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Friday, July 28, 2017

San Diego 2017 - Part 4: Mista Vista

Today, the plan was to head north to Vista, where a large number of new breweries began popping up over the last few years. This craft brewery boom is partly the result in aggressive tax breaks given to breweries for opening in Vista. While I can't back this up with a citing or quotation from the Internet (or otherwise), somebody from one of the breweries out there told me. Or perhaps it was Nicole's husband Jon. Or perhaps I read it somewhere. Either way, it seems to be true.   

But first, we made a quick detour to Green Flash Cellar 3, which is "kind of" on the way up to Vista. Regardless, it's worth a stop. We discovered Cellar 3 two years ago on our last trip, and fell in love with this place. For those not in the know, Cellar 3 is Green Flash Brewing Company's experimental and barrel-aging facility, where you'll find racks of assorted barrels, many foeders, and a huge list of sour and wood-aged treats. In addition, they also serve Green Flash and Alpine's core brands, none of which we imbibed during our visit. Because wood. Wood, Jerry. Wood. 

Wood is good! Foeders at Cellar 3. 

If you want to try a variety of beers here, then I highly suggest you do 4oz. pours. Some of the beers are pretty hefty in ABV, so be warned. Check out some of these tantalizing selections we sampled:
  • Brilliant Sauvage - wild ale aged in red wine barrels with passion fruit.
  • Lustrous Frumento with Coffee - 13.1% ABV black ale (aka Imperial Stout) matured in freshly-emptied Old Forrester bourbon barrels for 30 months, then steeped with cold brew coffee made from a blend of Brazilian and Sumatran beans from San Diego coffee roaster, Mostra. Think lots of spicy oak, smooth vanilla, caramel, and rich coffee notes. Probably my favorite of the lot. 
  • Natura Morta with Boysenberry - Belgian-style saison aged in wine barrels with Brett and boysenberry.
  • Sepia Frumento - 13.5% ABV bourbon barrel-aged barleywine with orange zest and cherries.
  • Lustrous Frumento with Luxardo Cherries - See above + Luxardo (gourmet Maraschino) cherries.
  • We Were Here First! - 11.6% ABV bourbon barrel-aged golden strong ale brewed with crimson raisins. 

Pleeps chillin' with my Kool-Aid.
Needless to say, this place has risen to the top of our "must-hit" places in San Diego. Green Flash is doing some amazing experimental, barrel-aged and sour beers at this beautiful facility, so I can't imagine a trip to San Diego without stopping here, despite it being off the beaten path.

Small batch on the left, standard stuff on the right.
Shadowing its elegant beers, the space of Cellar 3 itself is equally as refined. The place is neat, tidy, and upscale without coming across as stuffy or pretentious. It kind of reminds me of a winery run by beer geeks. The whole vibe of the place conveys an artistic vision of the beer itself. I guess I mean that the beer is the art, but the art is the beer. OK, that sounds dumb. Perhaps this photo will better illustrate the point I'm attempting to get across:

One of my Instagram pics that turned out pretty cool!

Bottom line: If you're visiting San Diego and like beer, do yourself a favor and go there! It definitely is one of the more memorable beer destinations in the area.

Our next stop was Second Chance, a new brewery for us. Inside, the floor plan is massive, with a wide-open seating plan, various games, and space for private gatherings. One such gathering was actually taking place when we arrived, so we grabbed two seats at the bar. After perusing the beer list, we decided to share a sampler flight.

Splintered sunlight outside Second Chance.

Here's the skinny on our flight:
  • What Gose Round Comes Around - Gose brewed with pink Himalayan sea salt. Collab with the Pink Boots Society, an organization created to assist, inspire and encourage women beer industry professionals to advance their careers through education.
  • Seize the Coffee - special version of the flagship Seize the IPA infused with local cold brew coffee from Monstra Coffee. 
  • Tabula Rasa - porter brewed with toasted oats. Nuts, coffee and chocolate. 
  • CoCo Rasa - porter with vanilla beans, cacao nibs, and toasted coconut. Yum!
Obligatory Pour Travelers sampler flight shot with Pleeps.

While we were there, we ended up having a nice conversation with an older fellow who turned out to be a local. He even offered to buy us a beer, but unfortunately we had to get moving, because our itinerary included another full day of brewery visits.

In digging a little bit post-trip for some additional brewery information (including some background on the name Second Chance), it seems like the brewery's moniker is a fitting one, considering its proud support of charitable non-profit organizations (some of which are no-kill animal shelters offering a "second chance" on life) as well as the refurbished items used to built its tasting room. You can read in-depth about all of this here. This made me smile! :-)

I don't know that we've ever skipped Lost Abbey/Port Brewing during one of our trips to San Diego. It's long been one of our favorites, and the tasting room actually hasn't changed much since our initial visit. We've had virtually every beer they've done, so we decided to share a 375mL bottle of one of Brewslut's favorites, Red Poppy. I like this beer quite a bit, but she LOVES it. Needless to say, her face lit up when I suggested we split a bottle of it for our inaugural Lost Abbey beer of the visit.

