San Francisco Beer Week is upon us again. Gone are the gonzo days when we participated almost every day, making a multitude of trips to the Bay Area from our home on the Monterey Peninsula. Now, Merideth and I pick a few events to attend. And the event I will always choose is the Bistro’s Double IPA Festival.
Merideth and I have always had a brilliant plan for the Double IPA Fest: show up right at the start when everyone else is still hung over from the opening night. We have the run of the festival for a few hours until mid-afternoon. However, as testament to the draw of SF Beer Week, we arrived at the Bistro a little bit before 11am to find the line already out the front door.
Adjusting to the fact that our plan no longer seemed valid, we joined the line. It moved fairly quickly and in no time I had in my taster glass my traditional DIPA Fest first beer, Pliny the Younger.
The cool morning transformed into a warm, sunny afternoon under brilliant blue skies. Hayward’s blocked off Main Street was soon packed with beer geeks, all enjoying the uber-hoppy brews.
Eighty-two hop monsters were available to sample, including 23 Triple IPAs. I managed to drink 15 of them. My highlight brews were:
Pliny the Younger, Russian River Brewing
Double Tap IPA, Berryessa Brewing
Hop JuJu, Fat Heads
Citra DIPA, Kern River
The Roustabout, Societe Brewing
As for awards, Societe’s The Roustabout took gold for Double IPA, followed by Firestone Walker Double Jack and Pliny the Elder. Triple IPA was won by Pliny the Younger with Boneyard’s Notorious and Knee Deep’s Simtra coming in place and show. Kern River’s very popular Citra DIPA was the people’s choice winner.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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…
As we gear up for the holiday shopping season, I’m reminded of the importance of supporting small business owners by shopping local. This year, I am happy to report that we have yet another local option when it comes to craft beer: Hollister Hills Taproom and Brewery in nearby Hollister.
Joann Kim and Chuck Frowein, proprietors of Grillin & Chillin, teamed up with friends and homebrewers Sean and Fran Fitzharris to open a small taphouse and brewery with a cozy neighborhood feel. Hollister Hills is definitely compact, something the owners hope to change in the near future, but what they do with the small space is amazing!
There are 37 guest taps plus housemade beers and sodas. Over several visits to “H2B” (as Sean and Fran refer to it), Chris and I have tried Sean’s Hillside IPA (6.5% ABV, 65 IBUs), Red Beard Amber (5.5% ABV), and Easy…Like Sunday Morning Blonde. We even got a sneak peek taste of a wheat beer made with chamomile and agave. H2B is breaking new ground, as rumor has it that an IPA has never been brewed in Hollister before now.
For only having been open for a month and a half, the beers are solid. Just like any new beer establishment, it often takes time to adjust to the brewing system and iron out the kinks. I’m confident that the brews at Hollister Hills will get better and better as they settle in.
The food is great, which is always a plus in my book. No fried pub food here, the H2B menu includes carving boards (meat, cheese, deli, and Mediterranean), pressed sandwiches (my favorite is the Turkey Cranberry), a variety of salads, and daily soups. Pizzas and chili dogs were recently added to the menu, as well. They also have snack items like a soft pretzel and nachos. I especially like the flavored popcorns, both savory and sweet are available. The lemon pepper popcorn is the perfect beer snack!
The staff is friendly and knowledgeable. Beer geeks and beer novices alike are welcomed with open arms and even non-locals will feel included, especially when seated at the bar. Hollister Hills Taproom and Brewery embodies the spirit of “Drink Local” and it’s sure to become the community’s gathering spot.