San Diego has an amazing microbrewery scene, with over 120 breweries in the county alone. When I started planning my trip to the American West, I allotted 4 days in San Diego, predominantly to visit the many well-reputed breweries that call the city home. As it turned out, I arrived in San Diego early, which afforded me a 5th night.
I ended up visiting a total of 22 breweries in the 5 days. Here are brief summaries of all 22.
Alpine Brewing Company- I stopped at Alpine on my way in to SD from Southern Arizona, and, after a long drive, I was in need of a beer. They’s recently sold to Green Flash, but my sources told me I would still love the beers produced at their original location. I’d been told the IPAs would be the highlight, and Pure Hoppiness, Duet and Nelson all scored high marks from me. The staff at the brewpub wasn’t the friendliest bunch I met however.
Benchmark Brewing Company- This was truly a ‘bonus’ brewery, as it had missed the cut on the ‘four-day’ plan, but it was on the way to my hotel and they had a good reputation, so I was glad to get a chance to stop. They’re located in an industrial complex (as many SD breweries are), but the inside of the tasting room was comfy and I certainly thought their beer, especially the Talking Tree Saison, were good.
Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, Escondido- This is, simply put, the single most beautiful brewery space I have ever been. I’ll dedicate a whole post to this amazing, multi-million dollar facility, but the tap list of Stone beers is impressive, and the guest tap list includes so many amazing beers it would be impossible to try them all in one visit. The food is certainly fancy and has the price tag to prove it. If you visit one San Diego brewery, this would be the one. (For those without their own transportation, this might prove hard. The Escondido area has plenty of affordable accommodations and Ubers- I availed myself of both).
Coronado Brewing Company (Production Facility)- Since I’d had lots of Coronado’s beers before, they were originally not on my list. I’d noticed that this particular location (just north of Old Town) was open at 10 AM, and it just so happened that I was passing here on my way to Ocean Beach at just that time. Good fortune smiled on me as I ended I chancing to meet Rick, Coronado’s president, while sitting in the pub having a few samples. This is a top rate brewery, and their tasting room had plenty of interesting stuff not in their normal bottling rotation.
Pizza Port (Ocean Beach)- This longtime San Diego mainstay has 5 locations around the area, but the Ocean Beach brewpub is the most famous. Of course I had to try a couple of their famous slices with my flight. This pizza was as good as advertised. My favorite of the beers was a brett saison called Beer Hunter Episode 2.
Acoustic Ales Brewing Experiment- This was a stop on my way out to Pacific Beach, and this brewpub certainly captures the chill, SoCal environment nicely. They staff was friendly, with lots of great tips on how to spend my days in San Diego, and the beers were pretty good. This is an incredibly convenient stop for those using public transportation, as it’s just a couple hundred feet from the northbound tram line.
Amplified Ale Works- This place was recommended because of good food & beer, with an awesome guest tap list, and it was only a few hundred feet from the beach. That would allow me to visit the Pacific, grab a flight and some food and then make it back to the beach for sunset. All of these things happened except the sunset. Their beers were good, but this highlight of this visit was the Döner Fries, a huge plate of fries which I got with salmon. It was also topped with garlic aioli, California chili & avocado dressing. It was also half price during happy hour.
Modern Times Lomaland Fermentorium- I’d originally intended to visit the Modern Times location in the North Park neighborhood, but as my plans changed, I seized the opportunity to visit this location, which was close to the bus line back to my hotel for the evening. I was certainly glad I did, as their beer was amazing- I enjoyed everything I had on the couple of flights I ordered. Particularly impressive was Black House, a coffee oatmeal stout, and Universal Friend, a saison aged in Pinot Noir barrels.
Ballast Point Tasting Room & Kitchen (Little Italy)- One of San Diego’s most famous breweries and certainly one of my favorites, I had a brilliant lunch and samples here, only a 10 minute walk from my hotel. This location had one of the most impressively knowledgeable brewpub staffs I encountered on the whole trip. I was so impressed with the Grunion, a mosaic hop pale ale with a beautiful nose, that I bought a six pack to bring back with me. No visit to San Diego’s beer scene would be complete without a visit tom on of Ballast Point’s locations.
Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery- I’ll admit to not getting a real good feel for this place. They certainly have a good reputation, but, on the afternoon I visited, the pub was packed with homebrewers from the National Homebrewing Conference, which was in SD the weekend I visited (this was the only place I battled a crowd from the conference however). I had a couple of their house beers, which were good enough, but if I’d stayed longer (and actually thought I’d get served), I would have tried some beers off their rather impressive guest tap list.
Mission Brewery- I stopped at Mission, another longtime San Diego brewing institution, in East Village across a few massive parking lots from Petco Field, on my way to a Friday night game between the Padres and visiting Dodgers. The brewpub is an impressive space, with much of the brewing operation visible to patrons in this open, dog-friendly facility. I’d previously had many of their beer that are available in my neighboring states (Illinois & Ohio), but I was impressed with the variety I hadn’t tried in bottles previously. With the rise of hard rootbeers, Mission’s is the best I’ve had and one not to be missed.
