Bay City Brewing has been open for three months or so and I have heard nothing but praise for their San Diego Pale since they opened. Quite a few friends of mine have visited them with regularity whenever they can. I was excited to see what I would find when I visited on on November 15, 2015. They had a number of beers on tap but at $12 a flight of four tasters (ouch!) I only tasted four plus the additional taste the bartender passed to me. I had the stout, San Diego Pale (7.7!), Sour Brown, and Sour Wheat. I also had a taste of the coffee pale ale that the bartender brought over.
The stout was thick and a mix between a light smoke and a heavy roast plus some medium amount of bitterness. My husband wasn’t very impressed by it and thought it had a sour aftertaste. I found it to be a solid example of the style though I probably wouldn’t order more than a taster. The San Diego Pale was very much the typical West Coast style IPA, a mixture of fruit and citrus hops though this specific batch had a bit too much simcoe in balance to the rest of the hops, giving it a sticky sweet finish that I didn’t care for. Others came in and ordered pints without complaints so perhaps I just don’t like simcoe as much as everyone else. It is also possible that this batch turned out a little different than what everyone else was raving about, but I don’t see it.
The two sours were not particularly impressive either. The sour brown they said had some sarsaparilla and bourbon chips added, which I could tell maybe two sips out of the whole taster but for most of it I got a generally off-putting sour taste that missed all of what I tend to like about sours. It may benefit from some time in a barrel aging but as it was didn’t do anything for me. The sour wheat was fairly typical to what smaller breweries have put out when doing their first berliner weisse. It was a light bodied wheat with heavy citrus punch primarily lemon. This one at least had a clear flavor that it was trying to present, though I have had better. The coffee pale ale was tasty, mixing a mildly bitter low malt pale ale with a smooth coffee.
Located a good mile behind Modern Times (I expect most people will come visit them from the 5 Freeway and go past Rosecrans to get there), Bay City Brewing needs to do something unique to get people to visit them over Modern Times. I didn’t find much that stood out from them. You can also hear the cars driving by the nearby freeway while you are there, which takes away from the whole experience. Plus while I was there they had some pounding techno on in the background that I wasn’t a fan of either. As a young brewery they certainly have some time to perfect their sours and get their San Diego Pale to be consistent but for now I don’t see much reason to visit them over Modern Times when I am in the area.
It is certainly rare to find a brewery that only brews sours. Thankfully The Rare Barrel has a few guest taps available for those who might be dragged along but don’t appreciate sours. The tasting room is a bit out of the way and it is worth driving to where you think it is rather than trying to park down the street because they have a good amount of parking between the road and the front door. Probably the only major complaint they tend to receive is the lack of tasters available, which was only partially true when I visited because they did serve one beer in five ounce pours, the second anniversary beer (they had the second anniversary celebration the day before I visited). Otherwise their beers are exclusively available in 10 ounce pours for around $8 a piece. Though this seems expensive to some people it is typical for sour beers.
Because they don’t offer tasters of the other beers served I only had two different beers when I visited, the Second Anniversary sour and the Impossible Soul barrel aged sour with cherries. The second anniversary sour was a bourbon barrel aged red sour. It had a mild bourbon flavor and lots of smooth oak flavor that was balanced nicely with the fairly light sour kick at the end. It poured a smooth reddish brown and was a tasty sour. The Impossible Soul poured a gorgeous red/orange color and was quite smooth with a tart cherry finish. Some consider this The Rare Barrel’s version of a kriek, which is fitting. It was a bit different from other krieks though I haven’t had a ton of the style. I enjoyed the two beers that I was able to taste while I was there.
Besides the lack of tasters I was quite annoyed by the general loud atmosphere and poor acoustics. Though most tasting rooms tend to echo a lot this one was even more noisy than others and made it hard to relax and enjoy the beers. Part of the draw for the brewery is the exclusivity with most of the bottles and growler fills limited to members. As someone who would not want to sign up for such a thing anytime soon I thought the visit was nice but not particularly memorable. Though it is great to have a brewery that always has sours available, I found the atmosphere at Fieldwork to be more to my liking. If you know people into sours they probably would appreciate knowing when you visit as they may want you to pick up some bottles for them.
Artifex is not a brewery I expect a lot of people in San Diego will visit with the same regularity as others simply because of the long distance to get out there. A good 30 minute drive north of Bagby Brewing, it is best visited on your way north to LA or on your way south. In this visit I happened to drive up to Orange County unexpectedly and was able to drive past Artifex on my way south for a few tasters. They have a typical tasting room that is a mile or so from the freeway and easy to find. They also fill blank growlers if you happen to have one with you. When I visited I tasted the Brown Ale, Milk Stout, pale ale, AHAB IPA, Coconut Black IPA, No Name IPA, and Double IPA.
The brown ale was a nice medium brown in color almost dark amber and had mild flavors of caramel and English hops. The overall beer was quite tasty and easy to drink. The milk stout had a mild smoky flavor and a sticky aftertaste. The lactose was used sparingly so it did not have an intense sweetness that is typical with the style. It is a solid and tasty stout. The pale ale has a nice golden color and mixes tropical fruit and citrus with a medium bitter kick. The pale is a good example of the newer style of pale and will satisfy hop heads.
