Thursday, April 21, 2016

Southwestern Road Trip, Part 4

I'm still dreaming of California.

I loved the warm weather with the cool breezes off the Pacific, the laid-back feeling, but most of all, the beer. When I went to San Diego with my family, I learned that this coastal city, just a short drive from the Mexican border, was called the craft-beer capital of the United States. And whether I drank beer that was made within the city or within the state, I was never disappointed.

I found my first local beer shortly after arriving in La Jolla, in northern San Diego. The beer was from a city that I had passed through, between Temecula and La Jolla. The name was well-known to me but it was something I had never tried.

It was a great way to get into the Southern California spirit. Literally.
  • Arrogant Bastard Ale, by Arrogant Bastard Brewing (Escondido CA, 7.2% ABV, rate 5): the bottle reads, "You're Not Worthy," and perhaps I'm not. This strong American ale knocked my socks off with its intense maltiness and caramel flavours, full body, and long, strong finish. The alcohol is as aggressive as all of the flavours, but it is perfectly balanced, so it works. From the first sip, this ale says "buckle up: you're in for a ride."
The next day, my family and I spent the day wandering the beaches and shops of this posh village.  And when lunch came around, we found ourselves in the heart of La Jolla, in front of a Mexican restaurant that emitted intoxicating aromas of grilled meat and spices. We were immediately pulled into Jose's Court Room and ordered chicken enchiladas, which I washed down with the perfect pairing to Mexican cuisine: IPA.
  • Sculpin IPA, by Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits (San Diego, 7% ABV, rate 4): full of fresh, citrus hops, and flavours of pineapple (and a hint of mango?), this is an easy-drinking IPA that I could drink all day, and would have had more, were the alcohol content not so high (though it wasn't visible on the palate). As I said, it was perfect with my lunch.
In downtown San Diego, I had planned to visit at least two breweries, and I achieved that goal. But I didn't visit all of the breweries I had wanted to see. Originally, I wanted to visit Stone Brewing—when I first saw the bottle of Arrogant Bastard on the store shelf, I thought it was a Stone beer because the label is strikingly similar, but I later found out that Arrogant Bastard, despite the label, is its own gypsy-styled brewery—because I had tried some last year, at the Kingston Beer Festival, and really enjoyed it. As it turned out, I didn't go, and I'll explain later.

There's a bit of narrative to this post, after all.

The other brewery that I wanted to see was Karl Strauss Brewing Company, and after a tour of the USS Midway, my family and I were pleased to learn that the brew pub was only a five-minute walk away.

Karl Strauss is an open-concept pub with a long bar, fermentation tanks behind glass windows, and plenty of tables. The service is friendly and attentive, and especially knowledgeable about their beer. And they have a lot of them on tap.

Naturally, I had to try as many as I could, so I ordered eight 4-ounce samplers (sharing them with my wife) with a late lunch. My kids ordered their mac and cheese, and they said it was life-changing. They liked it so much that they begged me to bring them back the next day. And because we learned that Stone Brewing, in the Gaslamp Quarter, didn't serve dinner, we decided to return to Karl Strauss, where I ordered all of the samplers that I missed at our first visit.

