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Saturday, October 1, 2011

L'Eggo my San Diego!

You know, I used to hate the beach.  That was, of course, before I’d ever been to the West Coast.  One of my oldest friends from Elementary school, Marc, has been living there for years.  After finishing his tenure with the U.S. Navy many years ago, he realized his love for San Diego was such that he decided to stay.  Marc and I were close friends between fourth and sixth grades, and then he moved to Bloomsburg (not a million miles away from Shamokin, but far enough when you are a kid without a driver’s license or the Internet).  After he moved, we continued to write letters to each other, and we occasionally visited one another over the weekend.  We remained in touch throughout high school, but then when I went to college and he enlisted in the service, we lost touch.  It wasn’t until many years later that we got back in touch via Myspace, when he informed me that he was residing in San Diego.  One of the first things he did was invite Brandi and I out to visit and stay at his apartment.  I had never been to California before, so naturally we took him up on his offer.  To my surprise, we were the first people to do so!  I must say that the first time our plane touched down in San Diego, I looked out the window to see the palm trees outlining the runway lights, and it just struck a chord with my inner soul.  I stepped off the plane and felt at home.

Then I found out how much it cost to live out there, and I came back to reality.  Lucky for me, I was very much into craft beer when I first visited San Diego, and I must say that it has since become my personal beer Mecca!

As soon as we got off the plane and picked up our rental car (a sleek black VW Beetle), we B-lined it right over to South Beach Bar & Grille, home of the tastiest fish tacos on the planet!  We were lucky to visit on "Taco Tuesday," so all of their delicious tacos were only $2.50 each.  And let me tell you, they are worth their weight in gold.  They also happen to have a pretty solid beer selection, so I was able to wash down my FOUR tacos with a pint of fresh Sculpin!  We're in San Diego for five minutes, and already we've peaked!  I mean, where do you go from there?!  If these pics don't make you start salivating, I don't know what will...

Across the Street from South Beach is the Newport Pizza & Ale House.  Their "no crap on tap" policy is still proudly enforced, I'm glad to report.  The names of their pizzas are quite comical as well, with Ron Jeremy being my favorite (a pizza with a lot of meat).  The place is small and kind of dingy, but we always make it a point to stop in for at least one beer, because they always have several great selections and the bartender is always cool.

The ceiling at Newport Pizza and Ale House.

Perhaps the thing I was most excited about our trip to San Diego this time was the opening of the new Pizza Port location in Ocean Beach, which is less than a five minute walk from Marc's apartment, where we were staying.  After we left Newport Pizza & Ale House, we took the short walk to the new Pizza Port and each opted for a sampler.  Mine included the following brews: O.B. Chronic (a hoppy amber); Jetty IPA; Tarantulas 2.0 (a black ale); and Bacon & Eggs (a "breakfast" porter). 

The brewpub is set up like their other brewpubs in Solana Beach and Carlsbad, with a surf theme and lots of big picnic tables scattered across the open floor plan.  There was a small deck too, which we were happy to occupy during both of our visits.
Pleepleus enjoying Brewslut's Cream Ale.
After chilling at South Beach, Newport Pizza and Pizza Port, Marc had an old Navy friend (who also happened to be in town) pick us up to meet at Coronado for happy hour.  Unfortunately, Idiot IPA was not on tap, so I settled for the lesser Islander IPA, which is still good but not as good as Idiot, of course.  Marc is a regular here, as well as a mug clubber, as he works at the Naval Base on Coronado Island.  So needless to say, he frequents Coronado's brewpub quite often.

 After enjoying a quick beer at Coronado, we hit up a place that Marc had recently been enjoying, The Regal Beagle.  His Navy pal Mark was also visiting San Diego during our visit, and he was generous enough to buy several rounds over the next few days.  I opted for an AleSmith Old Numbskull on tap.  It's not one of my favorite barleywines in the grand scheme of things, but it's solid.  When you order food here, they give you a TV character's name on a napkin and when your food is ready, they call the name over the loudspeaker.  So when you are there, expect to hear random names such as Arthur Fonzarelli, etc. which makes for a fun visit!

