Micro-brew Mecca

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.

Oops, sorry- something broke Oops, sorry- something brokeIMG_1705Groundswell 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.

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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.Oops, sorry- something broke

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.

Oops, sorry- something brokeOops, sorry- something brokeNext, 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.Oops, sorry- something broke Oops, sorry- something brokeOops, sorry- something brokeThe 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.

IMG_1710Now 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.

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