Bitter Brothers Brewing – Impressive New Brewery in Bay Ho

I visited Bitter Brothers with a friend recently, and we both agreed about the most impressive beers in the bunch, which surprisingly were not the IPAs. Though the IPAs were all tasty, some less popular/common styles were among our favorites. We tasted the Berliner Weisse, Session IPA, ESB, Dunkelweizen, coffee porter, Amarillo IPA, and North West style IPA. Bitter Brothers is easy to find right off Morena Blvd in an area not yet surrounded by a ton of other breweries.

Bitter Brothers 05

The Berliner Weisse was a smooth mix of ginger and grapefruit with a mild tart finish. It had a bit more flavor than the typical new brewery version of the style and a lot of subtleties as well. The session IPA has a nice mix of pineapple and grapefruit with a strong bitter finish. I found this one a little too bitter for what it was but I enjoyed it a little more after it warmed up. The hops come on nice and strong for sure. The ESB was super smooth and flavorful with a nice balance of caramel malts and apricot from the hops. It had a lot more flavor than most local versions and we left wanting more.

First set of tasters.
First set of tasters.

The Dunkelweizen was also quite impressive with a sweet plum taste and smooth sweet banana and molasses finish. Both of these styles are quite difficult to execute well and often local ESBs are flavorless or Dunkelweizens are too sweet or lack balance. Neither of these beers had those problems. The coffee porter is available on draft and nitro but I asked the bartender which she preferred and she suggested the draft, so we had that one. It was quite tasty with a strong nutty coffee flavor and a medium body. The taste was almost like a cold brew coffee.

Second set of tasters. I forgot to take a photo right away.
Second set of tasters. I forgot to take a photo right away.

The Amarillo IPA was super fruity with flavors of mango and tangerine. It is a solid version of the local style, low on the malt bill and very hop forward. The North West IPA is the amber color beer you see. It was nicely balanced and bursting with herb and pine hops with notes of sage and a strong bitter finish. They were both enjoyable IPAs though neither of us was craving these as much as the ESB or coffee porter. The IPA you prefer will depend on your preference for hop flavors. Thankfully the North West IPA did not taste like a lot of the boring old-school Portland IPAs that rely too heavily on pine hops.

Bitter Brothers 02

For a brewery that has only been open a month or so, we were both quite impressed by the beers. Come visit Bitter Brothers with a friend and share a few tasters.

Top 3:
Coffee Porter
ESB
Dunkelweizen

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 serving clients in San Diego California.

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Wicks Brewing – Riverside California

On a recent drive to Idyllwild I decided to go out of my way to Riverside and stop by a brewery. You may be thinking, that is not really along the way, why would you do something like that? And you’re right it is seriously out of the way but my husband wanted to stop in Riverside for something else so I figured let’s hit a brewery while we are there. I decided to stop by Wicks in part because I loved their medieval designs and names for their beers. They are a fairly large brewpub offering some solid food and a large lineup of beers. I tasted a total of 8 beers while I was there in two separate flights.

Wicks Brewing 01

Wicks Brewing 02

The first flight included the Paladin Pale, Battle Cry IPA, Hello Sunshine IPA, and El Robo Rye IPA. The pale was nice and fruity/juicy session IPA that was not too thin or too bitter. It is a nice and balanced, smooth beer. The Battle Cry IPA is a bit thicker and resinous with notes of grapefruit and pineapple. I really enjoyed this IPA out of all of the ones offered and picked up a 22oz bottle to go, which I enjoyed recently at home. While not as bursting with aroma in the bottle it stood up nicely to being a month and a half old. The Hello Sunshine was thicker and more bitter than the Battle Cry offering tropical fruit flavors including papaya. The El Robo Rye had a nice golden rye flavor with a slightly darker color and a strong bitter finish presenting flavors of apricot and peach. This was a nicely balanced rye beer.

First flight of beers.
First flight of beers.

The second flight included the Hellified double IPA, Morning Star coffee oatmeal stout, Jasmine Noir black ale, and Black Knight imperial porter. The Hellified double IPA was not that much stronger in alcohol than the single IPA offerings but was quite tasty with intense citrus flavors and a solid bitter kick. The Morning Star coffee oatmeal stout presented a quite mellow coffee flavor and smooth mouthfeel. This is a good stout if you like subtle flavors. The Jasmine Noir was basically a stronger version of a schwartzbier, a German style black lager. It had a light roast flavor but otherwise was very light bodied and easy drinking. I could barely taste the higher alcohol. The Black Knight was a combination of fruity and roasty with a boozy kick on the end, also not very thick. Because I am used to stouts and porters that have more intense flavors I was fairly disappointed by the tasters but looking back now they did a good job making subtle beers for the styles.

