It’s the holiday season and trips to the local mountains for fresh air are a part of the tradition for many San Diegans. Such trips can include some impressive beer opportunities as well, if planned accordingly.
My recent trip to Ramona didn’t provide any winter-like chill — it was sunny and in the low 80s — but it did land me in a couple of great venues and a chance to have a beer I’ve never had before.
Spending a little time in downtown Ramona waiting for Smoking Cannon Brewery to open, I wandered into Junk and Disorderly, a store on Main Street that specializes in “Mantiques & Other Vintage Goods.”
I was hooked by the name, and inside I found a beer nerd’s paradise of collectibles.
Proprietor Pete Nilsson, a beer aficionado, has gathered relics from lost beer brands as well as prominent brands. He calls his collection “memoraBEERlia.” Over a pint of Julian Beer Company lager, Nilsson walked me through his store. It was my third lap around the small shop, and he pointed out dozens of beer collectibles I hadn’t seen the first few times around.
“The best part for me is the nostalgia,” Nilsson said. “Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t say, ‘Oh, my uncle drank that’ or ‘We used to have one of those.’”
Beyond the memorabeerlia, Junk and Disorderly had fantastic rock and roll, vinyl and book collections. I asked Nilsson about the items he selects for inventory.
“I don’t grab everything I see, but if I want it for my personal collection or think it will appeal to someone in my store, I definitely pick it up.”
Junk and Disorderly is a must-stop if you’re driving through Ramona. Warmed up and ready to talk beer, I headed around the corner to Smoking Cannon Brewery. Walking into Smoking Cannon feels like stepping into an old-timey western saloon, a vibe purposefully designed by owners Natallie Phillips and Mike Nelson. Civil War photos and artifacts decorate the taproom. I sat down with Phillips and Nelson to hear a little of their story.
ILB: Smoking Cannon? There’s got to be a story behind the name.
Phillips: Yes. Mike used to design working-scale models of cannons. So, we always knew our brewery would have a cannon and Civil War theme. Our friends helped us choose a name, and Smoking Cannon was the winner.
ILB: I am surprised at your beer lineup. Traditional beers and some unique offerings.
Phillips: We try to keep a variety of beers on tap at all times. Some people want hoppy, some don’t. Some people want fruity, and some want sour. So we keep a variety available so there’s something for everyone.
ILB: What are we drinking today?
Phillips: This is Juniper Flats. It’s a collaboration with the Julian Beer Company. We go early in the morning and pick juniper berries and branches. We make the beer immediately after picking, so it’s all fresh. It’s a Sahti, a Finnish-style ale, earthy and refreshing.
Nelson: For this style, we use juniper for the bittering instead of hops, just like in Finland. And it has won a couple of awards: a silver and a bronze.
ILB: A unique style. I’ve never had a Sahti before.
Phillips: We have one customer who knew exactly what it was, and she’s Finnish.
ILB: Did she give it her stamp of approval?
Phillips: Yes, she did; she likes it a lot. But she’s partial to the Walker Hazy IPA. That’s what she carries in her restaurant, Marinade on Main, down the street.
ILB: And we got to enjoy your Irish Red Ale before this, another beer you don’t always see on tap in San Diego.
Nelson: That one is always on tap.
Phillips: And it’s on tap down the street at Red, White and Brews.
ILB: Keeping it local and supporting one another—that’s great to see.
Phillips: Mike and I have lived here for 27 years. We wanted to open up a brewery here in town for our community. We just love Ramona.
ILB: Thank you for sharing your beer and story with me! Cheers! The day ended with a stop at the Ramona Family Naturals Market, which had amazing food and an extensive craft beer selection. We picked up some hot food and beer for dinner.
The night was spent around the campfire at Hatfield Creek Winery, a member of Harvest Hosts. Another great stop with a story or two of its own to share with visitors. For beer enthusiasts, a trip to Ramona is a rewarding experience. Keep your eyes peeled, and you may even spot a bald eagle or two (we did!).
Jeff Spanier is the co-host of I Like Beer the Podcast. For the entire interview with Smoking Cannon Brewery, take a listen in the player below or wherever you get podcasts. Follow Spanier’s adventures on Instagram: @ilikebeerthepodcast.