Toolbox Brewing Revisited – Vista California – The Addition of Barrel Aged Sours Brings Them to the Next Level

Occasionally I have need to update a post on a brewery that has changed significantly since the last time I posted. Back when I visited Toolbox it didn’t seem very likely that the entire core of their beer would change so drastically. But brewers are people too and disagreements occur that lead them to move on to other breweries, as was the case when one of the head brewers from Toolbox left. I don’t intend to get into the specifics of what happened as that is none of my business but I do want to explore for you the big differences in the types of beer available at Toolbox. For those interested you can read┬ámy original Toolbox post. I have updated it with a note to indicate that the information is outdated.

Toolbox 03

You may recall previously that Tart X was the basis for many of the fruited sours that were available at Toolbox. This seriously tart base beer made for some quite tart fruited sours. Now the brewery appears to focus on a few different types of beers, Berliner Weisse, Gose, and barrel aged sours. I didn’t try everything on the menu in my recent visit because at $3 to $5 per taster depending on what you were ordering that could get quite expensive. But I could easily tell that trying the gose, berliner weisse, and barrel-aged sour they had on was an important part of understanding their new direction.

Toolbox Brewing Revisited 01

I tried five different beers on my latest visit, Free Range Lettuce, Funky Wit, Cumcumberliner, Life Gose On, and Bramble on Rose. The Grass Fed Lettuce is described as a dry-hopped sour pale ale with amarillo, galaxy, and hallertau blanc hops. However, I found it lacked both the flavors of the three hops and the sour kick I expected. It was a quite funky pale ale with really mellow hops and a bitter finish. Perhaps I missed it when it was first put on but hop heads won’t find anything exciting here. The Funky Wit is a twist on the traditional Belgian Wit with the addition of the Brett yeast. In this case the wild yeast gives the beer a very slight funk and a bit of bright fruit notes. Otherwise the beer has a nice high carbonation with light spice and a mild sweetness at the end. Quite a delicious beer and quite different in flavor from typical local versions.

Toolbox Brewing Revisited 02

The Cucumberliner is a Berliner Weisse with cucumber, 18 pounds per barrel to be exact. I found the beer to be a delicious mix of tart and intense cucumber flavor. It had a bit of a mouth puckering effect and a nice hint of citrus at the finish from the underlying beer. This was one of my favorites of the day and I left with a bottle that is thankfully reasonably priced at $8 for 16 ounces compared to other sours. The Life Gose On is described as a tart wheat ale with coriander and sea salt. I found it mildly salty yet balanced with a mild tartness and light citrus notes. I think the saltiness was what kept me from getting the citrus gose they had in bottles at the tasting room but I look forward to trying other varieties. As you can see on the beer board two of their other beers were fruit varieties of the berliner weisse. I did not try these in my visit.

The large number of barrels in the brewery indicates how deeply they have gone into barrel aging.
The large number of barrels in the brewery indicates how deeply they have gone into barrel aging.

I ended with the Bramble on Rose, a barrel aged wild ale with local blackberries. I found it to be absolutely delicious and I was glad I went straight for a full pour the first time. It was bursting with blackberry flavor and had a nice light sour that balanced with a nice light sweetness. The barrel really gave the beer a nice smooth finish. Probably the closest comparison I could make with this beer is the Cascade Blackberry Sour I had recently, quite high praise as Cascade has been brewing this style of beer for many years. I left with a bottle of this beer despite the $22 price tag because they indicated the bottles were going fast and I felt myself wanting more after I finished the first glass. You probably won’t find this beer available when you visit but if you do see a barrel-aged variety you should absolutely try it. Hopefully over time the amount brewed in each batch will increase.

The delicious red color of the Bramble on Rose.
The delicious red color of the Bramble on Rose.

One other thing to note here is the absence of the IPA and Stout that Toolbox brewed before. If you happen to visit with a friend who doesn’t like sours, I hope you are visiting multiple breweries in your trip as there are plenty of great breweries in the area that brew fantastic IPAs and Stouts. Now that I have become familiar with the world of sour beers I think it is fantastic that they have gone all in with sours and decided to no longer brew an IPA. After all they are surrounded by many great breweries that do the IPA properly.

