Sippin’ In San Diego: Take Me Out to the Ballgame

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.

Take Me Out To The Ballgame

San Diego

Life is a journey, not a destination. I became smitten with craft beer when I was in the midst of a Summer of Dan baseball adventure in 2006. After a harrowing plane ride in a small aircraft much more susceptible to winds than a larger plane, I arrived in Cleveland. I met my sister and her then fiancé at the airport and they asked what I wanted to do first. My only thought was that a beer would calm my nerves and steady my knocking knees. They took me to a brewery in Cleveland called Great Lakes Brewing Company. The ensuing taster flight made a believer out of me that there were better things than Lienienkugel’s.

The purpose of that trip was to see the Minnesota Twins play the Cleveland Indians at Jacob’s Field. Craft beer seemed like just a happy bonus to my trip. In the years that followed, I would visit Boston, St. Louis, and Kansas City for baseball. At some point my passion turned to craft beer and a baseball stadium visit became the happy bonus to the trip.

Sad Diego is a wonderful baseball town. The fans are rabid in their support for their Padres. The field where their hometown nine go to work is called Petco Park. As luck would have it, the Washington Nationals happen to be in town for a series, and I found a ticket online. I am excited to take a break from my wanderings in North Park to take in a ballgame. After a quick search of the East Village, a close neighborhood to the ballpark, I find that even though several of the breweries are closed, I will find plenty of San Diego craft beer to wet my whistle until the first pitch.

Little Miss Brewing

A quick five minute walk from where the bus lets me off is Little Miss Brewing. They have many locations, with their main production facility in Miramar. Since I am down here, I figure I will visit their East Village tasting room. There is a definitive bomb shelter feel of the taproom thanks to the gray cinder blocks. A group of locals are hanging out around the smallish bar. Though I have never personally been in a bomb shelter, I am guessing that they are cozy places. I would assign that same descriptor to the Little Miss Brewing taproom.

San Diego

I select a quartet of tasters and look for a spot to sit. Despite the fact that the taproom isn’t crowded, there are few places to sit where one can really spread out. I grab a seat facing the street close to the side wall of the taproom. A woman is sitting there chatting with another couple. I ask if I can share the table and they all invite me to sit.

I notice the couple leave and then the woman is there by herself. She is a friendly woman with sandy blond hair and is sipping a full pour of what looks like their At Ease Wheat Cream Ale. She notices me taking a few notes and we get to chatting. Her name is Suzanne and she is meeting a friend here. She inquires about what I am doing with the notebook and I explain that I am on a beercation from Minnesota. She smiles broadly and thinks that is absolutely wonderful. I get back to sipping and she takes out a book to read.

Little Miss Beers Have Big Flavors

As I am getting settled, I begin my tasting process and jot down a few notes. My Little Miss Brewing selections include a Wheat Cream Ale, Lil Warhorse Oatmeal Stout, Battleground Brown Ale, and the Devil’s Piano Imperial Stout. They come in little mini-mugs on an adorable little baking sheet.

The At Ease Wheat Cream Ale is as advertised. This beer has a nice citrusy aroma, which is not something you typically see in a cream ale. Then again, you don’t normally see wheat in a cream ale, either, so maybe this place just forges their own path when it comes to style guidelines. Regardless of there they fall on the style guidelines, the beer is refreshing and tasty. I actually like how the wheat adds a pillowy element to the mouthfeel of the beer.

The Lil Warhorse is by-far my favorite beer out of the four tasters that I have. The malt character is full of rich roast and leather. There is also a tannic husk bitterness from the malt that balances with the creaminess of the texture to create a complexity in the beer.

The Devil’s Piano is a is big on body and flavor. The velvety texture of the beer combined with the roasty coffee notes and bitter dark choclate flavors are all spot-on for me. As it warms, it gets even better with a little hint of molasses.

One Little Miss. . .

Being that pints were four dollars, figure I should get a full pour of something. I asked the taproom manager, Jason, what he would recommend and he points me in the direction of the West Coast IPA. I happily order a full pour of a style that I have really had a lot of success with in San Diego, so far. However, I don’t even make it back to my table before the dreaded aroma of butterscotch and candy corn alert me to this beer’s major flaw. I am really surprised because Jason said that this beer was their flagship and everything else I try is good. Oh well, I guess they can’t all be winners.

Another Chance Meeting with a San Diego Ambassador

As I am working my way through the beers, Suzanne’s friend arrives. He is a bundle of positivity and seems really excited to be here. I see him fist bump a few guys at the bar and he returns to the table with a full pint and a smile. He is wearing a black Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt with a busty blond wearing an American flag bikini. Immediately, I know that this guy is going to be a character.

I see this gentleman take a seat and begin talking with Suzanne. I look over and say hi and raise my glass for a cheers. “Happy Friday!”, I say as our glasses clink. I introduce myself and he says that his name is Steve.

