The Bell Marker took over a spot on the corner of 6th and Broadway. They had a wide lineup of beers so that it would have been difficult to try them all even doing flights. I happened to visit during happy hour so I had pints rather than my usual tasters because they were only $4 a piece during that window. If you are there for happy hour, I highly recommend you order the hummus plate, which is a great deal and a healthy meal when paired with a pint.
I first had a pint of their English Brown. This is a style I don’t order very often in San Diego but when I saw the lower alcohol it was worth trying a splash. As expected, the American Brown they have is a bit more hop forward and higher alcohol than the English style. I loved the dark color like a porter. The beer was roasty and quite flavorful for the low alcohol with notes of chocolate and caramel. Some may say this borders on porter territory with the prominent roast but it is a delicious beer either way and a rarity with the low alcohol.
I returned another day and had the cream ale and Belgian Wit. I was going to try their pale ale or session IPA but the splashes of both were a bit high on the bitterness and I wasn’t feeling them so I went on the lighter side. The cream ale was crisp and delicious with notes of pear and peach with a soft body. The Belgian Wit was super dry with a hint of clove and a mildly earthy finish. It paired wonderfully with their hummus plate and is one of the more authentic versions of the beer I’ve had locally. My husband drank the milk stout both times and it was tasty with a mix of caramel and roast with a medium body and not overly sweet.
If you are in Downtown San Diego it may not be too far to walk to Bell Marker. If you do, you will find a good variety of solid beers and a broad menu of food options. Their happy hour is currently 3-6PM daily with $4 pints and discounted appetizers. They have a good sized restaurant with standard restaurant seating and a good sized bar.
Port City is a nice neighborhood brewery in Alexandria and overall they had a solid lineup of beers that were quite enjoyable. They have a wide open tasting room with tons of space to sit both inside and outside. Because they don’t have taster flight trays, they give you one or two tasters at a time from your six taster flight. This works out well for the most part.
I started with the porter. It was roasty and lightly smoked with notes of cherry, bitter chocolate, and toffee. The beer was easy drinking with a nice medium body. I can see why this is an award-winning porter. The scottish ale was easy-drinking with notes of cherry. It would be quite easy to drink down by the pint. The session IPA had a mix of bitter grapefruit and floral hops with a strong bitter finish. The beer had a good medium body and a crisp dry finish. Though I would prefer slightly less floral hops, this was well done.
The English IPA was lightly sweet with a soft body and notes of peach. The flavors balanced nicely with a mild bitterness on the finish. The Integral IPA was soft and juicy with bright citrus on the notes and notes of juicy tropical fruit and melon finished off with a light bitterness. I really enjoyed this one and might have had a pint except a band was about to start playing where we were. The Scotch ale was a caramel color and had notes of caramel and raisin with a hint of cinnamon to balance out the sweetness.
All the beers I tried at Port City were well done and they had an excellent porter and IPA. This is a great neighborhood spot and worth visiting if you are in the area.
arts district brewery has a full food menu and bar aside from all the beers. I stopped by on a Sunday afternoon and tried four different beers. I could tell from the list that they still aim fairly traditional in the IPA area. This means I did not see any hazy IPAs like their neighbors modern times and Mumford. Instead I encountered IPAs that were traditional West Coast style. In some ways this meant they were a little too bitter for my current pallet.
I started with the Canyonero Hoppy Amber. He had a mix of citrus and spice from the hops and a good medium bitterness that balanced with notes of orange peel and herbal hops that seemed a bit strong for me on the finish. The other IPA, Kablamo, was more intensely bitter with strong pine on the nose and mix of herbal and pine that finishes with resin and sticks on the tongue. The level of bitterness is up there with traditional West Coast styles but was a bit much for me now that I am used to more modern styles.
While I found the traditional flavors of the IPAs to be a little bit much, I was refreshed by the traditional flavors of the various stouts they had. I started with the cowboy Curtis a smoked stout. The beer was super smoky on the nose but more balanced in the taste. It had a creamy body with flavors of dark chocolate, marshmallow, and light roast. The flavors balanced nicely and the smoke was not overpowering. The skeleton crew right Porter had a nice medium body with light smoke and roast and great balance. While nice, I preferred the cowboy Curtis for the more complex flavor and less herbal bite from rye.
Arts district brewery earns quite a few metals for their beers which suggests that they are fairly traditional and my tastes confirmed that. If you still love a traditional West Coast IPA, you will find plenty to enjoy here. For those who are not into the big bitterness anymore, I suggest you try their delicious stouts and porters.
I stopped by Mumford to see how their hazy IPAs had improved since my last visit over a year ago. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there hazy beers were much softer than I recalled and that one of the two was up at the level that I would hope to see from more Southern California breweries.
