San Clemente Beer Festival

I  drove down to San Clemente this weekend for the 3rd annual San Clemente Micro-Brew Festival hosted by Left Coast Brewery and the San Clemente Chamber of Commerce.

The 17 participating breweries were:

This was my second time at this festival. It’s becoming an annual tradition as I get to spend a day with my sister (I can’t say her name or show her face because her school district has a very prudish social media policy…that’s another story).

The crowd definitely seemed bigger than last year and I’m afraid they’re going to outgrow the Left Coast location very soon (actually, I’m not afraid…I hope they can move it somewhere closer to the beach that allows for a nice breeze and wider spaces).

My one big bitch with this festival is the food. There was only one vendor which had a very long line the whole event. I would add a couple additional food options in the future.

There were two fun bands (I really liked the second one), but their names escape me!

Since I love hoppy beers, I used all my tasting tickets on IPAs I’d never tried. All were good, but two really stood out:

  • Pizza Port El Camino IPA – what a great aroma!
  • Beachwood Pole Position IPA – hoppy and citrus!
My sister and I at the San Clemente Micro-Brew Festival on April 20, 2013.
The crowd enjoys the beer and music.

California Coastal Beer Trip, Day 3

The bar at English Ales Brewery in Marina
The bar at English Ales Brewery in Marina

Time to head home.

We enjoyed some quality time in Pacific Grove and Monterey. We tried to visit Peter B’s Brewpub in Monterey, but it didn’t open until 4 p.m.

We did stop at one last brewery — English Ales Brewery in Marina. What a treat!

Their beers were tasty and my 10 tasters included:

  • Monterey Bay Wheat
  • Big Sur Golden
  • Fat Lip Amber
  • English Ales 1066
  • Monk’s Brown Ale
  • Corkscrew Ale
  • Victory ESB
  • Black Hound Stout
  • Black Prince Porter
  • Dragon Slayer IPA

My favorites were the ESB and the Stout.

The pub was intimate, with the ceiling covered in beer club members’ steins. The bartender, Karen, was friendly and welcoming, exactly what we had been looking for all week! In fact, the entire bar was welcoming, including the woman making origami animals at the far end of the bar.

The bar also serves food (although passed on dining as we had just had a great lunch on the Monterey Wharf).

We headed out, bought some artichokes in Castroville and got home in the early evening.

California Coastal Beer Trip, Day 2

We explored Santa Barbara in the morning. What a great town!

Our first stop was unplanned in Pismo Beach. I remembered there was a brewery, Pismo Brewing Company, there. We arrived just as they opened at 2 p.m.

Our bartender was extremely attentive and engaging. My sampler included:

  • Pismo Pale Ale
  • Roadster Red Ale
  • India Pale Ale^2
  • Bolina Brown Ale
  • Beachcomber Bock
  • Oatmeal Stout
  • Guest beer Firestone Walker 805
  • My favorite of these was, as expected, the IPA.

    No food here (well, pretzels).

    Overall, a nice discovery in a sleepy, working-class beach town.

    Next, we headed up to San Luis Obispo and SLO Brew.

    If I was a college kid, and 25 years younger, I’d be hanging out here at this beer and music venue.

    The beer was decent, but not memorable. My flight was comprised of:

  • Honey Blonde
  • Nitro IPA
  • Reggae Red
  • IPA
  • Oatmeal Stout
  • Pilsener
  • No surprise here – I liked the IPA (oddly, I thought the Nitro IPA fell flat). My wife really liked the Honey Blonde.

    The food was good. We had an order of fries (the house made catsup was great) and chili (good heat).

    The service was what I expected here…efficient, restaurant service.

    I’m sure this place rocks at night judging by their music lineup!

    There are several other beer stops in San Luis Obispo, including Creekside Brewing Company and Tap It Brewing Company, but we chose to check out Central Coast Brewing Company as Sara saw they had a Chai beer. What a great discovery!

    This small taproom, located away from the main downtown action, has been around since 1998. They bottle a small amount of beer by hand and only distribute to a few local bars, so this is the best place to enjoy their beers.

    We sampled three:

  • Chai Ale
  • Lucky Day IPA
  • Terrace Hill Double IPA
  • I loved the Lucky Day IPA. Citrusy, hoppy goodness.

    The service was outstanding. Both gentlemen were engaged with us as patrons and answered all our questions (note to self – remember to ask for names, d’oh!)

    No food here, although they were expecting a food truck in the evening.

    Check out this gem if you’re in the area. I hope they can expand enough to distribute bottles soon.

    We headed up to Paso Robles to Firestone Walker.

    I’m familiar with their amazing selection of beers, as they are widely distributed.

    We arrived at 5 p.m. and ate dinner in their taproom bar.

    I ordered a sampler:

  • Unfiltered DBA
  • Union Jack IPA
  • Double Jack
  • Wookey Jack
  • All wonderful beers. Note: they give you a $2 gift shop token when you order a sampler.

    I had macaroni and cheese, Sara had a Cobb Salad and we shared a cheese and fruit plate. All very good.

