Category Archives: California

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.

View all the San Diego images


Scoring a Century

After completing our trip to Canada this past July, I did some math in my head. I quickly realized that we had the chance to add 100 breweries to the List, something we had never done before. Even in our intensive Year in Beer, chronicled in Merideth’s book Teachings from the Tap, we only added 90. Scoring a century seemed like a worthy goal for 2012.

December rolled around and we were at 96. A planned trip to Los Angeles, where we would reach 100, fell through. We resigned ourselves to coming up just short. In telling friends our tale of woe, they disagreed with us giving up so we decided to give it one more try. Doing some research, we chose Sacramento, home to a number of new breweries, to accomplish our goal.

Black Dragon in Woodland

Piling Porter, Stout and their favorite blankie into the car on Saturday morning, we began the three hour drive to the State Capitol. Our first stop, Black Dragon Brewing, wasn’t in Sacramento but just to the west in historic Woodland.

Black Dragon was in the not-so-historic section of town set off the street behind a pizza parlor. Its nondescript exterior didn’t do justice to its roomy, bright interior. The bar and dining area were flanked on each side by the brewery  and the homebrew shop.

Merideth at Black Dragon in Woodland

Joining a few other customers, we sat down to sample the four beer flight. Merideth really enjoyed the light and refreshing Gypsy Blonde, done with what we assumed was a Belgian yeast. The Araya IPA was solid example of the West Coast style. The star for me was Dragon’s Eye Porter, a 6.5% ABV roasty dark brew with nice notes of chocolate. It was the perfect beer for a chilly December day.

Sample flight at Roseville Brewing

After the first long stretch in the car from our house, it seemed like a short drive to our second stop, Roseville Brewing, in a town of the same name. Located in the last business park in a stretch of business parks, we made a slightly-embarrassing mistake that did not do justice to our reputations as seasoned beer travelers.

Merideth at Roseville Brewing

Walking in the front door, we stood in the tiny front room waiting for someone to help us. Not seeing any taps or beer, I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to taste beer at Roseville. After what seemed like a minute, a man came out front and asked if we needed help. Somewhat meekly I inquired was it possible to try the beers. Surprised by the question, he led us down a very short hallway into the tasting room.

We had seven beers to sample at Roseville ranging from two American-style wheats to a seasonal Stout. Another solid lineup of the beers with the two hoppy offerings, Iron Mule IPA and Spike Driver Double IPA, being the two shining lights for me. Merideth’s favorite was the seasonal Cinnamon Coffee Stout. At 8% ABV, this brew was big on chocolate flavor with a hint of the spice on the finish.

Loomis Basin Brewing in Loomis

One of the benefits of beer travel is that the journey brings us to places we probably would have never visited. Despite having driven the I-80 corridor northeast of Sacramento on a number of occasions, we had never stopped or probably even noticed the city of Loomis. But this tiny town on the way to the Sierras now had a brewery, Loomis Basin Brewing.

Arriving a few minutes before opening time, the industrial park lot was full of cars, occupants still inside. We thought that this was somewhat odd given it was Saturday afternoon. Turns out all those people were waiting for the tasting room to open. We must have stumbled on to something good.

Sample flight at Loomis Basin is on its way…

The small tasting room bustled as Merideth and I went through the six beer sampler. The seasonal 8.4% ABV Recession Ale, a robust Porter, was a big on the coffee and chocolate notes. If there was a beer that I would take home, it would have been the Vindicator IPA, a fine example of the West Coast style. Unfortunately, it was being bottled a few days later. Merideth liked the Swetzer Pale Ale, a light-bodied, easy-drinking brew.

The offerings at Track 7 Brewing

The fourth stop of the day finally brought us to our capitol city. Track 7 Brewing, in an rough-looking industrial part of Sacramento, was very Portland with its large roll up doors and picnic table-filled, dog-friendly tasting room. It was quite crowded on a chilly Sacramento evening attesting to Track 7’s popularity in the community.

Celebrating the 100th brewery with Stout

Ordering a five beer sample flight, Merideth and I joined a few friends who were already there. Focusing on chatting with them, I have to admit I don’t remember too much about the beers. The presence of another wiener dog didn’t help either with our beer concentration. However, I do recall really enjoying their Panic IPA.

That was it! We both hit 100 breweries for the year. Actually, Merideth hit 101, as she went to an extra brewery in Portland in order to catch up on the List count. Congratulations to us!

 View all the images from our day…

Thanks to all our friends who not only met up with us in the Sacramento area but those of you who made beer travel in 2012 a special year. We finished 2012 with 773 breweries… on to 800!

