An American Craft Beer Adventure
I rejoin you all with a tale of my post Firestone endeavours. This is where they let me loose on the rest of the US with a renewed fervor and more acute understanding of ales. Up until this point my consumption level had been reasonably tame (as much as anything to limit my prat status to a bare minimum. Best to unleash such behaviour on unwitting strangers who would hopefully put it down to mere English eccentricity). So here goes.
I left my Firestone Walker Brethren in LA with no sense of place, belonging or master plan and a mild hangover to measure. All I knew was that I was headed south to San Diego which is cast alongside Denver as the craft beer Mecca of the United States. A not so long white knuckle ride down the coast and I soon found myself in downtown with a desperate need to soothe the palms and palate with something cold. Upon meeting a local who was very keen to point out that San Diegan’s were amongst the most laid back people one could care to meet, I was recommended a chilled out place that served craft beer to suit my by that point feeble Sunday mood. What Bootlegger bar had to offer instead however was something more akin to Animal House with juiced up, topless steroid monkeys and their cheerleader girlfriends shouting at muted TV screens showing American Football whilst a cacophony of american inflected dubstep warble blared out at volume ‘11’. Obviously the atmosphere got a resounding nay in my critique due to this sensory overload but the beer did pass the test. Whilst it wasn’t mind blowing, a Widmer Brothers Hefeweizen served as a good distraction from the surrounding chaos. Typically cloudy with banana aroma but a bit too piney hops and thin for it to remain true to style but refreshing none the less. I’ve given this place a bit of a bashing for not living up to craft beer pub sensibilities but in actual fact it’s encouraging to see just a regular bar, devoid of the snobbery that can rear it’s beery head in craft beer establishments, still serve quality beer almost as an afterthought. I imagine this is the case for most drinking holes in the county.
Next stop- a visit to Best Damn Homebrew Shop inside Super Jr. Market, an Aladdin’s cave for beer lovers. I collected a few 22oz bottle beers that one can’t get in London to take back with me to show off to buddies as much as drink them for the sheer pleasure. As I exited the store I was confronted by the owner of the homebrew section who had caught me peeking at his products. He wasn’t officially at work that evening but he had to collect something; we got chatting. He suggested a few good places to grab a pint or whatever size vessels picked my fancy and said he was headed home in the direction of Monkey Paw Brew pub- would I like a lift? Now under most circumstances I wouldn’t dream of getting into a car with an absolute stranger but mummy says the offer of sweets not beer are the mark of a devilish man with insincere intentions. It turns out mother was right. Safe and sound in another beer nest, this time very much the real deal. Unfortunately the days travels had taken it’s toll on me and I felt slightly weary so it turned out to be a one-drink pit-stop. What a treat though. A Monkey Paw brewed Oatmeal Pale Ale. The cereal works really well and you can catch the oaty, biscuity notes on the aroma as well as get a good dose of hops bittering to balance it out. A splendid brew.
And onto the afterparty back at mine. By afterparty I mean: me alone in my motel room with a brew of my choice. I put the many beers I had bought in the fridge and pulled out a Russian River Temptation Barrel Aged Sour Ale half an hour later, pouring it into the only drinking utensil I had to hand. The incongruous nature of sipping one of the World’s bests beers out of a Days Inn cardboard cup didn’t seem to resonate until I awoke to the evidence the following morning. Classy! From my recollection the sourness was further exacerbated by the dry texture of the cardboard, rendering my tongue a lifeless piece of jerky. That is to say this is not supposed to be how it is drunk. Now it would seem that my experiences so far were a catalogue of missed opportunities to actually ‘taste’ fine ale. Unfortunately I cannot argue against this but it is hard to be switched on permanently when you are trying to enjoy other things in a foreign country beyond beer and as the alcohol itself takes it’s plight the law of diminishing returns tend to be obliged.
