After all the anticipation for this most glorious event, the time finally arrived to see what the Mira Mesa Festival of Beers had to offer. It was held at Mira Mesa Community Park, so the setting was idyllic: trees all around instead of the industrial buildings so typical for the area; grass underfoot, instead of the asphalt of a parking lot in which these things are usually held; there was live music on a very small stage set up among the brewery tents hawking their wares; they even had small cocktail tables set up for attendees to enjoy their beer in the sunshine. It was a great atmosphere.
This was a pretty well-organized event. Parking was available all around the park, including in the dirt lot directly across from it. Even with about 700 people in attendance (it later got considerably busier than the pictures above would indicate), it still didn’t feel congested or out of control. Best of all, I never had to wait longer than 5 minutes for a beer.
Speaking of the beer, let’s get to it, shall we? The first stop I made after getting my tasting glass, sample tracking card and complimentary bag of pretzels was to the Stone Brewing tent that was set up just inside the entrance. They had on offer an IPA and the Stone Saison. I opted for the latter, as I’m still a bit squeamish about the IPAs. The saison was a very nice one to start with, as it was clean, fizzy and only a little hoppy. Overall, a very fresh tasting way to start the day.
Next, I hit up Ballast Point. Here, I was confronted with a choice between the Grapefruit Sculpin IPA and Fathom IPL, or India Pale Lager. This differs from a traditional IPA only in the type of yeast used, the fermentation temperatures and fermentation time. I chose the IPL, even though both had the same IBU count of 70. I was surprised by the lack of any aromas at all coming from the glass on this one. I would have expected something of flowers or pine or fruit, but I got nothing. The taste was bright, bitter and had a somewhat malty finish, which I appreciated.
AleSmith Brewing Company was next. I have actually visited this brewery before, but only once and it was far too long ago for my taste. There really was no question what I was getting here. With a name like Decadence, how could I go for anything else? It is an anniversary edition wheat wine ale made in the German Doppelbock style, which tends to be heavy, bready and usually high in alcohol. This beer was all of that and more. It poured a rich red-golden color. It smelled sour with notes of caramel and starchy breadiness. It had a very thick mouthfeel and was a bit sugary on the finish, with a boozy warmth at the tail end.
Helm’s Brewing Co. is a small brewery located in Kearny Mesa, a somewhat northern suburb of San Diego. I was not too familiar with this one until I stopped in there during a running event I just attended about two weeks ago. Their booth had the standard offer of an IPA…and an IPA, though the second choice was a session. These being easier to drink, I went that route. The Helm’s Pier Beer Session IPA poured a dark red color and smelled mildly hoppy with notes of fresh fruit. The fruit was the first thing I tasted, giving it a sweet taste that I did not expect. It finished bitter, which helped keep the sweetness at bay.
A new one to me, Culture Brewing Co. was my next stop. I don’t get up to Solana Beach much, but I am glad I found these guys here. They had one of my favorite beer styles: a stout, this one made all the better by nitro. For those not familiar, serving a beer with nitrogen gas, as opposed to the standard carbon dioxide, gives it a smoothness and creaminess because the gas diffuses more evenly than does CO2. This beer turned out to be an oaked imperial stout, which lends itself perfectly to a nitro pour. It poured very dark with dark brown head that looked like pudding on top. No aromas were making it through that helmet of foam, so I went straight to tasting. It was very rich, with brown sugar, carmel and some light oak flavor. Incredibly smooth, I didn’t even realize it was gone until, well, it was gone.
The next tent I visited was from a brewery whose bottles I had seen in stores, but never knew about them in any tasting rooms or bars I had ever been to. Lightning Brewery is based in Poway, so it’s another that I likely wouldn’t have found unless I was specifically looking for it. They had their entire bottled selection with them, which was pretty overwhelming. With eye-boggling names like Old Tempestuous, Sauerstrom Ale and Thunderweizen Ale, I wasn’t sure where to start. After talking with the brewer/rep/guy at the table, I settled on the Electrostatic Farmhouse Ale. This poured a deep golden color. It smelled sour at first, but a sweet maltiness also came through. Tasting it, I was surprised at how thick the mouthfeel was. I was also surprised to find almost nothing of the sourness I got on the smell. Instead, I was greeted with a sweetness that held the whole way through the experience. That was a little disappointing.
The Lost Abbey, based in Escondido, was next on my trip through the beerfest. I didn’t hesitate when I saw they were offering their Lost & Found dubbel. This is a Belgian Trappist ale, meaning it follows a very strict set of brewing procedures and uses only specified yeast strains used by brewer monks of yore. It poured a dark, murky reddish-orange color and had a sour smell with rich malts and a slight sweetness. The taste was surprisingly mild and smooth, though a bit boozy on the finish.
Next, I had to visit one of my favorite brewers that many would say does not follow the “microbrew culture.” Firestone Walker Brewing Company is located in Paso Robles, CA and offers one of the smoothest, easiest-drinking beers I have had. Of course, they didn’t have that on this particular day and offered instead the Union Jack IPA and the Pivo Pils. As with my other selections of the day, I went for the lighter of the two: the pilsner. This is a very clean, easy-drinking style, which is why the big boys like Bud and Coors make it. The Pivo poured very clear and light with absolutely no smell at all. True to its style, it tasted clean and bright, with not much else to distinguish it.
As you know, Coronado Brewing Company is one of my favorites. Once again, the offer was IPA or non-IPA. Once again, the choice was clear: Coronado Golden. This was a clean, clear and bright beer, with no aroma to speak of. It had a very clean taste, but like the Firestone, it didn’t have a distinctive taste or finish.
Rough Draft Brewing Company was next. They had both their Eraser IPA and Belgian-style Blond and I was beginning to think there was some cosmic joke being played on me as I again went for the safer Blond. This poured a clean, bright yellow, with a mild, somewhat sour smell. The taste was as clean and mild as the smell, with a sourness on the finish from its Belgian-ness.
White Labs is mainly a yeast R&D and distribution company that also brews their own beer. Their beer selection was easy: a Saison, or a Saison. Now, they each used different kinds of wild yeast and the way it was described to me by the man behind the table was that one was more floral and hoppy, while the other was more bitter. Taking his word for it, I went for the bitter one. It poured a cloudy gold color and smelled sour with faint fruity aromas and hops. The taste was much the same, with the fruit coming on first and finishing with a sour aftertaste and little hoppiness.
Intergalactic Brewing Company is a collision of Star Trek nerdism and beer aficionado…-ism. Their space-themed tent drew the eye, while their interesting selection drew my curiosity. They had a cranberry ale and I couldn’t tell you what their other choice was. I got the cranberry, even though I feared it would be too sweet for me. It poured a medium gold and smelled very sweet, with a maltiness that made me hopeful for this beer. I was right about fearing the sweetness. It was a sticky, cloying sweetness that didn’t much make me think of cranberries and their usual tartness. That would have been something for me to get through it, but this was a syrupy-sweet concoction that I don’t think I would recommend.
Finally, I made my way around to Mira Mesa-based Green Flash Brewing. I have written before about how many hop-forward offerings dominate their beer list, so I kind of expected to find only IPAs on offer here. I don’t remember what one overly-hoppy selection was, but there was a Citra session IPA that I could drink. It poured very clear and clean, almost like a pilsner. It smelled hoppy and piney. The first thing I got on the taste was the pine. Not altogether bad, it made its way to a mild hoppiness and finished back with the pine. Not a bad way to finish the day.
Overall, this was a great event and one I look forward to checking out in the future.