American Solera was named best new brewery in 2016 by Ratebeer. So naturally I had to visit to try for myself. The hype is well placed. Thanks to recent changes in Oklahoma laws they can now have a tap room and serve beer. The beers are on the expensive side on tap but so good I didn’t care. This probably has something to do with local taxes. Thankfully to-go prices are very reasonable. American Solera is in an area of town by itself but people have no problems finding it. I visited twice in a row because the main other Tulsa attraction is Prairie Brewpub. Thursday was of course much less crowded than Friday, with lines out the door at times on Friday.
Beer wise, I tried most of the things on tap and a few bottles for on-site consumption. The Foeder Apricot was tart and not too acidic, pretty standard for the style. The blackberry sour was jammy and not too acidic. The beer had tons of berry flavor. I left with two bottles for myself. The Brett ESB was earthy with citrus and fruit notes and a mild tart kick. I didn’t love this one but it wasn’t bad. The barrel aged pale was tasty with tons of funk and citrus notes
The Terp Surp IPA was one of the best IPAs I’ve had in a while. Tons of hop flavor coming through with tropical fruits and melon without much bitterness. The beer is soft and juicy. I rarely bring home IPAs to San Diego but this one was worth it. The IPA is up there with Cellarmaker and Fieldwork quality. The Mocha Dilema was thick and packed with chocolate, fudge, and coffee notes. Despite the high alcohol it had very little alcohol taste. When I came back later I ordered two bottles to drink on site. The foeder golden was an excellent example of the style. Their spontaneous fermented lambic-inspired ale was true to the Belgian style and excellent with tons of funk.
Thankfully American Solera beers have been coming to San Diego on occasion but it is worth visiting them at the source to hang out with a crowd of beer enthusiasts. The tap room is laid back at times and then gets really busy on Friday nights as most places do. With excellent beers across the board there is something for everyone. The quality is high enough to warrant a visit to taste these beers on site and bring home a suitcase full of bottles and crowlers.
Terp Surp IPA
I had been to Half Door brewing a few times but never got around to writing a full post about them. Recently they expanded into brewing hazy IPAs and I featured them in my list of San Diego breweries making hazy IPAs. Half Door serves beer in a restaurant in Downtown San Diego where they also offer a modern take on pub grub. I visited them recently on a Sunday morning and tried a flight of tasters.
All of the IPAs I tried were of the hazy style known to some as the North East style of IPA. I started with the Hoban House. It was fruity and soft with a light acidity and low bitterness, exhibiting notes of pineapple. The Hype Machine single-hop Nelson IPA was soft with subtle grapefruit and a mild bitterness that lingers on teh back of the tongue. It is a great example of what a Nelson IPA should taste like. The Buzzwords double IPA is an intensely fruity double IPA, soft and hazy with very mild hop acidity. This stood out from the rest on the list as the best of the IPAs for the day.
I tried the IIIPA, which was an insane hop bomb with little alcohol flavor or sweetness, and mild bitterness. The only reason I didn’t like it as much as the Buzzwords IIPA is that I got some herbal notes in the IIIPA that I didn’t care for. Otherwise, it is an exceptional example of what a IIIPA should taste like. I also tried two stouts. The Coleman’s Stout is their dry Irish stout on nitro. It is dry and roasty with a smooth body and a mild floral hop kick. This is one of the beers I tried the first time I visited and it is still just as good as it was then.
The Coleman’s on Craic imperial stout with coffee was smooth and roasty with notes of chocolate and coffee excellently balanced. I slightly preferred the dry version though they are both delicious. Before leaving I got a taster of the tripel just to see how well they handle Belgian styles. It was one of the more impressive San Diego tripels, lacking in the ester notes that tend to overpower American-brewed Belgian-style beers. It had a bready malt character with some earthy malt notes and a well-attenuated finish (not too sweet). If the hazy IPAs weren’t so good I might go back for this one.
Half Door brewing is one of the few San Diego breweries, maybe the only one, that doesn’t sell bottles or growlers to go. This is due to their license and hopefully will change soon. Though I didn’t eat anything when we visited, my friends who joined me were very impressed by the food they had. Parking can be crazy around Half Door during the weekdays but it is worth visiting if you are already downtown or can park nearby and Uber in.
Coleman’s Dry Irish Stout
When I first visited Quantum brewing soon after they opened, they had a decent lineup of beers with nothing better than average and a few that missed the mark. For a time they had some growing pains and the word online was that they got worse. Thankfully I never experienced that part of things. Now they have a new brewer and had a grand re-opening to let everyone know things are new. I stopped by and had four tasters and the beers are a little better than they were at the beginning, more in line with the local standards, though still not at the level of Council or Societe down the street.
