CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> 2 Pubs/Breweries in San Marcos


Previous Pint Pleasures - December 5, 2010

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Port Brewing/Lost Abbey Brewing, 155 Mata Way #104, San Marcos, California

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Churchill's Pub & Grille, 887 West San Marcos Boulevard, San Marcos, California

Continuing on my North San Diego Coast brewery tour this past summer with my friend Mistah Rick, we found two treasures in the town of San Marcos. Best known as the home of one of the California State University campuses, this city began life in 1883 when a town called Barham was established in Los Vallecitos de San Marcos, or the Little Valleys of St Mark. By 1887 the town had become San Marcos, and today it boasts a population of over 84,000.

Our first stop in San Marcos was on a late Friday afternoon when we entered an industrial park, most of it abandoned for the weekend with just a small scattering of cars. We easily spot the only one open, Unit 104, otherwise known as Port Brewing. The metal gate was raised revealing a microbrewery, a 42-foot-long L-shaped bar, and lots of Southern California microbrew fans. As we approached the entrance a team of cyclists in jerseys and helmets rode up and joined the throng just as a brewery tour bus disgorged its fares.

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Port Brewing, which specialises in hoppy brews, is partnered with Lost Abbey Brewing, which makes Trappist-style ales. Behind the bar all of the Port Brewery brews have tap handles in the shapes of flip-flops while the Trappist selections are shaped like crosses. Our first round included a pint of Wipeout IPA (6.9% ABV, Port Brewing). This brew is like a good hoppy wave that you've waited for all afternoon in the cold November surf, paddling gently on your boogie board in the ridiculously tall breakers until that one rideable wave approaches, and you paddle hard and you're on it, in it, riding over it! And you crawl out of the ocean to collapse on the sand to catch your breath. Yes, Wipeout IPA brings back my teenage Southern California memories.

Our other first-round pint was Devotion (6.5%, Lost Abbey), described as a "dry-hopped blonde". This was a pleasant pint. Rick described it as "refreshing on a hot day but with a hoppier edge than most blondes." Rick, of course, has never met the British blondes I've known, so he'll be in for a treat on his next UK visit.

While we were there the big barn of a brewery became more packed with microbrew guzzlers, but we managed to squeeze through and find seats at the bar. On the walls behind the bar, along with clever signs witticising about chanting monks and dead cats, was a gallery of t-shirts for sale, a mural with a naked woman surrounded by cherubs, and a statue of a saint holding a holy pint. Our next round included a pint of Mongo IPA (8.0%, Port Brewing), named after a cat who was found dead in the brewery. It made us purr, giving a sensation in the mouth like petting a warm ginger cat. I felt like curling up to stroke it.

Our other pint of the round was Red Barn (6.7%, Lost Abbey), "made with ginger, orange peel, black pepper and grains of paradise", which are seeds from a plant of the anise family which impart a liquorice flavour. I could detect a tiny bit of orange peel and black pepper, but I couldn't taste the ginger. This pint has a good head with tiny champagne bubbles. It tastes Belgian and it made me kick my feet. It's a real Belgian kicker.

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We returned two days later for a Sunday morning worship tasting session at the Lost Abbey half of Port Brewing. As opposed to our previous visit, this time the brewery was sparsely populated. We arrived just before opening time, along with another tour bus loaded with four friends celebrating a birthday. As we entered we were joined by four employees and the two brewery cats, Cascade and Amarillo, leaving enough space for a clear view of the brewery and tasting room.

Before we ordered our pints Rick said he was once told that Trappist monks traditionally drink "single" style ale with breakfast, "double" with lunch, "triple" with dinner, and "quad" as a nightcap. There is another explanation that says the first run of water through the mash-tun produced the strongest beer, or "Triple", which was saved for special royal guests or occasions; the second run produced the middle-strength "Dubble"; and the third run produced the weaker "Singel" or "Enkel", which was brewed only for the monks. Whatever the history, the designations Single, Double, Triple, and Quad definitely refer to the increasing alcoholic strength.

We decided to try both a "Dubbel" and a "Quad". Our first pint was Lost and Found (8.0% ABV, Lost Abbey), a "double" style ale brewed with raisins and described as having "a sweet malt finish". It was like a Christmas spiced ale, only without the spices. Our second pint as Judgment Day (10.5%, Lost Abbey), a "Quad" style described as having "a chewy malt finish". I would describe it more as a thick alcohol chew. It might be a good hearty ale for lunch, but I'm afraid it was a bit too sweet for my tastes, quite a bit sweeter than the Lost & Found. It tasted like dangerous syrup.

As there are informal tours of the brewery on Saturdays and Sundays, we managed to tag along with the four friends on their 20-minute tour where we met a series of large vats with nicknames like "Elvis". Above the Lost Abbey Barrel Room is a sign that says "In Illa Brettanomyces, Nos Fides" which supposedly translates as "In these wild yeasts we trust".

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After the tour we ended our visit with a taster of Barrel Fermented Serpent Stout (10.5% ABV, Lost Abbey). This has a wonderful aroma suggesting oaky wine. Fermented in a whiskey cask from Kentucky, this was a real experience. It was black as Amarillo, one of the brewery cats, and it was almost like a rich Kahlua or Tuaca -- or perhaps an amazing aged port. Of course, that's it: port, from Port Brewing.

On another evening, on a recommendation from a staff member of another local brewery, we stopped at Churchill's Pub. A popular place for North County beer fans, Churchill's is a typical English tavern with a dusty rose pool table on one side and tables serving food on the other side. There was even a Bolton v. Fulham football match on TV, and two dart boards were surrounded by darts trophies. Curious, I spoke to the landlord, Ivan Derezin, and found out he's a naturalised Southern California originally from Leeds.

The pub offers 50 beers on tap including 2 cask ales, and also lots of bottled beers from around America and Europe. I had a pint of cask-conditioned Hop Stoopid IPA (8.0% ABV, Lagunitas). I felt as if I were drinking piles of hops stacked on an alcoholic pond bubbling with primeval fermentation. On the board the beer was described as "infused with mango" which explained the slightly surprising taste. Rick had a pint of Baker Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge (5.5% ABV, Brouwerij Bocker N.V., Belgium) This Flemish red ale was startlingly sour. I wasn't expecting the taste at all: it was like sucking on a lime, only without the lime. I think it's definitely an acquired taste.

Although we didn't have anything to eat, Churchill's is apparently famous for its excellent fish and chips, and the smoking garden out front is equipped with 3 fire pits for chilly nights. Once again I was feeling a bit disoriented. Was I really in Southern California? Or was I back in England? The world is becoming smaller and smaller...

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