    The servers were all very friendly.

    We ended our day by driving up Highway 1 from Cambria to Pacific Grove, a long, winding, isolated coastal road. Amazingly beautiful, but I after three hours of driving it I was relieved to get back to civilization!

    Such a nice day.

    California Coastal Beer Trip, Day 1

    After visiting my folks in Oceanside over the weekend my wife and I decided to take a two-day beer trip up the California coast. We planned to follow Highway 1 today from San Clemente to Santa Barbara and have a progressive meal.

    Our first unofficial stop was to purchase tickets for the San Clemente Micro-Beer Festival on April 20 (my sister and I have made this an annual sibling event).

    Stop One: Appetizer at Newport Beach Brew Co.
    We leisurely drove up Highway 1 through southern Orange County heading toward Newport Beach.

    We arrived at NBBC at about 12:15 p.m. I thought it was pretty slow for a Monday lunch crowd. There were only three other folks in the place, all sitting at the bar.

    We sat inside, near the patio door (we would have sat outside but it was far to windy).

    I ordered a plate of nachos to share with my wife and a sampler of six house beers:

  • Newport Beach Blonde
  • Pelican Pale Ale
  • Old Man Jenkins (strong ale)
  • Bayside Brown
  • Village Idiot IPA
  • Lil Cowboy Stout
  • None of the beers really excited me too much, and, as I expected, I favored the IPA.

    The nachos we ordered were okay, nothing special, with cheese and beans on them. They seemed like they might have just been heated in a microwave (we heard the microwave dinging too many times in the kitchen for our liking, suggesting other items may be equally lackluster).

    I asked our server who Old Man Jenkins was, but she really didn’t know. That disappointed me; she really wasn’t knowledgeable about the beer lineup.

    The pub had a cool feel to it. Lots of TVs and I’m sure the place hops in the summer and weekends.

    Stop Two: Starters at Belmont Brewing Company
    Next, we drove to Long Beach hoping to hit Beachwood BBQ. I was able to try their beers at last year’s San Clemente Beer Fest and hoped to try their barbecue. I should have checked first to see if they were open!

    We noticed Belmont Brewing Company was nearby so we made the short drive to their beachside location.

    Again, we would have loved to sit outside, but the wind was too fierce.

    I ordered the beer sampler and a Chicken Bleu Salad, while my wife had the Lobster Bisque and a mojito. Sara’s mojito was disappointing is there was a minuscule amount of muddled mint.

    The salad was very good with a mild lemon dressing. Very refreshing. Sara thought the lobster bisque was good but not worthy of the praise she read on Yelp. Interestingly, Sara’s soup arrived way before my salad. We thought they should have been delivered together.

    My beer selection consisted of:

  • Marathon
  • Strawberry Blonde
  • Pale Ale
  • Top Sail
  • Long Beach Crude
  • Smash IPA
  • Our server dropped off the beer sampler without any explanation of the beers (yes, there was a description under each glass, but I had to guess the Smash IPA was the special ale.

    My favorite of these average ales was the Pale Ale. Both Sara and I enjoyed the Strawberry Blonde (weird for me, as I don’t care much for blondes).

    The atmosphere was “vacation casual.” The place was pretty empty and lifeless, but it was around 2:30 so we may have been between crowds.

    Stop Three: Main Course at Anacapa Brewing Company
    This had become an enjoyable road trip with somewhat disappointing beer stops…until we hit Anacapa.

    Located in Old Towne Ventura, this brewpub provided what we had been seeking all day – good service, a lively crowd, tasty food and pretty decent beers.

    We shared the Pretzel Fried Chicken with polenta and vegetables. Very good!

    My beer taster included:

  • White Cap Wit
  • Shamus McMalty’s Irish Red
  • O’Danny Boy Stout
  • Salute Your Schwarzts Black Lager
  • A Face For Radio IPA
  • The NCAA Championship game was on and the patrons were definitely engaged. The place was packed for a Monday night.

    Our server was efficient and attentive, a first for the day.

    Stop Four: Dessert at Santa Barbara Brewing Company
    We decided to finish our evening with dessert at SBBC.

    The hostess gave us a bit of attitude and was hesitant to seat us at a table since we were just ordering dessert and drinks. Our server had a much better disposition.

    I ordered the beer sampler and Sara had a Kahlua and Coffee.

    The beers included:

  • Santa Barbara Blonde
  • Pacific Pale Ale
  • Double IPA
  • Rincon Red
  • State Street Stout
  • None of them “wowed” me but my favorites were the Red and the Stout.

    We had a choice of Chocolate Lava Cake or Cheesecake (strawberry or caramel) for our dessert. We chose Strawberry Cheesecake. I expected a slice of cheesecake with strawberries on top. What we received was a slice of strawberry-flavored cheesecake. Eh. Disappointing.

    The place was jumping as we watched Louisville defeat Michigan to win the NCAA championship game.

    We headed to our lodging for the night, the beautiful Montecito Inn in Montecito (Charlie Chaplin was one of the original investors).

