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Beer of the Week

Tasting Notes from Ballast Point Brewing Co., San Diego

Having visited Stone Brewing’s out of the way location at an industrial park north of San Diego in Escondido, Green Flash and nearby Alesmith’s obscure industrial park locations in Mira Mesa, well south of Escondido and just north of the Miramar Naval Air Station, it was only fitting to visit the other major nationally known heavyweight of San Diego County’s 50 plus craft breweries: Ballast Point Brewing Co.

And where might you find the brewery and tap room for Ballast Point? No, not on the coast at some scenic spot with a lighthouse called Ballast Point. The brewery can be found of course in yet a different industrial park near Scripps Ranch, just east of the 15 Freeway. Apparently, the FAA has a major operation nearby.

Ballast Point Brewing Co.

Ballast Point Brewing Co.

It seems these days that the best cocktails to be found are at dimly lit, sign-less, below ground speakeasies. For terrific craft beers, at least in San Diego’s case, it’s all about the non- descript industrial parks. Pete Coors would always claim that it’s the pure Rocky Mountain streams that make Colorado beers so special. For San Diego, perhaps it’s the purity of the industrial parks.

Like with its fellow neighbors and rivals around San Diego, Ballast Point is best known for its IPA. There are some exceptional other traditional varietals and some eye-opening experimental brews to be found for the better, and for the habañero driven fiery worse.

Cutting to the chase, did the Sculpin IPA, Ballast Point’s regal flagship, live up to its exalted reputation on draught at the brewery’s tap room as one of the country’s premier beers period according to numerous beer sources? This is the beer after all that won the World Beer Cup’s gold medal for IPAs just three years ago. (more…)

Beer of the Week: Green Flash Imperial IPA, Plus Tasting Notes From Green Flash Brewery in San Diego

A few weeks ago at dusk standing amongst the seals sprawled out on in the La Jolla Cove sand, I could’ve sworn I finally saw the elusive green flash emerge from the sea as the sun set into the Pacific horizon.

Or, it could’ve been because of an earlier extensive beer tasting of two dozen beers served on draught at Green Flash’s tap room inside their San Diego brewery not far from an assortment of other breweries (AleSmith, Ballast Point…) just north of the Miramar Naval Air Station.

"Research" at Green Flash

“Research” at Green Flash

It’s hard to say who is necessarily the most “famous” or “highly-regarded” of the over three dozen nano and micro breweries across San Diego County. You’re dealing with worldwide heavy-hitters ranging from Stone to Ballast Point to AleSmith to the more obscure, but critically adored IPA pioneering Alpine.

Green Flash is right up there at the top. If 20 plus beers sampled tells you anything, they certainly know how to diversify. Yet like what your Merril Lynch adviser would tell you, it’s good to have variety, but you still must maintain a high level of quality. From a Double Stout powered by a hefty amount of Serrano chile to world class Double IPAs and Imperial IPAs, there is no doubting Green Flash’s prominence as one of the most accomplished craft breweries in the country, not just the county.


Beer drinkers everywhere know the Green Flash West Coast IPA by heart. Now, it’s time to start getting to know the Imperial IPA, the commanding King compared to the Prine Charming. (more…)

Beer of the Week: AleSmith IPA, Alesmith Brewing Co., San Diego, CA

The all-important hops might come from far up the coast in the great Pacific Northwest, but there is something truly enviable about the hop-forward, but slightly restrained IPAs produced in San Diego.

Up in Washington and Oregon where the hops hail from most often, the IPAs veer towards the explosion of hop- driven bitterness end of the spectrum. San Diego prefers their IPAs to be smoother and cleaner. Is it the surfer style of hanging loose that rubs off on the brewmasters? This must be that casual “West Coast IPA” style often referred to and never defined any differently than a regular IPA.


AleSmith started in 1995 by Peter Zien in a tiny storage garage in a nondescript commercial area just north of the Miramar Naval Base, near the middle of nowhere. It’s a beer abundant area as it turns out, with numerous tap rooms and microbreweries (Green Flash, Hess, Rough Draft) nearby. Since 1996, Tod Fitzsimmons has been the head brewer, leading the charge of one of the most important breweries of the past decade. A recent Friday night proved that the party was at AleSmith’s tap room, regardless of how out of the way it is.

It’s not easy to stand out in San Diego’s prominent craft beer scene. It’s no easier to stand out in the specific IPA genre here, amidst the world of Sculpin and West Coast IPA. Then again, the hands down most under the radar (still!), marquee craft brewery in San Diego County would be AleSmith. And its most impressive beer after an extensive tasting recently at its tap room would be the AleSmith IPA, quite possibly the finest of the highest tier of IPAs in Southern California. Yes, we’re looking at you Sculpin. (more…)

Beer of the Week: Smokejumper Smoked Imperial Porter, Left Hand Brewing Co., Longmont, CO

When it comes to Colorado breweries, it’s hard to say who is the Rocky Mountain highest in the eyes of the national beer scene. Oskar Blues might be the best known, if for any other reason than their importance in the advancement of canned beers. Perhaps, it might be one of the cult favorites, such as Avery or Great Divide, with their powerful barleywines, aggressive IPAs, and molasses-thick stouts. Then there is always Coors and the “New Coors,” also known as New Belgium. Then there are some fifty- plus breweries around the state that intense scholars of the subject might know about, but you most likely are not familiar with.

