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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.