Chicago Beer Club goes to Vancouver: A (partial) beer guide

It turns out, Vancouver is quite the beer city. Our trip to the Pacific Northwest started in Vancouver late Wednesday, giving us three full days to explore the city, including Stanley Park, Granville Island and downtown. Unfamiliar with Vancouver, we booked an Airbnb we thought would be in a good location — close enough to the city center to remain walkable without the high price point. We found ourself in the Strathcona neighborhood, which just happened to be littered with craft breweries.

Before I get into the details of the eight different Vancouver breweries we checked out, let me just tell you, this was a beautiful destination. It was certainly a great spot to kick off our trip. You’ve got mountains, skyscrapers and the seawall all nestled together. The views are stunning and the atmosphere intoxicating. After our first day of exploring, I was thrilled we had 48 more hours left in Vancouver. Now, onto the beer!

Granville Island

20170914_123641.jpgThe first brewery we visited was Granville Island Brewing, located (you guessed it) on Granville Island. Getting there was a bit tricky. It involved a hike over the Granville Street Bridge on a not-so-pedestrian-friendly path. While there are crossings and sidewalk for pedestrians, there’s no railing between walkers and cars. It was a little spooky.

Anyway, once we got to the island, we headed straight for Granville Island Public Market and to Granville Island Brewing. We enjoyed a few beers, flight included, with their Fusion Fries — a house special with Asian flare (yum). Beers tasted:

  • Gose with Peach (5%, IBU: 15, Gravity: 11.7): A light subtle peach flavor comes through in this refreshing gose.
  • Island Lager (5%, IBU: 19): Clean and refreshing, this recipe is one of the brewery’s first.
  • BC Bitter (5.5%, IBU: 32, Gravity: 12): Malty and creamy, not our favorite bitter.
  • English Bay Pale Ale (5%, IBU: 18): A distinctive West Coast character comes through in this pale ale.
  • Infamous IPA (6%, IBU: 55): This is the perfect IPA with a hop-forward start and refreshing finish.
  • Lions Summer Ale (4.7%, IBU: 19): A little tart, a little fruity, a lot refreshing.

Parallel 49

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After a bit of walking and a couple of cocktails at The Liberty Distillery, we found our way to Parallel 49 Brewing for a few beers and dinner and drinks to go. Dinner consisted of baked mac and cheese and the braised chicken quesadilla from their Street Kitchen. Both were outstanding. We only tried a couple of beers at Parallel 49:

  • Filthy Dirty IPA (7.2%, IBU: 76): This West Coast IPA combined citrus flavors with pine and floral hints for an enjoyable taste.
  • Juice Bigalow (6.3%, IBU: 80): We tried this one on tap and took it to go in cans. It was fruity, hoppy and haze, a quality New England IPA.

Strange Fellows

Day two was our official brewery hopping day, and we did just that starting out at Strange Fellows Brewing. This taproom was actually only half a mile from our Airbnb and was the start of a beer-soaked evening. Pints and flight included:

  • Bayard (6.5%, IBU: 25): This farmhouse saison brings a fruity and peppery flavor, along with a dry, refreshing finish.
  • Funkytown (4%, IBU: N/A): The Brett-fermented pale ale has a dank taste and smell to go with smoky, pineapple flavors.
  • Talisman (4.2%, IBU: 29): A West Coast pale ale with tropical, citrusy flavors and a golden hue.
  • Guardian (6.5%, IBU: 60): As a typical white IPA, the Guardian is bold and flavorful.
  • Cyclhops Amarillo (6.5%, IBU: N/A): Juicy and fruity, Cyclhops is a single hop (Amarillo, that is) IPA.
  • Roxanne Raspberry Sour (4.5%, IBU: N/A): Made with blackberries, this sour grisette tasted like juice rather than beer — unfortunately.