Steve loves San Diego. Recently, he discovered Little Miss Brewing and has been a regular since then. He proudly states, “This is the beginning of my life with craft beer and I love it!” He loves the variety of different things to try that Little Miss Brewing has on tap. Steve is also is a big fan of the $4 Happy Hour pints that many of the folks are enjoying today.

The Good Old Days at the Ballpark

Steve suffers from seizures so he cannot drive. He is on foot for the most part and seems to know every nook and cranny of the city. He is giving me lots of suggestions for places to go while I am here. When I mention that I am going to the baseball game, he really perks up. His eyes get a nostalgic look in them and he sits back and looks up and begins to recall a fond memory from the past. “Can you believe that you used to be able to bring in a cooler of beer to the stadium?” Suzanne is quick to say that this is not the case anymore as Steve smiles as if remembering the first time he ever tasted a really good donut.

Steve continues to wax poetic on the outfield bleacher adventures he had at Jack Murphy stadium back in the day. “Dan, in the 70s, I can’t tell you how many drunken brawls I saw in the stands.” My hope is that my Petco Park experience in the right field stands is a little tamer because my brass knuckles are back at the Airbnb. He continues sipping, and with a captive audience, really opens up the catalog of stories.

Steve of San Diego

Steve is 65 years old and came to San Diego in 1978. Hurricanes eventually became too much for him and that is why he moved to San Diego. He lives right down the street on the 6th floor of an apartment. Thanks to Section 8 housing, Steve is able to afford to live in this wonderful area.

Steve came to San Diego to escape the hurricanes in Florida. They stressed him out and he didn’t really like how people dealt with them. “I can’t believe I lived through hurricane Camille. People would have hurricane parties and we would just get drunk.” Steve continues, “My friends would say, ‘You need to get the fuck out of Florida, man.'”

Steve is much happier in San Diego. He cannot stop talking about how much he loves Little Miss Brewing and the surrounding East Village neighborhood. I think because of his seizures, he winds up repeating things a lot. In fact, he told me 6 different times in our conversation that I can bring a cooler of beer into the stadium if I wanted to save some money on beer.

Steve is a rare find. His demeanor is so friendly and unabashedly happy. One has to hunt pretty hard to find this combination of humanity these days. I am so happy that Steve can live in a city he so dearly loves and drink at a place where he feels so at home. It pains me to say goodbye to Steve and Suzanne because they are such nice people. Steve held court for a good 45 minutes while I sat there, listened, and smiled. Steve shakes my hand and smiles. His droopy eyes and wide grin leave me feeling like Steve makes the world a lot better with his kindness.

Duck Foot Brewing

Literally across the street, on the other side of the light rail track, is Duck Foot Brewing.

Duck Foot Brewing is a gluten-reduced brewery with an entirely gluten-free menu. Check out this menu holders buying guide for your restaurant. Having enjoyed a handful of gluten-reduced beers, I am curious to give Duck Foot Brewing a try. The main production facility for Duck Food is up in Miramar, but this East Village satellite location will at least give me a sense of what the beers are like.

So, how do you reduce the gluten in a beer? What is the difference between gluten-free and gluten-reduced? Well, I will attempt to give you a very cursory explanation of those queries. First of all, gluten-free beer uses ingredients that are sans-gluten. This means no barley, or any other grain with gluten. Gluten-free beers are often made with sorghum, buckwheat, or millet. Of course there are others, but these are the most common.

Gluten-reduced beer is different because it is brewed with malt. There is a scientific process that removes the gluten from the beer, bringing it to a threshold that is nearly undetectable, that allows people to drink it. I was hoping for a more in-depth explanation about this from the dude working the bar, but this is what he gave me. So, I proceed with caution and order up a flight.

First Ever Gluten-Reduced Beer Flight

I am genuinely curious to see what the beers will taste, smell, and feel like. I try to get a variety of different things that will showcase this brewing process. The flight arrives and the selections are Mas Y Masa (Mexican Lager, The Looker (Blonde Ale), Hop ‘Em Sock ‘Em (West Coast IPA), Unibrown Ale (Brown Ale), and Mother Lover (Dry Irish Stout).

Of these five selections, the lighter in body selections are comparable to beers with gluten. The flavors and textures are done well and the beers have a lot of character. Where I notice a bit of a missing texture element is the Brown Ale and the Dry Irish Stout. Those two selections seem to be missing a bit of the malty texture and flavor.

Looking at the time, I want to get closer to the ballpark and I set a course for the next brewery on my way to the stadium. If I had a gluten sensitivity and lived in San Diego, Duck Foot Brewing would definitely be in my rotation of spots. The beers are flavorful and the textures adequately mimic those of regular gluten beers. I am amazed at how similar their beers are to the other great beers I have enjoyed here.

Half Door Brewing Company

With about two hours left before first pitch, I head closer to the stadium. The energy level rises as I get closer to the stadium. Clusters of Padres fans are already filling bars and occupying barstools in anticipation for the game. There is nothing better than game day energy. Half Door Brewing Company is within eyesight of the stadium. It looks like a historically preserved house from the Colonial times.

