Karl Strauss has been putting on a big anniversary party for a number of years now. I talked to quite a few beer nerds at other events who always told me that this was one to go to. Some said they had been attending the Changing of the Barrels every year for four years or more. I quite enjoyed it this year though mainly because I really liked the new anniversary saison aged in wine barrels with pink peppercorns. It should be tasting great at next year’s event too assuming they save some for that. If you missed the event, the saison may be available at the breweries for a week or two after.
Karl Strauss has a large tasting-room location off the 5 freeway a few miles north of Balboa and Garnet. I would have enjoyed it more if they had not sold so many tickets because the area got incredibly crowded and the lines were somewhat long both for beer and food. If you grab a beer before getting in line for food, you likely finished your beer before you get to the front of the line. Same thing if you eat your food in the line for beer. They had two stations for beer as opposed to festivals I’m used to where the beer is spread out among 20+ tents. The lines did move fairly quickly thanks to everyone having their own glass already.
For the beers they had three sour beers, three versions of the new saison (standard, cask with strawberry, and nitro), two barrel-aged imperial stouts (a third variety was consumed by the VIP group), a 14% imperial stout, and the rest of the list was mostly their standard year-round beers. There were a few new beers that they recently released and most people probably hadn’t tried yet, including two new IPAs. As someone who visits Karl Strauss fairly regularly, I come to an event like this for the barrel-aged stuff and I found the options a bit limited.
I was the biggest fan of the new saison, which was incredibly balanced with a mix of funk, red wine character, and just a hint of peppercorn. The fruit in the cask version was quite subtle though it was a nice variation. Fear of the Tart, a barrel-aged dark sour was also quite nice and a lot lower alcohol than I normally see for a dark sour. This would make a nice year round sour if they could produce it more regularly. Another favorite of mine was the wild ride, a sour that uses Red Trolley as a base and is aged on raspberries. I had previously rated this beer quite highly at a sour festival and it was equally impressive here with a restrained sour finish. Sadly it ran out half way through the evening so I couldn’t go back for seconds.
As for the stouts, the 30th anniversary stood out as nicely attenuated for 14%. It hid the alcohol well and wasn’t overly sweet or syrupy as is common with beers that high of alcohol. It reminds me of the imperial stouts at Red Horn in northern Austin, which is quite impressive. It should age quite nicely between now and next year and I can hardly imagine how crazy it could get if aged in bourbon barrels. The barrel aged rye imperial stout was quite tasty and similarly dry though surprisingly thin for 12% as well. The 27th anniversary ran out before general admission got inside so I didn’t get to see how it was holding up. They had two newer IPAs including their Boat Shoes, a slightly hazy un-filtered beer they recently canned and Isomerizer, a mosaic IPA that is being canned soon.
I wasn’t sure what to expect for the food but with so many people they decided to have each food truck offer three different courses, separated by 45 minutes. Each individual serving was quite small and each time a new item was ready, people lined up to grab it. I would have assumed a wider variety of available food when buying the ticket. All of the food was meat-focused. Both food trucks did a great job with the food. Beer people didn’t seem excited by the salad so I got to get quite a few of those. Mastiff won the day for me with the delicious pig fries (potato served with pulled pork, sausage, and pork belly) and the pork nugs (crispy pork belly squares). Biersal served a delicious tri-tip sandwich with a tasty jalapeno chimichurri sauce.
As a vegetarian, I had no choice but to eat the meat served or miss out on a significant part of why I bought the ticket and drink on an empty stomach. Thankfully I don’t have any health conditions that prevent me from eating meat but not all vegetarians have the same luxury. I don’t expect breweries to have vegetarian options at all events but it would be nice if they made a note on the site that food was likely to be all meat-focused. I would have been able to adjust my expectations accordingly. Of course they did advertise two meat-focused food trucks but Mastiff does make some amazing vegan sausages.
As for the overall experience, I found the lines much longer than ideal. However, without setting up jockey boxes around the seating area the only way to change that is to sell less tickets. Since both my general admission ticket and my mom’s designated driver tickets included a bottle of the barrel-aged saison, a beer that I quite enjoyed, I was still overall satisfied. It had a unique taste from other local barrel-aged saisons. We got to taste next year’s beer as a preview which I assume will be aged in some sort of barrel for next year. Even if they don’t barrel age it, the 30th anniversary imperial stout should age nicely by next January.
Considering the reasonable ticket price of $45 for general admission including food, beers, and a bottle the Changing of the Barrels event was a solid value. Though I was slightly irked by the lines they could have been a lot worse. And the lines for the food somewhat stopped me from over-eating.
