There is no sign for the brewery–trust your GPS and look for the grain bins (partly hidden by a tree) on the left as you pull through the parking lot. It is dark, dingy and a little dirty as you walk in. The bar/tasting area is nothing fancy (quite a different feel than the Port/Lost Abbey location in Cardiff).
There were some regulars at the bar; they got friendly service. In contrast, my opening exchange went exactly like this:
[Me, bright and cheery] “Hello! I would like to try a flight, please.”
[Her, flat and annoyed] “We don’t do flights.”
What she SHOULD have gone on to say was, “but you can have a taster of anything you want to try. What sorts of beer do you usually like?” She didn’t. So instead, I had to try to save the situation myself: “Okay, tasters then.”
The basics of customer service are not hard. Treat people kindly, help them navigate the experience so that they enjoy it, and maybe try to sell them something. This is not “extra”, it is basic. If someone cannot provide good customer service at a tasting room, they should be in a different role.
While I understand the decision to not offer flights (there’s a case to be made that you need a full pour to really get to know a beer), it is still probably a mistake from the customer’s point of view. I ordered my four tasters, but now I had four glasses in front of me, no tray to carry them on, and no way to keep track of which is which. If you sell tasters, why not make the flight experience a good one? Certainly, since most tasting rooms offer flights, don’t treat the customer as being at fault when they ask for one even if you don’t offer flights.
On top of the less-than-good finding/parking/entering/service experiences, the beer was just okay.
Avant Garde (Bier de Garde, Lost Abbey label, 7% ABV). Clean, medium mouthfeel, a tad sweet, lagery malt, slight spice on the front, very slight hint of Belgian yeast on the finish. 3.25/5
Red Barn Ale (Saison, Lost Abbey label, 6.7% ABV). I don’t generally love saison; this is one is good. The ginger, black peppercorns, orange peel and grains of paradise adjuncts come out as pepper, cinnamon & clove flavors. The nose is spicy. The middle of the swallow is Belgian yeast while the finish is spicy with a tannin-like drying effect. 3.25/5
SPA (Summer Pale Ale, Port Brewing label, 6% ABV). Tropical/citrus nose and palate. The middle is earthy and the finish is quite bitter, and it really lingers. Medium gold, thin white head. 3/5
Hop-15 Ale (Imperial IPA, Port Brewing label, 10% ABV). Heavy, sharp tasting, and a piney finish with background tropical/sweetness lingering under the bitter. Not working for me. But some people seem to really love it: there is a large proportion of high-4 and even 5-star ratings on Untappd. 3/5
The portbrewing.com website is a mess. You can’t find an address for the tasting room, for one thing. The banner at the top says “closed early due to holiday” (what holiday?). The banner at the bottom has a link to “2014 San Diego Beer Week Schedule.” The last entry on the “Blog” page was October 2014. Just take the page down, for goodness sake! The lostabbey.com website is a little better. But the “Tasting Room” page still doesn’t tell you the address (you have to find the “Hours and Directions” link, then follow that, too).
Even just remembering this experience makes me grumpy. I’m going to go have a beer.
http://lostabbey.com/locations/tasting-room/ 155 MATA WAY #104, SAN MARCOS, CA 92069