The Coast News Group
The 21st annual Strong Ale Festival is Friday and Saturday, Dec. 1-2, at Pizza Port in Carlsbad Village. It features about 85 beers. Courtesy photo

Strong Ale Festival returns to Pizza Port

CARLSBAD — From ales to sours, the brews will be strong Dec. 1 and Dec. 2 at Pizza Port.

The weekend marks the return of the 21st annual Strong Ale Festival, the longest running in San Diego County, at the Bottle Shop, 571 Carlsbad Village Drive. Each beer is at least 8 percent in alcohol by volume, so the brews can pack a punch.

Bottle Shop Manager Brad Vint said VIP tickets are sold out for the two sessions, while the remaining general admission tickets are limited.

“Sometimes we offer rare beers we offer just from connections in the industry,” Vint said of the festival’s appeal. “We are just trying the more one-off, exotic beers that are hard to find.”

The sold-out VIP sessions feature 10 different bottles each day from breweries around the country, while the festival will highlight about 70 breweries with 85 drafts on tap, Pizza Port Event and Project Manager Jamie Shelley said.

In addition, some of the rarest and most expensive beers — some priced at $30 for 22-ounce bottle — will only be available for Friday and Saturday’s VIP sessions, but some will be poured for the general sessions.

She said walk-ups are welcome, but the festival will limit entrants to ensure capacity doesn’t overflow.

The festival, meanwhile, dates back to a rainy Thursday night in 1997, when a small group of brewers and enthusiasts sampled a dozen San Diego ales. Pizza Port’s festival was one of the earliest beer events in Southern California and was a lead-in to the holiday season for the brewery.

“It’s kind of just a tradition at this point,” Shelley said. “We have a ton of fun doing it. We always sell out of the VIPs and the general admission is pretty busy, but we never oversell it because we don’t want people to be too crowded. We want an intimate setting.”

Logistically, Shelley said, it takes about six months to put the event together as Pizza Port must reach out to other brewers to gauge their interest in participating.

Even though Vint and Shelley lock down commitments, Vint said the beer list is never released ahead of time as some brewers may back out at the last second for a variety of reasons. Regardless, they will provide a vast selection for attendees.

The event has become a staple for Pizza Port and beer enthusiasts as past events have drawn about 1,000 attendees.

“Depending on capacity, we’ll let people in for general admission, but if we’ve reached capacity with VIP and the general admission tickets we’ve already sold, we’ll stop admittance,” Shelley said.

The VIP sessions are from 2 to 5 p.m. Dec. 1 and noon to 3 p.m. on Dec. 2, while the general admission sessions are from 5 to 10 p.m. Dec. 1 and 3 to 9 p.m. Dec. 2. General admission tickets are $45.