Monday, April 9, 2012

San Diego - Challenging my Craft Brew Biases

Cramming my surfboard and snowboard into my car...
ready to take on the California Coast!
The world of craft brewing is growing fast and that is what makes it extremely exciting although noisy. I've said before there is never a lack of material, its choosing what to write about that is difficult.  Everyday new breweries are opening up and existing breweries are putting out new beers.  No one person can keep up with it all.  Another thing I realize as I talk to craft brew fans and producers around the world is all the different opinions on what craft beer is and how it should be made.  The conversations often get heated, though a good beer usually calms everyone down. Some of it is semantics, some of it process or political. One thing is for sure some opinions are strong in favor of one philosophy or another.  As I travel around absorbing differing view points in the beer world, I find myself questioning some of my craft brew biases.

If I had to sum up my preferences for craft brew: I would drink something that was high quality (good balance, not oxidized, no diacetyl butter bombs), fresh (best buy/bottled on dates?), honest about what is in it (ingredients, ABV, IBUs, additives), open about how it was made (organic? pasteurized?) and who makes it (contract brewed? big corporations pretending to be small brewers?). I also prefer access to the brewery and the people crafting it, either through tours, tasting rooms, social media or brewery events. I want the people making my beer to be as excited about making and drinking it as I am. I want to know their story. It will be interesting to watch how my priorities evolve as my travels unfold.

Best seat in the house is one of the bar
stools overlooking the downstairs brewhouse
One bias I held before the trip was against brewpub chains. I would shy away from these back home and when I traveled. Its hard to pinpoint why, maybe lower quality perceptions, perhaps I assumed profit driven motives were driving expansion up and quality down. I might have assumed if they were offering wine and mixed drink features their number one priority wasn't beer. Maybe I had one bad experience 10 years ago. Trying to open up my mind and pallet, I threw aside my preconceived notions of  brewpub chain quality and intentions, and ventured into a few Southern California staples.

Solana Beach is one of the quiet beach towns dotting the Southern Californian Coast as you drive north on Highway 101. Pizza Port Brewing Co, now sporting five locations, has won a ton of awards and has been a staple on the west coast for decades. In fact this coming Sunday is the 25th Anniversary of their first location, which started here. They do two things really well, beer and pizza.  Aileen and I walked in on what we thought was a quiet Sunday evening, just after catching the sunset down at the beach, and were surprised how busy it was. All kinds of people are attracted to the brewpub and they have
Two flights didn't even cover all the beers offered!
something to offer everyone, craft brews, great pizzas, arcade games. We met a mix of families, groups of teenagers and older beer drinkers alike.  The picnic table seating also makes you get to know your neighbors, something that isn't for everyone but I like. We ordered a "make your own" pizza with a mix of veggies and then proceeded to the taps to see what was being poured. There were a lot of beers on tap. Erica, one of the managers walked us through the selection and let us try a few tastes. She also hooked me up with some stickers. (which you can still enter to win, see contest here) Per usual going with flights lets you try more beers than with pints. The advantage of having an "assistant" is you have a little help to finish the beers so you can get two flights! We were halfway through the beers when the pie came out, perfect timing just as we were getting to the heartier beers.

California Honey Ale - 5% Gold color, pretty sweet and light 
Old Bones Barleywine - 9% Semi hoppy dark brown and full bodied 
Pronto West Coast Pale - 6.4% Medium bitterness, dry and balanced
The Road West Coast IPA - 7.8% Medium bitterness, very citrusy
Poor Vato Imperial IPA - 10.3% A maltier Double IPA
Tubby's Robust Porter - 5.9% Roasty Dark and Dry, my favorite
T Grins American IPA - 7.2% Hoppy "West Coast" IPA
Jules Winfield American Stout - 8% A touch sweet and dark

Surfing takes a lot of energy out of you and I had no problem finishing up all the pizza that was put in front of me.  The beers were tasty and had a lot of variety. We grabbed pints of our favorites and a roll of quarters to round out the evening with some arcade games. I then found I am better at real soccer than video soccer! I could get used to this brewpub chain thing. Brewery chains: 1 - Ed: 0 Tomorrow we would try another.

Pizza Port - Quality pints and quality pies!

Brew Kettle
Karl Strauss Brewing Company, named for Karl Martin Strauss a German American brewer who fled Nazi Germany in 1939, is another of Southern California's brewing pioneers. Started in 1989 and now boasting six locations in the region. We went to the original location in downtown San Diego. I had to drop Aileen at the airport and what better way to finish off her trip than another brewpub!

It was busy as we caught the tail end of the business lunch crowd.  Luckily there were a couple of seats at the end of the bar right next to the taps.  Jeff was our bartender and fittingly for SoCal a surfing, wakeboarding laid back local. He was excited to show us the line up and with seven years under his belt at the brewery he knew more than we could take in.  Again going with tastes and small pours to help get through the line up I tried everything I could! It was a short stop but Jeff did very well to squeeze every last beer drop into our San Diego beer adventure.

Amber Munich Lager - 4.2% A touch hopper than the German versions, my favorite
Oat Stout - 5%, Pretty dry, roasty, porter like 
Full Suit Belgian Brown Ale - 6.3% Semi sweet, estery, brown ale
Off the Rail - 8.5%, 40 IBU, Imperial Red Trolley Red
Tower 10 IPA - 7% 70 IBU Grapefruity West Coast IPA
Windansea Wheat - 5.1% Cloudy Wheat, Lots of banana, Aileen's Favorite
10th Tap Black's Beach Extra Dk Lager - 4.7% Limited rotating tap, awesome roast flavor, lighter dark
Red Trolley Red - 5.8% 17 IBU Nice Malty, touch of roasty malt flavor, GABF Gold 2012

Lots of variety on tap at Karl Strauss
Brewery Chains: 2 Ed: 0. At the end of the day I would say I was very happy with both of San Diego's established brewpub chains.  They have paved the way for me to visit Rock Bottom, BJs and the other brewpub chains that now dot the American landscape. At the end of the day if your making good beer, we'll drink it. Cheers!

I'm having trouble remembering to
photograph samples BEFORE Idrink them!

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