Back in May, I broke the news that a business by the name of Little Miss Brewing (7949 Stromesa Court, Miramar) was building its brewery in Miramar. It was exciting news for me, as it was going to be located right down the street from my office at AleSmith Brewing Company, and headed by Joe Liscia, an ex- Green Flash Brewing Company brewer and part-time pint-slinger at (my new employer) Societe Brewing Company. There was just one hitch—Little Miss’ owners weren’t going to install a tasting room at the brewery. Fortunately, Liscia was able to effectively communicate how important an on-site sampling component is to a brewery, particularly one located in a heavily toured part of San Diego County.
When I visited Little Miss a couple of weeks ago, it looked put-together and unique. A cinder-block, L-shaped bar with the wing of an ancient flying-machine hanging above conveys a bunker-like motif. On the opposite side of the room, keg seats are situated around long tabletops that cleverly lift up to the wall, Murphy bed-style, during brewing hours. I was surprised when Liscia told me he had to throw the whole thing together, scouring eBay for World War II memorabilia and other items to fill the place out. It’s pretty commendable, considering he had to simultaneously get first-draft beers ready. The fact that those beers are quite enjoyable makes it more impressive, still.
Little Miss’ tasting room is equipped with 10 taps, but when I stopped by, only half were hooked up to kegs. I started with a pair of SMASH pale ales. SMASH stands for single-malt and single-hop, describing the ingredients used to make such beers. While single-hop beers have been popular for years now, SMASH recipes are mostly the domain of homebrewers currently, so it was nice to have a couple in a pro-setting. SMASH beers provide a fine opportunity for drinkers to get to know individual ingredients. Liscia’s SMASH pales were hopped with Cascade and Galaxy, respectively. The former’s citrus character presented most closely as grapefruit, while the latter offered more complex flavors of lemon and passionfruit plus a slightly more assertive bitterness on the finish.
Another pale, New Deal, was perhaps the least-satisfying of the bunch. It tasted nice enough, but could benefit from more hop-presence. It was simply too mild from a botanical standpoint and came across a tad sweet on the malt-side as a result. But the hop-malt balance on Little Miss’ Helldiver IPA was right-on. Maybe it’s the Sazerac kick I’ve been on since a recent trip to New Orleans, but the aroma reminded me of Peychaud’s bitters. Zesty and citric, it was probably a romantic interpretation anybody else would have described as “lemony”, but work with me here. The beer is 6.5% alcohol-by-volume and hopped with Zythos, Centennial and El Dorado. That last one is all-lemon and complemented nicely by the earthiness and stone fruit-esque elements of its partner-hops.
I finished with a freshly tapped, light-bodied porter that was big on cola notes with a roasted almond nuttiness to it. Brewed with chocolate and cacao nibs, it even had a faint hint of herbal tea essence. At 4.7% ABV, it’s in the low range, just like all of Little Miss’ current beers. Liscia expects to brew higher-ABV offerings relatively soon, but recently debuted a sessionable Belgian-style witbier brewed with ginger and orange-peel, and has a Berliner weisse on-deck. He’s also been working with the roasters at Swell Coffee Co. to make a java-infused version of the porter.
Little Miss’ ultimate goal is to open multiple tasting rooms throughout San Diego. It was a snag with the first of those in Normal Heights that prompted ownership to go ahead with the brewery tasting room. Though done out of necessity, it was done well, and a visit there is a pleasant introduction to Miramar’s newest brewery. Oh, wait…Thunderhawk Alements opened over the weekend. Make that Miramar’s second-youngest new brewery.
I was one of the first to find out about Chris West’s new brewing project. I visited the site of said brewery numerous times before it had any beer at the ready or its doors open to the public. Yet, once the business went live, it took me way too long to get back to check it out, even with the positive buzz that, despite me trying to keep from hearing, I couldn’t help but catch wind of. So, it was with great pleasure—and more anticipation than usual—that I finally had the chance to try West’s wares at the recently opened Bay City Brewing Company (3760 Hancock Street, Point Loma).
I will disclose upfront that the night I was there was the same night of a fundraiser hosted by Bay City for the Beer to the Rescue lupus awareness campaign I set up earlier this year. That said, the company’s generosity in no way swayed my views of West’s beers. In fact, the special Coffee Pale Ale he conjured to help raise funds for the Lupus Foundation of Southern California drives home the main thing I took away from Bay City. This newbie’s beers are best when they aren’t messed with! Allow me to explain.
