I’d never been to San Diego before, and for a time I wasn’t sure I was ever going to get there. You see, Miami is the gateway to Latin America and as such the Miami Airport strives to provide an authentic Third World experience. The décor is from the 70s, your baggage takes an hour to arrive at the carousel, and the food choice consists of Cuban sandwiches with or without hairs.
So it was that our flight from Miami was delayed nearly four hours on account of what was described as a “decal error”, a “placarding issue” and finally some heat thing they hadn’t bothered checking in the previous two hours of rotting on the tarmac. We had to exit the plane and find another one.
Well, eventually we were airborne and as the sun started to set over the glistening Pacific, the towers of downtown San Diego revealed themselves to us, with the suburbs dotted along the rolling hills and valleys below. We rented a convertible Mustang and proceeded to check out the SoCal beer scene.
So began a ten-day exercise in excess. With the World Beer Cup and Craft Brewer’s Conference, San Diego was the centre of the brewing world. We had an itinerary consisting of local brewpubs and beer bars but quite frankly we had to throw this out the window as a dizzying array of events appeared on our schedules. We managed visits to a couple of brewpubs, Coronado (good) and San Diego Brewing (not so much). We got to Hamilton’s, but even O’Briens was out of reach due to the crush of brewers and industry folks.
The World Beer Cup attracts a large contingent of foreign judges, myself included, and we hired a bus to tour some local breweries – Lost Abbey, Green Flash and Pizza Port Carlsbad. Talk about getting off to a crazy start, tasting the likes of Veritas 002 and the Symposium IPA that Green Flash brewed for the CBC. By the time the group got to Pizza Port we demolished a pile of pizzas like a pack of starving wolves.
This was followed by the judges’ reception, where you always get a doctored beer sampling. This time the focus was sulphur. Ever drank the leftover water from a pot of boiled broccoli? Welcome to DMS-Land. Thankfully the more casual component of the evening followed at poolside. The first set of taps had Pliny the Elder. Good night, Oakes.
Judging commenced the next day. It’s a very professional procedure, so professional I can’t tell you about it. But it’s fun. You get a great mix of people and everyone is solid. The rounds last all day, after which the last thing you want to do is taste beer. Which is just as well because both brewpubs I tried to go to had decided to close up early. I was not amused.
The Craft Brewers’ Conference started on the Wednesday. Throughout the day, I checked in on the progress of the showstopper – the California Brewers’ Pavilion. For just three days, a beer bar is built featuring 100 taps. Over half of these were represented by San Diego brewers, a few dozen more from the rest of the state. There were a couple of wild cards thrown in for good measure, from Alaska and Tijuana. I found a quiet corner and used the opportunity to check out some heretofore unknown-to-me brewpubs while my girlfriend Beershine stuck to the Supplication and Cuvee de Tomme.
By the time the judging was finished, I was ready to check out some of San Diego’s non-beer offerings. Seattle is big time in both beer and coffee. Portland is serious in beer. Vancouver is serious in coffee, and around the corner from my Main Street pad is one of the best espresso joints anywhere on Earth. Using coffeegeek.com, I looked up a place in San Diego, called Caffe Calabria, in the North Park neighbourhood. In Vancouver, that would be an old-school Italian joint that probably has good coffee. In San Diego, it’s more of a modern hipster coffee shop, bright and airy. They pull a decent shot, and use them in a solid latte. Sunshine tried the Mexican coffee, with a hint of Mexican chocolate, something I’ve never seen before.
Past North Park on University, across the Interstate, the neighbourhood changes completely, becoming exclusively Mexican. We were coming for Super Cocina, a serious joint mostly known by locals and foodies. We enjoyed a huge lunch with several great dishes, a seven-chile pork, a goat soup, and a very aromatic milder pork dish. I don’t remember the names, but apparently the menu constantly rotates and it’s hard to find anything that isn’t great. Plus, the give you tasters of the different sauces to help you make your selection.
That night we were invited to a five-course dinner at Lost Abbey, which served as the launch party for Isabelle Proximus. Beers were matched brilliantly to some serious food – mussels, salad with caramelized walnuts, spring rolls, lamb chop, prime rib, and a rich chocolate dessert with a pecan crust. We were treated to Older Viscosity with the latter, and Amazing Grace with the meats so you know there was no holding back. All in all, it was a thing of beauty and my hat is off to Tomme Arthur and the kitchen crew for pulling it all off in a brewery that doesn’t even have a kitchen.
The next day we headed out of San Diego, but not without stopping at AleSmith, Pizza Port Carlsbad again, and Stone World Bistro. It was tough to leave, but we were headed up to LA. That trip is another story altogether, with an outstandingly decadent party hosted by Dr. Bill, a visit to Craftsman courtesy of Chris Quiroga, and the opening night of the new Father’s Office in Culver City.