I made the perhaps overly ambitious resolution for 2012 to visit all San Diego breweries, and I’m slowly whittling away at the list. Though amazing, my 2+ month ocean crossing from South Africa to Australia means that I am behind pace. Together with some friends at work, I have been hitting up the breweries in the Miramar / Mira Mesa area recently, some of which I had never been to before. Here’s a quick round-up of my visits so far.

Green Flash
A sentimental favorite, as the place to first employ Reed in the beer industry, Green Flash never disappoints. An after work visit found us at a picnic table in their twinkly-light-filled patio area that evokes that familiar pleasantness of your own backyard. Plus there’s one of San Diego’s many amazing food trucks parked there more often than not, so it’s hard not to get comfortable and stay awhile. And I haven’t even mentioned beer yet. Though offerings vary, they always have 10+ options to choose from. Green Flash’s barleywine is still my favorite, the older the better, and they usually have that on tap along with a selection of their distinct hoppy Belgian concoctions. Rayon Vert, a Belgian pale ale, and Linchpin, a white IPA, were new to me on this particular visit. Both are of course a bit hoppy for my taste, but quite interesting and definitely worth a taste for those of you who can handle, or even like, the bitter mixed in with that distinct Belgian yeast flavor. The Rayon Vert is a remake of the not-so-popular (though I like it and think it ages well) Treasure Chest, so I’ll be interested to try it again each time I visit. Next time I stop in I definitely want to take their brewery tour. 

Heart lacing.

Ballast Point
A new one for me, and I must say that I was blown away by their selection. To be honest, all I knew before going was that their beers were named after fish, that my beer snob friends will just not shut up about Sculpin IPA, and I’d heard rumors that they were paid $1 million for the rights to the word yellowtail by the Australian winemaker (who, upon further research, seem the litigious type). So imagine my surprise when confronted with their tasting menu of 20 beers, including a truly inspired curry stout and a delicious smoked lager that dragged up memories of campfires past. I wrote down in my notebook that the lager was so flavor-infused that I imagined the brewer squirting liquid smoke into the vats of beer, it seems impossible that malt can do so much. A friend and I went back a few weeks later to procure a growler of the curry stout and had it for dinner with naan – truly a well balanced meal. Ballast Point’s tasting room feels like a bar, it’s crowded and loud and hard to get the attention of the servers. The production side is all hidden from view, though they give frequent tours. The large and varied selection, viewable online, along with a reasonable $5 for three 4oz tasters, will definitely tempt me back in for future visits. They also run a home brew store in Linda Vista that I have yet to visit, though I hear they do a lot of tasting events there as well.

They’ve gone through a bit of a makeover since I was there last, which I believe was only in January. The tasting room has been painted and is quite fancy, more of a restaurant feel to it than the warehouse vibe of Green Flash or Hess. The tinier than expected brewhouse is on display and I wonder at their ability to churn out (and bottle!) so many types of beer, all of unbelievable quality and distinction. Before my first visit I imagined them to be more the size of Karl Strauss, just without the restaurant to distract them from making amazing beer (more on this theme in a future post). Our group included at least one IPA fanatic who happily sipped away at his 12 ounce pour while the rest of us ran all over the tasting menu via the $1 four ounce options. Though their Nut Brown is my favorite brown ale of all time (so far), I walked away with a growler of the Grand Cru, a deliciously rich and sweet Belgian-style ale.

Rough Draft tasting room / brewhouse.

Rough Draft
This new-to-the-scene brewery has my favorite San Diego tasting room (so far), it only took one visit to fall in love with the cozy space. A long bar, beautiful tables with succulent centerpieces, and a living room-like space with couches and a cool warehouse-inspired coffee table (beer table?) are all just roped off from the brewhouse and fermenter tanks. I prefer this kind of setup, where tours aren’t really necessary, rather than a separation of production and consumption. I like the idea that when I’m kicking back enjoying a beer (or five), the brewing staff can all be doing the same thing, none of this around-the-clock business. On the evening I visited, the owner was in fact doing just that. He is clearly an IPA-lover, like many people I know. Three of the nine beers on tap were IPAs, with the rest of the list consisting of a blonde, amber, red, pale ale and a rye. Obviously missing (to me at least) was a dark beer of any kind, no brown or stout or porter, though I was assured that their first is in the tanks already. The plan, I take it, is to have some fun with the recipes and see where things end up based on popularity in the tasting room. This is novel to me, though I suppose every brewery probably goes through this process at the beginning, I’ve just never felt like I was a part of it. I’ve noticed a theme to the tasting rooms that I enjoy visiting…you always need a return visit. There’s always something they’re talking about that’s almost ready, the lineup is always different and with Rough Draft it goes the one step further where you feel like your opinion and feedback will help drive their decisions and expansion.

Up next…..
It will take multiple trips to get to all the San Marcos / Escondido area breweries, but I’m sure I can find willing participants. A repeat visit to Hess is always necessary, I’m headed there today with my trusty chocolate cream cheese cupcakes that pair so nicely with their stout.