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
Most visitors to Puerto Vallarta will stay in the Hotel Zone where all the big hotels have their resorts. In those areas you are better off bringing your own beer from home if you are there for a while and want to drink something other than Corona. Make sure you read the amounts that Customs allows you to bring with you if you decide to do that.
We decided for a visit that gives us a true feel of the town and stayed in the Romantic Zone, where Los Muertos sits surrounded by other restaurants and shops. I enjoyed a flight of beers at Los Muertos and they are much better than any of the other Mexican craft beer available locally in bottles. While they don’t live up to the quality of breweries in Tijuana, Ensanada, and other parts of Mexico, they are good enough to satisfy your craving for craft beer.
The first three beers were all overly thin and lacking in flavor. The blonde was almost like water. The wheat beer was a little better with some mild citrus notes and hints of lemon. The chili beer was most likely chilis added to the blonde and the chili notes were very mild, giving it very little heat. The amber ale made with agave was more flavorful, mixing notes of caramel and honey on a soft light body with very low bitterness.
The IPA was light and soft and emphasized a mild bitterness instead of aroma in the traditional style. It is clean and easy drinking but compared to the modern style of IPAs being made it falls short. The Hop On strong ale was soft and mild with roast and mild smoke and very low bitterness. This was a standout for me compared to the rest. The stout was super smooth with mild roast and a dry finish in the traditional dry Irish stout style.
After trying a few other local bottles, I would say Los Muertos is your best bet for beer in the area. Otherwise you might as well order margaritas. They have a fairly americanized food menu so we didn’t eat there. They also sell bottles you can bring back with you to your hotel room.
Despite the completely generic name, The Good Beer Company is anything but generic. I had heard great things about them prior to visiting from those who love sour and wild ales, though like many breweries experimenting with the style, having a flight of tasters can get quite expensive. I decided to stick to one full beer and ordered an apricot sour they had on tap. It was tart and dry with a strong apricot kick and a high overall acidity. I found the beer to be solidly above average.
I could tell that the brewery makes things in small batches and the tap list changes fairly regularly. Everything on tap was either a farmhouse ale, a wild ale, or a sour. Tasters range from $2 to $4 and so it made more sense to order a full pour of the apricot beer. They are in an old brick building and the place gets quite loud. In a future trip I hope to try some more of their varied offerings but what I tasted suggests that they are on the right track.
This is a place to visit if you enjoy farmhouse ales, wild ales, or sours.
Located in the heart of Santa Ana it is easy to overlook Cismontane despite having been open for five years now due to its proximity to fan favorites in Anaheim. However, the short distance can take a long time to travel during peak hours making Cismontane a great stop if you are staying in Santa Ana since it is close to John Wayne airport. I had a flight of five tasters and overall it was solidly average. While beer geeks driving down from LA or up from San Diego may not always stop here, it is a good spot for locals.
The CA Lager was smooth and clean with notes of caramel and fruit, a great rendition of the style. The Rye IPA was a mix of floral and pine on the nose and sticky and dank mouthfeel. It is a well-balanced IPA and not too bitter. The Sour Brown anniversary ale was a perfect balance of caramel and citrus tartness and true to style. The porter was strong on the dark fruit notes with tons of cherry and mild molasses. It wasn’t really my thing. The imperial stout on nitro was excellent with tons of roast and caramel with mild smoke, though also a bit dry, thus not so sweet.
Breakside also came highly recommended for my latest Portland trip. Most of the beers I had when I visited were solid but it is hard to follow something like Great Notion. They didn’t have any of their sours on tap, though I did bring a few home with me so I finish with some information about those sours. I had six tasters, mostly a mix of hoppy beers and stouts.
The pilsner was quite good with a good mix of spice and fruit and a mild bitterness at the finish. The Breakside IPA was a good balance of pine and fruity notes, a nice modern take on the Pacific Northwest style of IPA. I preferred this over the Wanderlust IPA, which was more dry and had strong notes of citrus with a mild bitter finish. Though part of that might be that they call Wanderlust “West Coast style” and I think they slightly missed the mark here.