The blood orange wit had tons of orange flavor with a gorgeous red-orange color. It had the flavors right but there was a flavor in the finish that should not have been there. The session IPA was light and clean with mild citrus and grassy hops without too much bitterness. This was a huge improvement over the extremely bitter session IPAs they had with the previous brewer. For a new brewer coming out with a session IPA like this is quite impressive. It is about what you would expect around San Diego.
The IPA was a bit malt-forward and while it had some apricot notes from the hops it had a heavy bready malt character. Considering it is not West Coast in style at all, it is a nicely balanced English style IPA and is well-crafted. Since most hop heads crave something either juicy or classic West Coast style this is a huge miss. I would even say that labeling this an IPA in San Diego without calling it English or Red is borderline deceptive though I know it wouldn’t sell as well if they did. The Imperial Stout was a good mix of caramel and roast with a sticky sweet finish. While it had a good balance with bitterness, I thought it was a bit too bitter for the style. Still, this was one of the better of the bunch.
Quantum retained all of the quirky names for the beers and added a bunch of fruited beers. Still, I tend to judge a brewery based on their ability to brew a beer without adding any fruit, thus my focus on their hoppy beers. The people in there drinking were enjoying the fruited options. Their session IPA is well-made but in San Diego you need to do something a bit more to stand out and the blood orange beer suggested they still need some work on their fruity beers.
Wren House is a new brewery in the area and the quality of the beers were about what I expect from a new brewery. However, I came in with higher expectations. This is because the brewery has been hyped like crazy online. While the beers didn’t live up to the hype, Wren House is still a solid place to visit. They have a tiny location and they get loud quickly both from people talking and loud music. This, combined with beers that didn’t blow me away meant I didn’t stay very long during my visit.
I tried four beers, their grapefruit berliner weisse, porter, unfiltered IPA, and imperial porter. The grapefruit berliner weisse was dry and bitter, primarily bitter grapefruit. with lots of carbination. I didn’t care much for this but then I am not as big on fruited berliner weisse as others. This was quite popular with others in the room. The porter was bitter and smoky with a dry finish and prominent hop character. It was almost more of a black session IPA than a porter. If they had labeled this as hoppy on the board I would have tried other styles. The bitterness is far too much for what I like in a porter.
The IPA was a good combination of fruit and pine while not too bitter over a soft mouthfeel. There was a lingering mouthfeel that I didn’t like but that I can’t identify. It did signal to me that something was off ith the beer though. The imperial porter was the best of the bunch with notes of marshmallow, cherry, and burnt toffee. It was not too sweet or too boozy. I would have liked to have been able to try their base berliner weisse so I could judge it that way but the fruit varieties didn’t grab my interest.
Wren House is a solid new brewery worth checking out if you are in the area but don’t expect it to live up to the hype spreading about it online. I’m unlikely to return more for the tiny loud space than anything. It is not the atmosphere where I want to sit and sip a pint.
Most visitors to Puerto Vallarta will stay in the Hotel Zone where all the big hotels have their resorts. In those areas you are better off bringing your own beer from home if you are there for a while and want to drink something other than Corona. Make sure you read the amounts that Customs allows you to bring with you if you decide to do that.
We decided for a visit that gives us a true feel of the town and stayed in the Romantic Zone, where Los Muertos sits surrounded by other restaurants and shops. I enjoyed a flight of beers at Los Muertos and they are much better than any of the other Mexican craft beer available locally in bottles. While they don’t live up to the quality of breweries in Tijuana, Ensanada, and other parts of Mexico, they are good enough to satisfy your craving for craft beer.
The first three beers were all overly thin and lacking in flavor. The blonde was almost like water. The wheat beer was a little better with some mild citrus notes and hints of lemon. The chili beer was most likely chilis added to the blonde and the chili notes were very mild, giving it very little heat. The amber ale made with agave was more flavorful, mixing notes of caramel and honey on a soft light body with very low bitterness.
The IPA was light and soft and emphasized a mild bitterness instead of aroma in the traditional style. It is clean and easy drinking but compared to the modern style of IPAs being made it falls short. The Hop On strong ale was soft and mild with roast and mild smoke and very low bitterness. This was a standout for me compared to the rest. The stout was super smooth with mild roast and a dry finish in the traditional dry Irish stout style.
After trying a few other local bottles, I would say Los Muertos is your best bet for beer in the area. Otherwise you might as well order margaritas. They have a fairly americanized food menu so we didn’t eat there. They also sell bottles you can bring back with you to your hotel room.
Hop On strong ale
The Good Beer Company
Despite the completely generic name, The Good Beer Company is anything but generic. I had heard great things about them prior to visiting from those who love sour and wild ales, though like many breweries experimenting with the style, having a flight of tasters can get quite expensive. I decided to stick to one full beer and ordered an apricot sour they had on tap. It was tart and dry with a strong apricot kick and a high overall acidity. I found the beer to be solidly above average.
