Archive for December, 2013
Yesterday I had the opportunity to go to two local breweries that I read about in the Mission Times Courier, Groundswell Brewing and Benchmark Brewing. These brewery start-ups are located right in the Grantville neighborhood of San Diego, a commercial/industrial section just north of Mid City in San Diego. We went to Groundswell first, so let’s start there.
Groundswell Brewing was started just last month in November, so they are just getting going with their production. It was started by 6 friends from the Art Institute San Diego. Most of them went to the culinary school, but Chris, the bartender who helped us, went for sound production. When he’s not brewing beer, his day job is running the sound system at San Diego Padres games at Petco Park.
There wasn’t much to the outside- it’s in an industrial complex, all of which look the same, so I got some shots of the inside. This is a pretty comfortable place to just lay back on their pillowed benches, or belly up to the bar, order a brew and relax. There was Bob Marley blasting from the sound system to help mellow the mood. As I said, they just started up, so they didn’t have a huge selection, but I appreciate smaller selections of (hopefully) better beers. I decided on the Piloncillo Brown.
I had high hopes for this beer, as I’m a big fan of brown ales. It poured a deep, dark brown, with a fairly bright, thin head. It reminded me of a semi-flat root beer. It smelled faintly of caramel and malt, with just the slightest hint of sweetness. The taste, however, was pretty bland. It didn’t have those roasty flavors I have come to expect from a brown ale. It was actually pretty tasteless, though more carbonated than the lack of head lead me to believe it would be. The aftertaste was the winner for this beer for me. It brought out all the aforementioned flavors and characteristics that were missing up front while drinking it. Overall, not a bad beer, but just nothing to write home about.
They are just starting out and Chris told us that they occasionally do specialty brews, so I will definitely check back with them to see how they come along.
Next, we went to Benchmark Brewing, which is just around the corner from Groundswell. These guys have been around since April, so they have had some time to get their feet underneath them. This brewery is run by a man and wife team, with his mom helping out behind the bar. He is the head brewer, while his wife did all of the interior decoration. The decor isn’t half bad, either. It has your standard industrial feel, with little things here and there to help spruce it up a bit. For instance, the lighting over the bar consists of groups of reclaimed old flashlights tied together into chandeliers. The walls are a kind of rustic wood grain, with old-timey lamps overhead. Under the stairs (going up which, a chain and sign saying “Stay on the trail” discourages) is a nice rock garden with some children’s toys. Our host told us that since opening, they have discovered that the sand in the rock garden serves as a fun sandbox for kids who come in with their parents. She also let us know that Benchmark is currently just producing for corporate accounts and plans to focus on the smaller batch production for their tasting room later. Probably the coolest thing about Benchmark is their policy on growler fills: you can bring in any growler from any other brewery and they will fill it with any of their beers, so long as you somehow obscure the other brewery’s label on the growler. She advised that this is due to a change in California state law that says breweries and tasting rooms can freely dispense their product in any (legal) way they see fit. Now, mind you, they are not required to fill growlers from other breweries; it is just a nice service they offer to those who choose to come into their tasting room.
Now onto the beer. None of their beers are high in alcohol, making for a nice way to taste all they have to offer. Although the Dubbel was tempting, I decided to go with their oatmeal stout.
This one poured like a rich, dark coffee, with a tan, frothy head. It smelled like coffee, brown sugar and roasted malt. The first thing to hit my tongue, after the creaminess of the head, was the malt. It coated my entire mouth for a good while. This kind of masked most of the other flavors that may have been present. I wouldn’t call it oily, but it was certainly a thick mouth feel. The real experience, much like with the brown from Groundswell, was in the aftertaste. The brown sugar sweetness followed the roasted malt flavor, which was itself followed by a sort of fruity character. I was left with flavors of coffee bitterness and roasted malt on the finish. I really enjoyed this beer and at only a little over 4% abv, I would be able to enjoy a few of these.
I enjoyed Benchmark a little more than Groundswell, but as I said, the former has had a little more time to get going.
No, seriously. It’s Samuel Adams New World. I know, I know– Sam Adams is about the biggest you can get and still call it a microbrewery, but I still love their beer. The Sam Adams New World is another from their Barrel Room Collection. I have written before about the Stony Brook Red and my love for this one is not much different.
Like the red, still in the Belgian style, this Tripel is a big beer. It is super malty for being a “lighter” (read: non-stout) beer, but it packs a 10% abv. It pours a dark golden color with bright creamy head, not unlike that of a lighter red brew. The first thing that hit my nose is the sourness, though it is not overpowering or unpleasant. There is also some sweetness that comes through. With the first sip, I immediately tasted the rich malt. That maltiness is the main characteristic of a Tripel, after all. After that, the sourness came through, with some light spice notes and some sweetness that really helped mellow out the bitterness. I was left with a nice semi-sweetness in my mouth, aware I had just ingested a highly alcoholic beer, but not a punch in the gut.
I liked this beer every bit as much as the Stony Brook. I will have to try at least another of the Barrel Room beers, though many of them are berry-flavored…
Oh, and for those of you who are inclined:
I just tried one of the Crown series from one of my favorite local breweries, Coronado Brewing Company. Red Devil, as you might guess from the name, is a red, but this one is “imperial”. Seeing this last word on any beer draws me to it immediately, but it got me wondering what I was actually buying. It turns out this is a throwback to the days when the English brewed beer for Russian royalty. It is basically an extra alcoholic, more hoppy version of whatever style to which it is tagged. This one is no exception.
It pours a pretty deep red with a somewhat soapy, off white head. It smells very hoppy, with hints of malty, earthy tones. The taste–oh the taste. It hit me pretty hard at the top with all of the hops, but mellowed down as I drank it. It had a pleasant maltiness and a slight floral taste, with a warm alcohol finish. At 8.8% abv, it is surprisingly easy drinking, though you will definitely feel the booze.
Definitely worth a try.
Last night I had the opportunity to go to the Greenflash Brewing Company. I was a little afraid of this one, since I had yet to fully check out their selection. I only knew them as purveyors mainly of IPA style beers, which don’t like me very much (they give me heartburn that feels like a volcano in my chest). Despite having a menu made up mostly of IPAs, turns out they have a few really good brews.
I started out with with a Double Stout Black Ale. This was an excellent place to start, not the least of the reasons being that stout is one of my favorite styles of beer…the nearly 9% abv helped, too. It was served in a 13 oz. tulip glass, which was a little fancy, but a pleasant surprise compared to the 8 oz. glasses I normally find in tasting rooms. The head was a nice rich tan color, hugged the sides of the glass only slightly and didn’t really hang around too long. It had a nice caramel smell, with a little bit of bitterness. The taste was rich and slightly creamy, with not much alcohol taste, but the warmth showed up toward the end. Overall, a very mellow beer that I would definitely recommend.
Next, I decided to go a little lighter and had the East Village Pilsner, a very light and fresh-tasting beer that is very easy to drink. There wasn’t much head on it and it smelled every bit as clean as it looked. At 5.3% it is a nice cool down beer.
Except that I didn’t stop there and had a taster of Hamilton’s 7th Anniversary- Junior IPA– I know, I know, it’s an IPA. This was actually pretty mellow as IPAs go. It had a bright red color with bright white head. It smelled heavily of the hoppy character you would expect from any IPA, but the taste was actually a little malty at first. The hoppiness came immediately after, but dissipated quickly to leave the floral notes I expected at the top.
All in all, it was a great trip to a brewery I had initially expected to not like too much. Surprises are the name of the game. After all, ’tis the season!