San Diego Beer

San Diego Craft Beer Experts Share Industry Insights

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Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a local event featuring a panel of some of the most noteworthy people in San Diego's craft beer scene. Hosted by 6 Degrees San Diego, "Beer for Breakfast" allowed attendees to hear updates on the craft beer industry straight from those on the front lines. Below are a few of their insights which I found particularly interesting in light of the recent slue of consolidation and acquisition announcements.  (Disclaimer: Please excuse the shoddy photo; the lighting was no bueno and it was 7am.)

On "getting too big": "Do we worry about it? No. We can't worry about it because we focus on innovation. We crank up our special release programs because we have demand from our fans to try new things and make bigger, better, and more aggressive beers. We try to focus on the experience--much like everyone else here. And we try to educate so that we are bigger. We focus on quality, delivering the utmost freshest beer, and continuing to innovate so we make sure people who are craving the next new thing are getting it.  – Pat Tiernan, Chief Operating Officer, Stone Brewing Company

On acquisitions and consolidations in the industry, including news about Saint Archer selling to MillerCoors’ craft beer division and Heineken's announcement of buying a 50% stake in Lagunitas. Is this a huge win for American beer, particularly Heineken buying a domestic brewery? [After about 30 seconds of silence] "I think it depends on how you define what a ‘win for American beer' is. Listen, Stone Distributing Co. has a great camaraderie with [Saint Archer's] sales folks ... We have a high level of respect for their brewers--they do some really good stuff. What Josh [Saint Archer President] and the team have done over the last few years--you have to have high level of respect for it. It's not a path that Stone, or many of us on the panel, would go down, but you have to respect their decision." – Pat Tiernan

"One of the things that gets lost is outsiders not looking at the same thing that those of us on the inside are looking at. On the one hand, you have breweries like Lagunitas that have been around for a while ...  and people are starting to think, 'Okay, what’s my exit strategy?' Or, 'How do we create leadership for the future?' But the other, probably more important, thing is that in the craft beer industry, the baby is insatiable: the more successful you are as a craft brewer, the more you grow. There is more capital required. Some get to a point where they may not have the capital to get to the next level. Someone like Saint Archer, which was doing extremely well, may not have had $20-30 million to go build the next brewery. And so that was the path that enabled them to keep moving forward.

You look at the Lagunitas sale of 50% of their company, and they got an extraordinary valuation. But you also have to look at the investors in Lagunitas--none of them had ever received distribution in the history of the brewery. So it was an opportunity for some of them to take some chips off the table. There are a lot of factors that go on. Whether or not it’s good for the industry? I think that the craft brewers that remain true to themselves when they follow the new capital path will be good for the industry. And those who allow the diluted effects of large company management and big beer philosophy won’t be as good for the industry." – Chris Cramer, CEO and Co-Founder, Karl Strauss Brewing Company

"It’s a personal decision, too. A lot of breweries are started on under $100,000, for instance. When your industry starts doing well, and they tell you your multiplier is 12 or 15 times [figure out what he said], your knees will get weak. Your phone rings. People throw numbers at you that you couldn’t have ever imagined. But staying true to your passion is going to be the test. Are you in this for money? Are you in this to make great beer? Is it a combination? There’s all sorts of ways this can go down…" –  Peter Zien, Owner and CEO, AleSmith Brewing Company

On San Diego being ranked as low as #5 on some "top craft beer cities" lists: "If you go around the nation or the world and ask people what the leading craft beer city is in the US, I don’t think San Diego will come up as #5. It’ll come up #1--absolutely." – Chris Cramer


Thirsty Thursday: Ballast Point's Calm Before the Storm

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I thoroughly enjoy dark beers. Coffee stouts, chocolate porters, nut browns? Give 'em to me. Just not any time after 6 p.m.

You see, I have an affliction: dark beers typically make me feel so warm and cozy that I get sleepy. I usually have to drink them while I'm out and about and being social, because if it's nighttime and I'm having a stout at home, I'll be asleep about an hour after drinking it. (Does anyone else have that problem? Please tell me I'm not alone!)

