noggin.

After a pleasant visit to Brewhouse No. 16, it was off to perhaps the premier beer bar in the greater Baltimore area. Max's Taproom has been around the block. Boasting over 100 tap lines, five beer engines, and a collection of 1,000 well-curated bottles, it's no wonder why this place is rated one of the best bars in the U.S. (hell, even the world)! Sadly, we don't get to visit too often, but every time we do, it's easy to find something on tap that I've never had, and it's equally as easy to drink local.

I did, inf fact, keep it local during our visit and ordered a pint of Green Machine, a hazy IPA from Diamondback Brewing. Hopped with Citra and Ella, this was a juicy little nugget that hit the spot and scratched my IPA itch for the afternoon. Brewslut opted for the Charm City Sour from Brewer's Art, which didn't really jive with her, unfortunately. I have to say that I have such a love/hate relationship with "hazy juice bombs" or "NE-style IPAs." While I definitely prefer a well-balanced West Coast IPA over the newer, trendier model, I can't help but order one every time I encounter one on a beer menu. (Editor's note: You'll soon read about how the trend is migrating westward in subsequent blogs about this trip.)

I followed up Green Machine with Grays Papaya, a "milkshake" IPA from Key Brewing out of Dundalk, MD (remember... keeping it local, folks). The name of this sounded so familiar, and I can't believe I didn't make the Seinfeld connection (NOTE: Gray's Papaya is a NY-based hot dog chain that was mentioned in an episode of Seinfeld as "Papaya King," when Kramer jumps out of a movie line to grab a hot dog, then later spills mustard on Elaine's jacket in the theater.) Television geekery aside, this beer evoked actually drinking a fruit smoothie. These milkshake IPAs are quickly becoming more and more popular in the world of craft beer. Most of the ones I've had have been very enjoyable, and although the lactose used during the brewing process enhances the mouthfeel quite a bit, I sometimes feel it also mutes the hop character. This one, however, carried a sweet fruit presence backed with musky, peppery fruit rind notes, which was enjoyable.

Not sure why I took this selfie, but it's my only pic from Max's. 

Pre-flight beers have become a necessity for me when traveling, so much so that my usual frugal self won't blink at an $11.00 price tag of an airport beer. In this case, I went so far as to order a beer I really didn't want, if only out of desperation. Hey, it was the best they had to offer (not that it's a bad beer). The beer was Flying Dog's Doggie Style Pale Ale, and I once again came to the conclusion that "any beer is better than no beer at all."

Doin' it Doggie Style!

I was really hoping to have enough time to grab a beer somewhere at the airport in Minneapolis, MN, where we had a brief layover. Sadly, we did not. It was either grab a beer a chug it, or take a dump in the airport bathroom rather than in the cramped quarters of the plane's restroom... and we've all been there, right? Our gate was even right next to a "tavern," but I didn't look at the tap handles for fear that I'd see some Surly or something that would make me weep like a little bitch. So, onward to southern California!

When we landed in San Diego, I texted Dano (my friend and innkeeper of the "Lebowski Suite," where we'd be staying during our visit) to let him know that we'd arrived safely. He mentioned that he and his girlfriend, Jen, were just heading to bed, and that we should let ourselves into the house. I deciphered this statement as such: "You have time for a few beers!" Yes, even though we were travel weary after flying for the majority of the day, we were still on "PA time," so despite some unwanted swamp ass and the need to brush my teeth, we decided to B-line to nearby Toronado.

Pleeps was up for the challenge.
After perusing the board for a bit, I decided to go with a new IPA from one of San Diego's best, Pizza Port, called Pickleweed Point. I'm glad I did, because this one was another winner in a long line of fantastic IPAs. Hoppy, citrusy and dank with a slight whiff of cat box (I love that descriptor), this beer is usually what I'm after when I order a West Coast IPA. As Toronado approached closing time, one of the bartenders seemed to be in a hurry to get out of there, while the other guy seemed to be enjoying the company of we out-of-staters. The reason I say this is because he kept feeding us complimentary pours of beers like Lost Abbey Cuvee de Tomme and Russian River Perdition. Meanwhile, the other guy was corralling folks out of the bar as it was now clearly after midnight. We also enjoyed a small pour of Vanilla Fudge from nearby Beachwood Brewing, which I'm glad we sampled, because we never made it to one of its tasting rooms (which were a fairly decent drive away).  

