Sippin’ In San Diego: North Park Part 1

Known to many as a prominent craft beer city, San Diego, California, has been atop my list of places to visit since I got into craft beer in 2006. After surviving the pandemic, and the lack of travel for beer opportunities over the last year, I am happy to finally immerse myself in the craft beer culture of this amazing city. I will be exploring San Diego for two weeks. By the time my trip concludes I want to understand why so many cherish this place. I want to discover how a city can support an embarrassment of brewery riches when many contend that craft beer is reaching a “saturation point.” Lastly, I want to recapture the invigoration and soul-satisfying serenity that traveling for beer has brought me over the years.

Go West, Young Man! Go West!

One of the most delectable fingertips of icing one can sneak off of the cupcake of life is traveling from the Central Standard Time Zone to the Pacific Standard Time Zone. This rare instance of adding two hours to your day is a joyous gift. I left the Minneapolis International Airport at 11:20am and was seeing palm trees by 1:30pm. These are the little nuggets of joy I love to celebrate in life.

My Airbnb Hostess With The Mostess

By the time my Lyft driver is dropping me off at my Airbnb, it is 2:00pm, and I am ready to get out and about. My Airbnb host is cut from a comedic cloth. A 72-years young woman by the name of Deborah greets me by yelling from her front step, “Are you the beer guy??” What Deborah lacks in height, she makes up for in wit, kindness, and a mouth like a sailor. If Danny DeVito had a sister, that is Deborah. Deborah used to teach art, but now works as a private chef. Her home is an adorable 1915 bungalow in the heart of North Park, one of the chic San Diego neighborhoods for people who love to eat, drink, and get tattoos.

Deborah is really a joy to be around. As she is giving me the rundown of the quirks of an old house, she goes into quite the process for locking the front door. She says, “If you approach it with brute force and a kind heart, you should have no issues.” It is also the 4th of July, and she warns me about the fireworks. “It feels like over the last few years, people around here just want to blow things up whenever they get the opportunity, so you might want to run the window air conditioner if you want to fall asleep.” After everything she says, she has a really enjoyable laugh, which puts a smile on my face.

The North Park Neighborhood of San Diego

Now that I am settled and know how to lock the door, it is time to venture out. It is a short walk to University Ave. which is a main thoroughfare of North Park. There are restaurants, bars, breweries, and plenty of cool murals and colors everywhere you look. I am on the lookout for some food because the 12 pretzels on the plane didn’t quite do it for me. I pass several restaurants that appear closed due to the fact that it is America’s birthday. One place that is closed piques my interest. A place called Shank & Bone. This is either a Phó place or a front for a house of carnal pleasure. I continue making my way down University Ave. when I smell the bewitching aromas of tacos.

City Tacos

Finding craft beer is definitely the main objective of my beercation. However, before I start imbibing, I need some food in my system. City Tacos looks and smells like a good idea. My Airbnb host says that City Tacos are probably some of the best in San Diego, and I am excited to see how they taste. During the Covid-shutdown, I spent a lot of quality time with my Netflix account. One show that I binged was The Taco Chronicles. This wonderfully encyclopedic look at every origin and style of taco filled me with a zeal to learn more about this iconic street food. The menu at City Tacos is simple, and yet appears to offer many varieties of tacos.

Left to right-Surf & Turf, Pollo Asado, & Cochinita Pibil

I decide to go with a Surf & Turf, Pollo Asado, and Cochinita Pibil after studying the menu. I need to be really straightforward here and explain that Minnesota does have good taco places. However, I feel that San Diego’s taco culture would be in the top-five of any list of places to go for tacos. So, I am going to educate my palate on what tacos can be so I can return to Minnesota and be able to honestly say I understand this food better.

Surf & Turf

The combination of succulent, seasoned shrimp and the juicy skirt steak really went well with the cool and crunch cabbage. There was a nice slice of avocado on top along with some onions, cilantro, and tomatoes. All of this comes abed a homemade corn tortilla that had a really nice thickness and chew to it. It was pliable without eating gummy. Yet, it had structural integrity so as to not fall apart with each bite I took.

Pollo Asado

This has perfectly grilled chicken that has a nice smokey char to it from the grill. The guacamole on top adds a nice creaminess to the bite. The tomatoes, cilantro, onion add brightness and crunch. What makes this taco great is the flour tortilla that has a bit of char from the grill. This tortilla has a savory note to it that I have never found in any store-bought tortilla.

