We recently took a family trip to the San Diego area. Specifically, the destination was Carlsbad’s LEGOLAND (!) but we decided to go a couple days early to spend some time in La Jolla and San Diego-proper.

I’m obviously greatly interested in beer but it wouldn’t have been fair to drag the troops from taproom to taproom all over town. So I put on my “I’m An Adult” pants and chose a few beery places that were family-friendly and thus, my hands were washed of guilt as I put a “Problem Solved!” stamp on the issue.

From Los Angeles to San Diego, the drive is somewhere between 1.5-2 hours, depending on exactly where you’re headed. We left around 11:30 with the goal of making it to Pizza Port Carlsbad for a late lunch.

Exterior of Pizza Port Carlsbad

Pizza Port, now five brew pubs strong (as well as a formidable distribution of their core beer line up), was born in 1987 in Solana Beach. Some extra space in the restaurant allowed co-founder Vince Marsaglia to experiment with home brewing which grew in to a commercial brewing facilities in 1992. From there, they opened the Carlsbad location in 1997 and San Clemente in 2003. Just as well, 2003 was also when Solana Beach won “Small Brewpub of the Year” at the Great American Beer Festival.” Carlsbad went on to win “Large Brewpub of the Year” in 2009. I could go on to write out all the awards they’ve ever won at the GABF and World Beer Cup but this post would just turn into a long list. Suffice it to say, their beer is of high quality. The Ocean Beach Pizza Port opened in 2010 and Bressi Ranch, which includes their corporate offices and a larger production facility, was completed in 2013.

The Awards Wall

Carlsbad, to its credit I think, has zero sense of pretense. The medals are posted but only on the wall above the bathroom doors in the back corner. It’s a neighborhood pizza joint that happens to serve great beer.

The tap list

Upon entering, it’s obviously a family-friendly environment. There’s a small number of arcade games, a few plasmas, long, communal tables perfect for large groups of people and an outdoor seating area. Beer-wise, I counted 40 taps plus 1 cask. We started with a basket of portzels (pretzels with spent grain from their porter recipe). Our pizza choice was bell pepper, onion, fresh basil on a wheat-spent-grain crust paired with Twerp, a light Belgian-style pale ale ringing in at 4.2%. Light in body but not in flavor, this pleasant brew with its slightly sweet graininess, signature Belgian spiciness and some light fruitiness was a solid pizza beer (I’m trying to get this recognized as an official style). Once I had some food in me, I decided to step up my game with 547 Haight, an Imperial Red. The crisp, citrusy hop presence is significant but there’s a depth of caramelly, toffee-ish malt character that adds some nice balance and keeps things interesting. Next door to the restaurant is a secondary brewing building housing mostly conicals and a bottle shop. Relatively speaking, the shop had the feeling of being an afterthought to take up unused space. The quality of the selection, while not huge, redeemed it.

Exterior of The Museum of Man

Our next beer-related stop was the Museum of Man’s BEERology exhibit in Balboa Park, closer to downtown San Diego. The museum, itself, has several interesting exhibits that kept my family entertained while I dug into the main topic at hand.

Exhibition entrance

I found a relatively small space, maybe 60 feet wide by 30 feet deep. The exhibition designers went with plywood, pops of trendy colors, and modern typefaces. The displays are somewhat simplistic in their explanations but I did find them to present an interesting narrative going back to the beginning of recorded history to reveal the links between beer and the development of culture. As such, it’s not a history of beer, per sé, nor is it a history of culture; it’s a blend of the two.

More energy seems to be dedicated to Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, and the Americas, as opposed to the European tradition, which would seem to be too young for the scope of this show. There are glass displays with ancient brewing and drinking vessels and examples of early record keeping. There is a section dedicated to modern homebrewing, which is only fitting as they spend time discussing traditional brewing in the primitive home. Dogfish Head and Karl Strauss being major sponsors are included in the one projected video loop. Sam Calagione’s additions are a couple of his “Quick Sip” videos that can also be found on the DFH YouTube channel while Karl Struss presents a sizzle reel for their 25th anniversary, which is this year.