Hamilton's tap handle collection.
Since Toronado was closing up shop (after all, we could have easily wore out our welcome, what with all the free beer), we decided to head over to Hamilton's, another great beer bar in close proximity to Dano's pad. They were open until 2 a.m. Remember... to us, it still felt like 9-ish p.m. thanks to the 3-hour time difference between coasts. So, Hamilton's it was for another round of IPAs, courtesy of Modern Times and Beachwood, respectively, with Accumulated Knowledge and Thrillseeker. We were digging the Modern Times a bit more (duh!) but both hit the spot and quelled our late night beer cravings sufficiently.

'Twas a long day, but there's always time for beer.

Obviously, we'd planned for an ambitious first day. I mean, two years had passed and many breweries had since been sewn into the tapestry that is the San Diego craft beer scene. Ocean Beach, Dano's old stomping grounds, was first on the agenda. He'd mentioned that OB had blown up beer-wise, and many established breweries were opening tap rooms, many on Newport Ave. (OB's version of South Street). Last time, there had only been Pizza Port and the new-at-the-time Culture Brewing Co. So we were anxious to check out a bunch of new places, all of which were in a radius of just a few blocks.

First up, a stop to arguably my favorite of the old guard, Pizza Port. When we're in San Diego, this place just feels like home. Dano used to live right down the street (something like 240 steps from his door to Pizza Port), which was decidedly convenient for us. One trip, we visited all eleven days we were in San Diego. Our MO was such: wake up, go work out at the gym (yes, we once got a temporary gym membership while we were on vacation), then go to PPOB for lunch and a beer. By the way, they have a killer lunch special, which includes a slice, a nice-sized salad, and a house beer for $7!

Pleeps was so excited to return to Pizza Port!
We kicked off the day with a pair of IPAs, me a pint of Da Mainliner, and Brewslut, a pint of Grapefruit Puncher. Both were tasty as hell, but man, the Grapefruit Puncher was aptly named! The smack of peppery grapefruit rind and puckery, citrusy hops provided a figurative bitch-slap across the palate. This was easily one of the most authentic grapefruit-infused beers I've come across. Da Mainliner was pretty much your every-day, straight-up citrusy West Coast IPA. No frills with plenty of thirst-quenching power. Up next was a pour of Barrel Roll for me, and Carlsberliner for Brewslut, the latter a Berliner Weisse brewed at Pizza Port's Carlsbad site. Barrel Roll sounded too good to pass up - an Imperial Stout with coffee aged in bourbon barrels. A risky beer so early in the day, I know. But I had to get it. Because vacation.

Just up Newport Ave. is one of the new kids in town. Kilowatt Brewing Company's production facility is actually situated in Kearny Mesa, which is north of San Diego proper. However, they'd just recently opened a new tasting room in OB, and none other than our buddy Luke (originally from York, PA and shares the same birthday as me, except he's 10 years younger) is the manager. We visit San Diego so frequently that we've accumulated a few additional friends outside of Dano. Luke's one of them. So I excited to see what was brewing up at Kilowatt. Turns out a lot!

Luke on the deck of Kilowatt.

For starters, they had a ton of variations of a Gose from its 3S series (Super Sour Series). So, we obviously had to try a bunch of them! We started with the blueberry, mango, and cherry variations, and all were enjoyable, refreshing, and had authentic fruit characters. I also was eyeing up a Gin Barrel Aged Tripel, which sounded tasty. I'd experienced a bunch of great gin barrel-aged beers while out in Portland last year, and it's a trend I'd like to see find its way back East. (Actually, it's starting to migrate, as GearHouse out of Chambersburg, PA has done some gin barrel-aged beers recently.) Starting the day off with a BA Imperial Stout followed by a Tripel, and we're only two breweries deep. Yup. That's how we roll! But it was worth it. Turns out it was one of my favorites of the trip (a long list, yes, but a list nevertheless). As I've said before, I'm not a fan of gin, but there's something about the way the botanicals work with the hops and/or yeast in beer that is a home run for me. This one was a winner! 

It's like a black light basement party inside Kilowatt!
Luke was kind enough to hook us up and, knowing I work for Tröegs, informed us that with so many breweries in San Diego, they all offer generous industry discounts. Good info to have in my back pocket, especially since we'd be hitting copious amounts of breweries on this trip, as usual. 

My view at Culture. I dig the Cheers logo knockoff.