Here are the 101 breweries we added to the List in 2012…

1 Fearless Brewing Estacada OR USA
2 Sandy River Brewing Sandy OR USA
3 Surf Brewery Ventura CA USA
4 Enegren Brewing Moorpark CA USA
5 The Lab Brewing Co Agoura Hills CA USA
6 Holgate Brewing Woodend Vic Australia
7 Otway Winery and Brewery Barongarook Vic Australia
8 Hix Beer Dromona Vic Australia
9 Mornington Peninsula Brewery Mornington Vic Australia
10 Last Drop Brewery Canning Vale WA Australia
11 Cowaramup Brewing Cowaramup WA Australia
12 The Grove Vineyard Wilyabrup WA Australia
13 Bush Shack Brewery Yallingup WA Australia
14 Eagle Bay Brewing Eagle Bay WA Australia
15 Colonial Brewing Margaret River WA Australia
16 Occy’s Brewery Vasse WA Australia
17 Bootleg Brewery Wilyabrup WA Australia
18 Duckstein Brewery Wilyabrup WA Australia
19 Moody Cow Brewery Dardanup WA Australia
20 Wild Bull Brewery Ferguson WA Australia
21 Old Coast Road Brewery Myalup WA Australia
22 The Old Brewery Perth WA Australia
23 Monk Brew Cafe Fremantle WA Australia
24 Little Creatures Fremantle WA Australia
25 Blackwater Brewery Fremantle WA Australia
26 Feral Brewing Baskerville WA Australia
27 Swan Brewery Canning Vale WA Australia
28 Indian Ocean Brewing Mindarie WA Australia
29 Ironbark Brewery Caversham WA Australia
30 Elmar’s in the Valley Henley Brook WA Australia
31 Mash Brewing Henley Brook WA Australia
32 Southern Pacific Brewing San Francisco CA USA
33 Yards Brewing Philadelphia PA USA
34 Manayunk Brewery Philadelphia PA USA
35 Victory Brewing Downingtown PA USA
36 Dogfish Head Milton DE USA
37 16 Mile Brewing Georgetown DE USA
38 Evolution Craft Brewing Salisbury MD USA
39 Burley Oak Brewing Berlin MD USA
40 Stewart Brewing Bear DE USA
41 Argilla Brewing Newark DE USA
42 Dock Street Brewing Philadelphia PA USA
43 Boxcar Brewing West Chester PA USA
44 Stoudts Brewing Adamstown PA USA
45 Lancaster Brewing Lancaster PA USA
46 Mckenzie Brewhouse Chadds Ford PA USA
47 Twin Lakes Brewing Greenville DE USA
48 Sante Adairius Rustic Ales Capitola CA USA
49 Dust Bowl Brewing Turlock CA USA
50 Gigantic Brewing Portland OR USA
51 Moon Under Water Victoria BC Canada
52 Hoyne Brewing Victoria BC Canada
53 Phillips Brewing Victoria BC Canada
54 Craig Street Brew Pub Duncan BC Canada
55 Longwood Brewpub Nanaimo BC Canada
56 High Mountain Brewing Whistler BC Canada
57 Howe Sound Inn & Brewing Co. Squamish BC Canada
58 R and B Brewing Vancouver BC Canada
59 Storm Brewing Vancouver BC Canada
60 Coal Harbour Brewing Vancouver BC Canada
61 Parallel 49 Brewing Vancouver BC Canada
62 Dockside Brewing Vancouver BC Canada
63 Big River Brewpub Richmond BC Canada
64 Central City Brewing Surrey BC Canada
65 Big Ridge Brewing Surrey BC Canada
66 Marine Pub & Brewhouse Burnaby BC Canada
67 Kulshan Brewery Bellingham WA USA
68 Fire on the Mountain Portland OR USA
69 Lucky Bucket Brewing La Vista NE USA
70 Nebraska Brewing Papillion NE USA
71 Granite City Brewing Omaha NE USA
72 Soaring Wings Springfield NE USA
73 Upstream Brewing Omaha NE USA
74 Mosbacher Brauhaus Mosbach Germany
75 Weldebrau Plankstadt Germany
76 Brauhaus Weisses Haus’l Ludwigshafen Germany
77 Wormser Hagenbrau Worms Germany
78 Eichbaum Mannheim Germany
79 Brauhaus Neustadt Neustadt Germany
80 Klosterbrauerei Weissenohe Weissenohe Germany
81 Brauerei Friedmann Grafenberg Germany
82 Brauerei Hoffman Grafenberg Germany
83 Lindenbrau Grafenberg Germany
84 Brauerei Spezial Bamberg Germany
85 Brauerei Kundmuller Viereth-Trunstadt Germany
86 Familienbrauerei Beck Brau Trabelsdorf Germany
87 Kaiserdom Bamberg Germany
88 Tolzer Muhlfeldbrau Bad Tolz Germany
89 Maxbrau Oberammergau Germany
90 Stadl-brau Berwang Austria
91 Mariahilfer Sudhaus Eisenberg Germany
92 Brauerei Mittenwald Mittenwald Germany
93 Klosterbrauerei Reutberg Sachsenkam Germany
94 Cambria Brewing Cambria CA USA
95 Molly Pitcher Brewing Atascadero CA USA
96 Hollister Hills Taproom & Brewery Hollister CA USA
97 Black Dragon Brewing Woodland CA USA
98 Roseville Brewing Roseville CA USA
99 Loomis Basin Brewing Loomis CA USA
100 Track 7 Brewing Sacramento CA USA
101 New Helvetia Brewing Sacramento CA USA

