Belching Beaver Brewery, truly great beer

I was visiting San Diego recently and decided to try some beers at the Belching Beaver Brewery.  I sampled a number of beers. First was blushing IPA. It was just ok, drinkable and rated as 6. Next was Hop highway IPA and was rated as 7 for having nice hops. Rabid rye IPA was the last and it was very good and had a subtle rye, good for an 8 rate.

Belching Beaver does not brew good beer. We brew truly great beer. Currently, we are crafting 7 distinct beers year-round that range from pale ale to stout, which are sure to please anyone’s tastes. Our first priority is using quality ingredients to create the beer recipes at our microbrewery. (Source:

If you’re a beer advocate, and love small intimate tasting rooms with good beers this is the place to go. Their small tasters are awesome. Good beer at a reasonable price. Open, clean, well lit with simple design. Although their beers are limited only to their own, they have a huge variety of styles, different treatments and you can choose between flights, half pours and pints depending on your mood. Plus their pints have killer prices.

Brennivin, a nice summer drink

Darius, Donnie, Dad, Joey and Arwin tried Brennivin. Darius thought that he wouldn’t drink by himself because he doesn’t like licorice. Donnie felt it was ambivalent and just okay. For Dad, it was not his cup of tea. Joey tasted it as mild licorice with some other subtle spices. He thought it as not a single malt scotch  and it was better than vodka. It has its place for the right occasion, thus, it is a nice summer drink. Arwin thought of it as not a lot of flavor and he preferred fernet branca.

Brennivín is an Icelandic schnapps, considered the country’s signature alcoholic beverage. Having a national beverage seems to bede rigeur for small countries who want to  maintain their cultural identity. Iceland is no exception. It is made from fermented potato pulp, and flavoured with caraway seeds. It is sometimes called svarti dauði (“black death”). (Source:

At times it is drunk as a “chaser” after sampling “hákarl”, which consists of putrefied shark meat, to mask the meat’s taste. The word brennivín literally translates into English as ‘burning wine’, and comes from the same root as brandy, namely brandewijn which has its roots in the Dutch language. (Source:

Despite its unofficial status as national beverage and a traditional drink for the mid-winter feast of Þorrablót, many Icelanders do not regularly drink it. The drink has a strong taste and high alcohol content and carries an equivocal reputation despite the fact that Iceland lives huge taxes on most alcoholic beverages, brennivín is actually one of the moderately priced liquors available in the national alcohol store.

Brennivin today is mostly enjoyed as a patriotic drink, most notably on St. Thorlac’s Day (December 23), a holiday that honors the patron saint of Iceland. It’s a popular souvenir sampled then brought home by Iceland’s growing number of tourists.


Trader Joe’s 2012 Vintage Ale – Unibroue, a good holiday drink

Mark, Timo, Ravi, Lucy and Jane tried Trader Joe’s 2012 Vintage Ale. Mark thought it tasted like a combination of sweet chocolate and a porter.  It tasted clove like. He rated it as 7 because it has lots of character but not too sweet like Belgian. Timo gave 4 because it was strongly flavored. While Ravi rated it 6. Both Mark and Ravi agreed that it is a good holiday drink. Lucy liked its sweetness and gave 7. Jane thought it as pine needles and aromatic.

Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale has appeared once a year since 2005. It’s a Belgian strong ale, running about 9% ABV and is contract brewed by Unibroue, the highly regarded Quebec maker of Belgian beers. From the very beginning, Unibroue has carved out a special niche in the beer world with top quality products and a brand rooted deep in Quebec culture. It made history by becoming the first North American beer maker to use a brewing method inspired by the two-centuries-old tradition developed by Trappist monks in Europe—particularly in Belgium. Over the years, Unibroue has remained faithful to its origins even as it has grown to become an icon of the brewing world. (Source:

The Vintage Ale is made with dark Belgian malts and spices, each year’s batch being slightly different. Most years, the 750 ml (25 ounces) corked bottles are labeled as “ale on lees,” meaning there’s a layer of yeast sediment in the bottle for further fermenting, assuring the flavor will continue to evolve. (Source:

