San Diego Brewery Tour

San Diego Brewery Tour: A Journey Through Some of Downtown San Diego’s
Finest Beer Serving Establishments

By Shana Haynie
Co-Founder at Nutrition Gone Wild

Once upon a time…
There was a small girl loved beer very, very much. But this silly girl had been living in a beer mecca for many a year and had never been to most of the amazing craft breweries that were conveniently nestled in a mile radius of her downtown San Diego apartment. So, on a hazy San Diego Thursday, she dragged her husband with her to do an impromptu downtown brewery tour for…ahem…research.

That small girl is me, and this is my downtown San Diego brewery tour story.

Brewery_Tour

The first stop on our journey was the famous Ballast Point Kitchen and Tasting Room located in Little Italy, slightly away from the main bustle of the downtown area.

Upon walking into the establishment, my first impressions of that space was that it was HUGE.

And very busy.
It was a little intimidating walking up to the counter to order, since I like to take my time with the menu and really deliberate on my options. But, we were in a hurry since we had an engagement to attend to later that evening, and we still had 3 more breweries on the agenda, so we jumped in line and made a few snap beer decisions.

Ballast-Point

We chose to do three tasters instead of grabbing full beers, because who doesn’t love a variety? The menu was extensive, but we quickly settled on the Ballast Point California Amber Ale, The Victory at Sea Imperial Porter Chai and the Thai Chili Wahoo White.
Ballast-Point-TastersAfter walking away from the counter with our beers, there was literally no place to sit. All of the tables were taken, so we took the opportunity to poke around the gigantic interior and outdoor patio until we found a place to settle.

My first sip was of the Victory at Sea Chai. It was sweet and aromatic. Coffee and spice hit my nose before I could actually taste anything. It had a delightfully creamy, soft mouth feel. And its appearance was notably dark, but not completely opaque.

Next, I sampled the Thai Chili Wahoo White. This beer was spicy, but light. It wasn’t sweet or bitter, but I could feel the warming sensation of the spice as it was going down my throat. It was an interesting experience.Ballast-Point-First-Sip

Then, I tried the Amber. It had a hoppy, floral smell, and tasted light considering its caramel color. This was my husband’s favorite taster at this location.

glasses

After trying all of our beers, we decided to walk around and really get a feel for the entirety of the brewery. There were some brewing materials hidden away in the back, and a long hallway adorned with screen printed paintings of the famous sculpin and other fish and sea creatures.

Behind-the-Scenes-at-Ballast-Point

Overall, it was a pretty cool place. The beer was interesting, the location was large, the service was good, but it definitely had more of a “big business” feel with a more corporate crowd.

We drank up our last sips and headed to the next location.

Ballast-Point-Had-Us-Like

Next stop: Bolt Brewing just a few blocks away.

Upon entering, it became obvious that this place was a whole lot less busy than Ballast Point had been. This tasting room had only been around for a couple of months. In fact, I’d never even heard of it until planning this tour.

We walked in and ordered a flight of four different beers, and we were getting hungry so we decided to grab a snack.

Derric-at-Bolt

When our beers came out, we brought them to an open table (which there were many of), and we sat down and started sampling.

Beer number one was a light Belgian Triple called the Global D Belgian. It was relatively strong at 9.8% ABV, and I could taste the alcohol immediately upon taking the first sip.

Beer number two was a Belgian Dubbel. It was dark in color, mild in flavor, with a slightly bitter aftertaste, but not hoppy.

Bolt-Face

Beer number three was called the Balboa Porter, which was another dark beer with hints of coffee aroma.

The last beer was called the Bolt Blonde, which was my personal favorite at this location. There’s nothing really descript about the flavor, but it was mild and easy to drink.

Bolt-Kitchen

The other patrons in the brewery were much more casually dressed than the business-oriented crowd over at Ballast Point. It felt more like a local scene rather than a tourist destination, but I wouldn’t say that the beer was better than over at Ballast. Quite the opposite in my opinion.

I found out that this location is one of their satellites, so they don’t actually brew any beer on the premises. It was a relatively small space with one really bright red wall, drawing customers in off of the street as they walk by.

Pretzel-and-Beer-Cheese-at-BoltOur pretzel came out and we were starving at this point, so we practically devoured the thing. It came with a pilsner beer cheese sauce, which was tasty, but nothing too crazy. After stuffing down our snack, we drank up and hopped in an Uber to the other side of the city for our next two stops.

