Beer Maverick

BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, La Jolla

BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse is not usually thought of as producing craft beer, but in fact it does.

Yes, yes, I know…you weren’t expecting a review of BJ’s in a blog about San Diego Craft Beer. Maybe, like me, you thought that BJ’s was not craft beer. It is an understandable error (he said by way of excusing his own mistake…). I was long under the impression that BJs was macro, or at least counted as corporate/non-craft beer in some way. Part of my misunderstanding on this score, I think, came from the fact that for years BJ’s was improperly categorized as a “Macro” brewery on Untappd. The San Diego Brewer’s Guild doesn’t list BJ’s among the guild members, and likewise BJ’s is not included in West Coaster Magazine’s list of San Diego Brewhouses.

But a couple of weeks ago I stumbled across BJ’s in the listing of Brewers Association members, and I followed up to confirm with BA staff: BJ’s is indeed craft beer according to the Brewers Association definition of a craft brewer. I am, perhaps unreasonably, a little proud of the fact that I reported this to Untappd and as a result they changed the categorization of BJ’s in their app.

I recently picked up the new San Diego Brewers Guild map, published in spring 2017. Unsurprisingly, given the breakneck speed of change in the San Diego beer scene, the map is already out of date. It includes one brewery that has closed down (Lighting Brewery) and naturally it misses out on some of the recent openings. It is too bad the online version is even more out of date, built from the 2016 data set. Surprisingly, however, the SDBG map also includes what I would describe as mistakes: it lists a few satellite tasting rooms (i.e., non-brewing locations) in the “Breweries” listings, and has left a great many more tasting rooms off the list. For consistency, they should either include all the tap rooms or none of them. Then there is Oggi’s, who I guess paid their 2017 dues to SDBG even though they no longer brew at their locations. (Left Coast Brewing in San Clemente does the brewing for Oggi’s now; this puts them in the same camp as BJ’s, by the way: they are all craft brewpubs whose beer is made outside of San Diego County.) Six of the “breweries” listed on the SDBG map are really just brands of other existing breweries, not breweries in themselves (Arrogant Brewing, Cellar 3, The Lost Abbey, The Hop Concept).

And, of course, the 30 San Diego breweries that are not members of the SDBG don’t get a mention on the SDBG map. Six of those San Diego breweries are non-craft (Ballast Point x4, St. Archer and 10 Barrel) so their absence from the map is to be expected. But that means 24 of the 139 other operational San Diego craft breweries are not members of the Guild. That’s 17%, quite a significant proportion. It makes me wonder if there is a backstory as to why so many breweries are not SDBG members. (I made a similar comment on the Brandon Hernandez piece in West Coaster that encourages people to support local craft by only drinking from the SDBG list; that’s a misguided guideline, in my opinion, since there could be plenty of valid reasons for not joining the guild that don’t make a brewery an enemy of craft beer.)

Speaking of mistakes, the West Coaster list has jumped the gun on adding Circle 9 brewing to their list of operational brewhouses (according to Circle 9’s website, their soft opening is still “coming soon” and they are only open for private events). So, while West Coaster currently lists 147 active brew houses, that includes the six non-craft ones plus Julian Brewing (not currently operating as far as I can tell) and Circle 9 (not quite open yet).

The San Diego Tourism Authority has a list of San Diego breweries. I offered to update it for them a few months ago but they said they were already working with someone on that. The updated list is still not great, and now it is nearly impossible to navigate, making it more or less useless for tourists to plan a beer-cation with. One of the headline videos is clearly old: it says there are over 115 breweries in San Diego, which I guess is technically true: as of June 2017, there are 145 San Diego breweries, plus 25 of their satellite tasting rooms.

The San Diego Magazine “San Diego Brewery Guide” listing is pretty good, though the reviews are undated which makes it hard to tell if they give current information. On the upside, you can do searches by neighborhood. By my count that list is missing six operational brewhouses, it has one duplicate entry and includes at least two non-operational breweries. It also omits seven operational tasting rooms.

So where should you go for the best, most up-to-date listing of San Diego breweries?, of course!

The assumption I made about BJ’s being non-craft is similar to though the opposite of the mistake many craft beer lovers make about Elysian, 10 Barrel, Goose Island, Blue Moon and other “crypto-macro” brands that try to pass themselves off as craft beer (often successfully). I guess that makes BJ’s “crypto-craft.”

In 2002, BJ’s won the Great American Beer Fest “Large Brewpub of the Year” award. They continue to consistently winning awards for their beers, from GABF and from other important contests.

Well, after all that, what about the review of BJ’s La Jolla? As you would expect, it is a nice room, though considerably smaller than most of the other BJ’s locations I have visited. Staff were good but very busy: The place was packed, with a 30 minute wait for a table on a Friday around 6pm. The food was good (I particularly like the Italian Market pizza), and of course you have to get the pizookie for dessert (which is best described as a deep-dish chocolate chip pizza/cookie with ice cream on top). The beer, well, it is not my favorite and it seems to be aimed at the average drinker but it isn’t bad. On this occasion I had a pint of the Tatonka Russian Imperial Stout (8.5% ABV): It didn’t taste high alcohol, but it also didn’t taste like an RIS (which I associate with really deep, rich roast, raisin/plum notes, and chocolate-like flavors). I found there to be a light taste to the roasted malts, and none of those other flavors were present. It wasn’t even as flavorful as Guinness or most other stouts, let alone a typical RIS. It did have a nice stiff head and it was pure dark brown. My rating was 3.25/5, mainly mainly because it failed to live up to its purported style.     8785 Villa La Jolla Dr, San Diego, CA 92037