Bomber

Easily one of our favorite breweries of the trip, Bomber Brewing was our next stop. In addition to good beer, this taproom has a nostalgia for hockey. The small taproom featured paninis and other snacks. I would definitely recommend a trip here if you’re in the neighborhood. We hung around long enough to try several of their brews:20170915_180423.jpg

  • Park Life Passion Fruit Ale (4.5%, IBU: 15): This one was very good, it’s an American blonde ale with passion fruit (obviously) that’s both refreshing and tart.
  • Wyldwood Pale Ale (5%, IBU: 25): A light pale ale that offers a slight citrus flavor. Not too wyld.
  • ESB (5.2%, IBU: 40): Extra special bitters can be hit or miss with me. This one was decent with a malty flavor that stood out most and a hop-heavy finish.
  • Pilsner (4.8%, IBU: 28): This Czech pils is a medal winner, and it’s not hard to taste why. It’s clean and light with a slight citrus zest.
  • IPA (6.3%, IBU: 65): A solid Northwest IPA with a dank flavor profile, this beer offers some subtle grapefruit and floral accents.
  • Prairie Baard Golden Ale (5%, IBU: N/A): Prairie Baard is what you hope to get when ordering a golden ale, offering an overall light palate that’s bursting with flavor.

Off the Rail

Next up, Off the Rail Brewing. Unfortunately, the atmosphere was lacking at this taproom, so we only hung around for one each:

  • Kama Citra Ale (4.4%, IBU: 33): Kama Citra is a blonde ale with a citrus profile. A decent beer for summertime.
  • Crazy Train IPA (6.5%, IBU: 75): This IPA wasn’t too crazy, but it was surprisingly sweet.

That wrapped up our tour of neighborhood breweries, and we headed for a quick bite at a local joint before retiring.

Postmark

The next day we found our way to Postmark Brewinga very unique spot. It’s located in the Settlement Building, which also houses a restaurant (Belgard Kitchen) and winery (Vancouver Urban Winery). We had brunch at Belgard — the Wagyu meatball brunch skillet and Railtown breakfast wrap were amazing — and hung around for a couple of beers from Postmark after:

  • Pineapple Ale (5.3%, IBU: 18): A golden ale featuring pineapple, of course. Refreshing and bright.
  • IPA (6%, IBU: 52): Malty, smooth, bitter. This American IPA’s hoppiness is cut with a zest of lemon.
  • West Coast Pale Ale (4.8%, IBU: 38): Citrusy and a little bit malty, their West Coast pale offers the flavor profile you would expect with a dry finish.

Strathcona

20170916_133441.jpgWe walked past Strathcona Beer Company at least half a dozen times before we finally went in, and as soon as we did I wished we’d checked it out sooner. In addition to fresh beer, Strathcona serves house-made pizza (we didn’t order a pie). On top of that, they feature a collaborative popup with the local brewery Superflux, which brews on premise. While there, we tasted brews from both Strathcona and Superflux, as well as a collaboration between the two:

  • Beach Radler (Strathcona, 4%, IBU: 15): A nice radler featuring a sour, tart and juicy profile.
  • Rainbow Machine (Superflux, 7.5%, IBU: N/A): A dank IPA that’s just, honestly, really tasty. Slightly dry.
  • India Pale Ale (Strathcona, 6.5%, IBU: 60): A nice, hoppy IPA with a floral profile.
  • Like This (Strathcona-Superflux collaboration, 6%, IBU: N/A): A perfect IPA. While the IBU wasn’t listed, it was low. Tropical and crisp.

Powell

We were thrilled when we walked into Powell Brewery to find a cute and friendly 7-month old pup named Jesse. He and his pal Charlie were available for a much needed canine play sesh. Oh, and the beers here were great too, making Powell another fav. The taproom was friendly and bright, and the brews right in line with the rest of the experience:

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This is Charlie.

  • Cheeky Session (4.5%, IBU: 30): A session IPA with a lot going on. Profile included fruity, hoppy and citrus flavors while remaining light and dry.
  • Fresh Hop Wild IPA (6.5%, IBU: 50): I’m always excited to see a fresh (or wet) hop beer on the menu, and now is the season. This IPA, made with Amarillo hops, was most certainly fresh with a subtle flavor profile. We’ll talk more about fresh hopped beer later.
  • Ode to Citra (5.5%, IBU: 35): A West Coast pale ale with a hop-forward flavor that’s smooth. True to its name, Ode to Citra brings sweet citrus juiciness.
  • Lazy D’Haze IPA (7%, IBU: 58): Tropical and smooth, this is one hazy East Coast IPA. I loved the fruity profile, that was balanced out with the hop level.
  • Old Jalopy (5.5%, IBU: 40): Malty, smooth and hoppy. The Old Jalopy is an English pale ale with a unique flavor.

