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Thursday, July 26, 2012

San Diego 2012 - Part III: Smoke and a Sausage

Friday was a pretty light beer day (not LITE beer) in terms of actual consumption, because we decided to head up north to Harrah's Rincon Valley Center to see Cheech and Chong in concert!  Harrah's is a mammoth casino complex housed on an Indian reservation about an hour outside of San Diego proper.  I'd listened to Cheech and Chong's Greatest Hit compilation tape quite a bit back when I was a kid, and also saw several of their movies (my favorite being "Up in Smoke"), so it was kind of a "bucket list" decision... let's go and cross it off the list!  After all, when else would we get the chance to see these two comedy icons in the flesh?  

But first, we headed to Rancho's again for breakfast, then to Rite-Aid for some gym-related articles, and finally to the gym for our workout before stopping in at Pizza Port OB for their awesome lunch special - a slice of pizza, a hefty salad and a beer.  Today, I went with the Chinooki Pale Ale brewed with 100% Chinook hops.  The sign on the tap list was quite humorous and depicted the Snookie (from that God-awful MTV show Jersey Shore) Monster from a fairly recent South Park episode.  I got a kick out of it.  

 We had a bit of time, so we decided to check out a brand new brewery called Societe that just opened about six weeks prior to our visit.  We were surprised to find a fairly large brewery and tasting room situated in one of the many industrial parks that seem to house many of the San Diego breweries.  But the floor plan was so open, that they definitely have plenty of room to grow and expand.  Overall, I really enjoyed the vibe of Societe.  I get the feeling that they are trying to create a Victorian-style fictional town, given the names of their beers and images on their merchandise.  They only had five beers on tap during our visit, so we opted for a sampler, which included generous pours of all five beers.   Of the five beers, three were IPAs (The Dandy, The Apprentice and The Pupil) while two were Belgian-style ales (The Harlot and The Widow).  My favorite was, without a doubt, The Pupil, an IPA brewed with one of my favorite hop varietals - Nelson Sauvin.   In retrospect, Societe may have been my favorite of the "new" breweries we visited during this trip.  I look forward to returning to see what else they've come up with since this past visit.

Inside Societe's brewery
We milled around OB for a bit and headed back to Dano's to get ready for the Cheech and Chong show.  After chilling for a bit, we embarked on the hour-long drive to Harrah's.  The roads were quite Californian - long, winding mountainous two-lane highways that made me wish I was in the front seat (motion sickness, you know?).  We made it to the casino about an hour before the concert was set to begin, and we had to secure tickets and eat dinner.  Lucky for us, one of the restaurants in the casino was pretty dead, so we ordered and were served in about fifteen minutes.  We chose a steakhouse, not the best option for Brewslut and I, but we had very limited options. So we both inhaled our chicken Caesar salads and headed to the venue.  Overall, the show was great, with Chong's wife (extremely HOT wife, that is) opening the show and acting as MC throughout the night.  The duo performed many of its musical hits (Basketball Jones, Earache My Eye, Born in East LA) and a solo set from Blind Melon Chitlin.  And of course, they performed the classic "Dave" and "Let's Make a Dope Deal" skits, among others.  After the show, we headed back to San Diego for some much needed rest, as tomorrow would be a busy drinking day, indeed!

We had a pretty hectic itinerary planned for June 16.  First up was our daily visit to Pizza Port OB, followed by a stop at Ballast Point's newly expanded tasting room.  I was pleased to find that they beefed up the beer selection from about eight or ten selections to a whopping twenty-two taps, complete with most of the flagship and seasonal beers, as well as several one-offs and specialty beers rarely seen in PA.  We decided to get several samplers, as there was plenty on tap that we'd either never had previously, or wanted to drink again!  We opted for the Barrel Aged Piper Down (a Scottish ale), Three Sheets Barleywine, a special batch of Black Marlin Porter brewed with chipolte peppers, cocoa nibs and orange peel, Indra Kunindra (a curry stout brewed with cumin, cayenne, kaffir leaves, coconut and the aforementioned curry), and finally Barmy ale (brewed with apricots and honey).  We honestly could have stayed for another hour.  

