4646 Convoy Street, San Diego
So this is it? The Holy Grail? Where the Beer Capital of the New World was born? I’m fresh off the number 44 bus, searching through a typical Kearny Mesa strip mall. Yogurt World, Tofu House, then…ahh. On the corner, a place buzzing with guys, mostly, beer mugs in hand, crowding a covered patio, like they’re at some team’s annual reunion. O’Brien’s Pub. One of the first San Diego beer meccas.
That’s the word, anyway. It’s Friday night, around 7:00. I head inside. The bar runs down the left side, chairs and tables on the right. The walls are green. Not that you’d notice, what with the zillion signs: “The Hoppiest Place on Earth”; “Good Beer, Good Cheer”; “Great Minds Drink Alike.” I haul myself onto the one spare bar stool. Taps galore — I count 20 — tells you how serious they are about draft beer.
As I said, I’d heard about this place. One of the pioneers of a San Diego revolution. At the World Beer Cup held in Chicago this year, San Diego County breweries won more Best Beer medals than — get this — Germany or Belgium or the UK, and way more than Milwaukee. And O’Brien’s brewed a beer, O’Brien’s IPA, that won gold for “American-style strong pale ale,” out of 59 entries.
So, hey, where to begin? “Any recommendations?” I ask Scott, the guy on my left.
“Well, don’t even bother with bottles,” he says. “They have so many great drafts. If you like hoppy, you can’t go wrong with Alpine Duet or Alpine’s Pure Hoppiness.”
“San Diego’s Alpine?”
“Our Alpine — Alpine Brewing Company made that winning IPA with O’Brien’s. Or Sculpin IPA’s good. That’s from Ballast Point Brewery, Linda Vista, just below USD. Ballast Point, they’re the World Champion Small Brewery this year.”
Wow. Incredible. San Diego’s the new Milwaukee, but nobody knows.
Actually, Scott’s drinking a Deschutes Hop Henge IPA from Oregon, and the guy on my right, who is also named Scott, is downing a pint of Pliny the Elder, from Sonoma County. Scott the First’s lady, Lynn, is drinking Alpine’s Pure Hoppiness.
So: support the home team. I ask the bartender gal for Pure Hoppiness ($4.75). It’s hoppy, all right. Like, hoppy and heady.
’Course, I know I’ve got to lay down a lining of food on ye olde stomach. Scott on my right (he’s a PGA caddy from Del Mar) is already munching a way-big sandwich. “A roast beef torta,” he says. “It’s good. Like a big fat hamburger, with french fries. Not bad for seven bucks.”
“And what’s that?” I ask the other Scott. He and Lynn are spooning away at a rich, golden soup with tortilla strips and taking chomps from some kind of blue cheese burger. “This soup is to die for,” Scott says. “It’s a meal in itself. It’s the special tonight, chicken poblano. The Stilton burger, too…”
“Stilton, the godfather of blue cheese,” says the bartender, Tiffany (“People call me ‘Tiff’”). “It’s awesome.” I see it on the specials list. “Stilton Bob’s Stilton Burger.” Talks about blue cheese, bacon, third-of-a-pound patty. Scott’s looks big, with a domed bun on top of lots of spinach leaves, purple onion, tomato, and the blue cheese melting over the patty below.
“The bacon’s crisp, and the meat’s juicy, not fatty,” says Lynn.
“The quality’s right up there,” says Scott. “Trust me. My dad was a health inspector.”
What the heck. I order a small chicken poblano soup ($3.95, small; $5.75, large) and the Stilton burger ($8.25). Couple of minutes later, one of the other bartenders, Micaela, lays down an American flag table mat and then an oval plastic basket with my big burger cradled inside. It’s fresh, hot, and reeks of blue cheese. Great. I take a chomp, then grab a slurp of the Pure Hoppiness. What a combo. Beautiful.
But the real pleasure comes from the bowl of golden soup. So rich. The tortilla strips and cheese on top give it a tanginess and a crunch. Man... For a while, I don’t even bother with the burger and beer. Is there a word for delicious, but better? Interesting thing is, flavorwise, it all goes so well with the hoppy-bitter IPA beer.
I suddenly wonder: what is IPA? I ask O’Brien’s owner, Tom Nickel. “India Pale Ale,” he says. “Back in the 1800s, the British discovered that if they put lots of hops and alcohol in the beers they were sending out to their troops in India, the beer wouldn’t go sour on the four-month voyage. The alcohol and the hops acted as preservatives.”
Huh. I finish my Pure Hoppiness, but still have most of the burger to go. So, one more beer. Ten ounce, this time. North Coast Old Rasputin Imperial Stout on Nitro ($3.75).
“Careful,” says Scott, the caddy. He points to the white-board list. “If it’s written in red, it’s strong ale.”
“That isn’t a problem,” I say. “I have my own chauffeur.” ■
The Place: O’Brien’s Pub, 4646 Convoy Street (between Opportunity and Dagget), 858-715-1745
Type of Food: American
Prices: Chicken poblano soup, $3.95 (small), $5.75 (large); Stilton burger (with blue cheese, bacon), $8.25; basket of garlic fries, $3.95; brewer’s plate (grilled hot links, fresh fruit, cheeses), $8.95; chicken Caesar salad, $6.95; spicy roast beef sandwich, $6.25; pesto prosciutto melt, $5.95; smoky Southwest burger (with bacon, pepper jack, onion rings), $7.50; half chicken cashew sandwich with small soup or Caesar salad, $6.95
Kitchen Hours: 11.00 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Monday–Thursday; 11.00 a.m.–10:30 p.m., Friday; noon–10:00 p.m., Saturday; noon–5:00 p.m., Sunday
Buses: 27, 44
Nearest Bus Stop: Convoy and Engineer (northbound); Convoy and Opportunity (southbound)