Jul 22, 2018

Pizza Port

October, 1999

By Bobby Bush

The next stop on this compact, intense swing through Southern California dropped this bad beer boy off in coastal community of Carlsbad, about 40 miles north of downtown San Diego.

Just two blocks from the beach, the language and topic was surfing at Carlsbad Pizza Port. Though the rustic brewpub, founded in 1997, was less than busy on this early weekday afternoon, it was beer that lubricated the dialogue. I pulled up to the bar, staring a small but serviceable brewery head-on. It took a while to sample all twelve of brewer Kirk McHale interesting beers. After cleaning the brew kettle and conferring with the local fire department inspector, McHale even joined me at the bar for a beer.

For their seasonal brews, Carlsbad’s Saison was thin and cidery, exiting with a sweet finish. Copper-colored Hemp Ale was malty with grainy texture. The traditional Hot Spots Hefeweizen Ale, with big aromatic nose, left a yeasty aftertaste, while the Wit, another wheat-based beer, presented berry-tones and a wine-like end, with little of the expected yeast and coriander flavor.

From Carlsbad’s regular line-up, the easier end was represented by the fruity and light Cream Ale, a soft, saccharin-aftertasting California Honey Ale (requiring 120 pounds of honey) and Beachcomber Blonde, described by brewer McHale as an “alesner,” brewed with pilsner ingredients, including Saaz hops, and the house ale yeast. It was crisp, very close to a lager in mouthfeel. Moving down the color chart, Pizza Port Pale Ale was a good, strong pale, dry-hopped and also available, at least that afternoon, on cask. Wipeout IPA was even hoppier with a suddenly bitter finish. Served with a nitrogen boost to create a smooth, thick effect, Port’s Porter was delicious, wonderfully crafted with kilned coffee malt. They were out of the best selling Sharkbite Red, billed as an aggressively hopped unfiltered, medium bodied ale. Carlsbad also carries a dozen or so other beers, including the highly hopped 3rd Anniversary IPA from Stone Brewing.

With snowboarders flickering on the tube, I learned from McHale that this Pizza Port was the younger sibling of a Solana Beach brewpub, which just happened to be my next stop. Explaining that the Carlsbad facility was installing additional fermentation tanks in a building next door, McHale offered a taste of his Switch Stand Strong Ale, still working in the fermenter. A 9% abv barleywine, intended to be a reasonable facsimile of Sierra Nevada’s Big Foot, it had the makings of a great millennium celebration toddy. With a shove in the right direction, the happy brewer called ahead to let Solana Beach Pizza Port head brewer Tomme Arthur know I was coming. I’m not sure if Arthur was actually happy to see me or just looking for an excuse to pause from his labors and drink, but that’s what we immediately set about to do. His brewpub, established as a restaurant in 1987 with brewhouse installed in 1992, was small, rapidly filling with hungry, thirsty souls.

Solana Beach Brewery was partially visible in its basement dugout as Tomme disappeared down the ladder and emerged with several bottled beers in hand. It was hard to keep up with his generous offerings, but let’s try. Ponto’s Pale Ale was golden, close in mouthfeel and flavor to an IPA. Sawmills IPA was nicely hopped, including Cascades for dry hopping. Double Brown Ale, newly on tap, was very English, pushing 7% abv. Arthur’s Old Boneyard’s Barleywine, benefiting from six month’s conditioning, was smooth with a strong alcohol nose which was overcome by a citrus effect in its flavor profile. Brewed without roasted barley, Cowa Bunga Cream Stout, also with extended conditioning, was nitro smooth, sugary and enticing. From his basement stash, Belgian White was tart and Black Ball Stout “started as an Imperial” but Arthur described it as a black barleywine. It was closer to port wine. Be sure to check out With directions to my next destination in hand, I reluctantly departed, headed south to Del Mar to La Jolla
and beyond.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush


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