The San Diego Spirits Festival saw another successful year in the Port Pavilion on the San Diego Harbor. An intimate event in comparison to your typical festival, the San Diego Spirits Festival kept a strong focus on its namesake, bringing together an assortment of vodkas, tequilas, whiskeys and other libations.
Big brands such as Ketel One and Don Julio came out to show off some of their newest flavors, with Ketel One’s grapefruit & rose making a strong impression. Tito’s vodka and Reed’s ginger brew teamed up to make ‘the American mule,’ and Lillet made a signature wine cocktail as well.
The festival was dominated, however, by smaller, emerging brands that brought the same panache to the table. Caramba tequila got the party going with a number of extravagant margaritas. American soju surprised everyone by distancing its branding away from the drink’s Korean roots, and making a [rather tasty] soju-based margarita.
44 North Vodka, an under-the-radar brand that secretly supplies the key ingredient to electric lemonades at Las Vegas pool parties and popular restaurants [Hash House a Go Go being one of them] showcased an excellent cocktail selection. Big Gin served alongside, with a number of namesake drinks. One of the absolute highlights, however, was Mule 2.0, which absolutely elevated pre-mixed cocktails by delivering a great product right out of the can.
With the historic Midway on one side, the downtown skyline on the other and perfect sunshine all the way through, this annual event couldn’t have asked for better conditions. The San Diego Spirits Festival took place over two days, and also included live entertainment [samba dancers and a snake charmer in tow!], a spirit competition and a bottle competition. While limited food is available for purchase at the festival, guests are strongly encouraged to eat prior to the event. SanDiegoSpiritsFestival.com
The Dudes’ Brewing Co. has found itself right at home at its newest location in Santa Monica Place. Just steps from the Santa Monica Pier with a killer location on the top deck of this high-end shopping mall, The Dudes’ has had no problem melding its uber-relaxed vibe in with its new digs.
Inviting patio furniture and high-top tables made of barrels line the outdoor patio while communal tables and a long bar make up the interior; both great for viewing sports on the massive projector screens or people-watching the endless passers-by. The Dudes’ has found an excellent balance between plush and humble, staying true to its modest Torrance roots while slowly but surely making its mark across Southern California.
The food menu builds off the successful foundation of The Dudes’ also-recent Santa Clarita location. House-made pizzas, pretzels and salads come out with the same fresh ingredients and genuine attention to detail that made The Dudes’ famous in the first place. That prosciutto arugula pizza and strawberry balsamic salad are hard to pass up. They’re continuing to push the envelope in Santa Monica, introducing wine to the menu.
And of course, The Dudes’ iconic beer lineup continues to go unrivaled in creativity, producing a plethora of innovative flavors from grandma’s pecan to kokomo key lime sour and nitro mint milkshake. Flights are encouraged and ever-abound, served atop wooden bowling pins as an homage to the dude himself, from The Big Lebowski.
The Dudes’ Brewing Co. Santa Monica is located at 395 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401, on the top mall’s top level. Open Sun – Wed 11a – 10p, Thu 11a – 11p, Fri – Sat 11a – midnight. Avg. out-the-door price for pizza and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$28/person. For more information call (310) 893-2151 or visit The Dudes’ Santa Monica here.
Brewery Draconum has found itself right at home in downtown Newhall. It brings with it the exact kind of authentic, small-town character you’d hope to find in this historic wild west district, and at the same time a level of sophistication in its menu and ambiance that reminds you that you’re still in LA.
And the beer? Unquestionably killer, crafted through decades of experience under owner Ben Law and his humble yet visionary team.
A true brewpub, Brewery Draconum brews a wide variety of beers in-house, turning out new types so often that they can’t print new menus fast enough. The beer room is visible from the other side of the bar, rows of stainless steel vats a beautiful site for patrons seeking beer straight from the source. Their gutterhead red ale is a house favorite, with excellent Saison, melonkolschy [kolsch] and ABVAF [golden Belgian strong] as additional contemporary highlights. You’ll also find additional craft brews from SoCal icons such as Stone Brewing and Mother Earth.
Brewery Draconum’s meticulous attention to detail carries through to its food menu, which of course incorporates into recipes whenever possible. They make nearly everything from scratch, all the way down to their potato and tortilla chips. Enjoy them with some impressive spinach dip, then move onto a fresh, colorful beet salad finished with creamy burrata.
Mains go for an unbelievably reasonable price point, from $10 perfectly fried fish tacos and customizable burgers that start at $12. And hallelujah, those burgers include fries! If you’re seeking something more elevated, try the rack of lamb with Irish mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables. Unsurprisingly, everything pairs quite fittingly with the beer menu, including dessert—how about a nitro beer float?
Out back is the beer garden, where communal picnic tables and lawn games allow you to make the most of your afternoon or evening.
Brewery Draconum is located at 24407 Main St, Santa Clarita, CA 91321. Open Tue and Thu 12 – 10 p.m., Fri – Sat 12 – midnight, Sun 12 – 9 p.m. Closed Tue and Wed for brewing. Avg. out-the-door price for split appetizer, entrée and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$41/person. For more information call (661) 568-9160 or visit Brewery Draconum’s Facebook page.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.