Photo by Carolyn Ramos
The Flycaster at ChuckAlek Biergarten
I totally understand that people are pretty sick of hearing about how faaabulous North Park is for food and drink—especially craft beer. Yet here I am, whip in hand, mercilessly beating that dead horse. But when the subject is as good as the newly opened ChuckAlek Biergarten (3139 University Ave.), it's (hopefully) easy to forgive the saturation of coverage.
What's not to like about a comfortable outdoor area complete with great local beer? This historically underused lot at the corner of University and Herman (behind Art Produce) has completely transformed into an oasis of old-world and experimental-style beers served in a surprisingly not annoying kid-friendly garden space, as well as a separate patio available to rent for private parties. The brews themselves are for the most part sublime; ChuckAlek's tap and bottle lists are relatively small but full of well-balanced offerings that pair wonderfully with snacks from fellow Art Produce tenant Tostadas (I recommend the pickled Pulpo and decadently tender Pibil tostadas).
Regrettably during my visit, the biergarten was out of The Weiss (a 4.5 percent ABV Berliner weisse), a refreshingly tart style popping up all over town as hot weather creeps ever closer. However, ChuckAlek's remaining options don't disappoint; the 1850 Runner (a brown porter, 6.3 percent ABV) tops its core beer selection with a delicately smoky aroma and absolutely divine chocolate-meets-berry smoothness that carries all the way through, as well as the true-to-style Garten Variety pale ale that's sure to please those who seek a subtle approach to hops.
The Flycaster, a Helles lager (4.8 percent ABV) promises to convert light macro beer drinkers to more craft-forward options with its mouth-wateringly satisfying crispness and just a hint of floral notes. To make up for the Weiss' absence, event manager Lia Garcia brought us tasters of the off-menu Foreman Bitter, an English-style bitter dry hopped with East Kent Golding hops and served on cask (5.5 percent ABV). Traditionally, dry ESBs aren't my favorite style, but this is a delightful exception to my bitter bias. Lots of complexity throughout and a hefty body with a slight aroma of grapes on the head makes the Foreman a must-try for enthusiasts and skeptics alike.
Other bewitching brews include the Dowser, a Düsseldorf Altbier (5.4 percent ABV) with a mild, balanced take on this German style; the 1933 Milk Stout with lactose on nitro (3.9 percent ABV, creamy, chocolate-y and supremely drinkable); and the Hussar Grodziskie (4 percent ABV), a rarely seen Polish style featuring oak-smoldered wheat malt that emanates a deceptively smoky aroma before evolving into a bright, light and unique beer experience. Look for more rotating selections as well as collaborations as they continue to settle into this semi-shared space.
With San Diego's near-perfect weather and ever-growing craft beer obsession, the scarcity of quality European-style biergartens is surprising. Here's hoping that the inevitable imitators of ChuckAlek's approach will be able to replicate the same high-quality brews, food and family-friendly atmosphere that's sure to be a success.