It took us a few days traveling around San Diego to get the scoop on where to find a few of the gems for great craft beer, but the rewards of persistence started to pay off. Thanks to a tip from the friendly, knowledgeable bartender at The Ritual, we made our way to The Neighborhood (corner of G and 8th Streets). It’s only a block or so off the main drags of the Gaslamp Quarter, but that’s just far enough to keep you from running into it and discovering it on your own. That, and the fact its exterior is pleasant, though relatively nondescript. Once inside you’re treated to a modern, upscale, eclectic interior that was lively even on a Sunday evening. (My pictures didn’t turn out too good for this place, unfortunately)
In The Neighborhood’s words, the place “appeals to the casual connoisseur.” There are 27 taps and they’re filled with a collection of local and regional beers, a few other scattered U.S. brews, and a few from Belgium. And Pabst Blue Ribbon. I’m guessing that’s there to appease that one person in the group who still thinks this whole craft beer thing is a fad. Like many of the better joints in San Diego, The Neighborhood also boasts an impressive list of bottled brews, mainly 22 oz bombers. The menu of hip bar food (and the food itself) look great, too, though we didn’t have time to eat. Patrons ranged from groups of youngish, social professionals to older couples and a few singles folks getting a beer fix. While the decor is modern and very nicely finished, there’s nothing stuffy about the place and it is comfortable and casual. If you time it right, you can grab a table along a window that swings open to let the fresh air in and gives a sense of sitting outside.
I ordered up a pint of Russian River Brewing Co’s Pliny the Elder, a Double IPA (8% abv, 100 ibus,) widely considered a world class beer. In Montana, I don’t get too many opportunities to have world class beers on tap and it was a chance to give it a try and compare it to some of my favorites favorites. Russian River’s Pliny the Younger (a triple IPA) has achieved mythical status, selling out in hours each year on its annual release. Long lines of beer lovers stretch out from the few locations which receive the beer, paying big bucks for a small taste of the brew – and some going home empty handed.
Quite a few writers in the beer blog world are starting to question whether Pliny the Younger and similar, limited release, mythical beers are, first, worth the effort and, second, really that much better that some local favorites. While the drinking frenzy created by these beers is good for the breweries and certainly creates interest in the craft beer world, it also gives the impression that other beers which lack international buzz can’t measure up.
I’ve never tried Pliny the Younger and likely never will, but I did enjoy my pint of Pliny the Elder. World class? Far be it for me to disagree with the thousands of top rated reviews. It is an attractive, bright gold color with a strong, floral hop aroma that also brings out a few citrus notes. It packs quite a lot of hop bitterness up front with both pine and citrus hop flavors competing for attention. Yes, it deserves the buzz it gets, though not at the expense of letting others find some love, too. Which is to say, there’s a lot of good beer out there, so don’t be afraid to find it and declare it your own choice for world class. The Neighborhood is a great place to continue your quest.