Hanging Out at Thorn St. Brewery

by BeachRock Bill

Thorn St. Brewery’s original neighborhood location

The areas in and around North Park have a storied history of being one of San Diego’s best spots to enjoy great craft beer–Hamilton’s Pub, Toronado, Small Bar, Tiger-Tiger, and Blind Pig were all early on the scene and, along with the opening of Thorn Street Brewery a decade ago, helped revitalize what has now become one of San Diego’s hippest, most vibrant, and fun places to live. Located in a historic residential neighborhood right on the border between North and South Park, the original Thorn Street Brewery epitomizes the old-school neighborhood micro-brewery. Basically unchanged since its opening, walking into Thorn Street is still like walking into a wonderful blast from the low-dollar craft brewery past.

Walking into Thorn Street is like walking into a wonderful blast from the low-dollar craft brewery past.

Looking for a mid-week respite, and wanting to visit our friends Duke and Sandy at their newly restored 100-year-old Craftsman home in South Park, Wife Helen and I decided a nostalgic visit to Thorn Street would be the perfect way to begin our evening. Of course, when Mabel The Dog Walker overheard our plans, she invited herself along, and since Son Carl was close by, we also invited him to join in the fun.

Thorn Street’s small tasting room is a neighborhood gathering place to relax, chat, and enjoy a beer.

Thorn Street brewery is an intimate and cozy neighborhood hangout with a small seating area next to the bar and a larger, upstairs seating area adjacent to the 7-barrel system. The night we visited, a group of friendly geriatric locals held court at the side of the bar. I got the impression they spent a lot of time in those seats.

Decisions, decisions

Looking at the hand-drawn menu cards above the taps, I decided to start out with a half-pour of the Hazy IPA called Hopster Pot. Mabel and Helen as always were looking for something boozy and were having a hard time choosing among the few double and triple IPAs listed. Thankfully, our Tapster Heidi was generous in giving out splashes to sample, and the ladies settled on a Double Hazy called Terpenoid.

After a few investigative splashes from Heidi, I decided to opt for a varied flight consisting of a Hazy IPA, a Double IPA, a Triple IPA, and an English Pub Ale. As we were ordering, Son Carl showed up and ordered a 5.2% Rice Lager called Wax On Wax Off. We grabbed our glasses, headed past Norm, Cliff, Frasier, and friends at the side of the bar, and headed upstairs to enjoy our beers on the sunny upper seating area next to the brewing equipment.

With current production moved to a gleaming 30-barrel facility in Downtown’s East Village, the original brew equipment is periodically used for one-off small batches.

While hoping to eventually get a sample of the Double Hazy Mabel and Helen were sipping, I proceeded to go through my flight. Looking at my notes, the selections consisted of:

  • Hopster Pot–a pale straw-colored Hazy. While I was hoping for a bit more aroma, HP showed lots of pleasant tropical notes of mango and pineapple in the mouth.
  • Father Larry–a 9% IIPA*. FL was light amber, very clear, and had a pronounced West Coast IPA-style bitterness. It impressed more in the mouth than on the nose.
  • Brother Scotty–A whopper of a IIIPA* coming in at 11% ABV. BS looked identical to Father Larry and was deceptively more drinkable, with the high alcohol doing a better job of balancing out the high bitterness. Similar to the previous two samples, I was hoping for a more enticing hop aroma. And lastly,
  • West Kensington–a malt-forward, amber-colored English Pub ale that hit all the right buttons. It was a tasty drinkable beer that disappeared in a hurry.

*[Editor’s note: “IIPA” and “IIIPA” are insider acronyms for a double and triple IPA, respectively. Some brewers and brewpubs use the acronym “DIPA” to refer to double IPAs. In essence, “double” in beer lingo refers to extra “alcohol by volume” (ABV); triple involves even more. For reference, Russian River Brewing has an IPA called Blind Pig that is 6.5% ABV; Russian River’s double IPA, Pliny the Elder, is 8.0% ABV; and Russian River’s triple IPA, Pliny the Younger, is 10.25% ABV.]

Monitoring the progress Helen and Mabel were making on their full pours of Terpenoid, I decided it was time to finagle a little taste for myself. This Double Hazy IPA wasn’t really all that hazy, and similar to the previous beers of the evening, we all struggled to make out any discernible aroma–maybe some pear and mango there? That’s where our criticism ended, however, because in the mouth Terp had tons of flavor and a very nice sweetness that perfectly balanced out its moderate bitterness. We all found it drinkably tasty.

While Son Carl was enjoying his pint of Wax On Wax Off Rice Lager, I went downstairs to surprise the ladies with a little treat. I’d noticed on the board earlier that there were a few cans left of a Smoothie Sour that Thorn had made back in November, and knowing Helen and Mabel’s affinity for the style, I grabbed a can for them to try. Aptly named Thai Piña Colada, this kettle sour, with copious amounts of pineapple, coconut milk, ginger, and kafir lime, was a cocktail in a can. It was thick, sour, sweet, tropical fruity, and a great example of the up-and-coming smoothie style. Not surprisingly, the ladies loved it.

Dead and dying soldiers

Get Dinner, Got Nelson?

Pour Choice and Got Nelson?
The perfect compliment to a wonderful evening

The time flew by, and before we knew it, we had to hurry over to our friends for dinner. Being beer lovers, and sad they couldn’t join us at Thorn Street (due to their children’s soccer practice), Duke and Sandy brought out a couple flagship Thorn Beers from the fridge to pair perfectly with the home-cooked jambalaya they served. The food was amazing, the restored Craftsman home a work of art, and the Thorn beers the perfect complement to a wonderful evening.

Until next time.


BeachRock Bill

Find me on Instagram @beachrockbill

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