Amid a day of meetings, I was able to squeeze in visits to two breweries in San Diego. I had an afternoon meeting in the downtown area, so I wanted to stay downtown and not have to catch another cab or Uber from a restaurant/brewery to the meeting location. Luckily, there was a restaurant/brewery right near where my meeting was – The Beer Company. Seems like they’ve let their domain name expire. They had a selection of six house-brewed beers, along with a large selection of guest beers. I chose to go with their house-brewed beers, opting for a sample of four for $6: the blonde, brown, red, and IPA. (The ones I didn’t choose were the wheat and pale ale).
I’ll admit, I didn’t have particularly high expectations. I sat at the bar, around 1:30 PM, and the place was pretty empty. And if you’re a bar that doesn’t have great house beers, you make up by having awesome guest beers, right? The blonde and the brown surprised me – the blonde was very drinkable, and the brown had a nice nutty flavor to it that seemed different than most other English-style brown ales. They weren’t spectacular, but I was pleasantly surprised. The red and the IPA were less stellar; I was expecting a more hoppy punch, but both of those seemed to be a bit watered down. The place seemed to have some good specials: the Wednesday special was a pitcher of beer and a pizza for $20, and during lunch you can fill up a growler for like $6 or so. The ahi tuna salad I got was a bit on the pricey side at $14, and was decent, but not great. A little salty (maybe from the soy sauce that I was supposed to dip the tuna in, rather than pouring on the salad). But honestly, with all the great beer places around, you’re probably better off going to Neighborhood (discussed in my last post) or to Stone’s or another brewery nearby.
Post meeting, my coworkers asked if I we should go “exercise our elbows”, i.e. lifting a few pints. One coworker suggested Hamilton’s Tavern in South Park. We would have needed to take a cab there, so I coyly suggested going to Ballast Point Tasting Room and Kitchen in Little Italy. My friend and I tried to find it the night before without the aid of a smartphone and failed. Ballast Point was only about 1.2 miles from our meeting location, which made for a nice walk through the Little Italy neighborhood, and gave me a few extra steps on my Fitbit.
Their beer selection was extensive, and separated by flavor profile (i.e. fruit & spice; rich & malty, etc.), and also differentiated by main, specialty, and “research and development” types of beers. Not wanting to commit to a full pint, I discovered they offered three four ounce pours of any beer for $5 – a great deal! And a great way to try a lot more beers than you otherwise would be able to.
My first sampler was Gose Down with the Ship (3.6% ABV), Cherry Bomb Fathom (7% ABV), and Calm Before the Storm (5.5% ABV). The Gose was a project by our server, who was very proud of his accomplishment. The Gose was unexpected – not sour at all – which I should have expected given the description of “dry-hopped Gose with subtle saltiness and coriander”. Pretty light mouthfeel but definitely can taste the dry hops. The Cherry Bomb Fathom (India Pale Lager) was also unexpected. I ordered it without actually reading the description, so I was expecting a fruit beer or something a little sweet (nice way to start the session!). But one taste and it was clear, this was no Bing Cherry lager. The Cherry Bomb refers to the cherry bomb peppers used in the brewing process. That, along with the Bulgarian peppers, adds a slight spiciness to the drink. Not as spicy as the Habanero Sculpin IPA, but still noticeable. I can’t say I love the spicy beers, though (would have preferred a Grapefruit Sculpin, but you can get that in the Bay Area!). The third beer, Calm Before the Storm, is described as a lighter bodied golden cream ale with coffee and vanilla. It definitely had some cream soda taste, but not sweet or overpoweringly heavy. The Calm was not bad, but I probably wouldn’t order it again.
More coworkers arrived and we ordered food. The food selection was good: burgers, salads, sandwiches, etc. I ordered the special linguine with salmon, which was substantial (and at $12, a good value!). It might have needed a little salt, but otherwise, very nice. The burgers also looked amazing. The second round of samplers came after dinner. The three were: Copper ESB (5.5%), Sextant (6.5%), and Barometer Drop (8.3%). The Copper ESB was served on nitro and was smooth — turns out it was Ballast Point’s first brew. I really enjoyed the Sextant – a “medium bodied oatmeal stout served on nitro… aromas of milk chocolate and coffee… velvety mouth feel”. With a description like that, what’s not to like? The flavors mixed well and the four ounces went down easy! The final Barometer Drop was the highest ABV beer of the night – a Baltic Porter. I don’t remember as much as I should about this beer, only that it was stronger and the flavors were very distinctive and bold. Of the six, the Sextant made my list of “have again next time”. But with about 30 in-house brewed beers on tap, there’s plenty more to try and discover! The Ballast Point location was a perfect place to get to know their beers, besides their most popular Sculpin which thankfully is getting a much wider distribution.
This concludes my travel post, with the second day being Wednesday, 26th August 2015. The third day was all work and airport, and I decided not to have a Stone beer at the airport, opting instead for a glass of wine at the lounge. My next trip will take me to Michigan and Ontario, so look out for a potential beer post or two from there. Cheers!
Okay, I lied. The third day isn’t over yet! Upon arrival back at SFO, I was able to enjoy the American Express Centurion Lounge – one of my favorite lounges (in fact, all Centurion Lounges are my favorites). Their alcohol program (if one should call it that) is amazing. They have wine tasting (automated), an excellent cocktail selection, and — while I’ve never paid much attention — a good beer selection!
I start with the cocktails, which mixologist Michael made. The Port Charlotte’s Web, which is made with the Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Islay Scotch. As you may remember from my Day 1 post, I’m a big fan of the Islay Scotch Whiskeys: their peaty smoky flavor add a complexity to scotch that I enjoy above others. The Port Charlotte’s Web is just delicious, and enjoyed with the wonderful fried chicken food selection in the hot buffet bar.
While I was talking to Michael, I noticed their beer taps: Almanac Beer Co. I usually don’t pay much attention to the beer taps at lounges: they are usually rife with big brewers — Coors, Budweiser, Miller. But, Almanac! Local from San Jose! Michael explained it was an Emperor Norton, a Belgian-style Trippel brewed with apricots. Weighing in at 9.0% ABV, this was definitely not a session beer. And Almanac is known for its blending of beer with local crops, harvests, and herbs, so the apricot aspect wasn’t unexpected. Just looking at the color, you can tell that there was some stone fruit used in the making of this hefty brew. The flavor doesn’t overpower with apricot, but it’s definitely there. First flavor is the distinctive Belgian Trippel flavor profile, but shortly thereafter, you notice there’s a fruit layered among the Belgian hops and malt. Thoroughly drinkable, the Emperor Norton is a wonderful beer to follow the Port Charlotte’s Web. Once I finish this glass, I’ll be heading home. I remain thankful for the amazing beers and cocktails I’ve had over the last few days, and grateful that I live in the Great State of California, from San Diego up to Northern California – home to great beer, innovative cocktails, and friendly people.