Though cider isn’t beer, beer fans would feel immediately at home walking into Newtopia. Their tasting room has all the feel of a proper tasting-room with taster flights available and a wide array of options to choose from. I had a variety of different ciders though two of their core offerings were unavailable, perhaps because they have been selling so well they can’t keep them on tap.
Their Belgian style cider had a dark red color with notes of pineapple and spice that finished with notes of currants. I enjoyed it though I thought the flavors could be a bit more balanced with each other. The twisted takes a cider and adds some citrus to it. It had a bitter citrus finish with notes of light ginger, with a bitter and dry finish. The chai is their award-winning offering and I can see why. It had a perfect balance of mild spice and light sweetness that reminded me of a classic spiced-cider. I was sad I couldn’t bring some home in my growler.
One of their core offerings is their IPC, a dry-hopped cider, though the only version available when I visited was the double of the same. It had a fantastic strong hop flavor of citrus and grass with a medium sweetness. The semi-sweet had notes of herbs and light mint with a crisp finish. I wasn’t a fan of the herbs or the mint. The Sleepless in Sumatra is their cider with cold brew coffee and vanilla added. It was smooth with light sweetness and nice balance of coffee and vanilla.
I enjoyed most of what I had at Newtopia and hope to stop by again to try some of their core offerings that I missed. I was glad to see that they started with having an outdoor patio and a crowler machine to offer their cider to go. They also stand out with their unique cider glasses that help make the aromas prominent in the experience.
Protector opened in the crowded Miramar area. All their beers are made with 100% organic ingredients. This makes the beers more expensive to produce and so the prices are slightly higher than other breweries in the area. People don’t seem to mind though and some batches of IPA have sold out in 5 days. Though Protector hasn’t had a grand opening yet, they have already proven that their brewers have an immense skill. My first visit they only had three beers, two IPAs and a pale ale.
The hoppy pale was grassy with light citrus notes and a solid finish. I couldn’t tell if it was the grassy notes I didn’t like or the choice of malts but it wasn’t much my style. The traditional IPA was a fantastic balanced beer with mild citrus and mild bitterness. Both this and the West Coast style IPA had a solid malt character without being overly malt-forward. The malts balanced perfectly with the hop notes. The West Coast style IPA had a great blend of resin and citrus notes with a light bitter finish that wasn’t present in the traditional IPA. While slightly more malty than the typical West Coast style it was quite a good beer.
Over the coming weeks, I returned a few times to try their new beers. First time back they added a porter and a session heffeweizen. The porter was good and roasty with notes of caramel and cherries and bitter dark chocolate on the finish. The hefeweizen had a good dry finish. Flavor of cloves dominated over banana and the beer finished fairly astringent. While very easy drinking, I found the beer a bit too heavy on the cloves.
I returned a third time and tried their coffee imperial stout. Though expensive at $3.50 a taster, it was quite impressive. It had intense coffee on the nose. The beer had a silky mouthfeel with notes of caramel, roast, and coffee. Traditional ipa batch dialed up the citrus character even more though still with mild resin on the finish. Bitterness is still mild.
In a crowded area, Protector stands out with an excellent lineup of beers. Their IPAs showcase hops while supporting them with a mild malt backbone. This balance is difficult to achieve and a rarity among local breweries. Their tasting room is spacious from the get-go.
Disclaimer – Though I did receive the occasional free taster while visiting protector, my views have not been altered in any way.
Update – Post has been updated to reflect the brewery’s change of pricing for the Imperial Stout. It is now $3.50 a taster instead of $5.
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.
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.
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)
Culver Beer Company has a fairly large tap list and a few solid beers though I felt they missed the mark on the IPAs. Thankfully, some other beers they had were solid. I had six tasters in total during my visit. They have a good sized tasting room with plenty of areas to sit. When I read that they were in Carlsbad I assumed they would be right off the 5 freeway but they are actually a bit more inland. Still, they are not too difficult to get to from the freeway. Another thing to keep in mind for both Culver and Burgeon is that the cell signal is quite weak at both. Burgeon had issues with their wi-fi when I visited but Culver had a solid wi-fi.
