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