Solemn Oath showed up on the list of breweries to visit outside Chicago proper when I was looking for a place to go and I always prefer tasting rooms whenever possible. Thankfully one of my hotels during the trip was close to Solemn Oath so it was easy to drop in for a few tasters. This visit was after going to Penrose brewing earlier that day, and the only things that interested me on the menu were the IPAs, the Oktoberfest and barrel aged stout. I got tasters of the Belgian IPA, IPA, Oktoberfest, and bourbon barrel aged stout.
I started with the Oktoberfest and was surprised by the massive amount of hop bitterness. Typically this style is made with zero hops so the existence of hops at all is a huge departure from the style. This would have been fine if the hops balanced with the rest of the beer but they stood out and gave the whole beer a powerfully bitter taste and a strong bitter after-taste.
The IPA had a lot of grapefruit flavor from the hops and overall seemed to be solidly balanced. Though it was also quite bitter, the hop flavors didn’t clash as much with the malts. It seemed like the same hops were used between all 3 (oktoberfest, IPA, and Belgian IPA). The Belgian IPA was also quite bitter and any spice from the Belgian yeast was overpowered by the same grapefruit hops and powerful bitterness. In all 3 of these brews it seemed the focus was on bitterness over aroma and they missed some areas where they could have really shined.
I ended with the bourbon barrel aged stout. This was an instant hit among my friend and my husband who both love dark beers. From what I got to taste of that one it had a nice full body and some solid sweetness along with the bourbon flavor but to me it seemed a little too sweet overall and not dry enough. Still, it was more impressive than the other before it.
Before I left I did get to taste some of the lighter offerings from the brewery thanks to some people near me who let me taste the pale ale. The lighter offerings seemed to be much more balanced than anything I tasted, so perhaps the brewer was experimenting with a certain variety of hops that wasn’t planned to result in so much bitterness. Those same people mentioned that Solemn Oath makes new beers regularly so the specific beers I tasted when I dropped by may not be the same ones you find if you come to visit.
Penrose was quite the drive from an already out of the way sub-area of Chicago. Getting to Penrose from downtown Chicago would probably take at least an hour on a good day on the toll roads. Still, I saw a number of sours on their menu and heard some great things about their brews so we took the drive out there. While I was there I tried the white IPA, Belgian IPA, Mandarina sour, Deminus Roux sour, and Lemongrass saison.
The white IPA had a solid lemon and pine flavor from the hops with a medium amount of bitterness on the aftertaste. I was surprised that the Belgian yeast was not very prominent. Compared to the light golden white IPA the Belgian IPA was a darker more orange color with more resinous hop flavors and strong bitter aftertaste. Though I was surprised by how bitter this was it was nicely balanced in that the hops went well with the malts and yeast.
The Mandarina sour was very dry and highly carbonated with both a light golden color and a very light body fitting to its 4% alcohol. It was very medium sour and had a light citrus kick. Comparatively the Deminus Roux was a darker amber color and the flavor came through with very strong grapefruit and a heavy bitter aftertaste. This didn’t seem particularly sour either but was dominated by the grapefruit flavor that was very reminiscent of eating fresh grapefruit. All of the bitterness seemed like there was quite a bit of hops in there though it may have been from grapefruit rind. This was a favorite of one of the people I tasted with but the grapefruit was too much for me.
Before leaving I ordered a taster of the Lemongrass saison hoping that it would satisfy me in a way that I hadn’t yet been by the previous four tasters. I was quite glad when I took a sip because it had all of the delicious funk I expect from a proper saison with plenty of bright spice flavors and a light lemon kick on the back. This was also quite carbonated and some in my group who were not familiar with saisons were a bit surprised by the flavors. I savored this taster all to myself as the best from my visit. If I happen to visit them again I will certainly look for more saisons.
If driving to Oceanside the previous weekend to visit Bagby was far, I especially was not very excited about driving all the way to Valley Center to try a brewery. Though Oceanside is right off a major highway, Valley Center is only accessible by a few smaller roads where you aren’t going to be driving very fast. Though, after tasting some of the really tasty beers, I was glad I made the trek. I visited Valley Center Brewing on February 1st 2015.
