Sippin’ In San Diego: North Park Part 3

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.

Follow Advice of the Local Craft Beer Enthusiast

In my second part of my series on the craft beer life in North Park, I meet a wonderful couple, Trevor and Erika, who fill my itinerary up with places that they categorize as must-visits. I always prefer to get a local’s perspective on where I should go. Trusting reviews and recommendations as your only metric for planning a beercation is going to ensure you miss out on some gems. San Diego has such a breadth of places and I want to make sure I am getting the choice cuts. So, I set out to check all the other places off the list that people have championed in our conversations.

Belching Beaver’s North Park Tasting Room

In Minnesota, we get some of the wonderful beers crafted by Belching Beaver. Belching Beaver Brewing Company’s brewhouse is in Oceanside, CA, and they have several other places to drink in Vista. I came to know the wonders of Belching Beaver because of their Peanut Butter Stout. It is held in high esteem and is definitely the beer that put them on the map. I listened to a podcast with the founder where he talked about how they really wanted stouts to be a big part of what they do. Where some breweries have a calling card that is firmly rooted in IPAs, Belching Beaver is a place for an immaculate stout.

Walking into their corner tasting room on 30th St., it is shortly after they open for the day. So, I have my pick of places to sit. I see a gentleman serving drinks and chatting with people so I grab a seat at the bar. I will soon come to find out that this incredibly attentive and helpful man’s name is Travis and he is the Director of Operations. He answers a few questions I have about the beers and gets my flight all set to go. As I am taking pictures of the place and the flight, it hits me and his blue eyes pierce the bubble containing the answer of why he looks so familiar.

San Diego’s Celebrity Doppleganger of Kiefer Sutherland?!?!?

San Diego

If Kiefer Sutherland had broader shoulders and long hair, Travis would be his doppleganger. Travis is really relaxed and personifies the San Diego vibe with aplomb. I tell him that Trevor and Erika sent me his way and he smiles and says, “Oh, I love those guys.” Travis knows everyone who comes in. A place to drink is more than the beers they have on tap. A place to drink is about the people who work there and the vibe they create. Belching Beaver in North Park has the feel of a neighborhood bar. The fact that the beers at Belching Beaver are fantastic is just icing on the cake.

Viva La Beaver

My beer flight consists of four beers: Lo Cali Lager(light lager), Buenos Tiempos(Mexican Lager), Scroopy Noopers(red ale), and ¡Viva La Beaver!(Mexican Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout). Of these four beers in the flight, ¡Viva La Beaver! is the most memorable. It has complexity and subtle notes of chili and dryness. There is also a nutty and roasty quality in the malt that gives this beer a level of sophistication.

Buenos Tiempos is a refreshing and crisp Mexican Lager that I think I would drink by the pint if I were a regular here. I have had the Belching Beaver Phantom Bride IPA before, so I go for the No Worries IPA to try something different. I really enjoy how this fits in the West Coast family of IPAs. The No Worries is wonderfully balanced and drinks really easy, all the while, still delivering a bright and piney bitterness at the end.

Travis keeps checking in on my to see how I am doing and is giving me his rundown of places I should make sure I get to while I am visiting. I am thankful for the conversation that I am having with Travis. He is a true craft beer ambassador and knows a ton about the industry. He has a great team at the North Park location, and they have built an epic following for this Belching Beaver location. The way Travis talks about this place, I can tell it is special to him. He started working here seven years ago in college. He has been Director of Operations for the last four years. As he is speaking about why he has stayed here for so long, Travis explains, “It’s all about chillin and enjoying yourself.”

After my flight, it is time for a peanut butter stout on Nitro. This iconic stout is so perfectly balanced between the roastiness of the peanut butter notes and the chocolate of the dark malt used. The Nitro pour makes is smooth and velvety. The ideal way to enjoy this beer is just sitting at the taproom bar in San Diego with nowhere to go.

A Local With A Lot To Say

As the minute hand moves ahead, the place is filling up. I notice a guy come in who orders a beer and appears to know Travis. This tall, slender man is wearing a grayish tank top and has a pronounced East Coast accent. It isn’t straight up Boston, but definitely somewhere in New England. Over the years, I have found that people from the East Coast are some of the most engaging and entertaining individuals to strike up a conversation with over a beer. I am trying to focus on taking notes on the beer, but my mind keeps circling back to trying to place this accent.

