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Craft Beer in North County: Beer and sun in Encinitas

Above: Culture Brewing has a North County tasting room in Encinitas. Photo by Bill Vanderburgh

After the rain on Monday, I felt a need to get out and enjoy the sunshine with some beer. I headed for Encinitas.

Encinitas doesn’t have any craft breweries, but it has two of the best satellite tasting rooms around: the Modern Times Far West Lounge, under the “Encinitas” sign on the 101, and Culture Brewing, just down the street. And both are open on a Monday afternoon, which is not always the case — some breweries close on Mondays for “brewing day.”

Apparently, I wasn’t alone in my desire for beer and sunshine. Modern Times was packed even at 2 p.m. with a mix of locals enjoying a late lunch before heading back to work, couples from out of state on beer vacations, a solid selection of day drinkers, even a dad pushing a stroller who came in for some cans to take home.

The interior at Modern Times is excellent — beachy, comfortable, polished. It is a big step up from the typical “brewery in an industrial space” that turns some people off. The large windows, at least 10 feet high, slide open to the street, letting in light and air.

The skylight adds to the indoor-outdoor effect. For seating, there are low tables, high tables, a section of stadium-style benches, and a huge U-shaped, white-marble-topped bar with almost 30 seats.

The food at the Far West Lounge is all vegetarian — though if you are a meat-eater, you would never know it. I’ve had several meals here, and they have all been excellent. The stand-out for me is the meatless bratwurst, in part because the “sausage” tastes exactly like a great sausage, and in part because the sauerkraut is so good.

Modern Times seems to have decided to focus on two main categories of beer. Although there are 35 taps, more than half are various varieties of hazy IPAs; the second focus is on high-alcohol, barrel-aged and/or flavor-infused stouts.

Enjoy a local brew and the comfy atmosphere of Modern Times in Encinitas. Photo by Bill Vanderburgh

There are a few other things on offer, too, but the dual focus is working for them: in addition to a large, enthusiastic local following who frequent the two tasting rooms (Encinitas and North Park) and the brewery (Point Loma), Modern Times has locations in Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon — and three more California locations will be opening up by the end of the 2019.

Modern Times is 30% employee owned. In April, they raised almost $1.1 million through crowdfunding to support their rapid growth.

The only strike against the Modern Times Far West Lounge is parking. Don’t bother to try to park behind the building — the alley is narrow and the three small “MT” spots have never been “empty” any time I’ve tried them. I’ve had luck parking next to the fire station less than a block north and west, and there is street parking on nearby streets.

Culture Brewing’s tasting room, a mere three-minute walk south of Modern Times on the 101, is also a comfortable, sophisticated space. The beer is also excellent.

Culture has two beers on the menu that were recent medalists at major beer competitions: the Blonde Ale and the Brown Ale.

In addition, they offer a variety of other beers, all of which are well-made and delicious. On my recent visit I loved the new Summer Ale, a floral and lightly sweet IPA with subtle additions of lemongrass and ginger.

Award-winning Culture Brewing’s tasting room in Encinitas. Photo by Bill Vanderburgh

The Culture Brewing tasting room in Encinitas is beautiful: dark greys and blacks in concrete and metal, rough woods, a few splashes of green plants, and a rotating art display on one wall. It is a theme you’ll find at their Solana Beach brewery and their Ocean Beach tasting room, too.

The roll-up front window has a beer rail where you can sit and look out over the street, taking in the sun and breeze.

The only strike against Culture is a lack of seating. There are only seven seats at the bar, five at the window, and a few pairs of stools next to old barrels used as tables.

That does leave plenty of room for the dogs who seem to love this location as much as their owners. Pretzels and dog treats are available, but no other food.

Encinitas is also home to an Oggi’s, east of the 5 on the south side of Encinitas Boulevard. Oggi’s started out as one of San Diego’s original craft brewpubs and now has seven locations in San Diego county and more elsewhere.

Unfortunately, except for the Carmel Mountain Ranch location, none of them brew on site anymore. All the rest of Oggi’s beer is made at Left Coast Brewing in San Clemente, making it not-quite-San Diego craft beer.

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