Because I visited with a groupon, I started out with a bunch of tasters. Though I also had two full pours to look forward to, also included, since my husband, who was driving back, was only going to help me a little bit with those. I was intrigued by the selection once I noticed some styles that I don’t expect.
To start with I ordered a flight of Rusty Pail Pale Ale, Farmhouse Ale, Oaked Red Ale, Hell Hole Cayon Stout, Smoked Porter, and Evening Star Barrel Aged Stout. Later I also tried the Belgian IPA, the Coffee Stout, and the Coyote Run IPA.
The farmhouse ale was quite tasty, offering plenty of mild tart flavors and a little crisp fruity bite at the back end. The brewers describe this as having apple flavors. Rusty Pail pale ale was a very typical pale ale flavor like a Sierra Nevada Pale though the malts were a little less intense and didn’t overpower the hops. This one was just OK to me.
The oaked red ale was the first beer I noticed that really had some different flavors at the beginning compared to the end. Later I noticed that a lot of the other beers had flavors that changed over the course of a taster sometimes very significant. At first the red ale was too smoky but when I got closer to finishing the taster I started to notice the smoke balanced much better with the rest of the beer.
Next came the smoked porter. This was interesting because the bourbon flavor was much lighter than you typically see in San Diego bourbon aged beers, giving it an almost sour flavor. Combined with that was a light smoke flavor to balance it out. This is certainly not your typically roasty porter and my husband was not a fan.
Then I tried the Hell Hole Canyon stout. This one was so good I had to stop my husband from drinking the whole taster before I got to try it. This was also the second of my full pours later. Flavor wise, I was quite impressed by all the different things I tasted from coffee to bitter chocolate and plenty of roasty flavors. I hope this one sticks around for quite some time.
The Belgian IPA was also very tasty. At first I got a ton of spice with mild citrus hops but over time the spice seemed to mellow out, leaving me with some fantastic citrus flavors and a little bit of ripe fruit. This was later my first full pour and still very enjoyable. The Coyote Run IPA started out with a powerful ripe peach flavor with plenty of tart and as I progressed through the taster the malts became more prominent. Though I wasn’t immediately drawn into this beer it seemed to be quite popular among regular visitors. Sadly the other IPA they usually have was gone when I stopped by, perhaps due to popularity.
The coffee stout, made with local roasted Sumatra beans, was a tasty coffee beer with plenty of coffee flavor at the forefront. Though to me compared to the Hell Hole Canyon it was hard to ask for more. Finally, the bourbon barrel aged stout called Evening Star, like the smoked porter had an interesting intense tart flavor that I don’t normally find in this sort of beer. This sort of tart flavor tends to come from something aged in wine barrels.
When I asked the head brewer about these two tart aged stouts I was told that they used barrels that had already been previously used by another brewery, so they didn’t have the same intense flavor of bourbon that tends to come from first run use. I didn’t find either of the barrel aged beers to have the sorts of flavors that typically get me excited about bourbon aged beers so they aren’t for everyone.
From what I tried, I was glad I made the drive up to Valley Center. I still can taste the delicious flavors of the Hell Hole Canyon Stout and the Belgian IPA. They also had four lighter beers that I wasn’t able to try, a Kolsch, Blonde, Cream, and Summer Ale. I’m told that these were added due to local demand and since I am not a big fan of those styles I stuck to what I enjoy. At some point I may make my way back there, possibly while I am in the area for some seasonal event, so that I can try the other IPA that was not available when I stopped by.
Valley Center Brewing is also interesting because they had a few experimental beers on tap to try. I didn’t end up tasting the experimental beers while I was there either, but it sounded like there were some interesting beers available on there. If you are in the area and want to have a beer, Valley Center Brewing offers a great lineup of interesting IPAs, Stouts, and even a solid farmhouse ale. The Belgian IPA and Hell Hole Canyon both stick out as great beers that have just the right flavors.
As a sign that I have become too hooked on craft beer, or maybe just lazy when it comes to visiting breweries lately, I tend to go straight to The Westcoaster (San Diego’s Craft Beer Magazine) whenever I am looking for some place to eat. Wanting to find a place in Del Mar to meet a friend? Check The Westcoaster and find an interesting place like Sublime Tavern.