This dark beer pours an incredibly thick and resilient head that slowly dissipates as the beer settles. It smells slightly fruitier and sweeter than its counterpart being. Indeed, it is a thinner and more noticeably effervescent drink than its cousin, but the two share many similarities. The almost tropical flavors presented in this beer are balanced by a hint of citrusy hops and a moderate darkness, yet nothing too intense to frighten away more timid drinkers. This is a highly drinkable beer and while it’s got a great deal of intricacy and flavor, it’s hardly intimidating. The bottle might be attractive to a wine drinker.  Classy and simple.  So there’s that.  And it’s awfully lovely to look at after it’s poured: that big, off-white head, under which the beer–a rich brown, reminiscent of the color of dark figs–bubbles excitedly from its high carbonation. If you’re in a Trader Joe’s and find yourself curious, grab a bottle. It’s a great price and a great beer, whether you’re a well seasoned palate or a curious individual who seldom drinks craft beer. Grab it while it lasts and enjoy!

Thorn St. Brewery, must stop and enjoyable place

I decided to try some beers at the Thorn St. Brewery. First was Bohemian pilsner. It was quite drinkable but bland. Second was Pale ale. It was subtly bitter. Stout was tasty. Third was Red iPad, it tasted more butter, subtly. Then I also tried Session IPA. It was very good. Also, Agave amber was a great in chocolate flavor. I tried Coconut porter, it was just okay. Lastly was American strong, it was good but hard to call it a beer.

The location at 3176 Thorn Street was up until early 2012 a local outlet called Home Brews and Gardens. The shop was loved by local patrons but owner Dennis O’Connor realized that he liked making beer a lot more than he did selling supplies to do so. He teamed up with avid home brewers and fellow San Diego natives Dan Carrico and Eric O’Connor to start the project that would transform the former local home brew shop into Thorn Street Brewery. The renovated space has been transformed into a beautiful tasting room with a 7 barrel brew house in a large open naturally lit back room. Local designer Pat Wilkening (Red Craft Custom Design) has been instrumental in the creative development of the property and has created something truly unique in the neighborhood. (Source:

Beers like—stout, coffee stout and strong ale—offered more diversity, but were universally dull, flavor-wise. The strong ale tasted a bit boozy and sweet and the stout was roasty but a bit thin while the coffee-infused version of that variety packed more flavor but tasted more like chocolate milk than java. Overall the beer isn’t bad. It’s just unremarkable. (Source:

Thorn Street’s back room had a spacious area that houses the brewing equipment as well as its own separate bar, plus plenty of seating, tables, and upturned barrels. Toys and board games give the young-at-heart something to do while they catch up with friends or unwind from a hard day. It’s one of the nicest tasting spaces of any comparably sized brewing company in the county. It is a warm, fun social hub with a lot to offer. Add exceptional beer and there’s little more a craft beer fan could desire. It is their sincere hope that their hard work will result in a place that people can truly feel cozy and welcome in.

Allagash Curieux (Bourbon Barrel Aged Strong Ale) – Allagash Brewing Company, good with food

Anne, Matt, Ravi and Jane tried Allagash Curieux. Anne tasted it as fruity crisp but for her iPas were better. Matt thought that bubbles can take the fat off the food. In short, it was good with food. Ravi didn’t like the first sip but it grew on him. It was sour but he subtlety like it. Jane felt that it was drinkable.

Allagash Curieux was the first foray into barrel aging. Curieux is made by aging tripel ale in Jim beam bourbon barrels for eight weeks in cold cellars. The aged beer is then blended back with a portion of fresh tripel. The resulting beer is soft with coconut and vanilla notes, with hints of bourbon. (Source:

At first you get a dark and heavy taste of a true dark ale with hints of honey and wheat, but then you kind of get punched with a taste of the bourbon. This is a brew that would be best enjoyed by itself. Beer is moderately carbonated, full bodied. Alcohol heat is fairly strong. Generally a pretty soft, smooth beer. A very enjoyable beer. Really pretty hard to compare it to standard tripels, as the barrel-aging adds in whole new features.

