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Beer Tasting

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.

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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.

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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.

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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…)


My Neighborhood: Burgers and Craft Beers in Claremont, CA

Editor’s Note: This article begins a series of hyper-local neighborhood dining guides called “My Neighborhood.” Our goal is to find the spirit of what truly are the dining destinations within the important social fabric of a neighborhood. Each neighborhood’s dining story is unique and engaging. We’re hoping at the same time to uncover some undiscovered treasures and also learn from classic legends that continue to thrive. These are the restaurants, bars, cafes, shops, and markets that help make “home,” truly your home. If you’d like to write about your neighborhood, please feel free to contact me via e-mail or Twitter: @TrevorFelch.

We’ll start with the town of Claremont, California, where years ago yours truly spent his college years at Claremont McKenna College and began my food writing career as the dining critic for the Claremont Colleges’ newspaper The Student Life. You can even compare my Back Abbey review and my article on the just-opened Eureka Burger (my finale article before graduation), with the paragraphs later in this article on both burger and craft beer establishments several years later. Do note how our opinions, years apart, are nearly identical.

Claremont, also called the “City of Trees,” is about 30 miles east of Downtown Los Angeles, the furthest eastern city in Los Angeles County. The city is known for its Claremont Colleges Consortium and for being a sophisticated oasis amidst the sprawling suburban sea that is the San Gabriel Valley. It is certainly not known as a dining destination, though it should be.

Without further ado, here is Pomona College senior Brian Shain’s Claremont, California. (more…)


Tasting Notes: Drakes Brewing, San Leandro, CA

Despite living in the San Francisco Bay Area nearly all my life, I had never been to the town of San Leandro before this recent craft beer tasting excursion. I had heard of San Leandro. It was always one of the exits along Highway 880 when I would be en route to or from an Oakland A’s game, or dining in Berkeley or Oakland. San Leandro was always somewhere…around here-ish. At least that’s what a sign on the highway said.

Delving deeper into San Leandro, there isn’t really a “Downtown,” but more the classic commercial stretches here and there, with a mega mall next to the highway. There, as you weave your way around shoppers through the parking lot, then behind the Wal Mart and Sports Authority, you’ll find one of Northern California’s most important and oldest craft breweries. You will get lost at least twice trying to find it. Google Maps is worthless in the final three directions.

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Here in the heart of San Leandro resides Drakes Brewery and its Barrel House tap room, now an essential stop on a beer tour of the Bay Area. While Sonoma County might get the headlines from Russian River, Bear Republic, Lagunitas, and co., and San Francisco’s beer history ranges over a century from the classic Anchor to today’s Speakeasy, Magnolia, and numerous nano-breweries.

Roger Lind started the Lind Brewing Company in 1989 at this former construction equipment manufacturing powerhouse in San Leandro. Over time, the name “Drakes” replaced “Lind,” and Lind’s beers soon took on a name motif of buccaneers and pirates (“Jolly Roger” and “Sir Francis Stout” for example). In 1998, Lind pursued a teaching credential and sold his beloved brewery to the Rogers family who operated a next door coffee roasting company. Then in 2008, the Rogers handed the reins over to John Martin and Roy Kirkorian of the Triple Rock- Jupiter Brewery in Berkeley.

By comparison, the 23 year old Drakes is much older than the 16 year old Russian River Brewing Co. Of course, Anchor takes the prize as the veteran of the Bay Area brewing scene, crafting steam beer since 1896.

Today, Drakes is a cult favorite of fervent craft beer drinkers nationwide. Though its regular lineup receives no shortage of attention and accolades, it’s the barrel aged specials, the unique sours, and the IBU maximum defying strong IPAs that have made Drakes such a highly sought after label these days. If a recent visit to the Barrel House on a recent, classic California 60 degree and sunny winter day proves anything about how Drakes is doing right now, business must be as strong as that barrel aged stout. A good time was being had by all, whether two legged imbibers or four legged sunbathers. (more…)


Tasting Notes: New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, CO

“I’ll have a Fat Tire and that IPA from Fat Tire.”

I’ve heard that sort of request numerous times from beer drinkers who aren’t even novices to the genre. It’s the craft beer specialty mindset where one specific beer from a brewery achieves such an exalted status that the beer’s name supplants the actual brewery’s.

Quick, who brews Fat Tire Amber Ale? That’s a lot harder to swiftly think about compared to the brewer of the Lagunitas IPA.

Perhaps Lagunitas IPA cannot be included in this discussion, though it very much fits amongst its colleagues for iconic beers. I for one knew about Arrogant Bastard years ago, but had no clue who actually brewed the beer. The same for Black Butte, Pliny, and Fat Tire. These are the flagship beers of the craft beer movement that has swept across the country from beer epicenters like Portland and Denver to the tiniest towns of West Virginia and Delaware (can you think of a Delaware craft brewer? Don’t think too hard.).

Yours truly may almost always be the only writer behind these articles, but trust me, there were others tasters present.

Yours truly may almost always be the only writer behind these articles, but trust me, there were others tasters present.

These are also the beers that are starting to verge on over-expansion. Like with restaurant chefs, craft breweries can very quickly expand its output to too high a level and the product begins to be noticeably compromised. I always use the airport as an example when this really starts to be the case. Just ask Wolfgang Puck. And now, it almost seems you can find Lagunitas IPA and Fat Tire Amber Ale at as many airport bars as Stella Artois and Shocktop.

That’s a good thing in that travelers get decent to good craft beers, instead of the mass produced messes they used to be stuck with. That’s also a bad thing because what were often exceptional, very personal small batch beers are now a fraction of what they once were.

My family, many of whom live near New Belgium in Colorado, treat Fat Tire Amber Ale with the same reverence as John Elway.

IMG_8898After sampling all 17 beers recently on tap at New Belgium’s Brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado, it’s fair to say Fat Tire is very much in the middle of the pack at its own brewery. It’s not that it’s a poor product. It’s just nothing special. That was a universal opinion. The signature beer of a craft brewery shouldn’t be one you don’t remember at the end of a tasting, even with all of the stouts and Belgians pyrotechnics over the course of the sampling journey. (more…)