The brewery is on the corner and from the street, has white railings and two levels of seating. There are a bunch of tables outside, as well. I head inside hoping to see what things look like and maybe find a spot at the bar. Luckily, I see a few spots open at the bar. The taproom is so cozy and unique. This is the coolest taproom yet that I have found in San Diego. Half Door Brewing has such amazing character.

San Diego

The beer styles are all over the place. Hoppy offerings, light offerings, and a few darker, malty offerings. I order some waffle fries with seasoned sour cream and a Roark Red Ale. The place is filling up. I would surmise that myself and a red-headed woman at the other end of the bar in full-on Washington Nationals regalia are the only non-Padres fans in the place.

It’s A Beautiful Day For Baseball, Let’s Drink Three!

The atmosphere, the game day vibe, and the delicious beers all make Half Door Brewing Company a must-stop when you visit San Diego. The first beer I order is the Roark Red Ale. I almost feel like it is 2012 because this style used to be exponentially more prominent on tap lists in craft beer. The Roark Red Ale is has a nice toasted bread flavor. The hop profile of the beer is floral and expertly balances out the beer.

San Diego

I can tell that this is a go-to for San Diego locals. It is starting to be packed to the gills, and I am thankful that I have my barstool. There are two bartenders, a taller young man who looks like his is maybe 25 and another young woman who might be late twenties/early thirties. The tall dude seems overwhelmed and also like he cannot shift out of first gear with his speed to handle the multitude of orders that are flooding the POS system. The woman is shorter, with blond hair. She is definitely not fazed by the onslaught of drink orders. This seasoned veteran appears to be working at double-speed to keep up. She is mixing cocktails, pouring beers, and also meticulously checking in with the bar patrons. All the while, the tall drink of water seems like he is walking in concrete.

My second beer is the Media Puerto, a crisp and clean Mexican Lager. It is a good offering to keep the evening going. At 5% ABV, this is the perfect happy hour beer. Speaking of happy hour, Half Door Brewing is definitely a spot I would frequent if I lived in San Diego. There are so many conversations happening and now, there is a line to get in.

San Diego

The Best Dry Irish Stout Ever?

I have time for one more beer and I decide to go with the Coleman’s Dry Irish Stout on Nitro. The aroma is amazing. If you like chocolate, coffee, and all other things roasted malt, this is the beer for you. The mouthfeel is smooth and familiar. This beer definitely is the piece de resistance to my experience here. It brings this pub-feel of the taproom full-circle.

San Diego

The time to head to the ballpark has arrived. I think I could probably spend the rest of my night at Half Door Brewing Company, but maybe another time. As the first pitch approaches, the place is clearing out and the tall lanky bartender is finally catching up with his drink orders. I ask the woman who is super-bartender if I can settle up, tip her generously, and hit the road.

A Perfect Night At Petco Park

As I approach the Petco Park, I hear the cacophony of the fans, the dings of the ticket scanners at the gate, and smell the aromas of hot dogs and anticipation of a Padres win. Not that I ever need a reminder of why baseball was my first love, but the first few minutes in a new ballpark are always exciting.

My seats are in the right field stands, but I notice an area where you can get a full pour of Ballast Point beers at the stadium in center field. To me, there was a time when Sculpin IPA set the standard for what a West Coast IPA should be. Those days are probably in the rearview mirror given the trials and tribulations that Ballast Point Brewing as endured since being sold for 1 billion dollars in 2015 to Constellation Brands. In 2019, a mere four years later, Constellation Brands sold Ballast Point Brewing to an entity called Kings and Convicts for around 100 million dollars. Nostalgia is getting the best of me and I have to have a Sculpin IPA.

San Diego

Sculpin IPA: Just Like I Remember It!

It comes in a colorful glass and it smells amazing. I find my way to the railing and begin to take in the game. After watching a few innings and sipping on my beer, I feel the need to walk around and check out some of the Petco Park sight lines. Similar to my hometown ballpark, Target Field, there really are no bad seats at Petco Park. The other noteworthy thing is that the lower bowl of the stadium is completely full. There are also a decent amount of fans in the second and third levels of the stadium. Thanks you San Diego for getting vaccinated and taking the pandemic seriously!

I take a stroll and wind up watching another inning or two from left-center field. Walking around and looking at all the different food options, I notice a uniquely San Diego vibe. Lots of tacos, and Mexican-types of fare. Also impressive is the omnipresence of craft beer options. So many different kiosks and huts where you can find many of the bigger San Diego beer brands. I make my way over to the first baseline and sit down in an empty spot to ride out the rest of the game. The Padres wind up getting the best of The Nationals with a 7-4 win. It is so wonderful to experience the roar of the crowd again, in-person.

The day is a complete success. The baseball and craft beer experience in San Diego is among the best that I have experienced. Being able to sit at the bar and see into the stadium is something that I imagine is a rare thing.

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 .