Second Flight.
Second Flight.

I enjoyed the food I had at Wicks and especially enjoyed the IPAs. They are worth hitting if you are in the area and are looking for your West Coast style IPA kick. If you are a fan of dark beers, don’t expect anything exploding with flavors but you will find some smooth and drinkable beers.

Wicks Brewing 05

Top 2:
Battle Cry IPA
Paladin 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 serving clients in San Diego California.

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Pure Project – A Fantastic New Addition to a Crowded Miramar Brewery Scene

I visit a LOT of breweries in any given year and some of the new breweries come out of the gate a little less than ready but that is not the case for Pure Project. With a full 12 taps of beer to choose from on the grand opening day and a wide variety of styles to suit all palates they delivered one of the most impressive local launches of a brewery in quite some time. Out of the 10 beers I tasted and shared with a friend, five were very impressive and the other five were solid. We both left pleasantly surprised by the quality of beers available and excited to see what they have in store going forward. A few of the launch beers would make really good core beers that I hope don’t change very much going forward.

Massive tap list when I visited.
Massive tap list when I visited.

I tried the Gose with grapefruit, the cream ale with orange and vanilla, saison with hibiscus and honey, rye pale ale, dry stout with coffee, IPA, brett IPA, Double IPA, imperial porter, and Belgian Quad with coconut. The Gose had an interesting mix of funk and subtle grapefruit. It was quite effervescent and mildly citrus, a solid Gose though I hope future versions will have more pronounced fruit. The cream ale did a fantastic job of making a creamsicle, vanilla orange popsicle, with a great mix of orange and vanilla and a really smooth mouth feel. The beer wasn’t too sweet and I could see myself drinking much more of it on another visit.

First two tasters.
First two tasters.

The saison was a nice balance of hibiscus and honey without getting too sweet. It finishes lightly sweet and a bit dry. A solid saison. The Milagro dry stout with coffee and vanilla was quite smooth thanks to the nitro with plenty of prominent coffee and a light body. The vanilla was quite subtle but the overall beer was very satisfying. We preferred it over the imperial stout because it was a bit more flavorful. The Rye Pale was so good that we thought they had to have made a mistake and given us the IPA instead. They managed to squeeze a ton of hop flavor and aroma into a light 5.5% beer with tons of tropical fruit, pineapple, and citrus without much bitterness. When we actually got the IPA to compare we could see the difference. I came back a few days later with some friends and ordered the pale again. The alcohol percentage is more evident when you start with it but it is still quite delicious.

Second set of tasters.
Second set of tasters.

The IPA was a more bitter and dry finishing beer than the pale though it lacked the burst of hop flavor that made the pale so delicious. It is a solid IPA but compared to the pale and double IPA it just didn’t stand out. The Brett IPA was fantastically balanced between a good citrus hop kick and some fruity Brett yeast. The beer has a subtle grapefruit flavor as well.

Pure Project 05

The Double IPA comes on strong with a serious bitter grapefruit flavor and a surprising lack of sweetness and detectable alcohol for a 9.3% double IPA. It is a very impressive double IPA. The imperial porter was a super smooth nitro pour with some fruity malt character and not much roasted malt kick or body to it. It went down easy but lacked the flavor of the coffee porter. The Belgian quad has a fantastic coconut nose and it comes through very strong in the taste. At first all I tasted was coconut and a surprisingly smooth beer for 10.8%. Over time as it warmed up the coconut faded a little, letting me taste the base beer, which was still very tasty.

Pure Project 06

I got to speak with the brewer while I was there and he mentioned that he has quite a few sours in the pipeline that he hopes to present in the coming months. I look forward to returning to try the sours but also to see what he does with hops because it is very rare that the pale at a brewery is more impressive than the IPA. Pure Project joins a crowded market both in San Diego and along Miramar Road but it will be one I will return to regularly.

Top 4:
Coconut Quad
Double IPA
Rye Pale
Dry Stout with Coffee

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 serving clients in San Diego California.

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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 serving clients in San Diego California.

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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 serving clients in San Diego California.

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Exploring San Diego's Craft Breweries