Top 2:
Bramble on Rose
Cucumberliner

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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Hop Nuts Brewing Company – Las Vegas

I only visited one brewery while I was in Vegas and it turned out I was quite glad I did. Hop Nuts is located a little bit further north of the far end of the strip so if you are staying in one of the fancy hotels on the strip you will probably have to take a taxi or Uber there and back. Thankfully we had rented a car while we were in Vegas so we were able to stop by Hop Nuts without much difficulty. The sign outside doesn’t stand out very well so even though we parked almost right in front of it we didn’t even realize it. Once you are inside you will find a fairly typical dive bar setup, dark lighting and long bar offering mixed drinks and wine besides the house beers and a few guest beers as well. They offer flights of 5 six ounce tasters, which gave me a good chance to taste a few of their beers.

Hop Nuts 01

I tasted their single hop pale, IPA, Double IPA, Black IPA (called a CDA), and Imperial Stout. The single hop pale was super fresh, had only been tapped a few days ago, and was bursting with juicy hop flavors without much bitterness. This beer was super smooth and went down easy, a great session beer. The IPA was super delicious resin and juicy hop forward beer bursting with hop aromas. It was a lot better than what a lot of smaller San Diego breweries make early on. The double IPA was so different that at first I had a hard time identifying the flavors, but I liked what I tasted. The double was a bit stronger and also thicker and more sticky. It had a great mix of lemon, grapefruit, mango, tangerine, and passionfruit all blending together in the most interesting tropical double IPA I’ve had. I would have wanted to stay longer to get some more of this delicious beer.

Hop Nuts 02

The black IPA was quite tasty with a good mix of smoky malts and citrus hop kick. Fans of both stouts and IPAs would love the mix of flavors presented. I ended with the Imperial Stout, a thick and sweet beer with a good mix of roasted malts and caramel with a creamy finish. Overall I was quite impressed by the five beers I tasted as it was probably one of the best lineups of tasters for such a young brewery I had never heard about. They had a few other options I didn’t try mostly because the flight is almost 2 pints worth and a lot of them were stronger. If you are tired of the fancy bars on the strip and want to venture out, it is worth the trip to Hop Nuts where you will find a great lineup of beers. You could also take a growler from there back with you to your hotel for some real fun.

Hop Nuts 03

Top 2:
IPA
Double IPA

Update – October 2017

In the year and a half since I visited Hop Nuts, they have continued to brew solid IPAs. I stopped by for a few pints while I was in Vegas and really enjoyed their fresh hop IPA with citra hops and their new hazy IPA. The wet hop IPA was sticky with tons of citrus notes and a mild bitter finish. The hazy IPA had notes of tropical fruit, tangerine, and candied fruit over a thick hazy body with mild hop acidity.

Wet hop IPA
Updated beer list October 2017.
Hazy IPA

I also tried a few of their stouts. The espresso imperial stout on nitro was creamy and sweet with intense coffee and mild roast behind it. It was crazy drinkable for 9% alcohol. The bourbon barrel aged imperial stout was thick with notes of fudge and a mild bourbon flavor. In short, their IPAs are still worth coming by to drink and their stouts are quite good as well. They also now have cans available to go so you can bring some cans back to your hotel if staying on the strip.

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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A Visit to Dallas: Deep Ellum, Brain Dead, and Community Brewing

I visited Dallas recently and went to a few breweries. Because I didn’t get to do flights at two of my three locations I decided to write about all three breweries in one long post. First stop was Deep Ellum brewing, in a neighborhood that many of the locals I met around there said is their favorite neighborhood. It was very nice when we were there because we parked the rental car once and walked from Deep Ellum Brewing to Brain Dead Brewing and then had BBQ at Pecan Lodge, all without having to move the car. Then my husband┬ádrove me on to Community Brewing.

Dallas Breweries 01

Tap list at Deep Ellum when I visited.
Tap list at Deep Ellum when I visited.

Deep Ellum Brewing has a fairly large indoor tasting room and around equal amount of space outside in the back. The tasting room has a very modern feel like any big tasting room in San Diego although they don’t allow visitors to order flights on Saturdays. I could see why, because they were quite busy and perhaps they didn’t want to have to deal with washing all the taster glasses when they have such a large crowd. Because I couldn’t order tasters, I went for their deal of 3 pints and keep the pint glass for $15. I tried the house IPA, sour blonde, and barrel aged coffee ale.

Deep Ellum IPA.
Deep Ellum IPA.
Sour Blonde.
Sour Blonde.

The Deep Ellum IPA is very balanced and the malts support the earthy hops nicely, making it very easy drinking despite being 7%. It isn’t particularly bitter and hides the alcohol very well. This is neither a crazy malt bomb, all bitter and no aroma, nor a beer that focuses primarily on hop aromas. One thing I expect is that the beer ages well and that is always helpful. The sour blonde was mildly tart and quite tasty. I mostly tasted notes of passion fruit and lemon. Everything balanced nicely and made for an easy drinking sour blonde. The barrel aged coffee ale was just over 7% and had a nice mix of vanilla from the barrel, mild spices, and nutty coffee. It had just the right amount of thickness so that it wasn’t watery but also wasn’t thick like an imperial stout. I would have liked to have tried some of their other hop-forward offerings but from what I tasted, I found Deep Ellum to be quite impressive. They also offer cans and bottles of a few of the beers.