I could tell that the brewery makes things in small batches and the tap list changes fairly regularly. Everything on tap was either a farmhouse ale, a wild ale, or a sour. Tasters range from $2 to $4 and so it made more sense to order a full pour of the apricot beer. They are in an old brick building and the place gets quite loud. In a future trip I hope to try some more of their varied offerings but what I tasted suggests that they are on the right track.
This is a place to visit if you enjoy farmhouse ales, wild ales, or sours.
Located in the heart of Santa Ana it is easy to overlook Cismontane despite having been open for five years now due to its proximity to fan favorites in Anaheim. However, the short distance can take a long time to travel during peak hours making Cismontane a great stop if you are staying in Santa Ana since it is close to John Wayne airport. I had a flight of five tasters and overall it was solidly average. While beer geeks driving down from LA or up from San Diego may not always stop here, it is a good spot for locals.
The CA Lager was smooth and clean with notes of caramel and fruit, a great rendition of the style. The Rye IPA was a mix of floral and pine on the nose and sticky and dank mouthfeel. It is a well-balanced IPA and not too bitter. The Sour Brown anniversary ale was a perfect balance of caramel and citrus tartness and true to style. The porter was strong on the dark fruit notes with tons of cherry and mild molasses. It wasn’t really my thing. The imperial stout on nitro was excellent with tons of roast and caramel with mild smoke, though also a bit dry, thus not so sweet.
Breakside also came highly recommended for my latest Portland trip. Most of the beers I had when I visited were solid but it is hard to follow something like Great Notion. They didn’t have any of their sours on tap, though I did bring a few home with me so I finish with some information about those sours. I had six tasters, mostly a mix of hoppy beers and stouts.
The pilsner was quite good with a good mix of spice and fruit and a mild bitterness at the finish. The Breakside IPA was a good balance of pine and fruity notes, a nice modern take on the Pacific Northwest style of IPA. I preferred this over the Wanderlust IPA, which was more dry and had strong notes of citrus with a mild bitter finish. Though part of that might be that they call Wanderlust “West Coast style” and I think they slightly missed the mark here.
I was very excited to try their salted caramel stout but I found it to be smoky and quite mildly sweet with minimal caramel. The bourbon barrel aged salted caramel had a thicker body and a solid bourbon finish with a good amount of sweetness and some mild salt. This was the highlight of the stouts for sure. The Breakside Stout had some notes of caramel and roast but it was overpowered by a strong bitter finish that I didn’t care for.
From what I had on tap I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to visit Breakside for stouts, though they are doing a good job with the modern hoppy beer styles. They also have a restaurant so the place was full of brunch crowds as well when we visited on an early Sunday afternoon.
I came home with a brett pale ale and dark sour. Both were quite good for the style and I’m glad I picked them up. The dark sour was especially nice and smooth without being overly tart.
Bourbon Barrel Aged Salted Caramel Stout.
Great Notion is a young Portland Brewery that has gained a huge following thanks to their embrace of quite a few beer trends including juicy IPAs and big adjunct stouts. When I visited on a Sunday they had a decent crowd upon opening because they also serve food and many people were there for brunch. They offer a few of their beers on any given day in crowlers that you can bring home with you. I had a flight of the seven beers they had on tap and was overall quite impressed.
The Old Barn tart saison was a light amber color with an excellent balance of citrus notes and a mild tart finish. It was an excellent beer for the style. The Blueberry Muffin takes a style of saison that tends to taste like white cake and adds blueberries. The flavors blend together wonderfully so that it really tastes like you are drinking a blueberry muffin. If you are in the mood for something sweeter, but not overly sweet, this one is for you.
On the IPA side, I had the Grass Roots, a dank IPA with mild herbal finish and notes of grass. Though ordinarily I wouldn’t be the biggest fan of the hop profile the flavors were balanced and it worked quite well. The Juice Junior was the hazy IPA of the day and it had a super soft body and tons of melon and sweet tropical fruits without much bitterness. After these, the Black Math, black IPA didn’t stand a chance, despite being well done. It had notes of smoke, toasted marshmallow, and bitter chocolate with a light bitter finish. This was a well done black IPA but I much preferred to drink the others on my flight.
The double stack imperial stout with maple and coffee came on strong with tons of coffee and maple with a smooth lactose sweetness that didn’t overpower the rest of it. I can see why this one is so popular. I finished with Stacks of Coconut, their imperial stout with coconut. It was pure liquid coconut, a total coconut bomb with hints of vanilla on the finish. Like double stack, it was just the right amount of lactose to support the beer.
For IPAs and Imperial Stouts in Portland, Great Notion rocketed to the top of my list in this short visit. I hope to return soon. Keep in mind that since it is a restaurant it has a fairly high amount of ambient noise and the seating at the bar is fairly limited.
