There is a word often used in San Diego to describe their beer market and the number of breweries that feed it. “Saturated” or “the ‘s’ word” was whispered more than a few times, but often with a taboo, we-shouldn’t-be-talking-about-this, manner that I’ll call the Voldemort effect. There’s an unspoken fear that the utterance will make it true, and the bubble of one of the world’s greatest beer scenes will burst and leave a very beery mess to clean up (I’ll let you decide what that means). While I do think the plethora of options made it more difficult to decide where to visit during my four day San Diego brewery-a-thon last week, I did not view the ‘s’ word of beer and breweries as a negative quality. As a visitor, how could I complain? What – that there’s too much beer? That I have multiple brewery options with different vibes and styles in almost any part of the city? Right. Poor me.
In a less sarcastic light, I had an incredible time, and it would not have been nearly as fun without the sisterhood of the Pink Boots Society. They allowed me to crash one of their meetings, and several of them offered me tours of their breweries of employment. Their kindness to share their time and knowledge with me is something I value highly, and hope to pay forward in the future. I owe the success of this trip to them!
Benchmark Brewing Company – Grantville
Benchmark is not a hipster brewery. You won’t find a bar made out of books or wacky, avant garde decorations (not that those are bad things). Benchmark is a very beer forward environment, and holds true to their motto: “Beer Flavored Beer”. Do you get it yet? This place is about traditional beer styles done well, with the occasional experimental small batch for good measure. For example, their Oatmeal Stout has received Gold (2014) and Silver (2016) medals at the Great American Beer Festival. And their Table Beer, a 4% ABV Belgian session (Patersbier), is remarkably complex, yet easy drinking. But the best thing about Benchmark? Nichole Sykes works there! Nichole is on the board of directors for the Pink Boots Society, and was also one of my tourmates in Germany. You can find her pouring Benchmark’s best at the brewery and at San Diego events. Buy her beer and veg tacos!
Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station
Stone is not about reservations. Everything, from their decor to their beer, is bold and pronounced. I visited the Liberty Station location, which consists of not only a brewery and restaurant, but also courtyards featuring bocce ball, movies, gardens, fire pits, and a koi pond. Oh, and there’s also a fairly large store where you can buy all things Stone! This place is MASSIVE. Laura Ulrich, Small Batch Brewer at Stone and President of the Pink Boots Society, took a generous portion of her afternoon to show me around Stone and share a few beers with me. We also got to taste the Pink Boots Collaboration beer infused with pomegranate called “Pomma Said Knock You Out!” Yowza!
AleSmith Brewing Company – Miramar
AleSmith is not typically known for their lighter beer styles. Most people want their double digit ABV dark ales, notably one of their many Speedway Stout variations or Old Numbskull Barleywine. But holy hell, their Spezial Pils is superb! I haven’t had a more traditional example of a German pilsner since visiting Germany. For a brewery that knows how to hit hard, it’s impressive to experience a beer that is so well finessed come from the same place. Their beertenders are also on point and a damn riot to hang with. Chris and Chelsea were behind the bar, and took extra time to answer my extra annoying questions. Their service is a complement to the high calibur beer they pour. I didn’t get to all 22 of the breweries within a two mile radius in Miramar, but I can tell you that AleSmith had better be one that you hit if you’re in the area.
Modern Times Beer – Point Loma
Modern Times is not just a brewery. Coffee, my other favorite beverage, is also produced by MT, and under the same roof. The Lomaland Fermentorium, part coffee bar and part beer bar, is the ideal consummation of AM and PM beverage offerings. Good beer. Good coffee. Good people. And there’s a picture of Michael Jackson and his pet monkey Bubbles composed of post it notes on the wall. Aaaanndd Rachel Hotchko works there! She is a Pink Boots Board Member and the Production Manager for Modern Times. She gave me a tour and let me ask all the coffee and beer questions! It seems careful cleaning and sanitation practices will allow you to use the same packaging machine for both coffee and beer. This place is for maximum yum!
Mikkeller Brewing – Miramar
Mikkeller Brewing is not originally a US brewery. This brewery was founded in Copenhagen, Denmark, and was sustained by gypsy brewing (renting/borrowing another brewery’s equipment). Mikkeller operated as a gypsy brewery until opening its own brewery in San Diego in 2016. Note: if you want to travel to Miramar from the city, take an uber. The public transportation in and to Miramar is a god awful waste of perfectly good drinking time. After an hour and a half-long commute with three transfers and a 30 minute walk, I met up with Erika Raye, Pink Boots member and QA/QC Technician at Mikkeller. She gave me a tour of her lab and the brewery, and even gave me a ride to AleSmith! I came back after falling in love with AleSmith’s Spezial Pils to pick up a different kind of Smith from Mikkeller. Mr. Smith is their collaboration brew with Marissa Linback, brewer at Uinta Brewing Company and Pink Boots member! The timing was perfect for me to pick up some of her session New England IPA, named after Mormonism founder Joseph Smith.
Museum of Man – Balboa Park
The Museum of Man is not a place that I met a Pink Boots member at. Shocking, I know. I came to this museum in the middle of Balboa Park to gander at their BEERology exhibit. The front features a homebrew kit setup with an explanation of the brewing process and ingredients. The back half of the exhibit is an homage to the way cultures all over the world, past and present, have made and appreciated beer. It’s amazing to see how each culture used the bounty of their geography to cultivate a beer drinking society that held this beverage as a unique and centric part of life. Peeking into the past this way makes me think my beer obsession is more normal than I thought. 😉
THANK YOU, SAN DIEGO!
Massive thanks to Nichole Sykes, Laura Ulrich, Rachel Hotchko, Erika Raye, and all the other bad asses in the Pink Boots San Diego Chapter! Special thanks to my former co-worker Karsen Moon at Bay City Brewing for being a delightful man brewer! Keep up the grind and punny beer names. Thank you, Kris Ketcham of Stone Brewing, for sharing your delicious beer and precious time! Chris and Chelsea at AleSmith, thank you for your hilarity and good vibes!