ChuckAlek Independent Brewers, Ramona (closed)
[Note added 7/24/2018: ChuckAlek has announced that due to declining business and the fact that the owners are moving out of state to take new jobs, the Ramona brewery will close at the end of July 2018 and the North Park Biergarten will close at the beginning of September 2018.]
This review wraps up my three-brewery tour of Ramona and Julian, after Smoking Cannon Brewery and Nickel Beer Co. Located in the same strip mall as the best Thai restaurant in Ramona (really, it is a good Thai restaurant), the ChuckAlek main brewery is a lot smaller than the ChuckAlek Biergarten in North Park. In contrast to how beautiful the North Park location is, this spot seemed cramped, dark and ugly--but to be fair it is just a typical brewery tasting room in a commercial space. There were ten beers on tap. Since I had had several ChuckAlek beers before and this was the end of a long day, I limited myself to three tasters on this occasion. From my memory of my experience at the North Park location, I expected more.
Dowser (Altbier, 5.4% ABV). Something was wrong. Oniony, peppery, vegetal, sour. I liked it a lot better when I had it in November 2016. 2.5/5
Forman Bitter (English Bitter, 5.5% ABV). Dominant Belgian-like yeast esters, which I don't think can be right in this style. 2.5/5
Archive 1850 Runner (English Porter, 6.3% ABV). Nice. Biscuity, with flavors that remind me of Bear Roots’ Bear Cookie. Not as dark as most porters, and it tastes a little thin. 3.5/5
Something that bugs me at breweries is when I let the staff know that something is wrong with a beer and they just defend the beer. That's what happened on this visit, when I pointed out that the altbier tasted oniony and peppery--definitely not part of the altbier style. The bartender tasted it himself and said, "Yeah, I see what you mean. I've never thought about it that way before, but that's just what this beer tastes like." Then your beer is bad! Don't look like a fool, just say, "Thank you for the feedback, I'll talk to the brewer," even if you disagree with the customer's critique. Automatically comping a beer that the customer thinks is "off" should be a no-brainer, too, even if the customer is wrong, but that didn't happen in this case either. The $2 wouldn't have mattered to me, but I bet the gesture would have changed the tone of this review…. About 1000 people per day read my reviews on Yelp, so I'm guessing the net effect for ChuckAlek will be a lot more than -$2. (That's not a threat or a brag, just pointing out that you never know what kind of ripple effect less-than-stellar service is going to have, so always go above-and-beyond.)
Anyway, despite the service lapse (I don't even mind that that beer wasn't right, that happens even at the best places, like the last time I was at Mikkeller in Miramar), this is a spot worth checking out if you are nearby. The North Park location is a lot better, though, so you can probably save yourself the trip to Ramona.
http://www.chuckalek.com/ 2330 Main St, Ramona, CA 92065