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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!

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