The first beer I tried, projection circuit, was nice and creamy with bright citrus notes of pineapple. The beer had fairly low hop acidity and bitterness. This was my favorite of the two and I brought home a crowler. I also tried the mastermind solutions. It was a bit sweeter and thicker with bright character of ripe papaya and mango and strong hop acidity and caramel on the finish. After trying both beers, I am much more likely to return to Mumford when I am in the area next time.
Protector opened in the crowded Miramar area. All their beers are made with 100% organic ingredients. This makes the beers more expensive to produce and so the prices are slightly higher than other breweries in the area. People don’t seem to mind though and some batches of IPA have sold out in 5 days. Though Protector hasn’t had a grand opening yet, they have already proven that their brewers have an immense skill. My first visit they only had three beers, two IPAs and a pale ale.
The hoppy pale was grassy with light citrus notes and a solid finish. I couldn’t tell if it was the grassy notes I didn’t like or the choice of malts but it wasn’t much my style. The traditional IPA was a fantastic balanced beer with mild citrus and mild bitterness. Both this and the West Coast style IPA had a solid malt character without being overly malt-forward. The malts balanced perfectly with the hop notes. The West Coast style IPA had a great blend of resin and citrus notes with a light bitter finish that wasn’t present in the traditional IPA. While slightly more malty than the typical West Coast style it was quite a good beer.
Over the coming weeks, I returned a few times to try their new beers. First time back they added a porter and a session heffeweizen. The porter was good and roasty with notes of caramel and cherries and bitter dark chocolate on the finish. The hefeweizen had a good dry finish. Flavor of cloves dominated over banana and the beer finished fairly astringent. While very easy drinking, I found the beer a bit too heavy on the cloves.
I returned a third time and tried their coffee imperial stout. Though expensive at $3.50 a taster, it was quite impressive. It had intense coffee on the nose. The beer had a silky mouthfeel with notes of caramel, roast, and coffee. Traditional ipa batch dialed up the citrus character even more though still with mild resin on the finish. Bitterness is still mild.
In a crowded area, Protector stands out with an excellent lineup of beers. Their IPAs showcase hops while supporting them with a mild malt backbone. This balance is difficult to achieve and a rarity among local breweries. Their tasting room is spacious from the get-go.
Disclaimer – Though I did receive the occasional free taster while visiting protector, my views have not been altered in any way.
Update – Post has been updated to reflect the brewery’s change of pricing for the Imperial Stout. It is now $3.50 a taster instead of $5.
Midnight Jack Brewing is in the inland portion of Oceanside or, as some might say, the valley. They have quite the large number of beers on tap. They have a large indoor space with plenty of seating. When I started, I tasted their helles, saison, IPA, porter, and stout on nitro. The helles was fruity and had a nice kick to it, a solid beer for the style though lacking the lager character that makes a few local breweries stand out. Still it was one of the better beers from my visit.
The saison was completely infected with acetaldehyde and tasted like astringent apple juice. I brought this to the brewer’s attention (who happened to also be pouring the beers) and once he tasted he agreed and pulled the keg. Surprisingly this is not a common response at smaller breweries so I respect his integrity. I was told that other kegs from the same batch were quite popular and sold fast so I want to give him the benefit of the doubt that this beer is normally really good and something happened with this keg.
The Lucky 7 IPA had some mild fruit but intensely harsh bitter finish that made it un-drinkable. It didn’t have much aroma or resinous hops to balance out the bitterness. The porter was smooth and roasty with notes of coffee and chocolate, while mildly sweet at the finish. I really enjoyed this one, probably the best of the bunch. They also had a version available that is blended with half cold brew coffee brewed in house. My friend ordered that version and really enjoyed it. The chocolate stout had some strong fruity alcohol notes and was quite thin, overall it didn’t taste like a stout.
I was ready to leave it at this point and not try anything more but when I went up to close out my tab, the brewer suggested he wouldn’t charge me because I wasn’t satisfied. I respect that and accepted that. Then, when he came to tell me I was right about the saison, I figured I would try a few more of his IPAs so he poured me tasters of the session IPA, Vermont style IPA, and 3Cs IPA.
The session IPA was crisp and smooth with strong grassy hops. I asked the brewer whether he dry hopped this one and he said he didn’t. It is an interesting take on the session IPA though the grassy hop character is not something I’m used to locally. The Vermont style IPA was not representative of the style. It was a darker red-orange hazy color that is unusual and despite using plenty of mosaic, citra, and amarillo it didn’t taste like it at all. It had a salty finish that I haven’t experienced with this kind of beer before. I ended with the 3C IPA that he describes as his West Coast style IPA. It was bitter and mildly piny and had a dry finish but it didn’t taste anything like a west cost style IPA to me. Then again I’m not generally a fan of piney IPAs.
The brewer at Midnight Jack clearly knows what he is doing. The porter was fantastic and the helles was quite good. Sadly he still needs some time to get the IPAs dialed in to meet with local standards.