The tasting room at Quantum Brewery in Kearny Mesa
5375 Kearny Villa Road, San Diego
One of the best things about the San Diego brewing scene is the fact that most of its players opt to regard each other as comrades versus competitors. Sure, they produce similar products and vie for the attention and dollars of beer drinkers, but it’s one of the least volatile business environments around. Working together and taking pride in the growth of the region’s reputation en masse is a big part of why San Diego has become known to most as the country’s foremost locale for craft beer. And it turns out that collaborative spirit is contagious, because the week before last, I met a fellow San Diego beer writer at Quantum Brewery (5375 Kearny Villa Road, #116, Kearny Mesa) to check the place out and review their wares.
It might have felt awkward, spending one-on-one time with a competitor, especially since the writer in question was Ian Cheesman, the beer scribe for The San Diego Reader’s direct opponent, San Diego CityBeat, but we go way back. We met before either of us wrote for either of the aforementioned publications and have since been fans of each other’s work. I think he’s the funniest writer I’ve ever met and, per his published comments, he’s a fan of my “beautifully coiffed” hair. Throw in the fact we can spend hours playing off one another’s quips and questionably hilarious lead-ins, and enjoying beer with him is always a pleasure. But it’s more cerebral than I’m letting on. We take what we do seriously and respect this town’s brewers, making it almost a wonder we’ve never tag-teamed a review before.
Two beer writers' fondness for each other conveyed via an equation on Quantum Brewery's chalkboard wall
Quantum has been open for a few months. Some of the more active brewery tourists I know visited it during the earliest days of its soft-open period. After that, some people told me the business was closed when they went to check it out, ostensibly so the tasting room could be finished. However, per comments extracted from my book, the Complete Guide to San Diego Breweries, they speculated the closure was probably to “improve the beers.” Still, I was hopeful coming into this experience. Especially after receiving a warm welcome from a delightful bar attendant who maintained an exemplary level of attentiveness over the entire tasting room for the two-plus hours we were there. I remained in a positive mood following a first sip of Hadron Wheat Collider, a light-bodied Bavarian wheat with big banana character and some lemon tartness on the backend. Sadly, that was where the good times fell off from a beer perspective.
What followed was a taste-through of six beers with a lot in common, not much of it good. Most of Quantum’s ales come across as watery. Even when trademark style flavors are present, such as with Pale’s Constant Pale Ale, which has good citrus notes—they are wasted in a beer so flabby it can’t convey them in a pleasurable manner. Ditto aroma. A session IPA dubbed Chain Reaction smells like a million bucks with aromas of tropical fruits galore wafting from the golden quaff, but that belies what awaits beneath the surface of this thin, bitter number that’s not the all-night sipper any beer drinker’s looking for. If anything, it illustrates why session IPAs are so hard to get right. On the double IPA front, the 9.19% ABV Project 919 exhibits all kinds of caramel flavors and maybe a bit of mango, but it tastes more like root vegetables than fruit or pine.
A taster set from San Diego's Quantum Brewing
Better than the rest was a stout called Singularity that was still very thin, but at least offered flavors expected from the style. Even subdued, they were more welcome than what was offered by the hoppier stock. But that wasn’t the only good thing that came from my visit to Quantum. Like I said before, the service was outstanding. Also, there’s a chalkboard wall people are allowed to apply their personal brands of graffiti to. Cheesman and I went with IC+BH=HEART2+BEER. OK, so maybe our senses of humor aren’t as mature as I originally implied. But my cohort proved his intelligence, going off into a rant about how boron (the name of Quantum’s brown ale) is elementally atomic whereas quantum effects are subatomic. As you might have guessed, this was where I decided it was best if we parted ways. I’m OK sharing conversation over a topic I understand — beer — but not up for pretending to any degree that I understand this heady (and kind of boring) subject matter.
But I doubt it’s the last time we’ll collectively tackle the sampling of a brewery’s beers. I’ve always made it a practice to bring others along to help ensure that I don’t get anything wrong or lean too heavily toward my personal tastes. Doing so with a colleague was quite enjoyable. And the best part is now I get to check out his account of the day. I hope he spells my name right…and avoids talking about the whole “boron thing.”