Nano Brewery In North County San Diego

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Is it just me or is everyone facing the beer?

Dan and I were invited to a beer tasting party at WillRich Homebrew this past weekend and we were certainly eager to find out what they had cooked up over the brutal San Diego winter.   By that I mean the winter where we had to endure the phone calls from our friends and family members that live in other places that had epic bad weather all winter, while we had Camelot-like weather and barely felt guilty, but had to pretend like we did. Phew! This was our second tasting here, one year after our first, which was quite enjoyable so we had high hopes for the afternoon.

OK, we confess. This is a home brewing operation and not commercial, not available to the public, but it should be. More on that later!

We arrived to a hand written sign on the front door, “Beer Tasting, Come on In, Don’t Let the Dog Out”. Wow, brave party throwers, way to get party crashers! Richard and Susan’s adorable something-poo dog ran to meet us at the door with three big woofs which I correctly interpreted to mean “what did you bring me?” allowed us to admire him briefly and then went off looking for someone who was better equipped to fulfill his wishes. Susan greeted us more conventionally, very warmly, no woofing and she did not ditch us when we revealed no treats. She did however, urge us to scurry on out and get some liquid refreshment.

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“Step up to the bar! What can we pour you?”

Richard and his son William collaborate on this venture and they had set up a nice canopy and tables to display the eleven varieties (over achievers!!) of beer they had concocted and cover the coolers and taps necessary to supply their eager tasters. They had an excellent turnout for the party so they were very busy pouring, tapping, explaining and describing the beer.

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Synchronized Explaining. Like Father, Like Son

This season’s lineup was all clever galactic names like “Big Bang Brown” and “Satellite Steam Ale”.   They went from the lightest imaginable to very dark, and they even popped a bottle of mead! Ales, IPA’s and yup, that just exhausted what I can tell you about beers because frankly, I am not a beer person and I started socializing with some of the wonderful people at the party when Richard and William started talking to Dan about “hops ratios” and some such stuff.

One couple we really had a great time with, Glenn and Beth, kept us well entertained and engaged all afternoon. I kept trying to figure out who Glenn reminded me of though, and I am horribly embarrassed to have finally figured it out in the car on the way home! We were even discussing how much we love the show…he looks so much like Leonard, Johnny Galecki on Big Bang Theory. We had also discussed our awkward celebrity encounters and how we had probably walked right past a lot of famous people without noticing. It made me think for a quick second that I had done an extreme example of exactly that! But Glenn is much cuter, so I think I am safe. Susan, Richard and William have very cool friends that are fun to hang out with. It makes for a wonderful party but it didn’t exactly work out in their favor because none of us wanted to say goodbye to our newly met besties and we stayed well past the suggested end of the party as listed on the invitation to continue our conversation and camaraderie. Forgive us, excellent hosts, we were having such a good time!

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We were treated to a tour of the “brewery” itself during the festivities. This was impressive on many levels. First of all, who has time to stop in the middle of a party and lead a group of people on a tour? Masterful Richard, masterful! Secondly, this was set up in their garage. Now, we have a house that used to have inside parking for four cars but now has no inside parking at all. In fact, you can’t really get another bicycle in the garage. I would die before I would lead a party full of people into our garage! The liability alone makes me shudder. But Richard and Susan? Their garage is pristine! You could make beer in it!   They have designated a nice amount of space for the brewery and Richard and William have designed a great system that Richard kindly explained to us all. Someone pointed out that the freezer we were leaning on looked a little suspicious and I started thinking about the similarities of this operation to “Breaking Bad” and how if Jesse showed up I was going to be very excited and very scared at the same time. This is definitely more “Breaking Bad” light, as if it were written for the ABC Family channel. But hey, we’re in suburban North County San Diego! Nevertheless, I wander back out to the backyard and the sweet California sunshine.

The beers they produce in that pristine environment were pronounced by all as quite excellent. They had the eleven different varieties or styles and I was told that they all were very indicative of the style they were going for, but drinkable. I guess a lot of times the local breweries will push the styles to the extreme so that they are almost unpleasant but Richard and William kept the character of the styles without making them overwhelming to anyone who isn’t a fan of extremism. The two lightest of the beers I really enjoyed as they tasted more like a punch to me, a little citrusy and refreshing with barely a beer taste. They will be terrific for summer afternoons, just like Richard said they were going for.  With our thriving micro-brewery industry here in San Diego I think they should be considering a bigger operation. It really was unanimous, everyone had a favorite and everyone was impressed. It was certainly nice of these guys to invite so many of us over to help them “clean out” some of their stock. Any time guys, any time! Sorry Susan, you shouldn’t be such a good hostess. And William, you’re right, you should put out a tip jar.

