Ironfire Brewing Temecula California

Ironfire Brewing in Temecula has some wide distribution so you might see a bottle or two in the store in San Diego. I stopped by to visit the brewery while I was driving through and got to try some of the beers I might have skipped if I saw them in the stores. The specialty beers I got to try were very nice but you should be able to find two beers, the 51/50 IPA and 6 Killer Stout in bottles around town. Visiting the brewery has the added bonus of a super cute female bartender. If you do decide to visit, know that it is easy to miss because the sign you see from the street sounds like a winery.

Ironfire 01

There were too many beers on tap for me to try everything but I did get to try most of them. I had tastes of the 51/50 IPA, 6 Killer Stout, Vicious Disposition, India Pale Lager, Dead on Arrival Double IPA, and Double Chocolate Stout on Nitro. The lineup was quite impressive and I might be hooked forever on the 6 Killer Stout.

Taster flight at Ironfire.
Taster flight at Ironfire.

The 51/50 IPA is much more bitter than any other single IPA I have ever tried. It had a nice grapefruit and citrus flavor going. Though I enjoyed it I think it was a bit too bitter for the flavors it had. I love bitter brews but this was a bit much. The 6 Killer Stout is an explosion of coffee flavors and uses coffee from a local roaster. Though not too heavy on the alcohol, this beer has some serious coffee flavors. The coffee had nice nutty and chocolate flavors. I was so impressed that I left with 2 22oz bottles of the stout.

Tap list when I visited.
Tap list when I visited.

The Vicious Disposition is a stronger stout made with local avocado honey. This was a tasty beer that was very well-balanced, which is good because honey can sometimes become too much. Even if you haven’t enjoyed many honey beers, this one is still primarily a stout. The India Pale Lager was totally different than any I have ever tried. Not only is it not very bitter at all but it is also very light in color and body. It almost drinks like a light beer and yet it has plenty of grapefruit and tropical fruit flavors. The alcohol percentage hides very well here and you would never guess its percentage from drinking it.

Ironfire 04

The Dead on Arrival Double IPA was a solid double with plenty of floral and citrus flavors. I also got a lot of tropical fruit flavors from it. It seemed like it went a little too overboard with the mosac hops though because it had a light soapy finish. Finally I tried the double chocolate stout on Nitro. The guys I talked to at the bar told me they found this one to be too boozy. I have to agree. Though I did taste some chocolate at the back end, it was masked by a heavy boozy flavor that was a bit too much.

In the end, I would say there is a good reason why the 51/50 IPA and 6 Killer Stout are the big sellers because they are both fantastic. If you see either of them in stores down in San Diego, pick up a bottle if they sound like your kind of beer.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Introduction to Craft Beers Part 4 – Wheat Beers and Amber Ales

Wheat Beers

Also known as Belgian wits (like the mass-produced Blue Moon), wheat beers get their lighter flavors from wheat malts that don’t have the same dark flavors or coloring as the malts typically used in a pale ale or a porter or stout. This usually leads to a brighter flavor in the beer and, when mixed with a Belgian yeast, creates the flavors you are familiar with in a Belgian Wit. Some brewers will add lemon or citrus flavors to these as well to brighten them up.

Wheat beers are commonly unfiltered and also typically on the lighter alcohol content around 4.5%. Because of their lighter flavors wheat beers are not as common from craft breweries. Instead, many local breweries experiment with the style. Modern Times and Council Brewing both brew a hoppy wheat. They add a bunch of hops to a wheat beer to give it a citrus kick and some added flavor. These hoppy wheat varieties are still light in alcohol and just as refreshing.

Local Favorites: Karl Strauss Wheat, Ballast Point Wheat, Modern Times Hoppy Wheat, Council Hoppy Wheat.

 Amber Ales

The amber style of beer, sometimes known simply as a red ale, is best recognized by the reddish color of the beer when poured into a glass. While IPAs and pale ales are great for learning about the flavors of hops, ambers are great for learning about the flavors of malts. Malt flavors tend to be the primary draw and sometimes give a fruity flavor and other times a sweeter caramel flavor or a light roasted flavor.

