Pulpit Rock opened in Decorah just down the street from Toppling Goliath. They managed to distinguish themselves enough to grab some overflow beer nerd crowds from those who are coming down for their neighbor. You can easily walk from one brewery to the other assuming it isn’t the dead of winter.
I started with their Show and Tell Berliner Weisse. It was an excellent example of the style with tons of jammy berry character and a light tart finish. I didn’t notice the lactose in the flavor. The Dave O Pale was creamy and hazy with grassy and citrus character and tons of hop aroma. It was quite the tasty hazy pale.
The IPA was similarly creamy with notes of vanilla and candied fruit and light hop acidity. The pumpkin porter was very spice forward on the nose and had tons of holiday spice on the taste with light chocolate and an overall nice balance of flavors such that it tasted like liquid pumpkin pie. It was super creamy and delicious on nitro.
Pulpit Rock appears to focus on hazy IPAs and kettle sours with lactose. I was quite impressed by both of the styles. Depending on what is available at Toppling Goliath on a given trip, it would make sense to visit Pulpit Rock at the same time. They have crowlers available of some of their beers on occasion. I already had maxed out my luggage space with Toppling Goliath beers or I might have added a crowler or two of their hazy IPA.
Though it was cold as hell outside, maybe 45 degrees, I sat out on the patio with my beers because it was really loud inside with a full crowd and hardly any space left. After Toppling Goliath I really needed the quiet time though I did drink my flight a little faster than I might have otherwise because I wanted to get warm inside.
Wild Barrel Brewing surprised me as I hadn’t heard a ton about the brewery until a short time before opening. With a brewer who used to work at stone and a keen eye for what the market wants, they launched out the gate with some IPAs, massively fruity kettle sours, and a coffee stout with barrel aged stuff to come in time. You can tell when you walk in that they spent a lot of time on the layout of the space including their choice for the acoustics because it doesn’t get as loud as many breweries do when crowded.
Wild Barrel serves tasters in larger glass to give room for aromas to come through. In the crowded San Diego brewery scene this is fairly uncommon but always welcomed. I was not really that excited when I saw three fruited Berliner Weiss style beers on the board (called here San Diego Vice) but was soon glad i tried them. San Diego breweries regularly make fruited versions of this style but often with minimal amounts of fruit. Not so here. All 3 of them, cherry, blackcurrent, and guava were massively fruity with a light tart bite on the back.
These may be the most fruit flavor I’ve had in any beer of this style, surpassing my previous favorite at Georgia based Creature Comforts. If their crowlers were available I might have left with a couple of crowlers. It is hard to pick a favorite of the three because they were all so delicious.
The two IPAs available were both in the modern style though staying away from the thick hazy style so far. The single IPA was nice and citrus forward with a light bitterness and a dry finish. The double IPA was a bit more dank and resinous with a slightly thicker body and still not a ton of bitterness. The IPAs remind me of the style brewed at Protector in many ways.
The coffee stout had notes of popcorn and coffee on the nose with a fairly thin body and a nice mix of light roast, smoke, and coffee notes. I found the coffee to be a bit more subdued than I tend to enjoy but it is a nice balanced beer.
I am looking forward to see how Wild Barrel develops over the coming months and expect I will be back again regularly to see what flavors of San Diego Vice come up next. They have excited me about a style that has generally been enjoyable but not particularly exciting for me before now.
Blackcurrent San Diego Vice
Cherry San Diego Vice
I had written Wavelength off and was waiting for a good excuse to return when it was reported that an ex-Belching Beaver brewer had taken over the reins. They had a great space so this was the perfect chance for me to return and see if they improved. I tried all the beers on the board though one of the things I liked was that they no longer had such a huge list of beers. Instead, the new brewer was focusing on some key styles until he can get things dialed in.