Excuses aside another incredibly unusual beer is the Ballast Point Kunindra Curry Stout which I had the pleasure of tasting (and I did this time) in a shot glass up in Escondido (½ hr from downtown). By this point I had convened with a Firestone Walker Sales rep for San Diego County who very kindly showed me the ropes. One of the perks of trying to get your brewery’s tap heads on at people’s premises is that you also manage to get other breweries’ beer inside you. This beer was different to anything I had ever sampled. It’s so aggressive in its spicy flavours I would marvel at anyone who could drink more than a thimble of it. However it would be a perfect staple of beer tapas alongside other equally full-on beers with wonderfully weird concoctions but you’d probably need something like a Russian River Pliny the Elder to wash it all down. And one of these was duly polished off with great relish at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Garden which backs onto their own brewery. Heralded as being up there with the Union Jack as one of the best IPAs in the world, it didn’t disappoint. Ask me to compare the two and I couldn’t possibly. They are both fantastic in their own right. Besides, I’d probably need to do a side by side test as I’m still doing hippocampus-high-intensity-interval-training and other brain stretching exercises to get my tasting notes and beer memory up to scratch. The brewpub/restaurant is state of the art and the zen garden out the back is testimony that beer doesn’t have to be appreciated in pubs creaking under the weight of history or spit and sawdust boozers with teeth on the floor either. It can be celebrated in salubrious spaces of complete tranquility whereby you are expected to ponder and meditate the extraordinariness of what you are about to receive. In this case, a Stone Smoked Porter, and yes, it was great. Smooth, chocolatey and wait for it…smokey but not too heavy. Haochi!
Twenty minutes west and I’m in Carlsbad, hot on the trail of Pizza Port. They are part of the Port/Lost Abbey Brewing group but they actually have 3 venues with the Pizza Port namesake. Solana Beach, Ocean Beach and Carlsbad. Each site has their own brewing teams which make different beers. The Carlsbad pub is where I had tracked down the lovely Melanie Pierce, Pizza Port events coordinator who I had met previously at a Golden Road Brewing event in LA. Not hard to miss with her affinity for pink and head to tail tatts, making her look like a corner shops’ classified ads notice board. But like I say, she is lovely. This sleepy beach town is what I would call laid back. Finally a place I can quite comfortably get drunk without the prospect of having to drive to get somewhere else or home for that matter. Everywhere is walking distance. Fabulous! My motel incidentally was a stumble away from Pizza Port. I decide to get stuck into a taster menu. That is 4 shot glasses of any beer of your choice for very little money. What more could you want?…Oh yes more beer and sensational buffalo wings. I went for Poor Man’s IPA(pine, citrus, mango), Night Rider/Imperial Stout (chocolate, espresso), Kung Fu Elvis/APA(pine, grapefruit), Reeds Wee Heavy Scotch Ale (boozy, burnt, malty, peaty,) and a pint of Dubblecious/Abbey Dubbel (caramel, raisins), followed by a half a Sticky Stout (roasted grains, chocolate). All were fantastic with my favourite being Night Rider and the least Reeds Wee Heavy Scotch Ale (the strong taste of alcohol was too overpowering for my taste).
From this point I gather my speech was beginning to slur, hence why Melanie didn’t understand my offer to move on to another bar down the road for some late night/early morning drinking. Alone again, in a seedy dive this time, I helped myself to a pint of home brewed stout straight out of a picnic cooler. The romance and charm of the occasion has probably impaired my judgment somewhat but I thought it was magnificent. Dive bars are where you are likely to find other lonely hearts and I of course found a kindred spirit who had just moved from Boston. It turns out though that he was looking to prolong the night even more by driving back to his place to collect Molly (who I learnt to actually be MANDY) before taking the Highway to a strip joint which was about to close in 20 minutes. His determination to drive at what would have to be F1 speeds on a heavy concoction of drink and drugs left me feeling he had a unique perspective of ‘prolonging the night’ and I duly turned down his kind offer of death. Furthermore I had a plane to catch to New York the next day so I thought it was wise to call it.
Manahachtanienk, or Manhattan, as the new inhabitants know it, is the quite fitting Native Indian for ‘The place where we all Got Drunk’ and where I most duly obliged this caveat. However I failed in any attempt to affect the drinking habits of my dearest friends and convert them to World of Craft Beer. So without further ado I joined the masses and pumped a few gallons of Light Beer or what urban dictionary pleasantly refers to as ‘dickwater’ straight into the gut, avoiding all major sensory organs for fear of recognizing that it might all actually taste just like water. Perhaps an intermittent Brooklyn Brewery Pumpkin Ale to revive the tongue and palate before diving back into the vast Miller Light Ocean. Wow! A very rich beer that tastes of pumpkin (derr), spices- in the way of Allspice, Cinnamon, Nutmeg as well as some caramel notes. However my muted senses may have found this all a bit overwhelming and to be honest it was a bit sickly after a while. Oh well, back to Bud, the perfect antidote and a good way to wean myself off great American Craft beer before hopping on the Carling Carousel back home!
All photos by Adrian Peskin