San Diego Beer Week has been around for a few years now. Many other cities do similar things where they have special events for the week. Some people in San Diego think the whole idea is silly because we have fantastic beer available all year round. Still, I found the events to be interesting enough that I am glad to have taken part. All these special events can get quite expensive but even more so if you go to all the bigger festivals and pay for a round trip on Uber. Thankfully I was able to get someone to be the designated driver for most days so that I didn’t drive under the influence.
Day 1 – Alpine and Green Flash Takeover at O’Brien’s Pub
Day 1 of San Diego Beer Week 2015 started at O’Brien’s pub, a place I returned multiple times during the week because it is the closest bar that had special things going on. For Alpine and Green Flash takeover night they brought a bunch of Green Flash Cellar 3 beers as well as many delicious Alpine IPAs. Having recently visited Alpine to taste HFS IPA, I split a pitcher of this fantastic IPA with a friend, though I ended up giving him 2/3 of my second glass because I got him a Flanders Drive from Cellear 3 and he didn’t like it. My husband later joined us and had a glass of Odin’s Raven imperial stout from Alpine that I helped him with. I was surprised they poured this in a pint because it is so strong.
Day 2 – Sour Day at O’Brien’s Pub
I showed up around 2PM at O’Brien’s Pub for their sour beer takeover. At $4 a taster, or $24 for 6 5oz tasters it was an expensive visit (one that would be repeated later in the week) but the beers were quite delicious and I was able to sip them for a while. This is also normal price for sours anywhere you find them. I had the delicious Almanac Valley of the Heart’s Delight (an apricot sour), Karl Strauss Wild Ride, Russian River Supplication (a sour made with cherries and aged in wine barrels) Manzanita Brewing 5th Anniversary (their first ever wild ale), and The Bruery’s Oude Tarte (2013). All of them were quite tasty but I especially liked the Valley of the Heart’s Delight. Both Karl Strauss and Manzanita’s offerings were well-done and tasted like proper sours. The atmosphere at the sour day was nice and calm so I was able to chat with people outside and at some point read without a noisy crowd. I stuck to these five tasters so that I could drive home safely.
Day 3 – Award Winning Coffee Beers at Pizza Port Ocean Beach
In the mid-afternoon on Sunday my husband and I visited Pizza Port Ocean Beach for their award winning coffee beer day, which included their own recent bronze winning Bacon and Eggs coffee stout, Beachwood Brewing’s recent silver winning Pablo Escobeer (a Colombian coffee stout on nitro) and New English Brewing’s recent gold winning Zumbar imperial coffee and chocolate stout. I had a pint of the Bacon and Eggs for the first time that day and it was really delicious, giving me plenty of smooth nutty coffee that also had a nice caffeine bite. My husband really enjoyed the Beachwood offering on nitro as well. Then I ordered a glass of the 18th Anniversary from Firestone Walker (most likely a hold over from a previous barrel-aged event). This was a fantastic beer, blending a variety of different barrel aged beers. We also enjoyed a slice of the brunch pizza that they had along with the beers and it paired really nicely with the coffee stouts.
On our way back we stopped by Alesmith for their barrel aged beer day, which meant a flight of Beer Geek Speedway, Jamaican Blue Mountain Speedway, Velvet, and Bourbon Barrel Aged Speedway. I had heard mixed things about the Beer Geek Speedway in the past but I thought it was quite tasty. Jamaican Blue Mountain was tasting smooth as usual. And of course Velvet is the most smooth of the bunch. I’m still surprised by how fast the bottles sold out when it was put on sale but it is a delicious beer. Velvet is a bourbon barrel aged version of Jamaican Blue Mountain with vanilla added.
Day 4 – Imperial Stout Release at Duck Foot Brewing and Green Flash 13th Anniversary Beer Release
I visited Duck Foot to start off my Monday for their new Ukrainian Imperial Stout release. The beer had a delicious caramel kick with some dark chocolate notes despite not having any adjuncts added. After our first sip of the taster, we ordered an 8 ounce to share as well. They also released a raspberry version later in the week but I didn’t get around to try that. They also filled six barrels that previously held Heaven Hill Bourbon with this beer for a future barrel-aged release. Based on the delicious base beer, I am very excited to see how this turns out.
Green Flash released their Handshake IPA as their 13th Anniversary beer. This is a collaboration IPA with Alpine. The beer is a smooth IPA with a strong grapefruit flavor. I was glad to see a few other Alpine beers available as well on tap, including HFS, Bad Boy, Hop Box, and their Ales for ALS IPA. I had an 8 ounce of the HFS and an 8 ounce of the ALS IPA. Both were delicious. I really liked the light flavors of the ALS IPA and the solid grapefruit flavor.
