Happy Birthday to Me

Waking up in San Diego on my birthday was pretty awesome. Having all day to further explore the beer scene before our evening flight home was extra icing on the cake.

Sunday morning walk at South Carlsbad State Beach

With a few hours to kill before our first brewery stop, we decided a walk on the beach would be a nice way to start my birthday. South Carlsbad State Beach, only a few miles from our hotel, was a hub of activity when we arrived mid-morning. Joggers crowded the trail on the bluff above the beach and surfers filled the water waiting to ride that next wave. With the temperatures already approaching 80° F, we enjoyed a romantic birthday stroll up and down the beach.

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Societe Brewing

With its reputation, I expected Societe Brewing to be busy when we arrived just after opening time. But the spacious, modern tasting room was surprisingly empty. Then, we remembered the NFC Championship game began at noon. Except for a quartet that arrived while we were sampling, we had the TV-free Societe pretty much all to ourselves.

The barrel room at Societe

There was so much detail in the large, open tasting room. The impressive wood, stainless and tiled bar was what we noticed first. Picnic-style tables filled the space and barrel-inspired art adorned the walls. The glass-encased barrel room with impressive stacks overlooked it all.

Before getting down to trying their beers, we settled the most pressing issue. Was the name pronounced “society” or the Cartman-esque “socie-TAY”? Somewhat to our disappointment, our bartender told us it was was the former, not the later.

Merideth enjoying The Harlot at Societe

Having Russian River Brewing in its pedigree, my expectations were higher than at any other stop that weekend. And Societe did not disappoint from the first beer, 10/19 O’Brien’s Anniversary. A  light-bodied. 5.6% ABV, all Chinook brew, Merideth and I, in a rare occurrence, agreed it was the beer of the trip. The next three samples, the Apprentice, the Pupil and the Harlot, two IPAs and a Belgian-style Extra Pale Ale, were also excellent. The two IPAs were boldly hopped with the malt playing second fiddle very well. By the time we reached the two heavy hitters, The Widow, a 9.2% ABV Belgian Dark and The Butcher, a 9.8% ABV Imperial Stout, we were in love. But with a plane to eventually catch, we needed to move along.

Flight at Rough Draft Brewing

Our next stop,  Rough Draft Brewing, was also sparsely populated despite a couple of TVs showing the 49ers-Falcons game. The narrow industrial space was dominated by the bar on one side and the brewery on the other. The couch area looked particularly comfy but Merideth was quite enamored by the succulent rock gardens at each of the large tables. We set up camp at one of those.

Enjoying the Session IPA at Rough Draft Brewing

From almost a dozen beers on tap, we chose a five flight sampler ranging from a Belgian-style Blond to a Belgian-style Vanilla Stout. Since it was my birthday, I chose three IPAs to go between those bookends. Merideth identified the light-bodied Blond, with spicy yeast notes, as her favorite. Frontal Labottleme IPA and Hop Therapy Double IPA, at 90 and 94 IBUs respectively, had the hop presence that I expected from a San Diego brew. But my star was the aptly named Session IPA. At 4.9% ABV and 43 IBUs, the Citra and Simcoe hops gave the brew a wonderful nose and flavor. Since it was my birthday, I treated myself to a pint.

Last brewery of the trip… Hillcrest

On a trip that at times felt like a grand tour of San Diego County industrial parks, it was nice to finish up our trip in San Diego proper. Located in the hip neighborhood of the same name, Hillcrest Brewing was a fabulous way to bring my birthday trip to a conclusion.

The “world’s first out and proud LGBT brewery,” the bright and open brewpub occupied a prime corner location along University Avenue. Sitting in its sunny and warm patio, we watched the people come and go, up and down the bustling thoroughfare.

Flight at Hillcrest Brewing

With suggestive names like Banana Hammock and Crotch Rocket, it was fun to go through the menu and have a good laugh. But there was more to the beers than sexually suggestive names. Though I have to say, Banana Hammock should have been a Hefeweizen not a Scotch Ale. From the flight, Merideth chose the perfect beer for the day, U-Hawl Hefeweizen. I continued my hop centric mood, enjoying Hoppy Endings, a 7.2% ABV IPA hopped with Summit and Columbus.

Enjoying pizza and beer in their beer garden on a warm January afternoon, Hillcrest was one of the highlight stops of the two day trip.

What a great weekend in San Diego. Happy Birthday to me!

View all the images from our second day in San Diego…

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Speed Dating in San Diego

We’ve been meaning to get back to San Diego. Really. Since our last visit in the fall of 2008, the already vibrant beer scene has exploded. With the vast county now boasting over 60 breweries, Merideth and I focused on quantity during our recent weekend visit to San Diego, kind of like a speed dating version of beer travel.

White Labs

On a glorious Saturday, we began our San Diego beer adventure focused on yeast at White Labs. To much fanfare last year, they opened a tasting room, with in-house brews highlighting their different yeast strains. The beers are dispensed from the 32 taps in the very modern, stainless and stone clad tap room.