This beer, inspired by the state flower of California, is Lost Abbey's interpretation of a Belgian Flanders-style red ale. Red Poppy celebrates the cherry in all its glory, resulting in an explosion of sour cherry pucker with traces of cinnamon, oak, and vanilla around the edges. While it's always a pleasure to share this with the wife, I definitely prefer Cuvee de Tomme over this one by a pretty favorable margin.

Pleeps guarding our bottle of Red Poppy.

Up next, I opted for a pour of the Hop Concept: Citrus & Piney. I'd sampled one of these on our previous trip to San Diego, and I'd just assumed that these were a line of Port's experimental offerings. However, I recently learned that Hop Concept is, in fact, its own operation based out of San Marcos, CA. Its "Hop Freshener" series features four different beers designed to allow the prospective drinker to select a beer "in the now" based on what IPA flavor profile he or she prefers. You can read more about the Hop Freshener series here

Pleeps is down with hops, too!

Something new we hadn't had from Lost Abbey yet was its new Ex Cathedra, a barrel-aged Quad. This decadent beer begins with Lost Abbey’s Belgian Quad, Judgment Day, which is aged in Bourbon barrels for over a year before being spiked with orange peel, ginger, and a variety of spices. Overall, it was quite enjoyable, although it was perhaps just a bit too heavy on the anise, which gave a slight licorice finish. Luckily, there was plenty of other interesting flavors whirling around my palate to be too sidetracked by the anise. Overall, I'm glad we got to try this one!

We had gotten in touch with Nicole and Jon since they lived in the area. Last time, we met Nicole at Mother Earth (also in Vista) but we skipped it this time in lieu of some newer, uncharted territory. We decided to meet at Latitude 33, yet another brewery occupying an industrial park.

Outside Latitude 33.

The beers here were pretty solid but not as memorable as ones from some of our other stops throughout the day. Perhaps the most memorable thing about Latitude 33 was their sampler flight presentation. Here's what we sampled:

  • Mangoveza IPA - fruity and tropical IPA with a hint of habañero heat.
  • Lifted Embargo IPA - flagship IPA with a dry, crisp, citrusy character.
  • Ocean Grown IPA - DIPA hopped with Motueka, Nelson, Citra and Mosiac.
  • Breakfast Stout - Oatmeal coffee stout brewed with Ryan Bros. Coffee. I smell dark roasted malt, chocolate, coffee, and a cease and desist from a little brewery in Grand Rapids, MI. 

Sample glasses served in cupcake tins!

After Latitude 33, we took a very short two-minute drive to our next stop, Toolbox. I wasn't sure what to expect with a name like Toolbox. I always think of "toolbox," "toolbag," etc. as derogatory terms. You don't want to be associated with a tool (unless you're talking about the band; then it's open for debate). Turns out this place is totally legit, and they've carved out an interesting niche for themselves in the largely IPA-saturated beer scene of San Diego. Toolbox is churning out some incredibly complex sour and barrel-aged beers in the same vein as Lost Abbey. They have a knack for brewing Belgian-inspired wild ales, and while their tap list was dominated by these types of beers, they did have a pair of hazy IPAs on tap (which we didn't try). Instead, I wanted to focus on what they considered their forte: barrel-aged sours.

Inside the Toolbox.

Brewslut started off light with Bog Sauce, a light, tart Berliner Weisse brewed with raspberries and cranberries. I can't recall if I've ever come across a cranberry Berliner Weisse in our travels, so this was a welcome surprise. I find it to be one of the more tart berries out there, so it seems like a no-brainer for a brewery to toss some into a sour wheat beer such as a Berliner Weisse. Right?  

For my first beer, I chose La Cuvée Concorde (The Harmony Blend), a barrel-aged blended saison. This sucker was super-complex, boasting notes of cherry pie filling, grape tannins, oak, and some barnyard funk. To learn more about this beer (including the different barrels, yeast and bacteria used to create this gem), click here.

Looks like a science experiment.

Next, we enjoyed Eau d' Vine Rouge, a barrel-aged American wild ale with Cabernet Franc and Merlot grapes. They age this beer for 6 to 18 months in French oak barrels with a mixture of wild yeast strains and bacteria. The result is an incredibly vinous beer with lots of ripe grape flavor and fairly sharp acidity. A really dry Cab Franc is probably my favorite type of wine, so it was a joy to see a beer aged on this kind of grape.

