Friday, September 9, 2016

San Diego Weekend: The Beer

In our last post we covered our impromptu trip to San Diego that happened because friends ended up with extra tickets to Stone's Beerfest. Before, during, and after the fest we found ourselves in some of the local breweries - and didn't even scratch the surface. There were three breweries within a mile of our hotel that we never visited. In this post we'll cover the breweries we did visit, along with the impressive Stone Beerfest.

Pizza Port's Ocean Beach gave us a great selection of beer to choose from in a surf-town casual atmosphere. The order process was a single line walk-up counter. At the time we arrived the line was long enough to give us a chance to figure out what we wanted to try between house-made beers and guest taps. Signage was cute with well-designed name cards, but they took a while to read through. The two lists combined offered a well-rounded selection of styles to choose from. We ordered 1/2 pints of their blueberry sour and coffee porter. Both were very enjoyable. We loved their pizza - excellent NY style crust.

Coronado's production tap room was a fun stop. The large production area was off to one side and towards the back of the building - white walls mixed with stainless steel equipment. The taproom was in a corner with mid-tone wood paneling and neutral walls. Want to see a bunch of dogs? Come here. At least 5 dogs were in the building at any given time. We had three flights between the four of us with a dozen of their 15 offerings. Some were good while others were a bit experimental. We picked a few IPAs and our tongues were burning from the hops.

The visit to Ballast Point was interesting. The location we went to was in a strip mall. On one side of the location was a home brew goods store, the middle Ballast Point merchandise, and the third section the taproom. The walls were adorned with nautical art and murals taken from label artwork. At the counter you could see about 30 different tap handles. They displayed their offerings on two TV monitors: hoppy on one monitor and all-other on the second monitor. Since the only Ballast that seems to make its way towards Illinois is Sculpin we took advantage of the situation and tried the scotch ale, porter, coffee sculpin, and other malty offerings. They offered a variety of pour sizes giving us lots of options for tasting.

Our visits to Karl Strauss and Stone's Liberty Station were more focused on food than beer. We've had a bunch of Karl Strauss products at Disneyland so nothing new to us here. The selections at Stone were decent with a lot of their own beers mixed in with guest selections.

Intergalactic was a stop all about the beer. Their industrial center/corporate park location was no thrills except for a few sci-fi posters and murals. The beer fully compensated for lack of ambiance. With names like Walking Carpet you can't go wrong. All beers were excellent and the cucumber wheat was a standout. The time spent with Dave's family was an added bonus.

The focal point of the weekend was Stone's Beer Festival. Lee and Laura purchased all-access tickets that gave us two three-hour sessions and the opportunity to try up to 20 rare beers (2oz pours). Other options were to do only one of the sessions, skip the rare beers, and to have some add-on rare tasting sessions with brewers. All proceeds went to charity. Each session included unlimited two oz pours of beers. A "VIP" lanyard punch-card would get us our 20 rare beers.

The setting of the festival was California State University @ San Marcos - a commuter school with buildings terraced on a hillside that has beautiful views to the lower valley. It made us question our choices of college locations: West Lafayette, IN and Potsdam, NY. The festival was scattered throughout the school's terraces.

Happy to be here

Before we arrived we remembered friends were riding Jungle Cruise in Disney all day as part of a fundraiser. On one hand we were thinking "suckers, we're drinking beer all day" but on the other hand we admired their dedication. We decided to donate $1 to their charity Give Kids the World for each beer we tried (Results at the end of the post). It helped us stomach some nasty IPAs knowing that it was "for the children". Since we did not think catching cooties was a possibility the four of us ended up sharing tastings. More sampling meant less time on line.

Upon arrival we checked in and picked up our glasses (don't break it or your day is over), maps, programs, and rare tasting lanyards.

We headed deep into the fest so Dave could get in line to try Russian River's famous Pliney the Elder - one of the most sought after pale ales. The line was twenty-deep so Holly, Lee, Laura diverted to other tents for tastings while Dave waited (less than 5 minutes). The verdict: It's nasty! Like chewing on dandelions and pine needles at the same time. The rest of our party agreed and we dumped the remainder. There were some nice sours at the next tent that helped cleanse the pallet.

The festival had a few food trucks and bands scattered about. The campus had pointy cacti lining the walkways and one false move gave you such a poke. There was a big tent with plenty of tables and chairs plus a few photo opp locations. We enjoyed mugging for the photo booth. Since we did not think cooties were a possibility the four of us ended up sharing tastings. The fest-goers were a respectable group - folks just out having fun tasting beers. We really did not see anyone drunk and/or disorderly.

IPA face

Our friends told us in years past this was essentially an IPA event. That is still the predominant style, but we found there was a bit of diversity in the offerings this year. Fruit and sour beers were scattered about and stouts/porters were mostly found barrel-aged or imperial (some were in the 19% alcohol range). A few cider makers were present and they had some outstanding products.

Halfway through Session A we met up with Kristina and Matt (Lee and Laura's friends) and their cousin joined up during Session B. We were having too much fun sampling beer, chocolate, insanely good brownies, and just enjoying the day.

Between Session A and B there is an hour break. This is when we (and many others) hit the rare beers section. Surprisingly nothing here really wowed us. Too many over-alcohol barrel-aged beers or over-hopped belgians. We didn't get more than 7 or 8 punches on our rare cards due to the longer lines and our lack of interest in the offerings.

Photo booth trailer - it was broken so the person running it used our cameras

Having the two session ticket was perfect! We had a chance to try everything - more than once if desired. Most tents were a walk-up or just a few people in line which helped expedite tasting.

After the festival we had dinner at a pizza place walking distance from campus.

The Stone Fest was an extremely well run event. Sampling was efficient and the variety of offerings was amazing. Drinking water was always in eyesight and there were several craft sodas available for when you needed a break.

Dave took notes of everything we tried on the festival guide and transferred them to the festival guide PDF pages. Highlighted items are beers we tried. "Tried" can mean a tiny sip from a friend's glass, a few sips from your own, or you went back a few times because the beer was that good. Our tally, which was calculated over pizza, was 100 even. After a recount it appears we squeaked in 103 unique beers/ciders/wine that day.

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