July 04, 2012

Photo Essay: Breweries of North County San Diego

People talk about San Diego as though it's so boring. "It's great, but there's nothing to do there," they say.

Let me tell you, there is always something to do.

Ever since I first visited San Diego four years ago, I've been scrambling to get everything done that there is to do. The one thing that I've always pushed to the next visit is touring the county's many breweries. Since most of them are situated in North County - where I was focusing my visit this time around - I finally got the chance to visit a couple of them.

But not nearby as many as I had on my list.

My first stop: Green Flash.

Green Flash's bottling machine is a Frankenstein of sorts, with parts derived from old soda bottlers, corporate brewers, and craft breweries like Deschutes. Apparently this is commonplace since new bottling machines are very expensive...

The tour - which is enjoyed best with one of the many beers from the tasting room's taps (mine a 30th Street Pale Ale) - also comes with four post-tour tasters of Green Flash's most popular beers including one of my favorites, the West Coast IPA.

I was amongst married couples, birthday partiers, and other revelers in the tasting room and beer garden, making me feel a bit conspicuous, so I moved onto White Labs...

...which isn't so much of a brewery as a...laboratory. They do brew their own beers on site but they're described as experimental, utilizing different yeasts and different fermentation techniques, with mixed results. The menu features a variety of beer styles - Hefeweizen, Ale, Saison - listed with letters and numbers that I could barely even see on the screen, much less decode. After one 4 oz. taster, and a confusing ordering process - during which I was warned that nothing would probably be hoppy enough for me - I moved on to Ballast Point.

Like Green Flash, at Ballast Point, there was no shortage of excitement - the revelry could be heard all the way out on the street.

Lucky for me, I arrived just in time for another brewery tour (though a much stricter one, on which drinking beer was verboten and wearing protective eyewear was compulsory).

I suppose all brewery tours are more or less the same.

You encounter a variety of kettles, mash, and tanks.

One craft brewery might differentiate itself from another by how many tanks they have...

...but what we tourists are most interested in is what's inside those tanks, what recipe goes into producing it, and what it tastes like. Fortunately, for the latter, you wouldn't want to taste its foam, but you can get a taster of the famous Sculpin IPA at the tap room onsite.

Of course, the recipe is the one thing they won't tell you.

Interestingly, Ballast has also embarked on distilling spirits (so far: gin, rum, vodka, with brown liquors on the way), though their "distillery" is basically one tank and a few barrels that take up a fraction of the footprint of the entire facility.

And no liquor tastings...yet.

After Ballast Point, the day was coming to an end and I'd had enough beer for the day. But with only three visits under my belt, I'd only scratched the surface of what San Diego has to offer for the beer-drinking traveler.

Related Reading:
Photo Essay: Field Trip to Captain Lawrence Brewery

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