I was very excited to try their salted caramel stout but I found it to be smoky and quite mildly sweet with minimal caramel. The bourbon barrel aged salted caramel had a thicker body and a solid bourbon finish with a good amount of sweetness and some mild salt. This was the highlight of the stouts for sure. The Breakside Stout had some notes of caramel and roast but it was overpowered by a strong bitter finish that I didn’t care for.
From what I had on tap I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to visit Breakside for stouts, though they are doing a good job with the modern hoppy beer styles. They also have a restaurant so the place was full of brunch crowds as well when we visited on an early Sunday afternoon.
I came home with a brett pale ale and dark sour. Both were quite good for the style and I’m glad I picked them up. The dark sour was especially nice and smooth without being overly tart.
Boxing Bear recently won some awards for their overall quality and it shows in the beers I tried. They have a nice roomy tasting room with plenty of seating. While they are a bit further out from central Albuquerque, they are worth the trip. Their pilsner was chewy and floral with a good crisp finish, one of the better pilsners of my trip. While it isn’t up to my favorites in San Diego, it is above average and very impressive. Their IPA was balanced and dank with a mild bitter finish. While it didn’t have a ton of aroma, the balance of flavors made it very drinkable.
I only tried the cider because of a friend’s request and it was quite fantastic, sporting mild apple sweetness and a crisp dry finish. Hopefully one day the brewery will be able to put this in six packs and grab the local college crowd that is now drinking Angry Orchard (owned by AB InBev). The chocolate milk stout was roasty and mildly sweet with notes of coffee. A solid milk stout, true to style. The Vanta Black was creamy and thick, mildly sweet with hints of licorrice and a dry finish. I didn’t much care for the liccorice notes but my husband enjoyed this one a lot. The slap happy double IPA was herbal and strongly bitter with mild fruit notes. I didn’t care for the herbal hops but it was a fairly average double IPA. I would recommend sticking with heir single IPA.
Bosque has a kitchen connected to their tasting room, located in a strip mall. They keep the indoor quite dark with the use of a number of shades, which is great, until someone opens a door and the bright outside light comes in. Their lager was super light body with some mild fruity hops. It was good but could have been better with just a bit more body and more malt character. The scotch ale was strongly boozy with notes of dark fruit. I would have liked it more if it was more restrained or more roasty. As is, it was fairly average.
The IPA was soft and fruity and not too bitter with some notes of perfumy hops. This was their best of the bunch, a good balanced IPA. The milk stout had notes of caramel and mild lactose sweetness with a creamy body on nitro. A solid milk stout, true to style. The Imperial Stout was intensely bitter, hoppy, and dry. I didn’t enjoy it either as a black IPA or an imperial stout. It didn’t have the aromas necessary to make a good black IPA or the roast character for a good stout. I especially would recommend staying away from this brewery if you don’t like hoppy beers. Their Elephants on Parade fruit beer was a nice mix of cranberry, raspberry, and grapefruit with tasty fruit character and not really tart.
Bosque had a few solid beers and is worth a stop if you are in the area. I liked the food selection they offered but we went in between meals so I didn’t try anything.
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)
I normally get my information about which breweries to hit in a city from Beeradvocate and Ratebeer forums. This sometimes works out wonderfully, when locals give a list of tons of places that I have to pick the cream of the crop from. Other times this is not so great when there aren’t a lot of well-recommended breweries in an area. In that case I may miss a few places or skip over local favorites entirely based on the opinions of people on a message board. Sadly in Madison, Wisconsin this meant I didn’t make the trek out to New Glarus (45 minutes outside of town) and didn’t visit Vintage brewing because I didn’t ask my friend for recommendations. Thankfully I got some crowlers from Vintage because my friend shared the wealth.
Karben 4 came highly recommended in Madison and I agree with the praise. Out of the Milwaukee breweries, Raised Grain was a clear winner though the locals indicated that they are still in somewhat early stages.
Karben 4 was the most recommended brewery out of all the Madison breweries and so it was my first stop, and turned out to be my only stop. I had a number of tasters and almost everything was excellent. They have a medium-sized tasting room with a kitchen and tons of variety.