Cochinita Pibil

The crème del la crème of this tremendous taco trio is the Cochinita Pibil. I became enamored with this style of taco after watching The Taco Chronicles. What makes this special is that there is slow-cooked pork that is simmered in a magnificent Mayan Achiote sauce. The sauce is deftly prepared and has a combination of spice and depth of flavor that is savory and a bit smokey. There is a creamy salsa on top that has a mix of serrano and habanero peppers in it. This is served on the aforementioned corn tortilla that is damn-near heaven.

I find a spot in the shade to enjoy and savor my first of many wonderful meals in San Diego. I see throngs of people walking by on this holiday afternoon. There is such a wonderful energy in this place. The temperature is in the mid-70s and there is a wonderful breeze to prevent you from feeling uncomfortable. These tacos are wonderful and each bite brings an electric awakening to my Midwest palate. Now that the taco itch has been scratched, it is time to meander down the block to find my first San Diego brewery.

North Park Beer Co.

Since I am staying in North Park, I might as well start with the brewery that shares the namesake. Located on the corner of University Ave. and Ohio St., North Park Beer Co. is easy to find. As I step inside, rows of fermenters greet my to my right.

A few more steps inside, and I am standing in a spacious, large taproom that feels like a saloon from the Old West. There are plenty of tables and the long bar has plenty of seating. There are many 4-tops and 6-tops around as well as a communal hightop table that can sit probably 12-15 people around it. There is an upstairs mezzanine area that has Skeeball and other games. This overlooks the entire main taproom area.

Beer Time!

I grab a seat at the far end of the bar so I can project my “Norm from Cheers” vibe. The bartenders are all friendly and helpful. I have to dial up the website on my phone since I am just far enough from the big board of offerings behind the bar. There are windows on the University Ave side of the taproom that allow for wonderful people watching. There is a steady trickle of folks coming in and out, but it is far from packed.

After perusing the menu, they have a lot of different things on tap. However, they are currently not offering flights, so I decide to go with half pours for my first beer stop of the day. One thing that Covid put the brakes on is the option to do tasting flights at a lot of places. I get why it is that way, but when you are wanting to try a multitude of beers at a place, it is a bit of a bummer.

Fiestaveza-5% ABV 18 IBU

After enjoying three wonderful tacos, my first beer of the day has to be Fiestaveza, a Mexican-style lager. I imagine many people all over the country are drinking something similar as they prepare to detonate something as an homage to our Nation’s birthday. Well, I think that there are some fireworks going on with my palate after my first sip of this crispy and clean lager. There is a definite toasted white bread malt note that elevates this from a pedestrian Corona with a lime in it.

What I like about the Fiestaveza and other beers of that ilk is that they are refreshing and crisp. A lot of people say they just want a beer that tastes like a beer. I used to think that kind of a statement was so Neanderthaloid. However, now that we are living in the “Wild West” of all things Milkshake IPA and Pastry Stout, I get it. A beer like this can be dissected, but I am choosing to sip it and observe the wonderful energy around me.

Hop-Fu! West Coast IPA-7.5% 65 IBU

And now for something completely different. West Coast IPAs are enjoying a resurgence these days. Of course, I doubt they ever went out of style in California. However, New England IPAs, with all of their cloudiness and juicy hop excitement, have definitely enjoyed the spotlight for the last several years. The Hop-Fu! is a wonderful reminder of why I fell in love with IPA as a style. It is bursting with piney, floral, and grassy hop aromas. There are fruity flavors of stone fruit-peach and apricot. Hop-Fu! falls firmly in the hop-forward beer category. The dryness in this beer, thanks to the hoppy bitter finish, just goads my palate into wanting another sip. If it hadn’t set in before that I am, in fact, in California, this beer is a wonderful liquid reminder.

Birdie to Bogey Pilsner-5.4% ABV 10 IBU

Birdie to Bogey is a unique beer in the sense that it delivers a wonderful hop aroma and flavor, all abed the base of a crispy lager. There is a citrus aroma that comes across as lime in the aroma. The strata, citra, and mosaic hops provide a really nice lime flavor that finishes piney. There is not a lot of bitterness which I love.

After spending quite a bit of time marveling at the beers at North Park Beer Co., I settle up and dial up the next brewery. It is just a bit of a jaunt up 30th St., which seems to have quite a few breweries there.