The Bistro’s 15th Annual IPA Fest

Planning a relaxing Saturday, a friend who wanted a copy of Teaching from the Tap suggested we meet up at the Bistro’s IPA Festival. Getting another copy of Merideth’s book out into the world and a hophead’s dream day sounded like a win-win situation to me. Relaxation could wait until Sunday.

Hoppy, hoppy beer…

This was our first IPA Festival. But having been to their Double IPA festival on several occasions, we already had our routine set. Preferring the early bird schedule, we arrived at opening time, joining a handful of people on the enclosed street-side pen that housed the gathering. Our plan was for a few hours of fun, leaving mid afternoon when the crowd swelled.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what a team player Merideth was. Not being a huge IPA fan, she volunteered to be the designated driver for the day allowing me to indulge in all the hoppy goodness. I will sure return the favor when we go to a festival that I don’t care for the style.

A lot of work to do…

All the familiar hops (and some unfamiliar) were represented in the over three score beers pouring. Amarillo, cascade, chinook, citra, columbus, nugget, simcoe, and warrior were a few of the hop varieties that made this a very popular day on the Bay Area beer calendar. Not expecting to try them all, if my check marks were accurate, I did manage to drink fully about a third, or 20 of hoppy elixirs.

Despite the beers being all IPAs, there was a wide variety of flavors represented, from floral to piney to citrus.

A very happy hophead…

According to my notes, where checkmarks became stars for brews I liked, my favorites were:

  • Drake’s Aroma Coma IPA
  • Fat Heads Head Hunter IPA
  • Russian River Hopfather IPA
  • Sante Adairius 831 IPA
  • Sierra Nevada Floral IPA
  • Triple Rock Greenhorn

I must really like the ‘C’ hops with Cascade, Citra, Centennial, and Columbus making numerous appearances in the brews listed.

In the official judging, Fat Heads Head Hunter IPA took home its second Bistro gold medal. Silver and bronze went to Ballast Point’s Sculpin followed by Triple Rock’s Greenhorn. The People’s Choice award went to the beer I voted for, Drake’s Aroma Coma.

Another great day at the Bistro…

View all the images from our day at the Bistro…

Firkin Excellent!

The 10th Annual Firkin Fest was held this past weekend at Triple Rock Brewery in Berkeley. Benefiting the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation, the festival drew an enthusiastic crowd of cask beer fans. For Merideth and I, this was our first ever event at the Berkeley beer institution.

Cask beer ruled the day at Triple Rock

Joined by Kevin Clark, the brewer at our local Peter B’s Brewpub, his wife Corrie and our friend and contributor, Renee Brincks, we arrived at Triple Rock just after the festival opened. Admittedly, I was a bit worried that the cozy brewpub would be wall to wall people. It did get crowded at times, but was never unmanageable. In the end, it was an enjoyable afternoon of hanging out with Bay Area friends and drinking good beer.

There were 25 gravity firkins on hand, including Kevin’s 40 Acre Pale Ale. Over the course of a long afternoon, Merideth and I managed to try almost all of the brews.

A good day in Berkeley...

My star was the GABF Gold Medal winning Three Flowers IPA from Marin Brewing, which brewer Arne Johnson admitted was five flowers in this incarnation. Merideth singled out Erin Go Bragh, an Irish-style Stout from Oakland Brewing Company, as her favorite. At 3.9%, it also gave her an opportunity to support Lew Bryson’s Session Beer Day.

Other notable brews included…

  • Drake’s Gold, Drake’s Brewery
  • Hopsickle, Moylan’s Brewery
  • Magnum P.A., Iron Spring Brewery
  • 40 Acre Pale Ale, Peter B’s Brewpub
  • O.T.I.S., Firehouse Brewery
  • East Bay IPA, Ales Industries
  • NZ Hop Riot, High Water Brewing
  • Twist of Fate, Moonlight Brewing

View all the images from our day at Firkin Fest…

Making Merry During SF Beer Week

We couldn’t make this year’s SF Beer Week.
we had Renee Brincks on the scene.