Ballast Point Brewing Company's Calm Before the Storm makes it easy for me to enjoy some of the flavors of darker beer without having to crawl into bed before sundown. A cream ale with coffee and vanilla, Calm Before the Storm is the little brother and "warm weather alternative" of Ballast's famous imperial porter, Victory at Sea. As the name suggests, it's the lighter, lower ABV version (5.5% compared to 10%). Calm Before the Storm is a delicious mix of the light, golden taste of a cream ale, and the delicious coffee/vanilla combination that gives the beer more heft, complexity, and flavor.

The beer is available in limited release in bottles and on tap. I've seen it at my local liquor store in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego, and I was able to pick up at a six-pack at Ballast Point Little Italy, though they didn't have it on draft when I visited. Fingers crossed that it will be around for a while, though, because it's delicious--and a perfect solution for when I want to grab a coffee beer at home and stay awake!


4 Non-hoppy San Diego Classics

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A few months ago, a friend told me that she was going to a wedding in Virginia and she wanted to bring some classic San Diego beers for the couple as part of her wedding gift. She asked for my recommendations.

The stipulations? The couple doesn't like hoppy beer. Hey, no problem there--it took me a while to get into IPAs and hops. And there are so many great beers that aren't bitter!

I love a good list-making project, so I got to work. In making my list, I tried to include beers:
  • from San Diego breweries the out-of-town couple may be familiar with
  • that aren’t too hop-forward
  • that you can find relatively easily

Here are my recommendations for introducing great San Diego beers to non-hop lovers:

  1. Ballast Point Pale Ale As I've mentioned, this is my go-to beer. It's a Kolsch-style pale that's quite similar to a Pilsner. The difference is that it's fermented at ale temperature, which gives it a slightly fruitiness. Perfect if you love craft beer but want a lighter brew. 
  2. Belching Beaver Peanut Butter Stout – This is basically a dessert, and they even serve it as a float with vanilla ice cream at the brewery! Rolled oats and lactose add to the creamy body of this beer, and it tastes almost like a Reese's peanut butter cup.
  3. Alpine Beer Co. Willy – Weird name, but SO good. This is an American Wheat Ale that's light and creamy. At the brewery, they have a version of this called the “Willy Vanilly” which is made simply by adding a few drops of vanilla extract. I’ve replicated it at home and it’s truly delicious.
  4. Karl Strauss Red Trolley – This malty Irish-style red is everywhere in the city. I typically wouldn’t recommend this to a San Diegan because everyone has had it, but Karl Strauss is our oldest brewery and this is a beer that I really enjoyed when I first got into craft beer. I still like it from time-to-time, and I feel like out-of-towners would appreciate how different and delicious it is.

So, there you have it: a pale, a stout, a wheat ale, and an Irish red. Though San Diego loves its hops, there are so many other wonderful styles that fly under the radar. These are also good options for those who are entering the craft beer scene and want some tried-and-true classics.

Of course, this list is by no means complete. I could go on and on, and I'm sure others have good suggestions, too. Feel free to leave a comment with your own recommendations!


Mingling with Minions at Heroes Brew Fest 2015

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Last Saturday was Heroes Brew Fest, and it was the best beer festival I've been to so far this year!

The weather was great, the location was spacious, and there were so many adults in costumes that it was like Halloween in July.

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This was my first year attending Heroes Brew Fest, and I know some who attended in previous years were disappointed to see it moved from the downtown center of the Comic Con buzz to a few miles away in Point Loma. But after experiencing the Comic Con crowds for a few days, I welcomed the calmer location.

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Besides drinking great craft beer while rubbing elbows with adults dressed like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, there were plenty of other activities to enjoy. There was lawn bowling, cornhole, life-sized Jenga, and an epic DJ playing 90s tunes. I enjoyed the latter quite a bit. He even played the Fresh Prince theme song at one point! But I digress.

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My favorite beers of the day were Phantom Carriage's strawberry Berliner weisse, Mission Brewery's Hard Root Beer, and Monkey Paw Brewing Company's Sweet Georgia Brown. I also had some amazing potato tacos from Famoso, one of the many food trucks at the event.

