San Diego Beer Week 2015 – A Recap of the Excess

San Diego Beer Week has been around for a few years now. Many other cities do similar things where they have special events for the week. Some people in San Diego think the whole idea is silly because we have fantastic beer available all year round. Still, I found the events to be interesting enough that I am glad to have taken part. All these special events can get quite expensive but even more so if you go to all the bigger festivals and pay for a round trip on Uber. Thankfully I was able to get someone to be the designated driver for most days so that I didn’t drive under the influence.

Day 1 – Alpine and Green Flash Takeover at O’Brien’s Pub
Day 1 of San Diego Beer Week 2015 started at O’Brien’s pub, a place I returned multiple times during the week because it is the closest bar that had special things going on. For Alpine and Green Flash takeover night they brought a bunch of Green Flash Cellar 3 beers as well as many delicious Alpine IPAs. Having recently visited Alpine to taste HFS IPA, I split a pitcher of this fantastic IPA with a friend, though I ended up giving him 2/3 of my second glass because I got him a Flanders Drive from Cellear 3 and he didn’t like it. My husband later joined us and had a glass of Odin’s Raven imperial stout from Alpine that I helped him with. I was surprised they poured this in a pint because it is so strong.

Day 2 – Sour Day at O’Brien’s Pub
I showed up around 2PM at O’Brien’s Pub for their sour beer takeover. At $4 a taster, or $24 for 6 5oz tasters it was an expensive visit (one that would be repeated later in the week) but the beers were quite delicious and I was able to sip them for a while. This is also normal price for sours anywhere you find them. I had the delicious Almanac Valley of the Heart’s Delight (an apricot sour), Karl Strauss Wild Ride, Russian River Supplication (a sour made with cherries and aged in wine barrels) Manzanita Brewing 5th Anniversary (their first ever wild ale), and The Bruery’s Oude Tarte (2013). All of them were quite tasty but I especially liked the Valley of the Heart’s Delight. Both Karl Strauss and Manzanita’s offerings were well-done and tasted like proper sours. The atmosphere at the sour day was nice and calm so I was able to chat with people outside and at some point read without a noisy crowd. I stuck to these five tasters so that I could drive home safely.

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Day 3 – Award Winning Coffee Beers at Pizza Port Ocean Beach
In the mid-afternoon on Sunday my husband and I visited Pizza Port Ocean Beach for their award winning coffee beer day, which included their own recent bronze winning Bacon and Eggs coffee stout, Beachwood Brewing’s recent silver winning Pablo Escobeer (a Colombian coffee stout on nitro) and New English Brewing’s recent gold winning Zumbar imperial coffee and chocolate stout. I had a pint of the Bacon and Eggs for the first time that day and it was really delicious, giving me plenty of smooth nutty coffee that also had a nice caffeine bite. My husband really enjoyed the Beachwood offering on nitro as well. Then I ordered a glass of the 18th Anniversary from Firestone Walker (most likely a hold over from a previous barrel-aged event). This was a fantastic beer, blending a variety of different barrel aged beers. We also enjoyed a slice of the brunch pizza that they had along with the beers and it paired really nicely with the coffee stouts.

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On our way back we stopped by Alesmith for their barrel aged beer day, which meant a flight of Beer Geek Speedway, Jamaican Blue Mountain Speedway, Velvet, and Bourbon Barrel Aged Speedway. I had heard mixed things about the Beer Geek Speedway in the past but I thought it was quite tasty. Jamaican Blue Mountain was tasting smooth as usual. And of course Velvet is the most smooth of the bunch. I’m still surprised by how fast the bottles sold out when it was put on sale but it is a delicious beer. Velvet is a bourbon barrel aged version of Jamaican Blue Mountain with vanilla added.

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Coffee beers at Pizza Port.
Alesmith Beers on our way home.
Alesmith Beers on our way home.
Group of people we met at Alemsmitih. My husband is wearing that red shirt.
Group of people we met at Alemsmitih. My husband is wearing that red shirt.

