We ran an online poll for about two months on our website. After crunching the numbers, we did our best to determine why we thought you, our readers, voted the way you did. Below are our suppositions and a snapshot of the year in beer 2017.
Best Brewery: Modern Times Beer
Modern Times is unstoppable. We can’t keep up. The Loma Portal-based brewery is ambitiously opening satellite operations in Los Angeles, Anaheim, Portland and Santa Barbara. In 2017, they set the standard for one-off canned releases and hazy hoppy San Diegan beers. Last July, Modern Times began an employee stock ownership plan. No other brewery in town is doing so much so well. Winner of this category in 2015, we had the sneaking suspicion that this brewery was just finding its legs. Now, we know that Modern Times is just getting warmed up.
Best Beer Artwork: Modern Times Cans
Take beer out of the equation and Modern Times is an impressive marketing machine in its own respect. The branding and artwork has been top tier since the brewery’s inception – cans especially. When the brewery began dropping tons of specialty releases, we started to see the cans elevate away from mere vessels of beverage containment into bonafide art. Last year, we consistently saw fresh, awesome design handiwork appear from this brewery. Where other breweries just slap a sticker on a blank can, Modern Times made every one-off release that much more unique by giving as much attention to the can’s design as to the beer within.
Best Brewpub: TIE between Karl Strauss and Pizza Port
A first for this feature, Karl Strauss and Pizza Port tied in votes for this category. We’ll take it, as both businesses operate classic, distinct examples of a San Diegan brewpub. Aesthetically, a Karl brewpub is slick and low-key sophisticated with casual upscale fare, while Pizza Port is a flip-flopped, family-friendly endeavor that focuses on pitchers and pizza. It’s nice to have a brewpub for all moods; sometimes we want Banh-Mi’s and Aurora Hoppyalis, or sometimes we want cheesy Beer Buddies and pitchers of Ponto.
Best Overall #SDBeer: AleSmith .394
Brewed with inspiration and feedback from the greatest Padre of all time, .394 Pale Ale is a mid-strength 6% hoppy, yet balanced San Diegan ale named after Tony Gwynn’s legendary batting average for the 1994 season. AleSmith did a great job getting this beer brewed and distributed, with classic Friars colors to boot. This Pale is delicious, has a great story, and is easy to find, which makes it a solid go-to for many local beer drinkers.
Best IPA: Alpine HFS
The abbreviation stands for “Holy *ucking *hit”, which is an understandable reaction upon tasting this outstanding example of a local IPA. From Alpine’s head brewer Shawn McIlhenney, this is “the beer that named itself,” he continues: “We got exactly what we wanted out of the beer: huge hop aroma, light body and immense drinkability.” Winner of a 2016 bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival in the American-style strong pale ale category, we recommend hunting this tasty hop treat down and trying it for yourself to see why it’s our reader’s choice for the Best IPA in the land of 1000 IPAs.
Best Lager: Normcore by Burning Beard
You can’t hide in a Pilsner. Any off-flavors or flaws will be revealed in the style’s subtle profile; it’s a tough beer to make. Burning Beard knocked it out of the park with Normcore Pils, which wouldn’t be out of place on a tap in Plzeň. The East County beer scene really started to come together when the ‘Beard came around and started producing such quality brews as this.
Best Barrel-aged: AleSmith Speedway Stout
AleSmith’s big, beefy, barrel-aged 12% ABV beast of a beer is both well known and respected. Roasty and toasty with espresso and chocolate notes in abundance, the beer in its original format is already dangerously quaffable. When aged in a barrel, the beer becomes even more drinkable. First brewed in 1997, the first bottle release of a Speedway specialty variant was in 2005, and AleSmith has been at the forefront of humans-waiting-in-line-control for bottle releases ever since. The first barrel-aged Speedway varietal releases began drawing crowds of nearly 700, with people camping out in cars or tents, flying in from around the country, or enlisting elderly relatives to stand in line in order to snag another bottle.
Best One-Off: Lost Abbey Ghost in the Forest
Aged for 18 months in oak foeders, or large wooden fermentation vessels, this blonde beer was spiked with the venerable Brettanomyces. “When we first got these massive foeders, we knew we were going to have to be patient and let the oak work its magic,” said Tomme Arthur, COO. “We’ve since added three additional vessels, creating our own ‘forest’ and we’re really excited to start blending these beers into future creations.” This wild, oaky beer boasts lemon and tropical fruit flavors. Bottles are still available online at LostAbbey.com or in the tasting room.
Best Collaboration: Capital of Craft
The Brewers Guild corralled member breweries that had been open for 20 years or more for a brew day at Coronado Brewing Co.’s Knoxville production facility prior to San Diego Beer Week 2017. The result: a collaboration beer between AleSmith, Coronado, Karl Strauss, Oggi’s, Pizza Port, San Marcos Brewery, and Stone Brewing. Local hops from Star B Ranch and yeast from Miramar’s White Labs were also used. The result? The San Diegoest of San Diegan beers. A 7% IPA, this beer hit draft handles for San Diego Beer Week 2017.