The aforementioned pale ale (which was infused with beans roasted down the street at Swell Coffee Co.’s Point Loma roastery) had plenty of java potency that was deliciously in sync with the beer’s hop bill when served on CO2. For fun, the tasting room served the beer on nitrogen. The result was a beer with a fantastically soft and coating mouthfeel, but far less vibrant flavors. Diminishing taste and aroma returns is the lament of anti-nitro imbibers. I happen to believe there are plenty of right times, places and beers for nitro technology to be employed, but the fall-off was so severe in this case that sticking with a standard delivery method did the Coffee Pale Ale far more justice.
Similarly, Bay City’s Session IPA (no silly, clever, fancy or stupid monikers here, West and company simply label beers by their style) may be my favorite low-alcohol India pale ale in a county, nay, a country, overflowing with this trendy style, but only in its original form, which comes packed with bright piney, tropical fruit flavors and aromas brought on via Chinook and Equinox hops. But a version of the SIPA altered by the addition of cucumber and basil was easily the worst thing I had all night. It rendered the beer pickle-like in nature and took it to a nearly undrinkable place for me, leaving me pawing for more of the original version.
While improvisations were mostly unsuccessful, one experiment was rather fruitful; an Experimental San Diego Pale Ale to be exact. Huge scents akin to melon and peach give way to similar flavors. A Southern Hemisphere Pale Ale brewed with Wakatu and Helga hops is well rounded with a surprising bit of bubble gum in the mid-palate. A Vienna-style lager was the best surprise of the night next to the SIPA; a poundable beer delivering plenty of the yeast character that lager fans crave. Admirable, but not quite as fine-tuned as I’d have liked, was a pair of sour ales that feel like first drafts and offer hope for future creations as well as flavors that go beyond the typical tart scope.
Bay City lived up to the hype and provides a great option for pre- and post-game and concert fun at Valley View Casino Center across the street. Though easy to find from the freeway—the logo-swathed building looks out onto Interstate 8—one must venture deep into the industrial sections of Lomaland to get to the actual tasting room. But once there, a fenced-in outdoor patio provides a nice buffer from the traffic. A similarly pleasant respite can be had in the sleek if not a tad stark (it’s still a work-in-progress) indoor tasting bar.
From the Beer Writer: When people think of coffee beers, they naturally gravitate toward stouts and porters. Roasted malts with a touch of hop bitterness is the closest thing to a bitter, roasty cup of Joe. So adding coffee makes a great deal of sense when one is looking to add depth of flavor and extra oomph to a dark beer. However, brewers looking to display the flavor of the coffee itself within a beer are beginning to experiment with lighter-colored beers devoid of dark-roasted malts. Cream ales, pale ales and the occasional India pale ale are the most popular styles when it comes to this method. In the case of the latter two, brewers look to select coffee and hop varieties that have similar flavors, which typically come in the form of citrus, berry or earthy nuances. That’s what Chris West, head brewer at newly opened Bay City Brewing Company did when devising the recipe for his Coffee Pale Ale, an extremely flavorful yet balanced beer that delivers hop sensations worthy of a San Diegan’s lupulin-craving palate plus a caffeinated java jolt. The 6% alcohol-by-volume beer is currently on tap, both on CO2 and nitrogen, at Bay City’s tasting room just north of Valley View Casino Center.
From the Brewer: “The inspiration for the Coffee Pale Ale started with our neighborhood. There are now two breweries and multiple coffee roasters in this unique corner of town and we’re excited to see what else develops here. We worked with Swell Coffee Co. and their roaster, John Hermann, to select a bean and roasting profile that created a fruity yet still earthy coffee. Once the bean was selected, we decided to go with a pale ale as the base beer for two reasons. We didn’t want dark roasted grains to interfere with the coffee’s profile, which we all loved during cuppings. Additionally, Swell had recently begun experimenting with dry-hopped, cold-brewed coffee, so the conversation inevitably led to a coffee pale ale as our final product. The beer pours a golden-pale color with a dense white head that lasts. The aroma is coffee-forward with a floral earthiness from Simcoe hops. The taste begins slightly sweet, then finishes with mild bitterness. We hope you enjoy it and help us benefit Beer to the Rescue and the campaign’s goal to fund lupus research.”—Chris West, Head Brewer, Bay City Brewing Co.