Jesse’s California Beer-cation Part 1
The last week of my life has been a hop-filled celebration of California craft beer. Last Thursday, the 14th, I was at my normal nine-to-five job in Flagstaff, Ariz. Since then, I’ve been to San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and plenty of places in between. In all those cities are fantastic craft breweries, and some of the best and most famous beer in the entire world. While normal college students (and recent graduates, in my case) might want to fill their Spring Break with beaches, drinking and attempting to obtain sex, my buddies and I took a different approach. Well, we kept the same amount of drinking at least.
Two of my neighbors share the same, if not overshadowing, passion for craft beer, and the idea for this trip came mainly from them. We meticulously planned out trip using the internet, and created a damn near impossible schedule for our potential beer trip, with intentions to visit over 20 different breweries in just six days. But hell, we’re stubborn and we really like craft beer so we went with it.
The people going consisted of my two neighbors Connor and Chris, as well as a third neighbor Cameron, who has all of the appreciation for drinking craft, but way less of the fanaticism. A fifth member of the group was also present, Connor’s cousin Phil from Charleston W. Va. Phil himself was the twist, as he had next to no knowledge of craft beer going into the trip, so we were his hopped-up tour guides.
We arrived in San Diego at 3 a.m. due to a late start form Flagstaff, and had to bring beer with us from Arizona for the first night. Yeah, I know, we didn’t get there until extremely late, expected that, and still brought beer to drink. We’re in our early 20’s, what can I say? Even Phil brought some admittedly less than desirable bombers along. Normally I’d leave this whole part of the story out, but technically it’s foreshadowing.
First thing Friday morning we backtracked to Alpine Beer Company, located in the small town of Alpine about a half hour outside of San Diego. It was a damn fine way to kick off the trip; Alpine makes fantastic beers. I got a flight of Duet, Pure Hoppiness, Hoppy Birthday, Nelson (all IPA variants), Good (barleywine), and Captain Stout. After trying them all, I came to the conclusion that their IPAs are famous for really good reason (like I said, fantastic). This would become a common theme of the trip. Another common theme of the trip, and something I noticed about Alpine, was how small and discreet the premises were. You’d easily miss it if you weren’t looking carefully.
Next up was Societe Brewing Company, a place I hadn’t heard much about, but all good things. Turns out my information was solid and I was impressed yet again. Two for two. I only sampled their IPAs, The Pupil and The Apprentice, and both were pungent, smooth and lingering. They were right up there with the best beers I had on the entire trip; highly recommended.
After that was Green Flash Brewing Company, and their brewery was impressively large and had an extensive amount of their beers on tap, including various anniversary batches. However, I found myself underwhelmed. Disappointment aside, I was excited to try the Candela Rye Barleywine collaboration with Cigar City, and it lived up to my expectations. The barrel flavor in that beer was intense in the best way, and I enjoyed the rye and cedar flavors very much.
Continuing the single day full of San Diego heavy-hitters, Ballast Point Brewing Company was our next stop. Several beers thoroughly impressed me there, besides Sculpin, of course. They were 3 Sheets Barleywine aged in French oak Syrah barrels, Sea Monster Imperial Stout with rum raisin and Black Marlin Porter with chipotle, cocoa nibs and orange. The Black Marlin was so incredible spicy that one of our group members Chris, who used to compete in habanero pepper eating contests so much that he now nurses stomach ulcers because of it, even thought it was extremely hot. Ballast Point would be another highly recommended stop on any beer trip through Southern California.
The last brewery on day one was the pinnacle, my favorite brewery, Stone Brewing Co. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again and I had my friends saying it by the time we left that magical place: Stone Brewing Word Bistro and Gardens is the Disneyland of craft beer. It’s not only the massive brewery itself, it’s the fantastic Stone Company Store (full of swag, rare bottles and growler options), the impressively large restaurant, the tranquil beer gardens and the jaw dropping tap and bottle lists. I know I’m gushing but damn do I love that place. You’d be silly to not go there if you ever find yourself nearby. This list of amazing beer we all had at Stone goes on and on, but the two stand outs were the 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA aged in red wine barrels and the Stonewall Ale. Both were everything I wanted them to be, and then some. There couldn’t have been a more perfect way to cap the first (and in my opinion, best) day of the tremendous beer trip.
The night ended with us passing out all over the hotel room after a delicious growler of Nelson golden-rye IPA and talking about how awesome San Diego is. Day one complete.