By Bobby Bush
Born and raised in Minden, Germany, Karl Strauss introduced San Diego to craft beer
when he opened his first brewpub, Karl Strauss’ Old Columbia, on February 2, 1989.
The company, Karl Strauss Breweries, has been a virtual brewing highlight film ever since.
Brewing a wide variety of German-style lagers, expertly complimented with an
extreme range of ales, Strauss’ company has become a beacon on the San Diego dining
scene, noting the change of each season with brewer’s dinners. Ever the Master Brewer,
Karl is everywhere, from radio ads, spiced with his thick German accent, to full size
billboards and the company’s own fully decorated delivery truck.
Since I last visited San Diego, Herr Strauss has added three breweries with more
growth on the way. Karl Strauss Brewery Gardens, in Sorrento Mesa, open in 1994,
followed two years later by Karl Strauss Brewery & Grill in La Jolla. In ‘96, the
company relocated its corporate headquarters into a building on Santa Fe Street large
enough to house its distributing microbrewery, which recently expanded capacity to
handle their 500 local accounts for draft beer. And by now, a new 550-seat brewpub,
specially designed for dopplebock brewing, should be open in Carlsbad, not far from the
entrance to Legoland.
Since I had visited the Columbia Street location many times before, I used this rare
visit to check out the other two Karls. Ordering a taster tray before our barstool seats
even had a chance to warm, we started through ten seasonal and regular brews. Not until
half way through did we learn that La Jolla Hefeweiss was the only one of the ten actually
brewed on-site. The rest were shipped over from the Santa Fe Street micro. But heck,
they were still pretty good beers. Of the six standards, Karl Strauss Light was thin with a
touch of wheat malt, while Gaslamp Gold was an alt-like ale. Karl Strauss Amber Lager,
billed as “San Diego’s Original Local Beer,” was extremely malty with a displeasing
saccharin finish. Karl Strauss Pilsener was out and the Pale Ale (I’ll spare you the Karl
Strauss) should have been. Allegedly dry hopped, this pale was not remarkable. Red
Trolley Ale was tangy and sweet but missing an anticipated caramel profile. Of the seasonals, Blond Bavarian Oktoberfest, originally brewed to celebrate
Strauss’ 50th year in America, was gold, medium bodied- a blond bock. Marty’s Bliss
was Vienna-style, malty with a clean aftertaste, while Downtown After Dark Brown Ale
departed with a thick trail, though it was very drinkable. A strong dopplebock, Jeff ‘n’
Jer’s Hootch was sweet with prominent alcohol taste.
On my way to L.A. that afternoon, I detoured to Karl Strauss Brewery Gardens.
Hidden within an overpopulated office complex called San Diego Technical Center, right
beneath the flight path for the local military base, the Brewery Garden had the same basic
food and beer menu as La Jolla. With a well kept Japanese-style garden, complete with
pool and waterfall, for a backyard, I sat on the patio and sampled a pint of the only
different beer on hand. Stargazer Ale, a dry-hopped amber, was thin-to-medium in body
and tart. Named for world famous artist Alexander Lieberman’s large, red landmark
sculpture, which graces the entrance to the office plaza, Stargazer is most likely the only
beer brewed at the Brewery Gardens. Beer is forbidden from the gardens’ pathways.
With a coffee bar at the entrance, and a tiny bar off the patio, Strauss Brewery
Gardens is an interesting place. I was disappointed in the redundancy of the beers among
the two locations. Of course, I guess, not many people visit both in a day.
For more information about Karl Strauss’ brewing and marketing machine, click
There's more, go to La Jolla Brews
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush