Beer Molly and I walked into the tasting room for the first time a little over a year ago. The first weekend open to the public, it was deserted except for the two gentlemen standing behind its now signature 30 foot long redwood and stainless bar.
We wandered up to the bar, introductions were made and one of the gentlemen poured us a couple of samples.
We stood for a moment making small talk when Molly, who was still recovering from the effects of a rather late evening, announced, “Iâ€™m tired,” plopped herself down on the breweryâ€™s concrete floor, laid back and went to sleep.
The two bartenders leaned over the bar and looked at Molly snoozing on the floor. I turned to make my apologies when the younger of the two, an intelligent-looking gent with glasses, a shaved head and well-trimmed goatee and mustache, held up a hand, shrugged and said nonchalantly, “happens all the time,” as if it really did.
I knew then I was really going to like the place. And I hadn’t even tasted the beer yet.
The place is Port Brewing Company, home of the Lost Abbey ales, and the intelligent-looking gent is Tomme Arthur, head brewer and a creative genius. Located in San Marcos, California, about 40 miles north of San Diego (and 10 miles from our home), Port Brewing is a spin-off from the famed Pizza Ports where Tomme was a head brewer and two-time Great American Beer Festival brewer of the year.
Port Brewing took over Stone Brewingâ€™s old facility (and much of its brewing equipment) when Stone moved to a larger location about 10 minutes away in Escondido. But while the building and brewing equipment may be the same, literally nothing else is. Where Stone made its name with extreme in-your-face American-style beers like Arrogant Bastard and Ruination, Port is rocking the beer world with complex Belgian-style ales with a California twist that makes them deep, nuanced, and quite unlike anything the beer world has experienced in a long time.
To the first-time visitor, Port Brewingâ€™s external facade is an unassuming industrial building flanked by other denizens of the industrial park worldâ€”paper suppliers, uniform cleaners, courier services, and the like. But once inside, itâ€™s a whole different story.
Your first sight upon entering the brewery proper are racks of barrels stacked three and four tall, tagged with cryptic notes like “awaiting angels on high” and occasionally oozing around the bung. Beyond the barrels you are greeted by the aforementioned redwood and stainless bar above which hang the paintings from which the Lost Abbey labels are taken â€“ big, bold and colorful works from the pastoral to the bizarre and apocalyptic â€“ hints as to the nature of the beers you are about to taste.
The beer taps, a dozen or so, are located at the far right of the bar serving up the specialties of the house. Four Port Brewing standards are on tap: Amigo Lager, Shark Bite Red Ale, Wipeout IPA, and Old Viscosity, an American Dark Strong Ale. Occasionally you will also find a special Port beer such as HOP 15 or High Tide fresh hopped IPA, next to them. But the real reason people come to the tasting room is to sample the Lost Abbey beers.
If youâ€™re a newcomer, you will want to you work through the whole flight of Lost Abbey ales, from lightest to the darkest. This time of year that means starting with the summer seasonal, Devotion, a 6% Belgian Blonde ale that beer pundit Michael Jackson called a “dangerously drinkable brew that makes a wonderful and sophisticated cocktail beer for the warmer months.”
Devotion should be followed the farmhouse-style Red Barn, the Biere de Garde, Avant Garde, and the abbey-style Lost and Found. If youâ€™ve never been a fan of the Belgian styles of beer, youâ€™re quite likely to become one. Each of these is a taste treat unto itself with accents of fruits, spices and just enough mischief to remind you that these arenâ€™t just beers, they are the collective works of a brewer who has been termed “a rock star”, “Moses”, and an “evil genius”.
The Lost Abbey flight ends fittingly with a massive Belgian Quad called Judgment Day. A 10.5% ABV beer brewed with raisins, its huge flavor profile leaves most feeling as if theyâ€™ve gone to heaven. (And if they go through an entire 750ml bottle, the next day, perhaps hell.)
The Barrel Room
While sampling you may simply stand and discuss your impressions with the Port staff and other patrons. But if youâ€™re adventurous, you will want to wander to the end of the bar and into the room over which is carved the phrase “In Illa Brettanomyces Nos Fides” (In Brettanomyces we trust). That is the Lost Abbey Barrel Room.
Itâ€™s a massive space with rows of wine, bourbon, sherry and French oak barrels racked 20 feet high and filled with some of the most sought after beers in the world — The Angelâ€™s Share, Cuvee de Tomme, and many others. Most are labeled with the type of barrel, the contents, and barreling date, but some, curiously, have no information at all. Ask whatâ€™s in those casks and youâ€™ll get only a wry smile and an enigmatic answer: “good things waiting for the right time.” Just another mystery of the Lost Abbey.
Tasting Room Hours & Directions
Port Brewing is located right off of the 78 Freeway in San Marcos. Many visitors who drop by do a “the 78 12 mile brewery tour”, starting of at Pizza Port in Carlsbad on the coast and working their way inland through Oggiâ€™s Brewing, Backstreet Brewing, Green Flash Brewing, Port Brewing and finally winding up at Stone Brewing at the other end. But youâ€™ll definitely want to make a little extra time for your stop at Port. The atmosphere is a little more relaxed and comfortable, which is a necessity when slowing down to taste all these good Belgian-style beers.
The tasting room is open Fridays from 4pm to 8pm and Saturdays from noon to 4pm. Quite often Tomme Arthur is available to and answer questions, discuss beer and his brewing philosophy. Tastings are modestly priced (around $4 for a flight, I believe), and pints, bottled beers and growler fills are also sold on premises.
A map to the brewery and driving directions from San Diego and Lost Angeles / Orange County can be found here:
» Map & Directions