Joy (and Beer!) in Grantville

Grantville is one of those San Diego neighborhoods that even natives might not know by name. Just east of Qualcomm Stadium and north of SDSU (down the hill, other side of I-8; think Friars and Mission Gorge), it's home to several breweries, including three that I recently visited.

Benchmark Brewing, Kensington Brewing, and Groundswell Brewing have each carved out a nice niche in the area, offering fine brews and friendly service. As an added bonus, all are within walking distance of one another (as is a fourth, San Diego Brewing, which I've enjoyed on other trips).

Benchmark Brewing

The tasting room features a clean layout and was extremely chill on a Saturday afternoon. A yoga class had just finished prior to opening, with participants enjoying a pint before getting on with their day. There is ample seating on the main level and an upstairs that, at least on this day, was being used for a private function.

Having been here several years ago, I knew I wanted the brown ale, one of the finest examples of the style I've encountered in San Diego. It lived up to my memory, and my wife enjoyed it as well. We also sampled a flavorful blonde and a crisp, hoppy pale ale called Beaten Path. We finished with the oatmeal stout on cask, which was served properly: not warm, not flat.

Our beertender was engaging and knowledgeable about both product and process. We talked about the challenge of making low ABV beers with flavor, and I offered my compliments on Benchmark's success in that regard. The movement toward sessionable brews that taste delicious is a trend my liver and I welcome.

I also appreciate the finesse of such beers. Since I started homebrewing, I've come to understand how easy it is to make a booze bomb that covers defects. When I drink something light and flavorful, I know the brewer knows what he or she is doing, which gives me confidence in the product.

Kensington Brewing

Don't be confused by the name. This brewery is merely in the general vicinity of Kensington, not actually in it. That being said, it's a comfortable space in a prime spot, just off the freeway. Brewing equipment shares the main room with a rustic bar top and a few tables. It's very cozy.

There are 10 beers on tap, but only six handles up front, which means that for some pours our beertender (who is also one of the brewers) had to duck into the cold box before emerging with our beer. While some might deride this as a lack of polish, I like to think of it as a novel solution to an architectural limitation. Hooray for creativity!

The room was sparsely occupied when we arrived. We ended up chatting with a father and his grown son about three of my favorite things: beer, baseball, and traveling. Dad was visiting from New York state, and so we shared stories about trekking cross country. Reminiscing over beers years later is so much more fun than driving all over the place. We were fellow survivors of a difficult and possibly pointless journey.

My wife and I sampled the brown ale, apricot wheat, Bavarian wheat, and coffee stout. My favorite was the Bavarian wheat, which showcased the grain as well as some esters and phenols that complemented without overpowering. The others were also enjoyable, with my wife especially liking the apricot wheat.

There's usually a food truck on Saturdays, but not when we went, so our beertender pointed us in the direction of an excellent local Greek restaurant. We needed food badly before hitting our final stop, and Taste of Athens hit the spot. The gyros meat was juicy and well spiced. It's a total hole-in-the-wall but a must-stop for us on future visits.

Groundswell Brewing

By the time we reached Groundswell our palates were a bit saturated. We sampled First Date (blonde ale), Tropical Hefeweizen, Hubba Hubba (DIPA), and Mocha Milk Stout. The DIPA was full bodied and juicy, with some grassy notes. The stout was surprisingly dry for a milk stout, not that I mind.

The room was inviting, the servers were friendly. I need to come back here when I haven't had too many beers first. I could tell the quality was good, I just had trouble appreciating it. Next time I'll start here and work my way south. Or maybe I'll go the other direction and hit San Diego Brewing for beer and pizza.

And this brings me to the larger point, which is that you can't really lose in Grantville. This often overlooked and underappreciated neighborhood has a lot to offer beer lovers. If you ever need a break from North Park or wherever you normally roam, cruise on down the hill and give it a shot.


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