The Octave Orange wheat ale was a good clean wheat beer, lightly fruity and with a good clean finish with light spice. The Golden Note blonde ale was fruity and crisp with a nice dry finish. It was a bit thinner than the wheat and had a nice subtle hop kick on the finish. The Aprikose apricot Berliner had a nice earthy malt character from the base that blended nicely with light tart kick and mild apricot notes. I was impressed because the apricot didn’t overpower the base beer. The beer also had a good medium body.
The Hop Squash hazy IPA was not particularly hazy but has a nice orange/gold turbidity. It showcased intense tropical fruit on the nose. The beer had a nice soft body with tropical fruit and mild pine. Though not hazy it is a tasty soft modern IPA with minimal bitterness and a fruity finish. This is also miles better than their IPAs used to be. The Off Kilter scotch ale was quite delicious with notes of caramel and molasses, a light bitter bite, and mild burnt toffee notes on the finish. It also had some nice mild dark fruit character. It is a really excellent scotch ale, lightly sweet and super smooth body. It is likely to satisfy those who only drink stouts.
Adophis barleywine was the only beer on tap from the old brewer. It showcased notes of dark fruit and biscuit malt base with spice and floral character from the hops with a strong bitter bite. It was more hop forward for a barleywine than I generally prefer but still tasty. It is refreshing to see a shorter tap list here than the huge number they had on tap the last time. The IPA is a huge improvement over the various IPAs brewed previously and the scotch ale and berliner stand out as my favorites. Wavelength now has a quality of beers that should allow them to compete with their neighbors, including the popular Mother Earth brewing.
Covering breweries can require a lot of attention paid because brewers don’t always stay with the brewery for various reasons. I can’t speak to many of the reasons behind many of the notorious local shifts of brewers and I wouldn’t want to share the details even if I could. For 32 North, this meant they started with a brewer who came out of the gate with some excellent beer and then after a few months went on to open a different brewery, which is the quite-popular Bitter Brothers. Then another brewer was brought in to replace him and didn’t last as long as many expected. Some say he went back to the East Coast because he wasn’t a fit for the local scene. I could see this as a plausible explanation considering his version of the Best Coast IPA was too malty for local tastes.
Now with their 2nd anniversary coming up, I visited 32 North again, giving their new brewer, Nick Ceniceros, formerly the head brewer for Fall Brewing, a chance to dial in the recipes on the different system. The changes from a year ago to now are drastic and show a clearer understanding of the local brew scene as one would expect from someone who has been a major part of the scene for a while. Of the beers I tried, all were well-made but four stood out as quite excellent. I can safely say that if Ceniceros stays on for a while, he will help cement 32 North as a powerful player in the crowded Miramar brewery scene.
Look and feel wise, the brewery hasn’t changed all that much since it opened. They have always had the beautiful wood-dominated look that helps you quickly forget that you are in the middle of an industrial park. The design of their tasting board has changed quite a bit over time and the design they have now is pleasing and easy to read from a distance.
I had two separate flights on my recent visit, trying seven beers and a cask variant of their house IPA to finish things off. I started with a flight of Pennant pale ale, Blancdonkadonk hoppy wheat, Mighty Mouse session rye IPA, and Landfall berliner weisse (without syrup). The second flight I had the Best Coast IPA, Far East IPA, Hello Darkness oatmeal stout on nitro, and Best Coast IPA cask with mosaic hops.
Penant pale ale is a smooth dry pale ale with a great balance of citrus, pine, and resinous hops. It has some malts backing it up but nothing that overpowers the hops as the traditional style tends to do. This was the first standout for me. The blancdonkadonk is a strange beer and a bit hard to describe. At first I got a lot of apricot from what I assumed were English hops over some fruity wheat malts. Then later on I got more passionfruit and other tropical fruit notes. I found the hops were a bit too much but mostly because the flavors weren’t for me. The Mighty Mouse session IPA was clean and dry with a great mix of dank resinous hops, some fruity hops, and as it warms up some floral/herbal hops all supported by a solid rye kick. I liked it more at the beginning but once I got to the herbal hops I lost interest. This is another beer where it mostly isn’t my preferred hops but is done well.
