Henhouse Brewery was our first stop on our second day. After visiting the main brewery location, I was told that they have a sour brewery location elsewhere although this is only a review of the main brewery location. They have a large building which has a decent amount of indoor seating and fairly large outdoor seating area. Like other breweries in the area, pints were a better deal than tasters so that is what I stuck to here and elsewhere.
I started with their house saison which was super dry with lingering notes of black pepper, mild bitterness, and hints of pear. After that I ordered their beer titled independent AF IPA. The beer was hazy thanks to the addition of wheat malt. It was hazy in appearance but not particularly juicy. The beer had tons of hop aroma with notes of papaya and an herbal bitter finish. I left with cans and they have been enjoyable once I returned home.
Moonlight is known primarily for their dark lager titled death and taxes. It was strangely cold in their tasting room when we stopped by and there was also a painting class going on so we didn’t stay too long although the few beers that I had were quite excellent.
I started with their Pilsner which was nice and traditional, classic and dry with notes of hay and overall easy drinking. The beer is served as a full half liter. I had tried their death and taxes beer before so when I saw that they had a beer called boney fingers, a slightly stronger version they make for Halloween, I ordered that immediately. The beer was roasting and mildly smoky with notes of dark chocolate and perfectly balanced. I grabbed a four pack before I left and am glad I did because the two I have opened so far were quite excellent.
I finished with a low alcohol saison called Wee Nibble. The beer was dry and lightly herbal with hints of lemon and banana. It was a solid version of the style. Moonlight seems to make some of the more traditional beers of the breweries I visited and so would make a good spot for someone to visit who is there for Russian River primarily.
Before leaving town, we made our way to a brewery called woodfour, known for its barrel aged beers and sours. They have a spacious indoor seating area and large outdoor deck with covered seating.
I started with their Berliner weisse, a beer that they spontaneously ferment. It was hazy yellow with subdued tartness and notes of peach and mild funk. If I had any room left in my suitcase, I would have bought some cans to bring home because it was quite excellent. Rather than having a version with fruit added, they offer you to order the beer with syrup although I prefer to drink plain.
Next was there wild Saison called Brett mother. It was intensely funky with notes of acorns, mild lemon, and grapefruit that comes out as it warms up. The first few sips took some getting used to but I grew to enjoy the beer before I finished the glass. I finished with their sour farmhouse ale which was intensely tart with notes of green papaya and peach and as you get used to the beer the funky base comes through with notes of earthy malts and hints of acorns. I don’t know if it was this particular beer or the fact that I was drinking three sour beers in a row, but I was unable to finish my third beer. I think perhaps their house yeast didn’t agree with my stomach in such large quantities.
Woodfour has a special style slightly different from other sour breweries out there so it’s hard to compare them to my favorites. They certainly have achieved a nice house yeast flavor that is distinguishable between their sours. They also had a lovely dark lager with coffee that my husband enjoyed while he was there.
Visit Woodfour if you are interested in trying some unique sour and funky beers.
North Park is a thriving residential neighborhood with tons of bars and restaurants and now breweries. I am going to list all of the breweries and also highlight some of my favorites. There are really two smaller clusters of breweries, one along El Cajon Boulevard and one along University Avenue.
Furthest South in North Park area is Modern Times’ satellite tasting room nestled among various restaurants. They focus on hazy IPAs, barrel aged stouts, and sours and you can pick up limited amounts of their cans from this location. If you want their barrel aged sours, the selection is wider at the main brewery. Thorn Street is not far down the road, easily walkable with their brewery location where they largely stick to traditional styles. Neither of these locations has food.
On your way up to University Avenue, you will pass Mike Hess brewing, a large tasting room that is usually crowded. I haven’t visited them in years and suggest you stick to other nearby stops instead. My fellow beer blogger Craft Beer in San Diego considers Hess one of his favorites so perhaps I am just missing something. Check their tap list first to see if the beers interest you. Also on University is North Park Brewing, a young brewery that partnered with Mastiff Sausages for their kitchen. They have excellent food and vegan options (including vegan sausage). This is one of my favorite places to visit in the area because they have excellent IPAs and also brew the occasional flavorful low alcohol beer, sometimes an English mild or dark lager. I end up drinking their mild beers so often I forget to order the IPAs. Lately they have started brewing the occasional hazy IPA and some have turned out quite good.
A short walk north from there, you will pass Toronado bar on your way to Rip Current’s North Park tasting room, Belching Beaver’s north park tasting room, and Second Chance’s small neighborhood spot. Toronado is a local favorite featuring a variety of beers on tap. Rip Current is known for excellent IPAs, but they also brew fantastic German styles, stouts, and barrel-aged stouts. Belching Beaver is mostly known for their IPAs. They recently started making some hazy IPAs and also have a young sour beer program with the original brewer and blender behind the now closed Toolbox brewing. Second Chance makes excellent beers to style and is one of the few local breweries that makes an excellent Irish red that is available year round.
Once you reach Belching Beaver you are fully into the El Cajon Blvd part of town where you can find Tiger Tiger, Pariah, Eppig, A hard Kombucha brewer, Home Brewing, Barn Brewing. Further North you will find Fall Brewing, Poor House. Of these my favorite is Fall but Pariah and Eppig are great too. Tiger Tiger is connected with Blind Lady Ale House and serves their house beers from Automatic Brewing on draft along with a variety of local beers. All pints there are served in imperial pint glasses, giving you a full half liter.
Pariah and Eppig opened around the same time and both have excellent beers. Pariah I visit mostly for IPAs though they have a variety of styles available. Eppig I mostly visit for lagers including one of the best dark lagers in town. I haven’t yet visited their neighboring hard kombucha spot and don’t plan to because I drink kombucha as an alternative to beer and prefer my home brew.
