Karl Strauss Brewing Company, La Jolla
The La Jolla location of Karl Strauss is beautifully decorated and gives a sophisticated, casual vibe; just what La Jolla is all about, I suppose. Two lunches and a flight of beer came to over $40; those are La Jolla prices, too.
The beer is good, and consistently good. Karl Strauss has regularly won awards for years, and in 2016 they won four medals for their beers plus the Mid-Size Brewing Company of the Year award at the Great American Beer Festival. As a sign of the consistent quality of Karl Strauss, out of the five beers I tried on this occasion (in a sampler flight, don't worry), I rated four of them between 3.5 and 4.25 out of 5. This is the "tightest grouping" I've had to date in a taster flight.
Aurora Hoppyalis (IPA, 7.0% ABV). Straw yellow color, floral aromas, bright citrus and pine flavors, and a crisp, clean finish. This was my favorite of the beers I tried on this trip. That's not surprising since it has won the award two years in a row as the best IPA in California at the California Craft Beer Throwdown. 4.25/5
Mosaic Session IPA (5.5% ABV). This is also a regular award winner (including bronze at GABF 2016) and a solid seller for Karl Strauss. Its golden color carries a slight bitterness, a floral note in aroma and flavor, a soft mouthfeel and a moderately acidic finish. 3.5/5
Our lunch during this visit was "okay." I had a decent but not excellent sausage pizza (Papa John's is much better, for reference). My girlfriend ordered a turkey club sandwich. What she got was a postmodernist deconstruction of a turkey club sandwich. It looked so strange we thought we had received the wrong order and tried to send it back. Open-faced on too-crusty bread with a slab of turkey breast and thick-cut bacon, topped with a leaf of lettuce so you can pick it up.... Not to bash the chef, but people who order a club sandwich are not looking for innovation, they want a comfortable classic. I understand chefs' desire to produce new and exciting food, but sometimes doing the standards well yields the best results. (The same could be said for a lot of brewers, of course.)
Red Trolley Ale (Irish Red Ale, 5.8% ABV). This is a nice red ale. Caramel/toffee and toasted malt flavors, a little spice (brewer notes on Untappd say it started as a Christmas beer). I've had it on tap in other places and it struck me that this batch was perhaps not quite up to the usual standard. But it could have just been me today. 3.5/5
Peanut Butter Cup Porter (5.6% ABV). As you would expect from the name, peanut butter, chocolate and sweetness are all present on the palate. This is not quite as good as Belching Beaver's Peanut Butter Stout but still very tasty. The base stout is solid, I might have liked that better without the PB. 3.5/5
Our server was sometimes hard to track down and didn't seem that interested when he was at our table. We may have gotten the dud of the day; the food runner was very friendly and the rest of the staff seemed to be more competent and attentive than our guy. One notable service feature is that they bring you a taste of a beer that you haven't ordered that they think pairs well with your meal. It is only about an ounce. A full 3 oz sample would be more impressive, but it is free and it is a nice gesture.
Wreck Alley Imperial Stout (9.0% ABV). I found that the high alcohol overpowered the rest of the drink. The brewer's notes on Untappd suggest cellaring bottles of this, and no doubt it would mellow with age. Fresh on draft it is still a fine beer, just not the best thing on offer here. 3/5
One tip for those struggling to park nearby is to use the underground garage across the street and up the block.
Give the Mid-Size Brewery of the Year a try for yourself. They have six locations in San Diego, and several more towards LA.
https://www.karlstrauss.com/visit/la-jolla/ 1044 Wall St, La Jolla, CA 92037