By Lee Knox
As another Summer of unbearable heat descended upon Texas and my electricity bill began to spike, I leapt at the opportunity to join my wife on another trip to San Diego, a craft beer loving town that I first visited last year, but knew I wanted to experience more.
One of the highlights of my trip last year to experience the San Diego craft beer scene was the relatively small bottle shop in Little Italy next to Ballast Point’s R&D taproom called Bottlecraft. During my routine walk down India Street in Little Italy, to get a piece of pizza and taste the newest concoctions at Ballast Point (related: Coral, an American wheat beer with cherries, is amazing and is almost a Rosé of beers), I was delighted to see that Bottlecraft has moved across the street into a much larger location. In addition to an open wall on the shop with patio seating, they are also sporting a 24 tap wall as well! Already excited about this discovery, I saddled up to the bar ready to get a flight of the newest local offerings.
Eager to try the latest and greatest, but maintain my sobriety enough to walk the 8 or 9 blocks to the metro stop in Little Italy, I went with Pizza Port’s Triple Lindy, Coronado Brewing’s 19th Anniversary Ale, and finishing it all off with Craftsman Brewing’s Persimmon Sour.
Because I had already deemed this my Summer of the Imperial IPA, I started off my palate with the Pizza Port Triple Lindy, their new(ish) triple IPA. This beer is the angry Grandfather of their flagship IPA, Swamis. At around 10% abv, this IPA doesn’t mess around. However, it is surprisingly incredibly drinkable and refreshing. You aren’t blown overboard with hops or heat, and experience more of the pronounced citrus and grapefruit notes that West Coast IPAs are known for. I can see many a lazy Sunday watching day game baseball with a glass or two of Triple Lindy.
Happy that my palate wasn’t blown off my face with a Triple IPA, I went to Coronado Brewing’s 19th Anniversary Ale. Though I didn’t know at the time that I would be at their main brewery in a couple days, this was a great way to familiarize myself with them. The 19th Anniversary is an Imperial IPA hopped with 6 or 7 varieties of high alpha goodness. Similar to Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA, the floral, fruity hoppy aroma will drag you in and seduce you before you have your first sip. However, rather than sweet, syrupy taste that can be found in this style, here you have a more bitter, earthy, dry taste. While some DIPAs drink like barleywines or just plain wines, this one is up front about the style it belongs in and is also not a palate wrecker.
With those IPAs out of the way, I decided to throw my palate to the wind and finish off with the Craftsman Brewing Persimmon Sour. This is an 8% ABV amber colored fruited sour that serves well as a dessert to any tasting flight. A dry, fruit sour that I could lightly sip on for days. I have no idea if this is bottled or not, but if it is, stocking a few in your cellar wouldn’t be a bad idea.
All in all, I am excited to see that Bottlecraft is using their new taproom in Little Italy to help showcase some of the best craft beers the state has to offer. And with its proximity to the coastline, you can’t ask for a better patio drinking scenario. However, a close second to the Little Italy patio seating is catching a night game at Pecto Park, home of the San Diego Padres.
If you’ve spoken to me for more than 5 minutes, you would know that in addition to craft beer, one of my passions in life is baseball. A Texas Rangers tattoo graces my right calf and I have 3 shelves full of memorabilia and signed balls in my sports room back home. I take baseball very seriously. Probably too seriously. That’s why I was excited to see that Petco Park, home of the Padres is not only a celebration of baseball, but also local craft beer.
Once inside the ballpark, you won’t have to walk far to find your first local craft beer vendor. While Globe Life Park in Arlington is only recently dipping their toes in the pool of local beer, Petco Park is doing a cannonball into the deep end. You can find the following breweries in their own vendor locations at the ballpark: Hess Brewing, Stone, Ballast Point, Karl Strauss, Green Flash, and the newest addition- Pizza Port. (A full list of the local beers available at Petco can be found here.)
When I say that Pizza Port is available at Petco, I don’t mean that there’s one tap at a burger stand in left field. I mean that there are 5 separate Pizza Port locations in the ballpark. You can throw Jose Altuve and have a greater than 50% chance of hitting a Pizza Port location. And at every location, in addition to being able to buy their amazing pizza by the slice, you can buy Ponto Session IPA, Swamis IPA, Chronic Amber Ale, Pick Six Pilsner and Petco Park Pale Ale by the can or on tap. The Petco Park Ale is exactly what you think it is. It’s a ballpark specific beer Pizza Port unveiled this year. The team has fully embraced local beer.
Even though the Padres were being shutout by the lowly Miami Marlins at the time, when I sat there in left field drinking a Swamis while the cool ocean breeze came in off of the water, I couldn’t help but feel content. This is a craft beer lover’s ballpark. Sometimes the score doesn’t matter when enjoying a game.
On a whim the next morning, my wife and I decided to hop on a ferry across the bay to check out what Coronado Island is like. I was born and raised on an island in the South Carolina low country, so I’m never one to turn down a trip to an island.