Half Door Brewing Company- I stumbled upon this new downtown brewery right down the street from Petco Park as I was heading for my tram home. Set in an older house and modeled after a countryside Irish pub, the beers were good for a new brewery and the staff was also welcoming. It would make sense that my favorite beer of theirs was Roark Red Ale, a traditional red ale.
Societe Brewing Company- I made a brief stop here while heading out the some of the more suburban breweries and wish I’d had more of an opportunity to try the beers from this well-reputed brewery. I did seriously enjoy The Bellowman, a stout which was seriously smoky.
The Lost Abbey & Port Brewing Company- This was one of the breweries I had been looking forward to visiting most. I arrived on a Saturday in the early afternoon and found the place packed. I’ve particularly been a fan of beers from The Lost Abbey for years, since I enjoying funky and odd versions of common styles. I samples three of The Lost Abbey’s Belgian-inspired beers, which were good, but I was more impressed with the standard styles I had from Port Brewing, specifically the Shark Attack Double Red and Board Meeting Brown.
Rip Current Brewing Company- These guys won three medals a few months after my visit at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, including the Best Very Small Brewing Company of the year. I wasn’t surprised as I really enjoyed the beer I had here in this extremely chill environment in San Marcos. My favorite were their IPAs, not a surprise from any brewery on the west coast, but they also did well on other styles, including a fantastic ESB and an outstanding Hazelnut Porter.
Toolbox Brewing Company- This was one of the new breweries I’d visited and the only one in the San Diego area specializing in wild ales. I had not been able to find a ton of reviews of the place online, and the ones I did see must have been written by non-sour beer people, because I loved the place. Every beer I had was excellent. Reading back over my Untappd comments it’s clear I’d run out of accolades by my 11th and final sample, Virgin Cherry Sour Blonde Wild Ale, because all it reads is “Yes. Yes. Yes.” If you like sours, this is an absolute must-visit. If you don’t, maybe they’ll change your mind.
Latitude 33 Brewing Company- This place was a short walk uphill from Toolbox in another industrial complex. The list the Honey Hips Strong Blonde their most popular beer, and for good reason. Not usually a fan of blondes, this one was flavorful and hid the 8.3% abv very well. I also liked the Thirty Three IPA, and brought bottles back of both to serve at my beer party in August.
Booze Brothers Brewing Company- This was my last stop of 6 breweries in the Vista/San Marcos area, and I only had a chance to try a quick flight of five before they closed. My favorite of the bunch was Cherry Blind, which is a version of their standard witbeer, Snow Blind, with cherry in it. All five on the flight were pretty good- another place I’d recommend even after such a short visit.
White Labs Tasting Room- “White Labs Inc. Pure Yeast and Fermentation team members have been active in the American and worldwide craft brewing movements since the 1980s,” says their website. This company is one of the worldwide leaders in providing liquid yeast to the craft beer industry, and also to homebrewers. Their small tasting room in Miramar area provided me with the unique opportunity to have a flight of four, all the same beer, the Pasteur Porter, but all with different yeast strains. Tasting notes told me what to look for and it turned out to be an educational experience. Of the four yeasts I tried (Belgian Ale Yeast, Dry English Yeast, German Ale Yeast & California Ale Yeast), I liked the German yeast best, which was the one I would have expected to like least. This isn’t a classic brewpub, but it’s a cool side trip.
Green Flash Brewing Company- One of San Diego’s older breweries, the last few years have seen Green Flash expand it’s distribution by leaps and bounds, and now it’s a nationally recognized name. This spacious facility in Miramar has a small tasting room with a comfortable patio area, and offers frequent tours. Best known for their west coast IPAs, they have started to branch out into many more styles, and are also starting to get into the barrel aging side of the business as well. I’d had a number of their beers before, but was still able to find some new ones to try in the tasting room.
AleSmith Brewing Company- AleSmith is another of San Diego’s signature breweries. Although not distributed in my home state of Michigan, I’d been fortunate enough to try many of their beers and bottle shares or while traveling out of state. The tasting room I visited is in their new building, and was a shell of what it someday will be. I was able to watch a promotional video while sipping on my flight which showed what they have in mind for the place, and it’s going to be impressive. The big score on this visit was getting to have the .394 San Diego Pale Ale, a tribute beer to baseball Hall of Famer and San Diego Padre legend Tony Gwynn, who passed away after battling cancer a few years before.
Mike Hess Brewing Company- This brewery also has a location in the North Park neighborhood (which I regrettably missed on this trip), and another location coming in Ocean Beach, but I visited the original location in an industrial complex a short walk from AleSmith. The brewery’s founder and namesake started brewing at this location as a homebrewer back in 2009, and his reputation spread quickly. The taproom here has comfortable seating and a ping pong table, and the bartender I had on my visit was more than happy to tell me the story of their growing brewery. All the beers I had here were solid.
While the overall list of breweries I visited is somewhat impressive, it’s amazing how many other I was disappointed to have missed. By the end of the five days, I was thoroughly beered out, but I can see a return trip to this amazing beer city at some point in time in the future.