By BeachRock Bill
With Saturday night fast approaching, and a blog post looming, Wife Helen and I asked Son Carl and Fiancée Cassie if they would like to meet somewhere for a pint. Wanting to keep the driving to a minimum, we decided the Miramar area would be the perfect halfway spot between our two houses in North Park and Solana Beach.
Planning the itinerary for the evening, and for reasons to be explained shortly, I suggested we start our “tour” at a long-time favorite, Alesmith Brewing Company. We agreed it would then be fun to swing by a place we used to regularly frequent–Alesmith’s old original space, now occupied by Mikkeller Brewing.
The final choice of breweries however proved to be tough. With over a dozen breweries crowded into one square mile affectionately known to locals as “Beer-a-mar” Road, Miramar has been a beer geek’s Disneyland for almost two decades, together with the “Hop Highway” (California Route 78) in Vista.
I was determined that our final stop be a small “mom and pop” operation, allowing me to blog poetic about how big-buck global takeovers squash creativity and innovation in the beer business, so I chose a small family-owned place we had been to before and liked–Little Miss Brewing…….
OK, that was all Bullshit. The real reason we were stopping at Little Miss was because Wife Helen spotted a Hazy Double IPA on their website that sounded right up her alley.
The first brewery to open in the Miramar area in 1995–in fact, one of the first brewery-only operations in all of San Diego–Alesmith Brewing was a no-brainer for our first stop of the evening. Back in the day, I plied Helen with Alesmith’s “Speedway Stout,” the perfect “gateway” beer in my campaign to wean her away from red wine (mission accomplished!).
After almost getting run over by the arriving Carl and Cassie ( admittedly I was in the middle of the street getting a good Miramar street sign pic), and accompanied for the evening also by our dear friend, Mabel The Dog Walker, we headed inside.
Walking through Alesmith’s main entrance and large merch shop, we gravitated to the bar area to order our beers. While the place was crowded, Alesmith’s bar area is huge, and with several tapsters on hand, we were quickly able to find an open space, peruse the laminated tap list, and make our selections.
After several generous free splashes of the various Imperial Stouts on tap, the Wife and The Dog Walker each decided to get a full pour of Vietnamese Macaroons, an Imperial Pastry Stout collaboration with North Park Beer Co. brewed with coconut, vanilla, and Vietnamese coffee. Black in the glass, with lovely aromas of coconut and vanilla, V.M. lived up to its Pastry Stout moniker–sticky sweetness up front, balanced with heavily toasted coconut and bitter coffee flavors on the finish. The ladies loved it!
Carl and Cassie decided to share three different half pours–.394 Pale Ale, Hazy .394, and Tasmanian Bliss.
- .394 Pale Ale – Along with Speedway Stout, the success of .394 is arguably a big reason Alesmith was able to grow into their new huge space. Today, cans of it are found everywhere, and for good reason, it’s a very chuggable low alcohol Pale Ale packed with lots of flavor. Taking a sip from the glass, I still like this beer, however, I can’t help but compare it to early batches made years ago at the original brewery that for me always had a burst of delicious hop aroma. Sadly I think the newer versions fall short in the aroma department.
- Hazy .394 – We also found the hazy version lacking in aroma, and so similar in flavor to the non-hazy version that we suspected the reason for this beer was to capitalize on the haze craze with a known name.
- Tasmanian Bliss – Thankfully the next pour, a rich straw-colored Hazy IPA, packed on the aroma in spades. Tangy-crisp rather than pillowy in the mouth, with slightly more bitterness than a typical New England IPA, T.B. turned out to be one solid hazy.
The final choice was mine, and it was an easy decision. I was very excited to order up a glass of Norsk Juice– brewed with my new favorite homebrew yeast, a Norwegian farmhouse strain called Kviek (rhymes with spike). Clear not hazy, drinkably smooth and crisp, Norsk Juice had a wonderful blast of Nelson and Galaxy-derived white winey tropical fruit flavors on the nose and tongue. It turned out to be my favorite pour of the bunch.
Next stop of the night two blocks away was Mikkeller. Founded in 2003 by a physicist/ homebrewer, this renowned Danish craft brewery was looking to expand to the States. The timing was just right six years ago when they took over the original brewhouse vacated by Alesmith.
When we pulled into the familiar small parking lot off Cabot Drive, we felt like we were coming back to an old friend’s. The taproom is little changed from its Alesmith days, and I could still picture the early years, with Wife Helen agreeably sipping her variants of Speedway Stout. After the Alesmith crew gave them some initial help getting up to speed on their system, Mikkeller hit the ground running, brewing expertly crafted and extremely creative beer, and they just keep getting better.
