Mike Hess Brewing, North Park
I really like the Mike Hess Brewing location in North Park. My girlfriend lives nearby, and we saw this place one night as we were walking around.
If a 1970s sunken living room mated with a postmodern warehouse, this location would be their love child--their bearded hipster lovechild. The brewing tanks are in the sunken part, with a floating walkway between them that takes you up to a polished-concrete-floored main room whose exposed metal rafters are playfully strewn with white holiday lights. There are a variety of large and small wooden tables with high metal chairs. The scene is generally very chill, but it can get busy on Friday and Saturday nights. The bar curves to enclose one back corner. Nestled within that curve is some of the best beer I've ever had.
You know you are in a working brewery as soon as you walk in. You can see and hear--and smell--everything that goes into making the delicious nectar you are about to enjoy. That also means, however, that there is no air conditioning. They do leave the front and back open and there is a pleasant cross breeze even on the hottest days.
My first time here, I had a flight. For $15 you get five generous tasters (4oz) and a poker chip. When you are done you can exchange the poker chip for a Mike Hess glass. There are a variety of different Hess beer logos on the glasses to choose from. Not every beer o/n tap has a glass, and not every glass represents a beer that is currently being poured, but the collection is impressive. They also offer a (smaller) selection of brew-specific t-shirts that are very nice. I have one. It is comfy and it makes me feel like a real San Diegan.
The glasses, by the way, are really cool. The graphic artist who designs the logos for each beer is very talented. Each logo is beautiful--usually a play on an animal or mythical creature, each rendered in a single color, all different but obviously part of a set. I'm impressed.
And I'm also impressed with the glass shape itself. It is a play on a beer can, with a concave lip for easy sipping. It holds, appropriately, exactly the amount of beer contained in the 16oz cans you can buy in six-packs to take home. Perhaps most impressively, however, if you bring the glass in on a Monday or Tuesday they will fill it with the beer of your choice for just $4 ($1 or more off regular price). That means the more you drink, the less your original flight really cost!
The six-packs ($15.99 for six 16 oz cans) seem to be limited to the top sellers: Habitus, 8 West (formerly called Jacundus), Grazias, Solis, Claritas, and maybe a few others. Availability varies. More and more often I see their cans at the store. The cans themselves are notable because the whole top comes off, not just a pull tab, essentially turning the can into a glass and thereby improving the drinking experience by giving your nose access to the aromas that help make beer so wonderful.
Befitting the San Diego craft beer scene, there are a lot of IPAs on tap. On the day I wrote this, 7 of the 12 beers on tap were IPAs, including a double rye, a triple, a double red, a tangerine and a grapefruit. They are all excellent. (Also typical of the current trend in craft beers, the ABVs are high, ranging from 7.5% for those based on Hop-to-it-us, to 8% for the double IPA and 12.3% for the triple.)
One of the staples here, the Habitus Double Rye IPA (or a "RyePA" as I always think of it) won a Gold Medal at the 2014 World Beer Competition and bronze at the 2016 Los Angeles International Beer Competition. It is easy to see why. It is balanced, subtle, flavorful, and eminently drinkable. This is one of my favorite beers and I bring it home in cans quite often. 4.5/5
Hess does subtle and flavorful as an art form. The 8 West (named for the nearby highway to the beach) is an orange wheat. It is the best example of that variety that I have ever had. (That's saying something, I've had a lot of orange wheats in my day.) When I had my first flight here this beer nearly made me swoon. It is so subtle, so well balanced, and yet the orange flavor still comes through. Around that time I had been drinking a fair bit of Hangar 24 Orange Wheat (from up in Redlands, near where I worked at the time), and 8 West showed me what an orange wheat should be. In comparison, Hangar's orange wheat is clunky, overpowering and unsophisticated--and I used to like it! 4.5/5
The Tangerine Hop-to-it-us is similarly subtle and flavorful at the same time. These guys know how to do citrus beers. (Too bad I don't like grapefruit or I'd try the Grapefruit Solis, too. Maybe some day.) 4/5
HessFest 6 Double Red IPA was brewed for the recent 6th anniversary celebration. It is a worthy beer to celebrate the brewing achievements of this place. Smooth with a lovely toasted malt sweetness and slight spice on the finish, it would be easy to have too many of these. 4.5/5
The Infinity+1 Triple IPA that I had today surprisingly was not as hoppy as I expected. In comparison to some San Diego IPAs that seem to be trying to smack you in the face with the hops (Stone, particularly Ruination, comes to mind), this one is relatively mild. At 12.5% you definitely taste (and feel) the alcohol on the finish. It is a good beer, but there are so many other better beers here I'm not sure I would ever order a pint of it. 4/5
In a small renovation earlier this summer, they replaced the former chalkboard menu wall directly behind the bar with a cool metal structure off to the side that holds metal nameplates for each of the beers currently on tap. The new board looks great, but I miss the chalkboard because it used to list the IBUs of each brew and the new board just lists ABV. The black cotton sheet covering the place where the chalkboard used to be looks a bit chintzy but maybe its only temporary.
Overall Mike Hess is one of my favorite breweries and I'll be back here often.
Update: Mike Hess Brewing was named San Diego's Best Brewery of 2016 by the readers of SD City Beat!
3812 Grim Ave, San Diego, CA 92104