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Falconry Lesson. Yup, Really!

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Recently we had Mark, a dear friend of mine from college and his wonderful long time partner, Don, come down and spend a weekend with us. Mark always finds something interesting to do and this time was no exception. He found a falconry class on Living Social. When Mark first told me about the chance to do this I thought it sounded fantastic but could they really deliver that great an experience to a group? I mean, come on! Handle the bird for real? But even if it was only to observe and learn I was on board so we booked it and the time had come to go see what it was all about.

I love critters. I am the one who hears a twig snap in the forest and goes to see what stepped on it. Someone makes the sign for shark while we’re diving and points in the direction they saw it and I will swim that way. Probably not too smart, but it’s the way I’m wired, so birds of prey seemed like a wonderful hobby to me. Obviously to all of us that attended because we came to learn about it. That was refreshing, because a lot of people I told about the class showed a distinct aversion to the idea of handling such a bird.   There were 12 of us plus the 2 instructors/trainers/entrepreneurs and 3 of their birds. There were a couple of teenagers which was cool and they did great, the instructors worked with them perfectly so if you are considering it for a younger audience that worked out very well.

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One of the Three Stooges. Majestic Harris Hawk.

We got right to it standing in front of 3 stands with the 3 birds and getting a very good introduction to the sport, the tradition, how they got into it and the birds themselves. It was very interesting, some surprising information and it really gave us an appreciation for the bond that has to develop between the trainer and the birds. Meanwhile the Three Stooges are looking at us like the dumbest twelve monkeys they have seen all year! Bored, aloof, regal and just majestic, we have now learned that they are all Harris Hawks and we will be working one of them for the next hour. Clearly they are letting us know that we will, if one of them will allow it. Kirk has picked up a beautiful female, Shanti and is using her to demonstrate a few things and she is showing signs of grudging cooperation so he decides to use her for the class.

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If I feel like it!

We each get a leather glove that comes up to our elbow for our left hand, along with some very strict instructions on what NOT to do with that arm for the rest of the session. The bird is very much keyed into that glove as a signal and as a cue that you may have food. We were instructed to leave it at our side unbent at all times. That is harder than it sounds! Taking pictures, gesturing in disbelief and awe, talking really fast and enthusiastically…none of these things lend itself to dead arm. We tried. They had us all form a large circle and began teaching us to call Shanti to our glove (with the added incentive of a little chicken meat). We had a glorious time having her land on us and take off for the first time from our gloves and realizing how light but powerful she is, less than 3 pounds and such a gentle grip for such a fierce hunter. Thrilling at the swoosh of her wings in our faces as she lands and her tail as she turns to face the wind. Seeing the sun light up her beautiful, golden brown eyes that look so far past you it makes you realize she has deigned to land upon you and take the chicken, but other than that, you do not exist for her. Up close and personal with something you usually see from afar and admire, if not envy, in flight.

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She had me at first flight!

OK. Expectations already exceeded. The four of us are thrilled so far with this activity and it has just begun. I don’t want to ruin it, if this interests you, you must go do it for yourselves. We had many more opportunities to handle Shanti, she was a perfect lady and the class was run exceedingly well by Kirk and Denise. It remained informative, interesting, hands-on and downright breathtaking. My favorite part was at the end. We lined up to get pictures with Shanti.   Kirk held her behind the line, she flew to the subject facing the line (over our heads) landed, posed like a professional, and then Kirk called her back and she swooped right up in our faces to land behind us on Kirk’s stand. Oh, the thrill! Every time she flew right at me then adjusted and swooped up to the stand at the last second just took my breath away. I could have stood there all day and had her do that.

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Dan with hawk landing for his picture session

The class was held at a remote site in Alpine with a beautiful, sweeping view of valleys and mountains. The birds were clearly loved by their caregivers, had ample opportunity to leave and never return and were cared for exceedingly well, I was paying attention. If it weren’t for the whole “feeding them live and nearly live, cute little animals thing” I would be ever so tempted to take up this sport myself. Especially once you see how Kirk got hooked on it. He says he was in Nepal and saw them parahawking. Click here to see him doing this himself with his bird here in San Diego. No, really, check it out. Yup, if I could dispatch chicks and bunnies I would be all over this!

So, this is a rare treat. We were told there are only 4 schools in America at which you can have this experience. This is West Coast Sky Falconry. We are so lucky to have them right here. Go do it. Bring a camera. Bring a Go-Pro. Do not bring your cute little pets.

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Our instructors Denise and Kirk with Shanti

Happy Hour Downtown with Champagne Sista!