So many taps... not enough livers!
 Aside from the beer, we also met a local fellow at the bar with whom we struck up a conversation.  When we mentioned we were both from Pennsylvania, he informed us that his cousin lived there, but in a small town we'd likely never heard of - Shamokin!  As you probably know, both Brewslut and I grew up in Shamokin and lived there until we graduated high school.  So it was quite amusing to meet someone three-thousand miles away who'd heard of little old Shamokin.

Up next on the agenda was a visit to a relatively new brewery called Hess Brewing.  I must admit that I'd never heard of them before, but I soon found that they had only opened in August 2010.  Hess has the distinction of being San Diego's first licensed nano brewery, meaning the are REALLY small (they brew in 1.6 barrel batches, or about fifty gallons per batch).  It appears that Hess has a penchant for brewing some pretty ballsy brews.  Of the four beers we sampled, the lowest ABV was 6.3% (a tasty coffee and cream stout named Grazias Induresco).  We also tried the Amplus Aeerba, a San Diego Pale Ale weighing in at a mammoth 11.3% ABV, as well as Ex Umbris, a rye imperial stout (9.8% ABV) and finally Solis Occasus, a DIPA with Meridian hops and weighing in at 7.7% ABV.  We were also feeling a bit peckish, and thankfully there was a food truck outside peddling European sausages.  Lucky for us, they had an apple chicken sausage with cheese and caramelized onions that was delicious and really hit the spot!

Next was our much-anticipated return visit to Alesmith.  If you may recall, they were closed the last time we visited San Diego, and needless to say, we were quite bummed out.  This time around, we made sure the tasting room was open!  Lucky for us, they had a killer tap selection and a recently expanded tasting room to boot.  We enjoyed the Yulesmith Summer DIPA, a double coffee version of the amazing Speedway Stout and also the standard version of Speedway.  It was pretty much elbow to asshole in the tasting room, so we decided to chill and sit on the floor and enjoy our own company rather than try to be sociable.  I also picked up the first of several brewery T-shirts at Alesmith, a cool black and gray all-over print design featuring the Alesmith brewery logo as well as their high gravity beer logos.

It's a bit too big for Pleeps, so I guess I'll keep it!
Just a hop, skip and jump away from Alesmith is Green Flash Brewing Company.  We'd visited once before during our inaugural trip to San Diego, but we were thrilled to find that they too have expanded their tasting room... and entire brewery, for that matter!  We enjoyed pours of the Double Stout, Le Freak, White IPA and Palate Wrecker, the two latter beers I'd never had before.  Green Flash makes some amazing beers, and it was great to see how much they have expanded since our last visit.  We also got talking to some folks who were in the process of opening a new brewery somewhere in California (if memory serves me correctly), so perhaps there will be another new brewery waiting for us on our next visit.  Check out some great pics, courtesy of Brewslut...

As if this day wasn't epic enough, we decided to make the 90-minute trek to Orange County to visit The Bruery.  But I will save that story for Part IV.  Until then... cheers!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Seven years of beer geekery finally pays off!

Seven years ago (or thereabouts), I became enamored with craft beer.  I'd never developed a taste for beer prior to that, largely due to the fact that I grew up in Shamokin, PA, a veritable beer wasteland, where Yuengling Lager and Genesee Cream Ale was the "good stuff."  However, in my late twenties, I decided to try and get into beer, mostly because beer is the only alcoholic drink a musician can get for free while performing at bars and nightclubs.  I started off with Miller Lite and Corona, and quickly moved on to Blue Moon, then Franziskaner.  At one point, I thought Appalachian's Water Gap Wheat was the best thing since sliced bread.  However, one day when I was having lunch at the Center Street Grille in Enola, PA, I came across a yellow tap handle with the name Troegs emblazoned upon it.  Curious, I decided to try the beer, as I heard they were a local brewery from nearby Harrisburg!  It turned out to be Rugged Trail Nut Brown Ale.  It was at this precise moment that I morphed into a beer geek.  Over the course of the next year, Troegs played an important role in educating me about the various beer styles.  The first hoppy beer I ever sampled was Hopback, and the first dark beer I ever loved was Dead Reckoning.  Sunshine Pils turned into my go-to beer of the summer.  As it turned out, the brewery was a short hop, skip and jump away from my office in Camp Hill, so I would frequent the brewery during my lunch breaks and get to know its employees.