The many languages of "Beer"

The many languages of “Beer”

Overall, I think the curators achieve their goals, however, the exhibition lacks the depth that would have made it a considerable historical examination. If anything, perhaps this will help larger institutions to realize how interesting and engaging this type of survey could be, if expanded. If you’re already in Balboa Park, BEERology is worth a visit but I don’t think I would recommend going out of your way to see it.

About 10 minutes away, in North Park, was our lunch destination, Waypoint Public. If you’re like our family and have a special affinity for brunch, you might appreciate this trendy, upscale, but approachable, pub. The vibe is breezy, which was reinforced by the garage door walls that were open on this particularly pleasant Sunday. There are 30 taps plus a small bottle list. A projection screen plays Pixar movies viewable by those children playing in a slightly separated area with books and toys (although, I don’t think I would call this a “family restaurant”, they just have an extended tolerance). The menu is not large but there are enough options to keep from feeling limiting, the kids’ portion of the menu could use some help but we made it work. I went with an appetizing BLT featuring avocado and fried green tomato on grilled sourdough with Modern Times’ Fortunate Islands (a pale wheat ale) and Societe’s The Pupil (American IPA). My SO had a breakfast potpie that also looked damn good. She went on to confirm that it was indeed delicious.

Stone World Bistro & Gardens

Our final beer stop before Legoland was Stone World Bistro & Garden, connected to their brewing facility in Escondido. After a sunny afternoon of kayaking, we wanted to appropriately celebrate National Beer Day (or National Session Beer Day, depending on your knowledge of history). While I greatly respect Stone, I can’t say that I’m their biggest fan. I suppose they might say my palate is not “aggressive” enough to really appreciate in their style, however, the photos I’d seen of the restaurant made me want to see how they do “slightly refined.” The space is quite nice especially for easy-going afternoons. There’s a main dining area with a view of the fermenting vessels, an outdoor deck and an attached garden space of a good size featuring a couple small waterfalls, numerous plants big to small, walking paths and scattered seating areas, one could probably find space for a game of bocce. My SO felt that despite these pleasant details, there was still a bit of artifice. I could see where she was coming from as they included two somewhat large patches of artificial turf amongst the “natural” elements, which were manicured just a bit too much. Nevertheless, the overall effect was akin to being in the backyard of a well-to-do neighbor’s home; there are much worse places to spend time. The food was good – definitely a step above standard pub fare. I had brussels sprouts (with bacon, of course) and duck tacos. You’ll have to forgive me as I didn’t note my beer choices but I can say I did find a couple beers that didn’t require an aggressive, bastard-like palate. On the way out, we stopped in the store where you’ll find plenty of swag, a bar for growler fills and a small selection of bottles.

Many thanks to my family for putting up with me. In Los Angeles just 90 minutes away, while we do have great beer, it still seems as though it’s a feature. In San Diego, it’s engrained. For instance, if you’re at the Legoland Hotel, of all places (yes we stayed there – it was his birthday!), you can keep sailing on Modern Times Fortunate Islands but you can also switch to options from Stone, Karl Strauss, or Saint Archer. Anywhere else with the exception of probably Portland or Ashville, this would be unusual. However, San Diego with its 80+ craft breweries, is cold chilling on any given afternoon, quality beer in-hand. Naturally, of course.

Legoland

Legoland

P.S. While I had the chance, I made sure to search out bottles I don’t normally see in the LA area (for the most part). I ended up with the following new additions to my beer closet…

  1. Samuel Smith’s Yorkshire Stingo (English Strong Ale)
  2. Trappist Rochefort 10 (Belgian Quad)
  3. Mother Earth Boo Koo (American IPA)
  4. The Lost Abbey Deliverance (Barrel-Aged Strong Ale)
  5. The Lost Abbey Carnevale (Brett Saison)
  6. Dogfish Head Piercing Pils (Czech Pilsner)
  7. Mikkeller Spontanelderflower (Lambic)
  8. Hess Grazias Vienna-Style Cream Ale
  9. Almanac Golden Gate Gose
  10. Stone Matt’s Burning Rosids (Cherrywood-Smoked Imperial Saison)
  11. AleSmith/Eagle Rock Brewery Dairy Tank (Milk Stout)
  12. Square Mile Hopped Apple Cider
  13. Moonlight Meadery Kurt’s Apple Pie
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