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Strong Ale Festival Still Going...Strong

A row of taps at the tasting tent at Pizza Port
Carlsbad's Strong Ale Festival.
Courtesy photo

Thirteen years and still going strong…literally. This weekend’s Strong Ale Festival at Pizza Port Carlsbad aims to be the best version of one of San Diego’s longest-running beer events. The SAF happens December 4 (4–11 p.m.)and December 5 (11 a.m.-11 p.m.), and will feature more than 60 beers that are 8 percent or higher in alcohol by volume.

“We are one of the first places to have done this type of festival in the entire country,” says Jeff Bagby, director of brewpub operations and head brewer for Pizza Port Carlsbad, and co-organizer of the SAF. “It’s small and intimate and most of the beer is special because we pull beers from industry friends of ours and brewers save special brews just for this festival.”

The SAF has become so popular that it spawned a number of similar Pizza Port events, such as the Carlsbad location’s spring Belgian Beer Party and summer Real Ale Festival, as well as a 4th of July Festival and Hoptoberfest at the chain’s San Clemente location.

It’s almost unfathomable that such success could spawn from a simple conversation, but a 1997 gab session between Tomme Arthur, director of brewery operations for Port Brewing, and Tom Nickel, the owner of O’Brien’s Pub, served as the impetus for this effort.

“Tom and I were discussing winter beers one day while milling some grains at Home Brew Mart in Solana Beach,” says Arthur. “Tom was an employee and Pizza Port Solana Beach’s mill was onsite.”

“We were really excited about all of the great seasonal beers that would be available in San Diego that year,” says Nickel. “I thought it would be a great idea to get them all together in one place for a single night to showcase San Diego beer.”

The duo went ahead with the idea and soon discovered that not even bad weather could keep fans of good beer down. “We had a whopping 12 San Diego beers,” says Arthur, with a grin, “and 250 people showed up in a driving rainstorm to drink them.”

Last year’s SAF featured well over 50 American strong ales and roughly 1,700 thirsty patrons. With so many potent brews on-tap—everything from India pale ales (IPA) to stouts; all of them imperial (i.e. high in alcohol)—navigating this sea of industrial strength suds can be as challenging as it is enjoyable. Fortunately, the SAF founders have tips for safely and responsibly taking part in the celebration.

“Take your time with each beer you sample…at least 15 to 20 minutes with each,” advises Bagby. “Also, drink four to six ounces of water for every sample of beer.”

“Share your samples with someone so you can try more of the beers,” suggests Nickel. “Also, get a hotel room, ride up with Brewery Tours of San Diego or take the Coaster up to Carlsbad.

Admission to each session of the SAF is $30 per person at the door and includes a festival glass and eight taster tickets. Additional tickets are available for$1 each. Among the long list of ales on-tap will be Port Brewing Older Viscosity, Green Flash Palate Wrecker imperial IPA, Ballast Point Victory at Sea imperial porter, The Lost Abbey barrel-aged 2008 Gift of the Magi Belgian strong ale, Avery DuganA double IPA, AleSmith Yule Smith imperial red ale, Hollister Hip Hop double IPA and San Diego Brewing Co.-Sierra Nevada Collaboration Belgian IPA.

Details »
  • City: Carlsbad
  • Phone: (760) 720-7007
  • Name: Strong Ale Festival
  • Address: 571 Carlsbad Village Drive