Vancouver has some outstanding breweries, and I’m sure we only scratched the surface. While I think we did some decent damage for a three-day trip, I’m intrigued at what else there may be to explore. Overall, the city was amazing and I was sad to say goodbye. But, we were on the train headed south to Seattle, followed by Portland. Read more about the rest of our adventure in the Pacific Northwest next time. Cheers!

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Beards Brewery 2.0

Finally, after months of anticipation, we made it up to Petoskey, Michigan, to Beards Brewery’s new location. And holy smokes was it great!

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Beards’ original location was tucked between two storefronts, down a long brick hallway. The space was tiny, with a lot of character. The quaint little taproom was just the start of reasons to love this brewery.

IMG_20140831_172107.jpgIn addition to a rotating selection of craft brews, ranging the entire spectrum from porters to cream ales, the taproom had an Up North vibe — this is hard to put into words, but I’ll just say it’s a cross between outdoorsy and small town tourism. The taproom was bring your own food, with snacks for sale. There were seats at the small bar, or large tables to spread out and play one of the many board games available.

In May, after nearly five years, Beards shut down the taproom to embark on a new adventure. While I was surely sad to see it go (we took our engagement pictures at the taproom), this meant they were growing. In the time since the brewery opened, they’d gone from serving customers in their taproom, to being tapped in local bars, to canning and distributing their recipes around Northern Michigan.

And on June 2, just in time to kick off summer, they opened (what we’re calling) Beards 2.0.

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View from our table at the brewpub.

Due to a busy summer, we didn’t make it up to Petoskey until Labor Day weekend. But, of course, Beards wouldn’t disappoint. The new family-friendly location on Lake Street offers a stunning view of Little Traverse Bay. And, now, Beards has a full kitchen and live music. The menu includes a variety of options, from burgers and pizza to pho and gyros. We tried everything listed — except for the pho — in addition to the Luna beer cheese and fries, and all were delicious.

With the added space, the brewpub has even more options on tap. In addition to their distributed beers, Beards offers pub exclusives. At lunch, we enjoyed:

Forget-Me-Not (4.5%, IBU: N/A): A hibiscus-forward saison with a tart finish, FMN is a tasty beer and a subtle option to start with.

Grizzly Adams (7.6%, IBU: N/A): Grizzly is a powerful double IPA, and pretty much exactly what you’d expect: Delicious.

Tart of Gold (5.7%, IBU: N/A): Listed on the menu as a sour, Tart of Gold is a great example of the difference in flavor between tart versus sour. This sour features a tart citrus profile.

New School (5.5%, IBU: N/A): An amber ale with a dry iced tea finish, New School comes through refreshing and crisp with some subtle fruit hints.

Copperstar Galactica (6.6%, IBU: N/A): This IPA features local Michigan Copper hops for a distinctive and fruity character. According to Untappd, Copperstar is a retooling of their well-known PomeGalactic.

It’s no surprise that Beards 2.0 did not disappoint. And they still offer guests a chance to hang around, enjoy a few and play some games on a lazy Up North afternoon.

The Big North II: A Great Intro to the New Half Acre Taproom

On Saturday, August 19, Half Acre hosted The Big North II at their Balmoral location from 4–9 p.m. Tickets were $70 a pop, before all the service fees (they ended up costing about $80/each), and we weren’t sure if the event would be worth it. The verdict? Yeah, it was worth it.

When we walked it, we were handed a Half Acre glass and koozie and direct to a filling station before even showing our tickets. Soon, we entered nirvana.

One of the more surprising event offerings: Flash tattoos for $30. Real tattoos, ranging from tacos to dinosaurs — and even the Half Acre owl. While I greatly considering sitting down for one, there was too much beer to taste; so I directed my attention elsewhere.

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One of many free snaps from the friendly photog.