Day 4 – Imperial Stout Release at Duck Foot Brewing and Green Flash 13th Anniversary Beer Release
I visited Duck Foot to start off my Monday for their new Ukrainian Imperial Stout release. The beer had a delicious caramel kick with some dark chocolate notes despite not having any adjuncts added. After our first sip of the taster, we ordered an 8 ounce to share as well. They also released a raspberry version later in the week but I didn’t get around to try that. They also filled six barrels that previously held Heaven Hill Bourbon with this beer for a future barrel-aged release. Based on the delicious base beer, I am very excited to see how this turns out.

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8 ounce pour of the Imperial Stout.
8 ounce pour of the Imperial Stout.

Green Flash released their Handshake IPA as their 13th Anniversary beer. This is a collaboration IPA with Alpine. The beer is a smooth IPA with a strong grapefruit flavor. I was glad to see a few other Alpine beers available as well on tap, including HFS, Bad Boy, Hop Box, and their Ales for ALS IPA. I had an 8 ounce of the HFS and an 8 ounce of the ALS IPA. Both were delicious. I really liked the light flavors of the ALS IPA and the solid grapefruit flavor.

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Day 5 – Beer and Cheese Pairing at The Winesellar and Brasserie
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this beer and cheese pairing but it turned out to be a mini beer festival of sorts. They had a medium-sized room with five breweries and one meadery and two more breweries outside. In all they had Iron Fist, Port Brewing/Lost Abbey, Saint Archer, New English, Golden Coast Mead, Helms, Duck Foot, and Helix. Each of them was pouring four ounce pours of two different beers in a wine glass we got at the beginning. They also had cheese at each of the different stations that you could grab to eat with crackers to go with your beers.

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Some of the highlights of this event for me were the Double IPA from Duck Foot, tasting really fresh that evening, Iron Fist’s Saison, New English Zumbar imperial stout, and the sour mead from Golden Coast Mead. Some friends chose to boycott Saint Archer because of their recent sale to Miller/Coors but I like their coffee brown ale so I had a little of that. The only downside to the event was that they didn’t have much bread available. Some fresh bread showed up a few times during the event but it disappeared so fast I didn’t get much. This was a great little intimate event and I was able to try some interesting cheese and beer pairings.

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New English Crew at the pairing event.
New English Crew at the pairing event.

Day 6 – Fieldwork Takeover at O’Brien’s and Modern Times Takeover at Regent’s Pizzeria
Fieldwork brewing is a relatively new brewery up in Berkeley that was started by some brewers who formerly brewed for Modern Times. I got to visit them recently (my blog post will be coming up soon) and was impressed by their beers so I was glad to have another chance to try their beers locally. I was surprised when I noticed that a good number of the beers were different than the selection they had when I visited the brewery only a short time ago. I don’t know if they brew especially small batches but I really enjoyed the beers I had. I ordered a pint of the Shoreline IPA and a pint of the Gray Wolf double IPA. My husband joined me later and ordered a pint of the Morning Time Coffee Stout.

O'Brien's Tap List for Fieldwork Day.
O’Brien’s Tap List for Fieldwork Day.

The Shoreline IPA was quite delicious and had many of the same flavors they described on the board, including citrus and jack fruit. The Gray Wolf double IPA was brewed with Nelson and Hallertau hops and it had a perfect fruity and citrus blend with a surprisingly low bitterness and delicious finish. My husband was satisfied with his Morning Time Coffee Stout. Modern Times brought a ton of beers to Regent’s Pizzeria and I only ordered their Monster’s Park Imperial Stout. It was good and thick with plenty of coffee and chocolate flavors. I was glad to see the massive beer selection at the place in person and will hope to visit them soon to see how the pizza is.

Regent's Pizza Tap List.
Regent’s Pizza Tap List.
Regent's Pizza Tap List Part 2.
Regent’s Pizza Tap List Part 2.

Day 7 – Speedway Grand Prix
The Speedway Grand Prix is something that I have done every year since I tried it the last time they had it at O’Brien’s. Each year they have 12 varieties of Speedway Stout available in 3 separate 2oz flights. I tend to go share with my mom and my neighbor because we each enjoy different flavors and so everyone enjoys what they have. Each year they also ask you to rate your favorite flavors so that they can see what was best received and possibly make that one again in larger quantities. Because the list of the different beers is available below along with my ratings I won’t go into all of the different beers, except for a few that really stood out.

