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Craft Beer in North County: Rhythm & Brews Festival in Vista

Above: The 8th Rhythm & Brews Festival was held on May 4 at Vista Village and featured 66 independent craft breweries. Photo by Bill Vanderburgh

VISTA — On May 4, 2019, Vista was host to the 8th annual Rhythm & Brews Festival. This is one of the San Diego Brewers Guild’s big annual events, and it was simultaneously a fundraiser for the North County Food Bank.

It was a gorgeous spring day. More than 1,400 people came out to Vista Village to enjoy the beer being poured by 66 independent craft breweries from all over San Diego County and beyond.

Several bands performed for the happy crowd, and a good time was had by all.

The bright, clear skies were a bit of a contrast to many of the beers being poured at the festival: the “haze craze” was in full view, both in brewers’ offerings and in people’s glasses.

The trend for unfiltered, cloudy IPAs with low bitterness started on the east coast, so “hazies” or “New England IPAs” are a contrast to the bitter, clear West Coast IPAs that made the San Diego beer scene famous. Sometimes a hazy IPA can look like orange juice in the glass.

San Diego beer gear company, Hoppy Beer Hoppy Life, were a popular attraction at the Rhythm & Brews Festival in Vista. Photo by Bill Vanderburgh

They typically have a very “soft” mouthfeel, are highly hopped, and usually have tropical fruit or “juicy” aromas and flavors.

Some San Diego brewers have started to put their own spin on this style by making them a little more bitter, with a piney or resiny finish. You could call these sorts of beers “west coast hazies.”

Hazies aren’t my very favorite beer style, so while I tried a few in the interests of palate development and, um, journalism (yeah, that’s it), I also sampled several stouts, pale ales, and west coast IPAs—even a “hard seltzer” from San Diego Brewing Company.

That turned out to be deliciously refreshing, and it made an excellent palate-cleanser after the super-hopped hazies. Everything I sampled at Rhythm & Brews was at least good and some of it was great, so all the participating breweries deserve big congratulations.

Two beers surprised and impressed me in particular. One was a deep, roasty and flavorful imperial porter from Great Goats Brewing.

I’d never heard of them before, but it turns out they are the distribution label for beer made at the San Marcos Brewery & Grill. You can find their bottles in various stores in North County.

The other big surprise for me was Kilowatt Brewing’s Coconut Chai Porter. I had had this beer once before, more than two years ago at their brewery in Kearney Mesa.

A new brewer, a new brew house, and lots of recipe development later, and this beer is now super. I would rate it among the top five percent of beers I’ve had in the last few years (almost 1,300, in case you were wondering).

Of course, that sort of claim depends a lot on your personal preferences in beer. Even so, North County residents should be excited that Kilowatt will be opening a tasting room not far from the pier in Oceanside later this year.

More than 1,400 people attended the Rhythm & Brew Festival on May 4 in Vista. Photo by Bill Vanderburgh

In the meantime, you can also visit their psychedelic tasting room in Ocean Beach.

Not by accident, Mother Earth Brewing held their 9th Anniversary party immediately after Rhythm & Brews at their Vista Village tasting room, just two short blocks from the festival gates.

I dropped in and was impressed with the huge crowd and excellent beer. I have long been a fan of Mother Earth’s Cali Creamin’ cream ale and their Sin Tax peanut butter stout.

On this occasion I noticed on the menu that they offer the two mixed together (kind of like a Black & Tan, a stout and pale ale mixture you can get at British pubs). It was amazing—one of those rare situations where the whole is even greater than the sum of the parts.

Although Mother Earth doesn’t sell it pre-mixed, you can get cans of both in many stores around San Diego and make your own.