Ok, so for those not in the know, the National Homebrewer's Conference was in San Diego this year. My wife (Sj) and I were able to go out a few days before the conference began to explore some of the more popular beer destinations out there. And there are a LOT of great breweries and beer bars out in San Diego!
We arrived by plane in the afternoon and since we had rented a car, we drove straight to Port Brewing/Lost Abbey in Escondido, about 35-40 minutes north of the airport. Port and Lost Abbey are both from one brewery, but I think there's some legal mumbo jumbo where one is considered contract brewed. In any case, the brewery is located in a light industrial area and is quite unassuming other than one external grain silo with both logo's painted on it. Once inside you see a long bar and a plethora of taps to choose from. The Port beers are mostly American styles (IPA, Imperial Red, etc.) while the Lost Abbey focuses on Belgian and other unusual strong ales. Frankly it was a little overwhelming with how many choices were available for me to try! The place was bustling and very hot inside when we arrived, many were familiar faces from back home including Terri Sarne and Curt Stock.
We slowly forced our way up to the bar and started working our way through as much of the stock as we could. Our server would only let us get 4 samples at a time, and with how busy the place was, we did a fair amount of waiting. I found the Port beers to be all well done and clean, with my favorite being the Board Meeting coffee brown ale. But Lost Abbey is more my style with funky Belgians galore! All were good, but some were better than others. Most of their special beers (barrel aged) that they are most known for were not for sale to take out this particular day, but several were for sale to drink at the brewery. We shared a small bottle of the tart and raisiny Cuvee de Tomme, and the bourbon barrel wonder that was Deliverance with Terri. I really wish I had been able to grab some to bring back home to Minnesota! The place was very cool and well worth a 30 minute drive north of San Diego.
|Oh, and it was 90 degrees in here!|
Since we were already in Escondido, and in need of sustenance, we drove a couple more miles to the famous Stone World Bistro and Gardens. This is the huge, up-scale restaurant/bar/swag-shop of Stone Brewing, and is one of the inspirations of Surly's new brewery. The place is very large and very impressive, with huge granite boulders, water features and bamboo taking up space inside and making one feel that you are eating outside (just less heat!) We got there fairly early in the evening and had no wait to get a spot near the bar. Apparently the grounds outside are very impressive, but I'll admit I didn't actually go out there--I got distracted by beer!
The restaurant makes a big effort to get locally sourced ingredients and as a result tends to be a little spendy. The food was very good, but not quite as impressive as it sounded from the descriptions. I do appreciate that they had lots of variety on the menu--vegetarian options, different cultures, etc. The beer list was impressive and I was able to sample several good Stone beers. At one point in my life I would have been in heaven with those beers, but we can get the majority of them in Minnesota now, so I had tried a goodly portion of them already. They also had pages of rare bottles--most from other breweries including a bunch from Belgium. Very cool, but why would you sell bottles of someone else's beer at your pub??? They also had an amazing amount of merchandise in their shop, along with growler fills for the locals. I may have come home with a shirt and a bottle of beer...
Once we got to our hotel near the conference center, we decided to venture out once more before the day was done. We headed to Toronado, known to be one of the best beer bars in San Diego, figuring that Monday would be less busy than later in the week. The vibe of the place was a little underwhelming, looking and feeling like pretty much any other bar I've been into, just lacking a big screen TV with sports on it. They did have a large tap list to choose from, but having just arrived in town, I figured I'd get to try many of those over the coming week at NHC. We waited in a short line to order our beer and food. Refrigerated cases behind the bar bristled with rare beers, but the bottle list was woefully out of date and the first 4 things I asked for were no longer available. The bartender seemed a little put-out that I was making her check on these things, but wasn't outright rude. We finally opted for a couple of Almanac sours to share with some simple burgers to gnosh on. We were happy to find a couple spots at the bar, as the place was busy but not packed. The food was decent pub grub but nothing to write home about...wait I'm doing that right now! Maybe I hit the wrong day, but I found several places with better ambiance and food during our stay in San Diego. I'd certainly go back here if I was searching out a $40 bottle of Cascade beer...
|At the Toronado|