Lobster Rolls Have Terroir???

Finally, he says to Travis, “I’ll have another. They’re going down a little slow today. I ripped it up pretty good over 4th of July.” Then it hits me like a lobster trap upside the head; this guy has to be from Maine! This guy from Maine goes back outside to sit on the bar that faces the street. I continue drinking and chatting with Travis. Eventually the dude from Maine comes back inside to get another beer. I overhear him talking about this seafood place called Pete’s Seafood and Sandwiches that several other people have mentioned. Pete’s Seafood and Sandwiches specializes in East Coast seafood staples, specifically, the lobster roll. I ask this guy from Maine if the lobster roll at Pete’s is worth my time. He grabs a stool at the end of the bar and rolls up his sleeves for a Ted Talk on Maine lobster rolls versus lobster rolls from anywhere else.

“Pete’s from Massachusetts, so he misses the bullseye. You gotta be from Maine to knock it out of the park.” Clearly I have hit a nerve. Subtly, I make sure to open to a new page in my notebook because this gentleman from Maine has a lot of opinions about the world. I find out that this guy from Maine actually has a name: Mark the Spark. I ask him if he spells it with a C or a K. He says, “K. I’m only half French, I just don’t know which half.” I chuckle and ask Mark if he is a regular here. He says that he stops by Belching Beaver quite often because he just lives around the corner.

For Some, Atmosphere is More Important Than Beer

Based on how often Mark shows up, I assume he must be a huge fan of the beer here. “I says, I have not tried one beer here that I’ve liked. I like the atmosphere, the nice lights, but the beer sucks.” This is all very interesting to me. Clearly Mark is not a craft beer guy, but likes beer, in general. There are actually several beers at Belching Beaver that will appeal to someone who isn’t a craft aficionado. What Mark lacks in fervent craft beer lust, he makes up for in one-liners.

Mark “The Spark”

Mark and I agree that Covid really cramped our styles of going to places and sitting at the bar. He says, “The bar is an open forum.” I like that. I ask Mark what brought him out to San Diego. He was in the lobster and restaurant business for many years in Maine. He raised a daughter there and then moved out here when he retired. When Mark finds out I am from Minnesota, he asks about whether or not any place is doing lobster rolls. I explain to him that there are a few places to get a lobster roll, but the quality pales in comparison to what you get on the East Coast.

Mark has a lot of thoughts about San Diego and California, in general. Mark philosophizes about the people of California in truly colorful fashion. “Here is all you need to know about California; you’re gonna want to write this down. California is like granola, you’ve got fruits, nuts, and flakes.” Some of those thoughts are sarcastic, and some are heartfelt. Specifically on the homelessness, he really feels bad. “The homelessness out here is heartbreaking. I always carry around a couple bucks to give to these guys, but there are so many. I don’t know what to do.”

Of course, there are also some sarcastic things about California that cause me to audibly guffaw. One of these gems relates to the omnipresence of canines. “They call it a dog park because there’s more dogs than people.” Mark and I chat all about the food, beer, people, and culture of San Diego. Mark likes Pete’s Seafood and Sandwiches, but really waxes poetic about a place in Chula Vista that has incredible Huevos Rancheros. Due to Mark’s prolific Maine accent, he pronounces this sacred dish (Waaaayvus Ran-Chair-rows) This place is Asada Mexican Restaurant. Mark claims that they have the best Huevos Rancheros, but depending on who is doing the cooking that day, the sauce can be a little runny. I file that in my list of places to go.

I would happily spend the rest of the day here chatting with Travis and Mark, but I do also want to get down the street to Second Chance Brewing. So, I wrap it up. Say goodbye to Travis and Mark. Before I leave, Travis tells me to stop back in the next day or two so I can grab some beers that he has for me. I agree to bring him some MN beers to trade. Mark also hands me a business card with his contact info. “Evidently, there is going to be some kind of write-up or something, so here you go.” I thought he was kidding when he introduced himself as Mark “the Spark”, but sure a shit, that is what is printed on his business card.

