In San Diego, A Craft-Beer Scene Emerges

The southern Californian city has been described as the “hoppiest place on earth."

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A view of the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens.

In recent years, San Diego has burst onto the international beer scene, emerging as America’s craft-beer capital. “From the very beginning, the emphasis was on quality from a technical perspective, which laid the foundation for our brewers to indulge their artistic passions,” says Chris Cramer, co-founder of the pioneering Karl Strauss Brewing Company (www.karlstrauss.com) that opened in 1989. Today, 58 microbreweries are producing mostly barrel-aged beers (like the “double IPAs” or strong India pale ales that are such a feature of the U.S. brewing scene). Many more breweries are coming down the pipe. No wonder this southern Californian city has been described as the “hoppiest place on earth.”

Each November, the annual San Diego Beer Week (sdbw.org) showcases more than 100 craft-beer-related events, from barrel tastings to wine versus beer food-pairings. But outside the festival, Brew Hop (www.brewhop.com) can put together private brewery tours tailored to your taste buds and you can track down your favorite tipple with the TapHunter app (www.taphunter.com). In the meantime, here’s a selection of local hotspots to get you started.

(MORE: Craft Beer Gets the ‘Fast-Casual’ Treatment)

Bottlecraft Beer Shop and Tasting Room
Don’t know your gose from your gueuze? Then begin at Bottlecraft, part tasting room, part beer shop and part hipster bar. Opened in 2011, Bottlecraft stocks around 700 local, domestic and imported bottled beers stacked by geographical location, and knowledgeable staff—led by qualified sommelier Brian Jensen—take pleasure in educating drinkers, hosting daily changing four-glass flights, weekly mystery flights, regular themed tasting events and classes. You’re welcome to order-in food to accompany your beer purchases and enjoy it in the convivial atmosphere around the large communal table. For special events, Bottlecraft works with local gourmet food trucks on imaginative pairings. Tel: (1-619) 487 9493; 2161 India Street; bottlecraftbeer.com.

Stone Brewing Co.
Founded in 1996 by enthusiasts Steve Wagner and Greg Koch, the Stone Brewing Company has grown into one of the United States’ largest craft breweries and is still expanding. With nine year-round core beers—including the signature Arrogant Bastard Ale—it boosts its line-up with one-off specials, collaborations with other brewers and the annual home-brewer’s competition winner. Take one of the daily guided-tours of its stunning headquarters in Escondido, then head to the sleek indoor-outdoor bistro, renowned for its world-food menu and an egalitarian rotating beer list, including those from other local microbreweries. If you can’t make it to the brewery, visit the South Park store where you can taste the beer, fill your growler and buy the T-shirt. Tel: (1-760) 471 4999; 1999 Citracado Parkway; stonebrew.com.

(MORE: How to Support America and Drink Beer in the Same Gulp)

The Lost Abbey
Award-winning Lost Abbey beers come with names such as Devotion, Judgment Day, Lost and Found and Inferno Ale, each with its own story and one-off artwork. Based in the Stone Brewing Co’s former premises in San Marcos, Lost Abbey has a legion of fans and the rituals of its tasting room inspire near religious fervor. Much-respected co-founder and director of brewery operations Tomme Arthur has created Belgian-inspired, flavor-driven beers, and his experiments include ageing in former wine, tequila and brandy barrels, with fruits, herbs, spices and a variety of wild yeasts. Look out for the last couple of bottlings in Lost Abbey’s 2012 Ultimate Box Set. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. Tel: (1-800) 918 6816; #104, 155 Mata Way; lostabbey.com.

Hamilton’s Tavern
Hundreds of beer taps hang from the ceiling of this dimly lit bar like multicolored stalactites. Owner Scot Blair began as an enthusiastic home brewer before opening Hamilton’s in 2006 with the aim of converting the locals to quality suds. Now this bastion of craft-beer, tucked away in South Park, boasts one of the city’s most impressive lists, with 28 beers on tap, two cask engines and over 300 sought-after bottles, from local microbrews to exotic imports (look out for ‘food beer’, infused with everything from Aleppo peppers to lamb). Patrons are passionate—at one of the Firkin Friday’s cask ale showcases, Victory at Sea from San Diego’s Ballast Point sold out in a record-breaking nine minutes. As Blair says: “Once you’ve had a grass-fed beef burger you can’t go back to McDonalds.” Tel: (1-619) 238 5460; 1521 30th Street; hamiltonstavern.com.

