Mason Ale Works is a brewery I haven’t covered mostly because when restaurants add in a brewery after the fact, it seems like an after thought. I saw that they had opened a new tasting room not far from New English Brewing company up in a residential area of Carmel Valley that I had never visited before. I made my way out on a warm Summer day to see if the space was worth returning to.
First off, a note on service. Regular readers know I don’t usually say much about service because beer is what matters. But the person serving me during my visit to Mason Ale Works seemed to really hate my questions about the beers. One question I asked was how their flagship beer was different than the Rye IPA and I got a curt reply that “It is an IPA with Rye.” He either really wanted me to buy a flight or didn’t know his beers enough to give serious answers. Either way, this is not typical in the San Diego beer scene. As some of you may know, I stopped ordering flights once $3 tasters became common. Even with the slight discount, 4 tasters here is $10, which is more than I want to spend for that much beer.
Beer wise, I started with a pint of their session IPA which thankfully kicked (I got the last of the keg). At first I thought great, a free half pint. But I couldn’t even drink more than 1/4 of what I was served before going up to pay for a pint of something else. While I generally complain about San Diego session IPAs being overly bitter, this one was just overly tasteless. Or to put it another way, completely lacking in any hop character at all. They might as well have simply called it a session ale but even then it was overly sweet and extremely generic. Thankfully the other beers I tasted were good.
I was with my mom on this visit and since she has been avoiding hoppy beers lately I ordered her a pint of the Mexican Lager. While not the best lager I’ve had, it was still quite good, and had a lot more flavor than the session IPA I started with. The beer had a nice dry finish and a light hop kick. I finished with a pint of their core IPA. While described as a typical West Coast IPA it was thankfully a more modern take on the style, meaning less bitterness than was standard when the style first became popular. It was a nice example of the style and had prominent grapefruit notes with mild resin in the background.
As for the space, they had air conditioning inside and a nice shady outdoor area in the back. The breeze was cool enough that the outdoor seating was perfectly pleasant. If I lived within walking distance I could see myself returning but since it is a bit far from anything else, I likely won’t return very often. For those of you who don’t like beer, they also serve wine and spirits.
Stave and Nail has been in the works for a while. It is an offshoot of Rip Current headed by the same person who runs the sour program at Rip Current. The two spots are so close that you can easily visit both in the same visit. Though today’s visit suggests most people coming for Stave and Nail are not interested in going to Rip Current in the same trip. Most of them have likely already been there many times and so it no longer interests them.
I visited mostly to try various sour beers they had available. The beers were fairly standard for a new brewery starting out a sour program, indicating they are on the right track and should develop further given time. I started with a pink guava and raspberry beer that had a prominent guava flavor with a funky bitter finish. The peach sour was strongly tart with mild notes of white cake behind it. A second guava sour, the one released in bottles on the day of my visit, was funky and nicely balanced with a dry finish though overall quite subtle.
During my visit I also tried a few sips of their double IPA and imperial milk stout. I got the IPA for my mom to try and found it overly sweet with lots of vanilla notes and grassy hop character. The milk stout was strongly bitter with notes of molasses and lingered on the tongue in the finish. It blended nicely with the coconut flavors. I was surprised to see so many people grabbing four packs of these beers without even trying them. After tasting them, I wasn’t excited to leave with either of them. I certainly recommend you visit them for sours over IPAs or stouts.
Stave and Nail is a solid new operation and a welcome addition to San Marcos now that Toolbox has left. Given the lack of breweries in the area offering sours except Belching Beaver and a few sours at Rip Current next door it should be well received. I didn’t find the beer to be so exciting that I would suggest you take a special trip to visit them if you are in another area of San Diego. This is especially true as it seems the number of sours showing up in liquor stores from around California and surrounding states continues to increase regularly.
Known for: Come if you are interested in trying a variety of small batch barrel aged sour beers. Some of them are spontaneously fermented using locally harvested yeast. All of the sour beers had fruit added when I first visited.
Note: Stave and Nail is a small operation and as such will be only open one weekend a month initially. They are planning on releasing new beers in bottles each month.
Grimm is one of the more hyped Brooklyn area breweries, almost to the level of Other Half. They are also the one brewery I visited that we get in distribution in San Diego, often for their pop series of beers, fruited kettle sours made with lactose for sweetness. The tasting room was a moderate walk from KCBC and while busy was not excessively so. Knowing now how busy Threes can get, I would have preferred to have stayed a bit longer before moving on.
I wasn’t in the mood for hazy IPAs at the time so I skipped the hazy double IPAs and went straight for some barrel aged sours. I had previously had only their kettle sours. I started with William of Okham, a nice oak aged golden ale that had notes of lemon and white cake with nice restrained acidity. I finished with a taster of Spooky Action, a beer inspired by the Belgian Oud Buin style, a sour red ale often brewed with cherries. It was much more mellow than most versions, lacking the intense acidity or strong vinegar taste that it often exhibits. The beer was a lovely blend of caramel malts and mild cherry notes.
I left Grimm with a bottle of one of their pastry stouts, a beer inspired by pecan pancakes. I am excited to share this beer with my Husband. Like Other Half, Grimm appeared to have a variety of beers left over from prior releases so there was a wide selection of beers available to go.
Known for: Come for fruited kettle sours, big pastry stouts, and hazy double IPAs.
