The initial impetus for the San Diego trip was Stone’s Oakquinox beer festival, a day of drinking barrel aged beers from numerous breweries, my kind of day! Then of course, because it IS San Diego, we had to incorporate as many breweries as possible along with the Zoo (PANDAS!) and a quick stop at an H&M for some shopping! I had an amazing time, the weather was perfect all weekend and the scenery was gorgeous. I’ve only ever been to Los Angeles as far as California goes and was not all too pleased with that place, so I was happy at how much I liked San Diego. When I got home and did my detective work to organize my pictures, tweets and thoughts I realized that, for whatever reason (haha), I didn’t take pictures of everything, which totally bummed me out, but that just means I will have to go back! Below is a breakdown of the bars/breweries that we visited with some pictures and some thoughts on the beers. I swear I’ll get better about writing stuff down. maybe. Here is the first day/night of our trip, look for another post shortly on the rest of the weekend!
Friday April 15th:
As soon as we landed and checked in to the hotel, we headed straight to a bar. Duh, its vacation! Toronado was the first stop and I decided to go with a sour beer, followed by another sour! I was on a sour kick in San Diego… maybe because not too many Texas breweries/brewpubs do sours (I can think of one for sure– Freetail) and I wanted to indulge my new liking for this style.
This bar was really relaxed, a long bar on the right and a few tables to the left. They also had a covered patio outside and a photobooth! Definitely a nice first stop to get the trip started.
2008 Rodenbach Grand Cru
This beer was so tart and very sweet! It was a bit much, especially to start the day off with, but it was cool to try this and then move on to the Red Poppy. Similar styles, but not quite. The Rodenbach is a Flanders Red Ale while the Red Poppy is a Flanders Oud Bruin.
2011 Lost Abbey Red Poppy Ale
I loved this beer! It was tart and sour but not quite so powerful as the Rodenbach. This beer was aged in oak barrels with sour cherries, which makes it odd that I liked it so much because I am not super fond of cherries. It was kind of expensive at the bar, but we bought some from the actual brewery to take home!
The next stop in San Diego was Small Bar, a small (oh really?) cute little place described by a regular as “a beer bar with a scotch problem”. The beer board had an excellent selection and apparently I wanted something completely different from the sours I had at the previous stop.
Ballast Point Navigator Dopplebock
I chose the Ballast Point Navigator Dopplebock, an 8.9% sweet and heavy beer. I also ordered their charcuterie plate that was quite nice, although they teased me by listing bacon jam on the menu and when it arrived the bacon jam was nowhere to be found. bummer. We only stayed for 1 beer because we were on a mission to see as many breweries/brewpubs/beer bars as humanly possible in San Diego. I think we were quite successful.
Ballast Point/Homebrew Mart
The next stop in our San Diego adventure was Ballast Point. We didn’t visit the actual brewery, but a small shop with homebrew supplies and Ballast point Merchandise. Oh, and their beer. They even sold their beer at the homebrew mart, what a novel concept! You could buy tasters of each beer for $1 which was nice for trying their beers without committing to a full pint. This worked out for me right from the start because I chose a beer, tried it and couldn’t stand it. Luckily John traded me for the Reef Rye Ale that I enjoyed!
Ballast Point Reef Rye Ale
This is a brown ale with a heavy rye presence. It is 5.6% ABV, typical for the style, and quite refreshing after all the sours and big beers I had so far Friday afternoon! There was quite a hop presence but not to the point where I had to trade with John again ;)
Ballast Point Victory at Sea
Next I went with their Coffee Vanilla Imperial Porter, the description screamed my name, and I was right. I thoroughly enjoyed this beer, it had a huge vanilla aroma and taste and you definitely got the coffee flavor as well. I would have bought some of this to bring home, if they would have had any. But, at 10% ABV I was glad we only had a taster, the night was young yet!
John tried a few others, one that stood out was the Tongue Buckler (American Amber/Red Ale) that had been brewed with chipotle peppers. I have tried Mikkeller’s Chipotle Porter that I wasn’t in love with or anything, but Ballast Point’s chipotle beer was SPICY. I don’t mean it burned my tongue or anything, but I could feel that itch at the back of your throat when you know you ate (or drank, in this case) something peppery. The chiopotles were definitely there, but since it started as an amber ale, I thought there wasn’t enough body to back up the peppers, to give it some sort of balance.
I bought some spent grain/organic doggie bones for my freaks and some of the taster glasses and we headed to dinner!