An IPA and three Pale Ales at White Labs

Available are multiple versions of the same beer style, each using a different type of yeast. Ideally, each of these brews come from the same batch, easily discernible from the batch number on the electronic tap list. Merideth ordered three versions of Hefeweizen, all from the same batch. She complimented her four beer flight with a Brown Ale. I went with an IPA and three Pale Ales.

I’ll admit that tasting beer at White Labs took a bit of adjustment. Our first reaction was “Wow, these beers are kind of plain…” Then we remembered that they were brewed to highlight the yeast, so no big malt or hop flavors. From overhearing other conversations, we quickly learned the proper vocabulary, declaring all our samples “very clean.”

Hess Brewing, San Diego’s original nano-brewery

It was only a short distance to our next stop Hess Brewing. Famous for being San Diego’s first licensed nano-brewery, Hess will soon be graduating to the world of the big boys, opening a 30-bbl production brewery in the San Diego neighborhood of Northpark. But that is the future. We visited Hess at their small industrial space near Miramar.

Get a flight, keep the glass

Setting up at one of the upright barrels, Merideth was very happy to see some German-style beer represented in hop/IPA mad San Diego. The friendly beer-tender started our five beer flight with Claritas, their version of a Kölsh-style brew. It’s clean, light and refreshing body was perfect for a January San Diego day that was already pushing 80° F. The two stars were Helicon, a 5.3% ABV Rye Pale Ale and Deceptio, a 8.5% ABV, 85 IBU Cascadian IPA. More of a brown IPA than black, Deceptio had a huge hop presence. And Helicon, with its spicy rye bite, would be in the running for beer of the day.

Stumblefoot Brewing in San Marcos

From Hess, Merideth and I headed to the northern part of San Diego County. Already home to the likes of Stone and Port/Lost Abbey, much of the growth in the beer scene was happening up that way. First stop was Stumblefoot Brewing in San Marcos. Mid afternoon, we had the small tasting room almost all to ourselves.

From the dozen beers on tap, we chose a flight of five. Easy choices were the San Diego International Beer Festival medal winners Schwarz Be With You, a Black Lager and Vixen Dunkelweizen. Rounding out our quintet was Creekside Pale Lager, GrassYass IPA and Flakey Robin’s Belgian Style Sour

Five beer flight at Stumblefoot

Merideth’s spirits were again buoyed by the Pale and Black lagers. Expecting a day of IPAs and Double IPAs, she was in German-style heaven at each of our stops so far. The Gold medal medal winning Dunkelweizen had a really nice balance between malty and yeasty. It would have been really good had it been a bit more carbonated. My somewhat unexpected star was the sour. Unexpected because I really wasn’t planning on seeing any sours on our days travels. Flakey Robin’s was medium tart and refreshing on the warm day.

One of the newest kids on the block…

Up to this point, it had been a relatively quiet day. The calm ended at our next stop in San Marcos, Rip Current Brewing. We heard, from several people that this a bit over a month old brewery was a must stop. Given the number of people in their tasting room, everyone else had received the same information.

Merideth admiring her beer at Rip Current

With its hop-centric brews, Rip Current was the first stop I really felt we were in San Diego. Paddling Out Pale Ale and Raked Over Red were excellent hop-forward beers. My favorite was the 9.1% ABV Red Flag Double IPA, a  big and bold brew. I would have pegged Merideth liking the chocolate or coffee Milkstache the best. But she found them a bit too roasty for her taste. Instead, it was Barrier Reef Nut Brown that tickled her fancy.

On familiar ground at Latitude 33

The craft beer movement is known for being very green. And that eco-consciousness includes recycling brewery locations. Latitude 33 Brewing in Vista was the old Green Flash facility which we visited in November 2008 (chronicled in Teachings from the Tap). Walking into the crowded tasting room, we immediately noticed some major upgrades including an actual bar with taps.

Flight at Latitude 33

Squeezing in amongst the two beer tour groups at the bar, Merideth ordered us a flight of their brews. Of the six beers we sampled, Merideth proclaimed the spicy The Pasha’s Rye Brown as her beer of the flight. Given my penchant lately for light-bodied, boldly hopped brews, GB’s Pale Ale was my favorite from Latitude 33. It paired very well with the street tacos from the vendor out front.

Busy Saturday evening at Iron Fist

Saturday night was in full swing when we arrived at Iron Fist Brewing, just up the road from Latitude 33 in Vista. Two more beer two groups boisterously intermingled with other beer geeks, filling every table in the industrial space. Luckily, a couple stepped away from the bar and we quickly filled the void.

Flight at Iron Fist

The four beer flight included three Belgian-style brews. Merideth and I both agreed that Hired Hand, a dry, spicy Saison, was the best of the bunch. With its big citrus flavors, the Gauntlet, a 9.5% ABV Double IPA, was also very tasty. Jumping as it was, Iron Fist looked like a fun place to hang out, grab some food from the truck out front  and enjoy a pint. But we were pretty exhausted from our long day of beer travel and sample flights. We left the revelry to others.

Collapsing into our hotel bed early that evening, we remarked that it felt like we had visited EVERY industrial park in San Diego. But we had accomplished what we had set out to do… experience as much as what was new in San Diego as possible. One day down and one more to go.

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