The Karl Strauss Brewing Company location in Carlsbad (5801 Armada Drive) has a large and beautiful tasting room, an on-site brewery and an excellent kitchen. With large patios front and back, this location made my “best patios” list last year. On this occasion, I visited for lunch.
Karl Strauss Brewing Company is San Diego’s oldest continuously operating brewing company. They first opened in 1989, at a now-legendary brewpub in downtown San Diego, at the very beginning of the craft beer boom. The Carlsbad location — or should that be Karlsbad? — opened in 1999.
Karl Strauss quickly became leaders in the industry, both because of their excellent, innovative beer, and because of their attitude toward helping others succeed. In fact, some of their early employees later went on to open other iconic San Diego craft beer companies — including North County favorite, Pizza Port Brewing Co.
So you could say Karl Strauss helped create the now-famous collaborative spirit among San Diego brewers. It is a tradition they continue to foster today with their annual Collabapalooza beer festival, held in North Park in October, for which they gather several dozen breweries who work in pairs to make one-off collaboration beers. It is an opportunity for brewers to create and cement friendships and to reinforce the collective support in the local industry. And it is consistently rated San Diego’s best beer festival — which is really something around here, given how many popular festivals there are.
The Carlsbad location is one of 11 in the Karl Strauss family, including six in San Diego County. Except for the tasting room at the Bay Ho production brewery (they claim it is in Pacific Beach, but it is on the wrong side of the 5 for that), all the Karl Strauss locations are brewpubs, where food is available and beer is brewed on site.
The Carlsbad location is in a relatively quiet area, next to the flower fields and sharing a parking lot with the Grand Pacific Palisades Resort. The bright and airy restaurant has windows on three sides, including a wall of roll-up doors that are open to the back patio whenever the weather is warm enough.
Among the 18 beers on draught, you’ll find perennial favorites such as Red Trolley Ale, Aurora Hoppyalis and Wreck Alley Stout, new core beers like Boat Shoes Hazy IPA, and a selection of small-batch/special release beers. There is also a beer fridge with cans and bottles to go, and if there’s a beer on tap that isn’t available in the fridge, you can take it home in a growler or a crowler.
The day I visited, one of the specialty small-batch beers was Eye of the Storm, an English Mild. It is a very unusual style to find in San Diego but one I was excited to see on the menu since Mild is one of my favorite styles of all time. This example was excellent: reddish in color with a persistent, pillowy beige head, biscuity and a little sweet, with a medium mouthfeel a slightly bitter, crisp finish. My only slight complaint is that the keg fridge is kept at a colder temperature than I prefer for this kind of beer.
For a long time, Karl Strauss didn’t participate in beer competitions, but as soon as they started doing so in 2009, they starting cleaning up. According to the company website, since 2009 they have won over 110 medals in various competitions. Perhaps most significant among those was their 2016 Great American Beer Festival win of the Mid-Size Brewing Company of the Year award. They haven’t rested on their laurels, but instead continue their tradition of excellence and innovation.
This location makes a great stop for lunch or after work. It is nice enough for a business meeting or a date, and it is relaxed enough for just hanging out.
Bill Vanderburgh writes the Craft Beer in North County column for Coast News. He started his award-winning blog, CraftBeerInSanDiego.com, in 2016 and has since reviewed every brewery and tasting room in San Diego. He loves sailing almost as much as beer.