The next place was called Half Door Brewing Co.Half-Door-Brewing-CoIt was situated near the ballpark over in the East Village inside a what looks like used to be an old house. The décor is akin to something my grandma would have had in her place, but it was cozy, cute and inviting.Half-Door-Decor2

Again, this brewery was not nearly as busy as Ballast Point had been, so we sat at a nice table by the window and were greeted immediately by a server. We opted to do another four beer taster. This time, we went with:

  • Belgian Blonde
  • Belgian Triple
  • Belgian Dubbel
  • Gimmick Ale Peanut Butter

These beers weren’t half bad.

My favorite beer of the day was the peanut butter beer because it was so flavorful, creamy and delicious. I’ve had a few peanut butter beers in my day, and none of them have actually tasted as close to real peanut butter as this one. It was awesome.

The triple was also really flavorful. Tons of banana esters hit your palette upon first sip.  And the Dubbel was chocolatey, dark and malty, while the blonde was light, crisp, and refreshing.

Derric-Tasting-at-Half-Door

Overall, this was a fun stop.

But, we were starting to run out of time, so we had to book it out of there pretty quickly in order to make our last stop on the list, which was Monkey Paw Brewing over on the other side of the East Village.

When we got to Monkey Paw, the sun had started to set, and people were smoking cigarettes and chatting outside of the main entrance. This place was more like a dark dive bar than a brewery, but it was extremely busy, full of 20-30 something locals laughing with their friends.
Monkey-Paw-Busy-Bar

The menu was hard for me to read…because it was dark. Seriously. Ok, and I was starting to feel a little loosey goosey after sampling 11 beers of varying degrees of alcohol contents. We decided to order one last taster of four, and nudged our way to a back corner that looked slightly available.

Monkey-Paw-Taster2

This time, I let my husband do most of the picking. We ordered some interesting stuff: Ashes from The Grave, Prophet – Top of the Hill, I-5 w/ Coconut + Salt, and Hooked on Chinook.

The first beer tasted a lot like coffee and cigarettes. I guess that’s probably why they called it Ashes from the Grave. Not my favorite flavor, but definitely reminiscent to a time in my life when I used to sit outside of coffee shops, smoking cigarettes like a fiend and talking about existentialist philosophy, overcome by teen angst…

The next beer was also something that was definitely not my style. It was sour, dark and bitter. A combination of flavors I’m not too fond of.

But, then I tried the coconut beer and maybe it’s because I’m a girl, but I thought it was effing delicious. Don’t judge.

It was on the sweeter side, but didn’t lack that hop aggressiveness that gives a beer depth. I was swept away to a Hawaiian island for a few sweet minutes…until I tried the next beer, which was an aggressively hopped lighter beer, which erased my Hawaiian reverie right quick.

Monkey-Paw-Beer-Tender

Now that it was getting late, we realized that we needed to head out and end our fun little journey.

Overall, Monkey Paw was probably my favorite place to hang out.

It felt the most authentic and had an invigorating energy that made it hard to leave. Of course, after all of those beers, it was time to head to the bathroom before embarking on our walk up the hill back home…

Monkey-Paw-Bathroom

Definitely no lack of character at this place. We will definitely be back one day soon.

If I had to give each place a grade, this is what it would look like:

Ballast Point:

  • Beer: 5/5
  • Ambiance / Location: 4/5
  • People / Crowd: 3/5
  • Overall Score: 12/15

Definitely worth checking out, but not a local haunt. Too corporate, busy and loud. Food and menu looks good, and the beer was tasty. I will probably come back when I’m in the area.

Bolt:

  • Beer: 2/5
  • Ambiance / Location: 4/5
  • People / Crowd: 4/5
  • Overall Score: 10/15

The beer wasn’t my favorite and the food and menu were just ok, but the venue is in a good spot with nice outdoor/indoor bar seating, and the people working there were awesome.

Half Door:

  • Beer: 5/5
  • Ambiance / Location: 4/5
  • People / Crowd: 4/5
  • Overall Score: 13/15

An interesting spot with more than just beer, (they have a full bar and food menu as well). But, could use a little more energy. It was a little dead and sleepy while we were there.

Monkey Paw:

  • Beer: 4/5
  • Ambiance / Location: 4/5
  • People / Crowd: 5/5
  • Overall Score: 13/5

Also an interesting spot with a unique feel. Not in the nicest part of town, but full of authentic local San Diegans, good company and decent beer.

That about sums up our downtown San Diego brewery tour. Hope you guys enjoyed coming along for the ride! Hit me up if you ever need any San Diego food or drink recommendations. You can find me on Twitter as @ArtworksByShana, and sometimes I guest blog over on Nutrition Gone Wild. Cheers!

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