The AHAB IPA is their most popular offering and it had a nice combination of herbal and fruity hops. The beer is nice and light on the malts in the West Coast style. The Black IPA with coconut was quite delicious with an intense coconut flavor that mixes nicely with citrus hops without giving it too much bitterness. When I dropped by later for a growler of the same beer, the coconut had faded a little, leaving a more balanced mix of flavors, with the hops coming through a little more. This is still a beer primarily for hop heads.
The No Name IPA had a nice intense citrus hop flavor and light malt bill. This is a seriously tasty IPA with a nice light pine and citrus hop kick while not being too bitter. There was a hint of garlic on the aftertaste but nothing that took away from my enjoyment. Finally, the double IPA was quite thick, resiny, and slightly boozy. It is a good thick beer and one you would not down very fast. The boozy kick at the back was a little much for me but it is a solid double.
For a brewery that had their first anniversary in August of 2015, Artifex is brewing some delicious beers. It helps that the brewers used to brew for Pizza Port, a place well known for their delicious IPAs. For now the owners are often seen around the brewery and you will encounter a number of locals who probably come by regularly. They have food trucks most days though I happened to drop by the one day of the week when they didn’t have one. If you need a place to stop on your way through San Clemente, you should absolutely stop by Artifex.
Black IPA with Coconut
No Name IPA
Though there are other breweries that have been around longer, Cellarmaker is one of the most highly praised breweries in the city of San Francisco. When I visited recently, I can see why. They have a tasting room in central San Francisco where you can order tasters, pints, growlers, etc. On a Saturday they were quite packed and I could barely find a place to set down my tasters on the ledge by the window. I split my tasting into two separate flights of 4 beers each, with the pale ales and IPAs in the first flight and the dark beers and double IPA in the second flight. Tasters are a little expensive at $2.50 to $3.00 each but understandably they want to push people to order pints, for which they didn’t cheat people by pouring large heads. This is also the city known for high rents so I expect that is part of it as well. The tasting room was fairly noisy and music was blaring, yet I didn’t find that it kept me from chatting or talking to people. They have an interesting wooden fence of sorts on the front of the place that lets in a nice breeze for ventilation.
My first flight included Double Dry Hopped Dobis pale ale, New Beer Smell pale ale, Mo’ Passion IPA, and Pho Momocoe IPA. Second flight included Dank Williams double IPA, Batch 1 porter, Coffee & Cigarettes, and Baby Blamo. All of the IPAs and pale ales were low on the malts as you can be with the alcohol present, with the pale ales and IPAs following the modern style of extracting as much hop aroma as you possibly can from the beers. Double Dry Hopped Dobis was a cloudy yellow and had a bright citrus, tangerine and lemon, flavor with a smooth finish and light bitterness. New Beer Smell was similar though exploding with tropical fruit instead. Both were fantastic and which one you like would depend on your hop profile of choice. The taster board gave accurate descriptions of the flavors you could taste.
Mo’ Passion was a delicious resiny/juicy IPA with hints of mango and medium bitterness. This one was also quite smooth and light on the malts. It is great to see more breweries using South African varieties of hops after tasting how delicious they can be in a beer from Modern Times. I almost got a growler of this one when I left but I chose to go with Dank Williams. Pho Momo Coe is an attempt to make a Vietnamese spiced IPA so besides the hops it includes ginger, lime, and chilies. While I thought everything balanced together nicely, I prefer the more traditional style of the others. Hops were of the juicy/herbal flavor and the ginger came through a lot on the end.
Dank Williams was ultimately my favorite IPA of the bunch. Though it is 8.2% it didn’t seem overly boozy or sweet, just thick, resinous, and super dank. I got flavors of peach on the back, giving it a nice finish. I ended up filling my 2 liter blank growler I brought with me with this beer. When I opened the growler at home it had lost a lot of the peach flavor but was still a delicious dank/resinous double IPA that went down smooth. Batch 1 Porter is one of the more common beers you will find on tap outside the brewery. Though I really like it, I found it was overpowered by the others in the flight. It is a smooth and sweet roasty stout with light vanilla flavors.
Coffee & Cigarettes is one of the more popular beers they offer, and I can see why. It offers a strong yet smooth nutty coffee flavor with a subtle smoke on the back end. It has a nice chewy mouth feel and a bitter finish. On any other flight this might have been my favorite dark beer but then I tasted the Baby Blamo. This coconut stout is really sweet and has a more prominent coconut flavor than any beer of the style I have had before. It has a nice subtle bitter chocolate flavor on the back to finish it off. My husband and I shared a goblet of this before leaving.
If you are in San Francisco and don’t have a lot of time to get out of the city, visiting Cellarmaker is quite easy because it is pretty close to a Bart station. I did not attempt to park there so I can’t say if it is easy to do so. I was very impressed by all of the beers I tasted. They brew a solid lineup of hoppy and dark beers. I was a little surprised that I didn’t see anything from other styles on the menu.
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.
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.
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.
Day 4 – Imperial Stout Release at Duck Foot Brewing and GreenFlash 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.