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And this post wouldn't be complete without a picture of me with a minion, right? This guy cracked me up. Next year I'll definitely be dressing up.

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Cheers to a successful day of drinking great beer and people watching, all while supporting the Warrior Foundation – Freedom Station. Heroes Brew Fest is the perfect beer festival to attend during Comic Con weekend to get a break from the crowds while still enjoying some nerdy costumes and quirkiness. I can't wait until next year!

I received a complimentary ticket to Heroes Brew Fest, but of course, all opinions are my own.


Heroes Brew Fest

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This year will be my first year at the Heroes Brew Fest, a beer festival that takes place in San Diego during Comic-Con. I'm excited to go, though, and I want you to come, too!

When:
Saturday, July 11th (in case the photo above didn't tip you off)
VIP hours: 2:00-6:00 p.m.
General Admission: 3:00-6:00 p.m.

Where:
The Loma Club in Point Loma

Why:

  • Over 80 breweries will be in attendance, including some of my favorites: Golden Road, Deschutes, Culture Brewing Co. and more.
  • There will be costume contests with award categories like "Best Original Caped Crusader" and "Best Superhero Look Alike." Seriously.
  • The event benefits the Warrior Foundation - Freedom Station which is a leading force in assisting, honoring, and supporting military men and women who have bravely served and sacrificed for our country.
  • Overall: Sunshine, summertime, adults in Spandex, plus great beer, food, and music. Count me in.

Perhaps best of all, Heroes Brew Fest has been generous enough to provide my readers with a discount on tickets! Use code abeerdedlady to receive 10% off. I look forward to seeing you there!

 


An Ode to Belching Beaver North Park

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Dear Belching Beaver North Park,

I visited your tasting room last weekend to celebrate your 2nd anniversary, and I have to tell you: I haven't stopped thinking about you since.

Your Viva La Beava, the imperial version of your already-wondrous Peanut Butter Milk Stout, caught me off guard. It was so good. I didn't think you could make that beer any better, but you did it. It tasted nearly the same, except the peanut butter flavor was stronger--and I have zero complaints about that.

In addition, your saisons were impressive. I don't usually enjoy the style, but you had a Strawberry-Rhubarb on tap that was unlike any other beer I've tried. It was the perfect blend of fruit, carbonation, and malty goodness. Kudos for making me reconsider saisons!

Finally, the rye whiskey barrel-aged Horchata Imperial Stout stole my heart. It wasn't too boozy, to my surprise, and the whiskey undertones complemented the horchata and gave it a smooth, rich taste. Please keep this one on tap!

Congratulations on your 2nd anniversary. I'm looking forward to stopping by the tasting room much more over the next year.

Love,
A Beerded Lady

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Thirsty Thursday: Port Brewing Company's Mongo IPA

New series alert! Every Thursday, I'll be sharing quick snapshots of what I'm drinking. If you keep up with me on Instagram, you have a pretty good idea of what I'm enjoying that week, but this will allow me a little more space to write interesting facts about the beers and what I like best.
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I recently picked up Port Brewing Company's Mongo IPA at Costco. Port is in North County San Diego and makes delicious beers, so I was excited to see them in the craft beer aisle. (Actually, I'm always excited when I'm in the craft beer aisle, but you get the point.)

I first had this beer about two years ago, but I forgot how good it is! It's a classic double IPA with a piney aroma, citrusy front end, and a bitter aftertaste. It uses a variety of hops: Columbus, Amarillo, Centennial, Cascade, and Simcoe, but they aren't overpowering. That's important for someone like me who has only recently expanded into trying more IPAs. As I've mentioned, I usually favor pale ales, reds, browns, or stouts, but because IPAs are everywhere right now, I'm giving them a go.

Port's website has an awesome video about Mongo IPA that is worth checking out. In watching it, I found out that this beer is a tribute to a cat who was nicknamed Mongo. No joke. If you know me, you know my quirky cat obsession and how excited this makes me. This beer is even cooler now.

Here's the beer label, courtesy of beerpulse.com (apologies that it's a bit difficult to see). It has a surfing cat on it!