Second Chance Beer Co.

I often joke that I drink coffee until it is socially acceptable to switch to beer. Well, Second Chance Beer Co. pours coffee in the morning, and beer in the afternoon! Their North Park location in San Diego houses Parabola Coffee Roasters, a pop-up coffee shop. There is even a bit of overlap on their hours when once can get both coffee and beer. What a world!

Second Chance Beer Co. is noteworthy for being the only brewery in the world to have a beer that has won 3 GABF gold medals. I will pause here while you let that sink in. Yes, their Tabula Rasa Porter won back to back gold medals in 2016 & 2017 and again in 2019. This is unprecedented in craft beer and I am incredibly excited to try this beer for myself.

Beer Shots with Freddy

Since they just opened for the day, I have the entire place to myself. I see an optimal seat at the bar and get comfy. The lone bartender welcomes me and asks if I have been to Second Chance before. The young man behind the bar’s name is Freddy. He just started working at Second Chance, but seems like he has been bartending for years. I respond by saying that I am visiting from Minnesota on a beercation and he says that we should do a beer shot to celebrate! Freddy pours the both of us a taster of beer and we cheers. What a great way to start out my visit!

The taproom is beautiful and the walls have all sorts of artwork up. A mural depicting a vibrant hop cone over some barley brightens up the left side of the taproom. On the right side of the taproom, there is a huge painted Second Chance Brewing logo with a phrase, “The time for beer is now!” Finally, a corporate slogan I can get behind.

I look over the menu and Freddy begins pouring my flight selections. My flight consists of some of their lighter options as well as the aforementioned GABF 3-time gold medal winner Tabula Rasa. I throw in a West Coast IPA for good measure because San Diego is the place for West Coast hoppy goodness. My flight arrives and the aromas are enchanting. Lots of good things. The lagers are tasty. The West Coast IPA is earthy and resiny with a wonderful pronounced bitterness.

As I am sipping, I ask Freddy about local places that he likes to visit. He tells me a lot of good places to go. Some new places that he mentions are Brother’s and Colima’s for authentic Mexican food. Freddy is an artist and loves the vibe in San Diego. He also says that Second Chance is such a wonderful place to work.

Tastes Like Gold

I finally get to the Tabula Rasa Porter in my flight. I brace myself to be transported to craft beer palate euphoria. The initial aroma before I even have the taster up to my nose is so intensely roasty. I smell toasted bread crust, coffee, a hint of tobacco. The sip is all those accompanying flavors with a nice dryness in the finish. Tabula Rasa is so satisfying and balanced. After tasting this beer for myself, the accolades for this fantastic beer are well-deserved. One might say it tastes like gold.

After tasting all sorts of wonderful things and chatting with friendly people, it is time to get some food. As per Freddy’s suggestion, I head to Brother’s Mexican Restaurant to get some wonderful food. They have a ton of beers on tap, but all I want is water and a burrito. Their menu is quite large and I decide to go with their shrimp and beef burrito that is on special. It is so wonderfully satiating after a full day of drinking and I polish it off and head back to the Airbnb for a well-earned good night’s sleep.

Belching Beaver Part Deux

Because I never like to leave a loose end blowing in the wind, I feel the need to write a little bit of a follow-up from my first visit to Belching Beaver. The next day, I pop in there when they open at 3. I bring Travis a Big Doinks from Fairstate Brewing Cooperative in Minneapolis and a Fashion Mullet from Lupulin Brewing Company. He generously has 3 wonderful sour beers for me. I stay for another Buenos Tiempos and chat with some of the other folks at the brewery.

On my way out, I spot Mark sitting outside at the street-facing bar. I say, “Hey, Mark, how are you?” He says, “Hey, the beer guy!” I was happy to tell him that earlier that day I ate a wonderful lobster roll at Pete’s Seafood and Sandwiches. Mark says that after telling me about Asada Mexican Restaurant, yesterday, he went there for breakfast today. “Now, I am no authority on Mexican food. And depending on who is doing the cooking, the sauce on the Huevos Rancheros can be a little runny, but today; A-1”. We exchanged fist bumps and I made my way onto the next place.

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 .