Tag Archives: San Diego

Helix Brewing – Sourworx and some non-sours

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.
Top 2: 
Future Futures, passionfruit sour
Walking Through Windows, golden sour

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

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Gravity Heights – Impressive New Brewery in the Mira Mesa Area

These days it is hard for me to get excited about every new brewery. Many small breweries barely launch with average beer. Thankfully, the team behind Gravity Heights, including Skip Virgilio, the original brewer behind Alesmith, knows about quality. It shows in both the lineup of beers and the beers I tasted.
Gravity Heights is a massive brewery restaurant that is close to the size of Ballast Point’s big Miramar location. This immediately suggests that there is some big money behind the project. Though big money doesn’t always translate into understanding the local beer scene and what people want to drink. In this case, I can say that someone involved knows exactly where the market is headed.
Gravity Heights launched out the gate with four lighter style beers, a variety of IPAs, three darker beers, and a few collaboration beers. I was glad to see that they had both a house amber and a German style Alt beer. Beers are priced to push the consumer into ordering a pint with $3 tasters and $4.50 half pints. Thankfully most of the pints are $7 with some of the more expensive beers at $7.50 and a few at $8 a pint.
Alt is a German style Amber known for letting the flavor of the malts shine and occasionally some hop character to balance it out. The Alt served at Gravity Heights had prominent notes of coffee and hints of raisin and plum. This is a satisfying beer that blends the lines between amber and brown ale. I would recommend this personally over the dry stout, which I had at the end of the night. Though flavorful for a dry stout, and sporting notes of coffee and roast, I found the dry stout less to my liking.
Alt Beer
Dry Stout
I next ordered their hazy IPA to see if it was done properly. A lot of breweries are making beers they call hazy though a lot miss the style mark completely. This hazy IPA was a delight, bursting with tropical fruit and tons of citrus and citrus rind notes. It had enough haze to fit the style and a nice citrus rind finish that helps balance everything out and avoids it tasting like orange juice. If they can keep this beer consistently as good as I had it on my first visit, this will become a popular local favorite in no time.
I enjoyed the beers at Gravity Heights and also quite liked their back patio where they have a variety of seating options and not just the usual picnic tables. With plenty of businesses within walking distance, they should have no problem attracting visitors. I look forward to returning as the weather warms up.
Top 2: 
Hazy IPA
Alt Beer (German style Amber)

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

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Indian Joe and Battlemage – Vista San Diego

Indian Joe

Indian Joe Brewery is in Vista and I didn’t get up to visit the brewery until recently, mostly because I don’t really hear much about them. What made me want to stop by was their choice to expand into a larger facility. I tried a few tasters and while I was drinking a few beers I was invited to check out the beers barrel aging in the back. That was where I realized that they are a real hidden gem.
I started with two berliner weisse style beers. One with dragonfruit and guava, and another with apricot and peach. Both were a bit sweet for the style and also stronger than usual at almost 6.5% abv. The guava dragonfruit was not particularly fruit flavored but mostly sweet with a light tart finish. The apricot peach was also pretty sweet with a white cake base and some mild apricot notes. I didn’t really care for either but thankfully I was introduced to their proper sours shortly after.
The head brewer took me and one of his regular visitors back to the barrel aging area where there were a variety of sours and imperial stouts in different manner of oak barrels. What impressed me for most of the barrel-aged beers was how dry they all were. Lots of beers over 9% alcohol tend to be thick and sweet with all the residual sugars. All the beers I tasted in the barrels were fully attenuated and had a dryer finish more like wine, both stouts and big sours.
Two that most impressed me were the dark sour aged in cabernet sauvignon barrels, which was incredibly balanced and had lots of red wine notes. Another impressive beer was the imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels with chocolate. It was also incredibly dry and had tons of fudge notes.
My experience with the barrel aged beers led me to order a strong dark barrel aged sour immediately after finishing. This beer was brewed with blackberry and blackcurrents. It was incredibly dry with lots of jam and berry notes with a light tart finish. While tasting the beers, I asked the head brewer why these beers aren’t released in some sort of online pre-sale or as limited bottles in the tasting room. He answered that he wants them available for the regular visitors so they simply tap them when ready..
I finished with Indian Joe IPA which was dry with notes of cirtus and pine with a mild bitter finish. The beer had a nice balance and was properly west-coast style. Beer geeks I suggest avoiding the various fruited berliners and stick to the IPA and stronger barrel aged sours and other barrel aged beers if they are available.
Indian Joe is one of the few local breweries that impressed me where I hadn’t heard much about them before hand. To me this makes them more underrated than most local spots.