The Pilsner was fruity and floral with a mild bitterness though I found the bitter finish was a little too strong for the style. The amber lager had some nice fruit notes including some cherry and an herbal/pepper finish from the hops. It had a nice clean finish and was a solid start for a beer of this style. The hoppy saison was a nice balance of fruity hops and spices with a medium body and mild bitterness.
The vanilla stout smelled nice with an intense vanilla on the nose but when I actually tasted it, it tasted a bit off, with a strange bitter finish. I am not sure what was up with this but it didn’t taste like a stout. The Street Walker IPA was floral and intensely bitter with a fruity finish including some banana. It is a decent IPA if you don’t mind intense floral hops. The True Hero IIPA was grassy with hints of pine but was a bit off on the finish. I asked the brewer about it and they said they had a power outage during brewing that prevented it from finishing properly. I hope that is all that happened.
Culver isn’t making bad beer such that I would say you shouldn’t ever visit them, but they are not making anything that is worth seeking out if you don’t live nearby or crave a well-done lager.
Burgeon Beer Company
I went to Burgeon Beer Company directly after Culver Beer Company. They are pretty close by and have an even larger tasting room. The tap list was smaller at Burgeon and so I only ordered four tasters. The milk stout was tasty and presented a nice roast character with a creamy finish. The pale ale is a nice balance of crisp pine and grapefruit with a medium bitterness and an overall good balance.
The IPA was a nice hazy orange color and had excellent fruit character with notes of tangerine and tropical fruit. The double IPA was lighter in color but similarly hazy with hints of pineapple, vanilla, and grapefruit. Both the single and double IPA had a nice acidic finish. I was quite impressed by everything at Burgeon and if I lived in the area I would be there regularly for their hazy IPAs.
Out of the two, I would recommend Burgeon for those who are into hoppy beers especially hazy IPAs though Culver is doing some solid lagers and has an interesting variety of beer styles to choose from. I expect Burgeon will do great things in the coming year.
Thunder Hawk has been in the planning stages for many months before finally opening in the crowded Miramar area of San Diego, which already houses over 10 breweries. Some would argue that it is growing too fast for the demand, and we will soon see if all the breweries can survive. Thunderhawk came in with a lineup of beers that are different from the usual style for the area. They aren’t following the trends but are instead making beer in a classic style.
When I first visited the brewery in the first week of November, 2016 they had only four beers on tap because they have been selling their beer faster than they can brew it. On tap were an ESB, two pale ales, and a saison. The saison is also usually available in a version made with local pine needles. They also brew a popular double IPA and dopplebock. None of those beers were available at that time which is a good sign for them. An earlier version of their menu suggests that they consider the pale ales to be “West Coast Style.” I disagree with that but that doesn’t mean they are bad beers.
One of the pale ales is made with more typical piney hops. The other is made with mosaic and citra, both known for their fruity and citrus character. Both beers were classic style with a balanced malt backbone and an underlying bitterness. I didn’t think the mosaic and citra beer tasted like I expect from either of those hops but it was dank, balanced, and clean. The Westworld pale, the piney of the two, was a bit herbal but still similarly balanced, dank, and not too bitter. These beers don’t have the same flavors everyone else around town is chasing with the juicy IPA craze but this gives them a longer shelf life and the flavors will stick around longer.
The ESB initially was not a beer I could be very positive about. I got a lot of notes of overripe fruit from it and not much apricot or caramel like I would expect from the style. A friend of my mom’s who joined us at the brewery that evening was a huge fan of this beer though. She enjoyed it more than any of the other beers and didn’t taste the same flavors as strongly. Thankfully this seems to have been an issue with that batch and newer batches have come out much better as described below.
The oak aged saison was my favorite of the evening. With both ginger and honey I was worried that either of the two flavors would overpower the rest of the beer. Thankfully, everything was perfectly balanced with the ginger sitting in the back and the honey adding just the right amount of body to the beer. The oak gave it a fantastic smooth finish.