Most ambers tend to be on the lighter side, around 4.5%, and it is pretty rare to see imperial red ales in San Diego. The term imperial as used here implies that the beer is around twice as strong as usual. These stronger red ales tend to add more hops to balance out the more intense flavors from the malts.

Local Favorites: Karl Strauss Red Trolley, Ballast Point Amber, Stone Levitation,
Local Imperial Reds:  Green Flash Hop Head Red, Alesmith My Bloody Valentine and Evil Dead Red, Ballast Point Tongue Buckler,

In the next part of this series I will explore the porter and stout beers.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Introduction to Craft Beer Part 3 – What is a Pale Ale?

One of the more common beer styles you see is the pale ale. Understanding this is important because IPAs are called India pale ales and are a stronger version of a pale ale. Most pale ales tend to be on the darker side and have a significant malt taste in the background. Malt flavors seen in pale ales tend to be more towards the bread and toast flavor. Frequently the toasty flavors come from roasting the malts themselves. Some lighter color pale ales use different varieties of malts that can give them a nice sweet finish while not overpowering the hops.

Pale ales can be made with many different types of hops but typically have less hops than other styles so that the flavors are not as intense or bitter. Many pale ales in San Diego focus on the pine and floral hops. To understand these flavors think of familiar smells. The beers taste pretty similar. Pale ales tend to be lighter in alcohol, somewhere around 4.5%, with some stronger extra pale ales closer to 5.5% or even 6%. Many higher alcohol pale ales tend to be lighter in color.

Local Favorites: Saint Archer Pale Ale, Green Flash Pale Ale, Karl Strauss Pale Ale, Stone Pale Ale, Helm’s Pale Ale, Alesmith X Extra Pale.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Introduction to Craft Beer Part 2 – Why Drink Craft Beer?

This is part 2 of a multiple-part series of posts that explain the basics of beer. In Part 1 I answered the question “What is a tasting room?” In this post I will explore what separates craft beer from mass-produced beer. Stay tuned for future posts on the various styles of beer.

At some point in life you hear most people say “Beer is beer. Why should I spend much money on it?” It is apparent that you are spending a lot more money per beer when you buy a six-pack of IPA for about the price of a 12-pack of Budweiser.

If you like the pilsner style of beer (which most mass-produced beers are), you certainly can’t be blamed for buying the cheap stuff. Though it might not be perfect, it usually does taste like a pilsner (unless you get the light variety).

Craft beer is about transforming the experience from drinking to get drunk to drinking for the flavor. Just as people are more satisfied by a really fantastic slice of cheesecake than some grocery store cake, a really good craft beer tends to satisfy you much more than a Budweiser.
Beer is a complex beverage that requires balancing a number of different ingredients to come up with the perfect flavor. Exploring craft beer is a way of learning to recognize the different flavors so that you can better enjoy your experience drinking beer.

There are many different styles of beer
If you’ve ever gone over to a friend’s house only to be asked if you want an IPA, a porter, a pale ale, or an amber you might have replied “Dude just give me a beer!” It really is a lot more complicated than that and there are a lot of different flavors that you can taste in different styles of beers. The descriptions below may not be technically accurate but are written in a way that I hope will be understandable to the average person. Over the next few posts I will go into detail about the various styles of beer with local examples of each style listed at the end of each section.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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An Introduction to Craft Beer Part 1 – What is a Tasting Room?

This is the first of a series of posts that will explain the basics of beer. Part 1 answers the question of “What is a tasting room?” In future posts I will explore what separates craft beer from mass-produced beer. After that I will explain some of the common styles of beer.  If you are already a big beer fan, share these with your friends to introduce them to the wonderful world of beer.

Every tasting room has a bar where you can order pints of beer or smaller glasses of stronger brews as well as smaller four-ounce tasters. Traditional tasting rooms allow you to buy only one or two tasters while some brewery restaurants require you to buy a flight of five tasters. Most bars only serve full pints and usually have beer from a number of different breweries. Tasting rooms usually only serve beer brewed by the brewery running it.

If you already know the style of beer you prefer, it is usually best to stick to that style, especially if you plan on hitting more than one brewery. Though tasters are only four ounces, many breweries serve higher alcohol beer than you may expect.