Old Barn Tart Saison
De Garde has a reputation for making fantastic wild ales in their brewery near the Oregon coast. To get there you will probably have to drive from Portland for an hour and a half minimum in each direction through windy roads and a pass that sometimes gets snow when it is cold enough. I visited in late February 2017 and it rained most of our drive through the pass to the west and snowed the night we stayed out there so that it was coated in white on our drive back East. This is one of the few breweries that has completely lived up to the hype for me. If you don’t want to make the long drive you can usually find their beers around the Portland area. They are even showing up occasionally in San Diego as well.
In the tasting room you have a choice between paying $3 for a 6 ounce pour or $4 for a 12 ounce pour, so I naturally stuck to full pours before ordering a bottle out of their cellar. While there is outdoor seating, since it tends to rain quite a bit, if you arrive on a rainy day you might find the tasting room a lot more packed with people than it was on the day of sun when I visited. I started with the famed Bu Weisse, a 2.5% beer that is still quite flavorful thanks to the time it spends in oak barrels. The beer had a good medium body and notes of lemon and lime with oak on the finish. The brewery regularly makes fruited versions of this same beer but I much preferred its base version. They also make a stronger version that spends much longer in the barrels.
I went next for the Nectarine Premiere, a fruity beer that I was quite excited to try after the rave reviews. It is not a standard stone fruit sour but instead is a soft juicy beer with minimal tartness that at times reminds me of fruit puree. It hides the alcohol well and was so delicious I had to bring home quite a few bottles for myself. With a choice on tap between fruited Bu and a beer I recently had down in San Diego, I ordered one of the bottles from the cellar, the purple kriek, a beer brewed with cherries and raspberries. This is more of the traditional lambic style beer with a strong tart finish but still plenty of prominent cherry and raspberry notes. The acidity was quite prominent so I opted to share some with people near me.
Before heading home I purchased some bottles of De Garde’s Saison Facile, their wild saison. In Portland I picked up two bottles of the Alt Bu Weisse, aged for 3 years in oak barrels. This is one of the few breweries outside from major cities that I can see myself visiting again for all the delicious beers they release throughout the year. It also helps that most of the bottles are priced lower than most California breweries making the same styles of wild ales and sours. If you happen to be traveling with a friend who doesn’t like sours, they tend to have a few stouts on tap from other breweries to satisfy them.
Come for wild ales, lambics, and sours. Though they usually have a few guest beers on tap.
Midnight Jack Brewing is in the inland portion of Oceanside or, as some might say, the valley. They have quite the large number of beers on tap. They have a large indoor space with plenty of seating. When I started, I tasted their helles, saison, IPA, porter, and stout on nitro. The helles was fruity and had a nice kick to it, a solid beer for the style though lacking the lager character that makes a few local breweries stand out. Still it was one of the better beers from my visit.
The saison was completely infected with acetaldehyde and tasted like astringent apple juice. I brought this to the brewer’s attention (who happened to also be pouring the beers) and once he tasted he agreed and pulled the keg. Surprisingly this is not a common response at smaller breweries so I respect his integrity. I was told that other kegs from the same batch were quite popular and sold fast so I want to give him the benefit of the doubt that this beer is normally really good and something happened with this keg.
The Lucky 7 IPA had some mild fruit but intensely harsh bitter finish that made it un-drinkable. It didn’t have much aroma or resinous hops to balance out the bitterness. The porter was smooth and roasty with notes of coffee and chocolate, while mildly sweet at the finish. I really enjoyed this one, probably the best of the bunch. They also had a version available that is blended with half cold brew coffee brewed in house. My friend ordered that version and really enjoyed it. The chocolate stout had some strong fruity alcohol notes and was quite thin, overall it didn’t taste like a stout.
I was ready to leave it at this point and not try anything more but when I went up to close out my tab, the brewer suggested he wouldn’t charge me because I wasn’t satisfied. I respect that and accepted that. Then, when he came to tell me I was right about the saison, I figured I would try a few more of his IPAs so he poured me tasters of the session IPA, Vermont style IPA, and 3Cs IPA.
The session IPA was crisp and smooth with strong grassy hops. I asked the brewer whether he dry hopped this one and he said he didn’t. It is an interesting take on the session IPA though the grassy hop character is not something I’m used to locally. The Vermont style IPA was not representative of the style. It was a darker red-orange hazy color that is unusual and despite using plenty of mosaic, citra, and amarillo it didn’t taste like it at all. It had a salty finish that I haven’t experienced with this kind of beer before. I ended with the 3C IPA that he describes as his West Coast style IPA. It was bitter and mildly piny and had a dry finish but it didn’t taste anything like a west cost style IPA to me. Then again I’m not generally a fan of piney IPAs.
The brewer at Midnight Jack clearly knows what he is doing. The porter was fantastic and the helles was quite good. Sadly he still needs some time to get the IPAs dialed in to meet with local standards.