Follow the colors
Unless you are colorblind, the Mikkeller color-coded menu makes things easy. Mabel and Helen were in heaven, with a sea of turquoise blue on the board, signifying the Imperial Stouts on tap for the evening. Likewise, Cassie and Carl drooled over the whole right column in pink, representing sours. Yours truly loves everything, but no surprise I immediately gravitated to the three orange IPA choices.
Just like when I pick ponies at the horse races, I based my first choice entirely on its goofy name. Finger Guns was a pleasantly hazy-gold New England IPA brewed with Mozaic, Citra, and a hop I wasn’t familiar with–Talus. FG had tons of familiar citrusy tropical fruit flavors on the nose, with a spice note I couldn’t quite put my “finger” on. With my first sip, the juicy citrusy notes carried through to the palette, but then there was that same subtle spice note of……WTF is that? Coriander? Cardamom?
The mystery spice flavor didn’t ruin the beer for me, but it was unexpected. So in my search for beer knowledge, I grabbed my phone and Duck Duck Go-ed the flavor profile of the Talus hop to get a clue as to what this strange mystery spice flavor was: Pink Grapefruit (nope), Citrus rinds (nope), Dried Roses (maybe), and sage (BINGO!) At the end of the glass I decided Finger Guns grew on me and I was glad I ordered it.
- had a cool name,
- went down easy, and
- educated me about a new sagey hop!
Helen and Mabel settled on two different Imperial Stouts. I’d describe them here, but I think I was so disappointed they didn’t choose the Stout with the coolest name on the board–Castle Black–that I lost interest and forgot to take any notes. I can say the ladies seemed to like them, but my rapt attention lay elsewhere–the gorgeous flight that my son and his exotic dancer fiancée had ordered.
The flight consisted of four of the nine sours on the board, and since I was nice enough to pick up the tab, I was confident I would get a few sips. From left to right we sampled:
- Meditation – very tart with tons of fruit flavors,
- Inertiatic IV – with the perfect balance of tart and fruitiness,
- Fun with Foeder (damn I love these names) – apricot deliciousness and subtle tartness, and ultimately the most interesting beer of the evening,
- A Little Chaos – aged in gin barrels and having sour funky farmhouse flavors ending in a gin finish.
It was a great flight of vastly different beers, and we all loved them.
Some hits and a miss at Little Miss Brewing
Since we had one more brewery to try, we reluctantly pried ourselves away from our barstools at Mikkeller, and with high hopes to try the previously-mentioned 9.7% Double Hazy IPA called Goliath, we hopped in our cars and headed over to a little grassroots old-school operation known as Little Miss Brewing.
The theme at Little Miss, not surprisingly, is World War II military, with flags and memorabilia all over the place. It is a small and comfy space (8 bar stools) that screams “neighborhood craft beer bar.”
Looking at the board, however, three of the slightly-buzzed-but-eager faces with me turned sullen and grumpy when it was apparent that Goliath was nowhere to be seen that evening.
Thankfully, there was a pool table in the corner of the taproom that caught the ladies’ eye, and they headed over to console themselves with a free game of pool, giving Son Carl and me the chance to sample a few of the 10 beers on the Little Miss board. We found the two kettle sours balanced and very drinkable; the hazy chug-worthy; and the Irish Red a well-made delicious example of the style. The standout of the night however ended up being the American Dream Pale Ale–a collaboration with nearby Division 23 that was one of the best examples of a San Diego-style Pale Ale that I’ve ever had. I ordered a pour of it and headed over to a comfy sofa next to the pool table to watch the unfolding competition.
Punjabi Tandoor–a Miramar ritual
After one game, and pissed off about my peanut-gallery critique of the ball and cue skills on display, the billiardiéres told me to hurry up and finish my beer so we could all head to dinner. Being a lunch-centric industrial area, the dinner choices along Miramar Road are scarce. Not to worry, as it just so happens that one of the best places in all of San Diego is right in the heart of all the breweries, a small order-at-the window Indian place called Punjabi Tandoor. This Sikh family-run gem is one of our consistent go-tos for takeout or dine-in deliciousness, and is always how we reward ourselves after imbibing nearby. A perfect end to the evening.
So all-in-all another great time out with family, friends, food, and, of course–thought-provoking beer!
Cheers, and Bon Appétit!