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.
California wild ales had its first day open to the public on April 7, 2018 with the release of its salted yuzu sour. Before that, you could only taste the beers occasionally on tap around town or by purchasing bottles with the membership. The tasting room is located in an industrial area of Sorrento Valley. The front entrance is actually in a walkway between two buildings while the back entrance is the side more easily accessed near the parking area.
The tasting room itself is fairly typical in size with some small tables to hang out and drink your tasters but for the most part it serves as a location to pick up your bottles. I tried three of the beers they had on tap and found all three of them to be fairly subtle both in fruit flavor and tartness and acidity. Of the three, I found the stone fruit sour to be the most complex with more hints of earthy funk and overall more fruit flavor than the other two.
The other two beers that I tried were a guava sour and the salted yuzu sour that I was there to pick up. If I were to decide primarily based upon tasting the beer, I probably would not have picked up a bottle of the salted yuzu although the beer was a bit more complex in the bottle because the carbonation was be from a reaction to the yeast as opposed to forced carbonation. Both the guava and yuzu sour were fairly subtle in fruit lightly tart and lightly acidic. The yuzu tended to be a little bit more citrus in flavor but between the two the distinctions were fairly small.
Since visiting, I got to try the salted yuzu out of the bottle. The first bottle erupted with carbonation quite quickly. The beer has much better carbonation from the bottle. The beer has light buttery oak character and minimal citrus from the yuzu and much more funk than it did on tap at the release. It is a nice refreshing sour but not something that I would want to pay full price for at their bottle prices. Hopefully over time they will lower the price because with the small amount of fruit I taste here I don’t see the beer being worth $20 a bottle.
If you want to come and taste for yourself, for now the brewery will only be open during specific days when bottles they release are available to pick up. Eventually they will be adding public hours on weekends so keep up with them on social media to figure out the best time to stop by.
California wild ales only produces barrel aged sour beers. You will not find any other styles on tap.
Disclaimer: I am good friends with one of the people who works for the brewery though I don’t sugar coat my review of places just because of that. I want to help friends achieve greatness just as much as anyone else.
I stopped by Savagewood for their industry appreciation night. Since I went with my brother I was able to try a few more beers than I might have if I was alone doing pints. I tended to stay away from anything O’Sullivan Brothers had already made prior because they were solid but nothing I cared for. They managed to license the recipes of a few of the more popular beers O’Sullivan Brothers had made, which is nice because otherwise they wouldn’t have a dark beer on tap.
I started with their ESB, which was solid though not up to the quality of my other favorites around town. It had a nice malt backbone with light apricot hop character and low bitterness. It could have been a little more attenuated (less sweet). They have the same beer available on nitro though they don’t seem to understand how nitro works because the nitro version is quite under carbonated and not all that different from the regular.
The saison was below average with a strong bubblegum flavor and an overpowering sweetness that bordered on cloying. I’m glad I wasn’t the one who ordered that pint. The session IPA was equally underwhelming with a strong malt backbone that wasn’t attenuated enough leaving a syrupy sweet base with minimal hop character to balance it out. The IPA was solid, if fairly standard for the classic West Coast style. It blended notes of grapefruit, pine, tropical fruit, and light floral hops with a dry finish and low bitterness. The IPA, while clearly better than the rest of the lineup, isn’t that different from the other offerings in the area.
Though Savagewood is still an overall improvement over O’Sullivan Brothers, they need to do more if they want to differentiate themselves from the crowded beer scene in the Mira Mesa/Miramar area. Their core lineup of a Mango Heffeweisen, blonde ale, ESB, session IPA, IPA, and saison isn’t going to do much to bring in beer geeks though the IPA should satisfy hop heads who are looking for a solid IPA to knock back.