There's also a great little beer shop not too far from Marc's neighborhood called Olive Tree Marketplace.  It's part gourmet market and part beer store, actually.  The first time we stopped here (a few years back), they were very new and the beer selection was solid.  In recent years, they definitely stepped up their selection considerably.  They even have a "Beer Club," of which Marc is a member, and card-carrying members get bottle discounts and first dibs on rare, special releases.  If you visit here, expect to find offerings by such West Coast giants such as Alaskan, Avery, Deschutes, Firestone Walker, Grand Teton, Hair of the Dog, Midnight Sun, Russian River, as well as all of the San Diego breweries, plus some fine Belgian offerings by the likes of Cantillon and many others.  I picked up a heaping mass of Midnight Sun stuff, including Arctic Rhino Coffee Porter and Kodiak Brown Ale, as well as the obligatory bottle of Alaskan Smoked Porter.

During our last visit to San Diego, we missed out on a tour of the Stone brewery, unfortunately.  This time, however, we made plans to take the tour.  We got to the Stone Bistro a little early, so we perused the merchandise area and had a beer and snack (some tasty hummus) at the bar prior to the tour.  Also, the tour guide was one of the best we've encountered.  I could tell she was actually "into beer" prior to getting a job at Stone.  Her breadth of knowledge was also apparent in talking with her after the tour concluded.  She got a job at Stone because she loved beer; she wasn't just someone who had a good personality and needed a job.  So that was nice to see.  Brewslut took tons of pictures on the tour, and it culminated with a sampling of four of Stone's flagship beers: Levitation Ale, IPA, Smoked Porter and Arrogant Bastard (all of which I had before, save the Levitation Ale, for some reason unbeknownst to me). 

Bottling Arrogant Bastard bombers
One of the places that has eluded us on previous trips to San Diego is Alpine Beer Company.  Now, it's no secret that Alpine makes some of the finest hoppy ales... well, on the PLANET!  They offer a veritable laundry list of amazing hoppy beers: Nelson, Duet, Pure Hoppiness, Exponential Hoppiness.  All are amazing beers.  The aforementioned Nelson, brewed with Nelson Sauvin hops (a hop variety indigenous to New Zealand), was perhaps my beer of the trip.  I enjoyed this on draught at the brewpub.

Too many beers to try!
 Two doors down from the brewpub is Alpine's tiny production brewery.  I recently learned that Marc's friend, Cy Henley, was now working at Alpine as an associate brewer after a stint with Ballast Point.  We actually met Cy on our inaugural trip to San Diego through Marc when we visited Ballast Point's Brewer's Mart location.  I sampled some of his homebrews, and let me tell you, they were all as good, if not better, than the Ballast Point beers I had during that particular visit.  So needless to say Cy knows his stuff.  At any rate, we enjoyed a rather lengthy conversation with Cy and the other Alpine employees, mostly about music and concerts, although I had a few beer-related questions as well.  All in all, it was a fantastic visit, and probably my favorite beer of the trip was fresh Nelson on tap. 

Mmmm... fresh Nelson on tap!
We scoped out our master list of San Diego breweries, brewpubs and beer bars, and came up with one of the various Oggi's locations, which was on the way from Alpine and very close to Alesmith.  So we decided to stop in for a beer or two.  Known also as "Left Coast" (the brewers of Black Magic Stout and Hop Juice), I had heard of them before and even reviewed Hop Juice, a beer that I am on the fence about.  Still, we figured we'd stop in since we'd be driving right by.  Oggi's has a particular sports bar feel, with lots of televisions scattered about.  It also screams "chain," unfortunately.  I craved something light and refreshing, as it was uncharacteristically humid in San Diego on this particular day, so I opted for California Gold, a sessionable cream ale weighing in at 4.5%.  While I found it to be an average beer in the grand scheme of things, it nevertheless hit the spot.  Brewslut and I also shared an aforementioned Black Magic Stout, which I had anticipated to be an Imperial, or Russian Imperial, Stout.  Unfortunately it turned out to be an Irish Stout, or Foreign Export Stout, depending on your preference.  Again, not bad but just an average stout that falls somewhere squarely in the middle.