For dinner a sushi date was planned, it is San Diego so it was a logical choice. The sushi place was in the corner of an unassuming little strip center, but once inside I knew why John picked this place (plus he had been there before). We sat at the corner of the sushi bar (my favorite place in these restaurants- you get to watch everything!) and the head chef, Mr. Ota himself, was our chef. I ordered a glass of white wine (what?!) and we looked over the small, but packed menu. The chef asked us what we would like to order, but asked if he could make us something of his choosing. YES, PLEASE. I love giving sushi chefs free reign, you aren’t just getting something good, you are getting what they are the best at making, which to me, is inevitably better. I mentioned to him that I liked spicy and he definitely listened on the first plate he presented to us (on the left in the picture below). There were three pieces of sashimi: yellowtail, tuna and salmon. Also on the plate was a hand roll incorporating those three fish with a spicy sauce that I saw included Sriracha, among other things. EXCELLENT. The sashimi was so fresh, juicy and flavorful. After the chef saw our empty plates he again asked if he could make something of his choice, and after that first dish we decided it would definitely be a good idea. When I saw a plate on the counter with a piece of parchment paper that was filled with something that was bound to be delicious, I asked another patron if he knew what was inside. He told me it looked like vegetables, little did I know those were our plates waiting on their finishing touches. Once the chef finished assembling the plate it was placed before us and he began explaining everything on the plate. There was the parchment (I’m almost sure that’s what the paper was…) filled with vegetables (carrots, turnips, etc.) that had been topped off with some black truffle oil. I know foodies are probably tired of this “craze” but it was SO GOOD. I am not a huge mushroom person, so having the smell and earthy flavors without actually eating a mushroom is great for me. Next on the plate there was a portion of crab leg that was in a cross-sectioned shell and to go along with it a special sauce that combined ginger, fish sauce and some other things he mentioned. The crab was juicy and tender and the sauce was quite sweet, but perfectly complimented the crab. Then there was a serving a tempura fish with an interesting topping on it. The tempura batter was perfectly crispy and the fish inside was juicy and flaky. Everything was perfect, nothing too outrageous, but very well done. Next time in San Diego, I will definitely be back here.
KnB Wine Cellars
After dinner it was beer shoppin’ time! KnB Wine Cellars had been recommended to us by that regular at Small Bar, so we decided to check it out. He was so right. The store/bar/restaurant was located next to a grocery store in the corner of an adjacent strip center. The front of it had a cute patio for eating and drinking, that connected to an inside restaurant section as well. The store was awesome! It was huge and so was the beer selection. Stuff was mostly in coolers but they did have an aisle of room temperature beers as well. My favorite part was ordering a beer to have to drink while shopping. This may be the most fabulous thing I have ever heard of. I have only experienced this one time in Texas, at my favorite clothing boutique, Wish, where they serve me cocktails and pick out my clothes, it’s quite nice. I went with the Karl Strauss 22nd Anniversary beer based purely on the description on their beer board. Good Move, Leslie.
Karl Strauss 22nd Anniversary Vanilla Imperial Stout
A 9% Imperial Stout (with vanilla no less) was a great after dinner beer, too bad I didn’t have a piece of cheesecake or something to go with it! The vanilla aroma was strong and so was the flavor in the beer. I LOVE vanilla, so I loved this beer. Even at 9% the beer wasn’t too heavy, and they didn’t serve it in a full pint glass (nor should they have) which is definitely the right move. It was creamy and sweet, almost a dessert in itself. Of course, I had to have this beer again so it was purchased at one of the many shopping trips this weekend to take back to Texas!
Blind Lady Ale House
The final stop of the evening, after quite a day, was the Blind Lady Ale House located in the cute Normal Heights neighborhood of San Diego. The beer board was packed with beers to try and their pizzas and other food looked equally amazing. Next time I want to eat there for sure. The story of the bar is pretty neat as well, Lee Chase, one of the owners, used to be a brewer at Stone Brewing (although after a weekend in San Diego, you hear that more than a few times talking to people about their breweries/pubs/etc.) and decided to start his own restaurant/bar, which to me seemed like a great idea, the place was so packed but they had a great beer/ food ordering system. I ordered the Velvet Merlin by Firestone Walker and we were able to score a table after a few minutes, success!
Firestone Walker Velvet Merlin
I haven’t had this offering by Firestone Walker before, but have enjoyed everything else I’ve had by them, and I do love a good oatmeal stout. This beer was served in a HUGE half liter glass, a very generous serving of this delicious beer, though for my final (seriously, last one!) beer of the night a smaller portion may have been better. Chocolate-y aromas and flavors as well as coffee were the first things I noticed about this beer. There was definitely a hop presence, but it was very well balanced with the rich malt profile.
Back to the hotel for some rest to prepare for a big Saturday in San Diego! For not even having a full day in San Diego, we sure did cram a lot into our Friday afternoon/night. I absolutely loved the atmosphere of every place we went to, a very laid back vibe coupled with a great beer selection at every place we visited made for an awesome first day. One thing I noticed about all the bars we went to was their beer boards. They usually had the name of the beer, brewery, year (if applicable), ABV, style and a description! Perfect for visitors or people who don’t know every beer ever made ever. I appreciate the time these places take to make the beer experience just that much better.
Part II of the trip, Saturday and Sunday will be posted shortly!