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San Diego Brewery Guide 2011

March 10, 2011
San Diego Brewery Guide

San Diego Brewery Guide (Photo Courtesy: Karl Strauss)

The San Diego’s Convention & Visitor’s Bureau has a tourism campaign with the slogan of “Happy Happens.” We’d like to alter that campaign to reflect the growing impact of beer tourism. We’re thinking, “Hoppy Happens.” Hopefully, ConVis won’t send us a cease and desist letter since we are merely spreading the good word about San Diego’s burgeoning craft brewing scene.

Nationally, San Diego has been getting noticed by other craft breweries and beer aficionados – and for good reason. Risk-takers like Stone Brewing, Alesmith and Pizza Port have been entering beer competitions and winning. In fact, each of these breweries and other San Diego breweries are getting more respect with each award that they get at the national competitions.

Another unique part of San Diego’s brewing community is that the growth of the local brewery scene is directly attributed to the collaborative spirit of the brew masters and the enthusiastic support from the locals. In 20 years, the brewery count in San Diego has gone from just a few to close to 40!

Actually, breweries are nothing new to San Diego. Starting in the late 1800s, San Diego was home to more than a handful of breweries: the San Diego Brewing Company, City Brewery, Mission Brewery, Aztec Brewery, Philadelphia Brewery, and the San Francisco Brewery. Sadly, only two of these breweries are still brewing – San Diego Brewing Company and Mission Brewery.

Tip! When you visit a brewery, you have the option of taking some home with you. According to the Alcohol Beverage Control Division, every brewery must dispense their beer in their own growler (which is a 64-ounce glass refillable bottle). For the consumer, this means that you have to make a one-time purchase of each brewery’s growlers in order to come back and refill them. Since there is no growler-fits-all, the consumer has to have enough shelf space to store all those little brown or clear jugs!

Our Favorite San Diego Breweries

Alesmith (9368 Cabot Drive, San Diego) – Located in an industrial park in the Miramar area, Alesmith can be a bit tough to find on your maiden voyage. Alesmith’s tasting room can be accessed from the front of the building or from the back where the beer tanks are. The tasting room is nothing fancy – this is a brewery that produces to sell its beer, plain and simple. Alesmith does a good job of holding special events in their brewery to showcase new and seasonal releases. Their loyal following, consistent quality, and clever branding (names like Horny Little Devil) makes them one of San Diego’s finest breweries.

Ballast Point (5401 Linda Vista Road, Suite #406 and 10051 Old Grove Road) – One of the early local breweries, Ballast Point has been producing microbrews near the University of San Diego (USD) for many years. A number of restaurants carry and have carried Ballast Point. Their Linda Vista Road tasting room is small and located in the back of the storefront called HomeBrewMart. If you are passionate about beer and want to learn how to make your own stout, be sure to check out the brew mart on your way back to the tasting area. The Old Grove Road location is located in an industrial park area near the entrance to Scripps Ranch. Their tasting room is a tad larger than the other location, but their brewery is more expansive.

We like the Linda Vista Road location because it is, well, closer to us. At the Linda Vista Road tasting room, a large chalkboard of the daily beer samples is located directly above the tasting bar. After a few samples, be sure to steady yourself as you gaze up to see the list. Ballast Point charges a nominal fee for tastings. Do not let this discourage you because you will want to be sure exactly what kind of ale you want before you ask them to fill up your little brown jug with your favorite one. If you ask for a tour, they will show you their small brewery. It is amazing that they have been able to produce as much beer as they have over the years from this small facility. Do not be shy about asking for recommendations from the very knowledgeable brewery staff.

Coronado Brewing Company (170 Orange Avenue, Coronado) – The Coronado Brewing Company combines beer making, pizza, calzones, and burgers in a sports bar-type setting. Coronado Brewing Company is the only brewery on the island. Coronado restaurants support their island’s brewery by featuring it on their menus. Coronado Brewing Company’s beers are consistently good and we like their food enough to feature it in our restaurant listings for Coronado. The restaurant also features covered outdoors dining which sets it apart from many of the other brewery/restaurants.

