Stone is one of the biggest breweries in San Diego. Just a few minutes away from their primary bistro and gardens location is a small farm where they have some beers to taste and some interesting outdoor areas where you can enjoy your beer. Unlike the bistro that houses a bunch of taps, the farms have a small selection of Stone beers.
I was going on to other breweries after and had already tried most of the beers available so I ordered a pint of the Lavender Pale Ale. The lavender gave it a nice flavor and went well with the traditional Stone Pale Ale. My husband had a glass of the Russian Imperial Stout with Espresso, one of his favorites. Stone also offers growler fills from this location if you don’t want to fight the crowds at the bistro.
For round two of my brewery visits on Saturday January 4, 2014, I stopped by Groundswell Brewing. Groundswell is less than 1/4 mile from Benchmark Brewing.
I ordered a taster flight to share at Groundswell. The selections were a nice compliment to what I had at Benchmark earlier. The Irish Special Bitter was an interesting choice to start the flight. The brewers start with an ESB recipe and add a special kind of yeast in order to give it that distinctive flavor of an Irish Red. The malt flavor really comes through here. It is a nice flavor and slightly stronger than the typical Irish Red.
Next up was the Hefeweizen. Though it drank well it could have used some stronger fruit flavors. I tasted what seemed like a lemon flavor but it was not heavy at all. It was still interesting to see a Hefeweizen on tap because so few San Diego breweries offer one. I went next for the brown ale. This one had a great multitude of flavors with a nice caramel taste. I could see this one being a big seller once they are able to bottle or can it.
Next up was the Honey Amber. I didn’t find the honey to be a good combination here at all. The honey flavors seemed to overpower the amber flavor so that it was all I tasted. I’ve noticed that honey beers tend to be very polarizing. Usually half of the people hate it and half of the people love it. Another patron really enjoyed the honey flavors. I ended with the Hoppy Amber. If I hadn’t just had the Modern Times version of this style I might have rated it higher. I couldn’t help but compare this to what is now one of my new addictions and so I was a bit let down. The Hoppy Amber has some nice malt flavors at the front but the hop flavors were so far in the background I almost missed them. Though I can understand why you might want to avoid the bigger hop flavors Modern Times does with their Hoppy Amber, I think the hops could have been increased a little bit while still retaining the unique flavor.
I finished off the day with a pint of the Irish Special Bitter. Though I enjoyed it, I think the brown ale would have been better for enjoying a full pint. I was a bit disappointed to see that Groundswell didn’t have any really hop-forward beers or any stout or porter. I look forward to seeing the beers that Groundswell comes up with in the future.
Update September 2014:
When I returned to Groundswell some months later, I was surprised to see a much expanded tap list. Not only were there now more core beers, there were also a lot more specialty beers. They now have six core beers and six specialty beers at once. One of the core beers is an IPA and there were a few specialty IPAs as well. This is a welcome improvement to the selection when I visited the last time.
The new core IPA is 6.8% and is nicely balanced with citrus and pine and a malt background that doesn’t overpower the rest. It is a solid IPA that should satisfy most hop-seeking visitors. The White IPA says it is hopped with Citra, though I stupidly tried it after the regular IPA so I couldn’t taste it. It certainly has a lighter body. Then the Double IPA at 8.3% was quite juicy with some melon flavors. Everything rounded out with a solid level of bitterness that made this my favorite of the night.
In an area mostly surrounded by hospitals slightly northeast of the intersection of the 15 freeway and the 8 freeway are two breweries within a quarter mile of each other. Both Benchmark Brewing and Groundswell Brewing opened during 2013 so I had to come down to try both of them in one trip. Both have signs on the street to indicate where they are though Benchmark has the larger banner that is much more visible. I stopped by Benchmark first so Groundswell will be in the next post.
Benchmark Brewing has a simple yet modern look to the tasting room with wooden tables and wooden benches inside. Most people when I went decided to stand around the bar so they could chat with Rachael Akin, the Co-Founder who was tending the bar. I went straight for a flight and got a total of seven tasters. Thankfully I was with a few friends so I didn’t have to drink them all on my own. I might not have made it to the second brewery otherwise.
