It used to be that sun, sand and surf were San Diego’s greatest assets, but suds are making even bigger waves thanks to the city’s swelling microbrew craze. There are more than 60 microbreweries riding the crest, and the lineup just keeps getting bigger. Perhaps the best thing about the county’s building beer stoke is that ale aficionados can sample the latest IPAs, saisons and sours straight from the source at the microbreweries’ onsite tasting rooms. While it would be next to impossible to tap into them all (albeit fun to try), here are some of our favorites.
Enjoy a tasting room twofer at Port Brewing Co. and The Lost Abbey in San Marcos, where four-ounce pours of their ales can be had for only a dollar. The two labels share space and an impressive collection of medals for their über-artisanal brewing techniques, but the similarities stop there. Port produces American-style ales, such as Shark Attack — a classic West Coast double red available year round — and seasonal specialties such as High Tide IPA, made with 180 pounds of juicy green hops for a fresh, fruity ultra-crisp beer.
Meanwhile, The Lost Abbey crafts its drafts in the tradition of Monastic Belgian brewing traditions, and some of its techniques blur the line between beer and wine making. For instance, The Angel’s Share spends up to 18 months soaking up flavors from an oak barrel formerly used to age bourbon or brandy. The result is a strong ale with sweet vanilla notes and a whopping 12.5 percent ABV (alcohol by volume).
Stone Brewing Co. is another top tap master. Based in Escondido, this world-renowned brewery is king of the kegs in San Diego’s suds scene. Founded by Greg Koch and Steve Wagner, the company began with a small brewery in San Marcos in 1996 and then transplanted the budding operation to Escondido in 2005. There, it blossomed into a veritable empire of ale. Stone Company Stores — offering 14-tap growler fill and taster stations — soon sprouted in South Park, Oceanside, Escondido and Pasadena.
The brand’s hottest haunt, however, is Stone Brewing Bistro & World Gardens, a slow-food restaurant adjacent to its Escondido brewery. The venue features lush landscaped outdoor eating areas and a vast indoor dining room with huge windows that overlook vats of beer on one side and the gorgeous gardens on the other. A glittering lineup of 32 taps ensures that menu items such as the Stone smoked porter and vanilla-glazed pork chop will be nicely paired with pints of Stones’ best beers, including the wildly popular Arrogant Bastard Ale.
Hopping south, other exceptional breweries include Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits — praised for its Sculpin IPA and Wahoo Wheat Beer; Green Flash Brewing Company — famed for Saison Diego (a spicy, unfiltered farmhouse ale); and newcomer Mike Hess Brewing of San Diego, which is expanding its Miramar nano-brewery operations to the hipster neighborhood of North Park. The new facilities will feature a deluxe tasting room along with a 50-foot sky bridge that will guide craft draft enthusiasts over the brewery situated in the basement below.
Drink your way through the area’s best breweries or safely sample these suds and more while Brewery Tours of San Diego takes on the duty of designated driver.
Photos courtesy of James Gambrill