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San Diego

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…)


Monday’s Neighborhood: North Park, San Diego, CA

Sunny San Diego’s beach communities, from tony La Jolla to Sea World’s Mission Bay,  and Downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter core receive most of the national press as the city’s main destinations.

Mission Bay isn’t exactly a whole mot more than the place to spend quality time with Shamu, but the other neighborhoods do have their worthwhile spots for drinking and dining (well, good luck with finding much “nightlife” in La Jolla, but George’s is absolutely worth a dinner trip). The food & drink culture thrives in the fine weather. This is after all, San Diego, arguably the craft beer capital of the world. PBR seems to be illegal here. The most ubiquitous beer on draught at dive bars seems to be Ballast Point Sculpin IPA. They’re lucky in San Diego.

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It isn’t all just craft beer in California’s second most populated city. Far from it. It also isn’t just beaches and animals in theme parks or world renowned zoos. The eating is very swell, possibly the most underrated dining scene among America’s ten largest cities. In fact, it is without question. How many restaurants do you know in San Diego? It’s unfortunate that in this city of passionate, creative chefs every bit on par with those in that other big Southern California metropolis, the most “celebrity” of chefs runs a restaurant that will anger diners to the point of wanting to throw jalapeno cornbread muffins against the banquettes (see Malarkey, Brian).

All of the dining and craft brew influences of San Diego seem to come together in one intense eating and drinking neighborhood that is also vintage Southern California relaxed at its core: North Park. After all, the common architecture of this neighborhood is the craftsman bungalow. That must mean time doesn’t whip past this part of town. Slow down and savor the day (and the pint). (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…)


Greetings from…San Diego!

San Diego often plays the calmer supporting role to its flashy marquee headliner big brother Los Angeles an hour to the north. San Diego sprawls– but it doesn’t sprawl to the extent of the San Gabriel Valley. San Diego has professional sports– but the Padres and Chargers have never been the Dodgers and Lakers. San Diego has no shortage of freeways and rush hour traffic– but it’s nothing like the 10-101-110 connector at 5 pm (or any time of day, any day of the week really).

At the same time, being the quieter, “smaller” town (San Diego is the eighth most populated city in the nation  after all) allows San Diego and its surrounding communities, including La Jolla, Bonita, Escondido, and more to relax and forge their own distinct personalities. San Diego doesn’t have any James Beard finalist chefs and chances are if you haven’t been to San Diego, the only cornerstone of dining in the area you’ll know about is fish tacos. Well, yes they do love their fish tacos here. But, there is much, much more beyond fried mahi-mahi in flour tortillas.

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San Diego happens to have one of the most interesting, under the radar dining scenes in the country. No restaurant or chef grabs all the headlines. None of the restaurants require a reservation a month in advance. It’s not an arduous sport just to get into any restaurant. Like San Diego itself, dining out here provides amble unique niches, at a much more relaxed level than its bigger, louder metropolitan cohorts.

Will restaurants ever be the major feature of San Diego? Probably not. That honor always belongs to the city’s beer scene and the San Diego Zoo, two of the most important, if not the premier of their respective genres in the U.S.. A visit to one of the 50 plus (I counted 52 breweries in San Diego County, but sources differ…) and some quality time with the Zoo’s pandas and giraffes will prove that point. Shamu, the celebrity killer whale at Sea World in Mission Bay, just north of Downtown, might even be this city’s most famous resident (in the Hollywood golden years, many stars such as Gregory Peck called La Jolla home). Now, whether or not Shamu and the pandas prefer Stone IPA or Ballast Point Sculpin IPA is another story.

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