June and I missed the 2014 Beer Bloggers Conference (BBC) pre-conference excursion this year because our travel arrangements kept us from getting to Los Angeles in time. The lucky folks who made it got to visit great Los Angeles breweries like Golden Road, Smog City and The Bruery. The pre-conference has become a fun part of BBC, with Indianapolis’ 2012 conference kicking off in Chicago and Boston’s 2013 event starting in Portland, Maine. However, we were not disappointed with San Diego. Michael Puente, our driver Robert and A Plus Limos showed the unofficial San Diego pre-conference crew a great time.
We started at the conference hotel with 15 other beer bloggers, many we knew from previous BBCs. We loaded up the Escalade stretch limo (so fancy!) and took off for Societe Brewing. Society reminded us a lot of Urban Chestnut in St. Louis, with it’s mix of old-world classic beer styles and new-world beers pushing style parameters, or just ignoring them completely. On the classic side, I enjoyed the Pugilist, a spot-on classic Irish Dry Stout. On the other end of the spectrum, the boundary pushing side was the Bachelor-Sorachi Ace. The Bachelor is a single hopped American IPA with a rotating cast of hops. Glad we were there when the Sorachi Ace version was tapped.
Next up was White Labs, which is not a brewery, but has a great taproom. Every homebrewer in the limo was excited about this stop! White Labs is a leading producer of brewing yeast for breweries and home brewers. Remember, brewers make wort, but yeast make beer. You can get flights with four beers made from the same wort, but fermented with four different yeast strains. June had the Hansen Hefeweizen while I tried the Pasteur Porter fermented with these strains:
- WLP005 – British Ale: I didn’t dig the esters, but have brewed with it before. Probably won’t use it again.
- WLP006 – Bedford British: I loved the flavors this yeast produced to complement the malty porter. This is my next porter yeast, rather than 005.
- WLP051 – California V: Clean and slightly fruity, I’ve used this yeast many times, but not in my porter, definitely for an “American” porter.
- WLP862 – Cry Havoc: The Godfather’s yeast, Charlie Papazian’s personal strain. A versatile yeast that can handle nearly any style.
After the flights, we sampled the Frankenstout, an 8.6% imperial stout fermented with the eighth generation of a blend of 96 yeast strains. You did not read that wrong, 96 strains. It was like a flavor explosion in your mouth. So many esters working together.
Not far from White Labs was AleSmith Brewing, one of our favorite San Diego breweries. We’ve been fans of AleSmith beer for years and pick up bottles any time we travel, because they don’t yet distribute to Tennessee. The first thing you see when you walk into the taproom is a collection of awards Ale Smith has won over the year at GABF, World Beer Cup and local competitions. There wasn’t a bad beer on tap, but the two that got our attention were the Sorachi Ace dry-hopped IPA and a special Vietnamese coffee version of the Speedway Stout.
We then had a change of pace, going from one of San Diego’s biggest breweries to one of it’s smallest. Council Brewing is a new nano-brewery with a three-barrel system. We were glad we stopped by, great beer. (FYI, size is no indication of quality or passion.) The great thing about San Diego’s brewing scene is the support of all the breweries. The taproom was busy when we arrived about 6pm on a Thursday evening. The Farmer’s Gold Saison and Clodhopper ESB were our favorites, but be sure to try the Chizzam! IPA and America’s Finest Pale Ale too. All the Council beers were solid and it’s great to see a new brewery starting out on the right foot. Congrats Council, and best of luck as you grow.
The beers had been delicious, but we needed food. Our driver dropped us off at a Sombrero’s, a Mexican Fast-food chain in San Diego. As you would guess, it was great, as was all the Mexican food we tried in San Diego. To get us there, Robert had to make an unbelievable three-point turn on a two lane road with the Escalade limo. Impressive.
We finished up the evening at Benchmark and enjoyed good beer in a cool taproom. The head brewer got his start at AleSmith and now specializes in creating quaffable session beers on their 10-barrel system. While they occasionally produce bigger beers, their 9.1% Double IPA and 7.5% Dubbel were tasty, their five core beers all weigh in at 4.0-5.1% ABV. We’re fans of session beers, it’s nice to be able to put away a few with dinner and not knock yourself out for the evening. The Oatmeal Stout and Blond Ale were particularly pleasing, unfortunately, it has already been a long day of tasting, so we cut ourselves off before finishing the menu.
There are over 90 breweries in San Diego, with more opening every year. There is no way to hit them all, but we had a great time at the five we visited. Thanks again to Societe, White Labs, Ale Smith, Council and Benchmark for the great beer. And very special thanks to A Plus Limos, Michael Puente and our driver, Robert. Stay classy, San Diego.
Disclosure: The limo ride was free, but we would have gladly paid for it. The service was excellent, Michael put together a well-rounded group of breweries to visit, and Robert was a pro guiding the big limo through San Diego traffic. If you find yourself in San Diego, look them up and book one of their top-notch beer tours.
Also, while the tour was free, the beer was not. We bought our beers at every stop and our appreciation of them is truly genuine.