Day 5 – Beer and Cheese Pairing at The Winesellar and Brasserie
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this beer and cheese pairing but it turned out to be a mini beer festival of sorts. They had a medium-sized room with five breweries and one meadery and two more breweries outside. In all they had Iron Fist, Port Brewing/Lost Abbey, Saint Archer, New English, Golden Coast Mead, Helms, Duck Foot, and Helix. Each of them was pouring four ounce pours of two different beers in a wine glass we got at the beginning. They also had cheese at each of the different stations that you could grab to eat with crackers to go with your beers.
Some of the highlights of this event for me were the Double IPA from Duck Foot, tasting really fresh that evening, Iron Fist’s Saison, New English Zumbar imperial stout, and the sour mead from Golden Coast Mead. Some friends chose to boycott Saint Archer because of their recent sale to Miller/Coors but I like their coffee brown ale so I had a little of that. The only downside to the event was that they didn’t have much bread available. Some fresh bread showed up a few times during the event but it disappeared so fast I didn’t get much. This was a great little intimate event and I was able to try some interesting cheese and beer pairings.
Day 6 – Fieldwork Takeover at O’Brien’s and Modern Times Takeover at Regent’s Pizzeria
Fieldwork brewing is a relatively new brewery up in Berkeley that was started by some brewers who formerly brewed for Modern Times. I got to visit them recently (my blog post will be coming up soon) and was impressed by their beers so I was glad to have another chance to try their beers locally. I was surprised when I noticed that a good number of the beers were different than the selection they had when I visited the brewery only a short time ago. I don’t know if they brew especially small batches but I really enjoyed the beers I had. I ordered a pint of the Shoreline IPA and a pint of the Gray Wolf double IPA. My husband joined me later and ordered a pint of the Morning Time Coffee Stout.
The Shoreline IPA was quite delicious and had many of the same flavors they described on the board, including citrus and jack fruit. The Gray Wolf double IPA was brewed with Nelson and Hallertau hops and it had a perfect fruity and citrus blend with a surprisingly low bitterness and delicious finish. My husband was satisfied with his Morning Time Coffee Stout. Modern Times brought a ton of beers to Regent’s Pizzeria and I only ordered their Monster’s Park Imperial Stout. It was good and thick with plenty of coffee and chocolate flavors. I was glad to see the massive beer selection at the place in person and will hope to visit them soon to see how the pizza is.
Day 7 – Speedway Grand Prix
The Speedway Grand Prix is something that I have done every year since I tried it the last time they had it at O’Brien’s. Each year they have 12 varieties of Speedway Stout available in 3 separate 2oz flights. I tend to go share with my mom and my neighbor because we each enjoy different flavors and so everyone enjoys what they have. Each year they also ask you to rate your favorite flavors so that they can see what was best received and possibly make that one again in larger quantities. Because the list of the different beers is available below along with my ratings I won’t go into all of the different beers, except for a few that really stood out.
I quite enjoyed the Triple Hammerhead, a coffee explosion of flavor that had a nice bitter after taste. It has a smooth espresso kick. I also really liked the Butterfinger flavor, with the right mix of peanut butter and caramel while not being overwhelming sweet. Peanut Butter and Jelly was really nice with Raspberries added that gave it just the right amount of sweet kick to balance the nuts. The hazelnut was also very smooth and had a nice addition of chocolate that balanced it out. Oatmeal Raisin Cookie and Sour Cherry were my two other favorites. I was surprised by how much the Oatmeal Raisin reminded me of the cookie.
There were also a few special versions of Speedway on tap, including a Pu-Erh tea variety and a separate Autumn blend that didn’t have as overpowering maple flavor as the other maple one. The Pu-Erh was so good I could barely distinguish it from other coffee varieties. The beer has some inherent coffee flavors that are still there without coffee added. They also had Reforged on tap, their anniversary blend of various bourbon barrel aged beers. Others reported that they had different specialty beers if you went on Wednesday or Friday instead. It was really a fantastic experience.
Day 8 – Barrel aged Beer Day at O’Briens
I returned to O’Briens for the last time to have some big barrel aged beers. I tried a number of barrel aged beers but I should have stuck with the ones from more well-known breweries because I was not very impressed by the barrel aged old ale from Widmer and Cigar City or the Rye Ale Sierra Nevada brewed for O’Brien’s 20th anniversary. Both were a bit lighter in body and lacking in the punch of some of the others. What I really did enjoy was the Uncle Jacob’s Stout (a 16.9% bourbon barrel aged beer from Avery Brewing) and Firestone Walker’s Parabola (a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout). If I go to a similar event in the future I would get more Firestone Walker offerings and some Lost Abbey stuff.