Further up Newport Ave. is Culture. We'd visited on our last trip and dug the vibe of this place. I remembered that the beers were solid but not ultimately memorable, or at least mind-blowing. After checking out the tap list, we decided on a one-pint limit here. I opted for the RIPA Rye IPA, while Brewslut uncharacteristically chose a Wheat IPA. Perhaps I nudged her to try that one, as I love the style. Either way, both were pretty solid. Again, nothing too memorable. I was more enamored with the assortment of dogs in the Tasting Room during our visit. Yes, San Diego is extremely dog-friendly, so add that to the long list of things I love about the city.

No culture shock for Pleeps!

Just across the street is a brewery new to us. Dano had actually mentioned that Helm's Brewing was "skippable," but we decided to swing by for a beer since it was right across the street. Based on the beer I ordered, I'm really glad we stopped by.

My view at Helm's OB taproom.

After having some heavy beers so early in the day, I decided to scale it back a few notches and order a 3.2% ABV Berliner Weisse called The Cat's Pajamas (love the name). They had a few syrups available, and I settled on the lavender and lemongrass. Wow! This really hit the spot. I usually prefer woodruff syrup (a green-tinted, woody-flavored syrup to accompany by Berliner Weisse over fruity syrups), but this may have taken the cake. The flavor combination was spot-on and paired well with the blast of mouth-puckering joy brought on by the base beer. I wish we would have stopped back for another one of these when we returned to OB a few days later. Sadly, we did not. We also enjoyed some great conversation with the bartender and a few other East Coasters who were on vacation. PA represent!

Naked Pleeps enjoys the Cat's Pajamas.

By this time, we needed some non-liquid nourishment, so we headed back down Newport Ave. to a favorite spot of ours. No visit to San Diego would be complete for us without a trip to South Beach for fish tacos. No matter what time of day we visit, it always seems to be "happy hour." On this particular visit, the place was pretty dead. Typically, the place is packed or at least very busy when we arrive. This time, ghost town. Dano had mentioned that they were going downhill lately and mentioned there are much better places for fish tacos. Coming from a native, I don't doubt it. But getting fish tacos at South Beach has become a ritual for us. The tap selection is also pretty decent, and you can always find a tasty West Coast style IPA on tap. This time, we both decided on Bear Republic's Racer IPA, which we hadn't had in a while. While somewhat tame by today's standards, this beer literally was THE beer that introduced me to the world of West Coast IPAs back during our inaugural visit to San Diego (it was at the Yard House in the Gas Lamp district, I believe). So needless to say, it holds a special place in my heart.

Across the street is another OB staple, Newport Pizza & Ale House. We enjoyed some slices over pints of Gremlin IPA from Little Miss Brewing and Hit Me With Your Best Hops from Acoustic Ales (more on both of those breweries later). This place is a typical hole-in-the-wall bar that just happens to have great beer and some damn fine pizza to boot. Since we love OB and visit several times during each visit to San Diego, a quick stop for a beer and a slice is mandatory.

Inside Modern Times. Behold the comic book wall!

On to Modern Times, perhaps our best find from our visit two years prior. Earlier in the day, we'd arranged for Dano to meet us there after his work shift. When we arrived, it felt great to be back at one of our very favorite San Diego breweries. We loved this place so much that we visited four times on our last visit.

Michael and Bubbles mural rendered in Post-it notes!
I decided to stay light for a while and ordered Fruitlands, a variation of its tasty Gose with passion fruit and guava. Brewslut opted for Drop Art, a saison brewed with mango and orange zest. It was great to catch up with Dano again (although we'd just seen him at Selin's Grove a mere 5 days ago when he came home to Bloomsburg for a visit) and enjoy the ambiance (and great beer) of Modern Times. Before we left, I had to get a pour of the Black House nitro stout with coffee, coconut and cocoa. Hops aside, these are quite possibly my three favorite "C" beer ingredients. Enjoyable, to say the least. During this visit, we also discovered that Modern Times had begun canning its amazing cold brew coffee. Wha-wha-whaaaaat?! Yes, indeed! Now it would be possible for us to enjoy a cold brew whenever it tickled our fancy. Needless to say we drank our fair share of these puppies during the trip.

My vantage point at Modern Times.

Back at Dano's pad for the evening, I cracked open some cans of a 4-pack I procured from Modern Times called Clear and Present Dankness while we chilled out after a long day enjoying OB's recently expanded beer scene. I love me a good, dank IPA, and this one delivered. Great stuff, indeed!

Clear and Present Dankness!

We're just getting started, folks! Stay tuned for plenty of more beer-soaked memories from our recent trip inside the whale's vagina. Until then...

Pour Travelers family portrait.