I started with the Champagne Tortoise English mild style ale and was immediately impressed by the clean beer bursting with flavor. The beer was smooth and fruity and lightly sweet, without any noticeable bitterness. The Tokyo Sauna pale ale was bitter and mildly soapy/herbal with a smooth malt finish. I didn’t care for the hops in this one. The Nightcall smoked porter was smooth and balanced with tons of chocolate and caramel and a mild smoke on the finish.
The Fantasy Factory IPA was fruity with tons of citrus and a smooth malt backbone that was balanced by resinous hops. It was a solid IPA. Lady Luck imperial red was fantastic. I was glad to find an imperial red that wasn’t hopped to intense bitterness. The beer had tons of caramel and dark fruit with a mild roast at the finish. I could easily order more of this quite regularly if I was a local. Dragon Flute pale ale had tons of bright fruit showcasing tangerine and pineapple over a low malt bill and mild bitterness. I finished with the Idiot Farm double IPA, a delicious sticky sweet double IPA with tons of citrus and a balanced malt-backbone.
Since I didn’t get the scoop on other local breweries while I was there I might have just gone back to Karben 4 for more because of their impressive lineup. Though I didn’t like all the hoppy beers, they had two that were quite excellent. And one of the ones I didn’t like may have just been an old keg.
Champagne Tortoise English Mild
Lady Luck Imperial Red
Dragon Flute Pale
Idiot Farm Double IPA
Though I didn’t visit Vintage Brewing I did get to try four different beers thanks to a friend. It helps that they have a crowler machine so the beers stayed fresh over a few days.
The oaked pale was a fantastic smooth blend of a malt-forward IPA and a smooth oak bite at the finish. The oak removed any intense bitterness and the beer was quite popular among a group of people at a party who generally don’t like IPAs. The Toy Boat Toy Boat double IPA was deliciously fruity with a smooth balanced malt backbone of English malts. Hops came on strong with tons of sweet melon notes. I would love to visit the brewery the next time I am in town.
Raised Grain Brewing
Raised Grain is a ways to the west of Downtown Milwaukee but well worth the drive. I tried a number of different beers from them and almost everything was excellent. They have a nice medium-sized tap room with plenty of bar seating and a number of tables. They had sports on their TVs and you could tell the locals have become regulars.
The Naked Threesome was a delicious fruity pale ale with tons of grapefruit and a sticky caramel malt backbone. The Anniversary Stout was nutty with tons of vanilla and a smooth finish. Quite the tasty beer. The porter was an interesting mix of spice, cherry, mild smoke, and some burnt caramel notes. I found the cherry to be a bit much for my tastes though. The coffee stout on tap was delicious with tons of nutty coffee on the nose and the taste and a mild caramel finish. This was quite an excellent coffee stout.
Before I left, the bartender offered a smaller pour of their staple imperial red IPA. It was deliciously balanced with tons of citrus and pine from the hops and some mild caramel and bread notes from the malts. With so many red IPAs being total malt bombs this was quite refreshing. The scotch ale was smooth and fruity wish some mild oak at the finish.
Paradox Imperial Red IPA
Good City Brewing
Despite the name, I found only half of the four tasters I ordered here to be drinkable. They started out strong with a mosaic pale that had tons of tropical fruit and hints of mango without significant malts or bitterness. The session IPA was bursting with papaya and creamy malt backbone with a crisp dry finish. If the rest of the beers were as good I would be praising them along side Raised Grain. Sadly, the next two were not very good.
The Pale Lager had some notes of peaches and cherry with some quite prominent alcohol taste and a strong bitter finish. Though there was some mango in the finish as well, the bitterness and strong alcohol flavor killed it for me. Similarly, the double IPA had strong flavors of onion and a sticky sweet malt backbone. Though it had some fruity hop notes on the nose I got none of it in the taste. I was even more surprised to see that the brewery charged me just under $4 for the taster of this double IPA and almost $3 for each of the two IPAs. If I had noticed the $4 taster price on the board I would have passed it up out of principle. Charging twice as much for a pint as they do for a taster is ridiculous and hurts visitors who aren’t interested in ordering a full pint.
Though I didn’t care for the second half of my flight, the first two beers were quite impressive and show that the brewer knows how to work with hops and can get the right flavors from them at least some of the time. I will give the brewery the benefit of the doubt and assume that they messed up with the double IPA though I question selling a beer so clearly off the mark. Still, paying $12 for essentially one pint of beer just because they are in tasters is a poor way to treat customers who aren’t going to buy a pint until they have had a few tasters.
