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