San Diego Day 3: A Six-Hour Tour

APlusLimoOne of the things I really enjoy about craft beer people is the age range (I wish I could say I enjoy the diversity, but with a few notable exceptions, we’re largely a majority-male, white, educated group). However, I’m certainly in the mid-age range and I remember Gilligan’s Island fondly, a sitcom based on the notion that a group of strangers head out on a boat for a three-hour tour, only to get caught up in a maelstrom and lost to a desert isle. Without going too far into the premise of the show, Thursday in San Diego was reminiscent, as about a dozen beer bloggers showed up a day early to take a six-hour tour courtesy of APlus Limos and led by our generous host, Michael Puente. Thanks to APlus, we could get around to see more of the amazing breweries San Diego has to offer, including:

  • Societe Brewing Company – A bit of a mash-up between old-world Belgian styles and new California hoppy beers

    The barrel aging room at Societe.

    The barrel aging room at Societe.

  • White Labs – The die-hard beer geek’s personal piece of heaven; had we been stranded here, I would have died happy
  • AleSmith Brewing – Arguably the best drinking spot in San Diego (and go ahead and argue, if you like), where I met Kevin who has offered to drive me to Lost Abbey on Sunday (hi, Kevin!)
  • Benchmark Brewing – With an emphasis on sessionable and table beers

Along the way, we also stopped by a Mexican fast food place; the verde burrito might have been the best I’ve ever had (dunno how I will be able to eat Brooklyn Mexican ever again!). While any of the venues (Council Brewing was also a stop, but I had already drank my way through most of the line-up on Tuesday) would warrant its own blog post, I have to say that White Labs was the most unusual and delicious stop.

For those who may not know, White Labs is the premier harvester of yeast in the U.S., possibly even the world. Their scientists have written the definitive book on yeast, and their tasting room offers up beers named by style and yeast strain (hence, the best beer I’ve had thus far, a porter on cask with the designation WLP028). You can also order a flight of a particular style of beer with four different yeast strains. My porter flight included:

  • WLP006 Bedford British Ale Yeast
  • WLP051 California Ale V Yeast (from northern CA)
  • WLP005 British Ale Yeast (maybe because it was a porter, this was the best of the bunch other than the cask)
  • WLP862 Cry Havoc pitched as a lager (licensed from the king of homebrew himself, Charlie Papazian)
  • Bonus brew: the cask porter made with vanilla soaked oak spiral (I had to ask: rather than aging in barrels, the soaked oak piece is added to the fermenter), vanilla beans, honey and cocoa nibs

BBC14_APlusI also drank the Frankenstout, an eighth generation beer that is made using all 96 varieties of White Labs yeast (don’t ask me how they manage, only that we joked about a sterile mop!). The thought that there are that many yeast strains in a single beer is somewhat outside the scope of my mind to encompass, but the beer was great.

In fact, White Labs (which has long been on my bucket list to visit, and partially why I decided to come to San Diego for the Beer Bloggers Conference) really illustrates the brewers axiom: Brewers make wort; yeast make beer. The variety of flavors among the same beer with different yeast was incredibly broad. I would happily go back to White Labs just to try their flights on a regular basis. As it stands, I have APlus to thank for getting me there safely and in comfort… along with 13 of my beer blogging buds.

Here in Hop Heaven… My First Trip to San Diego

This is what 30 years... and 30 pounds... looks like! Living it up with my personal tour guide in San Diego!

This is what 30 years… and 30 pounds… looks like! Living it up with my personal tour guide in San Diego!

I ended up coming to this year’s Beer Bloggers Conference in large part owing to the location. While I thoroughly enjoyed BBC13 in Portland, ME, last year, the easy (and fairly inexpensive) transportation was a key reason for my being in attendance. There is nothing easy about getting to San Diego from NYC (okay, well, there are plenty of non-stop flights, so it’s not like I was gonna walk here), but I had never been to the city and it was certainly on my bucket list to get out here and try some local SoCal brews.

My initial impression of the beer scene here is that it’s light years ahead of NYC. The very first beer I had was at Council Brewing Co., a nano-brewer run by (female! yay!) brewmaster Liz Chism. Chism, who works the brewery along side her husband Curtis, is a sign language interpreter by day, amazing homebrewer by night. I was stunned to hear that she had no formal training, because her beers are truly outstanding. This isn’t to say that homebrewers don’t make outstanding beers, only to say that these beers would stand up against any eastern large brewers’ beers.

Council Brewing Co. brewmaster Liz Chism.

Council Brewing Co. brewmaster Liz Chism.

My friend Brian, who I hadn’t seen in 30 years, took me to the off-the-beaten-path brewery housed in an industrial park. I started with a flight that included three different IPAs. While their homonymic IPA, Chizzam!, was outstanding, it was their Quorum IPA with Jarrylo Hops that was bringing in the locals (it had just been poured). I’m a beer lover and not a judge, but this was the least IPA-tasting IPA I think I’ve had. There was zero nose; I mean, like, none! Even Liz admitted to a low-scent beer (it was getting busy at that point, and I was more interested in catching up with my friend than quizzing the beer maker, but I’m guessing no additional hops added to the fermentation). Even the flavor was not overly hopped. The Yakima Valley experimental hop (pronounced yar-I-lo with emphasis on the “i”) is very subtle, despite having a relatively high AA (~15%). I would have guessed it was a hoppy Belgian style ale, and not an IPA at all.

But it was the third entry, their Gavel Drop IPA made with New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops that made me feel like I was no longer in Kansas—er, Brooklyn—anymore. Very intense aroma and taste. Initially, after the subtlety of the Chizzam!, I was put off by it. But after finishing the delicious (and deceptively high in alcohol) Pirate’s Breakfast Imperial Oatmeal Stout, the Gavel Drop really grew on me.

BelchingBeaverMoving on, Brian took me to Tiger!Tiger! where I paired Hops of Hope by Noble Ale Works (again, outstanding) with a spicy house-made bratwurst and poutine (which was the only thing that was less-than-impressive). Already pretty tipsy at this point, I was escorted around the corner to the wickedly named Belching Beaver (sadly, they were out of the ladies’ tank tops), where I managed to chill my palate with one of their famous milk stouts (I had the Peanut Butter, a great dessert beer).

Brian told me that even though Council opened three months ago (their grand opening was a mere two months ago), they are far from the newest brewery in San Diego. I don’t know much about the politics to opening a brewery in California, but the quality and quantity of beer means that I will be able to dip my toe into the waters but slightly. I’m going to head out in a bit to explore some more (this is my only full free day, and I’ve spent the entire morning working). Can’t wait to see what further treats the craft beer world of San Diego has in store for The Bitch!