Barrels and Brewery Cats

It was perfect beer drinking weather down here in San Diego yesterday, probably around 80 degrees, and we took full advantage. Having been in Alpine, we drove back into San Diego in the morning. We planned to take it easy because we had a big afternoon of beer touring to do. Our idea of taking it easy was to mosey around the North Park neighborhood waiting for Toronado San Diego to open. We were their first customers of the day.

YiB-11We were a little unsure of how Toronado’s dingy charm and colorful staff would be recreated down here, but we couldn’t let skepticism stop us from checking it out. The beer selection was every bit as good as the original and didn’t disappoint. The only thing we kept saying was, “It’s so clean!” We talked to Jay, who we assume is a manager of some sort, and he had a great answer for us. They didn’t want to fake the atmosphere and he figures that the original has 22 years on them as far as creating the inside patina. They had just a few stickers on the wall, but he’s looking forward to getting the walls covered in the coming years. I’m sure it won’t be long for their patina will be just as gritty. We had our pint and ventured back to our hotel before our afternoon beer tour.

YiB-11On to the main event, John from Brewery Tours of San Diego picked us up around 1pm. We anxiously awaited his arrival because it meant the start of getting chauffeured around to all the big names in the San Diego brewing scene.

Our first stop was Lightning Brewing. We didn’t know much about the brewery except for that Chris tried one of their beers at GABF. Even though we arrived before 2pm, the party had already started. We joined a few guys who appeared to be regulars. The volunteer pouring beer even introduced us to a new name for brewery regulars: brewery cats. You know how book stores often have the shop cat who lounges around the stacks and window display. They come and go minding their own business, but overall seem to be a permanent fixture. Think of someone like that hanging out in a brewery.

Lightning had some German style lagers, the prospect of which pleased me to no end, and then a couple of English style ales. We both liked the Kölsch-style Ale. And, we enjoyed their Hefe, too.

John, our tour guide, was a good sport as he stood in the shadows quietly drinking his bottle of water. He was a little surprised at our no nonsense style of beer tasting and after the first brewery, we were ahead of schedule. I think we were in and out of Lightening in about 20 minutes.

YiB-11Next up was Alesmith, the first of several highly anticipated visits for Chris. I knew that the rest of the afternoon was full of big beers, so I was a little less excited, but the breweries counted on the list just the same.

Jessica was our hostess and she was very friendly and knowledgeable. In short order, we were again joined by regulars talking about their homebrews and getting growlers filled. We tried all their usual suspects in addition to a special treat: the first day of offering Yule Smith Holiday Ale, an Imperial Red.  And surprisingly, I enjoyed Lil’ Devil, their Belgian-style ale. Horny Devil was a bit too much.

We were on a roll and it was off to Oceanside Brewing. The outside was unassuming, being located in an industrial park, so I wasn’t prepared for the crowd that we encountered inside. It was still before 4pm, but the place was mobbed with people drinking full pints.

The women behind the bar were volunteers and I don’t think they were used to people requesting taster sizes. The order in which we tried the beer was a little different than protocol would dictate, but we made the best of it. The favorite of regulars was a mix of the Blonde and the Strong American Ale, called, what else, the Strong Blonde. In addition to serving full pints, they had music and a hot dog vendor.

Hoppiness here we come. We were headed to Green Flash. I was expecting a big party there and it was. I admit, though, it was pretty amazing being surrounded by pallets filled with West Coast IPA. As you guys know, I’m not a big fan, but I guess I got swept up in the fanaticism.  Everyone was very cool and we talked to some really nice people. We started off with a Saison and I actually liked it. It came in at only 4.3%, with the next lowest beer being 6 something. John let me know that he didn’t think they bottled the Saison. Drats! Chris was in heaven as he sampled West Coast IPA, Imperial IPA, Double Stout and Palate Wrecker, another Double IPA.

The crowning glory….Port/Lost Abbey. This visit posed quite a conundrum for us, as we agonized over whether or not we could count Lost Abbey on our brewery list. We already had Port, but tried to figure out if Lost Abbey was a second brewery with the same owner or if it was two brand names from the same brewery. John was warming up to us, so we asked for his thoughts on the matter. Like most of our friends we questioned, he was non-committal, but leaned towards it being one brewery. Clearly this issue was ours to sort out. The answer was pretty clear from the minute we stepped in. One set of equipment.

The barrels were a beautiful site to behold, even though I don’t generally care for barrel aged beers. Chris enjoyed his tasters starting first with the Port Brewing lineup and then on to the Lost Abbey beers.  I indulged in a few pursed lip sips.

Then it was time to call it an evening. With the sky getting dark early, it felt like midnight, but it was only 7pm. And with visits to some of the hottest breweries in California, it felt like a lifetime.

John was a fun host. He admitted that it’s hard to go to these great breweries and not drink. But John and several other people that we met said they would be at the festival on Saturday, so hopefully we’ll see him livin’ it up. He certainly deserves it. By the way, as we left Port/Lost Abbey, I spotted a real black brewery cat.