Benchmark has just the right amount of brews available for a newer brewery. I appreciate this as well because I can try everything in one go. The first thing I noticed was that the beers are mostly on the lower alcohol side. Even the IPA is only 5.1%. Normally this might mean a bunch of light beers with no flavor but I was surprised to find that most of them were quite good.
First was the blonde. It had lots of flavor and was quite drinkable. Had a bit more flavor than I typically expect from a blonde. Next came the brown ale. It was also surprisingly flavorful. I quite enjoyed the smoky flavor with a hint of chocolate. I could see myself enjoying multiple pints of either of these beers with no problem. Next I had the cask brown ale with coffee. Because of the lighter alcohol content, the coffee flavors dominated this beer. It had a nice flavor like a smooth ice coffee. The cask smoothed out the beer nicely. While I appreciate the flavor I’m not sure I would have wanted a full pint of this one.
The oatmeal stout is a nice lighter stout just under 5%. My friend who really likes oatmeal stout was satisfied. Next came the IPA. At 5.1% it is almost closer to a session IPA. The average IPA is between 6 and 7%. The IPA was smooth and had a nice citrus aroma and flavor. It has just the right amount of hop flavors without being overly bitter or heavy.
UPDATE January 2015 – While the early IPA might be easily considered a session, the latest batch is quite bitter and full of flavor. It seems to have been changed quite a lot since I was last there. I would have a hard time believing this IPA was only 5.1% if I hadn’t seen the board. Though the IPA is now a more balanced beer it is very flavorful and quite bitter. It has a lot more body and bitterness than the typical “session IPA” around San Diego.
The table beer was only 4% but had a nice Belgian flavor to it. I ended with the Belgian Dubbel. While I could taste the Belgian flavors under it that I expect in a darker Belgian style beer, I found that the flavors were overpowered by a strong alcohol taste. I did not have very much of this taster.
Overall Benchmark has a solid lineup to start with. I probably would have been content having a pint of either the brown or the IPA if I was not planning on hitting up another brewery after. I would like to see what Benchmark can do with a heavier double stout or IPA in the future. I could see the IPA being labeled a session and a stronger beer taking over as the main IPA. If you crave something a bit stronger I would wait to see what they add in the future. I don’t think the Dubbel would satisfy much.
Update September 2014:
I came back to Benchmark a number of months after my first visit to see if anything had changed. The core beers are still the same but I did see a Wee Heavy that was new. I was told that I had missed a double IPA they made earlier this year and they are working on a new double IPA that should be on soon.
The Wee Heavy was surprisingly tasty. Though it was a little sweet it had a nice balanced flavor with some roasted malts and a solid plum malt flavor that wasn’t overpowering.
Update January 2015:
Aside from the IPA differences noted above, I was also quite impressed by the Brett Table Beer. The Table Beer being so light I thought I would try it with the wild yeast commonly known as Brett. The addition of this yeast added a very mild amount of tart flavors as well as some apple flavor that gave the table beer that extra kick that some might find the regular version to be missing.
I also was visiting for the release of the Hildegard, a massive 13.5% Triple IPA. It seemed to be almost too strong with much of the extra alcohol giving it a high amount of sweetness. However, it was also really flavorful with some apple and resin flavors that were very enjoyable. The bitterness was pretty dialed back so it won’t quickly kill your palate. If you happened to be in on January 31, 2015 for the release of the Hildegard you also will have gotten a fantastic glass that is perfect for those extra strong IPAs.
I couldn’t resist a beer that was 15% and aged in oak barrels. Lately I have been drawn in by the strong beer craze and this was the strongest beer I had ever seen. [Yes I know there are some much stronger beers out there.] My first thought on tasting this was whoa that is sweet. Probably the sweetest beer I’ve ever tasted and yet not too syrupy sweet. I expect some of my friends might find it too sweet but most of them would love it. Caramel flavors are at the forefront and amazing. I would describe this as liquid creme brulee. I would drink this over the best creme brulee I’ve ever tasted though. Much of the caramel flavor comes from the malts.