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All in all, this beer has an excellent taste and a cool back story. I expect it will be in my fridge quite often this summer.


Attend a beer festival in a former church? Check.

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Last Friday was the Bankers Hill Craft Beer and Art Festival. I wrote about how excited I was to check out the venue last week, and I thought it was really cool. The Abbey used to be a church! Going to a beer festival at a place like that makes my former-Catholic-school-girl self a little too happy. I thought the location was very Bankers Hill: quirky and unexpected. There were two floors of breweries, art exhibits, and food vendors. At times it was a challenge to get through the crowds--especially upstairs where breweries were set up in tight spaces--but toward the end of the night, it was much easier to move around.
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In addition to the location, a unique part of this beer festival was that there were several artists and small business owners selling their work. Along with photographs and paintings, local vendors like Sew Loka (handmade wallets and pouches), Velapure (soy candles), and Stella Divina (custom beer coasters) were selling their handmade products. I need to get in on those beer coasters next time...

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And onto the beer!

First off, I was thrilled to see Stone with their Pale Ale. I'm so bummed that it's being phased out! I know, I know--they're coming out with a newer version, but still. It has nostalgic value to me. I may have shrieked when I saw it.

Other highlights of the night: Groundswell Brewing's Piloncillo Brown was a real standout. It's made with panela, unrefined whole cane sugar from Mexico that gives it some extra kick. I also enjoyed Lightning's Elemental Pilsner. I'm always on the lookout for beers that are perfect for every day light drinking, and I could definitely keep that stocked in my fridge.

What I liked most about this beer festival was that in addition to the San Diego mainstays (Stone, Ballast Point, AleSmith, Green Flash), there were smaller breweries that I don't always see at festivals. Unfortunately, I had been looking forward to sampling food from several local restaurants, but everything but Pizzicato was gone by the time I arrived around 6:30. For some reason I'm noticing that happening quite a bit lately at many of the beer festivals.

Nevertheless, it was nice to be out and about in my neighborhood and to see several familiar faces and breweries in my little corner of the world. Many thanks to the Bankers Hill Business Group for having me!


Fall Brewing Company, or where to find me on a Saturday

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Fall Brewing Company is one of my favorite new San Diego breweries. They just opened last November, but I have a feeling I'll be spending a lot of time here this year. (Hey-o, that rhymed.)

The brewery is located on 30th Street in San Diego's North Park neighborhood. It joins the likes of Belching Beaver, Poor House Brewing Company, Modern Times, and another newcomers,Rip Current Brewing Company.

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What makes Fall so wonderful? Quite simply, they have great beer and a great atmosphere. The brewery has an edge to it--kind of rock and roll, kind of hipster, kind of a designer's paradise... It's hard to put your finger on, but it works. It's not often to see a brewery have all the right elements straight out of the gate, but this place has done it.

Fall's success is probably due to the fact that the guys behind the brewery are not new to the industry. Owner Ray Astamendi has an impressive history. He was the founding brewmaster at Saint Archer and had several other gigs at respected institutions such as Mission Brewery, Maui Brewing Co., and Left Coast Brewing Co. His partner, Dave Lively, is responsible for the slick design work seen on the tshirts and around the brewery.

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But let's not forget about the beer.

On my several trips to Fall, I've sampled almost all they have to offer. Being a pale ale fan, I tried Darling Nikki first. It's exactly how it's described: "a straightforward pale ale." If you're just getting into craft beer, I would recommend trying this one or their Plenty for All Pilsner. They're both light beers with less than 5% ABV.

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I also really enjoy the Jazz Hands Berliner Weisse. My first reaction to this beer? "I would like to sit on a porch and sip this." (To be fair, I have that thought quite often.) It's tart and fruity, but not in the same dividing way as a sour beer. It's complex enough to satisfy a seasoned craft beer fan, and also light enough to appeal to newbies. Berliner Weisses are a new thing for me, but I think I'll be writing about them quite a bit this year.

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Fall also has a red ale called Unicorn Stampede. I'm tempted to let the amazingness of the name speak for itself, but if you like reds, you should give this a try. It's hoppy and has a slightly sweet malty finish.