Home Brewing is a quirky spot connected to a home brew mart but they have been doing quite a few interesting collaborations and can releases lately that tend to be good. It is a good spot to visit if you want to learn about some more obscure styles. I haven’t been to Barn brewing yet and don’t expect to anytime soon. Nobody talks about them in my circles and I assume they have a more local following. They are owned by the same people who opened Poor House.
Fall Brewing is a local staple both for excellent IPAs and lagers. They also brew a variety of other styles reliably well. I tend to order their English Pale Ale there simply because nobody else does a beer like that around town like they do. Poor House is a quirky neighborhood brewery that I haven’t been to in many years. They are similar to Barn in that nobody really talks about them but they are still around so I assume they have a following as well.
Further East along Adams you will find Kensington Brewing and Blind Lady Ale House home of Automatic Brewing. Kensington Brewing I have been to only once and don’t expect to return. They have a similar neighborhood feel and lack the excellence of others in the area. Blind Lady Ale House is a restaurant focusing on pizza and serves their house beers from Automatic Brewing along with a variety of other guest beers. They also serve all their pints in imperial pint glasses giving you a full half liter. If you haven’t heard of Automatic Brewing don’t be surprised. They hardly market themselves as a brewery online. But they do make some great beer.
It is common for people to take a trip to Russian River brewery in the Santa Rosa area. Most people will go just for that one brewery but there are many others around that are worth visiting in their own right or stopping by if you don’t feel like waiting for a table at Russian River. I decided to make a trip to the Santa Rosa area to visit these breweries and see which ones stand out to me.
Shortly after landing, I stopped by Fogbelt brewery. It was quite noisy inside as is typical for Friday nights at breweries. Their pricing made sense to order pints because it was five or six dollars a pint as opposed to two or three dollars a taster. I started with their wet hop Redwood Hill IPA. The beer had a copper color with earthy and piney hops nicely balanced with a malt base and medium lingering bitterness. It reminded me of a slightly more resinous version of blind pig and Russian River. Notes of orange blossom come through as it warms up.
I ended with a dark sour called Methuselah that was nicely balanced with notes of caramel and raisins with a smooth oaky finish and hints of red wine, cherry, and dates. Before I left I noticed they had some Carolina reaper hot sauce, hot sauce made with one of the spicy is peppers on the planet. When I asked for a taste, they brought me a chip and a little bit of hot sauce and it was delightfully flavorful and spicy such that I left with two bottles. If you are a fan of extremely spicy hot sauces, make sure you stop by just for that. This hot sauce has become part of my regular rotation at home and I’m glad I got two.
If you are not a fan of noisy breweries, I would suggest avoiding fog belt on Friday nights. They also came highly recommended for their food, although I did not try any because our flight was delayed quite a bit and we arrived after having already eaten. Fogbelt is worth a stop if you enjoy more traditional approach to your hoppy beers, which I expect you do if you are in town for Russian River.
After fogbelt, we went straight to cooperage brewery. They had a more open feel and dispersed the sound a bit better. Their templates seem to be almost exclusively hoppy beer focused. This should have suggested that I may not enjoy the English mild but I went for it anyways to start.
The English mild on tap was dry with notes of acorns and mild smoke. The beer was fairly lacking in flavor for the style and not impressive compared to others I’ve had recently. I finished with the beer called Wookie of the year IPA. It was excellently balanced with tons of hope aroma and notes of resin, lemon, and light pine. The beer had a soft mouth feel with mild bitterness on the finish. This is a good spot to come visit if you are looking for more IPAs.
Hi-Wire is known for their sour beers and after my visit this makes sense. They have a medium sized tasting room without air conditioning. I tried a flight and then moved on to the next stop.
I started with their gose. It was funky on the nose and had a nice mix of tart lemon, kiwi, and light salt. While I could have gone for more funk, this was an excellent version of the style. Pink Drink was a nicely balanced berliner with raspberry and lemongrass. Raspberry was mild and worked nicely with the rest of the beer. Most of the flavors were quite subtle.
The Brut IIPA was resinous and bursting with tangerine and peach hop aroma. The beer was flavorful and super dry, making it easy to drink despite high alcohol. The blueberry sour was fantastic and clearly inspired by the lambic tradition. It had tons of barrel character and strong funk. The beer was good and thick and not too tart with prominent blueberry. It was so good that I bought a bottle and bought another sour bottle without tasting it.
Hi-Wire has a huge variety of beer but it is best to visit for sour heads who are not interested in supporting Wicked Weed after they sold to AB InBev.
Burial was the one stop on my Asheville trip that had some air conditioning. Because of the taster prices I stuck to full pours and tried only two beers. They have a nice dark vibe inside and it kept cool enough to be an improvement over other breweries around.
I started with sword of crucifixion, a sour golden ale aged in barrels. The beer had a nice mix of buttery oak and mild funk, a solid complex sour. Waves Crash brett pale was hazy with notes of shrimp, citrus, and guava. It had a creamy body and mild funk though the fishy notes were prominent.
Burial is a great spot for funky brett beers and sours. They also have a good variety of other beers. I will be paying more attention to their bottles in San Diego now after the visit.
At Hillman I also stuck to full pours. They have a nice open area with tons of bar seating and other indoor seating. I started with the Keller Pils. It was fantastic for the style with notes of crackers, crisp bread, and mildly hoppy. I finished with the hazy half back. It was fruity with notes of pineapple, tropical fruit, and citrus. A fantastic hazy palle creamy and dry but not overly sweet. Herbal hops come through as it warms up.
If you are a big fan of sour beer then it is worth taking a trip to Asheville for Hi-Wire and Burial. Though if you are more of an IPA fan, the beers in Charlotte are plenty good to satisfy you, especially Heist and Resident Culture. Charlotte is also much easier to get to.