June 19 2012 10:01 PM

My foggy memories of beer tourism

Having some fun with a mural at Phileas Fogg’s
Photo by Ian Cheesman

Because I'm a journalist of the highest caliber, I decided to prepare for this story by putzing around on the Internet between episodes of "Chef Gordon Ramsay Is Somehow Still Perplexed That These People Can't Cook Well." What I uncovered astonished me. It turns out that our widely held notion that Stone Brewing Co. invented beer somewhere in the early 1990s is not entirely true. There is, allegedly, an entire world of beer outside of San Diego.

This must be what it feels like to take the red pill. You could have warned me, Neo.

I had to learn more about this "world." I piled all of my valuables into a bandana, attached it to a stick, slung it over my shoulder and set off to explore. Unfortunately, it turns out this nation is flanked by enormous bodies of water, Canada is a massive hike and, for reasons I'm not prepared to detail, I can never return to Mexico. Thankfully, Phileas Fogg's (11385 Poway Road in Poway) greatly simplified my journey.

Phileas Fogg's, named for the world traveler of Jules Verne lore, delivers the expansive world of beer without the dysentery and muggings that generally accompany such globetrotting. His fabled circumnavigating of the world inspires a pub experience that celebrates both a taste of home and abroad.

It's a great place to enjoy a cold beer, a tall basket of aromatic curry fries or soccer on TV (presuming you're fresh out of wet paint to observe drying). I know being dismissive of futbol doesn't really jibe with the international tone of this issue, so I'll simply say that Phileas Fogg's is an oasis for fans of the sport, and the rest of us are just grateful that those hooligans are off the streets.

I've visited Phileas Fogg's on multiple occasions with every intention of broadening my beer horizons with one of the dozens of international brews that populate the considerable bottle selection, but the taps are often too compelling to stray. There's never a shortage of selections from local heavyweights among the 20 taps, usually including limited runs like Karl Strauss' Queen of Tarts or options from relative newcomers like Rough Draft's Eraser IPA. Despite these seemingly insurmountable obstacles, I willed myself to sample some less familiar beers from abroad. I hope you appreciate the sacrifices I make for you.

Sometimes I question whether my exposure to San Diego has refined my beer palate or weathered it. I can certainly appreciate a sizable array of beers, but being constantly subjected to increasingly aggressive flavors makes more delicate or nuanced brews taste like tap water. I expected to be a little underwhelmed by something like Estrella Damm (a lager from Barcelona whose complexion approached transparent), but I had higher hopes for the darker fare. Japan offered me an Echigo Stout, a thin, charcoal-heavy beer that better approximated a black lager than a stout. Zatec Dark, a dark lager from the Czech Republic, was likely my favorite of the bunch, with its mild chocolate flavors and soft, malty finish, though it hardly made my toes curl.

I didn't really experience any beers that shattered my worldview, but that wasn't really the point. I'm sure little else tastes better than a light, crisp Kingfisher Beer during a sweltering day in India. When robbed of that context, I'm left with a lager that has to compete with a titan like Green Flash's Palate Wrecker. I think the point is more that Phileas Fogg's is one of the precious few places that would allow me to experience both in the same sitting, and that's noteworthy.

Phileas Fogg's is also one of few places that lets you experience bar staff in Catholic schoolgirl outfits, though whether or not that qualifies as noteworthy is up for debate. It left me a bit unsettled. That kind of costuming strikes me as a homing beacon for skeevy old men, which may explain why I've never gotten lost en route. As a knee-jerk liberal, I'm unclear if I must rebuff the objectification they're subjected to or applaud the empowering manner in which these ladies own their sexuality. MSNBC should distribute cheat-sheets for this sort of thing.

Phileas Fogg's is a peculiar transplant to a Poway strip mall, but a welcomed one. Its annual Fogg-a-Palooza festival, noteworthy tap selections and other beer-centric events have firmly established it as another adopter of craft-brew worship. Its wide selection of U.K.-centric comfort foods and comprehensive bottle list ensures you can stray a bit from the typical pub experiences while still capturing the same feel. If nothing else, having a Xingu Black Beer there may refresh your palate, but it will certainly remind you how good San Diegans have it.

Write to ianc@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com, or follow @iancheesman on Twitter or read his blog, iancheesman.wordpress.com.


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