Barrel aged coffee ale.
Barrel aged coffee ale.

Dallas Breweries 04

My next stop was Brain Dead Brewing. I did not have this on my list prior to my visit but the best way to find out where to go next is to ask the people who sit near you at one brewery because the locals often know of places that may not have gotten popular outside of the area. Brain Dead was offering flights so I was able to try a few more beers at this stop. Brain Dead is a brewpub and has their own food available. It seemed like many of the people around me were enjoying the food. In typical brewpub fashion, the flight available was already set. I tasted the blonde, red ale, English IPA, stout, and wild ale. The blonde was light and crisp with a mild hop bitterness and subtle hints of a Saison on the back from the yeast.

Dallas Breweries 07

Braindead Tap List Part 1.
Brain Dead Tap List Part 1.
Brain Dead tap list part 2.
Brain Dead tap list part 2.

The red ale had a caramel malt background with hop kick with flavors of citrus and pine and a bitter finish. I had a hard time finishing this one because I thought that the flavors didn’t blend together all too well. The English IPA had a nice apricot flavor from the hops at the front without much bitterness. It ended with a mild citrus hop kick. The flavors worked really nicely, making a nice mild yet flavorful IPA. The stout was medium bitter and smoky with a fairly light body. It was a fairly standard stout but well done. My favorite was the wild ale, bursting with flavors of mango and peach. The beer wasn’t very funky or tart, just light, crisp, and fruity. If I wasn’t going to one more stop and quite hungry by that time I would have ordered a full pour of this one.

Brain Dead flight.
Brain Dead flight.
Inside of Brain Dead.
Inside of Brain Dead.

My last stop was Community Brewing, where I hung out in possibly the biggest tasting room I have ever been in. Not only is the room fairly large in floor space, it has quite high ceilings. At this point I was not interested in doing more tasters and because I saw the highly rated Bourbon Barrel Aged Legion on tap I went straight for a full pour of that. I had to request a glass to avoid getting this served in a plastic cup. While I sipped this thick delicious beer I watched people playing corn hole and groups of people cheering at the various games shown on large projected screens on the wall. The beer itself was thick and sweet with vanilla from the barrels and a smoky after taste. The beer also had flavors of coffee and chocolate that blended nicely. Though it was not as impressive as Firestone Walker’s similar offerings, it is a great example of a tasty bourbon barrel aged beer and well worth seeking out.

Dallas Breweries 12

Barrel aged Legion
Barrel aged Legion
Dallas Breweries 17
The massive tasting room at Community Brewing.

Though not a brewery, I also visited Bishop Cider Company in the Bishop Arts District while I was in Dallas. I wasn’t expecting to visit them but they were right next to my second BBQ spot of the visit, Lockhart Smoke House. They had a fairly broad range of ciders on tap. I almost left without tasting much but then the bartender suggested I try the dry-hopped cider, hopped with Amarillo and Simcoe hops. The taste I had was delicious so I ordered a larger pour. The cider worked nicely as a base to the familiar hop flavors, adding some mild tart backing to typically citrus-flavored hops. It was the perfect drink for that time of my trip. If you are a big cider fan, it is worth checking out Bishop Cider Company in Dallas.

Dallas Breweries 18

Dallas Breweries 19

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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Highland Park Brewing Company – Highland Park Los Angeles

Highland Park Brewing resides inside a bar called La Hermonsillo that you might quickly ignore as you walk past wondering why anyone would want to be seen inside. With a logo that could easily be mistaken as relating to a strip club or seedy dive bar, a friend I met with there had never gone inside despite living very close. The neighborhood doesn’t have the best reputation either. The night before visiting the brewery I mentioned my plans to some people at another brewery around town and they cautioned against my stepping foot in the neighborhood, though when I assured them that I occasionally visit Tijuana they thought I should be fine.

Highland Park Brewing 01

The sign out front you might see driving by. Doesn't exactly seem like a brewery.
The sign out front you might see driving by. Doesn’t exactly seem like a brewery.