Even though you’ll be one yourself, if traveling around tourists get on your nerves, you might want to pass on Coronado. It’s almost entirely a tourist community on the island. Very friendly people, but tourists nonetheless. After traversing almost the entirety of the island and getting a sunburn on the beach, we decided to stop in at the flagship location of Coronado Brewing Company.
If you blink, you’ll miss this brewery’s location. The taproom is small and with limited seating. However, it’s not impossible to get a couple bar seats if you’re willing to wait for a little while. Being the adventurous travelers that we are, we made sure to get flights of every beer offered. I didn’t expect to be stopping by a brewery that day, and didn’t have my notes with me to log each beer. However, I do remember without a doubt my favorite one there.
Berry the Hatchet from Coronado Brewing Company is a fruit beer for those who don’t even know if they like fruit beers. This raspberry, blackberry, and boysenberry infused ale is somewhere between fuchsia and light purple in color. The taste is a relatively mellow explosion of fruits that take you through each one individually. There is a light tartness, but nowhere near the level of a fruited sour. This is a showcase of fruits. I could drink pints of this alone, mix with another beer, or even make an ice cream float with it. It’s just that good. Beyond pleased with what Coronado had to offer, we hopped back on the Ferry to the San Diego mainland to get ready for a dinner at a bar I’ve been reading about for over a year.
Stretching the entire length of the neighborhoods of North Park and South Park, 30th Street in San Diego might be the best street for craft beer in the entire state of California. From Toronado to the up and coming Fall Brewing Company, this street is a craft beer lover’s dream. And all the way down 30th in South Park, you have Hamilton’s Tavern, our next stop.
One of the things I’m learning more and more about San Diego’s craft beer scene is how unpretentious it is. This may be because of a vibrant craft beer scene is seen as the norm there or maybe the cool breeze and temperate weather is keeping everyone chill. You can walk into a seemingly dumpy dive bar off of a street in a residential neighborhood with hipsters smoking Marlboro 100s out front and be absolutely blown away by the tap list. Hamilton’s Tavern is that bar.
If you’re familiar with Colfax Avenue in Denver, picture the South end of 30th as a more residential Colfax and with far less traffic. Hamilton’s Tavern is located in the South end of South Park on 30th Street next door to, you guessed it, a craft brewery called South Park Brewing Company. Across the street are several modest houses with front porches and the occasional jogger. If there are any windows to the street in Hamilton’s, I missed them. On the outside, it looks like your typical dimly lit bar home to the drunks who saddle up to it at 10 AM to drink High Life and watch baseball highlights. Though it is dimly lit, Hamilton’s Tavern is not that kind of bar. It is one of the top 5 craft beer bars that I have ever been to.
The first thing you notice when walking into Hamilton’s besides the mood lighting is the distinct lack of chairs. If you’re coming here looking to have a burger or other pub grub there, show up early or be prepared to vulture someone’s seat as they leave. This place gets packed fast and about 50% of their available space is occupied by pool and shuffleboard tables. Luckily, we showed up at the perfect time and were able to snag two chairs at the bar.
The tap list on the weekends at Hamilton’s is a cross section of all of the craft beers that make California a destination for beer drinkers. In addition to a semi tap takeover from Nickel Beer Company which is a relatively new craft brewery in Julian, CA, including a firkin tapping, they had everyone’s favorite great white buffalo on tap, Russian River Brewing’s Pliny the Elder. Even though I was in California and shouldn’t be as taken back as I was to see a draft Pliny sighting in San Diego, earlier in the day I was told by a few bottle shop employees that Russian River’s beers aren’t making it down this far South with regularity anymore. So, seeing one of my all time favorite beers on tap here was a very welcome surprise.
Besides the wealth of craft beer at this relative hole in the wall bar, the food here is a definite game changer for bar food. Food is ordered through a small window by the shuffleboards where they give you a buzzer to pick it up when it’s ready. Everyone was raving about the brats, but being an almost 100% herbivore, we went with two variations of a veggie burger from their scratch kitchen. If you like good veggie burgers and not just someone throwing a black bean patty on a bun, this is the place to go. The spiciness of the peppers on the burgers added nicely to the explosion of hops we drank our way through as we followed up the Pliny with Nickle’s Vulcan IPA and maybe the freshest Green Flash IPA I’ve ever tasted. Hamilton’s brings it and brings it hard.
I leave our annual trip to San Diego learning a little more about the city and its craft beer scene a little more every year. This year, my greatest lesson was about 30th Street. The unpretentious and casual nature this street and side of San Diego approaches craft beer is commendable. The scene is approachable, affordable, and most important of all, deliciously drinkable. San Diego loves and appreciates its ever growing craft beer scene and it shows. I will continue my exploration of the city every year for as long as my body lets me.
Lee Knox is the adventurous Travel Contributor for Beer Drinkers Society.