Day 9 – Bourbon Barrel Aged Day at New English
New English decided that rather than simply barrel aging their Zumbar imperial stout, they also put their brown ale in bourbon barrels. For this event they had five varieties of brown ale aged in bourbon barrels plus some other things and their Zumbar Imperial Stout aged in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels. Though they had flights available I decided to only try three of the varieties since I had done so many flights this week already. The Heaven Hill aged Brown Ale had a really nice bourbon flavor, a little less sweet than the Woodford Reserve varieties. In comparison the 2013 Woodford Reserve aged version was a lot sweeter and more smooth though it lacked the same bourbon kick. The Heaven Hill aged Zumbar was absolutely delicious. The beer was silky smooth and the bourbon really accented the coffee and chocolate flavors of the beer. It came close to some of the better barrel aged beers the previous day, though it was not as high in alcohol as either of my favorites. I was overall quite impressed by the different ones I tried and very much look forward to having more of that Heaven Hill aged brown ale in the future.
Day 10 – Coffee, Donuts, and Stout at Benchmark Brewing
After the festivities of previous days, I wanted to keep things light. Thankfully Benchmark expected this and planned their second annual coffee, donuts, and stout. They offered a flight with tasters of their oatmeal stout and imperial stout plus a cold brew coffee on nitro and coffee infused versions of the oatmeal stout and imperial stout on cask. This was just the right amount to share with two others while enjoying the donuts they had along with it. Though I don’t regularly eat donuts, I really liked their peanut butter version and the coconut one. Both of the coffee added casks were delicious. They also paired really well with the beers. I preferred the imperial stout version but my neighbor liked the more subtle flavors of the coffee in the oatmeal stout.
I had a really great time with all of these events this week, though I will be taking a few days off to let my body recover after all that. It is hard to pick a favorite event but I think the best few events I visited were the barrel aged beer day at O’Briens, Speedway Grand Prix, and the Barrel Aged day at New English. What can I say? I love the imperial stouts.
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.
Modern Times hosted a beer festival called The Festival of Dankness on August 22, 2015 to benefit BikeSD, a charity that is dedicated to making San Diego more bike friendly. This beer festival focused primarily on hoppy beers but also had a few other styles to taste as well. To make the festival more bike friendly, the festival was held in Downtown San Diego at the new Waterfront Park that is easily accessible by bike, trolley, train, and bus. I was able to grab a ride down and take a bus most of the way home with ease.
Among the breweries featured were some big name local breweries (Stone, Coronado, Rip Current, Alpine, Modern Times), some other California breweries (Monkish, Cellarmaker, Noble Ale Works, Almanac, Three Weavers, Knee Deep), and a number of out-of-state breweries (Boneyard, De Garde, Cigar City, Half Acre). Most of them brought along their best hoppy beers and a few brought along some sours or other styles. Rip Current even brought along a bock beer that was very popular as well.
This was my first time attending a beer festival. In the past I have volunteered to pour beer and enjoyed the experience but I usually don’t want to pay the money or have an easy way to get to the festival without driving. Modern Times did a great job organizing the event and everything ran smoothly. VIPs were given an extra hour before everyone else and even as a general admission ticket holder I didn’t miss out on anything because of it. I found that it was absolutely worth getting in line 40 minutes before the event started so that I could beat the crowds. It is better to leave early after trying what you want than to miss out on things and face longer lines. I left about 45 minutes early once I had what I wanted to try.
I tasted a total of 37 beers (in 2 ounce tasters) so I won’t try to review everything I tried. However, I will give a rundown of some of the most impressive beers I tasted. Some were predictably awesome, like the two special beers Modern Times was pouring, Floating World (an IPA made with South African Hops) and Mega Blazing (an imperial version of the popular Blazing World) and others gave me some indication that I absolutely have to visit certain out of state breweries at one point (though visiting Almanac is not possible currently because they don’t have a tasting room).
My favorite beers from the festival were the following: Modern Times Floating World and Mega Blazing, Boneyard Notorious IIIPA, De Garde Bruinette, Highland Park Raised Eyebrows, Monkish Rara Avis and Selah, Phantom Carriage Mosaic Muis, Almanac Citra Sour, Three Weavers Session IPA and Rye IPA.
I was already a big fan of Monkish and it was great to try some awesome specialty brett beers that they don’t make available to the public generally. The two they brought were both delicious. Three Weavers surprised me because I hadn’t heard much about them before despite being up in LA so I will absolutely be stopping by Three Weavers the next time I am in town. They are quite close to El Segundo Brewing as well, a brewery I skipped at the festival because I had their beers before. Highland Park brewery surprised me with a complex sour from a small brewery I did not know existed. The brewery opened inside a bar up in LA called The Hermosillo. Based on what I tasted it is worth visiting them when you are in town.
Overall I was very impressed by the selection of beers offered at the Festival of Dankness and it was a great time to be had by all, though I did leave with some minor sun burns. It was really great to be able to have so many breweries present that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to visit very easily. I hope they will have a similar event next year.