Tasters are also great if you are trying to decide what beer to take home in a growler. Growlers range in size from 32 oz to 1 gallon. These allow you to enjoy some fresh brew at home. The beer will stay fresh in the growler for over a week until it is opened.

Once you pour a glass from the growler, it is best to finish the growler within 48 hours. Unless you are a heavy drinker or have a lot of friends coming over who share your tastes in beer, it is best to stick to a 32 oz growler so that you enjoy the beer fresh.

Tasting rooms are usually more relaxed than bars and sometimes allow you to bring your dog and/or young child with you. Most tasting rooms do not serve food but food trucks are often on site to sell you something to eat with your beer. Check the web-site of the brewery ahead of time if you expect to eat because some have food trucks a few days out of the week.

If they don’t have a food truck, most breweries do not mind if you show up with some food to enjoy with your beer. Stone, Karl Strauss, and now Ballast Point’s Little Italy location are restaurants where you can also enjoy their beer.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Portland Beer Adventures Part 10 – Bridgeport Brewpub

One of the larger, more established breweries in Portland is Bridgeport. Their Hop Czar has a reputation for being one of the best double IPAs. While visiting I got to try the Anniversary Series 01, Long Ball Extra Pale, IPA, Kingpin, Hop Czar, Bear Hug Cherry Chocolate Stout, Ginger Hibiscus Saison, Anniversary 2 Aussie IPA, and Old Knucklehead Barleywine.

Portland Beer 22

The Anniversary Series 01 was a nice experimental hop pale ale with some smooth pine flavors though a bit too light for my tastes. The Long Ball Extra Pale had the hop profile closest to what I like with plenty of crisp lemon flavors. This is still pretty light despite the extra pale name and very sessionable. The IPA to me was a little too weak for the name at only 5.5% but it had some solid floral flavors going on.
Bridgeport taster flight.
Bridgeport taster flight.
The Kingpin was one of the better beers here. As a double red it has plenty of caramel malt flavor and some nice rye flavors to smooth it out nicely. I couldn’t taste the stronger 7.5% when drinking it. The liberty hops used to give it a little kick had a nice spice flavor to them, rounding out this one nicely. The Hop Czar was a newer batch that used some Australian hops. If I had come by for the previous batch I would have been able to try the batch made with Citra. The Australian hops were not my thing at all and the beer was overwhelmingly tart and intensely piney. I did not finish the taster.
Beer Selection when I visited.
Beer Selection when I visited.
Bear Hug Cherry Chocolate Stout was another beer that does a good job of hiding the higher alcohol content. It had a nice smooth balance of the tart cherry and smooth chocolate flavors. I’m not typically a fan of cherry but my husband quite enjoyed this one and finished the taster for me. The Ginger Hibiscus Saison was an interesting seasonal offering though the taster I had was too heavy on the ginger for my tastes. It overwhelmed the rest of the flavors completely. A great beer to try if you really like ginger.

The Anniversary 2 Aussie IPA was also not really my thing. While the Australian hops used here aren’t the same as those in the Hop Czar, both hops must have similar characteristics. This beer was also quite off-putting with a very mouth-puckering bitterness. Finally, the Old Nucklehead Barleywine was the other beer I really enjoyed here. It was the strongest beer I tried here at 9.5% and you can really taste the strength. The caramel malt flavors blended nicely with the sweetness from the bourbon barrel it was aged in. This was a smooth beer and not very bitter.

Though I was slightly disappointed by the hoppy offerings at Bridgeport I did really like the Kingpin and the Barleywine. If you like lighter hoppy beers, this is a good place to visit. I did not eat any food at this brewery while visiting.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Alesmith San Diego Pale Ale in Honor of Tony Gwynn

Alesmith released a special Pale Ale in collaboration with San Diego Padres baseball legend Tony Gwynn called San Diego Pale 394 in honor of his best batting average. The beer was officially released on Saturday  June 14, 2014, just a few days before Gwynn’s untimely passing. When news spread widely on Monday June 16 of his passing I immediately wondered how Alesmith would respond. Through a post on their Facebook page, Alesmith announced that all proceeds from the beer would be donated to  The Tony & Alicia Gwynn Foundation.

