Mason Ale Works is a brewery I haven’t covered mostly because when restaurants add in a brewery after the fact, it seems like an after thought. I saw that they had opened a new tasting room not far from New English Brewing company up in a residential area of Carmel Valley that I had never visited before. I made my way out on a warm Summer day to see if the space was worth returning to.
First off, a note on service. Regular readers know I don’t usually say much about service because beer is what matters. But the person serving me during my visit to Mason Ale Works seemed to really hate my questions about the beers. One question I asked was how their flagship beer was different than the Rye IPA and I got a curt reply that “It is an IPA with Rye.” He either really wanted me to buy a flight or didn’t know his beers enough to give serious answers. Either way, this is not typical in the San Diego beer scene. As some of you may know, I stopped ordering flights once $3 tasters became common. Even with the slight discount, 4 tasters here is $10, which is more than I want to spend for that much beer.
Beer wise, I started with a pint of their session IPA which thankfully kicked (I got the last of the keg). At first I thought great, a free half pint. But I couldn’t even drink more than 1/4 of what I was served before going up to pay for a pint of something else. While I generally complain about San Diego session IPAs being overly bitter, this one was just overly tasteless. Or to put it another way, completely lacking in any hop character at all. They might as well have simply called it a session ale but even then it was overly sweet and extremely generic. Thankfully the other beers I tasted were good.
I was with my mom on this visit and since she has been avoiding hoppy beers lately I ordered her a pint of the Mexican Lager. While not the best lager I’ve had, it was still quite good, and had a lot more flavor than the session IPA I started with. The beer had a nice dry finish and a light hop kick. I finished with a pint of their core IPA. While described as a typical West Coast IPA it was thankfully a more modern take on the style, meaning less bitterness than was standard when the style first became popular. It was a nice example of the style and had prominent grapefruit notes with mild resin in the background.
As for the space, they had air conditioning inside and a nice shady outdoor area in the back. The breeze was cool enough that the outdoor seating was perfectly pleasant. If I lived within walking distance I could see myself returning but since it is a bit far from anything else, I likely won’t return very often. For those of you who don’t like beer, they also serve wine and spirits.
Pfriem is in Hood River Oregon, about an hour east of Portland. It is a lovely drive along the Columbia River. I expect we missed some of the true majesty of the drive because it had recently snowed. Pfriem is a restaurant and so you may have to wait for a table if you plan to visit on a weekend. Thankfully we ended up in the upstairs area because it was a little bit quieter up there at least before it filled up.
I already expected excellent beer and was pleasantly surprised by the excellent food as well. For the hardcore beer nut, it may not be worth a visit given you can find so many of their beers in bottles and cans around town. As of this writing the cans are expected any day now but they seem to have focused the initial runs of cans on their local market rather than distributing them to San Diego.
I visited having previously enjoyed the delicious pilsner and a few sours so I mostly wanted to enjoy the beers at the source. The pilsner was as excellent as I remember. It is a gold winning beer for a reason. The beer was easy drinking with light notes of honey and hay with a crisp dry finish. This is certainly a beer for drinking as opposed to sipping. The traditional saison was lightly sweet and chewy with notes of cloves and tons of Belgian yeast character. The yeast dominated the beer here and any hops were barely detectable.
Given how high quality Pfriem’s other beers were, I ordered the hazy IPA without trying it. It was about as much of a miss as has become common in San Diego. While the beer was hazy in appearance it was not soft or pillowy as one might expect from the style. It had some notes of melon and tropical fruit but the boozy alcohol character dominated, making it mildly unpleasant. I don’t recommend you seek out this hazy when their traditional IPAs are so much better.
Come for excellent interpretations of classic styles including some lambic inspired barrel aged sours. You can find their beers in bottles and cans around Oregon and even down into San Diego.
New Realm was the brewery I had read the most about before my trip. This is because it was started by Mitch Steele, who formerly brewed for Stone. You can taste the brewing experience behind their core beers immediately. They are a restaurant space and limit parking to valet, which I have not seen at a brewery before, but may help them crack down on drunk drivers.
I sat at the bar and started with a full pour of the pilsner. I needed something to wash down the bigger beers from the previous place. The pilsner was excellent with a soft body, notes of citrus and floral hops, and a crisp dry finish. It is up there with some of the best pilsners I have ever had and likely to become a good seller for them in the local area if it is not already.
After that I was tempted to order a full pour of the cranberry berliner but I’m glad I decided to get tasters because it was not for me. I ordered tasters of the berliner and two IPAs. I wanted to see how the ex Stone brewer decided to brew IPAs once separated from Stone. The berliner was flavored with cranberry, orange, and cinnamon. From tasting it I would not have guessed it was much more than orange because the orange dominated and cinnamon was not detectable at all. This gave the beer an unpleasant bitter taste likely from the orange peel that didn’t work for me at all.
I tried two IPAs, Hoplandia and Hoptropolis. Hoptropolis was soft and balanced with a nice mix of hops including light notes of floral, citrus, and dank piney hops. It had low bitterness and a nice dry finish. Hoplandia, the newest of the two, had prominent notes of peach at the front and otherwise was very similar to the other IPA, also soft and not too bitter. Both are excellent examples of the modern style of non-hazy IPA. I later picked up a six-pack of the Hoplandia IPA to enjoy a few beers in our airbnb before flying home.