Karl Strauss (various locations) – The craft brewer that really put San Diego on the microbrewery map in the 1980s was Karl Strauss himself. The original brewery location at Columbia & B Street is our favorite – it is located in a beautiful old brick building not far from the Santa Fe Depot (train station). Many downtown denizens and workers frequent this brewery on a regular basis – some of these regulars have their own personalized schooners hanging above the bar.

Karl Strauss has multiple locations in town and all of them (except for the wholesale brewery) offer food to go along with their beer. The beer tenders are always willing to give patrons small samples of their beer before they commit to a pint or a pitcher. Be sure to ask for samples so that you can try something different.

Lost Abbey (155 Mata Way, Suite 104, San Marcos) – Lost Abbey is located in Stone Brewing’s former location at Mata Way. Lost Abbey specializes in Belgian style ales which carry a heftier punch in alcohol content. Please keep this in mind when you sample their beers. The tasting room also includes Port brews that are American/West-Coast style – some of these also carry a wallop so be sure to check their alcohol content to be on the safe side.

Lost Abbey hosts a very popular Friday night and Saturday afternoon beer tastings at their brewery. For only $2 or $3, you can sample their ales as you sit on bags of hops that are plopped on top of empty kegs. Be sure to say meow to the two resident mouse catchers who will inevitably make their way around you to check you out.

Pizza Port (various locations) – We LOVE Pizza Port and have been to all four of their locations (Solana Beach, Carlsbad, San Clemente, and Ocean Beach). Simply put, their beer rocks and knocks your socks off! There is nothing fancy about any of their locations – picnic tables, paper plates, self-serve soda machine, and video machines for the ‘kids.’ All of Pizza Port’s locations serve delicious pizza, ‘beer buddies’ (pizza crust drizzled with olive oil and garlic), salads, and sausage sandwiches. The beer styles and types vary from location to location so be sure to check their website to see what is being served when.

Pizza Port Carlsbad also has a Bottle House next to its brewery where you can buy single bottles of beer from all around the world and even six-packs of Olympia Beer and Pabst Blue Ribbon. It is a great new addition to the brewery scene and we hope to see more bottle houses around town.

Rock Bottom Brewery (401 G Street, Gaslamp)- Located in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego, Johnny Oliphant, the brewmaster, keeps the beer flowing, fresh, and interesting. Attention to detail is important at Rock Bottom. One feature we like is that you can even sniff your way through their various hops and grains that are enclosed in spice jars. These are located right by the large window next to the beer tanks. We also found the presentation of their samples to be quite unique.

Rock Bottom Brewery has very good food and a very open, convivial atmosphere. It may sound cliché, but Rock Bottom is more than just a brewery. It is a great place to socialize, have lunch, happy hour, or dinner. They also have live music which brings in the crowds. Their staff is also very happy to make you feel right at home when you walk in the door. Sometimes, breweries are so busy making beer that their customer service could use a tune up. Rock Bottom makes a point to keep their customers happy and loyal. We love that.

Stone Brewing (1999 Citracado Parkway, Escondido) – Stone is one of San Diego’s other pioneer breweries. Stone started small and was able to achieve national success with their cleverly worded ale, Arrogant Bastard Ale. Stone has been able to distribute their beer successfully in San Diego and outside of San Diego. Their Arrogant Bastard beer can even be enjoyed on an Amtrak train – how good is that?In fact, they are getting close to build a brewery in Europe.

Stone’s brewery is located in the North County city of Escondido and the place is gorgeous. The expansive brewery and restaurant gives you the impression that you are, in fact, not in a brewery. We really loved the large sitting area outside that is beautifully landscaped. Stone does a good job of obscuring their patrons’ view of the Palomar Power Plant which is just up the street.

Many of Stone’s beers as well as guest brewery beers are served in elegant glasses, not your typical pub pints. The restaurant serves gourmet Slow Food which means that there are no televisions and no fast food offerings here. The food is organic, local and sustainable. It is also not cheap pub fare, so be prepared cash-wise.

Other San Diego Breweries

The list of breweries and places to drink local craft beer in San Diego continues to expand. San Diego has its own Brewers Guild and we have found that this site has the most current directory of local craft breweries and establishments that feature and promote their taps.

Here is a link to their informative site: San Diego Brewers Guild

We hope that this guide give you a better understanding of just how hoppy San Diego has become. If you love beer, San Diego is a great place to come swill, dine, and stay.

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