On the back end there is some clear bourbon flavor that comes from the barrels it was aged in. This specific beer was from the 2012 batch so it has only been aging for a year. Some people reported the older batches to be a little too much in a lot of ways. I’m not sure if Avery has multiple batches available or if they just saved them that long. I don’t have that kind of self control when it comes to beer this good.
At a massive 15%, you are going to want to share this bottle with a friend or two. I decided to enjoy this particular bottle in some snifter glasses because my tulips were already dirty. Keep in mind that it costs $7.99 for a 12oz bottle at the place where I bought it. Normally that might sound like a lot but considering how strong this is and how unique it was completely worth it. Though I think Avery did an awesome job with some of the other beers in the series (I tried the Mephistopheles Stout last year) they didn’t blow me away like this one. It is rare that I get to taste a beer that is so unique in the flavors and yet this one did it.
The holidays are officially over today but the specialty beers brewed for Christmas are still here. I happened to grab a bottle of Santa’s Little Helper Imperial Stout from Port Brewing Company in San Diego recently and cracked open the bottle tonight. Thankfully I had a few people to share it with because it is a strong 10% and one of my new years resolutions is to try to avoid drinking as much during the week.
It is fitting that I get to enjoy this while the Christmas tree is still up. Apparently Santa is a big lush and needs some good beer to get him through his route and this beer does the trick. The beer pours thick with a bitter chocolate nose and a thick head. The taste is heavy on the bitter side with some clear chocolate flavors at the forefront. The aftertaste gives you a nice sweeter coffee flavor that some stout lovers might have missed. Overall, this is a great beer if you don’t like your stouts too sweet but might be too bitter for some.
Even though tasting rooms can’t stay open until midnight, that doesn’t mean that they can’t have some fun celebrating the new year. Some breweries decided to celebrate when it turned 2014 in other parts of the country, while Alesmith decided to bring out some fun barrel aged beers. I have to admit I mostly went to try the Peanut Butter Cup Speedway Stout but sadly it was already sold out by the time I got there. Thankfully, there were plenty of good specialty options available to keep me satisfied.
Thankfully they weren’t out of the Pino Noir Barrel Aged Grand Cru, Bourbon Barrel Aged Speedway Stout (both on tap and on cask), and Rye Whiskey Barrel Aged Old Numbskull. I’ve been a big fan of barrel-aged beers since the first one I tried. Until recently though, I hadn’t tried many that had been aged in wine barrels. Now I have decided that I don’t like wine barrel aged beers, though I will continue to try them when offered to see if I am proven wrong. While bourbon and whiskey barrels tend to give a nice sweet taste, wine barrels tend to give a sour taste. Unless you like sours then you might want to stick to the bourbon and whiskey barrel aged beers.
The wine barrel aged Grand Cru was about what I should have expected. The wine gives it a sour flavor that sadly kept me from enjoying it. Other people with me did enjoy the sour taste though. The two versions of bourbon barrel aged Speedway Stout were quite delicious. The cask was smoother and you could taste the bourbon a bit stronger. The tap had a bit more of a chocolate flavor in it. Both were quite enjoyable and should satisfy fans of the regular Speedway. The whiskey barrel aged Old Numbskull was quite delicious, and my favorite among the bunch. The whiskey flavors came through strong and were mellowed out by the beer.
I was quite glad I made it out to check out Alesmith for these special barrel-aged brews even though I missed the Peanut Buttercup Speedway Stout. Make sure you stop by your local brewery when they have some barrel aged beers but keep in mind that wine barrels tend to give the beers a sour flavor.
In an environment where most of the breweries serve tons of stronger beers, it is nice to have an option for more fresh hopped extra pale ales and session IPAs. Acoustic Aleworks does have an IPA called Willow Wolves but when I dropped by it was only available on cask and nitro. Because of how both cask and nitro mellow out IPAs I rarely like IPAs that way. I did quite enjoy the white IPA though. I will keep an eye out for their beers in bottles in 2014.
Acoustic Ales has a nice relaxed atmosphere resembling a jazz club. Instead of the usual plastic bar-stools, they have leather stools and low leather chairs to sit in. This is a pretty small tasting room so it might not be able to fit more than 20 or 30 people comfortably.
