Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Aside from the weather, which is universally acknowledged as being perfect (it is), I'm not a big fan of San Diego, California. There have been times in my life where the notion of moving there has loomed, either due to job prospects or proximity to my wife's parents - and every time we've reluctantly concluded that San Diego is a cultureless, semi-moronic, food-challenged, bible-thumping, lowest-common-denominator, mall-ified, Jimmy Buffet-ized beach & party town that would drive us absolutely batty. All apologies to San Diegans whom I know and respect. It's just not my scene. I know that there are many who feel my hometown of San Francisco is a modern-day mammon full of fruits, nuts and nut-clustered flakes. Now the fact that San Diego is a great beer town has gotten me a little more excited about our twice-yearly visits to the in-laws, but aside from a few trips to the La Jolla Beverages & More, I've never actually had a true "beer experience" in San Diego. Until Sunday night. This is the story of that night.

I'd read about THE TAP ROOM on the always-great Summer of Beer blog. He pointed out that they have this amazing keg-tracker that not only tells you what's on tap each and every day, but how close each beer is to running out (!!). I reckoned that any place that cottoned to that level of beer dorkery was my kind of place; it's also in the Pacific Beach neighborhood, a mere 5 or so miles from the in-laws. I corralled my brother-in-law and off we went. Upon entering, it was clear that this place was unfortunately going to conform to every negative stereotype I have about the town, to my surprise. I was hoping for a nice quiet place where a beer enthusiast could rest his frame and talk about barrel aging, hop varieties & limited-edition bombers with fellow dorkified travelers - alas, no.

THE TAP ROOM, at least this evening, featured thumping dance music at subhuman volumes, all the better to block out the multiple "whoooooo"s from the deeply tanned, twentysomething beach girl/beach dude crowd. Every bartender had a San Diego Chargers jersey on. Lame. ESPN blared from multiple TVs - all NFL football, all the time. All of the beers - Pliny The Elder, weird-ass barleywines, Stone Arrogant Bastard, you name it - were served in Miller Lite pint glasses. I will say they had a great tap list going for them, and that's it. This place is San Diego central casting, and exactly why we'll never live there.

I decided to go with the strangest local concoctions I could manage, San Diego being a "beer mecca" and all. I decided to go big early, and ordered the BALLAST POINT THREE SHEETS BARLEYWINE. I could not accept it in a Miller Lite pint glass with a Chargers logo on the side - I just couldn't. I instead made the young lass behind the bar tap it into one of their few Chimay glasses, which she seemed really perplexed about ("um, hello, you're not going to get as much beer this way, mm, hello-o"). Then I go on and taste this barleywine, and I'm just not that into it. Oh sure, it was drinkable enough, but for my first barleywine in nearly 10 months I was hoping for a nice kick in the tuchus. Thin, faily lifeless, bourbon/whiskey-soaked but still kind of a big "meh". Not enough flavor to really wet the proverbial whistle. 5.5/10. I moved on.

My brother-and-law and I got into it over two very important subjects - the chances of the San Francisco Giants and their amazing pitching staff to compete in the NL West next year, and the future legacy of the outgoing President Bush. This called for a bold beer choice. This called for ALESMITH LIL' DEVIL. Now, I actually don't know all that much about the ALESMITH beers. I've had a couple (here, here and here) and they've generally been pretty good, yet nothing close to the hosannas rained down upon them by the Beer Advocate crowd. This one's no different - in fact, like my previous beer, it made me question my judgment in "going local" when Russian River Blind Pig IPA and Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA were on tap. But I'm a beer reporter, and I need to help let you folks know "what's what". Anyway, this one was similar to a Belgian witbier crossed with some mediocre pale ale. Light, a little fruity (apples?), somewhat yeasty and pretty thin in general. I was hoping for something closer to a tripel. I didn't get it. So I went home, and decided to make my brother-in-law take me further south to the new Toronado next time. 6/10.


Steve said...

That's a bummer that a place with such great beer has that sort of scene/atmosphere to it, but I kinda figured it did when I looked at their picture gallery on their website. Seems to be somewhat Pizza Port-ish with huge crowd and lots of young people. At least there are other places in the area doing it right, like O'Brien's, Churchill's, Hamilton's and SD Toronado (as lifeless as it was when I was there, hope it was/is better for you). Great report.

BJR said...

Sounds like you have an image of San Diego that you'd like to keep. Next time you're in SD, and are not looking for a self fulfilling prophecy, try one of the real beer bars in SD.

If I were going to SF and wanted some good beer/culture I'd not make Gordon Biersch my only stop, or even one of many.

Jay said...

BJR, that's totally fair. I really thought it would be fun to bag on San Diego a little bit, though I suspect there's a small degree of truth in my perceptions of the place. But I'll press onward past PB and into North Park and beyond to see what else you guys have to offer next time I'm in town.

BJR said...

As a resident of SD for 24 years and a SDSU alumnus, I know all about what is wrong with SD- the part that you so aptly described- but, I also happen think that SD is the best beer county in the country. As a beer aficionado, you're doing yourself a disservice (verging on gross negligence) by not exploring the beer community.

Thanks for the report though. I've never been to the Taproom (I avoid PB and Mission at all costs), but like you, was tempted by Steve's post about the tap list. Thanks for saving me from the eye candy/ear sore that is the SD "whoo girl" crowd.