We’d entered Half Acre’s production area to find several beer stands featuring well-known favorites and new pours, a merch tent, photo booth, Dark Matter Coffee and LaCroix fill-up stations and plenty of seating. A quick tour led us outside to more beer stands, food and live music. From there, we found our way to what will soon be the new taproom — a long awaited sight.

In addition a food counter, the space has a huge bar full of taps, booth and table seating, and amazing woodworking. Half Acre clearly wanted to have a similar look and feel between their space on Lincoln and this new spot. I’ll be eager to see what kind of unique decor goes up in it.

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OK, so onto the beer there were a lot of options to try from. Aside from the standbys, here are a few that stood out from what we tried:

Gentle Gentle
Dark Cherry Wyld Ale

Amargosa
Cherry Wyld Ale

Pennon
Blonde Wyld Ale

Tomorrow People
IPA

The Big North
Lacto Pulsed Pale Ale with peaches

Fader
Traditional Pilsner

Daisy Toronado
Experimental Pale Ale

Jonah
Pale Ale

BeachWeed
Coconut Pale Ale

Top Notch
Hoppy Lager

Wooden Teeth
Saison

Battle of Trenton
Kentucky Common brewed with peach tea + mint

Like I said, there were a lot of options! Unfortunately, I made no effort to note the flavors or favorites from this list. However, Daisy Toronado and The Big North definitely stood out.

An unexpected highlight of the day was the button scavenger hunt! Long story short, find four buttons, get an exclusive pour at 7 p.m. Talk to a stranger, cut it line, do whatever it takes: Get those four buttons!

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As for the food, it was delicious. We got a full plate with cold pasta salad, an amazing sausage (I believe there was a vegetarian options, as well) with slaw and green beans. It was good, it was filling and it was satisfying. They also let you bring your own snacks into the event, which we had done just in case that ended up being completely unnecessary.

Ultimately, I’m glad we went. The price point was high, but it was a fun evening with good food and even better beer. It was also really great to see the new Half Acre location — we’ll eagerly await its public opening. While I’m not sure we’ll be back for The Big North III, if they put a new spin on things, it wouldn’t take too much convincing.

Somehow, we managed to miss this:

T-Rex vs. Pallet of Tallboys at @halfacrebeer party.

A post shared by Scott Serilla (@metropotamia) on

Chicago Beer Club goes to Ultra Fresh II

There’re a lot of different beer festivals, not just in Chicago but across the country. Each one tries to make itself stand out, either by featuring neighborhood brews, a certain style of beer or otherwise. One unique event we stumbled across this spring was The Hop Review‘s Ultra Fresh II at Right Way Signs. While this was the event’s second year, it was our first time attending.

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Ultra Fresh featured some of the best breweries in and around Chicago, and all of the beers being poured were canned or kegged within five days of the event! Based on our experience with beer fests, this one was a cut above the rest. Breweries included Chicago staples such as Revolution and Half Acre as well as others formerly unknown to us (Hop Butcher for the World and Lo Rez).

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Courtesy of Right Way Signs on Instagram

We were a little surprised by the choice in venue, Right Way Signs’ workspace. A quick Google search informed us of the impact Right Way has had on the literal face of Chicago. If there’s a sign or mural that’s caught your attention outside your favorite bar, brewery or restaurant, you’ve likely noticed their work. But just because they’re supremely talented, we weren’t sure if the space would accommodate the 25 breweries that would be on tap at Ultra Fresh.

Upon arrival, we found the perfect setup: Two small indoor work areas and the outdoor drive leading up to the building made enough room for each coolered keg and plenty of room to socialize. The layout made it easy to flow in and out to grab your next pour with little wait (except for at Hop Butcher, whose line extended from the back to the front of the space).

9df6b6017f13d68e365e2c83ebfb5746_640x640OK, now it’s time for the beers:

Our first stop was to get Hopewell‘s Cold Brew, a session coffee ale (4.8%, IBU: N/A) we were excited to revisit. This time around, the ale was brewed with Peruvian coffee beans and left a lasting impression — we’d be back for more.

Staying with the coffee theme, we headed over to Maplewood to try their Wokeberries, a fruit and coffee hybrid (ABV: N/A, IBU: N/A). The raspberries and java made for a uniquely delicious combination. It was a favorite of the day.