Don Barkley of Napa Smith kicks off SF Beer Week

When San Francisco Beer Week debuted in 2009, I’d just moved to the city. The first event I attended that first year, along with Beer Geeks Chris and Merideth, was at City Beer Store. Following a Pliny the Younger tapping, we sampled New Albion Ale that Don Barkley had brewed according to its original recipe. The former New Albion employee and current Napa Smith brewer was one of the first people I spotted when I arrived at this year’s beer week opener. He also was one of many in attendance who expressed pride in how this annual festival has grown.

Ready for the opening pours

The opening celebration, one of more than 300 events on the 2012 SF Beer Week schedule, had an impressive beer menu and smart organization. In the Concourse Exhibition Center, the event felt less crowded than in past years – even with big attendance numbers. Plus, with breweries grouped by region, it was easy to find whatever one wanted.

Taste-testing Sierra Nevada's new canned beers

I especially enjoyed Drake’s Black Label Hopocalypse, Hops on Rye from Firehouse, Bear Republic’s Ryevalry and Moonlight’s Misspent Youth. I also sampled some Pliny the Younger (thankfully, I got in before that line snaked past the adjacent three tables), and I aced a Sierra Nevada blind tasting by correctly identifying bottled and canned versions of its pale ale.

Sunday, it was off to City Beer for back-to-back tastings by some out-of-town breweries that I always enjoy. Midnight Sun headlined the afternoon – the kölsch was a nice way to ease into things after lunch – and the Cascade taps turned on at 6 p.m. I was happy to see Figaro on the menu, and also tried the fruity Winter Gose. Even with City Beer’s expanded space, there was a solid crowd by early evening.

Drake's pairings at Mission Cheese

Because SF Beer Week includes so many free events, my budget and I avoided most ticketed happenings – except for one. Drake’s is one of my favorites around here, and I reserved a spot at their Monday night Mission Cheese pairing weeks in advance. The event sold out, not surprisingly, and a lively group packed the place soon after the doors opened. Five beers made the menu: Drake’s Amber, the 1500 pale ale, Hopocalypse, Moscow’s Burning Smoked Imperial Stout and this year’s Dire Straits Barleywine.

It’s tough to pick one pairing that I enjoyed the most, because each was terrific and totally different. But, two that really stood out were the 1500 paired with Pawlet, a washed-rind cow’s milk from Vermont, and Hopocalypse with an organic cow’s milk blend from Weirauch Creamery in nearby Petaluma. Cheers to the Drake’s team for being excellent hosts, as well. One brewery employee looked amused after an enthusiastic guest asked, “Can I visit your factory?” “Well, it’s called a brewery,” he told her. “You can visit our brewery…I think factories make toys or something.”

Tuesday was Valentine’s Day, which is a holiday I’ve never enjoyed. In fact, I told my sweetheart that I’d ditch him if he brought me flowers and candy. Happily, he took that to heart, and we headed to Public House for burgers, bitters and sours. Magnolia’s Billy Sunday Bitter, my go-to during Giants games, was on the list, as were the tart Cuvee de Bubba and a super sour Berliner Weisse from Bear Republic. After dinner, we hit up the Lagunitas night at McTeagues, where founder Tony Magee was on stage with his guitar.

On Wednesday night, it was back to City Beer for a Stillwater Artisanal Ales session. I first met brewer Brian Strumke at a local beer event a few years back, and it’s always fun to catch up. He had just returned from meeting with brewers in Europe, and he was preparing to celebrate his second anniversary in the business. Stillwater’s bourbon barrel-aged Folklore, which is flavorful without being too boozy, and its red wine barrel-aged counterpart topped my list of bests. That whole City Beer evening was a highlight for me, in fact, thanks to good beer and great friends at one of my favorite places in San Francisco. As a bonus, Nosh This was selling sweets in the back. Bacon salted caramels and beer for dinner? Yep.

Due to weekend plans, my beer week wrapped up on Friday with pre-happy hour pints at Toronado. Yes, I had another glass of Pliny the Younger – I’m pretty sure everyone in the bar that day had at least one, actually – and I followed that up with Russian River Temptation and a De La Seven from Upright. People were three-deep at the bar by the time the workday ended, and that’s when we took off.

All told, it was another great San Francisco Beer Week. The celebration gets better every year, partly because of all those creative events that breweries put together, and partly because of this region’s continued interest in craft brewing. At every event, I ran into friends I’ve made at other festivals and local beer bars – it’s an impressive community of engaged and enthusiastic individuals. Happily, SF Beer Week gives everyone a chance to step out from behind the brew kettle, bottling line, Twitter account and Untappd app to enjoy a pint together.

Thanks to the SF Beer Week organizers for
providing my media pass to the opening event.