I came back a week later and their Dunkel was on along with their vanilla stout. The Overture dunkelweisen was smooth and balanced with notes of caramel and burnt toffee, an impressive beer and one of the few San Diego versions of the style I can drink. The Rise of Zemunda stout had tons of vanilla with some mild chocolate. It was very flavorful for a low alcohol stout.
For my third visit before this post, I stopped by November 23 and tried their ESB wet hopped with Brewer’s Gold hops, regular ESB to compare, and the Punt Gun IPA. The Wet Hopped ESB was very tasty and had a nice mix of caramel malts, mild hops, and some mild coffee notes in the finish. This was so much better than my experience with the regular ESB that I asked for a splash to compare and the overripe fruits I had a problem with earlier were all gone. Their ESB is now a very enjoyable beer. The Punt Gun IPA has a ton of followers online but I hadn’t been able to taste it until today. I can see why. It is a really clean balanced IPA with notes of mango, apricot, an,d other tropical fruits with a mildly sweet finish.
Thunderhawk has a gorgeous interior with lots of wood accents and a beautiful outdoor space that help set it apart from the rest of the breweries in the area and will go a long way towards bringing more people inside. Based on my repeated visits, i expect any issues I had with early batches will be remedied shortly. The excellent beers I have tried show me that the brewer will soon dial in any beers that aren’t quite there yet.
Covering breweries can require a lot of attention paid because brewers don’t always stay with the brewery for various reasons. I can’t speak to many of the reasons behind many of the notorious local shifts of brewers and I wouldn’t want to share the details even if I could. For 32 North, this meant they started with a brewer who came out of the gate with some excellent beer and then after a few months went on to open a different brewery, which is the quite-popular Bitter Brothers. Then another brewer was brought in to replace him and didn’t last as long as many expected. Some say he went back to the East Coast because he wasn’t a fit for the local scene. I could see this as a plausible explanation considering his version of the Best Coast IPA was too malty for local tastes.
Now with their 2nd anniversary coming up, I visited 32 North again, giving their new brewer, Nick Ceniceros, formerly the head brewer for Fall Brewing, a chance to dial in the recipes on the different system. The changes from a year ago to now are drastic and show a clearer understanding of the local brew scene as one would expect from someone who has been a major part of the scene for a while. Of the beers I tried, all were well-made but four stood out as quite excellent. I can safely say that if Ceniceros stays on for a while, he will help cement 32 North as a powerful player in the crowded Miramar brewery scene.
Look and feel wise, the brewery hasn’t changed all that much since it opened. They have always had the beautiful wood-dominated look that helps you quickly forget that you are in the middle of an industrial park. The design of their tasting board has changed quite a bit over time and the design they have now is pleasing and easy to read from a distance.
I had two separate flights on my recent visit, trying seven beers and a cask variant of their house IPA to finish things off. I started with a flight of Pennant pale ale, Blancdonkadonk hoppy wheat, Mighty Mouse session rye IPA, and Landfall berliner weisse (without syrup). The second flight I had the Best Coast IPA, Far East IPA, Hello Darkness oatmeal stout on nitro, and Best Coast IPA cask with mosaic hops.
Penant pale ale is a smooth dry pale ale with a great balance of citrus, pine, and resinous hops. It has some malts backing it up but nothing that overpowers the hops as the traditional style tends to do. This was the first standout for me. The blancdonkadonk is a strange beer and a bit hard to describe. At first I got a lot of apricot from what I assumed were English hops over some fruity wheat malts. Then later on I got more passionfruit and other tropical fruit notes. I found the hops were a bit too much but mostly because the flavors weren’t for me. The Mighty Mouse session IPA was clean and dry with a great mix of dank resinous hops, some fruity hops, and as it warms up some floral/herbal hops all supported by a solid rye kick. I liked it more at the beginning but once I got to the herbal hops I lost interest. This is another beer where it mostly isn’t my preferred hops but is done well.
