Yesterday, I laid out what I believe are the best new breweries to have opened in 2016. Today, in part two of my three-part retrospective series on breweries in San Diego County, I’m listing the half-dozen operations I think most significantly upped their games over the past 12 months. It’s important to note up-front that being on this list in no way implies that these brewing companies were doing a bad job or making subpar beer until this year. It just means that, even if they were already good, they are doing even better now.
Karl Strauss Brewing Co., Pacific Beach: Uncle Karl’s crew has been churning out quality beer for decades, but in recent years they have put the pieces in place to reach all-time highs. Hoppy offerings like Mosaic Session IPA and Aurora Hoppyalis IPA are legitimately among the best of San Diego’s hoppy stock, and the brewery-restaurant chain’s portfolio is so stout with good beer, Karl Strauss was named Best Mid-Size Brewery at this year’s Great American Beer Festival.
Council Brewing Co., Kearny Mesa: I named this husband-and-wife aspiration one of the best new breweries to open in 2014. Back then, the business’ line-up was pretty solid, but nowadays the hoppy beers are dialed in, and its eclectic barrel-aged, bottled offerings are interesting and reliably delicious. They strive to do lots of things and are finding ways to successfully juggle all of it while providing an inviting atmosphere.
Toolbox Brewing Co., Vista: Many thought this business was done for after it parted with its original head brewer, but since picking up a hippy fermentationist with a scientific bent, this operation is not only making its 100% wild operation work, but rocking things out with intriguing, outstanding beers that are more cohesive than what came before. It’s an unlikely, but very welcomed outcome.
32 North Brewing Co., Miramar: In three years, this operation has had just as many head brewers. After having brought on the majority of Fall Brewing Co.’s brewing and sales personnel this year, the beer-quality is at an all-time high. That’s good timing, as 2017 finds 32 North making a big push to become better known and more successful via increased distribution of cans and kegs.
Groundswell Brewing Co., Grantville: A small system and lack of experience kept this business from realizing its potential, but after landing now-closed URBN St. Brewing Co.’s former head brewer, the beer has improved to the point where Groundswell’s ownership felt confident purchasing the large Santee brewery and distillery abandoned by defunct Twisted Manzanita Ales & Spirits.