New Realm has a large restaurant space that is quite impressive and a solid lineup of beers. I did not try their stout but they did have a barrel aged stout as well. If you live in Atlanta and haven’t yet made it to New Realm, I suggest you search out their beers.
I had not previously visited Helix Brewing until they announced their Sourworx program. I was glad to see that they ensured they had a variety of beers available for the launch. Their goal of having the entire three boards full of barrel-aged sours is impressive. I tried two that were fruited and two that were aged for the longest to get a general taste of the quality of the sours released. From what I tasted, I would sooner make the drive to Helix over visiting my neighborhood California Wild Ales because they have the complexity and level of flavor that I crave. They also have enough to differentiate their sours from others on the market to draw visitors. They are one of the few breweries that allows for growler fills of sour beers and they currently have no plans to start bottling.
I started with a raspberry and a passionfruit sour. The raspberry was a light red color as expected while the passionfruit was hazy yellow and closer in appearance to a hazy IPA. The raspberry was a bit more subtle than I would have liked and restrained on the fruit. It had a good balance overall with nice caramel base and low acidity that at times resembled raspberry pie. I like the decision to add cherries to an already red base beer. The passionfruit sour was juicy with strong passionfruit flavor at the front and a nice mild funk on the finish combined nicely with medium oak and mild vanilla. This was my favorite of the day and I am excited to see how they work this style into future versions with other fruit.
On the non-fruited side, I asked for the two beers that were aged the longest and was suggested the Walking Through Windows and Betting on Stars. Walking Through Windows was intensely oaky, dominating over other flavors. In the back it had mild caramel and notes of brandy with a lingering tart finish. It was interesting to get the prominent oak when many breweries choose to blend various beers together to reduce it somewhat. Betting on Stars, a dark sour aged in port barrels, was smoky on the nose with notes of cherry and roasted malts. Flavor wise, it resembles more of a sour stout than anything else and the wine barrel gives it a unique flavor. It is refreshing that they chose not to simply make their attempt at a Belgian style Lambic but instead chose to do their own versions of an American Wild Ale.
Clean beers next door
After the four sour beers I was ready for some more classic styles. With my palate already used to the sours, I found both beers to be quite sweet, likely more so than I would have if I started there. I decided to order a half pour of Prague Nosis, a red lager in the style brewed in Prague, and 1492 IPA, the freshest IPA they had and also one they described as the most balanced.
The Prague Nosis was delicious and easy drinking with notes of crackers and caramel and a light sweet finish. The IPA was nice and balanced with notes of pine and light herbal hops with a subtle bitter finish. I enjoyed seeing the contrast between the two buildings next door to each other. This allows for a welcoming atmosphere that the sour fans can drink with others who may not be interested in sours. The Sourworx side had a much more sophisticated feel to it as compared to the homey tasting room feel of the main brewery.
Future Futures, passionfruit sour
Walking Through Windows, golden sour
I started at Astronomy brewery where I had a few pints with my husband and friend who writes for Beer Alien. Because it was Black Friday they had $4 pints of their dark beers, which was where we started. I ordered the cocoa habanero stout and my husband ordered the coffee porter. Both were well made if not particularly strong flavors. The coffee porter was nice and dry with mild notes of coffee and roast. The cocoa habanero stout had lots of chocolate flavors with mild habanero that was extremely subtle even after warming up. Both beers were nicely balanced.
I next ordered the Hawking Hazy Pale while my friend Terry ordered the lemon vanilla version. The base Hawking hazy pale was bursting with citrus notes on the nose and had a nice mix of tangerine and vanilla notes with a good thick body and mild lingering hop acidity. For such a young brewery, this pale was impressive in how much better it was than a lot of San Diego attempts at hazy pale ales. Few San Diego attempts are as flavorful. The lemon vanilla version was like drinking lemon cake. The hop aroma was mostly covered up by the lemon and vanilla, making it a decadent beer to savor.
Next time I am in the area I look forward to seeing how Astronomy grows. They have a fairly standard mid-sized tasting room and hopefully will grow into their theme further as they get more established.
Hawking Hazy Pale
Hawking with lemon and vanilla
I wouldn’t try to compare Astronomy to Crafthaus considering Crafthaus has been open much longer, around 4 years, and is fairly established now on the local scene. Though of the few hazy beers I tried at Crafthaus I think Astronomy is doing them better as is Hop Nuts. Though I didn’t love the IPAs at Crafthaus, I was quite impressed by some of their other beers.
I started with the gose, which was complex and thick with an excellent balance of flavors and a light tart finish. This was so enjoyable that I left with two six-packs to bring home. I followed it with their saison, which was incredibly dry with light notes of pepper and that thankfully did not taste like white wine as many of the style do. This was also quite nice.
Crafthaus was also pouring some frozen beers, where they add beer to a slush and other things. We tried the Frozen stout with chocolate. The base beer already had some strong coffee flavors so it blended nicely with the chocolate, making it similar to drinking a frozen mocha. It was a bit sweet for my tastes so I ended up adding extra beer to balance it out. I ended with a pour of the base Belgrade stout. It had intense coffee flavor with a nice dry roasty base. I prefer this style of prominent coffee to the balance at Astronomy.
Belgrade coffee stout
I finished my rounds with Bad Beat, just around the corner. Since I had already enjoyed a few beers, I only had one pint here, of their amber lager. It was nice and dry with mild bread character.