We finished up with Flavor of Love, a barrel-aged American Wild Ale with passion fruit. I couldn't help but think of Flava Flav (yeah booooooooooiiiiiiieeeeee!) when I ordered this beer. Truth be told, this beer may have been even more complex than the inner-workings of N.W.A.'s beloved "hype man" California Chardonnay barrels for 14 months and fermented with golden passion fruit.

Toolbox is sportin' some serious wood!

Up next, we decided to hit up a place that had been recommended to us from our bartender at Bay City Brewing. In addition to some tasty beers, she promised wizards, dragons, and other blasts from my role-playing childhood past. I must admit, the D&D geek inside of me couldn't resist paying a visit to the newly opened BattleMage. She had also mentioned, "If you like Magic the Gathering, then you'll love these guys!" While I never played this fantasy card game, I was still intrigued.

Yes, that's Magic the Gathering cards wallpapering the walls.

By this time of day, we were extremely hungry, but hadn't had the opportunity to eat since we'd been visiting "tasting rooms" with no food. Much to our chagrin, BattleMage was also devoid of foodstuff. Luckily, there was a nearby pizza place that delivered directly to the tasting room, so we ordered subs and fries. Good enough for us to help soak in more beer!

I kicked off with a beer that might have the most matter-of-fact name I've come across: The Beer Is Dark And Full of Caffeine. One could only surmise that this would be a coffee stout. I was correct in my assumption. This was a solid milk stout with a fairly strong coffee note. I rarely pass up the opportunity to try a new coffee stout or porter when I come across one in our travels. This one didn't blow me away, but it was respectable for a brewery that had only been open for less than two months. These guys are so new, their Untappd page hasn't even been claimed yet.

The other beer I sampled was Hopdouken, BattleMage's stab at a West Coast IPA. Again, respectable but not mind-blowing. This is fine, by the way. I don't expect to be pleasantly bitch-slapped by a new beer or brewery every time. I'm just glad to visit a new place with its own niche that's brewing drinkable beers. These guys are definitely following their own - to use the parlance of the Middle Ages - quest.

The BattleMage guys were happy to chat about beer with us, and they offered us a few samples of their other offerings, which was nice of them. By this time, a bathroom break was in order. I'd snapped a few interesting pics of brewery bathrooms in the past. A few that come to mind are Diamond Knot outside Seattle (the impetus for Al's keg urinals) and Bunker in Portland, ME (sign reading "Employees must carve Slayer into forearms before returning to work"). BattleMage joins the short list of intriguing bathroom pics in my collection. Here you go:

Even the TP dispensers fit the theme at BattleMage.

I gotta admit, Booze Brothers wasn't even on my list of places to stop. I was kind of turned off by the name of the place. It reminded me of two Frat brothers butt-chugging Jagermeister just to get wasted. While I enjoy partaking from the occasional shot or cocktail, I'm obviously a "beer guy" (hence the blog). However, the guys at BattleMage said this place had hands-down the best atmosphere of all the breweries in the area. So we decided we had one more stop left in us before heading back to Dano's.

Inside Booze Brothers. Some of the best ambiance of the trip!

Turns out the BattleMage guys weren't just right about the atmosphere, but the people and beers were great as well! Here's what we enjoyed during our visit, which turned out to be a bit longer than we'd anticipated:
  • Buena Vista IPA - Booze Brothers' flagship IPA hopped with Eureka, Citra, and El Dorado.
  • Bella Goat - Red Belgian IPA with hints of stone fruit and pine. Got this one just for the name!
  • Crow Jane IPA - IPA with pineapple and tropical notes. 
  • Raspberry Deliverance - Raspberry ale brewed with wild yeast and Mosaic hops. Brewed for the Beer to the Rescue fundraising campaign.
Fifteen taps, little man...

I don't even remember how it happened, but shortly after we walked in, I got to talking music with the bartender, and we quickly bonded over Frank Zappa. He then proceeded to change the music to Zappa for several songs. This place had a sort of western ranch or barn vibe and boasted a huge floor plan with many different tones of wood and plant life, a sweet bar, and even a cozy open-air beer garden in the back reminiscent of horse stalls.

Beer Garden area outside Booze Brothers.

We may have had one more place on the list for this evening. We had tried to swing by Bear Roots, but they were closed to the public for a private event. We overheard a few jokes being told by a comedian inside, and honestly we were glad we couldn't get in... if you know what I mean. We'll definitely keep them on our list for next time.

Speaking of next time, be sure to tune in again soon for another day's beer adventures in San Diego. Until next time, Pleeps gets the last word...

Pensive Pleeps.

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