Fall Brewing Company

After a wonderful 15 minute walk from North Park Beer Co., I arrive at Fall Brewing Company. I passed several breweries on my way here that were closed due to the holiday, but I will catch them later in the week. There is ample shade on the patio and the garage doors are open to allow for the wonderful San Diego breeze to keep patrons cool. I walk in and see that Fall Brewing Company does offer flights and that makes me really happy.

There is an edgy musical vibe in this place. Much different than the family-friendly feel of North Park Beer Co. I see a lot of younger folks with lots of tattoos. There are several adorable doggos relaxing on the patio. These adorable pups are enjoying copious belly rubs on this wonderful night out. There is a food truck 35 feet away from my seat that would tempt me so much if I wasn’t still satiated from my earlier meal. Although, a couple to my right got a bucket of ceviche that they are dipping crunch tortilla chips into. With each bite, the audible crunch is so intense, that I feel like maybe the fireworks are starting early.

Plenty For All Pilsner-4.8% ABV

I start out with a pilsner that is true to style. Bready and cereal malt notes balance out a crispy finish thanks to some earthy hops. Now, I bet this would pair really well with that ceviche that the couple to my right is continuing to enjoy.

Plenty For Now Zwickel/Keller Bier-4.8 ABV

If you every get the chance to have a Zwickel/Keller bier, you should do it. It is essentially a younger version of a pilsner. So, it has less time for things to drop out of it and it tends to be a little cloudy. However, it still drinks crisp, but with more flavors going on. There is a slight whiff of sulfur, which I like in the beer of this style. It dissipates after a sip or two. Tasting this right after the regular pilsner is a good way to learn about how a Zwickel is different from a regular pilsner.

Pleasure Seeker Pale Ale-5.8% ABV

This is a run of the mill pale ale that drinks pretty bright and refreshing. A hint of citrus along with a dash of piney bitterness makes this a really clean pale ale. I wish more pale ales could be like this one.

Let’s Go IPA-7% ABV

I wish that this beer really went for it with the bitterness. It seems to be very one-note. The aroma is a piney. The flavor is a nice balance between the hops and malt, but there isn’t much bitterness in the flavor to wake up my palate.

2AM Bike Ride Stout on Nitro-5% ABV

I wanted to like this beer a lot more because it is a coffee stout on Nitro. However, the body of the beer is so thin that everything just fell flat. My hope was that the nitro would give it creaminess, but it just didn’t happen. I like the flavor of the beer, so it was not a total loss.

The people watching and the beers at Fall Brewing are solid. However, the the tread on today’s tire is wearing a little thin. I keep forgetting that despite the time, my body is actually two hours later. So, I decide to head back to the Airbnb and hit one final stop on my way back.

The Original 40 Brewing Company

I am not sure why people didn’t mention The Original 40 Brewing Company to me when I asked for suggestions. It is located pretty close to where I am staying and they have food. I didn’t want a full meal, but I needed something. So, with another brewery with open windows and functional tap lines, I get in line.

Final Flight is Now Boarding

I ask the nice bartender if they do flights. She says that they don’t usually, but if I pick three, she will accommodate my. I am thankful for this act of kindness for a weary traveler. I also order fries with some beer cheese dipping sauce. Remember, it isn’t a #SummerOfDan beercation without beer cheese dipping sauce!

I order up three similar-in-style offerings that are all of the lighter variety. The Schlock Purist Pilsner is delightful at 4.7% ABV. Very true to style with its balanced malt character of bread and sharp hoppy dry bite at the end. The next beer on the flight board is the Baja Soul, a 5% Mexican lager that has a wonderful corn aroma and sweetness. The beer has a crisp finish which I enjoy. Last, but certainly not least is The Parklet, a Kölsch-style beer that is an easy-drinking 4.9% ABV. It drinks clean and has a little hint of honey sweetness in the malt.

The fries are good and I am thankful I sprung for the beer cheese dipping sauce. It comes with finely-diced chives on top and is really the perfect cap to a day of travel. I am anxious to get back to the Airbnb. There are still many people out enjoying the evening and approaching dusk. I am happy that I chose this area as my home base for the first week here. Tomorrow should be another great day to explore this wonderful place. Prost!

Dan Beaubien has been involved with Beerploma since 2014 although his passion for craft beer dates back to 2006 when he started traveling for beer.  Dan mostly covers craft beer events, festivals, brewery openings/releases, and beer reviews. Dan has a soft spot in his heart for authentic British Style ales, IPAs, and all things barrel-aged.  If you have any questions or comments about this article feel free to email Dan at dan.beaubien@beerploma.com .