Absconding for ale

Hopping south for San Diego’s world-class craft beer
byIsaac Sanz

Just south of us, a revolution has been brewing for years – literally. It’s a craft beer renaissance that is putting San Diego on the brewer’s map in a big way. Visionaries young and old are producing beers that rival the world’s long-celebrated bests, drawing aficionados from all over the globe. Fortunately for those of us in Orange County, a visit down to many of these groundbreaking breweries is a simple day trip, a reality for which every OC-based brew fan should be praising the heavens.

As the beer has developed, so has the industry around it. It’s “trickle down brewconomics” – great beer begets manifold tour services. You quickly realize that with all the amazing brews to sample, nobody will want to be the designated driver; and at the end of the hop, everyone will want to land in a spot where the journey just experienced can be savored.

The folks at Rancho Bernardo Inn, situated ideally near the brew-haha, have the situation dialed in. Theirtasting packages leave everyone satisfied. Look for the “Look What’s Brewing” package that includes accommodations, a chauffeured tour to local breweries (including tasting tickets),and breakfast the morning after to boot. (Hint: If you have a beer lover in your life, this package just might be the best gift ever given – send him or her with a growler and perhaps you’ll get little something in return).

My friends and I took up the offer and made it a guy’s weekend. From Rancho Bernardo our first stop was Iron Fist, one of the newest breweries on the scene. In its second year, this family-owned brewery has captured the attention of beer critics and average ale lovers alike, not only for its award winning eclectic brews,but alsobecause, when it opened, the mastermind behind its flavorshad just turned 21. Despite the youth ofits brewmaster, Iron Fist is producing a sophisticated lineup of flavors. (I highly recommend the Velvet Glove,an oatmeal stout with rich, dark chocolate and coffee). If you’re lucky enough, perhaps Grandpa will come out and tell you a joke. Anxious to get on to the next brewery, we skipped the hot dog stand out front and piled back into the limo. Fortunately for us, inside was a picnic basket filled with all sorts of tasty snacks to keep our mouths stimulated (thanks, Rancho Bernardo!). Next up was a combination of two breweries in one: Lost Abbey and Port Brewing. Lost focuses on more traditional Belgian-style beers, employing oak bourbon, brandy, sherry, and wine barrels for their aging techniques. Port, on the other hand,lauds west coast (read Californian) inspired beers. Same company, just different demographics. Both sides offer beers robust in both flavor and alcohol content, so sip slowly and be sure to check out the great “religious” paintings that cover most of the walls. Memorable beers here were Hop 15 (Port Brewing) and Judgement Day (Lost Abbey).

While there’s only so much to pile in to one tour, the area has a lot to offer. You could spend days touring the county and still not taste it all; that’s how rich San Diego’s craft brew scene has become. Some notable destinations in the northern region include Stone Brewery (known for its welcoming grounds almost as much as for its beer) and Ballast Point, whose Sculpin IPA is one of San Diego’s most popular brew exports. And if you make time to find repast at a pub that showcases the local beer scene, all the best San Diego breweries can be found right there at your table, paired with food that makes their flavors shine. (See sidebar on URGE Gastropub.)

The Rancho Bernardo Inn is known mainly for its championship golf course, but you don’t have to be a golfer to appreciate the luxury accommodations, award-winning restaurants and sprawling, peaceful grounds. We were never more thankful we had launched fromthe Inn as when we came back to it,washed in some of the world’s best craft brew and swimming in good times had with good friends. Breakfast the next morning in the fresh air at the Inn’s Veranda Fireside Lounge, before heading back to reality just 45 minutes north, was a tidy (and delicious) way to wrap up an experience that with any luck we’ll all be able to enjoy again.

Restaurant of Note
URGE Gastropub

Where:Rancho Bernardo, San Diego (conveniently located just a mile or so from the Rancho Bernardo Inn).

What:Established in 2010 by restaurateur and beer lover Grant Tondro, URGE is seriously tapped into the brew pulse of area. Not only do they offer an amazing selection of beers on tap from local breweries that you can’t get outside of the county, they incorporate the beers into their food.

Eat:The Serrano “Sculpin” Hot Wings are a delicious starter and their beer battered fries are some of the best this writer has ever had. Seriously. Their burger offerings are extraordinary; be sure to try the wild boar burger or, if you’re feeling larger than life, the Burger of the Gods keeps true to its namesake.

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