Over the course of the next few years, my love for Troegs multiplied.  I attended special releases, firkin events, the awesome 10th anniversary party, even volunteered for the Brewer's Festival.  I had even dreamed of working there someday.

Well, that "someday" has finally arrived.

I am pleased to announce that I am gainfully employed at Troegs Brewing Company as of Tuesday, July 17 (although my first official day of work is August 14).  I am the new Coordinator of Media and Communications, and I couldn't be more thrilled!  While music is my first passion in life, I've often said that craft beer comes in at a close second.  I look forward to a long, fruitful career with Troegs Brewing Company.  Look for me next time you are at the brewery!

Brewery Manager Ed Yashinsky and myself at Troegs on the day I accepted employment!

Monday, July 16, 2012

San Diego 2012 - Part II: Hello OB!

We awoke to a slightly overcast first day in Ocean Beach (hereon out referred to as simply OB), eagerly ready to begin our "beer-cation" in our favorite U.S. city.  But first, breakfast and fitness were on the agenda.  I perused Dano's bathroom library and came across a recent issue of San Diego magazine, which coincidentally enough was a "Best of San Diego" issue and featured plenty of restaurant listings for OB.  We settled on a restaurant with a Mexican and vegetarian flair - Rancho.  We soon found that it was conveniently about a minute away from Dano's.  Upon entering, I'd remembered we'd eaten there once for dinner with Dano on a previous trip to San Diego, and the food was very good.  The menu boasted quite a bit of vegetarian and vegan selections, including vegan carne asada!  They also have a nice looking salad bar with fresh vegetables and dressings.  I opted for a breakfast burrito special, and it was tasty and filling.

Next, it was off to Robb Athletic Field to join the local gym.  Brewslut and I have been working with a personal trainer for about two years, so we felt it necessary to seek out a local gym so we wouldn't come back to PA out of shape.  We decided to join for an entire month since it was only $25 versus $5 per day, as we figured we'd go more than five times.  (We were correct... we went to the gym seven times during our visit.)

Pleeps is happy to be back at Pizza Port OB!

But enough of that.  First on the beer agenda was a visit to Pizza Port OB, the first of ELEVEN visits.  You see, I got it stuck in my stupid noggin that we should go to Pizza Port OB every day of our trip and have at least one beer during each visit.  It sounded like a reasonable goal for the trip, right?  I opted for the Middle Man IPA, while Brewslut chose the A.B.L.E. Stout.  I also got the OB 125th Anniversary Pale Ale, brewed in celebration for, well, OB's 125th Anniversary.  Both were excellent and got the trip started on the right foot.

A plethora of beer at Pizza Port OB!

Brew system at Pizza Port OB... right in front of the bar!

Next, it was over to one of our favorite spots, South Beach Bar & Grille, up on the Newport Ave. strip.  This place has the best fish tacos on the planet!  See below if you don't believe me.  Yes, they taste even better than they look!  They are even better when you add a side of rice and beans and wash it down with a fresh Ballast Point Sculpin IPA!  Plus we hit during Happy Hour, so the Sculpin was only $3.00 and the Wahoo tacos were $2.75 each!

Best. Meal. Ever!
Afterwards, we made a quick stop at the Olive Tree Marketplace, where they have quite an extensive beer selection.  I picked up a six pack of Deschutes Inversion IPA to share with Dano, while Brewslut picked up a few bottles of North Coast Old Rasputin.

For dinner, we settled on the OB Noodle House and treated Dano and Mags to dinner and drinks as a thank you for letting us crash for the duration of the trip.  Dano had taken us there on our last trip, and not only was the food bangin', but the beer selection was stellar as well!  I decided to go with the dry chow fun, which was pretty damn amazing, and paired it with Port's 6th Anniversary IPA, which was perhaps the best anniversary beer of theirs I've had thus far.  This year's offering was a citrusy, tropical fruity, juicy, lip-smacking DIPA.  After dinner, we retired to Dano's to chill for a bit, drink some of the aforementioned Deschutes IPA and hit the sack.

