Crack­ing coldies in Cal­i­for­nia

SAN DIEGO BEER WEEK SHOW­CASES SOME OF THE BEST IN AMER­I­CAN CRAFT BREW­ING — AND EAT­ING, WRITES IAN JACK­SON

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - Escape -

We have been great mates for a long time. We’ve trav­elled the world to­gether. And, like any long-term friend­ship there have been ups and downs. There have been nights where we didn’t see eyeto-eye and morn­ings where we couldn’t stand the thought of each other. We have had a few breaks, but ev­ery time we have made up. Yes, beer and I are good mates.

San Diego is heaven for those who like a beer or two. This is not about get­ting soz­zled at the pub at the end of the day, this is beer-tast­ing nir­vana. Craft beer and mi­cro­brew­eries have been boom­ing in Aus­tralia for sev­eral years. In the US, San Diego leads the way with a mul­ti­tude of brew­ers gar­ner­ing ac­claim around the coun­try and over­seas. In 2011 there were 37 craft beer brew­eries in the greater San Diego county, now there are more than 100, four of which are rated in the top 50 by the na­tional Brew­ers As­so­ci­a­tion. It is the cap­i­tal of craft.

The craft beer brew­eries are dot­ted around the city. Dozens of them make just enough beer to sell in their tast­ing rooms or, at a stretch, for lo­cal sales. Many of the big­ger brew­eries com­ple­ment their reg­u­lar range with lim­ited runs of sea­sonal beers or ex­per­i­men­tal and col­lab­o­ra­tive brews that are only avail­able at the brew­eries. It’s a scene that is for­ever chang­ing.

Mu­nich has Ok­to­ber­fest and San Diego has Beer Week. In keep­ing with San Diego’s re­laxed way of life, the week ac­tu­ally lasts for 10 days. Many of the events are paired with food. The San Diego re­gion is a large farm­ing com­mu­nity and grows some of the coun­try’s best pro­duce. Many of the coun­try’s top chefs, lured by the fresh in­gre­di­ents, have em­braced lo­cal pro­duce to cre­ate a ro­bust and ex­cit­ing culi­nary scene.

More than 500 events around town dur­ing beer week range from spe­cial re­lease nights at pubs, beer and break­fast events, beer and lunch, beer and din­ner, beer and choco­late, beer and …. you get the pic­ture.

One of the big­ger events is the Craft Beer and Bites night, or­gan­ised by the San Diego Brew­ers Guild, and held in a large open-air area called SILO in the East Vil­lage. The event runs for three hours and is a cel­e­bra­tion of craft brew­ing. A tast­ing glass comes with your ticket and more than a dozen brew­ers of var­i­ous sizes show­case their wares.

It is a low-key, ca­sual night. Queues are min­i­mal and brew­ers are keen to have a laugh and a chat about their beer. Food trucks of­fer de­li­cious snacks, bands bang out tunes and games, in­clud­ing gi­ant jenga, add to a party at­mos­phere.

Beer and Bites is a great way to sam­ple a wide va­ri­ety of beers be­fore hit­ting some of the city’s craft brew­eries. Three of the big­ger play­ers are Karl Strauss Brew­ing, Bal­last Point and Mike Hess Brew­ing. Strauss is one of the pi­o­neers, start­ing in 1989.

Nearby in Lit­tle Italy is the Bal­last Point Tast­ing Room and Kitchen. Walk­ing in can be a bit over­whelm­ing. I don’t know what took me longer — de­cid­ing what to eat for lunch or choos­ing which beers to taste. I need not have wor­ried, all the dishes we tried were de­li­cious and the bar staff were great at run­ning through the beers and how they taste in lay­man’s terms. It was a great place to en­joy a drink while watch­ing dis­arm­ingly low-fly­ing jumbo jets come in to land at the nearby air­port.

Over in North Park is the larger of Mike Hess’s two brew­eries. Hess spent 15 years brew­ing beer at home be­fore he re­alised that his hobby was ac­tu­ally his call­ing. He opened his brew­ery in 2010 after sev­eral months of prepa­ra­tion. Open­ing day was so suc­cess­ful he was forced to close the doors for two weeks to re­plen­ish his stock.

He now runs two brew­eries, the orig­i­nal nano brew­ery in Mi­ra­mar and the main one in North Park. You en­ter the tast- ing room on a walk­way sus­pended over the brew­ing room with a se­ries of large stain­less steel ves­sels. Hess has eight fer­ment­ing ves­sels at his North Park brew­ery, one 60, five 90 and two 120 bar­rel fer­menters. At the back are ta­bles and a bar. The bar staff walk you through the line-up of beers. Like all the brew­eries, the best way is to or­der tasters — four or five small sam­ple glasses of dif­fer­ent brews come with each or­der.

Hess is pas­sion­ate about the beer he makes and he talks en­thu­si­as­ti­cally about the brew­ing process. He pro­duces In­dian Pale Ales, wheat beers and sev­eral ro­bust Porter’s and stouts. One of his flag­ship beers is Grazias. It has a creamy, smooth tex­ture with a hint of choco­late and vanilla and is dark in colour. Oth­ers like the Clar­i­tas Kolsch are dry, crisp Ger­man-style beers.

Beer, it seems, is as much a part of San Diego’s iden­tity as sun and beaches — and it is as di­verse as each of the city’s neigh­bour­hoods.

Duck tacos with beer at Stone Brew­ing Co’s bistro (be­low) in San Diego.

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