Eppig Brewing is a new brewery that takes advantage of a space that was designed to allow three breweries to open next door to one another. They have a small space just off El Cajon Blvd that can easily get packed. They have a large number of beers on tap so it was impossible to try everything in one visit.
I started with the lagers because I heard that they were quite good. My first flight consisted of their Schwartz (dark lager), Zwickel (unfiltered pilsner), Festbier (imperial wheat), and Berliner Weisse (tart wheat beer). My second flight consisted of Factory of Dreams IPA, 10:15 to Denver IPA, Double IPA, and their stout with coffee. Of the two I much preferred the first flight.
The Schwartz was smooth and roasty with mild smoke, a good version of the style and better than most San Diego attempts I have had. The Zwickel had a nice medium body and a mix of fruity and floral hops. Though well made the floral hops were a bit too much for me and not my favorite hop profile. I didn’t really care for the fest beer, which has a dry citrus finish but is also too harsh at the end. It was a popular beer with others while I was there but not for me. The berliner weisse was a good mix of grapefruit and lemon notes with a bitter dry finish while not too tart. They had two fruit options of this as well but I stuck to the regular.
On the IPA front, I encountered some of the harshest most overpowering bitter IPAs in all of San Diego. Both the Factory of Dreams IPA and the double IPA were extremely bitter with very little aroma to speak of. According to the brewer, the double IPA is made with tons of simcoe, a hop I don’t care for generally, but rather than being too much pine aroma, they both shared a strong bitterness that lingered at the back of the throat.
While the 10:15 to Denver was more drinkable and had hints of grapefruit it was still too bitter. I didn’t finish either of these beers. I had a chat with the brewer about the harsh bitterness and as usual was told “they are IPAs, they are supposed to be bitter.” I ended with the stout with coffee that I found to be average with tons of roast and a bitterness that lingered on the tongue.
Eppig is a new brewery and I’m glad to see them come out of the gate with solid lagers and fruited berliner weisse style beers. Not every brewery needs to brew IPAs but if you are coming to North Park go elsewhere for your IPAs. The fruited berliner weisse beers were quite popular as well, but I stuck with the base. Hopefully I will be updating this article in a few months to indicate that they have improved the IPAs to something more in line with their neighbors at North Park Brewing.
Zwickel (unfiltered pilsner)
Schwartz (dark lager)
ChuckAlek opened a satellite tasting room in North Park and turned it into a traditional German outdoor biergarden to go along with their German inspired core lineup. Be sure to bring a light jacket if you visit them on a cooler day because they get quite the breeze going through. I also sit in the shade to avoid letting the sun skunk my beers. I tried a number of their core offerings and a couple specialty brews when I visited. Because of their small brewing system the tap list changes regularly. One fun feature they offer is the choice of ordering a 1 liter pour of certain lower alcohol German beers like you would get at Oktoberfest in Germany.
Update: August 30, 2017.
In the short time since I posted this ChuckAlek Biergarden has drastically improved their hoppy offerings and debuted beers that are closer to the modern style. I visited the brewery yesterday and ordered their IPL and Hazy IPA. Both were delicious and had low bitterness with intense hop aroma. Moonstomper Oat IPA had a thick hazy appearance with a chewy mouthfeel. The beer had tons of tangerine, mango, and candied apricot notes. The IPL, called Cartographer, was bursting with tropical fruit aromas and had a mild bitterness with a soft mouthfeel. Both of these were impressive enough that I will hopefully return soon to get some better photos of them.
I started with the Helles, a traditional Munich style of beer that has a stronger hop kick than a typical pilsner. It was top notch with a clean finish and a mild floral hop kick. It joins my top 5 San Diego brewed lagers. The Hussar is a smoked wheat. It is soft and light with some mild smoke character. Anyone who has had a rauch beer in Europe will find the smoke here to be very mild, but it is nicely balanced and easy drinking. The ESB was a bit too hoppy for the style and the spicy hops stood out too much over the light caramel malt base. It wasn’t my favorite hop profile but I might have enjoyed it if the hops were a little more subdued.
The brown porter was fantastic with a mix of caramel and roast, a medium body, and a light sweetness on the finish. The AltBier was also a bit hoppy for the style but it had a good mix of dark fruit and mild bitter finish. I couldn’t see myself having a pint of either the Alt or the ESB. The SSS Stout was smooth and chewy with a mix of burnt caramel, chocolate, and cherry notes. The Fugazi with citra had more bitterness than aroma and I didn’t get much fruit or citrus but a mildly perfumy finish. I didn’t much care for this one. The Belgian Pale was less harsh and had a nice balance of mild spice and citrus notes with a clean finish.
Some of the beers I tasted may not get brewed again so I can’t expect each one to be perfect. Still, with the fantastic brown porter and helles, I see ChuckAlek bringing in a good size crowd in the warmer months. If you have been looking for a well made San Diego lager, this is the place for you.
Before visiting Munich for Oktoberfest I read a lot about it but nothing seemed to explain the feeling of it. Perhaps that is because most people writing about it had so much to drink that the details are fuzzy. A few specifically admitted that. Still after visiting Oktoberfest for a single 3 hour stretch I think I got a pretty good feel for it. I also wanted to provide some perspective from someone who expected to hate the beers and the extra benefit of a husband who I thought would be so miserable that he would make me leave early. He only drinks dark beer at home.
