Sunday, April 1, 2012

San Diego - Last Rays of Sunshine

When talking about traveling around the world it’s easy to overlook how big America is and how many treasures there are to discover close to home.  My extended Santa Fe stay (see previous post) left me skipping Flagstaff, Phoenix and Arizona Beer Week (my apologies AZ… next year maybe!) and bee-lining it straight to one of the United States’ most visited and cherished vistas; The Grand Canyon.  I drove to within 2 hours of the park and pulled over for some sleep. After a 4 hour snooze I continued my drive in the early pre-dawn morning. The goal: Sunrise over the south rim.  The clouds were just turning dark purple as I arrived at the National Park gate.  I parked the car and walked along a path in the darkness with eager anticipation. The place is massive and I was the first one to the observation deck. For the next hour I endured the freezing winds while the sun slowly painted the clouds every color of the rainbow.  I probably took over a hundred photos but its just something you can’t fully capture on film. Like a great beer you just have to try it yourself. After another hour hiking along the rim, peaking out from each precarious viewpoint and listening to awed whispers in every language imaginable, I heard the ocean calling me.  Back on the road, craft beer heaven awaits!

Sunrise at the Grand Canyon before heading to San Diego, ahhhh...
San Diego has become one of the hotbeds of the American Craft Beer scene.  I’m not exactly sure why… maybe it’s the laid-back surfing and beach culture or perhaps the large military presence bringing back world beer culture and flavors. Usually places with warm weather beckon only light refreshing styles of beer but San Diego is awash with hoppy beers, dark coffee brews, high alcohol abbey beers and any other combination of things you can throw in a beer. Possibly it’s because a few beer pioneers pushed the flavor envelope so long it just does not seem weird to have super flavorful beers around, regardless of the weather. Whatever it is I knew at best I could only visit a third of the 30-plus San Diego County breweries, but I would do my best.  With the mountains behind me and the ocean calling I started to descend towards sea level to the land of fish tacos and crafty brews. Did I mention yet how much I love fish tacos?
Not just a one trick pony, Ballast Point has
entered the craft distilling movement as well.
Another 8 hours in the car across the desert and Northern Arizona and Southern California… I barely missed reaching the Pacific Ocean for sunset.  You can’t have it perfect every day! I met up with fellow travel buddy Jason Falco and his family at his favorite neighborhood soccer pub. Shakespeare's is an English style pub and basically does Fish and Chips and English Ales as you would expect but they still had some Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA on tap, satisfying my need for a regional craft beer. They also have a craft bottle feature each month. One pint was enough to calm my enthusiasm. After such a long, road weary couple of days, I slept very soundly that night. The sun, sand and hoppy suds of San Diego awaited and I needed all my energy to pursue all its flavors the next few days.

It was good to trade in the mountains and snow for the surf and sand for a few days. I'm always torn when I think about whether I'd rather settle near the ocean or in the mountains.  Some lucky places have it both ways, maybe that's where
If you wait a few more years those aged whiskey
barrels will probably be home to some
barrel aged beers as well

you'll find me someday. I was excited for the San Diego beer scene, stoked to trade my snowboard for a surfboard, and lucky that my girlfriend Aileen had flown out to join me for a long weekend on the beer road. She likes beer enough but tends to let wine and
spirits into the mix more than I do. This made our first stop very fitting as Ballast Point Brewing Co. not only makes great beer but has recently entered into the craft distillation world, a growing trend.

Ballast Point's brewery is not quite in the top 50 but is growing quickly and I wouldn't be surprised to see them sneak in there when 2011's numbers are released later this month. We were lucky that the Friday noon tour was empty when we walked in 5 minutes late for it. We ended up with a sweet personal tour that showed us all the expansion projects going on. We also got a close up look at the distilling options.  We followed up the tour with a pretty complete sampling of what was available in the tasting room.

Wahoo Wheat - 4% Belgian Wit with orange peel and coriander, hazy yellow and 
full of fruity esters, just how I like it! 
Ballast Point Pale - 5.2% Modeled after a Kolsh but with more hops, kind of light, dry and balanced
Fathom Indian Pale Lager - 7% 70 IBUs, another hoppy version of a traditional style, light but bitter
Sculpin IPA - 7% 70 IBUs Not the hoppiest but the driest of the India Pale series and my favorite
BigEye IPA - 7% 75 IBUs The hops come out more on this one
Piper Down Scottish Ale - 5.2%, Aileen's favorite but probably b/c she likes puns
Black Marlin Porter - 6% 45 IBUs Nice roasty lighter bodied porter, mix with Big Eye to make a delicious Black Eye!
Sea Monster Imperial Stout - 10% Big and chocolaty 
Its funny how your notes get shorter as you work through the beer list

Rule number one: Take notes, because you WILL forget
Rule number two: Don't lose your notebook

A huge thank you to Alex and Justin for showing us around the brewery and Julia for walking us through the beers and sharing their favorite San Diego beer bars. If you can do it get to the early tour. As we were leaving the line up for the Friday afternoon tour was backing up. It would be a shame to have to wait too long for your samples! Next stop Coronado.

Sad but true... a few bottles of deliciousness
leapt to their demise; no fear they will make more
Ah the memories of long days on the bottling line!

Another sunny day shines on Coronado Brewing Co.

One thing Aileen and I had in common was that we had both been to San Diego once before, though
we had been to different parts than each other.  She had never been to La Jolla and I'd never been to Coronado.  The good news is both have breweries! Coronado is known for its sparkly mica infused
beaches, quaint streets, the Sand Diego Coronado Bridge and the Hotel del Coronado.  So famous is the hotel that the tap handles from Coronado Brewing Co. bears a miniature likeness of it on top. I suppose a bridge would be harder to fit. We did stop by the hotel and took in the view and the scene which was nice, especially for Mojitos or sunsets, but if you want a good craft beer on the peninsula (frequently called an island, just a small strip of sand prevents this misnomer from ringing true) you go to the brewery.  The tasting room was lively and served a good mix of pub food with some true to San Diego seafood mixed in. We ordered a sampler tray, some mussels, and the cajun seared ahi on coleslaw, rolled up our sleeves and got into it.

Coronado Golden - 5.4% Light with a touch of Saaz Hops, like a Czech Pilsner 
Orange Ave Wit - 5.2% Hazy wheat with orange peel and coriander 
plus some sweetness from  local orange blossom honey
Mermaids Red - 5.7% A nice roasty red, a great break from the hoppy reds I'd been finding
Islander IPA - 7% A nice balanced IPA
Sweet Charlotte Cream Stout - 6.2% Smooth, roasty stout
Hoppy Daze Belgian IPA - 7.6% Missed this style from back east, Fantastic! Fruity from the Belgian yeast, with medium hop bitterness 

A beautiful copper clad brewhouse pumps
out craft suds for thirsty servicemen,
locals and tourists alike!

They also sport a few guest taps, which while we were there included West Coast favorites, Anchor Steam and Deschutes plus German import Paulaner. Other regional beers such as Sierra Nevada, Stone and our recent friends Ballast Point also make the list from time to time.

If you have time to rent bikes, maybe before too many beers, its a great way to see the rest of what sun soaked Coronado has to offer. Happy from from good eats and suds we headed back to the mainland to plan the next day's activities. Jogging down beaches, surfing and obviously more breweries lay in the future. Oh did I mention fish tacos? Time to check out some of those craft beer bars we heard about, I'm sure they will satisfy both needs! See you soon... Cheers!
A big selection of house beers with a few local and regional craft beers mixed in


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