And if you're a stout fan, you're in luck. Take my word and get the 2AM Bike Ride--preferably on nitro. It's a Dark Horse coffee and vanilla bean stout with a surprisingly low 4.6% ABV. During a recent trip, they were serving it along with an Irish car bomb donut from Nomad Donuts. I probably don't need to tell you that I almost immediately took a nap after I got home that afternoon, right?

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As you can tell, Fall has a cool location and a wide range of good beers to try. If you've been before, let me know what your favorite beer is in the comments. If not, check it out and let me know what you think!

I was in no way compensated or commissioned for this post. I just genuinely like the place.


3 Best Things About Best Coast Beer Festival

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Last Saturday, I went to the Best Coast Beer Fest in downtown San Diego (the Embarcadero Park South to be exact). It was the first year having the festival here, and even though I was getting over a pretty nasty cold, I had a lot of fun. It was a pretty unique beer festival.

Without further ado, here are my top three favorite things about the event:

1. It was Anchorman-themed.
I can't say I've ever been to a beer festival with a pop-up big screen, but they showed Anchorman and Anchorman 2 during the evening session. Drinking beer with Brick in the background? Yes. Please.
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2. The location was unreal.
Holy cow, y'all. The setting was so spectacular that it just made my Texas twang come out. The Embarcadero Park South sits right behind the San Diego Convention Center near the bay, so we had great views of the water as well as downtown San Diego. I attended the 5-9 p.m. session and got there just around sunset, so the sky looked amazing. I'd definitely attend another festival there in the future.
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3. I tried some new breweries and new beers!
Yes, this is the point of a beer festival, I know, but Best Coast had more than 70 breweries in attendance--and not just ones from San Diego. There were breweries from all over the West Coast, including Drake'sDeschutes, and Alaskan Brewing Co. I love my San Diego craft beer, but it was great to get to branch out.

In fact, my favorite beer of the night was Alaskan's Hopothermia. It's surprising for me to say that considering double IPAs aren't usually my go-to choice, but I really enjoyed it. Culture Brewing Co. had a sour cherry beer that was also divine.
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As you can tell, beer festival season is well underway here in San Diego, but keep a lookout in the coming days for some more posts about what I'm drinking during the day-to-day work grind and where I'm going on my days off!


My "Gateway" Beer

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Ballast Point Pale Ale
was a game changer for me.

As I joke about in my tag line, I used to not like beer at all. I always wanted to be a "cool girl"--the one who could kick back on the couch with football on TV and a beer in my hand, but I had resigned myself to the fact that that would never be me. And that was totally fine. I had tried Coors and Budweiser in my hometown of Dallas, and, well...meh. Beer just wasn't for me.

I eventually moved out to San Diego for college, and though it's a hotspot for craft breweries, I didn't really get into the scene until after I graduated. And oh my gosh, that's such a shame because I spent nearly four years attending classes right up the hill from Home Brew Mart. Sigh.

Anyway, one of the first craft breweries that I went to was Ballast Point. They have such a wide variety of beers, ranging from Victory at Sea (holy yum) to Grapefruit Sculpin (amazing) to Indra Kunindra (not my favorite, but still good). However, my favorite will always be their Pale Ale. It was really the first beer I had that made me think: whoa, I might need to reconsider my self-imposed "non-beer girl" label.

In my opinion, Ballast Point Pale Ale is a great beer for those who may be skeptical about beer or think they don't like it. It's a light, golden beer with a relatively low ABV (5.2%). It's simple in comparison to some of Ballast's stouts or IPAs, but you still get a smooth taste of hops and fruit. To me, it's the perfect antidote if you have friends who think that all craft beer is hoppy and heavy.

I could obviously drink this beer all day. On a trip to New York City last summer, I was thrilled to find it in a Brooklyn supermarket. My friends and I set up shop on an apartment building rooftop, sipped our California craft beer, and watched the sun set against the NYC skyline. It was surreal; I couldn't believe that this was my life.

But that's what Ballast Point Pale Ale is to me: a warm reminder not to make hasty judgments about where my life is headed. It's an old standby that always makes me reflect on how far I've come during my craft beer journey.