I previously wasn’t going to rush out to try the San Diego Pale but once Tony Gwynn passed, I had to support his memory and get as many friends as I could to join. When I stopped by yesterday Alesmith also had two other special beers I wanted to try, the Baltic Porter and the Ethiopian Coffee Speedway Stout. The San Diego Pale 394 is a 6% pale ale so it is almost an IPA.

Specialty beers available as of June 17, 2014.
Specialty beers available as of June 17, 2014.

I started with tasters of the San Diego Pale, Baltic Porter, Old Ale, and Ethiopian Speedway. The San Diego Pale immediately impressed me with its smooth low bitterness and delicious bright hop profile. The beer is very crisp sporting primarily pine and floral flavors. It is a nice light-colored pale that should satisfy fans of Alesmith’s X extra pale and IPA.

Tasters from left to right, SD Pale, Baltic Porter, Old Ale, Ethiopian Speedway.
Tasters from left to right, SD Pale, Baltic Porter, Old Ale, Ethiopian Speedway.

The Baltic Porter was a bit disappointing to me compared to the previous small batch porter Alesmith had earlier in the year. The flavors of plum and ripe fruit dominate and leave any chocolate flavors hiding in the background.  I didn’t review the Old Ale because I’ve already realized that I don’t particularly care for Alesmith’s heavy malt beers (besides the stout). The Ethiopian Speedway was a fantastic combination of nutty and chocolate flavors that came from the coffee itself. This is one of the more interesting varieties of Speedway that I have gotten to try up there with the Vietnamese Coffee version.

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To go along with the beer, Alesmith had a number of images of Tony Gwynn around the tasting room. I especially liked the full size shot of Gwynn in his earlier days on the wall. Though I am not a big baseball fan, I do have many fond memories of Tony Gwynn from the few games I attended with my dad as a child. He was the one player that I always noticed and admired.

After finishing the tasters I ordered a pint of the SD Pale. I was surprised to notice that the Summer Yulesmith was already sold out on tap so only bottles remained. This made the SD Pale my favorite brew currently available at the tasting room. The extra freshness really makes the flavors pop. Come by the tasting room soon to taste this delicious pale and help support The Tony & Alicia Gwynn Foundation by having a few pints.  If you can’t make it by the tasting room, the pale should eventually be released in 12 ounce bottles for you to enjoy at home. 

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Portland Beer Adventures Part 9 – Basecamp Brewing

Basecamp is one of the newest breweries I visited and also one of the most impressive. I don’t blame the breweries that have been around for quite some time for having beers of a style that now feels common and boring. It seems I can always count on young breweries to offer something bold and different, and that is surely the case with Basecamp Brewing. Besides their interesting selection of beers, they offer 22oz aluminum bottles that are perfect for the adventurous beer drinker to take along on a hike or camping trip. They also were easy to bring home with me to San Diego without worrying that the bottles would break in my luggage.

While visiting Basecamp I was able to try a good number of their beers but decided to stick to the main ones I was interested in because the selection was quite varied. I tried the Rye Pilsner, CTRL ALT DEL Altbier, Celestial Meridian CDL, IPL, Gold Rush IOC, S’more Stout, and Incredible Baltor.
Basecamp taster flight.
Basecamp taster flight.
The Rye Pilsner was quite tasty, with the rye giving a little extra kick to the typical boring pilsner taste. Would make a great beer to bring on a camping trip. The CTRL ALT DEL Altbier was quite tasty as well offering a pleasing sweet malt flavor with a nice caramel twist. The Celestial Meridian Cascade Dark Lager provided a nice mix of flavors with smoky roasted malts and light cascade hops at the front and some sweeter caramel flavors on the back.

