Stone. Ballast Point. Coronado. Green Flash. AleSmith. Port Brewing. Hess. Alpine.
Why does San Diego have such great beer?
While on family vacation in the city, I ducked out to do some serious ‘research.’
First was Hess. Basically a bay in an industrial park with the garage door open, Hess is a no-frills microbrewery with a nice line of beers. The Grazias Vienna Cream Ale had a great story — an idea grown from somewhere between a Negro Modelo and a more traditional cream ale, it brought Mexico and Europe together in a good way — and was a refreshing beer. The WestCoaster was their IPA and it stood up to the high standards of the city, and the Ex Umbris was an exceptional imperial stout.
It was the Brunus Induresco Coffee Porter that we took home in a growler though. I drank half the porter and couldn’t sleep that night.
Michael Skubic is the Tasting Room Manager at Hess and a helluva patient guy. He managed to ignore some of my gaffes (ordering the porter first on my tasting menu) and poor palate (guessed the wrong hops in the West Coaster) and was a really nice guy.
“Why do you think San Diego has such great beer?”
“Dunno, might be the fact that Ballast Point opened up a Home Brew Mart here a while back,” he answered, while I mentally noted my next beer destination.
Skubic talked a little more about the process of making a Hess beer — it’s not the water in San Diego that makes a good beer. All the water in those beers is treated to remove all the unique San Diego taste (it tastes terrible out of the tap) and then treated again to add back in natural minerals. It’s the normal process of advanced brewers. Hess is doing well.
While at Hess, I asked twitter why they thought San Diego’s beer was so good. A few came back with “Because everything in San Diego is better,” which isn’t a bad response at all. But @andy_keatts had a more specific answer — because the home brew mart also spawned White Labs, a yeast lab in San Diego that produces 50+ strains of yeast which are well-regarded in the industry. White Labs is also doing well — so well that they’ll open their own brewery this year.
Next was Green Flash. They’re doing a little better. Where Hess was a single garage in a strip mall, Green Flash had a whole corner.
Walk into the Green Flash tasting room and you get overwhelmed even. Four-story ceilings and glass walls only serve as the backdrop for the immense vats full of glorious Green Flash West Coast IPA. Try the Rayon Vert, cause that’s what we left with — they are known for the pale ales, but that Belgian was an under-rated part of their oevre.
We hit up the dude selling us shirts with the same question. Why San Diego?
“Uh, actually I think the laws here are very nice to microbreweries.”
Ah, of course, the mostly conservative county had made things easy for small businesses like Green Flash to get off the ground. That made sense.
Next, it was time to hit up the Ballast Point Home Brew Mart location — they’ve got the better brews on location than the actual brewery. Well, actually we went three times over the next three days. They began to recognize us. It was slightly embarrassing, but their beers are so good.
The Sculpin IPA is the flagship, or the Big Eye — most of the beers have fish names, where Hess was Latin and so on. But we loved the Cocoa Chipotle Porter and wanted so badly to take a growler home, but were rebuffed repeatedly. So we tried every other beer in the place and ended up with a growler of Sculpin (though the Ginger Big Eye was a close second). The second time we took the Black Eye IPA, which is an on-site mix of the Big Eye IPA and the Black Marlin Porter. We also loved the Victory At Sea Imperial Porter — very much. All beautiful beers, made by the second-biggest brewer in San Diego.
“So you guys are the reason there’s so much great beer in San Diego,” I stammered — we were in the American beer Mecca.
“Ah, no, that would be all the home brewers we serve that started their own microbrews. I see you’re wearing a Hess shirt, for example.”
Mystery solved. What a glorious, delicious mystery.