Black Husky Brewing
Black Husky doesn’t offer typical 4oz tasters but instead 7oz tasters, which makes their pricing slightly more reasonable even if they still annoyingly price things essentially against the people who order anything but a full pour. Visitors aren’t going to order full pints of things if they are visiting multiple breweries in a single day. It just doesn’t make sense. So because of their large tasters I went with essentially half pours of their two IPAs.
The IPA with Citra was smooth and presented tons of tropical fruit notes from the hops. The IPA with mosaic had tons of bitter grapefruit with hints of lime in the finish. Both IPAs were made well though they were noticeably quite similar in the malt behind them. I would have tried more beers there but the styles available didn’t pique my interest.
Black Husky has a very nice theme going and some relaxing seating in the tasting room. Sadly, the tasting room also got quite loud even when it wasn’t completely full. This didn’t make me want to stay very long. They are worth dropping by if you are craving a good IPA because the two IPAs I tried were nicely done.
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.
I’ve taken a lot of trips and visited a lot of breweries over the last three years. In most cities two or three breweries jump out as fantastic while others are usually pretty solid. Either I visited at a time when the breweries were in a slump or a number of the breweries I visited in my Sacramento trip were not up to snuff. Though Knee Deep, Moonraker, Mraz, and Black Vinyl Ale Project are a ways outside of the city itself, based on beeradvocate forums research they are considered Sacramento breweries by locals and they were recommended over others in the city itself. This suggests to me that the breweries I didn’t visit in the city must be even worse. After a while I just couldn’t stand the idea of hitting another brewery in the area. Because I was staying in the city I didn’t want to make the drive back to Auburn again to return to Knee Deep.
Knee Deep Brewing
Knee Deep is the only brewery of the entire trip that I had ever heard of prior to my research. Many readers may be familiar with their beers as their hoppy beers are pretty broadly distributed in California. I was glad to find out that they brew stouts as well and even a number of other styles that don’t usually make their way down. Because they had over seven double IPAs on tap I asked for a few recommendations of the freshest to taste and added a stout for my husband.
Big Sipper was super smooth with tons of citrus and tropical fruit. Hoptologist was really flavorful with tons of tropical fruit and citrus. Simtra was a bit resinous and bitter and yet super smooth for 11%. The beers seem to all have similar malt bills and so they all started to taste a little similar after a while. I should have stopped with those three hoppy beers because the Citra Extra Pale tasted a bit old and had lost the hop luster of a fresh brew. The imperial Fanilla was a tasty imperial porter that had tons of roast and strong vanilla in a thin body. The IPAs were all tasty but didn’t blow me away at the source like some other breweries. Mostly I found the IPAs to be a cut above the average but I’ve had better at a few San Diego breweries.
Knee Deep has a large tasting room with plenty of indoor seating, two separate bars, some outdoor seating, and room for food trucks. I was surprised to see a few people sitting outside even though it was quite hot when I visited. They had tons of bottles available for purchase and offered growler and crowler fills of most of the beers.
Come to Knee Deep for big strong hoppy beers. Almost everything they make is over 7%
Moonraker is only about a mile away from Knee Deep. They have a smaller tasting room that is able to stay nice and cool with a strong air conditioning. Around the time of my visit, their cloudy, juicy, IPAs were getting so popular that they had to restrict growler fills. Sadly, they didn’t live up to the beers that pioneered the style or even to some newer IPAs of a similar style that Modern Times has made.
The Yojo Deux was dank and citrusy with a cloudy yellow color and notes of mango and peach but it was unbalanced by a strong acidic finish. The Yojo 33 1/2 was slightly less cloudy and had hints of melon, pear, and green pepper. I thought the beer had an off-putting herbal finish that I didn’t really care for. The Dojo was also herbal and quite bitter and my least favorite of the bunch with a similar acidic finish to the first.
Chain Shot 7 was smooth but lacked significant aroma character. It is possible that I tried an off-batch of a few of these IPAs but I didn’t finish what I tried. It is a shame because I really liked the feel of their tasting room, which had plenty of seating, strong air conditioning, and good wi-fi.
