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Our Favorite Beers, People, and Pairings from Beer Week

It's the perfect celebration of San Diego's diverse craft beer scene


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The Beer Garden at the Lodge at Torrey Pines was the Grand Finale of San Diego Beer Week. | Photos by Bruce Glassman

It’s appropriate that San Diego Beer Week comes right before the official beginning of the “holiday season.” In many ways, the ten days that constitute this county-wide celebration are a lot like our traditional holidays: Brewers spend many months in preparation for the festivities, special beers and special foods are rolled out to mark the occasion, lots of people feel a lot of pressure to ensure that special events come off without a hitch, and—by the end—most brewers are thoroughly exhausted and thankful the week is finally over. Sound familiar?

As exhausting as Beer Week is, most brewers I spoke with don’t regret a minute of it. Lots of breweries saw their best days of the year this past week—in terms of attendance and revenue—and lots of them welcomed the opportunity to celebrate a sense of solidarity with their fellow brewers. They also liked the chance to get out and taste beers from all the other brewers in town. Truth is, most brewers don't get out to each other’s breweries much (brew days are long and tiring), so Beer Week is one time during the year where a huge selection of brews is not only available to the public, they’re available to the brewers as well.

"The amazing variety of events that were hosted this year are a testament to the amazing breadth of beer as a beverage."

The week’s many activities (about 500) celebrate not only the breweries and the brewery culture that’s unique to San Diego, they also celebrate beer itself. They celebrate beer’s versatility and its wonderful compatibility with all kinds of food. They celebrate the fact that beer can go “high” as well as “low”; it can be serious and complex (Mother Earth’s Belgian Golden aged in Pinot Noir casks) or just plain and simple fun (Duck Foot’s PB&J beers, which include grape, raspberry, strawberry, and The Elvis—peanut butter and banana).

The amazing variety of events that were hosted this year are a testament to the amazing breadth of beer as a beverage. Special nights were dedicated entirely to pumpkin beers, sours, wild yeast beers, stouts, and IPAS. There were special menus of all kinds that featured beer and waffles, barrel-aged breakfasts, rare beer brunches, numerous cheese pairings, chocolate pairings, ice cream floats, and (the extremely popular) donut pairings.

Some events celebrated the special versatility of a particular beer, such as AleSmith’s Speedway Stout. Their three-day Gran Prix event  showcased more than a dozen versions of this iconic beer, including Coffee Cake Speedway (cinnamon, coffee, and vanilla), Old Fashioned Speedway (bourbon soaked oak chips, orange peel, and maraschino cherries), and my personal fave: Maple Bourbon Pecan Speedway. At New English Brewing, an entire day was dedicated to sharing the fruits of their excellent bourbon-barrel-aging program: A dozen barrel-aged beers (mostly their Browns and Zumbar, their chocolate coffee stout) were on tap, each featuring a barrel from either Woodford, Heaven Hill, Wild Turkey, or Four Roses.

The Beer Garden at the Lodge at Torrey Pines. | Photo: Bruce Glassman

The main event that caps Beer Week and serves as the Grand Finale is the Beer Garden at the Lodge at Torrey Pines. At this idyllic seaside setting, 14 of San Diego’s star chefs each team up with two breweries to create a special beer-and-food pairing. This is a unique chance for chefs to rise to the flavor challenges posed by specific beers, to strut their stuff for the beer community, and—let’s face it—to show off a bit to their chef peers (for our benefit!). 

This year, the Beer Garden was attended by chefs Greg Frey (The Golden Door), Hanis Cavin (Carnitas’ Snack Shack), Amy DiBiase (Grand Restaurant Group), Phillip Esteban (Consortium Holdings), Colin MacLaggan (Ballast Point), Jeff Rossman (Terra American Bistro), Ronnie Schwandt (Leroy’s Kitchen + Lounge), Brad Wise (TRUST), Matt Gordon (Urban Solace), Lance Repp (University Club), Kyle Wiegand (The Lodge at Torrey Pines), Jeffrey Strauss (Pamplemousse Grille), Kyle Kovar (Tom Ham’s Lighthouse), and Tom Connolly (Stone Liberty Station). More than 28 beers were paired with their culinary creations, with selections from Mother Earth, Green Flash, Modern Times, Pure Project, Second Chance, Societe, Abnormal, AleSmith, Bitter Brothers, San Diego Brewing, Benchmark, Bagby Beer, Mike Hess, Thorn Street, Coronado Brewing, Port Brewing, 32 North, Finest Made, New English, South Park Brewing, Stone, 2Kids, Aztec, Mission, Karl Strauss, O’Sullivan Brothers, Rip Current, and Prodigy.

Needless to say, with these chefs and these breweries, every bite and sip was bound to be excellent, which it was. Top kudos of the day go to Chef Kovar from Tom Ham’s Lighthouse, whose Seared Octopus/Chilled Avocado Soup/Roasted Corn Ash/ Frisee-Arugula Salad with Radish was perfect with Karl Strauss’ Under the Stairs Guava American Wild Ale. Additional honors go to Chef Strauss of Pamplemousse Grille, who prepared a dish of Lobster Ravioli/Seared Scallops/Asparagus/Baby Tomatoes/Mushrooms/Ginger Souy Beurre Blanc that was wonderful with Mission’s Amber but also super with Rip Current’s Belgian Blonde. The gold medal of the day goes to Chef Frey of The Golden Door, whose Tahitian Butternut Squash Dal/Soft Poached Egg/Pink Lentils/Garlic Focaccia/Holy Basil/ Pomegranate was incredible with Green Flash’s Rayon Vert and equally amazing with Societe’s Harlot.

Here’s a small gallery of the food and folks who made the Beer Garden event so special. If you missed Beer Week this year, my advice is don’t wait a whole year to get out and attend some special beer festivals, events, and dinners. You can find a calendar of great beer-centric events all year long at.

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