    Overall, this was a beautiful day of travel up the California coastline. I didn’t find any outstanding beers (but then again, there was only one I truly disliked). Tomorrow, I have very high expectations as we’ll be hitting one of my favorite breweries, Firestone Walker.

    (NOTE: I’ll add some photos later…not enough bandwidth at the Inn!)

    Art, Beer and Food in The City

    Wow, it’s been over nine months since I blogged. So, here goes:

    I woke up Saturday morning and I says to my wife, Sara, I says, “Let’s get out of town. Let’s head to The City.”

    I had a vague plan of “Art, Beer and Food.”

    de Young Museum

    First and foremost on our excursion to San Francisco we wanted to see the special exhibit at the de Young Museum, “The Girl with a Pearl Earring.”

    What a beautiful show, with Dutch paintings on loan from the Mauritshuis. “The Girl” reminded me one seeing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre — the painting was simple, beautiful, haunting and much smaller than its larger-than-life reputation. My other favorite painting from the exhibit was Jan Steen’s “As the Old Sing, So Twitter the Young,” a painting so full of life you feel like you are partaking in the celebration.

    Accompanying this exhibit was “Rembrandt’s Century,” which explored the printmaking of the era. I never knew Rembrandt was such a prolific printmaker!

    “The Girl” exhibit runs until June, so if you’re in Northern California check it out.

    Southern Pacific Brewing Company

    We crossed The City for our next stop, Southern Pacific Brewing Company. (Truth is, we crossed The City many times on this day!)

    The brewery is housed in a 10,000 square foot warehouse building in the Mission district and is named for the Southern Pacific Railroad line which once ran down Harrison Street in the early 20th century.

    They’ve created a fun party space in the bi-level brewpub. Sara and I sat in the balcony to enjoy the meal we ordered at the bar. I had the Macaroni and Cheese with Pork Belly and an Extra India Pale Ale, while Sara sampled the House Burger with Sage Fries and a Belgian Wit. Both the food and the beer were tasty. I really enjoyed the XIPA.

    City Beer

    City Beer is the premier beer shop in The City. They have an amazing selection, although I was a little disappointed with the selection of Bay Area/Northern California beers today. I left with only three bottles.

    In addition to the bottle shop, you can also sit and have a pint or two in the tasting room which features fourteen beers on tap (no tasting here for me today).

    Speakeasy Ales & Lagers

    I wanted to check out the new Speakeasy Tap Room, which debuted during the recent San Francisco Beer Week. It is fashioned after a prohibition-era speakeasy (naturally!), complete with the sliding-peephole on the door. It’s dark inside, but once your eyes adjust they’ll feast on the era-appropriate decor.

    I was so excited to find they still had Green Death on tap, a brew the San Francisco Brewer’s Guild created for SFBW. It wasn’t as hoppy as I had imagined, but still a damn good beer.

    I purchased several bombers (22-oz. bottles) of Speakeasy beers, including a barrel-aged Scarface Imperial Stout (I’m saving that for a couple years down the road).

    Tartine Bakery

    I’d never heard of Tartine Bakery, but apparently it is one of the best in San Francisco. It’s located in a sign-less shop at 18th Street and Guerrero (we knew that was the place by the line around the block).

    Parking was very difficult to find on this gorgeous Saturday afternoon in The City. I think it took almost a half hour, but my persistence paid off.

    We waited our turn in line to get inside the shop. Funny, I expected it to smell more like, well, a bakery. I didn’t get those bakery scents.

    We were there at 5 p.m., so unfortunately they were out of some of the treats we were interested in like the Coconut Cream Tart and Double Pain au Chocolat. We settled on a Lemon Tart and a Chocolate Tea Cake (both delicious). We shared them at a sidewalk table outside the bakery.

    I love having dessert before dinner.

    Pizza Orgasmica

    Dinner time! We headed across The City (again!) to Cow Hollow and ordered pizza at Pizza Orgasmica. We ordered a half Menage-a-Trois, half Serpent’s Kiss (or half Cheese, half Garlic & Chicken). All their pizzas have sexy, sinful names.

    I enjoyed their award-winning IPA. Nice and hoppy, but not too overpowering.

    The pizza was good, but not extraordinary.

    Bay Bridge Light Show

    We decided to end our day with another dose of art. I had heard about the new “light show” on the western span of the Bay Bridge so we headed down The Embarcadero toward the bridge.

    It took us 75 minutes to get from Cow Hollow to the Bay Bridge. Apparently everyone else decided to do the same thing (how rude of them!).

    It was definitely worth the wait. Sara said it looked like The Matrix. It reminded me of seeing the fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas for the first time. Millions of beautifully programmed LED lights forming different patterns and motions. Amazing. And the energy only costs $30 per day!!

    I kept anticipating seeing the lights while we crossed over the bridge, but, duh, we were underneath going east!

    It was such a great day for sharing art, beer and food in the company of my lovely wife.

    Sara beside “The Girl”
    Lunch at Southern Pacific Brewing Company
    Green Death at Speakeasy