The India Pale Lager (IPL) is an interesting take on the style because it is aged in oak barrels for a time. I could taste some nice toasty copper malts and a solid amount of pine hops on the back end. The combination of these was nicely smoothed out by the oak aging. I found as I got further into my taster, I could taste the hops a bit more prominently. The Gold Rush IOC was the most hoppy beer here and also my favorite. The beer is light on the malts, giving a lighter colored hop-forward brew. The hops primarily lean towards the citrus and floral hops I love so much in San Diego. I would have left with a bottle of the Gold Rush if it was available but instead I brought home two bottles of the IPL.
Beer selection when I visited.
Beer selection when I visited.
The S’more Stout was quite delicious and served with a marshmallow on the lip of the glass for a nice touch. This is a creamy beer with delicious chocolate and marshmallow flavors. There is just a hint of sweetness to the beer. My husband preferred the Baltor though. The Baltor is given one of the most verbose descriptions I’ve ever seen for a beer but to me is a great example of a solid coffee stout. The coffee flavor is nice and prominent at the beginning with chocolate and plum malt flavors at the back. This beer was very nice though I preferred the S’more.
Portland Beer 19
Basecamp likes to present twists on established styles of beer and I would say they succeeded quite nicely in doing so. Not only that, but they have some fairly permanent food trucks right outside that offer good food options. I tried some of the Korean BBQ from one of the trucks and it was a solid Bulgogi Burrito. Basecamp is one brewery you should make sure to visit if you make it out to Portland.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Portland Beer Adventures Part 8 – Hopworks Urban Brewery

Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB) is another one of those big breweries that I tried outside of Portland and had to stop by. They wanted me to try a large number of tasters in order to get a flight so I elected to do a few small tastes since I was on my way to the waterfall. I ended up trying most of their beers I was interested in. In all I tried the Hopworks IPA, Survival Stout, Cascadian Dark Ale, UK Style IPA, White IPA, Kentucky Christmas, and Army of Darkness.
Portland Beer 18
The Hopworks IPA had a nice bright pine flavor but it was also joined by some unpleasant soapy flavor possibly from using too much mosaic. The soapy taste kept me from enjoying this one very much. The Survival Stout was quite drinkable with a nice mix of coffee and roasted malts. It was not as full bodied as I prefer in my stouts and didn’t really stand out in any way.

The Cascadian Dark Ale was an interesting style I hadn’t heard of before but it seems in the Pacific Northwest area breweries like to hop up dark ales and since they use Cascade hops frequently it makes sense to give it a whole new name. It was good and balanced but to me felt like the hops could have been made a bit more prominent. The UK style IPA was far too mellow for my tastes and didn’t have much unique flavor to it.
Beer selection when I visited.
Beer selection when I visited.
The White IPA was quite dry and bitter but didn’t seem to have much of a particular hop flavor to recommend it. I didn’t much care for this one. The Kentucky Christmas was a delightful treat, a bourbon barrel aged Winter beer. The underlying beer let the bourbon flavors shine. I didn’t have much of this because it was on the stronger side and I was on the way to a hike. Finally, the Army of Darkness was a unique chocolate raspberry Russian Imperial Stout. If you have ever had raspberry filled chocolates before, this does a fantastic job of presenting that in a beer. The two flavors went really well together but like the previous one I wasn’t ready to order a full pour of something so strong at the time.

In all, I was mostly pretty let down by the mainstay beers offered by HUB but they did have some fantastic specialty beers. If you enjoy the more mellow Northwest IPAs then you might like the IPA. I did not eat any food while I was visiting HUB.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Portland Beer Adventures Part 7 Laurelwood Brewing

Laurelwood came up a lot in my search for must-try Portland beers. Because I had quite a few beers at Velo Cult before hand, I stuck with four tasters and some happy hour food. I tried the IPA, Tree Hugger Porter, Oatmeal Stout, and Double IPA.
Beer Selection at Laurelwood.
Beer Selection at Laurelwood.
The IPA was a solid entry with plenty of pine, citrus, and grapefruit flavors. The Tree Hugger Porter was good and mellow with primary oatmeal and chocolate flavors. I liked the oatmeal stout slightly better than the porter, with some stronger chocolate flavors smoothed out by the oatmeal. Probably my favorite was the double IPA, with a good bitterness and plenty of citrus and pine. I might have ordered a pint of this one if I hadn’t just come from Velo Cult. Also, compared to the Boneyard Triple IPA I had just before it is hard to impress.
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I really enjoyed the happy hour food we ordered at Laurelwood. The fish and chips were nice and crispy and yet the fish was good and flaky. With a little malt vinegar the fish went great with the beers.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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