I only had a few tasters here because I had already enjoyed so much good beer at Modern Times just a bit earlier. I started with a taster of the white IPA and session IPAs. The Session IPA had a nice light earthy hop flavor. At 5%, it is almost a full on IPA or extra pale. The white IPA was the highlight of the night for me. While many white IPAs have been too sour for me, this one was not sour at all. It had a nice light sweetness to it as well. If this had been my only stop of the night I would have ordered a pint.
My sister ordered a pint of the Willow Wolves IPA on cask. It was about what I expected from a cask IPA, too smooth for what I like. I had a hard time really distinguishing the hop flavors compared to the white IPA. The double IPA was good but again a bit too resiny/piney for my tastes. Thankfully there was enough citrus flavor to round it out.
Acoustic Aleworks seemed to me like they were trying too many things without making sure to master some solid mainstay brews. I’ll have to make it back some time to see what Willow Wolves is like on tap. I also did not have time to try anywhere near all of the beers because of the insane number of options. I expect this many beers at Green Flash but it seems a little overkill for such a new brewery.
Update: July 2015
I visited Acoustic Ales again in July 2015 to see how things had progressed since my last visit. This time they had the Willow Wolves on tap but the Run for the Hills IIPA was only available on cask. I can’t tell if the tap versions are super popular or if they are more focused on cask beers. Either way, I was glad to get to taste the willow wolves on tap.
Though they still have a surprisingly large tap list for such a young brewery, it now makes more sense because they are actually bottling a large number of beers and their list of core beers is a whole 12 beers long. Besides the one above I also tried a cask of the Run for the Hills and a cask of the Groupie Belgian with grapefruit zest. The cask IIPA was very smooth with a nice lemon flavor. This beer was dangerously drinkable considering the high ABV. The cask of the Groupie was very nice sporting a good blend of Belgian yeast and subtle grapefruit.
I’m going to try to eventually hit all the breweries out of my area but as you can understand with so many good breweries so close together it is hard to find motivation to make it down to other breweries. Today I went to Modern Times and Acoustic Aleworks because they are so close together. At first I wasn’t sure that I was in the right place even though I knew I had followed the directions exactly. Like many breweries, Modern Times doesn’t have much fancy signage outside. You might walk right past it if it isn’t very busy. Thankfully it is right behind a few nude bars that you see every time you drive down Rosecrans. The parking could be better but considering the area it isn’t surprising.
Thankfully, the brewery looks much better inside. As soon as you step foot in the door you can feel the unique vibe of the place that comes from the stacks of books under the bar, the comic books on the wall to the left, the 8-bit-inspired art on the wall to the right, and other unique decorations all around. It is unlike any other brewery I have ever visited. If it wasn’t for the few tables near the larger window in the wall it would be as dark as a speak-easy.
The brewery has a fairly small selection compared to some of the places I frequent, but it isn’t hurt by it. The four mainstays offer enough variety that most people should find something to enjoy and they had two seasonal offerings that rounded out the selection nicely. Though they did give me a discount because of my blog I did not learn of this until after I had already written about the beers. It was also small enough that it wouldn’t influence my writings.
I started things off with a flight of four tasters. Though the offerings at first seem typical, I can assure you they are not. They have a saison, a hoppy amber, a hoppy wheat bear, and a coffee stout. The saison is the only one that is what you might expect. I’m not typically a fan of saison beers so I can’t say if it was a good or bad one but it was more drinkable than some I have had elsewhere.
I quite enjoyed both the hoppy wheat and hoppy amber. The hoppy wheat reminded me most of a session IPA or an extra pale ale. It had a nice hop flavor up front and a mellow flavor with the lighter alcohol. This might be a good way to introduce your friends to hops. The hoppy amber most closely resembled a San Diego IPA with the up-front Nelson hop flavors. Nelson hops deliver the familiar grapefruit taste and it was quite prominent here. I left with a four-pack of 16oz cans of the hoppy amber because it was my favorite of the night. To round off the flight, we had some coffee stout, which was a nice lighter alcohol stout. Flavor wise, it was on the bitter side and was close to having a cup of iced coffee. This is not for people who prefer sweeter stouts.
