“We should go for a hike,” someone said. “We should!” agreed everyone else, but where? We checked out the Google machine for the best North County hikes, and an hour later found ourselves pulling into a parking lot at the entrance to Daley Ranch in Escondido. The trail map showed more than 20 miles of trails leading off in every direction.
On the advice of someone coming down Ranch House road we turned left at the second Boulder Loop Trail entrance and began working our way upwards. It is a leisurely climb. A pair of red-tailed hawks kept us company, and there were lovely views out over the rolling hills of Escondido. At the top of the loop our knees were just wobbly enough to merit a tangerine on a bench in the shade where Cougar Ridge Trail heads off to the northeast. We continued on the loop through a monster boulder garden, and then downhill on the green side of the mountain. At the bottom we kept going down a path out of the conservation area to a viewpoint over a cool blue Dixon Lake.
Back at the car we all seemed to have the same thought, “You know what would be good right now? Some hops, water, grain and yeast.” I typed “Brewery” into our GPS. Escondido Brewing Co. came up as the closest. None of us had been, so we hit the Go Now button. A dozen minutes later we found ourselves looking for an Escondido Brewing Company sign we never found, but the hipster patio lights tucked between the feed store and an auto mechanic gave the location away.
They were just opening up so we walked through a nice little patio complete with Street Fighter 2 arcade game, heavy duty picnic tables and miniature farm toys for kids to play with. We made it to the bar which had half a dozen stools, a register, and nothing else. The entire venue is outside which wasn’t a problem on this blue sky day. Directly behind the bar was the beer cooler. Ten tap handles projected towards us presumably ready to pour beer.
Co-owner Evan Smith was behind the bar with bartender Morgan Monsanto. It was her first day, but she did a fantastic job responding to the beer needs of some dirty hikers. We tried the Hopcondido IPA , a 7.5% ABV West Coast IPA, and 6.0% ABV Hidden City Hef. Escondido is Spanish for “hidden” hence the name of the beer. It had just the right amount of sweetness and grain. I could feel it refueling me after the effort I put in on the trail. The IPA had a big, juicy flavor that you could roll around on your tongue, and in no time our sore hiking muscles were only a memory.
I learned from Evan that the brewery is the smallest operating brewery in San Diego County at 300 square feet. It is certainly one of the smallest I’ve ever seen, but they were still pouring some big beers. Head Brewer Ketchen Smith focuses on small batches of beer on their one-barrel system including some interesting experimental brews. On draft during our visit was an IPA made with Muscat grapes, a whiskey barrel-aged stout, a coffee brown and a golden ale alongside the more traditional styles.
We sat in the sun enjoying our beer, resting our legs, and recovering in the company of continuous stream of customers arriving on an early Saturday afternoon. It wasn’t long before the patio was filled with families, dogs, couples on bicycles, and plenty of laughter. Escondido Brewing Company has that local’s favorite vibe and feels like the kind of place worth going out of the way for.
Escondido Brewing Company is located at 649 Rock Springs Road in Escondido. They are currently only open on Friday from 4 to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 2 to 8 p.m. but expanded hours may be in their near future. Check their website at www.escobrewco.com for scheduled food trucks.
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