Category Archives: Beer talk

Urge, but no overkill

On Sunday we went to Urge, a new “American gastropub” that opened a week ago and is tucked away in a Rancho Bernardo strip mall, and we are happy to give the place a hearty thumbs-up.

Urge has 50 beers on tap, plus a cask, and the offerings were very good, including Pliny the Elder, Racer X, Festina Peche, Old Viscosity, Sierra Nevada Brown, a cask of Stone IPA with coriander and dozens more.

Urge also has an impressive bottle list, with prices that range from good to outstanding. For example, they have 22-oz bottles of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout for $9, which is cheaper than retail. Same with Stone’s Sublimely Self-Righteous IPA, which was selling for $4 for a 22-oz bottle, which is also less than retail. Here’s hoping those prices continue and aren’t mistakes.

The food menu is light on healthy options and heavy on burgers, but they are fancy burgers and the food we had was  good. Mrs. Beerandburritos had the Welsh Rarebit and liked it a lot, and our BBQ Bacon Burger (with bacon that had been soaked in Pliny) was tasty.

The bar area is large and airy, with high ceilings and plenty of seating. There’s also a good-sized dining area and a nice waiting space with overstuffed leather couches. It all has a quality, upscale feel but without being pretentious. And the prices were good overall.

Because Urge is 30 minutes from home, it’s not a place we’ll go often. But when we’re up that way, it’s definitely a good option.

You can find it at 16761 Bernardo Ctr. Dr., San Diego, CA 92128.


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A hoptacular excursion

We’ll apologize in advance if this post gets a bit gushy, but this weekend we did one of the coolest beer-related things ever. We went to the Star B Ranch in Ramona and picked our own hops.

The Star B is primarily a buffalo ranch but started growing hops last year. This year’s harvest, their second, is in swing now, so we called them up 760-789-8155)  and made a reservation, then headed out to the ranch (28428 Hwy 78  Ramona, CA.  92065) to do some picking.

We’d never picked hops before, but Eric, one of the owners, gave us a bag and a couple of pointers and away we went. We picked Cascade hops, the only variety that is plentiful now. They have some Willamette hops that are starting to be ready, and some Nugget and Magnum that should be ready very soon.

Picking the hops was easy and super fun. With two of us there, we picked 2 pounds (about half a paper grocery bag full) in about an hour. They cost $10/pound if you’re in a local homebrewers club, $15/pound otherwise. The hops smelled fantastic and we were smiling the entire time.

It was very peaceful and quiet out there, aside from the occasional grunts from the nearby buffalo or rustling of a rabbit hopping by. It’s an hour outside of San Diego but feels like a world away.

We vacuum-sealed the hops into bags when we got home and plan to brew a wet-hop “harvest ale” very soon. We’re hoping it tastes like all the wet-hop beers we love so much.

We also kept a couple of sprigs of hops and vines and put them in a baggie to show off while we were out last night. We passed them around at both the Blind Lady and the Tap Room, and everyone we showed them to was excited to see, touch and smell them. And of course we got a lot of double-takes from people who thought our baggie of a green, leafy substance was actually something else.

The harvest should last another 4-6 weeks, according to Eric. If our first batch of homebrew turns out well, we will definitely go back for more.


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Alpine brewpub – open for business

Like many San Diego hopheads, the beerandburritos staff has for more than a year been anxiously awaiting the opening of Alpine Beer Company’s brewpub next to their brewery in Alpine. As a subscriber to Alpine’s e-mail newsletters, we have read the updates about all the trials and tribulations of getting a new business open, eagerly reading each new message in hopes that it would finally give information about an opening date.

Then on Wednesday of this week we got a new e-mail from Alpine and, buried under a lengthy announcement about a dinner and food pairing at the Viejas casino, was this casual mention:

The Alpine Beer Company’s pub hours are 11AM to 10PM Tuesday through Thursday, 11AM to 12PM Friday and Saturday, 10AM to 9PM Sunday, CLOSED Mondays. Our tap list includes Willy, Willy Vanilly, Mandarin Nectar, McIlhenney’s Irish Red, Captain Stout, Tuatara, Hoppy Birthday, Duet, Nelson, Pure Hoppiness, Ned and 2 versions of Great. We first released Great in 2005 and then again in 2009, we have both draft versions on right now (yes we saved a keg all that time). We’ll be releasing vintage beers as time goes on, Briscoe, Chez Monmee and Chez Monieux, and 12 oz. bottles of Great. The menu is bbq themed and is really good, I would not say so if it weren’t true.