A little off the beaten path and further inland than you might expect to go in Del Mar lies Sublime Tavern. It isn’t where all the other Del Mar restaurants are, but instead is a few miles inland from the 5 freeway in what looks like an office building. Thankfully, once you make your way inside you easily forget its outer appearance and find yourself drawn in by the beer selection and food options.
The server seemed to have a decent knowledge of his beers. I was more interested that the bartender came out to deliver things himself. His enthusiasm and knowledge of his beer styles was quite impressive. My husband was trying to decide on a stout to order and he was quickly informed that the Old Rasputin on the menu was on nitro (a huge plus for an imperial stout) and that the Yeti (Great Divide’s Imperial Stout) was aged in oak barrels. This was not your typical presentation of beers by any means. He ended up with the Old Rasputin and quite enjoyed it.
I was also quite impressed that they served most of the stronger beers in 11oz pours, in contrast to most newer beer bars that serve pints of everything including Alesmith’s 12% Speedway Stout. IPA wise there were a number of available offerings, though I started with a Belgian Session IPA from Belching Beaver called Ivan The Terrible. I finished off with an Ommegang beer called Chocolate Indulgence, a delicious dark Belgian style beer with just a hint of chocolate to the taste.
Other memorable beers on tap included a special Mayan recipe beer from Dogfish Head that was an interesting twist on the traditional Saison thanks to the introduction of cacao nibs that I tried a small taste of. There was also an Oak Aged version of Stone’s Double Bastard that I didn’t get to taste. Like any other restaurant with a large tap list, the beers will likely rotate fairly regularly but if they continue to keep this variety I will likely be back. Price wise, the beers ranged from $6 to a little over $8 for some of the specialty brews. The prices were largely in line with what I would expect at similar restaurants.
On the food end, my husband ordered a pizza called Sublime Pizza that tasted very similar to the Mac N’ Cheese I was sad to have not ordered that evening. Since I had been overdosing on carbs earlier in the day I went for a single sausage from a sausage platter that normally came with two with a side of garlic roasted kale ordered separately. The sausage was delicious and came with some tasty grilled peppers. The kale was a good sized serving with nice big chunks of roasted garlic here and there. Both were just what I was looking for.
Considering the lack of breweries in the area and beer pubs in general, Sublime Tavern was a welcome find. You can’t go wrong with their beer selection or food if you are looking for craft beer in Del Mar.
I live so close to Green Flash that I only stop in when there is a food truck I am interested in. I can pick up most of my favorite beers at the store so that is good enough for me. Tonight I stopped by Green Flash to taste the food from God Save the Cuisine and I was glad I did. While I was there, I figured I would re-visit some of the regular beers in taster format. The photos are a bit darker than usual because it was night and I hate flash.
I had tasted each of these beers before but it always helps to give them a fresh look after all the beers I’ve had since then. All four impressed me and later I added a taster of the Serrano Double Stout to round out the evening. I found the Imperial IPA to be nice and refreshing. It is best to compare it to the Le Freak. While both beers have characteristics of both Belgian style beers and IPAs, the Imperial IPA is more on the IPA side and Le Freak more on the Belgian side. Both have great flavor though the Le Freak is a little bit sweeter. Grand Cru has a lot of that Belgian flavor as well though it is more on the darker side. Grand Cru and Le Freak were both favorites of mine at different times. Last fall when they first put out the Grand Cru I was hooked on it for months.
I then went for the Green Bullet, which I have been a huge fan of from the start. This Tripple IPA is really hoppy and just blows you away with the pine flavors. It is in my top five beers of all time and is a true achievement for Green Flash. The Serrano Double Stout was decent but not very spicy. Though I do enjoy the double stout on occasion, the Serrano flavors were not particularly strong here, nor was the beer very spicy.
To go with these beers, I ordered the smoked salmon flatbread sandwich and my mom ordered the lamb. Both were quite tasty although the lamb was a bit more spicy than we expected. The salmon had some bitter greens in there, perhaps even arugula. The capers and cream cheese rounded out the salmon nicely, giving it a fantastic flavor. I will certainly be trying this food truck again soon.