Going out for a beer in San Diego does not typically mean heading out to the corner dive for a cold Bud, or even a better beer like a Corona with lime. Beer in this city means an Old Numbskull from the Alesmith Brewing Company or maybe an Exponential Hoppiness at the Alpine Beer Company tasting room.
The city has a long history of craft brewers—and really good ones at that. The Karl Strauss Brewing Company has been operating since 1989, long before anyone ever heard of a “craft beer.” Many of the other local brewers got their training and career start at Karl Strauss, and then went on to start their own breweries, becoming the foundation of a craft-brew culture that spread throughout the county.
A lot of the breweries have tasting rooms where you can go try out a bunch of different beers. This is not only a great way to learn about the beers made by the company, but also to compare different kinds of brews and develop your beer-tasting skills. And it’s a lot of fun! Some of the breweries have restaurants or pubs where you can eat and sample their beverages too, and, of course, you can buy the beers at different restaurants and stores throughout the area.
Catch Up on the Beer Blogs
Craft beer is so happening in San Diego that it should have its own blog—oh wait, it does. A couple of them in fact! The San Diego Brewers Guild is the first stop if you’re looking for great beer and fun events to go with it. There’s something beer-related happening in this city almost every day, and even some events that run for multiple days.
West Coaster is a free print-magazine and website devoted to “Serving America’s Finest Beer County.” The website’s breweries page lists 129 brew houses in the county (but they don’t all have tasting rooms). The list includes some of the big ones that have been acquired by international corporations, which kind of takes the fun out of the “craft brew” aspect. It’s just a couple though, most are still cool, local brewers. There’s also a list of planned breweries because even though there are more here than you’ll find anywhere else, more are in the works.
Get Ready for Beer Week
San Diego Beer Week (SDBG) is coming up in November and is always a ton of fun. This year it runs from November 4 – 13. The festivities kick off with the 14th Annual San Diego Brewers Guild Festival, right downtown, on Broadway Pier at the Port Pavilion. It’s a great opportunity to taste a lot of beer, learn about different types, experience some beers that are brewed specifically for the festival, and if you are interested in learning to brew beer (or just sound like you know what you’re talking about when you go to a brew pub), there are 30-minute Beer College sessions you can attend.
Beer Week ends with The Beer Garden at Torry Pines on November 13, where 28 breweries and 14 amazing chefs come together for beer and food pairing. To really go high-end, book a Beer Garden Room Package that includes admission for two and a room at the Lodge at Torry Pines for a night. It’s a gorgeous 5-star, premier luxury hotel next to the ocean, so staying there is not something the locals do often, but a nice way to make the most of the unlimited beer samples and not have to worry about getting home at the end of the night.
The Beer Culture’s Cultural Beer
Craft brewing includes every kind of beer, but the local culture has developed a particular fondness for hoppy IPAs. It seems every local brewery has at least one signature IPA, and some have whole lines of the hoppy brews.
Another new trend is what’s being referred to as “session” beers. These aren’t a particular kind of brew, but rather low alcohol content, which allows drinkers to spend hours imbibing without becoming inebriated. There are so many places to get an excellent beer around here, it’s no wonder hanging out sipping on a beer with friends has become such a popular way to spend an afternoon. Relaxing and enjoying the company is the point, not getting drunk, so low alcohol content helps, and is a point in the favor of the IPAs and pale ales.
If you want to learn more about “session” beer and why it matters, Draft Magazine did a great article explaining it all. If you’re in the mood for something a little less cerebral, they also posted instructions for making Beer Butter Popcorn (what a great twist on my favorite food!).
A Sampling of Craft Brew Locations
There’s no way to talk about all the breweries and their tasting rooms in one article (although that could be a fun series to research!), so here’s a look at a few of the spots to be aware of—and visit when you get the chance.
If you head out north to Vista, Mother Earth Brew Co. is everything you’d look for in a craft brewery and a Southern California success story. Started and run as a family business for eight years, they honed their craft to perfection. Boo Koo Mosaic IPA is their most popular beer and its fruit and pine notes make it an easy one to kick back and drink all afternoon. For something really earthy, Sin Tax is an unusual and unusually delicious brew. It’s an imperial stout with a peanut butter addition. You’ll want to take your time with these, though, thanks to the 8.1% alcohol content.
Beer and Pizza have been the perfect match since way before craft beer was a thing, and Pizza Port is right on top of that action. They’ve been winning awards since 1994, starting with a bronze medal for Old Boneyards Barleywine at the Great American Beer Festival. They have locations in Solana Beach, San Clemente, Carlsbad, Bressi Ranch, and Ocean Beach. California Honey Ale is brewed at all their locations and really contains California honey, which you can taste and smell—and it makes a perfect accompaniment to pizza!
It isn’t just the classic spots that have great craft beer, though. Because there is such a culture of beer appreciation in San Diego, any newcomer had better really know what they are going up against when they get into the arena. There have been some impressive entries in the last couple of years. 12 new breweries opened up last year alone. Second Chance Beer Company is one of the newbies that’s getting a lot of positive buzz. The brew master there isn’t counting on succeeding by jumping on the IPA train either. He’s known for crafting some of the best porters around. Which I’ll take over a hoppy, lighter brew any day.
Do you have a favorite place to try out the local craft brews? Or just a favorite brew? I’d love to hear about it!