Wait, what? You mean it’s open?

Turns out the pub opened on Tuesday with little (e.g. no) fanfare.

So on Friday afternoon we left coastal San Diego, where it was 67 degrees,  and drove 30 miles east to Alpine, where it was 80 degrees. Because the pub had just opened, we expected a big crowd, and we expected that the place would still be working through things and there might be some glitches.

Turns out we were half right.

The first thing we noticed about the pub was its size. It’s a small place, smaller than expected. With kind of bright lighting and a checkerboard tile floor, it also looks more like a diner than a pub. There are about a dozen seats at the bar, which sort of looks like a lunch counter, and some tables with a couple dozen more seats. One count put the total number of seats in the place at 40. And there’s not a whole lot of additional standing room. The barstools are bolted in, and don’t give a lot of legroom if you’re taller than, say, 5-5. While there was a steady stream of people during the couple hours we were there, the place never got overly crowded, and there were always seats available.

The decor consists of some large, nice mirrors with the Alpine logo etched on them, plus a bunch of signs with barroom homilies such as “Beauty is in the eye of the Beerholder” or the one about how beer helps ugly people get laid or whatever. There are also a couple signs for other area breweries, including Green Flash.

There was music in the form of classic rock from one of the Sirius stations, as well as a TV in the corner over the bar. When the Padres game started, a bartender turned the sound up on the TV but left the music playing. Beerandburritos doesn’t like competing noises like that.

The bathrooms are in a detached building out back, and it’s a little weird to have to walk outside to get to them. While we thought the men’s room was fine enough, Mrs. Beerandburritos said the women’s room had a lot of spiders in it, which wasn’t good for her arachnophobia.

As mentioned in the Alpine e-mail, the menu here is built around barbecue. It was created by a chef who moved to the area from Memphis, and he seems to know what he’s doing. The food is cheap — you can get a pulled pork, pulled chicken or brisket sandwich with cole slaw and a side dish for $5.95. Another patron said he’d gotten the pulled pork sandwich and that it was piled so high with pork that he had to eat it with a fork, and that it was delicious.

We tried to order the pulled pork but were told they had run out. So we ordered pulled chicken instead. Unfortunately, it seemed we got the bottom of the barrel of chicken, as there wasn’t very much on the bun and it was mostly skin rather than meat. We picked a lot of the skin out and the meat we had was OK, but because the skin had been rubbed with spices that included cayenne pepper, the sandwich was extremely hot and spicy. We were told that because their smoker is very small, they had run out of pulled chicken, too. Apparently they were using some other chicken instead, and we weren’t supposed to get the skin and it wasn’t supposed to be fiery hot. So we expected glitches and we got one. While it’s good to know that the sandwich wasn’t supposed to be like that, it’s disappointing that they would serve something that was obviously not right. And the fact they’d run out of pork and chicken by 6 p.m. on a day that wasn’t all that busy is a little disconcerting. On the upside, the baked beans, which had pulled pork in them, were very good. And Mrs. Beerandburritos liked her cole slaw and french fries.

Of course, the best thing about this place is the beer. It was really cool to see so many Alpine tap handles in one place, and to know that all the beers would be fresh. We had some Tuatara session ale, Duet IPA, Nelson IPA, 2005 Great and Ned (the Flanders red), and all were delicious. The beers are mostly $4.50 a pint, with $1 off during happy hour. They also have some wine and champagne, as well as Coors Light for the locals who like barbecue but not good beer. They don’t do growler fills at the pub, but you can buy bottles to-go at the same price you’d pay at the brewery next door, so that’s nice.

Overall we really liked the place, and think it will just get better over time. The servers were very friendly and it was easy to get their attention when our glasses got empty. The employees and other patrons we chatted with also were nice and seemed happy to be there. While the food was a disappointment this time, we will give them a pass because the place is still so new, and will be happy to go back and eat there again soon.


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Grand opening for Hess Brewing

While some people might think there are already more than enough breweries in the San Diego area, others think there is room for more. Among those others are the owners of Hess Brewing, a new operation at 7955 Silverton Ave., just off Miramar Road.

Hess has been open for a couple weeks and is having a “Grand Opening” event this weekend. The doors open at 12:30 on Saturday and there will be free T-shirts for the first 50 people, live music at 1:00, food from Tabe BBQ at 2:00 and beer (plus root beer for designated drivers) until 6:00.