The Landfall Berliner Weisse, without syrup, was excellent. It had a great medium body and some subtle fruit and citrus notes. They offer three flavors of syrup for this if you want to experiment though I prefer it on its own. Though they will be soon canning their blond ale, I hope this one day gets canned because it is quite excellent. The Best Coast IPA is a great mix of dank pine and resin hops and some tropical fruit towards the end. Though pine on its own is not a flavor I love, it is delicious when properly balanced as here. The beer also has a nice supporting malt backbone that is just enough to give it a good medium body without calling too much attention to itself.
The cask version of Best Coast was super smooth with tons of mango, guava, and melon bursting from the beer. Surprisingly most of the dank flavors of the tap version were gone. The Far East IPA had tons of over ripe tropical fruit and a sticky sweet fruity finish. I couldn’t identify specific fruits but I really did not care for this one. I finished with the Hello Darkness oatmeal stout on nitro. The beer had a complex mix of roast, coffee, and chocolate notes all supported by a smooth caramel base. This would probably be the first beer for me to order in a pint when I return. It is an excellent oatmeal stout and I’m sure the coffee version is quite nice as well.
It is a great sign that two of the stand-out beers for me were part of their core lineup and soon to be canned. Even if you have been disappointed in the past with what you had at 32 North, you should absolutely return to try these delicious new batches. Their upcoming 2nd anniversary on October 21st.
Hello Darkness oatmeal stout
Landfall berliner weisse
Best Coast IPA
Though there are quite a few Miramar breweries now they have been growing in clusters. I found it refreshing when I saw where Longship opened because they are close enough to the others though far enough away to attract a different crowd and much easier to find than Wet and Reckless was in a similar area (before they re-opened in a different location as Reckless Brewing). Longship has a viking theme to their brewery and I find their logo to be very nice as well as the various shields on the walls around the tasting room. They just opened so they have a very small tap list at the moment and only four beers. I tried the IPA, golden ale, Belgian style wit, and San Diego style dark ale.
The IPA is closer to a session IPA with low alcohol and also fairly low bitterness. It showcases fruity hop notes and is a pretty standard session IPA. The golden ale is a very interesting take on the style. A hefty 7% alcohol it is sticky sweet and showcases tons of spice from the yeast and various tropical fruit notes from the hops including guava sometimes. The Belgian style wit was super cloudy pale yellow. It drinks ridiculously smooth with lots of banana, vanilla, mild citrus, and even notes of tapioca pudding in the sweet finish. With so many breweries making wits to style I very much enjoyed this variation that stood out as delightfully unique. The dark ale was quite bitter and very hoppy. It reminded me of a style common in Portland where they call it a Cascadian Dark Ale. It has a caramel malt backbone and a mildly sweet finish that balances with the strong hop notes.
My first visit to Longship was on June 30, 2016 just before their grand opening. To give a more accurate picture of their quality, I visited them a second time on October 6, 2016. In October they had added a chocolate stout, brown ale, and dopplebock. Based on recommendations from the beertender I got a fresh taster of the Hoppy Belgian to compare to the previous time.
The Hoppy Belgian golden presented tons of spice with some mild fruity hops and a bitter finish. Gone are the tropical notes that made it so interesting originally but this is what happens when they change the hops. I also didn’t notice as much sticky sweetness to this new batch. I ordered the chocolate stout on nitro. It presented tons of bitter chocolate and roast with a dry finish and super thin body. There is very little sweetness in the beer at all. Though it wasn’t my style the beer was well made. The brown ale presented tons of dark fruits that linger on the finish with some mild caramel in the back. I wasn’t a big fan of this beer. The dopplebock was thick and sticky with molasses and chocolate notes and mild dark fruit. This was one of the most impressive of the bunch because so few breweries locally have managed to make interesting dopplebocks. This is the first one I could actually consider drinking.
Longship gets far with their unique theme and overall solid lineup of beers. They clearly have a following from locals who work around the area and want a place to stop in after work. It is worth stopping by especially if you are interested in trying a few styles that aren’t as common locally.