I meet Blair on a sunny Friday afternoon – the day after St. Patrick’s Day – in front of Hamilton’s Tavern, the South Park bar he opened in 2006. It’s a busy day for him and his crew. They blasted through no less than 8 kegs of Guinness between two bars in one night and were scrambling to replace them.
We step through the door of Hamilton’s and the midday sun dissolves into warm dim light, the corner jukebox jangles out The Stone’s “Aint too Proud to Beg” and suddenly I feel like this is the best place to be – the only place to be – on this sunny afternoon. The bar is buzzing with young hipsters, middle-aged couples, post-work colleagues, and seasoned barflies. A diverse crowd to say the least, all contentedly coexisting under the giant chalkboard listing the 28 taps of the day.
With the causal, comfy vibe, the chalkboard, the perfect jukebox, and the incredible selection of beer, Blair has crafted a bar that embodies all of the best alehouses, taverns and pubs he’s been to around the world. And the neighborhood obviously agrees.
The key to Blair’s success seems to be offering up just what the area needs, even if the neighborhood doesn’t know it yet. Small Bar in University Heights opened in late 2009 and quickly gained a dedicated clientele. It’s part gastropub, part alehouse, with a top-notch cocktail menu to boot. Simple, well crafted food and drink that was exactly what Park Blvd. needed. Eleven, which opened in Normal Heights last year is a rock bar and live music venue. Blair collaborated with Hamilton’s/Small Bar partner Dennis Borlek and brought in Louis Mello (of Liar’s Club fame) to run the joint. The result is the perfect rock and roll bar with a killer sound system and a savvy beer list.
Blair’s passion for finding good beer and good places to get it are infectious and this enthusiasm spills from each of his venues. He’s also a certified Cicerone™ and accomplished home brewer and more than happy to pass along the knowledge and insight that comes with it. Blair wants us all to live better lives and if that involves some great beer, good food and killer music, he can give you a few suggestions on where to start.
Hamilton’s Tavern: 1521 30th St., South Park, San Diego, 92102
Small Bar: 4628 Park Blvd., University Heights, San Diego, 92116
Eleven: 3519 El Cajon Blvd. San Diego, CA 92104
All photos ©2011 Gary Allard
Colby Chandler and the team of brewers are mad scientists of a sort. They have at their disposal an arsenal of ingredients at all times. In the back, the brewery can turn out relatively small batches of whatever they feel like making. This is the testing ground for the award-winning Ballast Point Brewing company and the birthplace of Sculpin IPA, the World Beer Cup Gold Medal winner of 2010.
I don’t know why it took me so long to get into the Home Brew Mart. I’ve seen it for years. It’s conveniently located in the middle of San Diego and close to my home. But with all that going for it, I had never been inside. If I’d known they serve up incredible beers on tap daily, it may have changed things.
Colby slides me a 4 oz. taster of Black Marlin Porter spiked with cocoa nibs and chipotle chilies. A “beer hot chocolate” if you will. It’s unlike anything I’ve had, unclassifiable, but good. It grew on me quickly and I later found myself a little disappointed that my next beer didn’t have hot chilies in it. He fixes that with a taste of Piper Down Scottish Ale, bourbon-barrel aged and infused with habanero peppers. Owner Jack White takes a sip and lights up. This is what the Home Brew Mart is all about: Innovation, experimentation and sharing that knowledge with other brewers.
The vibe around the shop is laid back, very friendly, and above all, collaborative. Colby tells me the biggest asset they have are their customers, the home brewers. Everyone is eager to share recipes, swap tips and help each other make better beer. I’m all for that.
The shop is open daily or check out the store online where you can get everything you’ll need to start making great beer. Drop by for a tasting of some specialty beers or refill your growler. And you’d be wise to get on their mailing list where you can get the lowdown on special events. The last 2-course beer dinner featuring MIHO Gastrotruck and chili-beer inspired Fiji Yogurt was not to be missed.
Home Brew Mart
5401 Linda Vista Rd. Suite #406
San Diego, CA 92110
Phone: (619) 295-BEER
Toll Free: (800) 581-2739
All photos © Gary Allard, All rights reserved.