Helia is in that middle ground that sits right on the border of Carlsbad and Vista and is not far from where Toolbox brewery used to be. Helia stands out among the many breweries in the area with their unique feel that perfectly encapsulates the beach vibe even though being fairly inland. This is most obvious in their choice of seating, which has a nice laid-back vibe to it.
Beer wise, I was glad to see that they have simple pricing across the board of $2 per taster, $4 per half pour, and $6 per pint. I started with a half pour of their amber ale, the stronger of the two. It was crisp and dry with notes of milk chocolate and minimal bitterness. My husband enjoyed this as well. Next I tried their pilsner, made with Dos Desperados brewery. It was soft and easy-drinking with light floral hop notes and a light sweetness on the finish.
My husband had a taster of the porter while there and really liked it. I had a few sips of it and was impressed as well. The beer has notes of burnt toffee on the nose. Flavors are a nice mix of marshmallow and caramel with mild roast on the finish. After a few IPA filled days, I wasn’t in the mood to try their IPAs this visit. Helia stands out with their relaxing vibe and hopefully will find their niche and be around for some time.
I tend to not visit small breweries within the first year of operation unless I know the brewer well from where they brewed before. In the case of Jacked Up I was partially put off by the name, which to me suggested it might be run by a bunch of frat boys. After reading that the brewer had been home brewing for a while and won many awards, I figured it was worth a visit now that they had been open for 2 years.
The tasting room is just off the 15 freeway in Escondido and not all the way into central downtown Escondido. The tasting room had a nice community vibe to it and the bartender was happy to offer splashes to ensure that people like what they order. After a few splashes of various IPAs I ended up with a half pour of their hazy IPA. The more west coast style was too strongly bitter for my palate now accustomed to hazy beers. Compared to what I regularly enjoy even their hazy was strongly bitter. The beer nailed the hazy appearance and mouthfeel with notes of mango and orange under the initial bitterness. The beer nicely blends traditional West Coast style bitterness with the juicy flavors and creamy mouthfeel expected of a hazy.
My husband tried a few of the lighter malty beers before settling on the vanilla stout sitting just under 9%. I had a few sips of his beer and it was well made. The beer had notes of dark chocolate and vanilla without getting too heavy or sweet. I can tell that the base beer is also well done. Though Jacked Up isn’t offering anything that would entice people to drive up from North Park, it is a solid neighborhood spot with a stage that suggests they have the occasional live music. Despite being almost 90 degrees outside on the day I visited, the tasting room stayed comfortable with good ventilation, use of fans, and some air conditioning. It is worth a stop for those who find the modern style of IPA to have abandoned a bitterness that made the style interesting in the first place. The hazy IPA was even more bitter than the early hazy from Second Chance, which I found bitter for the style.
The Original 40 opened just East of North Park brewing company, not far from the tasting room where Chuck Alek was before they closed. They have a large indoor space with a full menu though at least initially the food is not available until 5PM. The brewery gives Chris Gillogly a chance to explore new styles after coming from a stint at Mikkeller San Diego and Groundswell before that. From the few beers I tried, it will be a welcome addition to a fairly crowded neighborhood.
I stopped by on a Saturday afternoon and it was quiet enough to be peaceful to enjoy a pint. But as it got later into the evening and the place started filling up, it became uncomfortably loud as many places in the area tend to get. Thankfully they didn’t have any loud music to make things even more intense. I started with their German style pilsner, which was crisp and well made. The beer had notes of orange blossom honey and a crisp dry finish with a light bitterness. This lager is offered along side a Mexican style lager that I didn’t try.
There were lots of hazy IPA options available but I went for one made along with Pure Project Brewing based on input from friends who had visited recently. The beer had a nice thick creamy body for 6% and tons of juicy papaya, mango, and orange peel to round it out. I hope they manage to add a similar beer to their rotation. They also had a big imperial stout when I visited that was made along with Horus Aged ales and so dosed with incredible amounts of cacao nibs and vanilla beans. Though delicious I don’t know if I would have ordered more than one at $7 for a 4oz pour. Other tasters were the now standard price of $3 each.
I was overall impressed by the beers I had and hope that The Original 40 is successful. Along their house beers they had a few guest taps including something from Burning Beard and Societe and a few alcoholic kombucha options. I didn’t eat any food during my visit because the kitchen wasn’t open yet and they didn’t seem to have a lot of vegan options.
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.
Stave and Nail has been in the works for a while. It is an offshoot of Rip Current headed by the same person who runs the sour program at Rip Current. The two spots are so close that you can easily visit both in the same visit. Though today’s visit suggests most people coming for Stave and Nail are not interested in going to Rip Current in the same trip. Most of them have likely already been there many times and so it no longer interests them.
I visited mostly to try various sour beers they had available. The beers were fairly standard for a new brewery starting out a sour program, indicating they are on the right track and should develop further given time. I started with a pink guava and raspberry beer that had a prominent guava flavor with a funky bitter finish. The peach sour was strongly tart with mild notes of white cake behind it. A second guava sour, the one released in bottles on the day of my visit, was funky and nicely balanced with a dry finish though overall quite subtle.
During my visit I also tried a few sips of their double IPA and imperial milk stout. I got the IPA for my mom to try and found it overly sweet with lots of vanilla notes and grassy hop character. The milk stout was strongly bitter with notes of molasses and lingered on the tongue in the finish. It blended nicely with the coconut flavors. I was surprised to see so many people grabbing four packs of these beers without even trying them. After tasting them, I wasn’t excited to leave with either of them. I certainly recommend you visit them for sours over IPAs or stouts.
Stave and Nail is a solid new operation and a welcome addition to San Marcos now that Toolbox has left. Given the lack of breweries in the area offering sours except Belching Beaver and a few sours at Rip Current next door it should be well received. I didn’t find the beer to be so exciting that I would suggest you take a special trip to visit them if you are in another area of San Diego. This is especially true as it seems the number of sours showing up in liquor stores from around California and surrounding states continues to increase regularly.
Known for: Come if you are interested in trying a variety of small batch barrel aged sour beers. Some of them are spontaneously fermented using locally harvested yeast. All of the sour beers had fruit added when I first visited.
Note: Stave and Nail is a small operation and as such will be only open one weekend a month initially. They are planning on releasing new beers in bottles each month.