Hess’s flagship beers are Claritas Kolsch, Grazias Vienna Cream Ale, Intrepidus IPA, Amplus “San Diego Pale Ale” (aka a double IPA), and the Ex Umbris Stout.

Hess offers tasters as well as growler fills, and the growlers are those cool, big-mouth, flip-top type that Beerandburritos really likes. They’re great for filling with homebrew and taking to parties or the beach (on the down-low of course) or elsewhere.

In addition to its main website, Hess also has a blog where the owners have posted a number of updates since their journey to opening day began more than a year ago. Check out the photos of the various steps along the way, as well as little tidbits about brewing in San Diego and elsewhere.

We haven’t tried any of Hess’s beers yet and don’t know how they’ll stack up against the formidable competition here in San Diego. But on the upside, if you go to their brewery and don’t like their beer, you’re only a couple blocks away from AleSmith, so you can stop there for beer you know will be good, and still go home happy.

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Automatic has a website

Automatic Brewing Co., which is run by Blind Lady owner Lee Chase, finally has a website of its own.

The brewery, which sits inside Blind Lady, makes pretty small batches. It’s a nanobrewery, not micro. I think Lee once told me that the batches are 1/100 the size of what he used to brew when he was at Stone Brewing.

Automatic released its first brew, a Belgian pale ale called Automatic, in early 2009.  It recently released “Chocolate Rain, Too,” an oatmeal stout and another batch of that is brewing now.

We look forward to trying more beers from this place.

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Green Flash news flashes

Word on the street, or maybe it was a sidewalk, is that there are some cool things afoot at Green Flash.

First, the brewery is planning to bottle its barrel-aged Double Stout for the first time ever. Beerandburritos was told that the beer, which has been excellent when we’ve had it on tap, will be sold in four-packs of 12-oz bottles. Look for the release in a couple of months.

Second, the brewery is expanding, and in a big way. To like four times its size. As in, as big as Stone but without a bistro. Or so we were told. And those who live in central San Diego won’t have to trek all the way to freaking Vista to visit it, as it will be on Mira Mesa Blvd, just off the 805. No word on the timeline for this, though.

Now please excuse us as we go celebrate this news with a bottle of West Coast IPA.

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GABF judges like San Diego beers

The winners have been announced from this past weekend’s 2008 Great American Beer Festival in Denver, and congratulations are in order to a number of San Diego-area breweries. With Gold, Silver and Bronze winners in 75 categories, there are plenty of awards to go around, but local breweries nabbed more than their fair share.

Most notably, the Alesmith brewing team was named the Small Brewing Company and Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year. You’ll get no arguments here.

Alesmith also took home the Gold medal for its Wee Heavy in the “Strong Scotch Ale” category, the Gold for its Decadence Old Ale in the “Old Ale or Strong Ale” category, the Silver medal for its Vintage Speedway Stout in the “Aged Beer” category and the Silver for its Old Numbskull in the “Barley Wine-Style Ale” category.

The only other San Diego-area brewery to take home a Gold medal was beerandburritos favorite San Diego Brewing Co., which got the Gold for its wonderful Hopnotic in the “Imperial or Double India Pale Ale” category.

The local brewery with the most awards, if you lump all their locations together, is Pizza Port/Port Brewing

  • Pizza Port Carlsbad won the Silver for its Party Pants Pilsener in the “German-Style Pilsener” category, the Silver for Night Rider Imperial Stout in the “Imperial Stout” category, the Bronze for Port Truck Stout in the “Classic Irish-Style Dry Stout” category, the Bronze for Cow Stout in the “Sweet Stout” category and the Bronze for its State Beach Blonde in the “Herb and Spice or Chocolate Beer” category.
  • Pizza Port Solana Beach won the Bronze for its Big Wednesday in the “American-Belgo Style Ale” category.
  • Pizza Port San Clemente (OK, it’s Orange County and not San Diego, but it’s a local company) won Silver for Way Heavy in the “Strong Scotch Ale” category. (Now I wish I’d tried that when I was at PP San Clemente two weeks ago.)
  • Port Brewing and the Lost Abbey won Bronze for Hop 15 in the “Imperial or Double India Pale Ale” category.

Also, Rock Bottom in La Jolla got the Silver medal for its Ragtop Red in the “Irish-Style Red Ale” category.

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