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I quite enjoyed the Triple Hammerhead, a coffee explosion of flavor that had a nice bitter after taste. It has a smooth espresso kick. I also really liked the Butterfinger flavor, with the right mix of peanut butter and caramel while not being overwhelming sweet. Peanut Butter and Jelly was really nice with Raspberries added that gave it just the right amount of sweet kick to balance the nuts. The hazelnut was also very smooth and had a nice addition of chocolate that balanced it out. Oatmeal Raisin Cookie and Sour Cherry were my two other favorites. I was surprised by how much the Oatmeal Raisin reminded me of the cookie.

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There were also a few special versions of Speedway on tap, including a Pu-Erh tea variety and a separate Autumn blend that didn’t have as overpowering maple flavor as the other maple one. The Pu-Erh was so good I could barely distinguish it from other coffee varieties. The beer has some inherent coffee flavors that are still there without coffee added. They also had Reforged on tap, their anniversary blend of various bourbon barrel aged beers. Others reported that they had different specialty beers if you went on Wednesday or Friday instead. It was really a fantastic experience.

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Day 8 – Barrel aged Beer Day at O’Briens
I returned to O’Briens for the last time to have some big barrel aged beers. I tried a number of barrel aged beers but I should have stuck with the ones from more well-known breweries because I was not very impressed by the barrel aged old ale from Widmer and Cigar City or the Rye Ale Sierra Nevada brewed for O’Brien’s 20th anniversary. Both were a bit lighter in body and lacking in the punch of some of the others. What I really did enjoy was the Uncle Jacob’s Stout (a 16.9% bourbon barrel aged beer from Avery Brewing) and Firestone Walker’s Parabola (a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout). If I go to a similar event in the future I would get more Firestone Walker offerings and some Lost Abbey stuff.

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Day 9 – Bourbon Barrel Aged Day at New English
New English decided that rather than simply barrel aging their Zumbar imperial stout, they also put their brown ale in bourbon barrels. For this event they had five varieties of brown ale aged in bourbon barrels plus some other things and their Zumbar Imperial Stout aged in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels. Though they had flights available I decided to only try three of the varieties since I had done so many flights this week already. The Heaven Hill aged Brown Ale had a really nice bourbon flavor, a little less sweet than the Woodford Reserve varieties. In comparison the 2013 Woodford Reserve aged version was a lot sweeter and more smooth though it lacked the same bourbon kick. The Heaven Hill aged Zumbar was absolutely delicious. The beer was silky smooth and the bourbon really accented the coffee and chocolate flavors of the beer. It came close to some of the better barrel aged beers the previous day, though it was not as high in alcohol as either of my favorites. I was overall quite impressed by the different ones I tried and very much look forward to having more of that Heaven Hill aged brown ale in the future.

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Awesome new lounge at New English.
Awesome new lounge at New English.
Full pour of bourbon barrel aged zumbar.
Full pour of bourbon barrel aged zumbar.

Day 10 – Coffee, Donuts, and Stout at Benchmark Brewing
After the festivities of previous days, I wanted to keep things light. Thankfully Benchmark expected this and planned their second annual coffee, donuts, and stout. They offered a flight with tasters of their oatmeal stout and imperial stout plus a cold brew coffee on nitro and coffee infused versions of the oatmeal stout and imperial stout on cask. This was just the right amount to share with two others while enjoying the donuts they had along with it. Though I don’t regularly eat donuts, I really liked their peanut butter version and the coconut one. Both of the coffee added casks were delicious. They also paired really well with the beers. I preferred the imperial stout version but my neighbor liked the more subtle flavors of the coffee in the oatmeal stout.

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I had a really great time with all of these events this week, though I will be taking a few days off to let my body recover after all that. It is hard to pick a favorite event but I think the best few events I visited were the barrel aged beer day at O’Briens, Speedway Grand Prix, and the Barrel Aged day at New English. What can I say? I love the imperial stouts.

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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