Neighborhood
Part of the rejuvenation of downtown’s East Village, Neighborhood is a successful union of edgy artwork, an innovative take on traditional American bar food and a strong craft beer list, with 27 drafts and over 30 bottles on offer. This contemporary eatery has kept the sport but ditched leatherette booths in favor of loosely arranged seating around the bar and patio, while portraits of Jesus and Sigmund Freud devouring burgers adorn the walls. Executive Chef Jason McLeod, brings his Michelin-star experience and quality ingredients to the menu in dishes such as jalapeño mac and cheese, chorizo corn dogs and grain-fed sirloin burgers slathered in artisanal cheeses and homemade sauces, such as guajillo salsa and mustard seed aioli. Just don’t ask for ketchup, it’s banned. Tel: (1-619) 446 0002; 777 G Street; neighborhoodsd.com.

MORE: Beer Enters the Dark Ages

33 comments
SarahGrieco
SarahGrieco

@LilyShumLeung Nice! Same places featured in @nytimes article, must go before they are crowded with #craftbeer tourists.

davehuge
davehuge

@ColinParent @jbarro Yes, good point. Very good point. And one I'm surprised Cowen didn't bring up.

LilyShumLeung
LilyShumLeung

@colinparent Didja know a Bottlecraft is opening up in North Park?

RonNehring
RonNehring

@ToddGloria Many of those small businesses will be hit by big tax hike on "the rich."

Jose92104
Jose92104

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Jose92104
Jose92104

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Jose92104
Jose92104

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Jose92104

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Jose92104
Jose92104

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Jose92104
Jose92104

@Jose92104 Biden for Secretary of State

Jose92104
Jose92104

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Jose92104
Jose92104

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Jose92104
Jose92104

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Jose92104

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Jose92104
Jose92104

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jon_addis
jon_addis

@VisitEscondido @StoneBrewingCo @visitsandiego Great article! We had lunch at Stone this weekend. Good, food, beer & vibe. reserve online!

NadiaIbanez
NadiaIbanez

Can't write a story about the SD craft brew scene without mentioning Iron Fist in Vista! Incredible delicious beers and a lovely family running that place. Can't say enough great things about this brewery.

JessicaMcKean
JessicaMcKean

Just want to add Hess Brewing will be opening their production brewery in North Park prety soon. It was the first nano brewery in San Diego. Our tasting room is located in Miramar and will remain once the brewery opens. Exciting stuff is happening in San Diego.

qpodad
qpodad

Also, what the heck do you mean "mostly barrel aged beers" in the opening paragraph? They are a small percentage of the total bbl brewed and sold in SD.Most of the high IBU popular hoppy SD brews are best fresh, not aged! But still, good article.

qpodad
qpodad

Very cool article, we are lucky to live here! And BTW, the # of craft breweriesin SD county (aka "Suds County USA) is now 61. Thorn St. Brewery is North Parks's first (just off 30th, aka the "Brewlevard"). Check their website at thornstreetbrew dot com.

BeerBelly_LA
BeerBelly_LA

@StoneGreg @NeighborhoodSD great article!

CraftBeerCnnct
CraftBeerCnnct

San Diego has the best beers in the world. This is why we started our business here! Without a doubt this city has transformed those who were never beer drinkers into believers. And, those were only dabbled in the fizzy yellow stuff, into converted IPA drinkers. We are proud to be part of this culture and are extremely excited to pass the goodness forward!

beernerd8766
beernerd8766

very few breweries barrel age their double ipas, and if they do, it's a one-off experimental, as barrel aging ipas tend to make them a lot worse.

if you are interested in san diego beer, toronado would be your best bet. it has the most quality taps, and a long rooted history in the craft beer scene starting with the original toronado in san francisco which opened 25 years ago as one of the only craft beer bars in the country at the time.

pqjulie
pqjulie

And you can find every craft brewery location (in San Diego but also throughout the U.S. and Canada) on an interactive map at www.pubquest.com.

criddycrud
criddycrud

"Mostly barrel aged beers"???  WTF is the author talking about? No brewery makes mostly barrel aged beers except brewers of Gueuze, etc. The research on this article is garbage.

ColinParent
ColinParent

Yes, very exciting. Told they can't serve right away. RT @lilyshumleung: @ColinParent Didja know a Bottlecraft is opening up in North Park?

ColinParent
ColinParent

@lilyshumleung Don't know the details, but I think so. Often licenses start out as one thing and grow into another (cf beer/wine -> spirits)


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