Pizza Port shares a San Marcos facility with sister brewery, The Lost Abbey.
Route 78 has become one of the surest paths to great beer in North County San Diego, with destinations like Stone Brewing, Green Flash Brewing Co. and Churchill’s Pub and Grille. Still, it’s a San Marcos industrial park that makes the most beer geeks salivate. The facility in question was Stone’s original home, but since March 2006, it’s housed The Lost Abbey and Port Brewing.
The Lost Abbey/Port Brewing was the second stop on The Surly Goat research trip. The dual brewery is probably best known for its barrel-aged and sour beers, though there are compelling options from across the beer spectrum, including hoppy IPAs like High Tide IPA and Hop-15.
Down-to-earth, but legendary brewmaster Tomme Arthur presides over both brands.
Barrels stacked four-high factor prominently into the brewery’s landscape, but barrel-aged beers account for only 5-10% of production. Red wine oak barrels, Bourbon barrels and Brandy barrels are all part of Arthur’s arsenal. He’s so passionate about sour beer that a sign hangs over the door to the barrel-aging room that reads “In Illa Brettanomyces, Nos Fides,” which translates to In These Wild Yeasts We Trust.
The L-shaped bar faces a blackboard menu and row of 24 taps. Barstools are pure simplicity, kegs topped with hop sacks. During our visit, the brewery featured 15 cross-shaped Lost Abbey tap handles and 9 sandal-shaped Port tap handles.
At the L’s other end, a wall of bottles topped with a cross plays on The Lost Abbey’s Biblical themes.
I started with Avant Garde, a 7% ABV French country ale that’s closest to Biere de Garde, not that Arthur encourages classification. The golden-hued, malty beer was a smooth precursor to some of the brewery’s more high-adrenaline options.
The Lost Abbey Carnevale Ale is a new release, a 6.5% ABV saison brewed in honor of Lent. It was amber-hued and citrusy.
Tourgoers were passing around glasses of Bourbon barrel-aged Angel’s Share, which was dark brown and heavy on vanilla and molasses.
Lead brewer Ryan Shields presided over test glasses of Amarosa, a Framboise inspired beer aged in oak barrels for 6 months. Whole raspberries were added, then the brew was aged another 3-4 months. The brewery only produced 15 barrels, and I took a sip of a test pour, which wasn’t syrupy sweet, like lesser Framboise.
The brewery adopted two black cats to police area mice, both named for types of hops, Amarillo (pictured) and Cascade. One of the cats even had a litter in the brewery and they kept one, named Columbus, but it passed away. Thus the Mongo IPA, a well-balanced double IPA that was “brewed in loving tribute to our fallen brewcat.”
One of the best reasons to visit the brewery is to gain access to the Vintage Bottle List. Shields said you’re welcome to order any bottle, but only if you drink it on-site. Otherwise people would sell the prized bottles on eBay for triple the price.
Bottles ran from $8 for a 22 ounce bottle of 2008 Santa’s Little Helper to $50 for 750s of ultra-rare Veritas 003 and 2007 Isabelle Proximus.
Arthur, Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione, Allagash founder Rob Tod, Russian River owner Vinnie Cilurzo and Avery Brewing founder Adam Avery collaborated on Isabelle Proximus. The illustrious crew was inspired by a trip to Belgium. After returning to the States, they each produced four barrels of wild ale. The final mix took place at The Lost Abbey, resulting in a sour but harmonious beer. Based on my few precious sips, it’s clear that the bottle is well worth the $50 price tag. Based on my cumulative sips, it’s clear that the double-barrel brewery warrants many, many repeat visits.