I’ve had Iron Fist beers on tap at other places a few times but never made it up to the brewery itself.
Iron Fist had a large selection of beers on tap and a number of specialty brews. Since my husband doesn’t like most of the styles, I had to stick to the hop-heavy beers so I could taste what I like. Sometime I may come back to see what the Belgian styles taste like. To finish off my flight my husband got a taster of the stout on nitro.
The pale ale was a bit disappointing after Stone’s Lavender Pale Ale earlier in the day. It was too light for my tastes. There was no regular IPA available to try so I went straight into the Double IPA. I had three versions of the Gauntlet Double IPA, the regular, one dry-hopped with citra hops, and one with coffee. The regular Gauntlet was a bit too heavy on the darker fruits and pine for my tastes. It seemed like the malts overpowered the hops a little too much.
Next I tried the double IPA with citra hops. This was closer to what I tend to like in San Diego double IPAs. The citra hop flavor comes out nice and strong in front of everything else and has a nice flavor. The coffee double IPA was pretty much like drinking an iced coffee. Despite the strong flavor of the double IPA the coffee was all I really tasted. It was quite nice.
To finish things off, I tried a special version of the stout with ghost peppers and vanilla beans. I was really impressed by this one because it had a delicious sweet vanilla flavor at the front and some spicy kick at the back. It was spicy but not particularly so, and not as hot as the Habanero Sculpin some might be familiar with. If you don’t like sweet though, you should stay away from this one because it almost tastes like chocolate chip cookie dough iced cream at the front end.
I would have liked to have an option for a middle of the road IPA here. I probably won’t be buying the Gauntlet anytime soon on tap other places because of the heavy malt flavor but I would really like more of the Gauntlet with citra hops.
Stone is one of the biggest breweries in San Diego. Just a few minutes away from their primary bistro and gardens location is a small farm where they have some beers to taste and some interesting outdoor areas where you can enjoy your beer. Unlike the bistro that houses a bunch of taps, the farms have a small selection of Stone beers.
I was going on to other breweries after and had already tried most of the beers available so I ordered a pint of the Lavender Pale Ale. The lavender gave it a nice flavor and went well with the traditional Stone Pale Ale. My husband had a glass of the Russian Imperial Stout with Espresso, one of his favorites. Stone also offers growler fills from this location if you don’t want to fight the crowds at the bistro.
For round two of my brewery visits on Saturday January 4, 2014, I stopped by Groundswell Brewing. Groundswell is less than 1/4 mile from Benchmark Brewing.
I ordered a taster flight to share at Groundswell. The selections were a nice compliment to what I had at Benchmark earlier. The Irish Special Bitter was an interesting choice to start the flight. The brewers start with an ESB recipe and add a special kind of yeast in order to give it that distinctive flavor of an Irish Red. The malt flavor really comes through here. It is a nice flavor and slightly stronger than the typical Irish Red.
Next up was the Hefeweizen. Though it drank well it could have used some stronger fruit flavors. I tasted what seemed like a lemon flavor but it was not heavy at all. It was still interesting to see a Hefeweizen on tap because so few San Diego breweries offer one. I went next for the brown ale. This one had a great multitude of flavors with a nice caramel taste. I could see this one being a big seller once they are able to bottle or can it.
Next up was the Honey Amber. I didn’t find the honey to be a good combination here at all. The honey flavors seemed to overpower the amber flavor so that it was all I tasted. I’ve noticed that honey beers tend to be very polarizing. Usually half of the people hate it and half of the people love it. Another patron really enjoyed the honey flavors. I ended with the Hoppy Amber. If I hadn’t just had the Modern Times version of this style I might have rated it higher. I couldn’t help but compare this to what is now one of my new addictions and so I was a bit let down. The Hoppy Amber has some nice malt flavors at the front but the hop flavors were so far in the background I almost missed them. Though I can understand why you might want to avoid the bigger hop flavors Modern Times does with their Hoppy Amber, I think the hops could have been increased a little bit while still retaining the unique flavor.
I finished off the day with a pint of the Irish Special Bitter. Though I enjoyed it, I think the brown ale would have been better for enjoying a full pint. I was a bit disappointed to see that Groundswell didn’t have any really hop-forward beers or any stout or porter. I look forward to seeing the beers that Groundswell comes up with in the future.
Update September 2014:
When I returned to Groundswell some months later, I was surprised to see a much expanded tap list. Not only were there now more core beers, there were also a lot more specialty beers. They now have six core beers and six specialty beers at once. One of the core beers is an IPA and there were a few specialty IPAs as well. This is a welcome improvement to the selection when I visited the last time.
The new core IPA is 6.8% and is nicely balanced with citrus and pine and a malt background that doesn’t overpower the rest. It is a solid IPA that should satisfy most hop-seeking visitors. The White IPA says it is hopped with Citra, though I stupidly tried it after the regular IPA so I couldn’t taste it. It certainly has a lighter body. Then the Double IPA at 8.3% was quite juicy with some melon flavors. Everything rounded out with a solid level of bitterness that made this my favorite of the night.
In an area mostly surrounded by hospitals slightly northeast of the intersection of the 15 freeway and the 8 freeway are two breweries within a quarter mile of each other. Both Benchmark Brewing and Groundswell Brewing opened during 2013 so I had to come down to try both of them in one trip. Both have signs on the street to indicate where they are though Benchmark has the larger banner that is much more visible. I stopped by Benchmark first so Groundswell will be in the next post.