Volunteering at a Beer Festival

As I mentioned in my last post, I attended the San Diego Winter Brew Fest on Friday then volunteered at it on Saturday. You may be wondering: what does "volunteering" look like at a beer festival? Is it as charitable and good-natured as it sounds?

Well, yes. It usually involves dedicating 4-5 hours to doing one of the following activities: setting up and helping check vendors and breweries in, pouring beer for attendees, or cleaning up. And you absolutely cannot drink during your shift. So why do people do it? For me, a) I really enjoy pouring beer, and b) volunteering meant that I got in to the festival on Friday for free! With so many beer festivals in San Diego this spring, a girl's gotta be a little economical.

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I was lucky enough to get to pour beers for Stone Brewing Co. Holy moly. Does it get any better than that? My boyfriend and I got the luxury of giving out 2 oz. tastes of their Japanese Green Tea IPA and Stone Levitation Ale (a hoppy amber) for several hours. People went crazy for the Green Tea IPA. It was the clear winner even though we were pouring one of the last kegs of Levitation--it's being phased out very soon.

Stone had two reps on hand to answer in-depth questions from beer festival attendees. It was really nice to have them there because we were swamped the whole time!

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For the last two hours of the festival, we were moved to Rip Current Brewing's booth so that we could relieve one of the other volunteers. We'd recently visited their new location in North Park, so we were excited to see that the owner and brewer, Paul, was there! To be honest, I was pretty starstruck. It's still so cool to me to get to meet people who make good beer.

We poured Rip Current's Marine Layer San Diego-style Hefeweizen and Lupulin Lust IPA. I'm a big fan of Lupulin Lust, so I was happy to get to share it with others! Both beers got pretty equal love from attendees.

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All in all, it was a lot of fun to volunteer. We were lucky and didn't have too many rowdy visitors. It requires lots of standing and lots of chatting, so you have to be prepared for that, but you get to meet a lot of cool fellow beer nerds. While I'm definitely more of a fan of participating at--ahem, drinking at--beer festivals, it was worth it to get a behind-the-scenes look at what it's like working behind the table!

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San Diego Winter Brew Fest 2015

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to attend the San Diego Winter Brew Fest at the San Diego Hall of Champions in Balboa Park. There were more than 40 breweries along with several vendors and live music throughout the night. It was such an awesome time!

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In case you're unfamiliar with how beer festivals work, you usually pay a set fee (usually $40 or so per ticket) and receive unlimited 2 oz. samples of beers from numerous breweries. It makes it easy to taste a wide range of beers without paying for full pints, and it's fun to get to interact with other beer nerds. At times, I get a little star struck when I see the owners or top brewers at these events.

The San Diego Winter Brew Fest was interesting in that it was a two-day event. If you wanted to attend both days, you just had to buy two tickets. Most of the beer festivals that I've been to have been one-day occurrences.

I attended on Friday night and then volunteered on Saturday night. I'll be writing more about my volunteering experience in my next post, but Friday night was definitely less crowded. There was a VIP hour from 6-7pm with a special beer and cheese pairing, but we opted for the general admission time from 7-10pm and felt like we had plenty of time to enjoy everything.

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The venue really set this beer fest apart -- imagine strolling through Hall of Fame awards and sports memorabilia while enjoying some of your favorite beers. There were three levels: downstairs where breweries like Stone and Pizza Port were, the main floor where there was live music, vendors like Craft Beerd, and breweries like Green Flash and Drake's, and then upstairs where there was a nice patio and breweries like Hess Brewing and Ninkasi. It was nice to see a range of San Diego, Bay Area, and Pacific Northwest breweries present!

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While it's probably wise that I keep the number of beers I sampled to myself, some of my favorites were Firestone's Velvet Merlin oatmeal stout, Ninkasi's Dawn of the Red India red ale, and Ballast Point's Grapefruit Sculpin IPA. (If you can't already tell from my picture, I'm a huge Ballast Point fan!)

The Winter Brew Fest definitely made me excited for the rest of the beer festivals happening this year. It honestly seems like there is at least one major beer event a month in San Diego... Gotta love it.


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