After stops at Forbidden Root and Noon Whistle, we decided to get in the long line for Hop Butcher’s Galaxy Bowl, a double IPA (8%, IBU: N/A). This one was worth the wait, the bold flavor  — complete with peach, pineapple and passion pit — floored us.

At Illuminated Brew Works, we checked out Watermelon Gun, a fruited farmhouse ale (6.5%, IBU: N/A). This one was light, with a subtle watermelon flavor perfect for enjoying on a hot summer day.

Formerly Atlas Brewing Company, Burnt City showed up with their Orb Weaver, a golden session IPA (5.2%, IBU: N/A). Made with citra hops, this one was surprisingly good.

IMG_20170520_161541Lo Rez, whose taproom opens June 8, was a nice surprise. This Pilsen brewery’s Whitespace, a Belgian-style wit (5.5%, IBU: N/A), was crisp, clean and refreshingly delicious.

At Marz Community Brewing, owned by Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar’s co-founder Ed Marszewski, we grabbed a pour of Double Splash, a New England Double IPA (8%, IBU: N/A). This beer had an unfiltered hazy color and a hefty, juicy flavor.

We wrapped up our tastings with Pollyanna, BuckleDown, Temperance, Penrose and Metropolitan before going back to get another pour of some of our favorites from the day.

Overall, Ultra Fresh II was a complete success. Two tips for next year: More bathrooms and better food. Until next time, we’ll be looking forward to the trilogy.

 

 

Chicago Beer Club goes to San Diego

Today wraps up a week of exploring San Diego, and taking full advantage of it’s beer culture. Since Saturday, I went to a Padres’ game, visited the San Diego Zoo and spent a day at Ocean Beach. I also took in Logan Heights like a local, and spent plenty of time in front of my laptop writing and planning.

But, let’s talk more about what you’re here for: The beer! Below is a list of spots I stopped and drank:

Half Door Brewing Co.

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Street view of Half Door Brewing Co.

I swung by Half Door before the Padres’ game, it’s right by the ballpark. Stone also has a location in the area, but my husband had told me it wasn’t worth visiting. While I didn’t try the food here, everything I saw come out of the kitchen looked great. Very interesting layout, with a ton of outdoor seating and upstairs bar. I stuck to the main bar on the first level.

I tried two of their beers, both were great. First was a refreshing IPA, House of Hops (7.2%, IBU: N/A). This beer was piney, resinous and full of citrus hops. Next up, #Buzzwords Super Dank Pale Ale (8.7%, IBU: N/A). This beer offered an assault of resinous hop nectar, including: simcoe, citra, amarillo and mosaic.

The Point at Petco Park

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View from The Point

The Point by Ballast Point is located in left field, with high-top rail seating. The ticket price ($35) included waitstaff who took and served food and drink orders. I stuck with Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA (7%, IBU: 70), which has hints of apricot, peach, mango and lemon flavors, and still packs in the hops. I’ve enjoyed this before, but was happy to sip it on draft in San Diego. To eat I had the steak sandwich, it was delicious. I was told there’s plenty of good craft beer at the park, but I stuck with two Scuplins at my seat and didn’t do a ton of exploring. That will have to wait until next time.

Iron Fist Brewery Barrio Logan

This brewery was about a mile from where I stayed, so I walked over when they opened on Monday. The Barrio Logan tasting room has an industrial vibe and a nice outdoor space. While they don’t have a kitchen, you can bring food in and there’s even a spot (MishMash) right next door. Between the two beers I tried, I wasn’t blown away.

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Counter Strike bomber

Nelson the ImPALEr, an extra pale ale (5%, IBU: 28), was up first. This beer was brewed using only the exceedingly rare  Nelson Sauvin hops, grown exclusively in Nelson, New Zealand. The flavor of grapefruit and hints of pineapple and mango quickly leave for a dry finish.

Next, I wanted to try Counter Strike, a single IPA (6.5%, IBU: 38). I should have gone back to the menu when they told me they were out and only had a bomber, but someone else was sipping on it at the bar so I figured it must be good. The citrus flavor was mild and overall taste came off flat. It was missing the fruit flavor of mango, passion fruit and tangerine that are listed on the website. Overall, this was a miss.