The second night's sampler
Here they are, in the order that I drank them over the two visits:
  • Columbia Street Amber (4.5% ABV, rate 3): deep gold in colour, this amber lager was light in body but had good flavours from start to finish. Although I don't gravitate toward lagers, this was a good start to the sampler.
  • Mosaic Session IPA (5.5% ABV, rate 3.5): this pale-straw offering is a very light-bodied session ale that cleansed the palate and went well with chili-lime sweet-potato fries. On a hot day, this would be a great go-to beer.
  • Pintail Pale Ale (5.3% ABV, rate 2.5): this ale was gentle on the palate. Perhaps, too gentle. It was very light in body and on hops. I would have liked a little more bite. It was good, but I was more impressed with my first two samples and was eager to move on to the next.
  • Red Trolley Ale (5.8% ABV, rate 4.5): over my vacation, I had tried a couple of red ales (which I don't generally care for) that changed my opinion of this style. Karl Strauss' Irish red is the best that I've ever tried. Ever. Ever! I let my wife take a sip, since we were sharing, but I told her that I intended to finish the rest. I would definitely drink it again.
  • Big Barrel Double IPA (9% ABV, rate 5): I will not lie. I brought some of this ale home. It knocked my socks of with the big grapefruit aromas and the high IBUs (the brewery says 90). There is lots of complexity and a ton of alcohol, but this IPA balances it all perfectly and remains true to its style. I loved it. Writing this review, I'm reminded of it, want to open a bottle of it right now, but I will save it for a special occasion.
  • Wreck Alley Imperial Stout (9.5% ABV, rate 3): this is a classic Imperial stout. And though the alcohol level is high, the chocolate, prunes, and licorice temper it.
  • Aurora Hoppyalis IPA (7% ABV, rate 3.5): I needed this IPA to bring my tastebuds back to normal after the intense stout. Lots of hops, as its great name suggests, and a long, full finish. I finished my burger with this ale and it was a great match.
  • Blacks Beach (ABV NA, rate 3): I had this schwarzbier on my second visit, as the first of a second sampler. It had lots of hops and great flavours, and had me excited for what was yet to come.
  • Big Grrr! Small Batch IPA (ABV NA, rate 3.5): there was a hoppy richness to this red IPA, and while the flavours were interesting, they didn't blow me away like the Red Trolley Ale did. Still, I would drink it again.
  • Six Suits A Hangin' (8.5% ABV, rate 4.5): wow! This Belgian brown ale was aged in bourbon barrels, and the bourbon really comes through and wraps you in a soft, warm blanket. I loved it and wished that I could take some with me, but it wasn't available in cans or bottles. But it made me want to return to San Diego some day, soon.
  • 27th Anniversary Bourbon Barrel-Aged Double Chocolate Imperial Stout (13% ABV, rate 4): again, wow! The high alcohol content makes this stout heavy on the booze with a strong follow-up of chocolate. It's great, but I was thankful that I was walking.
One evening, we drove into Coronado, the tiny resort island where the old Hotel Del Coronado looks southwest, into the Pacific Ocean. It's the hotel that was used in the 1959 movie, Some Like It Hot, with Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon. We spent some time on the beach, admiring the beautiful sand, the waves, and the setting sun, and then headed to the bay side, where we had a great view of the downtown skyline, and enjoyed dinner on an enclosed patio. It was at the Village Pizzeria where I tried a Coronado craft beer.
  • Orange Avenue Wit, by Coronado Brewing Company (Coronado, 5.2% ABV, rate 2.5): distinct orange flavours dominate this wheat ale, with notes of cilantro and a slightly flinty finish. It's light, fresh, and went down well.
Because we were travelling with kids, and because my wife doesn't share my love of beer, the trip also called on me to take my daughters where they wanted to go, and as with Phoenix, they wanted to shop for vintage video games. We found a shop in Ocean Beach, which is on the coast, just south of SeaWorld.

When we pulled into the one vacant parking spot, right beside Luna Video Games, I looked up at the shop in front of us and had a Eureka moment. We were parked at a brewery, one of which I was unfamiliar, but that wasn't going to stop me from getting to know it and to sample what was on tap.
  • Hefeweizen, by Culture Brewing Company (Ocean Beach, 5.9% ABV, rate 3.5): the first aroma to hit my nose was beautifully sweet bananas, and the fruit carried through and mixed with citrus flavours on the palate. This was a gorgeous hefe.
  • Pumpkin Brown (5.7% ABV, rate 3): of course, this wasn't pumpkin season. But this wasn't your average pumpkin ale. There was no nutmeg or allspice: there was simply a straight-up roasted pumpkin with chocolate overtones. It was unique and tasty.
  • Milk Stout (6.2% ABV, rate 3): there was a subtle silkiness to this stout. Quite enjoyable.
  • Oaked Porter (7% ABV, rate 3): all of the classic dry porter flavours are there, with an added oak bitterness. I liked this porter but I found the alcohol took away from the full enjoyment.
  • Mosaic IPA (6.6% ABV, rate 4): this was the second California ale that I tried with this name, but with a different style. And this IPA was the best of my Culture samples. There were big, fresh hops with great structure and a flavourful finish. I would have picked some up, but it was, sadly, only available on tap.

Fourteen days, two states, 17 distinct breweries, and 56 distinct brews made for the best beercation I've ever had. It will be hard to top it, but I'm willing to try.

Keep an eye out for the beers that I listed over the past four weeks, and if you can get your hand on the ones I recommended, go for it.


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