A lot of people first become interested in craft beer when they taste an IPA and fall for the bitter punch or the pine resin but many brewers and beer drinkers eventually learn to appreciate the delicate flavors of a well-crafted lager, usually in the German or Czech style. There are many types of lagers in all ranges including the higher alcohol baltic porter, a strong dark beer brewed with lager yeast. For purposes of this article, I will focus on lower alcohol versions of the style and breweries in San Diego where you can consistently find an excellent version of that style.
1. Societe Brewing Company – Societe is one of the first San Diego breweries where I encountered an excellent lager. They often have two or three variations of the style on tap at once, including single-hopped versions to showcase a hop or more classic varieties. Around Oktoberfest, starting in September, they put on some delightfully authentic versions of the festbeer and kellerbier.
2. Fall Brewing Company – Fall has been delivering six-packs of their delightful pilsners for some time with Plenty for All first followed by the Rise Up Czech style Pilsner. Both are excellent and always refreshing examples of the style. I’m hooked on Rise Up and the lovely wildflower honey flavor I get from it.
3. Burning Beard – Burning Beard’s Normcore Pilsner has been named best beer in San Diego in 2016 as voted by readers of The West Coaster. Then for 2017 it was named best lager in San Diego from the same readers. This beer has quite a following just as the Beard has its loyal fans. Though not brewed in as large quantities as others this is always a reliable choice when you are craving a good lager.
4. Alesmith – Alesmith didn’t always have lagers on tap but then recently they released both the Sublime Mexican style lager and the delicious Spezial Pils, a German style lager. Both are excellent though I prefer Spezial when I am craving something classic. This is now available year-round in cans.
5. Pizza Port – Though not a brewery generally associated with lighter beers, I was really blown away by the quality of the Festbier that Pizza Port released in 2017 as a limited release through their tasting rooms. I was craving more once I finished that six-pack. They also brew a number of one-off beers throughout the year.
6. ChuckAlek Brewing – Chuckalek is the only brewery I know of in San Diego that lets you order a full liter of their German styles at their tasting room, usually limited to the altbier and helles German style lager. Though I usually end up ordering their delightful ESB, ChuckAlek makes a consistently delicious helles lager and altbier, a malty traditional German style.
7. Eppig Brewing – Eppig has a regular pilsner and schwartzbier (dark lager) on rotation along with a Japanese style dry rice lager. I was most impressed by the schwartz, which to me is one of the best examples of the style I have had in California and most authentic to the traditional style. Eppig displays their commitment to this classic style in their choice to open a large beer hall on the waterfront recently.
8. Stone Brewing – Stone brews their year-round lager called “Who You Callin’ Wussie” but they have also released some delightful small-batch lagers throughout the years. More recently I was quite impressed by their Kolsch, an ale brewed with lager yeast. Though not technically a lager, the Kolsch would satisfy most people’s craving for the style.
9. Gordon Biersch – Gordon Biersch is often overlooked as a big brewery that happens to have a location in San Diego but their head brewer is the local guru when it comes to brewing lagers. They are not flashy but the lagers coming out of the Mission Valley location are consistently of high quality.
10. Bagby Beer – Like Gordon Biersch, Bagby gets overlooked by people looking for beers to hype up because they consistently brew beers to style rather than trying for the next big thing. Most times you visit Bagby you will encounter at least one if not two excellent lagers. They also tend to have excellent lagers from out of town on tap as guest beers.
Karl Strauss has been putting on a big anniversary party for a number of years now. I talked to quite a few beer nerds at other events who always told me that this was one to go to. Some said they had been attending the Changing of the Barrels every year for four years or more. I quite enjoyed it this year though mainly because I really liked the new anniversary saison aged in wine barrels with pink peppercorns. It should be tasting great at next year’s event too assuming they save some for that. If you missed the event, the saison may be available at the breweries for a week or two after.
Karl Strauss has a large tasting-room location off the 5 freeway a few miles north of Balboa and Garnet. I would have enjoyed it more if they had not sold so many tickets because the area got incredibly crowded and the lines were somewhat long both for beer and food. If you grab a beer before getting in line for food, you likely finished your beer before you get to the front of the line. Same thing if you eat your food in the line for beer. They had two stations for beer as opposed to festivals I’m used to where the beer is spread out among 20+ tents. The lines did move fairly quickly thanks to everyone having their own glass already.
For the beers they had three sour beers, three versions of the new saison (standard, cask with strawberry, and nitro), two barrel-aged imperial stouts (a third variety was consumed by the VIP group), a 14% imperial stout, and the rest of the list was mostly their standard year-round beers. There were a few new beers that they recently released and most people probably hadn’t tried yet, including two new IPAs. As someone who visits Karl Strauss fairly regularly, I come to an event like this for the barrel-aged stuff and I found the options a bit limited.
I was the biggest fan of the new saison, which was incredibly balanced with a mix of funk, red wine character, and just a hint of peppercorn. The fruit in the cask version was quite subtle though it was a nice variation. Fear of the Tart, a barrel-aged dark sour was also quite nice and a lot lower alcohol than I normally see for a dark sour. This would make a nice year round sour if they could produce it more regularly. Another favorite of mine was the wild ride, a sour that uses Red Trolley as a base and is aged on raspberries. I had previously rated this beer quite highly at a sour festival and it was equally impressive here with a restrained sour finish. Sadly it ran out half way through the evening so I couldn’t go back for seconds.
As for the stouts, the 30th anniversary stood out as nicely attenuated for 14%. It hid the alcohol well and wasn’t overly sweet or syrupy as is common with beers that high of alcohol. It reminds me of the imperial stouts at Red Horn in northern Austin, which is quite impressive. It should age quite nicely between now and next year and I can hardly imagine how crazy it could get if aged in bourbon barrels. The barrel aged rye imperial stout was quite tasty and similarly dry though surprisingly thin for 12% as well. The 27th anniversary ran out before general admission got inside so I didn’t get to see how it was holding up. They had two newer IPAs including their Boat Shoes, a slightly hazy un-filtered beer they recently canned and Isomerizer, a mosaic IPA that is being canned soon.
I wasn’t sure what to expect for the food but with so many people they decided to have each food truck offer three different courses, separated by 45 minutes. Each individual serving was quite small and each time a new item was ready, people lined up to grab it. I would have assumed a wider variety of available food when buying the ticket. All of the food was meat-focused. Both food trucks did a great job with the food. Beer people didn’t seem excited by the salad so I got to get quite a few of those. Mastiff won the day for me with the delicious pig fries (potato served with pulled pork, sausage, and pork belly) and the pork nugs (crispy pork belly squares). Biersal served a delicious tri-tip sandwich with a tasty jalapeno chimichurri sauce.
As a vegetarian, I had no choice but to eat the meat served or miss out on a significant part of why I bought the ticket and drink on an empty stomach. Thankfully I don’t have any health conditions that prevent me from eating meat but not all vegetarians have the same luxury. I don’t expect breweries to have vegetarian options at all events but it would be nice if they made a note on the site that food was likely to be all meat-focused. I would have been able to adjust my expectations accordingly. Of course they did advertise two meat-focused food trucks but Mastiff does make some amazing vegan sausages.
As for the overall experience, I found the lines much longer than ideal. However, without setting up jockey boxes around the seating area the only way to change that is to sell less tickets. Since both my general admission ticket and my mom’s designated driver tickets included a bottle of the barrel-aged saison, a beer that I quite enjoyed, I was still overall satisfied. It had a unique taste from other local barrel-aged saisons. We got to taste next year’s beer as a preview which I assume will be aged in some sort of barrel for next year. Even if they don’t barrel age it, the 30th anniversary imperial stout should age nicely by next January.
Considering the reasonable ticket price of $45 for general admission including food, beers, and a bottle the Changing of the Barrels event was a solid value. Though I was slightly irked by the lines they could have been a lot worse. And the lines for the food somewhat stopped me from over-eating.