Battlemage

I tried four tastes while at Battlemage. I liked the RPG theme, which made it stick out among the other similar breweries in the area. They appeared to have completely moved from any West Coast IPA to brewing full hazy IPAs based on the tap list.
I started with the alt beer, a german style tending towards the malty flavors. This version had notes of cherry and caramel with light hop notes. While it was fairly authentic, it would be even more so if they served it on cask. If you missed it, I recently posted my experience visiting Dusseldorf to try the alt beer at its source. The brown ale was roasty with notes of cherry and light smoke. The beer had a dark red color and mild bitterness on the finish that balanced with a nice roast.
The hazy pale had tons of tropical fruit and citrus with a good thick body and medium hop acidity on the finish. It was the best balance of the two. The stronger hazy IPA had notes or herbal hops with melon and pine and a lingering bitterness. While they nailed the mouthfeel on this one, it was a bit too bitter for the style. Both hazy beers were well done and up to the level of most local versions.
Battlemage had some solid beers and is a great spot to visit if you are up in the Vista area. They seem to have the hazy mouthfeel down even if they tend towards a bit of a west coast style by giving them additional bitterness.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

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Where to Drink in North Park Neighborhood of San Diego

North Park is a thriving residential neighborhood with tons of bars and restaurants and now breweries. I am going to list all of the breweries and also highlight some of my favorites. There are really two smaller clusters of breweries, one along El Cajon Boulevard and one along University Avenue.

Furthest South in North Park area is Modern Times’ satellite tasting room nestled among various restaurants. They focus on hazy IPAs, barrel aged stouts, and sours and you can pick up limited amounts of their cans from this location. If you want their barrel aged sours, the selection is wider at the main brewery. Thorn Street is not far down the road, easily walkable with their brewery location where they largely stick to traditional styles. Neither of these locations has food.

On your way up to University Avenue, you will pass Mike Hess brewing, a large tasting room that is usually crowded. I haven’t visited them in years and suggest you stick to other nearby stops instead. My fellow beer blogger Craft Beer in San Diego considers Hess one of his favorites so perhaps I am just missing something. Check their tap list first to see if the beers interest you. Also on University is North Park Brewing, a young brewery that partnered with Mastiff Sausages for their kitchen. They have excellent food and vegan options (including vegan sausage). This is one of my favorite places to visit in the area because they have excellent IPAs and also brew the occasional flavorful low alcohol beer, sometimes an English mild or dark lager. I end up drinking their mild beers so often I forget to order the IPAs. Lately they have started brewing the occasional hazy IPA and some have turned out quite good.

A short walk north from there, you will pass Toronado bar on your way to Rip Current’s North Park tasting room, Belching Beaver’s north park tasting room, and Second Chance’s small neighborhood spot. Toronado is a local favorite featuring a variety of beers on tap. Rip Current is known for excellent IPAs, but they also brew fantastic German styles, stouts, and barrel-aged stouts. Belching Beaver is mostly known for their IPAs. They recently started making some hazy IPAs and also have a young sour beer program with the original brewer and blender behind the now closed Toolbox brewing. Second Chance makes excellent beers to style and is one of the few local breweries that makes an excellent Irish red that is available year round.

Once you reach Belching Beaver you are fully into the El Cajon Blvd part of town where you can find Tiger Tiger, Pariah, Eppig, A hard Kombucha brewer, Home Brewing, Barn Brewing. Further North you will find Fall Brewing, Poor House. Of these my favorite is Fall but Pariah and Eppig are great too. Tiger Tiger is connected with Blind Lady Ale House and serves their house beers from Automatic Brewing on draft along with a variety of local beers. All pints there are served in imperial pint glasses, giving you a full half liter.

Pariah and Eppig opened around the same time and both have excellent beers. Pariah I visit mostly for IPAs though they have a variety of styles available. Eppig I mostly visit for lagers including one of the best dark lagers in town. I haven’t yet visited their neighboring hard kombucha spot and don’t plan to because I drink kombucha as an alternative to beer and prefer my home brew.

Home Brewing is a quirky spot connected to a home brew mart but they have been doing quite a few interesting collaborations and can releases lately that tend to be good. It is a good spot to visit if you want to learn about some more obscure styles. I haven’t been to Barn brewing yet and don’t expect to anytime soon. Nobody talks about them in my circles and I assume they have a more local following. They are owned by the same people who opened Poor House.

Fall Brewing is a local staple both for excellent IPAs and lagers. They also brew a variety of other styles reliably well. I tend to order their English Pale Ale there simply because nobody else does a beer like that around town like they do. Poor House is a quirky neighborhood brewery that I haven’t been to in many years. They are similar to Barn in that nobody really talks about them but they are still around so I assume they have a following as well.

Further East along Adams you will find Kensington Brewing and Blind Lady Ale House home of Automatic Brewing. Kensington Brewing I have been to only once and don’t expect to return. They have a similar neighborhood feel and lack the excellence of others in the area. Blind Lady Ale House is a restaurant focusing on pizza and serves their house beers from Automatic Brewing along with a variety of other guest beers. They also serve all their pints in imperial pint glasses giving you a full half liter. If you haven’t heard of Automatic Brewing don’t be surprised. They hardly market themselves as a brewery online. But they do make some great beer.

