Friday, May 8, 2015

SoCal Tasting Notes

The third day of our recent trip began and ended at the Ballast Point tasting room in Little Italy. There were of course other activities that Thursday, not incidentally the home opener of the San Diego Padres ... but let's talk beer.

Not this kind of flight...

A couple disclaimers: We made no attempt to be exhaustive. Green Flash and AleSmith are about five miles apart, 20 miles from downtown San Diego. Didn't go there, never even discussed it. (If Mikkeller Borg Bjergsø was operating in AleSmith's old space, that might have changed everything.)

Secondly, there is a reason the term is, "tasting notes." "Tasting recollection" cannot carry as much authority but there is no turning back the clock, notebook in hand.

The Bruery

After considering various possible outlines for this survey, I decided to begin with the most highly anticipated, which for me was The Bruery, in Placentia. I have really enjoyed some of their beers, in particular the sour and barrel-aged offerings. Knowing that some beers are available just in the tasting room only heightened my excitement.

—this kind of flight, the second of two at The Bruery.

Between us, Melvin and I tried 17 of the 21 beers on tap (exclusive of the selections available only to Reserve Society members). We enjoyed several of the complexly flavored beers, memorably the four (!!) imperial and smoked porters. Other choices produced grimaces, most notably Autumn Maple, a dark ale with yams and spices. Yeah, we probably should have known better.

These are big beers. Jardinier, a Belgian-style pale ale, weighs in at a manageable 4.9% ABV. A couple other beers are around seven percent alcohol but most are in double-digits. It makes a prolonged tasting session difficult, for the tongue and the cerebellum. We went there after the Angels' midday game on Sunday, April 12. Angels Stadium is about eight miles due south of The Bruery.

Ballast Point

As I mentioned, April 9 began and ended in the tasting room in Little Italy, one of four and one of the two with food service. Deputizing food trucks is an alternative for breweries that don't have the space or the ambition to operate kitchens, including The Bruery. One drawback, however, is the hours are often limited. On the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of the week that we visited The Bruery, the food truck calendar declared, "BRING A PICNIC!"

At the morning session at Ballast Point, Melvin had a sweet potato and chickpea burger and I polished off a couple of pork empanadas. I wish I remembered what Chris ate, although I do know he had an English-style cask ale. With some trepidation about starting the day with so strong a beer (8.7%), I ordered an Oompa Lupus, a milk stout made with chocolate, orange and cascabel peppers to benefit the Lupis Foundation of Southern California. Very tasty and perfectly balanced, the most interesting beer we drank at Ballast Point.

BP had an enormous selection, 35 drafts, and one-third carried the designation, "R&D," including the Oompa Lupus. Greater variety than The Bruery and more drinkable. Not every selection was a success. I talked Melvin into trying a Kentucky Common, a now uncommon, lightly carbonated, low-alcohol dark ale.  Local Option's modern take on the 19th-century style is mighty tasty but, Cluster Fuggle, Ballast Point's rendition, is a wan brown ale.


I decline most invitations to tour breweries, glibly observing that they are just factories for beer with all the character of a commercial kitchen. The Bruery is in an industrial park and the Ballast Point in Little Italy is a glorified pole barn. The Stone World Bistro and Gardens in Liberty Station is located in a mixed-use community developed on the northern half of the former Naval Training Center San Diego. The Spanish Colonial Revival setting is only surpassed by the design of the dining room and garden.

Gate One image courtesy of the National Archives.

Chris had "quasi-samples" of Pliny the Younger, from Russian River, and El Segundo's Hop Tanker. "Both IPAs and both very good. Then had a pint of Stone's Citra IPA, less complex but also enjoyable." The visiting teams score twice! I think Melvin and I were most impressed by the Stone Mixtape Vol. 5,
"a blend of Stone Cali-Belgique IPA, unreleased Stone Belgian Pale Ale aged in White Wine Barrels and Stone LeVariation Ale (Stone Levitation Ale fermented with the yeast strand utilized for [their] Belgian IPA, Stone Cali-Belgique IPA) aged in Red Wine Barrels that’s been dry-hopped with East Kent Golding Hops. (Whew!)"
Is that what I started with? I know I decided the Old Guardian Barleywine would go better with my wild boar sandwich. The three of us shared the house-made kimchi. All the food was first rate.

Chris and Melvin also made their way down to Stone's bar at Petco Park. One bartender and long lines was what they found most comment-worthy. Melvin and I had expressed how much we like the Cali-Belgique and Chris got that at the ballpark. "I enjoyed it but was not as enthusiastic," he wrote me later.

Border X Brewing

Speaking of Petco, Chris left for the airport in the eighth. When Melvin and I left four innings later, I snatched up a couple extra fedoras, the opening day promotion. Melvin gave me a look, 'What are you going to do with those?' Unsure, I responded, "Maybe I will trade them for a couple beers."

And, amazingly, that is exactly what happened. I was excited to visit the only Latino-owned brewery in San Diego but we arrived at Border X Brewery as they were closing. Spotting our toppers, a manager told us the staff had seen the fedoras all evening and the barmaids were covetous.

Moments later, we were drinking pints of Blood Saison, made with hibiscus and agave. (I have seen the hats on eBay with bids as high as $26.00, so maybe we settled too cheap.) The brewery says the farmhouse ale has "notes that hint to a sour" but we found it too sweet and thin-bodied. My standard in this vein is the Singlecut Kim Hibiscus Sour.


Anthony Gose, now with the Detroit Tigers, an obvious choice as patron
saint of baseball and beer. Image by Keith Allison used through license.

Chatting with the servers at The Bruery, I learned some of the staff had started Kinetic Brewing in Lancaster, where Melvin and I would be the next night. That seemed a promising pedigree but everything we tried was competent yet uninspired. I am not sure the waitress was either.

The Toros are sponsored by Tecate—the trademark is displayed prominently on the players' uniforms—and the only choices at the Toros game were, "red or silver," as if a 4.5% ABV beer needed a light version, and with or without pepper on the rim of the cup. Tecate is not a good beer but it suits its native climate and our visit to Estadio Gasmart.

At The Diamond, home field for the Lake Elsinore Storm, Melvin and I discovered Hanger 24's Orange Wheat. Drink one and you might think, as we did, 'Yeah, this is what Shock Top should be.' Have a second and it becomes clear one was enough.

Ditmas Park Tasting Notes

I wrote part of this post at the Ox Cart, in the Ditmas Park section of Brooklyn. Several people predicted this self-described gastropub would become my "local" after I moved to Flatbush. Query an Internet search engine for "places to watch the game" and Ox Cart is one of the few establishments in the neighborhood to pop up.

I was there on a Sunday night and ESPN's game of the week was a match-up of the local baseball teams, the Yanquis and the Mets. On the televisions at the Ox Cart were a dirt track race and Once Upon a Time,
"an American fairy tale drama series that ... takes place in the fictional seaside town of Storybrooke, Maine, whose residents are characters from various fairy tales transported to the 'real world' town and robbed of their real memories by a powerful curse,"
according to Wikipedia.

And on tap? Gaffel Kölsch, an RPA from Greenpoint Beer & Ale Company—the house brewery of Dirck the Norseman, a restaurant in Williamsburg—and two vacant taps. More gastro than pub. I guess. At home I had the Grapefruit Sculpin from Ballast Point (as it so happened) and Smoke Signals, a Stillwater-Siren collab' on a Lichtenhainer—draft. When I got the barmaid's attention, I asked to have my blackened catfish "plated to go," and not likely to return, I thought to myself.

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