Moonraker has recently gotten popular for cloudy juicy IPAs though I was not impressed by what I had.
Black Vinyl Ale House
Black Vinyl Ale House has been doing a number of sours and had quite an expansive tap list available but I didn’t enjoy the first flight enough to try anything else. I started with their citrus saison, which was the only good beer of the bunch. It was nice and earthy with fruity yeast character and a dry finish. The sour stout had a mild coffee base with a tart finish but overall quite average and didn’t taste like much.
The sour red tasted like balsamic vinegar so strongly that I couldn’t taste anything else. Though I’ve gotten acetic acid notes before I’ve never had anything this strong. The sour saison had a strong flavor of lime and a strong supporting ginger note and was quite acidic. It didn’t really taste like beer though if you like strong ginger and lime flavor you might enjoy this. The imperial stout presented mostly strong dark fruit with some mild roast, fairly average.
Black Vinyl has a long way to go before their sours are anywhere near the level that I would recommend them.
Mraz is the only brewery of the bunch that I want to give the benefit of the doubt because they had a fairly strong traditional sour program going at the time and the only sour on tap when I visited was a kettle sour and they had just started that program. I probably should have ordered a bottle of their sours to enjoy on site though outside of certain Belgian breweries, I review breweries based on what they have on tap. Mraz is also quite a long way away because they are on the other side of a large lake so that whether you are coming from the west or the east you are going to have to take a number of surface streets to get there.
Mraz was probably the only brewery besides Knee Deep that really impressed with hoppy beers. I really liked the House Party IPA they had which was super fruity and a good example of how to do a mosaic IPA. The plum (kettle) sour on the other hand was seriously lacking in flavor. Before leaving I tried splashes of the two other beers on tap that sounded interesting but they weren’t good enough for me to order more so I just left.
Mraz is known for sours and Belgian style beers though their kettle sours need a bit of work.
Track 7 was the most recommended of the breweries in Sacramento proper and they were quite crowded when I arrived on a Sunday around Noon. I got a feeling the special event going on drew larger crowds than usual. Because of the crowds they weren’t offering flights so I started with two half pints of two different IPAs. The beer tender I ordered from didn’t even know how to describe the differences between the different flavors of the IPAs available, which should have been a sign to leave and go do something else rather than visiting more breweries.
I tried the Sukahop first, their attempt at a cloudy juicy IPA. I found it had some juicy citrus notes with a strong herbal finish. While it shared some of the herbal notes I got at Moonraker, the beer was a big improvement over Moonraker. The Boomer’s Cut dominated with tropical fruit hops but had a strong alcohol taste on the finish that was quite off-putting. Since at the time they were only really serving IPAs and lighter pilsner style beers I stopped there in part to get away from the noisy crowd and long lines. I generally tend to dislike herbal hop notes in IPAs so if that is your thing you might like the Sukahop.
Visit Track 7 for IPAs
Though they had a large tap list I didn’t feel like drinking much more after the first four tasters. I started with the helles, which was above average. It was balanced with some nice fruity hop notes and a crisp finish. The three IPAs I had were all overly bitter and lacking in aroma such that I didn’t finish any of them. The single IPA on tap was malt forward and resinous but the bitterness dominated. The double IPA was more fruity with notes of caramel malts but again bitterness dominated and it was a malt bomb. The black IPA was all bitterness with no roast and only some mild smoky notes.
If you are into the new school aroma-dominant IPA, you won’t like much of anything at Device except the helles. Their IPAs were the worst of the whole trip. Some years ago I might have loved their IPA lineup but as I have progressed away from hunting out extreme bitterness, I find overpowering bitterness to be a sign of poor skills by the brewer. They had a nice dark feel inside with wi-fi but since it was impossible to go back to the helles after those bitter malt bombs I paid up and left each of the IPAs half drunk.
If you are considering a visit to Sacramento for beer, skip it and go to San Francisco instead where you will find much better breweries. If you are visiting Sacramento for business or other reasons, skip the breweries and go straight to the local beer bars where you will find much better San Diego and San Francisco options on tap and probably some Knee Deep without having to make the drive to the brewery.
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.