Benchmark Brewing has a simple yet modern look to the tasting room with wooden tables and wooden benches inside. Most people when I went decided to stand around the bar so they could chat with Rachael Akin, the Co-Founder who was tending the bar. I went straight for a flight and got a total of seven tasters. Thankfully I was with a few friends so I didn’t have to drink them all on my own. I might not have made it to the second brewery otherwise.
Benchmark has just the right amount of brews available for a newer brewery. I appreciate this as well because I can try everything in one go. The first thing I noticed was that the beers are mostly on the lower alcohol side. Even the IPA is only 5.1%. Normally this might mean a bunch of light beers with no flavor but I was surprised to find that most of them were quite good.
First was the blonde. It had lots of flavor and was quite drinkable. Had a bit more flavor than I typically expect from a blonde. Next came the brown ale. It was also surprisingly flavorful. I quite enjoyed the smoky flavor with a hint of chocolate. I could see myself enjoying multiple pints of either of these beers with no problem. Next I had the cask brown ale with coffee. Because of the lighter alcohol content, the coffee flavors dominated this beer. It had a nice flavor like a smooth ice coffee. The cask smoothed out the beer nicely. While I appreciate the flavor I’m not sure I would have wanted a full pint of this one.
The oatmeal stout is a nice lighter stout just under 5%. My friend who really likes oatmeal stout was satisfied. Next came the IPA. At 5.1% it is almost closer to a session IPA. The average IPA is between 6 and 7%. The IPA was smooth and had a nice citrus aroma and flavor. It has just the right amount of hop flavors without being overly bitter or heavy.
UPDATE January 2015 – While the early IPA might be easily considered a session, the latest batch is quite bitter and full of flavor. It seems to have been changed quite a lot since I was last there. I would have a hard time believing this IPA was only 5.1% if I hadn’t seen the board. Though the IPA is now a more balanced beer it is very flavorful and quite bitter. It has a lot more body and bitterness than the typical “session IPA” around San Diego.
The table beer was only 4% but had a nice Belgian flavor to it. I ended with the Belgian Dubbel. While I could taste the Belgian flavors under it that I expect in a darker Belgian style beer, I found that the flavors were overpowered by a strong alcohol taste. I did not have very much of this taster.
Overall Benchmark has a solid lineup to start with. I probably would have been content having a pint of either the brown or the IPA if I was not planning on hitting up another brewery after. I would like to see what Benchmark can do with a heavier double stout or IPA in the future. I could see the IPA being labeled a session and a stronger beer taking over as the main IPA. If you crave something a bit stronger I would wait to see what they add in the future. I don’t think the Dubbel would satisfy much.
Update September 2014:
I came back to Benchmark a number of months after my first visit to see if anything had changed. The core beers are still the same but I did see a Wee Heavy that was new. I was told that I had missed a double IPA they made earlier this year and they are working on a new double IPA that should be on soon.
The Wee Heavy was surprisingly tasty. Though it was a little sweet it had a nice balanced flavor with some roasted malts and a solid plum malt flavor that wasn’t overpowering.
Update January 2015:
Aside from the IPA differences noted above, I was also quite impressed by the Brett Table Beer. The Table Beer being so light I thought I would try it with the wild yeast commonly known as Brett. The addition of this yeast added a very mild amount of tart flavors as well as some apple flavor that gave the table beer that extra kick that some might find the regular version to be missing.
I also was visiting for the release of the Hildegard, a massive 13.5% Triple IPA. It seemed to be almost too strong with much of the extra alcohol giving it a high amount of sweetness. However, it was also really flavorful with some apple and resin flavors that were very enjoyable. The bitterness was pretty dialed back so it won’t quickly kill your palate. If you happened to be in on January 31, 2015 for the release of the Hildegard you also will have gotten a fantastic glass that is perfect for those extra strong IPAs.
I couldn’t resist a beer that was 15% and aged in oak barrels. Lately I have been drawn in by the strong beer craze and this was the strongest beer I had ever seen. [Yes I know there are some much stronger beers out there.] My first thought on tasting this was whoa that is sweet. Probably the sweetest beer I’ve ever tasted and yet not too syrupy sweet. I expect some of my friends might find it too sweet but most of them would love it. Caramel flavors are at the forefront and amazing. I would describe this as liquid creme brulee. I would drink this over the best creme brulee I’ve ever tasted though. Much of the caramel flavor comes from the malts.
On the back end there is some clear bourbon flavor that comes from the barrels it was aged in. This specific beer was from the 2012 batch so it has only been aging for a year. Some people reported the older batches to be a little too much in a lot of ways. I’m not sure if Avery has multiple batches available or if they just saved them that long. I don’t have that kind of self control when it comes to beer this good.
At a massive 15%, you are going to want to share this bottle with a friend or two. I decided to enjoy this particular bottle in some snifter glasses because my tulips were already dirty. Keep in mind that it costs $7.99 for a 12oz bottle at the place where I bought it. Normally that might sound like a lot but considering how strong this is and how unique it was completely worth it. Though I think Avery did an awesome job with some of the other beers in the series (I tried the Mephistopheles Stout last year) they didn’t blow me away like this one. It is rare that I get to taste a beer that is so unique in the flavors and yet this one did it.