Threes was the closest brewery to my Airbnb. What I didn’t expect was just how slammed it would be on a warm sunny day. Because they have an outdoor seating area, they get especially crowded on a warm sunny day. Perhaps this time was more so because rain was forecasted for the next few days. This was one of the most crowded brewery experiences I’ve had. It was standing room only and even more crowded in their outdoor area. A few lucky groups with tables were also those who had ordered food.
I ordered a pint of the table beer, a delicious session saison with mild citrus notes. I quickly finished the beer and bought two four packs to go, one of the pilsner, and one of the foeder fermented pilsners. I was eager to get out and sit somewhere. I had a can of each of the two pilsners back in my room and enjoyed both of them, especially the foeder fermented one.
Given you can find cans from Threes at grocery stores around the city, I may not visit the brewery directly again. It gets quite crowded, even more than Other Half.
I had not heard of Folksbier before the day I visited Other Half. I had planned to meet up with another beer fan. While things didn’t work out, he suggested Folksbier for after Other Half. Since it was just a short walk down the street and not as hyped, I happily stopped by after leaving Other Half.
Folksbier serves food and has more of an upscale vibe to it than Other Half. I immediately ordered the Berliner Weisse, as I have been craving a satisfying version for some time. This particular version was made with a blend of multiple citrus fruits. The citrus gave it a lovely tart flavor but didn’t overpower the complex base beer, which was a nice mix of funky and tart. I enjoyed this beer so much that I ordered two pours before I left.
After the first beer I was ready for a lager and trusted the Helles would be excellent. The helles was so good my only disappointment is I didn’t immediately order a full 14 ounce pour. The beer was soft and delicious with notes of hay and citrus. The only other beer that came close in flavor during this trip was the Foeder aged pilsner from Threes brewing.
Since I didn’t get to try their IPAs during my stop, I don’t know if they were any good but I would especially recommend this spot to those looking to try traditional styles, the opposite of Other Half’s hyped hazy IPAs and pastry stouts.
Known For: Come to Folksbier for classic German styles done well. They also have a few hoppy beers.
KCBC is short for Kings County Brewers Collective. I made the trek out because they came highly recommended by a friend and were not far from Grimm. (It is about a mile walk between the two). I started with their lager, which was fairly standard but good enough. The beer had a nice soft body but didn’t have the same level of flavor as the helles the previous day, perhaps due to a lower amount of hops used.
I next ordered their beer called Iceberg Zombie, a Berliner Weisse with tons of berry character. I found this the more impressive of the two. The beer had prominent berry acidity and a nice dry finish. It had just the right amount of fruit so as to not overpower the base beer but also not so subtle you barely notice it.
I liked the fairly open tasting room though even at half capacity it got quite noisy. They had a wide variety of cans available. Though I could have gotten a crowler of Iceberg Zombie, I’m glad I didn’t because I had quite a bit of walking ahead of me.
KCBC is known for their big double IPAs but they also can make an excellent fruited Berliner weisse.
I previously visited Other Half during a visit to NYC during June of 2017 in which I also visited Kane and LIC Beer Company. Since that visit I have had Other Half beer at a few beer festivals. I have been impressed every time both by the incredible triple IPAs and barrel aged stouts. Most recently I enjoyed Other Half’s beers at a festival organized by Horus Aged Ales and Hop Culture. This introduced me to the triple daydream series, which I did not realize at the time meant they added lactose to the beer. It was much more subtle than the usual addition.
I was glad to see that during the time I was going to be in Brooklyn this year Other Half was likely to have cans available of Triple Mosaic Daydream and DDH Citra Daydream. I was not surprised one bit when the tasing room was packed on a Friday night. It seems to be packed most nights but especially around the weekends. Prepared for that, I ordered tasters of two triple daydreams that I did not plan to pick up in cans (Nelson and Citra) and enjoyed those tasters before leaving with my four packs of cans. Though I generally avoid tasters at breweries now, Other Half is one of the few spots where the triple IPAs are priced the same per ounce for tasters as for half pours.
Both Nelson and Citra triple daydreams were incredible and burst with hop flavors that I expect when I hear of those two hops. Triple Nelson Daydream reminded me of some recent Nelson hop beers from Cellarmaker. Triple Citra Daydream was similar with a slightly more citrus forward character. Both beers were thick and creamy with just a hint of sweetness from the lactose. Note: from rumors I have read, it is difficult to tell if the lactose used in beers is from actual cow milk or simply synthetic sweetener. The amount used in these beers is fairly minimal compared to other big stouts that use the same type of lactose. If the addition of any amount of lactose bothers you, then you might want to avoid visiting Other Half.
Though Other Half had a few stouts available, none of them were barrel aged so I stuck to the two daydreams I ordered and left shortly after that to another nearby brewery. I could only stand so much of the boisterous and somewhat claustrophobic atmosphere. Despite the crowds, I was glad to see that the limits of the cans had gone up since my last visit, though I would be unlikely to leave with more than 4 four packs from a spot unless I planned to uber back.
After leaving the brewery, I have enjoyed cans of both of the beers I picked up. I also shared a few cans with friends, including one who resisted the idea of wanting to try a triple IPA. Both beers lived up to my expectations. This is the one brewery whose triple IPAs I crave and jump at the chance to try. The triple mosaic daydream was similar from the can to the other two mentioned above but tended more towards notes of ripe melon.
Other Half remains one of my top 5 hazy IPA breweries in the country years after my previous trip. It is no wonder that their beers are still regularly traded. Their beers deftly highlight the flavors of hops that drew most people into the hazy/juicy IPA style in the first place.
Known for: Come to Other Half if you love hazy IPAs or big pastry stouts. Those are the two styles they excel at the most.