After a short visit to Oggi's, we decided to stop by AleSmith's tasting room for a few samples.  However, when we arrived, they were closed.  Apparently, they are not open on Thursday.  Oddly enough, I had their hours written down on my list of places to visit, but I guess I wasn't smart enough to consult the list prior to driving over there.  Oh well.  No fifty cent samples of Speedway for me this time!  M'wah.

Victory at Sea.  Sculpin.  Dorado.  Some of the best beers I've had from San Diego are brewed by Ballast Point.  They have two locations in San Diego: the official tasting room and Brewer's Mart, the latter of which has more experimental beers and also sells homebrew supplies.  Last time, we only had time to hit the Brewer's Mart.  However, on this particular visit, we made time to visit both sites.  Brewer's Mart had two very good ales brewed with peppers: one was a version of their Calico Amber and the other was a pale ale brewed with Serrano peppers.  Both were very tasty. Pleepleus agrees...

 Since we were only in town for a few days, we obviously tried to cram in as much beer as we could.  But alas, some tough decisions had to be made.  One was skipping O'Brien's (arguably the best beer bar in San Diego) in lieu of Toronado, which we hadn't been to yet.  When we visited San Francisco (home of the original Toronado) back on our epic 10th Anniversary California beer tour, we liked Toronado so much that we visited twice!  We had heard very good things about the San Diego location, so it was a no-brainer.  O'Brien's would have to wait until our next visit.  Cleaner, friendlier and more spacious than its San Franciscan counterpart, Toronado San Diego boasts an equally impressive tap selection and quite a mammoth bottle selection.  For example, I eyed up several bottles of Lost Abbey Cable Car, which were available for $40 each.  Where else are you going to find that?  (Well, maybe on eBay, where you can land a bottle for around $200... assuming you are drunk enough to pay that much!)  Anyway, Brandi and I were standing at the bar perusing the beer menu, while Marc scouted and secured a table near the back of the establishment.  While we were ordering our beers, I felt someone nudge me on the back of my knee (in middle school, we used to call this giving someone a "deadleg").  I though to myself, "Well, Marc is sitting back there and Brandi is in front of me... and I don't know anyone else in San Diego."  So I turn around, and to my surprise, there stood Cy and one of his homebrewer buddies.  I think Cy was already half in the bag.  After a quick exchange and introduction to his friend (Andy, if memory serves me correctly... of course, I was drinking all day, so I may be wrong), we found a bigger table to accommodate all five of us and enjoyed some general beer banter.  However, our visit to Toronado was short-lived, because Cy invited us back to his house for some beers and vinyl listening.  His long-time girlfriend used to work at O'Brien's but now is a manager at Pizza Port Ocean Beach.  I actually remembered her from our first visit to O'Brien's back in 2008.  We hung out on the back patio, and Cy broke out vintage bottles of Alaskan Smoked Porter and Hair of the Dog Fred and some other choice nuggets, as well as a growler one of Pizza Port's tasty IPAs.  Afterwards, we moved inside and enjoyed listening to some vintage vinyl and talking about everything from music and beer to dogs and East Coast life.  If we didn't have such an early flight back to PA in the morning, we could have easily stayed up all night drinking and talking with these awesome people.  It was one of the highlights of our trip!

Unfortunately, our visit to San Diego was all too brief this time around, but we plan on visiting annually.  There's just too much great beer out there to pass up!  Until next time...