The awesome part about Oktoberfest is that they don’t charge admission. Which means there are no lines to get in just a constant stream of people migrating from the nearby train stations into the festival area. Imagine your county fair (San Diego County Fair feels pretty similar) without those annoying lines to get in or trying to park (or paying to park). If you are staying anywhere within the s-bahn lines it is a simple matter of transferring at the central station and taking one of the few trains to the right stop and walking in.
It really makes you wonder why more festivals don’t simply do away with entrance fees (and further makes me wish San Diego had decent public transit that connected all the different neighborhoods as well as Munich does). Once inside it is like any other festival. You have booths just selling food, others just selling souvenirs, carnival rides, (you have to be pretty drunk to think getting on these is a good idea considering how large the drinks are) and then the main attraction–the massive beer tents. There are tents for most of the major breweries around town and all but one require you to be seated to order a beer. This seemed stupid at first but then I realized how heavy the massive beer mugs are while empty let alone full.
Because I hate tourist traps I purposefully avoided going to the rowdy tents that are frequented by foreigners. This meant going straight for Augustiner (the tent most frequented by locals). I arrived at 11am or so and at first I thought we got there too early. Then I realized there are only about a third of the seats available for people to simply walk to and sit down. The rest are reserved far in advance. I wanted to sit at a table that already had people. My husband insisted we grab an empty table. This was good because we invited the first group of English speakers to join us. As much as I like Germans, festivals are no fun without conversation in your own language. And my German is horrible.
Even Augustiner has English menus. Right away I ordered a liter of the festival beer and my husband ordered a liter of the radler (also similar to a shandy), half festival beer and half sprite. He enjoyed the radler. We also ordered a pork knuckle. Thank God they didn’t make us order two. Those things are huge. Soon after our food arrived we saw a group of Americans about to sit at a table across from us. We invited them to join us and they did so gladly. We recommended the pork knuckle and they ordered a round of beer.
The beers were a whole 10 euros a liter, more expensive than the prices in town but it is a markup I gladly pay to avoid having to buy a ticket to get inside. The food wasn’t too expensive compared to the rest of the city. Everything is cash only. Many things were meant to be shared, including whole fish that when you pay by weight end up very expensive. I wasn’t expecting to like the festival beer. It didn’t blow me away or hit some beer pleasure spot but I didn’t have a problem downing a liter.
The festival beer is basically a 6% helles. Helles is the Bavarian version of a pilsner with less hop bite and more malt. The hops were more obvious when drinking the regular 4.8% helles the following day. Thankfully the malts used don’t taste like too much so it is a very drinkable 6% beer. The German hops are much more subdued so someone who doesn’t know what they taste like may not notice them at all. What makes the festival beer drinkable is how awesomely fresh it is. And at the Augustiner tent they are pulling it from large wooden casks.
The beer halls are basically massive tents with large wooden picnic tables pushed really close together so you can only fit between them on the short sides. As you slowly drink through your liter of beer you start to see how fantastic it is to be sitting at a table. In the three hours I was sitting there I drank one liter of the festival beer and shared a liter of radler with my husband, after he had one on his own. We also are the pork knuckle along with the potatoes it comes with. Pork knuckle has a crispy skin and otherwise is a bunch of delicious tender pork meat around a large bone.
I could have stayed all day but since I only had two days in Munich I left after 3 hours so I could visit some other places. I only was able to stand the full 3 hours because I had some fantastic conversations with the group that joined us. Also as the place filled up the atmosphere became more festive and it was certainly contagious. As you can see in the photos I didn’t bother buying the festival garb and I don’t think it makes much sense unless you plan to visit Oktoberfest more times in the future.
As a craft beer fan and a hop head the festival beer was surprisingly drinkable. As I will describe in a separate article I found the local helles beer to be quite tasty once I recognized the German hops. Any serious beer drinker should consider visiting Oktoberfest at least once. I don’t recommend drinking five liters like many people did, at least not at festival prices. In smaller bars around town you could get a liter of the local helles for around 6 euro 50, which was a better beer. Meeting with other travellers and bonding over beers is the core draw of the festival unless you like your family enough to travel with them and want to sit for hours with them over beers.
The lack of entrance fee was especially nice because I could simply leave when I had experienced what I wanted without worrying about getting my money’s worth. If you absolutely hate beer you can order other things but you might as well order a radler. Raising your glasses with the music and letting out a triumphant prost with the rest of the room is something you can’t easily replicate. I may not return to Oktoberfest but I won’t soon forget the experience.
On day 3 I enjoyed the morning at the local Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park. It was pretty cold but I enjoyed the sights. Just in time for lunch I headed down to Rosamunde Sausage Grill on Mission hoping to find the right sausage to go with my beer and maybe some local beers. The German vibe of the place got to me so I did not end up having anything local. One taste of the Belgium IPA from Germany, the Houblon Chouffe (9%) and I couldn’t pass up a chance to enjoy a full pour of it.
I tried a few of the local double IPAs but none of them were really doing the same for me as this Belgium IPA. I’ve had a few San Diego examples of this style of beer but I couldn’t resist trying one from the source. Surprisingly I hear that Germany has a lot more amazing beers than we typically see in the US. This was a rare opportunity to see what I was missing.
Many find the Belgium style of beer to be too sweet and don’t like the spice. This beer is the perfect answer to that with plenty of delicious citrus flavors from the hops. I enjoyed a beer sausage and a chicken habanero sausage with my beer.