Must visit stops If you only have time for a few
Fall Brewing
Rip Current
Modern Times
North Park Brewing (serves food)

Other standouts
Belching Beaver
Pariah
Eppig
Second Chance

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

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Breweries to Visit in Downtown San Diego

In my travels I have learned that not everyone has the time or inclination to venture outside of the downtown area. Thankfully Downtown San Diego has seen a lot of new spots opening in the last few years making that a good option while still giving you a good taste of what San Diego has to offer.

Without even leaving the downtown area, you can easily access three of San Diego’s biggest and most established breweries, Ballast Point, Stone, and Karl Strauss. Stone’s tasting room is a bit more difficult to notice as you walk by but once you are inside you won’t want to leave. I suggest visiting Stone’s smaller company store locations anyway over their restaurants because the beers are slightly cheaper and you can still try most of the beers.

Some people may have written off Ballast Point after their sale to the wine distributor Constellation but if that doesn’t bother you, their Little Italy location is large and serves food. Not far from there is Bolt’s satellite tasting room though I suggest you skip that as there are better options. There is also a Mikkeller tasting room somewhere around here but I have not managed to visit yet.

Karl Strauss’ original location is in the heart of Downtown and is a spot I go to regularly for lunch. The food is excellent including vegan options and the beers have evolved nicely with the times. They still brew their standard Red Trolley and delicious Heffeweizen along with a lineup of hoppy beers. They are a brewery tourists tend to overlook for the more shiny spots but you can’t go wrong with their beer.

Other spots you can visit downtown include Resident Brewing, The Bell Marker, Half Door Brewing, and the newly opened 10 Barrel Brewing and Melvin Brewing. Resident is located inside the neighborhood bar called The Local. They have a wide variety of house beers along with a full bar and guest taps. The food is excellent and while it is not listed on the menu they have a few vegan options.

Half Door has not impressed me as much with their food but they have a good variety of hazy IPAs and also some excellent Belgian styles and stouts. They will finally be able to sell growlers and crowlers sometime in January 2019 with a new change to the law. Mission Brewery is near Half Door but I haven’t visited in years and don’t recommend it. Stone also has a small company store location near the ball park if you are in that area. I have never visited.

The Bell Marker recently opened with beers made by an ex- Pizza Port brewer and featuring an excellent variety of food including tons of vegan options. I have only ordered their hummus plate, which is an amazing deal during happy hour. I found their IPAs too bitter for my tastes but I quite enjoy their brown ale and other traditional styles.

I have not yet made it out to 10 Barrel and just stopped by Melvin for the first time recently but they both have brew houses so I included them in the list. 10 Barrel is owned by AB inBev (aka Budweiser’s parent company) and faced fierce opposition from locals, which is why I have never visited and don’t plan to. But if that doesn’t bother you, I hear the beer is solid. Melvin is a new location for a Wyoming brewery with a kung-fu and hip-hop vibe. Expect hip hop playing at high volume when you visit. Their founding brewer got his start in San Diego and they added a brew house at this location making them a San Diego brewery. They are so new that I just visited there a few days ago my first time. They focus on hoppy beers and serve Asian Fusion style food. Not far from these East Village location there are rumors that Little Miss plans to open a satellite tasting room as well sometime next year. Bay City has a new location in the works as well.

If you don’t mind taking an uber, it is not too far to head over to North Park, where you can visit 10 different breweries or Point Loma where you can visit Modern Times’ main location, Stone’s massive Liberty Station restaurant and Eppig’s waterfront beer hall. Those whose family drag them to visit the Hotel Del in Coronado should stop by Coronado brewing, one of the established breweries that I have not yet managed to visit. You could also venture down into Barrio Logan and visit Border X and Iron Fist.

I will do a separate post on North Park breweries later but most of them are excellent and the staff at any of them will happily point you to the best ones nearby. I didn’t include any mention of the numerous bars in the Gaslamp area mostly because I haven’t visited them. I also haven’t mentioned Monkey Paw because it is still unclear if they will re-open in some form after recent troubles. Rumors suggest that they will become a new location for South Norte, a brewery connected to Coronado brewing.

I also missed a few newer spots that I hadn’t even noticed had opened that you can read about on my fellow beer blogger’s site Craft Beer in San Diego  Contrary to his suggestions, I would personally avoid East Village all together and focus on Resident, Karl Strauss, and Stone, though Half Door is certainly worth a visit. Both Amplified and Duck Foot make good beer but I want to send you to places that make excellent beer. It also depends heavily on what styles you like to drink.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

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