Beer Maverick

Karl Strauss Brewing Company, Sorrento Valley

KARLifornia loves Karl Strauss beer!

This area is a bit confusing, so trust your GPS, look for the one small Karl sign on the street and park in the large parking lot between two office buildings. Look along the back edge of the parking lot and you’ll see a wooden arch gateway that leads down a gravelly path. It won’t seem like it at first, but you are going the right way.

I was surprised to turn the corner and see a large, beautiful pond and landscaped garden (including a sweet waterfall!) that is the “front yard” of the almost-Swiss-Alps-looking low, long wooden building that houses the brew pub. There’s a nice patio and the big windows open up over the pond. A few koi drift slowly in the shallow water. It’s a lovely spot.

I sat at the bar at lunch time and although it was busy I got immediate and excellent service. I decided to go with all of the bartender’s recommendations for beer and food, even though I am generally not a fan of the beer style that was featured with the braised ribs special, a Belgian quad. The ribs were excellent, and I liked the quad a lot more than any I’ve had before.

This is a slick operation, and people clearly like what is on offer. The crowd was very diverse, with a mix of local office and trades workers enjoying a beer with lunch, hipster beer geeks in packs, and lone beer tourists. There were a lot of happy, animated conversations going on throughout the whole place, which made it a little loud. At the same time, the environs make it seem relaxed and peaceful. The vibe is markedly different than that in the La Jolla location; I look forward to comparing all the locations. The bartenders welcomed many lunch regulars by name and often brought their beers without first being asked.

With quality food, multiple award-winning beers and great service, it is no surprise that Karl Strauss won the Mid-Size Brewing Company of the Year award at the 2016 Great American Beer Festival. (Too bad about the organizers’ mess-up during the awards ceremony.) With an additional four medals for beers, Karl was the most-awarded brewery of GABF 2016. That’s especially significant since they have been a linchpin in the San Diego craft beer scene since 1989, helping to start the movement.

Karl Strauss beers are widely available in Southern California, and most craft beer fans have heard of super-solid offerings like Aurora Hoppyalis, Wreck Alley Stout and the ubiquitous Red Trolley Ale. They have a large beer menu including things that don’t get much distribution, and that’s what makes coming here especially interesting.

Queen of Tarts (American Wild Ale Sour, 5.7% ABV). Aged in oak barrels with cherries to add tartness. Its a good example of a style I do not happen to like very much. It won the gold medal for sours at GABF 2016.  3/5

Aurora Hoppyalis (San Diego Style IPA, 7% ABV). This is one of my go-to beers (bronze medal at GABF in 2015). 4.25/5

Two Tortugas (Belgian Quad, 11.1% ABV). The bartender gave me this to compare with the barrel aged quad that was the official pairing with my lunch. I actually liked this one better. In fact, it is the first Belgian quad I’ve really liked. (I usually avoid them because I don’t like Belgians–Belgian beers, I mean. All the human Belgians I’ve met have been delightful.) 3.25/5

28th Anniversary Barrel Aged Belgian Quad (12.9% ABV). The non-aged Two Tortugas quad was better. The bourbon flavors didn’t mesh well with the base beer in my opinion, and the extra raisin and alcohol hotness didn’t work for me. 3/5

Triumphant Exit (Brown Ale, 6.5% ABV). Now, a brown–that’s something I can get behind. This one is excellent. It has nicely roasty malts, though the mouthfeel is a little too thin.  4/5

Seven Sharks A-Circling (Imperial Porter, 9% ABV). Very nice, with a subtly smoky flavor.  4/5     9675 SCRANTON RD, SAN DIEGO, CA 92121