Best New Establishment: Bar Sin Nombre
The Bar with No Name opened for San Diego Beer Week 2017 with a tap list that both bewildered and excited. Owner Tony Raso is no newcomer to tasty beer nor Chula Vista. As a member of the La Bella Pizza and Beer Garden family, Tony honed his chops as Beverage Director of Honolulu’s well respected Real A GastroPub, before returning to his native South Bay to work on Bar Sin Nombre. Flexing the connections he made bringing tasty beer to Hawaii, Bar Sin Nombre’s taplists have consistently been awe-inspiring collections of seldom-seen and tough-to-get kegs from around the globe. Along with Manhattan, Machete, and Third Ave Alehouse, Bar Sin Nombre is a stellar addition to the stellar beer bars of the #SouthBayUprising movement.
Best Bottleshop: Bottlecraft
Our readers loved Bottlecraft in 2017 (and in 2016). It’s not hard to understand why. Most bottle shops are simply liquor stores with glorified beer selections (nothing wrong with that), but Bottlecraft has never been anything except a beer store. And what a beer store. Killer curated can and bottle inventories and on-premise licenses means it’s a beer bar / shop hybrid where you can drink tap drafts and / or pop bottles. Early in the year, the empire that was born in Little Italy in 2010 expanded to add its fourth San Diegan location in Solana Beach.
Best Homebrew Supply: The Homebrewer
The Homebrewer began life as Home Brews and Gardens and was located in the current Thorn Street Brewing location. In early 2012, George Thornton set off on his own to open The Homebrewer on El Cajon Boulevard in North Park. The little shop has developed handsomely in its six years of existence and has earned our reader’s choice of Best Homebrew Supply store in San Diego for the past two years. Home to a friendly and knowledgeable staff, keen selection, frequent and fun educational events, and an attached brewery with tasting room, this store is grooming the next generation of professional San Diego brewers.
Best Beer Selection and Tap Rotation: The Brew Project
The Brew Project delivers on its promise of “A Brewery Tour Under One Roof”, offering 26 taps from all across the county, with effort is made to reach out to oft-overlooked breweries. Thus, you’ll see smaller and newer breweries nestled into the coldbox of this craftsman home off 6th Avenue in Hillcrest, an area of town not known for its beer. The Brew Project is spreading the gospel of local beer in their own funky way. It’s a neat spot that, while outside of the traditional beer zones of North Park, Miramar, or Vista, could hold its own in any of the beerier parts of town.
Best Event: Collabapalooza
The first ever Collabapalooza festival was organized by Karl Strauss and took place in the parking lot behind the Observatory in North Park during SDBW 2017. In the months prior, Karl Strauss reached out to dozens of local breweries, asking them to brew collaboration beers. Perhaps most notable was Karl’s olive branch to longtime rival Stone Brewing, the result of which was an Australian-hopped collaboration beer called Hug It Out Mate. Readers will be hoping that Karl Strauss brings Collabapalooza back as an annual event during SD Beer Week.
Best Beer Bar: Hamilton’s
A reader favorite every year since we’ve started this poll in 2014, Hamilton’s hardly needs an introduction. This bar is a windowless cave where time, light, and the outside world are filtered out once you step through the door. Within, the focus is on the beer you are drinking and who you are drinking it with. It’s a neighborhood tavern at its soul, with a fresh cask tapped every Friday for Firkin Fridays, and every Second Saturday of the month features a brewery tap takeover and complimentary food. Like the Haji, the beer faithful should once in their lifetime participate in the Hamilton’s Fling, a frisbee golf tournament and fantastic beer party that takes place during San Diego Beer Week.
Best Beer Restaurant: Urge American Gastropub
Urge started in Rancho Bernardo in 2010 with 54 taps and an immense bottlelist. Since then, they’ve expanded the empire significantly under the 3LB (3 Local Brothers) brand to two other locations, in Oceanside and San Marcos. Both of those spots include breweries, and 3LB also run a bottleshop / deli / pizza parlor / coffee shop named Brother’s Provisions. Oceanside’s Urge has a speakeasy called 101 Proof in addition to a production brewery, and San Marcos has a full-fledged bowling alley adjacent to their own brewhouse. A venerable empire, Urge is expanding with a new tasting room in Carmel Valley this year.
Best Brewer: Travis Smith
Our reader’s choice winner of 2014, Travis curried favor with our readers and San Diegan beer lovers once again in 2017 with a bundle of tasty new releases. Travis’ brewery, Societe, released five new beers in one weekend last year: The Fiddler IPA, The Statesman Pale Ale, The Bachelor Single Hop IPA w/ Cashmere, The Damsel Belgian Table Beer, and The Thief, a bottled feral (wild) beer with local Grenache blanc grapes. Travis cut his chops brewing at The Bruery and Russian River for many moons, and Societe was founded over beers at O’Brien’s. Together with co-founder Douglas Constantiner, Societe has developed handsomely into the 16,000 square foot flavor powerhouse we see today.