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Flirty and Fabulous

Flirty and Fabulous

I am convinced that my friend Mary is my sister from the same mother. I was adopted, so it could be true. Her mother swears it isn’t, with such vehemence that I am a little bit insulted. For sure she is my sista’ friend because we could not be more similar if we tried. From our opinions on professional sports and the players, parenting (she’s a mom, I am not), fiscal responsibility,  the kinds of friends we each have and attract and what we like to do it’s like we are carbon copies. I am about a foot and a half taller than her though. She was delighted to discover the phrase Person McNugget last year!
So, when we were headed downtown to San Diego on a Monday night for an event and needed somewhere for Happy Hour, I knew we would find somewhere we could agree on without a problem. I did leave it up to Mary, excellent researcher that she is and within minutes she was suggesting Encore, Champagne Bar and Dining Room. It was a couple blocks from our event and just happened to have my very favorite vice of all as its central theme! Champagne! Mary is brilliant, did I mention we are EXACTLY the same?
We parked and walked and spotted the place from across the street. We could see inside the big windows that it is very stylish. Mostly white with beautifully tufted, upholstered seating, black architectural accents, intricate opalescent tile and the only spots of color are the most stunning, audacious turquoise blue chandeliers you could find! So glam, and so perfect. The staff are all equally beautiful and welcoming as could be. We were there early, so we had the place to ourselves for a while. We perched elegantly at the bar (Mary did anyway…I sort of plopped down) and really got the opportunity to chat with Brandy the bartender. Moises, another of the handsome staff took our picture for us. Scott, the other bartender (they must hire from a modeling agency) for the evening and bar manager other evenings chatted with us and introduced us to an all chardonnay grape Champagne. Spoiled rotten we were!

Audacious!

Audacious!

So we have established that the atmosphere, décor and eye candy are definitely approved by Mary and Dianne. On to other important details. Happy Hour Menu! They had a white wine, a red wine, a champagne, a bellini and I don’t remember what else on the drink menu. We opted for the champagne and that night it was Piper Sonoma for $6 per glass. Approved! We began to approve of everything else even more with champagne on board, such is the magic of the bubbles. They had a nice selection of salads and little plates at half price for happy hour as well. The beef carpaccio with tangerine (tangerine? Who thinks of that? Kudos Chef!) and the rustic salad with beets and pistachio were especially yummy. Scott told us that the chef does like to combine unexpected flavors for surprising but complimentary effect. Not your typical happy hour food to be sure, the plates were not very mini, and everything went great with the champagne of course.

See!  Tangerine!
People began to trickle in as we enjoyed ourselves. A mixture of folks to be sure. A group of men dressed in jeans and workboots that gravitated towards the extensive collection of beertaps on the other side of the bar. Scott greeted them by name so they had clearly discovered the magic of Encore and were fans. By the way they enjoyed the beer selection, Brandy the bartender is not the only worthy attraction for them here. Young ladies were meeting after work, ordering the wine and champagne, occupying the reserved tables surrounding the bar with their luxuriously tufted upholstery. Some hipsters opted for the sofas and coffee table by the window to enjoy their cocktails and there were even a couple oldie but goodies like ourselves. One nicely dressed man came in a bit unsteadily, engaged us in somewhat loud but friendly conversation and was deftly and discretely handled by Scott as he recognized he was too intoxicated for 5 in the afternoon and needed to go sleep it off somewhere safe. Impressive. It was obvious that many of the people that came in were repeat customers if not downright regulars, and I can certainly see why. All were greeted warmly, repeat visitors were made to feel they were recognized and Mary and I were by now wondering if we could find a company downtown that would like to hire us both and rent us a suite to use when we needed to stay downtown instead of commute back to North County during the week. Something REALLY close to Encore! Brandy told us that the weekends are very busy and as the evening wears on the bar gets more of a nightclub vibe. They are open until 1:30 am.
We peeked in on the restroom and the dining room. The restroom was totally glammed out too, of course. A unisex with shared sink area and private stalls with men on one side, women on the other. It has a hint of daring but is actually very conventional. Sexy! Cool lighting, even in the roomy stalls.  The dining room continues the modern, cosmopolitan feel of the bar and has a counter where you can sit to eat and look into the kitchen. Scott told us that on nights where the chef is not too busy he will pause and chat with diners at the counter. Definitely coming back with the hubby for dinner, plus we peeked at the dinner menu and it looks wonderful!
A lovely young woman named Amber came in as we were getting ready to go. She said that she had been in the night before and a band that was playing over at House of Blues came in. They sat at the bar, ordered all of the bar food on the menu, shared it with her and they ended up chatting and drinking together. She went with them over to their concert and I guess had a great night partying like a rock star. So, apparently, you never know what will happen when you stop in at Encore. Mary and I will just have to keep going and find out! That’s what sisters do for each other.

Good Times

Good Times