SAN DIEGO'S FROTHY BEER SCENE
I revere the amber fluid and was excited when my dearest, Ally, and I had the opportunity to visit San Diego and see if it really has a claim to be the Craft Beer Capital of North America.
The first evening we visited the Draft Restaurant in surf-side Mission Beach where our server, Matteo, waved his arms and said, "Of course, no question that San Diego is tops in beer. We have over 100 breweries, microbreweries, and brew pubs in this county. Many are eclectic." Then he confronted us with a mind-boggling choice. Draft offered 100 local beers, with 69 served from a long line of taps.
But we couldn't help wonder: With that many taps, how can the servers possibly find the right one? We tested Matteo by ordering Cali Creamin, a vanilla cream ale by Mother Earth Brewing Company, and Devotion Belgian Blonde Ale by Lost Abbey Brewing Company and timed his response. Happily, our requested ales were back in short order, and they were superb. Sporting a moustache of foam, Ally smiled, clinked glasses and said, "I don't usually like ale, but this is great. I can taste why craft beer has become so popular." We were in heaven sampling ales, porters, classic lagers, and IPAs.
To get further insight into the fast growing beer craze, next day my dearest and I sought out the Stone Brewing Co., which was awarded the accolade "All-Time Top Brewery on Planet Earth" by Beer Advocate magazine in 2013, and which many credit for leading San Diego's beer charge. We entered their World Bistro & Gardens in Escondido, just north of the city, where you can sit inside next to the tanks and piping where their beer is made, or outside in the sunshine and warmth for which this city is famous, surrounded by an immense garden. We decided to further our research on the patio. Over a pint of Stone Pale Ale, their flagship beer, and an Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale, we also tested their kitchen. Ally bit into coconut green curry salmon & mussels while I tried the chef's specialty, Portuguese sausage and kale rigatoni. Yummy! Kim, the server, explained, "A big part of the brewery's success comes from their own farm where they grow hops for the beer and food for the restaurant. Everything's organic"
Happily rubbing my tummy I asked about their most unusual beer? "We have several experimentals like Stone Coffee Milk Stout, a bittersweet, creamy, coffee-laced stout," responded Kim. "But my favourite is the Grapefruit Slam IPA, a double India pale ale utilizing grapefruit peel." I was impressed, not only by the outstanding beers but also by the solar panels covering the roof. Kim continued, "Another reason for Stone's success is our guardian, a gargoyle, who wards off the evil spirits of beer, namely, cheap ingredients, pasteurization and chemical additives."
Next evening, we entered the Yard House in the historic Gaslamp Quarter with the goal of verifying their boast of having the largest selection of draft beer in the world. Our eyes widened as we saw their "transparent" keg room, which was crammed with 600 barrels containing 4,000 gallons of beer and 130 tap handles. Wow! We were enthralled, and realized we faced a mammoth challenge. The server, Charlotte, described a range of brews including classic lagers and obscure ales and stouts served in authentic goblets, pints and half-yard glasses. We settled for a row of tasting glasses filled with attractive fluids of different colours, foaminess and clarity. Sipping contentedly, we felt like we were in an art gallery for the walls were alive with many attractive paintings. We sampled from the menu, which offered an array of tasty, trendy cuisine. Toasting the Yard House and its unusual keg room, we realized that good research isn't really that difficult; it just requires perseverance.
Over the next few days we visited several more breweries, but on our last day admitted that we were simply outnumbered. San Diego definitely is a champion of craft beer. We promised to return, perhaps during Beer Week in early November. So much work remains.
I want to sample Oi! A wine-barrel aged English Brown Ale by Twisted Manzanita Ales & Spirits, a Habenero Sculpin (very hot!) IPA at Ballast Point Brewing Company, a Peanut Butter Milk Stout at the Belching Beaver Brewing Co. and much more. It's good to have challenges.
IF YOU GO, YOU GOTTA KNOW:
San Diego Info: www.sandiego.org
PHOTOS: Credits: as below.
1. Dining Room at Stone Brewing Co. Escondido-Credit Stone Brewing Co.
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