I also tried the IPA, made with bread yeast, and the double IPA before I left. I wasn’t very big on the flavors of the IPA. I tasted a light bitter flavor at the front with a little pineapple behind it. The double IPA was quite drinkable but a bit too heavy on the pine/resin flavors for my tastes. It certainly is well balanced but I prefer double IPAs with more citrus flavors.
Modern Times is one of the first San Diego breweries to offer to fill blank growlers and sell their own growler-cozies that you can slip onto a growler from any other brewery. Eventually we should see both of these become standard but for now they are the first that I am aware of. If you like San Diego IPAs, it is worth stopping by Modern Times for some of the Blazing World hoppy amber. Look for the Blazing World in stores as well and be sure to grab some.
I sadly didn’t get to try all the special beers Ballast Point had available this year for Victory at Sea Day. I did get to try the beers last year and liked some and disliked others. Because the crowd was so insane last year I decided to stop by the brewery a little later than I might have otherwise. This meant that by the time I got there they were out of all of the special flavors except for one. In the end it wasn’t a complete waste of a trip though because I got to try two awesome barrel aged beers.
What is this about different flights I missed? Ballast Point had ten different flavors of Victory at Sea available for tasting today and you had to buy one of two flights of five beers (or both). Since I hate huge crowds more than I love good beer, I chickened out and came by later, after they had already sold out. [I would have noticed that they were out of flights if I had checked Facebook but I didn’t have time to drive down to the other locations anyway.]
So the two beers I did have were both quite delicious and worth stopping by. As you might expect from a lighter beer, the Bourbon Barrel Aged Black Marlin Porter had some heavy bourbon flavor coming through that almost overpowered the underlying beer completely. It had a great heavy aroma of bourbon on the nose and went down smooth. The Devil’s Share Victory at Sea in Oak barrels was the highlight of the day for me. I could tell which was which because the Victory at Sea had some nice coffee aromas on the nose. The beer is so strong that the oak and Devil’s Share Whiskey flavors are much more subtle. It has the same delightful thick coffee flavors you might expect and some delicious whiskey flavors as well. I went back for a second taster because it was so good.
Did you get to try some of the flights at Victory at Sea day? What was your favorite?
Tomorrow (December 20, 2013) I will be getting married to a man. My husband was a bit slow to come around to enjoying craft beer but now enjoys a good stout and porter. If it had been up to me, the reception would be just beer, but he and others convinced me to have some snacking food. Though my selections aren’t perfect I had to keep in mind the varying tastes of my guests because not all of them love the bitter sting of an IPA. So I thought I’d share with everyone the beers I chose for the wedding.
San Diego beer drinkers will recognize that most of the beer here is from San Diego breweries. First off, two ballast point brewer’s selections. These multi-packs first became available this year and help satisfy guests who like a good pale ale and amber while including one of San Diego’s top IPAs, the Sculpin. Big Eye IPA is also solid and rounds out the pack. From Stone, another San Diego Brewery, I have six 22oz bottles of the 2013 Vanilla Bean Smoked Porter. This is for my husband and anyone else who prefers a good porter. Those same people might also appreciate the Full Suit Belgian Brown from Karl Strauss, one of the bigger San Diego breweries. Also from Karl Strauss is their Tower 10 IPA, a favorite of mine that looks like it was freshly released. To top it all off, I have two (though only one pictured here) of the delightful New Belgium Folly Pack 2013 (as I reviewed in my earlier post). This set is nice because it has some lighter seasonal brews and some IPA and even a Double IPA (the strongest beer of the night).
This gives us a total of 108 12oz bottles of beer and 6 22oz bottles of beer. Assuming 30 out of our 40 guests drink beer, that is about 3 or 4 drinks per person.
[NOTE: I purposefully did not get a bunch of Green Bullet or other beers over 9% because I want to be able to enjoy myself without going overboard. I also purposefully did not buy a bunch of growlers or a keg. It is better to have a variety than to assume that everyone will love my favorite IPA.
If you happen to notice that the boxes are empty, you are correct. The beers are all chilling in the fridge so I don’t have to put them on ice.]