Ballast Point

With six locations in the area, you have a few options when it comes to checking out Ballast Point. I opted for their Little Italy taproom, per my husband’s and locals’ recommendations. They have a kitchen, so I headed over after a day of trekking around the San Diego Zoo (which also has solid craft beer options to keep you refreshed).

I’ve gotten to try a lot of their beers, as they distribute in Chicago. So I was hoping to see some new stuff on the menu. The first to catch my eye was Sea Rose, a tart cherry wheat ale (4%, IBU: 8). In retrospect, this was similar to a beer I’d try the next day, but not done nearly as well. The beer was light and clean, but the cherry flavor was subtle and not very tart.

The Manta Ray is a double IPA (8.5%, IBU: 70) that delivers. Aromas of fresh, citrus flavor, melon and pine all announce themselves before a smooth finish. This paired well with my dinner: La Conquistadora Burger with a roasted tomato chorizo relish to drool over. I wrapped things up with something familiar, the Grapefruit Sculpin, an IPA with grapefruit (7%, IBU: 70). This beer is tart and the grapefruit flavor fresh, pairing well with a hoppy citrus character.

Culture Brewing Co.

I spent most of Wednesday at Ocean Beach, which is full of breweries. It was hard to decide which to go to, but I’d liked what I’d seen at Culture online. So, that’s where I headed. When I first walked by, no one was at the bar and I was hesitant, but went in anyway. It was the right choice. No food at this tasting room, but plenty of great beer to try. So much so that I ended up staying put and didn’t check out any other breweries in the neighborhood. Plus, the bartender was super nice — she ended up giving me an amazing dinner recommendation (OB Noodle House) that was absolutely delicious.

Back to the beer. I tried a few here and none of them disappointed. To start, a flight.

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2X IPA (right), Amarillo IPA (center), Tart Cherry Wit (left)

The Tart Cherry Wit (5.2%, IBU: 18) was probably my favorite beer here. This was a new brew for them and I couldn’t find it listed on their website. Hopefully it stays around, because this Witbier is refreshingly tart, not sour. The bartender mentioned that their head brewer plans to do more and more sours in the future — and there’s always a sour-adjacent beer on tap. As for the Amarillo SIPA, a session IPA (4.8%, IBU: 66), it was filled with flowery and citrus aromas. Simple and subtle. And the final taster in this flight, the 2X IPA (8.2%, IBU: 80), packed a punch of hoppy flavor with those same citrus and flowery aromas.

From there, I moved onto two full pours. First was the Mosaic IPA, another session IPA (4.8%, IBU: 66). Single hopped, this IPA maintains a full-hopped flavor. I wrapped things up with Kottbusser, an Altbier (8.4%, IBU: 18). This guy only comes in a half pour due to the high ABV. True to it’s German style, the Altbier had a dry, almost tangy aroma and notes of honey.

Border X Brewing

Another brewery within walking distance from the house I stayed at, Border X Brewing gets creative. Unless I make a stop on my way to the airport, this will be my last taste of local brews in San Diego, and it was a great one to go out on. They’re new to the location and it has the feel of a traditional bar, but there’s a huge beer garden out back where they also serve up traditional street tacos. The (super nice) bartender informed me that while they currently brew down the street, they’ll be moving things in-house soon.

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Blood Saison

With six of their beers on the menu, I was excited to see three I knew I had to try. To start, the Blood Saison, a farmhouse ale (7.5%, IBU: 10). This beer was inspired by the traditional Mexican drink Jamaica. It’s tart and made with real hibiscus and agave. 4.5 out of 5 stars from me. I had to get a taster of the Chicano Triple IPA (12.5%, IBU: N/A), which was sweet as can be. Finally, El Chiquitin, another session IPA (4.4%, IBU: N/A) that was smooth and slightly hoppy.

Overall, I really enjoyed Border X. The staff and regulars were so welcoming, and it was a great way to end my trip. I’ll be back to San Diego to visit some of the breweries again, as well as all the ones on my list I didn’t make it to (AleSmith, Stone, Mission, OB and more).

Cheers!