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My December excursion to Europe to visit craft breweries left me thirsty for tasty San Diego beer, which I indulged in as soon as I got off the plane. Still, due to the all-consuming holidays and some post-New Year’s catch-up, it took me a while before I could engage in one of my favorite beer journalist activities—beer touring. Checking in and checking back with numerous breweries is essential. There are over 60 operating brewhouses in San Diego County and over 30 in the planning stages. It takes constant monitoring of the scene and a great deal of effort to stay on top of all of that. It’s something that can’t be done from the comfort of one’s office. Getting out is a must. This week’s entries chronicle visits to five spots during my latest outing.

My research excursion began in North County at Offbeat Brewing Company (1223 Pacific Oaks Place, Suite 101, Escondido). I’ve been there several times since they opened five months ago as it’s in close proximity to my day-job office at Stone Brewing Co. The business has received a lot of early support from the gargoyle clan thanks in part to sheer geography as well as the fact Offbeat’s owner and brewmaster, Tom Garcia, used to be part of Stone’s production staff.

From the get-go, it’s been apparent that Garcia has skills. The flavors of his beers fall in line with stylistic guidelines and, often, offer flavor that's a cut above the norm. A textbook example is his Bear Arms Brown, an English-style brown ale that manages to be both refreshing and robust at the same time. Nutty flavor comes on up front followed by roasty notes that stick around after each gulp. It’s bolder than the browns in jolly olde England, as any beer produced in Southern California should be.

Offbeat has had as many as seven beers on-tap at one time since opening, but the total number fluctuates. On my last visit, there were only three beers, which speaks to one of the company’s biggest challenges so far—making enough beer. Not a bad problem to have…unless it becomes an ever-present issue. Unfortunately, it has been a bit of an issue, but one they hope to overcome soon.

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The other two beers I sampled were a session (low-alcohol) English-style pale ale called Girafficopter. The 5.3% alcohol-by-volume brew had a creamy mouth-feel and was low on bitterness. It reminded me a lot of the beers I had in pubs over in London. As it warmed, subtle nuances of honey and sage came out. Like many of the beers at Offbeat, it was a bit low on carbonation, which makes a difference with less bold and alcoholic beers like this one.

Next came Deer Grandpa Abbey Ale, a medium-bodied Belgian-style ale that, though unclassified by the brewery, tasted like a take on a dubbel. Flavors of pumpernickel, prunes, and dark chocolate comingle pretty effectively, giving way to a dry finish that’s a symbol of quality for this style. When done badly, dubbels are overly sweet, nearly sticky. This one doesn't coat or hang around too long. It’s a nice beer.

As far as the space itself goes, Offbeat is just that—pleasantly quirky an artistic way. Rotating artwork and a huge mural spanning the west wall (that you can see in my original pre-open post about Offbeat) interlock nicely with artwork above the bar that coincides with the names of the beers, as well as chalk scribbling from adults and children alike in the corner leading from the bar to Garcia’s office. It’s a fun tasting space—or late-in-the-day locale for Team Stone meetings.

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