Sunday 20th May 2012
Karl Strauss was born in 1912 at his father's brewery in Minden, Germany. He trained in brewing and malting sciences at the famous Technical University of Munich in their Weihenstephan faculty at Freising. As this was in the 1930s and he was Jewish, he emigrated to the USA in February 1939. By May 1939 he had found his way to Milwaukee, Wisconsin; back then the country's brewing capital.
He started work at the Pabst Brewery and, despite his qualifications, started at the bottom. Yet, over the years, he quickly moved up the ladder until, in 1960 he became their Vice President of Production, overseeing all of the company's brewing activities. In the 1950s he worked on the reformulation of Blue Ribbon, the Pabst flagship brand. He retired in 1983. This is quite a story on its own, but it should be taken in the context of the USA being a safe haven for those persecuted in their homeland. For it to then to provide a setting for refugees to go forward with equal opportunities to rise as high as is possible, that's when it becomes a truly inspirational country.
Chronologically, just after Mr Strauss retired, Chris Krar and Matt Rattner, had recently graduated and wanted to start up a micro-brewery and pub. Chris was related to Karl Strauss and sought his advice. He proved to be extremely helpful and influential in the setting up of the pub, the choice of beers, and many other aspects of the business, so much so that the two partners named the brewery after him.
It opened on Columbia Street in downtown San Diego on 2nd February 1989 and was an instant success. So much so, that over the following years the capacity of the brewery quadrupled from its original 10 bbls (Brewer's barrels) capacity.
However this wasn't enough, as there was heavy demand from bars for their beers and they had opened some other Karl Strauss pubs.
In 1995 a new brewery was constructed in a valley alongside Interstate 5, inland from Pacific Beach, and north of the metropolitan area. This area is quite wild and I observed deer from the trains on the railway that passes by it. Being adjacent to I5 does not guarantee good access by public transport. But this has only just become an important point since they opened a tasting room at the brewery. However, it is cyclist-friendly. Please see the photograph (right), which is not a work of art as it was taken through the window of a passing train.
I entered the original brew pub in San Diego and was immediately impressed with the comfortable surroundings.
The brewery is visible to the right of the entrance from both the street and inside the pub with a merchandise counter in front. The long bar is to be found on the same side of the room. I noticed that there was half-height wood panelling along the walls and all of the furniture was varnished wood.
The beer list was very extensive with the four beers of the normal range listed first:
Red Trolley Ale (5.8%); Tower 10 IPA (7.0%); Pintail Pale Ale (5.3%); Karl Strauss Amber Lager (4.2%).
Then there was the Imperial Collection, which are super-strength ales:
Tower 20 IPA (9.5%); Wreck Alley Imperial Stout (9.5%); Off the Rails (8.5%)
There was a special brewed for American Craft Beer Week:
ACBW Vintage Barley Wine (9.5%).
The three seasonal beers were:
Endless Summer Light (3.4%); Woodie Gold (4.6%); Windandsea Weizen (5.1%).
Finally there was a Brewer's Choice:
Belgian Trippel (abv unknown).
I tried five of these and this is my thoughts on them, taken from my notes:
Red Trolley Ale was a fair representation of the Irish Red Ale style and I quite liked it. Off the Rails described itself as a hopped-up version of Double Red Trolley Ale. Well, I didn't see the Double interpretation of Red Trolley, only the basic recipe, described above. So, I'm not able to compare but I will say that I thought it quite good and I noted that it didn't drink its strength.
Tower 10 IPA was a contradiction in tastes as it was strangely both dry and fruity. It wasn't quite the normal West Coast IPA style that is prevalent around here, yet enjoyable nevertheless.
Pintail Pale Ale tasted more like a Red Ale. I thought it was just about OK, but to my mind there was an imbalance between malt and hops with there being too much emphasis on the former.
I asked the bartender if he knew what beers came from the main plant and which were from the brewery in-house. He said that he wasn't completely sure but thought most came from the Head Office. However he said that the Belgian Trippel was definitely brewed here. So that was my next choice. I thought it was very sour but there was some bitterness. It was all right if you like that type of beer.
The original brewery that I was visiting has now expanded into a chain of pub restaurants, stretching as far north as Orange and Riverside Counties, close to Los Angeles. Those that have in-house micro-breweries are to found at La Jolla; Carlsbad; Costa Mesa; 4 S Ranch, San Diego and Temecula. There is also a nano-brewery installed at the Sorrento Mesa branch that is used for research and development purposes. The only restaurant without any brewing facilities is the one in the famous tourist attraction of Universal City. Finally, there is the newly opened Tasting Room at the main brewery itself.
All of their restaurants offer Happy Hours and there are also cask beer nights in them, normally on a Thursday. I've only been to one, the subject of this article; it was an enjoyable experience. So there is no excuse not to visit if you in San Diego, especially as it is just two blocks from the classic Santa Fe station.
Karl Strauss Brewery Restaurant - Downtown, 1157 Columbia Street, San Diego 92101
Tel: 01 619 234 2739
Open: Monday-Thursday 11.00-23.00; Friday 11.00-24.00;
Saturday 11.30-24.00; Sunday 11.30-22.00
On each day the last orders are taken about an hour before closing.
The restaurant closes promptly as above.
The restaurant is one block from the America Plaza Trolley Station and is two blocks from the beautiful San Diego Sante Fe depot (station) that is served by Amtrak trains to Los Angeles and beyond. It also hosts the Coaster trains to Oceanside, where there are connections to the trains of Sprinter and Metro Link.
The Trolley also operates from here along with many local bus routes.