The Landfall Berliner Weisse, without syrup, was excellent. It had a great medium body and some subtle fruit and citrus notes. They offer three flavors of syrup for this if you want to experiment though I prefer it on its own. Though they will be soon canning their blond ale, I hope this one day gets canned because it is quite excellent. The Best Coast IPA is a great mix of dank pine and resin hops and some tropical fruit towards the end. Though pine on its own is not a flavor I love, it is delicious when properly balanced as here. The beer also has a nice supporting malt backbone that is just enough to give it a good medium body without calling too much attention to itself.
The cask version of Best Coast was super smooth with tons of mango, guava, and melon bursting from the beer. Surprisingly most of the dank flavors of the tap version were gone. The Far East IPA had tons of over ripe tropical fruit and a sticky sweet fruity finish. I couldn’t identify specific fruits but I really did not care for this one. I finished with the Hello Darkness oatmeal stout on nitro. The beer had a complex mix of roast, coffee, and chocolate notes all supported by a smooth caramel base. This would probably be the first beer for me to order in a pint when I return. It is an excellent oatmeal stout and I’m sure the coffee version is quite nice as well.
It is a great sign that two of the stand-out beers for me were part of their core lineup and soon to be canned. Even if you have been disappointed in the past with what you had at 32 North, you should absolutely return to try these delicious new batches. Their upcoming 2nd anniversary on October 21st.
Hello Darkness oatmeal stout
Landfall berliner weisse
Best Coast IPA
I visited Mikkeller’s San Diego location twice to cover the majority of the beers. They are such a big name that I wanted to try as much as possible. In total I tried 11 different beers. Mikkeller took over the old Alesmith location and is brewing beer with one of the Alesmith Brewers. They gave the Alesmith tasting room a change in look including tons of wacky artwork of the sort that Mikkeller has on their bottles.
To start with, I tried the two lightest beers. The Berliner Weisse was really nice beer that is lightly tart with notes of fruit and citrus. The Saison SD is also quite fruity with some mild funk, notes of banana and peach, and a solid earthy back end. Both of these were quite good. The Sparks pale ale is solidly balanced pale with notes of peach and other fruits with a medium bitter finish. The Waves IPA is super sticky and dank with overripe tropical fruit notes dominating but it is not overly bitter.
The Brett IPA is super fruity and is a nice balance of funk and citrus hops. This and Waves were my two favorite hoppy beers. Brett IPAs are hard to get right kinda like Belgian IPAs because of the strong flavor the yeast imparts so I always try to recognize one that is done right. The Spells double IPA to me tasted like a double version of Sparks. It was similarly balanced with a nice bitter finish and some citrus hop flavor at the finish. Sparks and Spells aren’t bad per say but a bit less hop aroma forward compared to the Waves.
Hop Geek Breakfast is one of the most popular beers from Mikkeller and I thought it was solid but not fantastic. It is smooth and roasty with a bitter coffee finish and a mild sticky sweetness under. The coffee could have come on stronger though. Hop Geek Breakfast is a highly hopped version of the previous one. While the balance was there and the citrus and pine go well with the roast I would still prefer the Waves IPA over this. Flat White Beer Geek adds lactose and is the sweetest of the bunch. It balanced nicely between sweetness and coffee.
The NY Verden Old Ale is thick and fruity with notes of cherry and mild smoke and a sweet finish. The Imperial Stout was thick and a mix of bitter chocolate and light smoke. I noticed a lot of the stouts had a similar mild smoke flavor to them that to me was a little off-putting. While I found the flat white too sweet, everyone else who I know really liked it the most of the stouts. Mikkeller opened up out of the gate with a large tap list thanks to having a ton of recipes that have already been perfected. There is a little something for everyone on tap. Though I wasn’t huge on beer geek breakfast initially I am confident that they will get the recipe dialed in shortly and I will come to love it.