To start off the second part of my San Diego vacation (you can read about the first part in last month’s column), I arrived in Vista at the charming casita I would be occupying for three nights. The owner was there to greet me—and thus completed a two-plus year interaction I’d had with her that started when I had to cancel my stay on the day before the governor instituted the lockdown in March 2020. She issued the refund immediately, and I told her that, when it was all behind us, I would rent her casita.
I had very little time to settle in, as I’d scheduled an interview with the brewer and co-founder of nearby Pure Project Brewing, Winslow Sawyer. I’ve enjoyed their beers for some time now, and I figured it was long past the time for me to visit one of their many taprooms in San Diego.
He grabbed me a glass of one of their pale ales. As we talked, I was impressed by every beer sample that was brought to me: a tasty hefeweizen that was perfect to enjoy on their back patio; a mouth-watering barrel-aged sour ale with cherries (after I showed interest in his sour program); a pale ale that had been put together by his assistant brewer for his upcoming wedding reception; and a style of beer I’d never heard about before: Arctic ale. OK, it may not actually be a “style,” but it’s Pure’s re-creation of a beer brewed for an Arctic expedition: an English strong ale with essentially no hops involved, quite strong, but very tasty, with a surprising lack of any cloying quality. It was poured straight from the barrel in which it resides, which is always a cool way to sample a beer. (There will be much more from this interview in an upcoming column.)
Those familiar with my columns could have possibly predicted my next move: a trip to Burgeon Beer Company, in neighboring Carlsbad. This is a source of liquid gold that I love so much, and I make sure to stop in if I’m anywhere in range. While it was a quick trip, I got to see their private event space a few doors down from their brewery and taproom (called The Greenhouse; they’re very into the conservation of nature). I chatted with the beertenders a little and enjoyed a glass of their gorgeous Nelson-hopped pilsner, Clever Kiwi, before deciding that the Eureka! I saw on the Lyft ride to Burgeon would be a good destination, and that the weather was so beautiful that I should walk the mile between locations. The walk was lovely, but there isn’t much to say about Eureka!, other than to point out the beer selection was way better than the selection at our local Eureka!
Eureka! Indian Wells: Please start caring about the beer you carry, even just a little.
The next evening, I made my way back to Burgeon to talk to Noah Scoville, the taproom manager. I wanted to know what was behind the all the beers that make Burgeon a must-go while in San Diego. “Beer first,” was his response. He said they always stay true to what it is they’re doing, at every step along the way, as opposed to growing as much as possible, and then trying to figure out who they are every six months. Again, the three founders (Matthew Zirpolo, Derek van Leeuwen and brewer Anthony Tallman) are big on nature conservation and the outdoors. A recent beer release of theirs, called Reclaim the Sea, was a collaboration with the SeeTrees organization, which is restoring kelp forests along the coast, to pull more carbon out of the air.
What struck me most about Burgeon’s locations is the number of locals and regulars. You see so many people greeting each other. One of Burgeon’s back-of-the house guys remembered me from before the pandemic, when we chatted about the incredible table top he made out of reclaimed wood. If I were ever to move anywhere near there, Burgeon would be the first place where I’d apply for work.
I chatted with Scoville for about an hour. He gave me a quick tour of the new walk-in refrigerator for distribution, and I got to see what beers were going to be canned next. He then gave me a case of beer (full disclosure) and went about his business. (There will be more from this interview in the future as well. I just don’t have enough space here to give Burgeon the love it deserves.)
Scoville mentioned a small brewery near Pure Project that I’d heard of, but never tried: BattleMage Brewing. I stopped in and was delighted by a veritable nerd’s paradise, with Dungeons and Dragons-themed art everywhere—and the beer names following suit. I decided to try a flight of beers, which was handed to me on a wooden paddle in the shape of an ax. I took a seat near a large group of people who were playing one of dozens of card/board games available to everyone, and made my way through the paddle. The Czech pils and BattleMage’s IPA collaboration with Burgeon were on the top half of the four beers I tried. Props to them for having an old ale on tap, even if it was a little on the “hot” side for my taste.
Afterward, I walked the mile or so to Pure Project to enjoy more of their beers, and grab an incredible banh mi burger and loaded Cajun fries from Copper Kings Burgers (located at Pure Project). Hey, it’s my vacation; why not go nuts? I bought $100 worth of beer to go and said my silent goodbyes to the entire week in San Diego.
To say I am looking forward to my next visit is a real understatement.
Brett Newton is a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer) and homebrewer who has mostly lived in the Coachella Valley since 1988. He can be reached at email@example.com.