Southern California – Mini Brewery Tour

San Diego is my home. I regularly kick myself for taking the city for granted when I lived there. In my defense, I left when I was 18, but that really isn’t an excuse when it comes just how marvelous of a place it really is.

And then there’s the beer. Good gosh, there’s the beer. I could rave for hours about how amazing it is. Hell, you’ve probably heard that rave countless times. I don’t need to repeat it, so I won’t. Instead, this post is going to be relatively quick because my visit was quick (and I was too distracted to remember to take many pictures…) and I’ll try not to stray from the breweries visited and an overview of beers tasted that stood out.

First on the list: Alpine Beer Company

I grew up in Alpine, CA. It’s a small town in East County San Diego which, when I lived there, had a population of barely 13,000 people. Those 13,000 people shared one grocery store and one fast food joint, Carl’s Jr. Nowadays the population has increased and there are several stop lights instead of the lonely two that existed in the days I was learning to drive.. What else do they now have? A brewery! I won’t lie, my hopes were not high when I first visited. I was expecting mediocre at best. What I found was something my wet dreams are made of: a varied selection of incredibly well crafted and balanced beers.

Their Ned Flanders Red is easily my favorite. It’s almost perfect, which is difficult to achieve with such a complex and sour beer, but they attempted it and they nailed it. Then there’s the Alpine Pale Ale.. I drink one and find myself wishing it would never end. It’s sessionable, dangerously sessionable, because it offers everything you want in a pale ale: slightly bitter, slightly hoppy, slightly malty, and a finish that’s clean and crisp and heaven sent.

Is the brewery worth the 45 minute drive from the Coast? For the food.. absolutely not. For the beer? Absolutely.

Second stop was AleSmith Brewing Company.

It’s quietly nestled in the design district in Mira Mesa, CA between furniture distribution centers and light fixture show rooms. The crowd picked up around 5pm and was predominately men in business casual who were all in good cheer as they drank away the previous 8 hours. My favorite thing about AleSmith: $1 tasters and their chipper service never wavered even when I bombarded them with questions and pictures.

Was their selection really that great, though? For a brewery without a pub, it really was. All of their year-round beers were on tap, as well as their current seasonal releases and a few ‘you won’t find it anywhere else anymore’ beers such as the Barrel Aged 2006 Decadence, an Imperial Red Ale that was a tangy, boozy, lush of a beer that stood out against the rest. The rest, however, were quite good. I have yet to meet an AleSmith beer that I don’t like.

The third stop: Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits

There was no missing this joint, even though it was hidden in a business park not far from AleSmith. The crowd, while slightly older, was exponentially louder. People spilled from the tasting room onto the front entry, despite the rule against it. No one seemed to mind. Their walls were lined with ribbons, memorabilia, and signs. While ordering a pint, it’s easy to be distracted by the brewery that lies directly behind the bar showing you exactly where the beer you’re drinking comes from.

Their selection consisted primarily of popular and easily marketed styles (IPA, Wheat, Amber..)

My favorite was the Habanero Sculpin IPA. Rarely do chiles provide more than heat when used in a beer. In this case, the heat from the habanero was certainly there, but it was much more subdued than one would expect from a pepper with such potency. Instead, the heat lingered in the background and added another layer to an already delicious beer.

Would I go back? Probably, but it’s not at the top of my list. It’s easier to pick up a bottle or two of their best from BevMo! or just about any other well stocked corner store in San Diego County.

And last, but certainly not least: The Bruery.

I don’t even know where to start when it comes to this one. This brewery caused me to regress: little kid in a candy store after opening Christmas presents and there’s a rainbow overhead and a unicorn is my best friend style. My expectations were sky high when I arrived, but there was no concern that they may not meet those expectations. The beer later validated just that; it lives up to the hype. I was lucky enough to visit on Sour Sunday with two friends. We tried every beer, with the exception of two (Saison Rue and Hottenroth).

I don’t even know that I can choose a favorite. They were all pretty extraordinary. My top three? The Marron Acidifie was out of this world in an I can die happy knowing I’ve tried this beer kind of way. The Barrel Aged Cuir was thick and strong and full of bourbon notes that made me wish I could hibernate in a bottle all winter. And the Kriek, oh the Kriek, it made my lips pucker and want to kiss the bartender to say thank you for providing me with such amazing brews.

I didn’t even touch on the amazing beer bars! Maybe next time I’ll remember to take more photographs & notes.. Beer and good company can be entirely too distracting in the best possible way.

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