Allagash Curieux is manufactured by Allagash Brewing Company which started in 1995, as a one-man operation in a small space on the outskirts of Portland, Maine. Founder Rob Tod had worked in a brewery setting before and recognized a void within the craft brewing movement. While both German and British styles had become prevalent throughout the U.S., the ever-creative Belgian-styles were very difficult to find. Through his travels, Tod had sampled many of these unique beers and felt that the flavors and traditions of Belgium needed to be shared with the American drinking public. He designed a small 15-barrel brew house, gathered the finest array of authentic raw materials and began his quest towards the production of traditional Belgian style ales. Rob sold his first batch of beer in the summer of 1995. (Source:

Today, Allagash has six year round beers in its portfolio, seven yearly releases and numerous one-offs and keg only releases. They continue to be successful by pushing the limits of beer and themselves. They have always strive to produce the finest Belgian inspired and experimental ales this side of the Atlantic. Allagash began as New England’s original Belgian-Style brewery and have grown into one of the industry’s most distinguished and well-respected brands.

The Best Stone Brewery Beers (tasting notes)

My sister-in-law was kind enough to take me to the Stone Brewery Company tasting room in South Park in San Diego last weekend

and we both got their insanely well-priced $6 tasting, which included our choice of 4 beers.   The bartenders gave me a splash of the regular Arrogant Bastard Ale (to test against the Oaked version) and I bought a bottle of the Russian Stout, which wasn’t on the menu, but I wanted to try since it was listed as the #2 beer in the world according to an article on their wall.  So in all, we tried 10 beers.



In each round, we tried 2 beers and here are our tasting notes for each round.    They go from lightest (least alcohol content) to heaviest, as that is the order the bartenders recommended.

Round 1: Levitation vs. Smoked Porter.

I liked the levitation ale as it was a hot sunny day and it’s a great drinkable beer.  Anne liked the smoked porter better as it seemed like something that would go well with a sorbet, and that restaurants should sell it as such.  I like a tasty beer, and enjoyed the smoked porter but maybe I just wasn’t in the mood.  Maybe on a different day, but I did like some of the later heavier beers (e.g. Oaked Arrogant Bastard) better.

Round 2: Stone IPA vs. Double Dry Hopped IPA.

The IPA is their best-seller and makes up about 40% of their business.  They were serving a special double dry hopped version.  I liked the regular version better.  Again, maybe it was my mood on a summer day, but the extra flavor wasn’t pleasant for me.  The IPA was nice and drinkable though I liked the levitation more.  Anne liked the double dry hopped IPA better because the IPA was just a beer while the double dry hopped was “more like different”.

Round 3: Stone Cali-Belgique vs. Stone Oaked (and non-Oaked) Arrogant Bastard

I thought both of these were great.  The Arrogant Bastard Ale was supposedly an accidental creation and it’s recipe is guarded well, though many home brewers say that Chinook hops were the start.  I personally liked the Oaked version better than the regular version.  However, both of us liked the Cali-Belgique even more and it might have been my favorite beer of the entire tasting.  It was both tasty and complex, yet drinkable and suitable for a hot day.  Just a great beer!

Round 4: Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous vs. Stone Ruination

Two of the highest alcohol content beers and I liked the Self-Righteous beer much more than the Ruination.  I also tried the Russian Porter in a bottle later and to me, the Self-Righteous Ale is the best of the heavier beers that Stone serves.

My final favorites:

1. Cali-Belgique

2. Sublimely Self-Righteous

3. Oaked Arrogant Bastard

4. Levitation Ale


I’d like to thank the bartenders for a wonderful time.  Apparently craft beer sales are growing as mainstream beers sales decrease, and so perhaps I’ll do this more often.  The recommended visiting Asheville, NC for aspiring beer tourists and checking out the Beer Pulse blog.

What do you think of my rankings?  Vote for your favorites below.

Best Stone Brewery Company Beers