Unless you are familiar with them, the name Pizza Port wouldn’t necessarily make you think about brewing. Certainly pizza makes you think of beer, but not necessarily brewing.
Started in 1987 by Gina and Vince Marsaglia in Solana Beach, Pizza Port is now in 5 locations, all in southern California: 1) Solana Beach, 2) Carlsbad, 3) Ocean Beach, 4) San Clemente, and 5) Bressi Ranch. A bottle shop is also in Carlsbad. Assuming my counting is correct, Pizza Ports have won more medals at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) than any other brewery over the last few years. I say “Pizza Ports” because each location brews unique beers using different head brew masters. Look at these GABF medal numbers: 2007 – 3 medals; 2008 – 7 medals; 2009 – 9 medals; 2010 – 10 medals; 2011 – 13 medals; and 2012 – 6 medals. That’s a whopping 48 GABF medals awarded to Pizza Ports’ beers in the past five years!
And the great news for me is that all of these Pizza Ports are within easy driving distance of my home, with the closest Pizza Port (San Clemente) being less than 1.5 miles away. Hence, I have decided to travel over time to each Pizza Port brewing location to conduct beer reviews.
Each Pizza Port location offers a large selection of Pizza Port and “Guest” beers for its patrons. The beers change periodically with a current beer list for each site maintained on-line.
My first stop is the San Clemente Pizza Port with head brewer Ryan Fields (I haven’t met Ryan as of this writing). The staff at the San Clemente Pizza Port are very friendly and helpful. Every employee I’ve encountered has always worked hard to ensure my dining and drinking experience was the best. At the 2012 GABF, Pizza Port San Clemente won two Gold Medals: 1) American Style Stout: Order in the Port and 2) Scotch Ale: Way Heavy. Here are my tasting notes for the Pizza Port brewed beers I recently have had at the San Clemente Pizza Port, including the two Gold Medal winners.
5th Symphony Saison (6.4% ABV) – 5th Symphony pours a clear and golden straw in color. The beer has a white foam head consisting of tiny bubbles. 5th Symphony has a hay and straw earthy aroma that is pleasantly reminiscent of some Belgian yeast strains. The beer is medium-bodied with a delightful prickly carbonation on the tongue. Flavors of orange rind peels form the front end taste of this beer, followed by hints of earthy hay/straw and peppery spice. 5th Symphony has a dry, spicy and hoppy finish. This is a nice Saison style beer with some unique flavor twists.
SC Chronic Amber Ale (5.2% ABV) – SC Chronic pours a clear amber-copper brown color with white foam head and tiny bubbles. This beer has very faint aromas of red apple skin and nuts. SC Chronic is light-bodied with low carbonation. Light flavors of malt, earthy straw/hay, and even fainter pepper are present. The beer has a mild dry malt finish. This is a very straightforward and simple beer that didn’t excite me.
Happy Trail Pale Ale (5.4% ABV) – Happy Trail pours a clear golden color with tiny white foam bubbles. This beer has a strong and wonderful grapefruit aroma with floral undertones. Happy Trail is medium-bodied with crisp carbonation. Distinct flavors of grapefruit, citrus zest, and herbal hops fill your palate. The beer has a distinct bitter grapefruit pith-like finish that I enjoyed. This is a good, drinkable beer with some unique flavors that I’d enjoy again.
Pier Rat Porter (5.5% ABV) – Pier Rat Porter won a Bronze Medal in the 2011 GABF and a Gold Medal Winner at the World Beer Cup. The beer pours dark black with a tan foam head that has tiny bubbles. Pier Rat Porter has a strong roasted coffee bean aroma with dark chocolate and sweet malt backgrounds. This beer is medium-bodied with a delightfully prickly carbonation. Pier Rat has a nice coffee flavor up front followed by chocolate, roasted malt, biscuit, and a small hint of spice/pepper as part of a crisp finish. The flavors are assertive but not overpowering or over-the-top like many U.S. porters. This is a very drinkable porter that demonstrates subtlety and style.
Way Heavy Scotch Strong Ale (8.5% ABV) – Winner of a Silver Medal at the World Beer Cup and Gold Medal at the GABF, Way Heavy pours a very deep red-brown color (almost looks black in the glass) with a beige foam head consisting of tiny bubbles. This beer has a sweet toffee/caramel and bread aroma . Way Heavy is full-bodied with an absolutely wonderful and rich prickly, peppery carbonation. This beer has complex and integrated flavors of bread/biscuit, pepper, toffee, caramel, and a hint of dark fruit. Way Heavy has a mildly dry finish with some licorice notes. You really need to let this beer just sit in your mouth for a while to fully appreciate the range of flavors. Aye Laddie, this beer is absolutely delicious!
Order in the Port American Stout (9% ABV) – Winner of a Gold Medal at the GABF, Order in the Port pours a dark black color with a tan foam head. This beer has a dark roasted malt and coffee aroma with mild chocolate scent. Order in the Port is medium-bodied with a crisp prickly carbonation. The beer has a wonderful dark chocolate and malt flavor with coffee on the back-end. The finish is dry with chocolate and pepper. This is a very good stout and the brewer did a great job of creating a complex set of flavors that are well-balanced and not over the top.
Humpty Dumpty Belgian-style Tripel with Bourbon Barrel Aging (10% ABV) – Humpty Dumpty pours a golden straw color with a very slight haze and small white foam. This beer has a sweet bourbon aroma with floral notes. Humpty Dumpty is full-bodied and has a light prickly carbonation. Sweet bourbon, grape, hay, and pepper flavors abound with bourbon being the predominate flavor. The beer has a dry pepper finish with an earthy undertone. This beer is not your typical triple but more like drinking a cider. It is definitely a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Two Humpty Dumpty’s are likely to make you fall off you bar stool and “All the King’s horses and all the King’s men will never be able to put you together again!”
I left Pizza Port San Clemente with a renewed respect for their staff and beer brewing ability. I’m looking forward to many returns in the future.