Stay tuned for Part III... coming soon!

Monday, July 2, 2012

San Diego 2012 - Part I: Pre-gaming in the City of Brotherly Suds

Every summer, it gets more and more difficult to select a vacation destination, because every time we pick somewhere to visit, we always end up weighing it against San Diego.  Unfortunately for the hundreds of other possible destinations, we always tend to go back to Old Faithful.  If you've read my previous blog about San Diego, then I'm sure by now you already know that I consider the great city my personal "Beer Mecca".  It also helps to have a good friend who resides there, one who is always gracious to put us up for a few nights.  In this case, about eleven nights!  Thanks Dano and Mags!  I had read about numerous new breweries and brewpubs opening since our last visit in late June/early July 2011, so Brewslut and I had a pretty hefty schedule by which to abide.

However, I will preface the actual meat of the trip with a quick prelude about making our travel arrangements for this year's San Diego trek.  Last year on our flight to Seattle, Brewslut and I signed up for a US Air Mastercard, whereby we were promised 30,000 bonus miles to be used for a free flight to anywhere in the 48 continental United States.  Well, unfortunately for us, what ensued was about five hours of hellish conversations with various customer service representatives trying desperately to get our flight booked.  On previous trips, we typically fly out of Harrisburg, which is only about thirty minutes from our house, and a friend or family member would drive us to and from the airport as to avoid costly airport parking fees.  But since we were using "free miles," we were at the mercy of the airline.  We had originally planned to fly out to San Diego on Friday, June 15 and return on Sunday, June 24.  But alas, we could not schedule anything on Friday or Thursday, so we had to leave Wednesday evening out of Philadelphia instead of the preferred Harrisburg.  So although we had some extra driving and parking expenses, we were able to pre-game in the City of Brotherly Suds.

We arrived at Casa de Spade on Tuesday evening, June 12, and got caught up in some conversation, so we didn't make it out that night.  But we did crack open two Left Hand beers I'd brought to share with Matt - Fade to Black and Wake Up Dead - as they are his favorite brewery.  It is also noteworthy that both of these beers are named after great songs by Metallica and Megadeth, respectively.

The next morning, we headed down the street a few blocks to one of our favorite breakfast spots in the city, Cafe Lift, for some coffee and morning grub.  Then it was off to Memphis Taproom, where we opened the place (as usual).  I love Memphis Taproom because they open early and the bartenders are always extremely cool and talkative.  While we were there, I enjoyed a Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale and Victory Braumeister Pils.  As I've said before, Fishtown may very well be our favorite section of the city, not only due to its abundance of fine craft beer establishments, but also for the free parking.  After a double header at Memphis Taproom, we checked out arguably my favorite beer bar in Philly - Kraftwork.  This place not only features one of the coolest themes of any area beer bar (think tools and auto gear), but they also have perhaps the most comfortable bar at which I've had the pleasure to sit.  The staff is always super friendly, and the food is fantastic.  This time, we split a Mediterranean platter, complete with veggies, hummus and baba ganoush.  Delicious!

We had time to hit one more spot before we needed to get to the airport, so we decided on Hawthorne's, where I enjoyed Coronado's Blue Bridge Coffee Stout.  We hadn't been there since Philly Beer Week 2011 for the Hill Farmstead event.  If you haven't been there, they boast a large, varied bottle selection that is meticulously arranged for easy perusal.  We also ended up having a nice conversation with one of the young beer managers on duty this particular day.

However, our imbibing for the day had come to an end, as we had to get to the airport for our flight.  All in all, it was a very pleasant flight - it was only about 40% booked, so there was plenty of room to stretch out, and it was a direct flight, which meant no timely layovers in another city.  We landed in San Diego at approximately 11:10pm, picked up our rental car and headed to Dano's new place, which is only half a block from the beach in Ocean Beach.  This would be our home for the next eleven days.

Stay tuned for Part II, coming soon!