The city of Encinitas hasn’t been 100-percent welcoming to local breweries eyeing its downtown retail district along the Coast Highway. The local planning committee is hesitant to permit any brewery presence, and even when it grants permission, organized appeals from opposed citizens and law enforcement have threatened to revoke it.
629 South Coast Highway, Encinitas
Nevertheless, last August, Culture Brewing Co. rallied enough local support to become the first brewery to open a tasting room here. And judging by a recent visit, the effort was worth it.
On a Sunday afternoon at 2:30, I found the place filled up, with more people than seats. As at Culture’s locations in Solana Beach and Ocean Beach, there’s a definite beachy vibe to this crowd. I spotted lots of cut-off denim shorts, swimsuits worn under street clothes, and a whole lot of people wearing sunglasses indoors.
In truth, the suntanned clientele provides most of the atmosphere. The taproom’s essentially a concrete box with a bar in one corner, and a window counter overlooking the Encinitas sidewalk. A smattering of upright oak barrels serve as small tables. There aren’t a ton of places to put your beer.
Only after I’d ordered a tasting flight did I realize this presented a problem. Many breweries offer trays to hold a flight of small glasses, but Culture’s not one of them. I was served five Belgian tulip glasses, and no tray. I couldn’t even carry the bulbous glasses at once, so when I imposed on a couple to share their barrel tables, it took two trips from the bar for my flight to fill their small tabletop.
Nobody seemed to mind. In fact, we weren’t the only people in the joint sharing space, and when that couple promptly finished their beers and left, two other parties joined me. One of them was an Encinitas resident, who’s made visiting the taproom something of a weekend ritual since it opened last summer. She drops by during walks with her dog, and orders the same thing every time: Mosaic IPA.
That was part of my flight, and bore the Mosaic hop’s characteristic musky grapefruit aroma — terrific if you’re a fan of hop oil slickness in your IPA. I liked it slightly more than the nice, bready Tart Cherry Wit, and considerably more than my flight’s weakest link: a Hoppy Wheat Ale that boasted an incredibly smooth body, but proved light on flavor.
Unsurprisingly, my favorite pours were of Culture’s recent Great American Beer Festival medal winners. The 2017 bronze medal blonde ale drank like a pale ale with the bitterness dialed way down, for an only lightly bitter finish. The 2016 gold medal brown especially did it for me. It showed a maple aroma, which translated to sweet toffee notes hitting the palate. However, it reined in the sweetness to stay beautifully dry; almost always my beer preference.
It’s been more than a year since I last dug into Culture’s lineup, and in that time it’s promoted Aleks Kostka to head brewer. I’d say she’s raised the overall quality of the brewery’s beer, but that Culture Encinitas desperately needs more seating.
However, after taking a look at the town’s other craft beer bars, which were also packed on a Sunday afternoon, it’s possible the whole town simply needs more places to sit and drink.