Not tremendously far from New Belgium’s brewery in Fort Collins and sharing Longmont, the same otherwise nondescript farm town along the Front Range as Oskar Blues’ brewery, is Left Hand Brewing Co. While the other tasting rooms either are in the spacious brewery room itself or resemble frat rooms, Left Hand could be the corner pub if it weren’t for the national level quality of what they serve. This is where Norm Peterson would get a nightly pint if he followed Wes Welker west from Boston.


Left Hand started in 1990 as the home brewing project of Dick Doore. For those of us who aspire as homebrewers, it never fails to astonish me how some can continue on to make such incredible brews, while the rest of us could never dream of opening a place like Left Hand. Doore teamed with ex- college friend Eric Wallace in 1993 and started the Indian Peaks Brewing Co.

Then the lawyers got involved. Another brewery was making a style at the time with the same name. Cease and desist is never a fun game. Hence, the brewery’s new name came from the local southern Arapahoe Indian tribe’s leader, Chief Niwot, whose name translates to “Left Hand.” (more…)

“Beer” of the Week: White Chocolate Ale, Sonoran Brewing, Scottsdale, AZ

It’s not uncommon for a porter or a stout to present very noticeable chocolate notes. In fact, those two brew genres more often than not have the same repetitive duo in taste profiles: cacao and coffee. Yes, expert food and drink writers such as yours truly who can discern the most hidden of flavors, often vary how to express the cacao and coffee notes. Sometimes, the beer reminds us of milk chocolate and espresso. Other samplings, it’s woodsy 75% dark cacao nibs and single origin Rwandan beans.

Prior to a recent tasting at the O.H.S.O. Eatery and nanoBrewery (Outrageous Homebrewer Social Outpost) right at the border of Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona, I had never experienced fully a beer that truly tasted like chocolate, no strings attached. Literally. If a Godiva white chocolate truffle’s ganache were transformed into beer form, this would be the end result.

White Chocolate Ale: 3rd from left Carrot Cake: 3rd from right Coconut Joe Coffee Stout: far left

White Chocolate Ale: 3rd from left
Carrot Cake: 3rd from right
Coconut Joe Coffee Stout: far left

Call it cold fermented chocolate or hop chocolate. This being the Valley of the Sun, who wants hot chocolate anyways? (If you’ve ever sat through a Spring Training rain delay in Arizona, you’d know it’s not always warm here…)

The Sonoran Brewing Company of Scottsdale, Arizona has somehow mastered the challenges of making both a white chocolate ale that makes wheat beer drinkable and a chocolate ale that isn’t an artificial, sugary mess. (more…)

Beer of the Week: Gigantic Brewing Co., Gigantic IPA, Portland, OR, Plus Lots More Beer of the Week Quality Beers Abound in Oregon

I had for the longest time been under the impression that Portland, Oregon only boasted some 45 or so breweries, a runaway winner for the title of city with the highest population of breweries in the country. What a fool I was. Now, according to the Oregon Brewers Guild, the Portland metro area is 68 breweries strong, most of whom (not named Widmer) can be considered microbreweries or much smaller nanobreweries.

At least I’ve made a small dent into those 68 breweries, visiting a dozen or so over time.

IMG_8571The gem of this most recent trip to Portland’s breweries was Gigantic Brewing Co., a not so enormous year old operation from Ben Love and Van Havig that is producing some incredibly gigantic beers.

It’s not easy to craft an IPA that stands out above the competition in this hops to the exponential power mad city. Somehow, Gigantic’s Gigantic IPA is the genre perfected. It is now one of the standards that top tier IPA must be measured by.

Beer of the Week: Brooklyn Brewery-Schneider Brewery, Hopfen-Weisse

The craft beer world loves its collaborations much like winemakers enjoy creating blends and mixologists take great pleasure in making a new view on a classic cocktail.

Collaboration beers are often the trophy beers for brewery, packing more punch, more hops, more herbs, more…something. They often aren’t collaborating together to make the finest Czech-style lager. You hear all the time about gypsy brewers traveling the world, crafting the epic likes of tequila barrel aged stouts and persimmon infused bitter ales.

Enter Garrett Oliver, Brooklyn Brewery’s brewmaster and best known currently as the brewer of the White House’s Honey Ale, and his good friend from across the pond Hans-Peter Drexler, brewmaster at the 400 year old Schneider Brewery in Kelheim, Germany.

You have cultural exchanges all the time between the U.S. and Europe. But, to have an American brewer take over a legendary Germany brewery and vice versa? This can’t be.

And yet, it did happen, producing a majestic weissbock as the result. Both brewmasters brewed their version of a weissbock at the other’s brewery, using their own yeast to express their own brewery style, but local hops to demonstrate the terroir where the beer is being brewed. Both beers have the best of the Old World and the New World. (more…)