Like many breweries, Highland Park Brewing can get quite the crowd during the middle of a Sunday. Some people may be visiting to pick up a few bottles from an online release. Like many breweries that offer sours, the tasters are not very cheap. Some can be as much as $4 or $5, though for a sour that is fairly typical. I tried a total of six tasters while I was there plus a larger pour of another beer. I tasted the Beer Spaceship session IPA, Partly Cloudy IPA, pumpkin porter, Griffith J. Griffith, Pushin Carts, Raised Eyebrows, and Wakeup Coffee Beer.

Beer list when I visited.
Beer list when I visited.

The Spaceship session IPA was a flavorful session IPA with flavors primarily of pineapple and tropical fruit. It made for a nice contrast with the Partly Cloudy IPA that tasted more of grapefruit and tangerine. Both beers were light colored and low on the malt bill. I almost filled a growler with the Partly Cloudy IPA but I decided against it. The pumpkin porter was nice and balanced with some mild pumpkin flavor and subtle spices. The beer’s light body contrasted nicely with the thick, sticky, and sweet Griffith J. Griffith, a 13% monster of an imperial stout. Bottles of the imperial stout had been sold online and were no longer available but I was tempted to pick up one if I could. The beer was quite sweet and had a nice intense coffee flavor.

The two hoppy beers I tasted.
The two hoppy beers I tasted.
The two stouts.
The two stouts.

Pushin Carts, a tart saison, was very tasty with a light body and mild tart finish. The beer is subtle yet flavorful, with the familiar saison flavor and hints of fruit. In contrast the Raised Eyebrows, passion fruit sour, was intensely bitter, showcasing the passion fruit and guava while still tasting like beer. I really enjoyed both of these beers and was tempted to pick up a bottle of Pushin Carts. I ended with the nitro Wakeup Coffee Stout, a thin, creamy, coffee-forward beer that could almost be mistaken for cold brew coffee. It had all the delicious characteristics of a coffee beer, without getting too bitter on the back end.

The two sours.
The two sours.

Though the tasters were a bit expensive, the beers were quite delicious and the sours weren’t overly expensive for the style. The bar also has a few guest beers as well as a fairly solid menu of food. We ended up ordering some sliders, polenta bites, and the charcuterie and cheese board and they were all quite well-done. Because they are located in a neighborhood with a lot of Mexican food you could easily stop by a place nearby for a bite before visiting the brewery. They also surprisingly have some parking behind the place, which was great to see.

Top 2:
Partly Cloudy IPA
Raised Eyebrows

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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Three Weavers Brewing – Los Angeles California

Three Weavers Brewing is right off the 405 freeway and relatively close to LAX and El Segundo Brewing. I didn’t try as many beers as I might have when I visited because you have to choose one of the set flights of 5 beers, either $10 for the core or $15 for the specialty. This turns out to be either $2 or $3 a taster depending on the flight. Thankfully they do serve half pours of the other beers available so I did end up trying one of the specialty beers after the core flight. Perhaps they had too many people ignoring the ESB and Kolsch lager that they wanted to give people a reason to try them.

Three Weavers 01

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

My flight included the kolsch, session IPA, expatriate IPA, ESB, imperial stout, and then I added a half pour of the coffee stout at the end. The kolsch is unfiltered and has a medium bitterness that joins with some citrus. The hops were nicely present, a lot more than in other local versions. It is quite a nice easy drinking yet hoppy kolsch. The session IPA was even more bitter than the kolsch with a nice citrus hop kick. Also a solid beer. The Expatriate IPA was thick and resinous with a good combination of tropical and mango flavor from the hops. It manages to be true to the West Coast style of IPA without having that overpowering simcoe flavor.

Core Beers Flight.
Core Beers Flight.

The ESB was quite tasty with a good balance of bready malts and earthy hops. I was also a bit surprised how much I could taste the complex flavors of the beer after the IPA despite many of the flavors being fairly subdued. I could easily have drunk a pint of the ESB. The imperial stout was a nice mix of caramel with mild smoke and dark fruit. Everything blended together nicely so that neither flavor dominated or became unwelcome. The coffee stout was really smooth and nutty with a high caffeine kick. We enjoyed the smooth coffee flavors and left with a bottle.

Pour of the stronger coffee beer.
Pour of the stronger coffee beer.

Three Weavers is fairly easy to get to and worth a visit for those of you who like a solid hoppy beer or a stout. They didn’t have a lot of other varieties available but they do such a great job with what they do that it doesn’t matter. I was especially glad how delicious the ESB is because it is a hard style to give a good amount of flavor while remaining light and drinkable. The tasting room has plenty of seating both inside and out with the occasional food truck on site.

Three Weavers 03

Top 2:
Expatriate IPA
ESB

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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