We recently took a field-trip south to the beer-wonderland of San Diego for a tour and tasting at Mission Brewery. The brewery has been located in the historic Wonder Bread factory near the Gaslamp Quarter for a year, and the space is expansive and an inviting spot to enjoy the beers that Brewmaster John Egan is putting together.
The Mission Brewery was originally founded at the turn of the 20th century and housed in the massive brick building that still tands near the 5 freeway on Washington street. The brewery closed it’s doors during prohibition, and it took until 2007 for an entrepreneur to revive the name and begin brewing Mission beer in San Diego again.
After a few years of brewing in industrial areas near Chula Vista and other San Diego suburbs Mission moved into the historic Wonder Bread building near downtown, and they have built a great space filled with natural light, tavern-games, and pair of massive bars that overlook the brewhouse.
Our tour was led by the energetic Uncle Adam, tour guide and expert on the San Diego beer scene. Adam started us of with a flight of tasters before giving us a brief history of the brewery and their operations in the new space. The wood-trestle ceiling and red brick walls are all original construction and they give the brewery a great industrial vibe that remains comfortable. You really feel like the brewers are inviting you in to their workspace for a beer. The old bakery’s flour-silo has been repurposed to hold the base-grain that the brewery uses, and a mill has beed hooked up right to the output of the silo to streamline operations.
The brewhouse was the next stop, and it featured a 30-barrel mash tun that faces towards the tap-room. This openness is a really cool feature of the brewery; there wasn’t a brew happening on the Sunday that we visited, but it would be easy to have a beer and watch the brewers at work during the week. The brewery uses 50-barrel fermenter tanks, and are in the process of doubling their fermenter capacity to 600 barrels total.
There was a small lab-area behind the brewhouse that also housed some carboys filled with after-hours experimental brews that the brewers were conducting, and some firkins conditioning for the weekly Friday Cask-Night at the taproom. Adjacent to this was the bottling machine. The brewery is moving to a new bottling-line that was just installed, but until recently six-at-a-time was the only way they could fill bottles with their beer! A pretty daunting task for a brewery with a four state wide distribution area.
We next got a look into the cold-storage warehouse that was packed full of kegged and bottled beers, and also housed a rack of oak bourbon barrels where the brewery’s Dark Seas Russian Imperial Stout had been aging for nearly nine-months. It sounded like the barrel-aged beer would soon be ready, but Adam wouldn’t reveal what they had in-store for it.
And with a final taster, the tour was complete. Adam didn’t disclose what their yearly production capacity was, and with the addition of 6 more 50-barrel fermenters and a new bottling-line the brewery is clearly growing. The space is really inviting and rich with history, and at just a couple of blocks away from PetCo park, and a quick walk to the Gaslamp proper it is a great place to grab a beer and hangout in downtown San Diego.
The brewery could be beautiful and well-located, but it wouldn’t matter if the beers it produced were unremarkable. Thankfully the whole line-up of beers from Mission were well crafted and tasty examples of their style, and there are even a couple of stand-out brews among the half-dozen that we sampled.
A seasonal release, the Bohemian is a Czech-style pilsner with a bit of west-coast flair added to the hop-bill. The lager was crisp and refreshing and I found the hop character to be a nice mixture of citrus notes popular in California craft beers and the herbal/spicy notes of a traditional pils. Pretty tasty, but no substitute for our favorite fuller-bodied craft pilsners.
The Mission Blonde is a Kolsch-style ale that stays light in body but has a subtle fruit note and a refreshing nobel-hop character. Drinkable and refreshing, this lager-like beer stood-out as a well crafted and subtle take on a classic German Style.
The Mission Hefe was turgid and heavy with banana and pear notes in the nose. There wasn’t quite enough of that crisp wheat flavor that I prefer in a hefe, but the finish was pleasingly long, dry, and full of a more-subtle-than-expected clove note. The beer grew on me throughout the taster, and I think after a full pint of it I’d be a real fan. I’d like to revisit this beer, especially side-by-side with another hefeweizen to compare.
This Alt-Bier-styled amber was big on hop flavor, and it had a carmel-rich malt backbone that kept the hops in-check. The most malt-forward of Mission’s core brews, the Amber still had the hop punch you expect in a San Diego ale. This beer found a lot of fans with those in our group, even those who generally don’t enjoy amber ales.
A classic example of a West Coast IPA with a piney and citrusy combo of Cascade and Centennial hops, the Mission IPA was tasty if unremarkable. It was tough to determine where this beer stands among the multitude of excellent IPAs produced in San Diego, and I’d like to sample this one again before passing judgement.
Shipwrecked Double IPA
This favorite of our tour-group, the Shipwrecked was the only Mission beer that I’d tried before visiting the brewery. It is a big, nearly 10%ABV, double West-Cost-style IPA with an intense malt-body that just manages to balance the complex layers of hop-flavor. The DIPA uses the heavy-hitting varieties of hops to impart flavors that range from resinous pine to grapefruit to an earthy funk that is tough to describe. Shipwrecked is a very fine DIPA that I’d recommend, especially if you enjoy the sweeter and more malty imperial IPAs.
Dark Seas Russian Imperial Stout
The final beer of the tasting was another big imperial ale, this time a dark stout that let the roasted flavors of the malt take center-stage. The beer had a pronounced hop-character without any lingering bitterness and a touch of alcohol heat in the finish. Another good example of a balanced beer from Mission, the Dark Seas was another favorite of our group, even among those who normally shy away from dark and heavy stouts. I really wish that I’d bought a bottle or two of this as I dont’ think I’ve seen it locally. I’ll be on the look-out for it though.
All of the beers we sampled at the brewery were above-average,and the Shipwrecked and Dark Seas were stand-out hits among our group. The brewery also has one of the most open and inviting spaces that we’ve seen for a brewery, and we would love to spend some more time there drinking some beers and playing shuffleboard. The marketing around the name, positioning the brewery as having been “established in 1913”, might be a little hokey, but the beers that they are brewing are well-crafted and tasty. If you’re in San Diego, Mission Brewery is certainly worth visiting, and you can even take-home some beer in a unique 1-gallon plastic growler!
Have you tried Mission Brewery’s beers or been to the brewery? We’d love to hear about what you thought in the comments!
- All Photos by Julie Verive