Featuring The Local, Iron Fist Brewing Co., Stone Brewing Co. and Pizza Port.
What’s the deal with Charlie Sheen and baseball? Why does playing an a-hole in a baseball movie twenty-something years ago make him an ambassador for the sport? Like the role was that much of a stretch! Last year, we saw his “retired number” at a Lake Elsinore Storm game. This year, he threw out the first pitch at the Padres game we attended during our Beer and Baseball trip through San Diego.
Luckily, we got to the game late so we didn’t have to see “Wild Thing” nearly sail it past the catcher. PetCo is a great park – which is hard for me to admit as a Dodger fan – with its central location downtown, incorporation of existing historic buildings into the architecture and little league diamond past the outfield fence.
Our group of USC Band members, alums and friends watched the Padres take on the Reds from the cheap seats far above right field. The concession stands up there are pretty standard with typical macrobrew offerings. I didn’t partake, but I had to try the fish taco on the menu. It was disappointing – a dry fish stick in a tortilla – but not overpriced, so I felt a little better.
I apparently missed out on the park’s good food and craft brew. A couple guys went down a deck or two and found Stone and Ballast Point beer on tap. The overflowing baskets of wings and onion rings were also decently priced at $6. Damn, I should’ve explored the park more.
After the game (Reds won, I think, who cares), I met up with a couple band alums, B and Erin, who live down in San Diego. We first ducked into a Rock Bottom in the packed, trendy Gaslamp Quarter. It was the only bar in the area that didn’t have a cover, but my brown ale was soapy and mostly tasteless, so we moved on to The Local, a small pub a little outside the “seen-and-be-seen” zone.
The Local was the perfect refuge for those more interested in porters than Patron shots: only local craft beers on tap. There was also inexplicably a DJ spinning in back, but the bar had a nice, relaxed vibe and beers on tap from nearly every major San Diego brewer: AleSmith, Green Flash, Lightning, Mission, Karl Strauss and more. We discussed why Karl Strauss – the godfather of San Diego craft beer – was looked down upon by many in the beer cognoscenti. Erin likes their beers and thought the hate could stem from the belief that Strauss beers had become too “mainstream.” Great. Beer hipsters.
We finished the night at B’s apartment taking a break from craft beer with a few 40’s of Mickeys. The next day, we drove back up to North County and rejoined the main group. Our first stop that day was at Iron Fist Brewing Co. This industrial park brewery is another newbie on the craft beer scene, having been open to the public less than two years. They have a great story. Iron Fist is a family business that started when they began selling the beer they couldn’t drink themselves to the public. They also have a great slogan: “Rule your taste with an iron fist!” Awesome.
The family affair at the brewery extends to man’s best friend. Dogs are allowed in the tasting room, lazing under tables as their owners sip beers. I ordered the very decently priced $5 flight with samples of Hired Hand, Golden Age, Dubbel Fisted and Velvet Glove. A favorite was Golden Age, a Belgian-style golden strong ale. Its ABV is 9.2% and boasts lemon, grape, apple and banana in its flavor profile. I’m not sure it was that fruity, but I definitely could taste bananas. The other interesting beer was the imperial stout Like a Glove. The sign advertised it as a “Deep roast with dark chocolate and leather accents.” Ha, I get it: glove, leather. Clever. But surprisingly, I did get a dry, rawhide aftertaste from this beer.
Our next stop on the tour was the Mecca of craft beer in Southern California: Stone Brewing Co. in Escondido. Maybe Mecca is the wrong metaphor. It’s more the brewery equivalent of Disneyland with its landscaped gardens and ponds, slick marketing and, of course, a gift shop to exit through. It made me wonder how soon before Stone becomes too overexposed for the craft beer hipsters. After all, the crowds there are not the typical brewery demographic because Stone has transcended the craft beer scene. It’s a destination for bachelor parties, weekend escapes and road trips. To wit, we saw a couple of drunk, wife-beater-wearing bros hurling f-bombs and nearly coming to blows out in the gardens.
Although I’d been to Stone before, I was excited to take my first tour of the brewery. The other couple times I’d stopped by, all the passes had been given out. We waited for it to start in the gardens, sipping a couple of their characteristically hoppy offerings. When in Rome, I guess. I had the Ruination IPA, which claims to surpass the 100-point limit of the IBU (International Bitterness Unit) scale. It’s so floral, it smelled kind of like a bag of weed.
It was time for the tour. It was pretty typical: walking around the brew kettles, passing around the jar of hops, seeing the bottling line. It was a bit disappointing, truthfully, considering the brewery’s high production value elsewhere. Our guide did engage in some fun macrobrewery bashing: sneering at marketing catchphrases pretending to be unique brewing techniques: “cold filtered,” “frost-brewed” and “triple hops brewed.”
As big as Stone has gotten – sales have grown 33% each year – it still has that small brewery feel. They also continue to experiment, owning a farm nearby that grows hops so they can use fresh flowers in some brews. Our guide made a point of emphasizing that craft brewing is about cooperation and collaboration between brewers not “iPod speakers on a 30-pack.”
After the tour, we enjoyed a few samples at the small bar carved out of the gift shop but it seemed somewhat redundant since we’d already tried most of them. I did particularly enjoy the Smoked Porter, which we were encouraged to warm in our hands to release the flavor.
To finish the weekend, we headed on the 78 toward Oceanside to pay our respects to another pioneer of the San Diego craft beer. Well, that and to get a slice or two. Founded in Solana Beach in 1987, Pizza Port started brewing beer on-site in 1992. That’s four years before its Southern California rival BJ’s added “Brewhouse” to its name. Furthermore, at Pizza Port the brewing equipment you see is actually used to brew beer not as giant steel billboards like at BJ’s where very few of its locations actually brew.
Unfortunately, I had to drive so I couldn’t partake in the beer, but I had a few slices of their Pizza Roma overloaded with Canadian bacon, pepperoni, sausage, salami, onions, olives, bell peppers and mushrooms. I’m not usually a fan of thicker crust pizzas but it seemed necessary in this case for structural integrity. And the bread wasn’t overly greasy like other deep dish crusts.
It was a packed beer weekend, and I was glad that I could help further the craft beer education of some of these newbies. And what better place than San Diego, the cradle of craft beer? This trip came to an end, but it’s still summer, so more beer and baseball awaits!