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8 SD Brewers Crack RateBeer Top 100 of 2017

Jan 31

Yesterday, the “connoisseur-focused beer site” RateBeer released their list of the world’s top 100 brewers. According to the website, “the summarization is based on ten different weighted scales that place an emphasis on reviews of the past year and top performing beers but also includes historical all-around performance, a brewer’s range of performance across styles, and other factors to compare newer and older, larger and smaller brewers under a single method of processing.”

Eight local brewers made the list, including AleSmith at number four. Mikkeller San Diego’s parent organization, Copenhagen-based Mikkeller, ranked ninth.

AleSmith has been a constant on the list for years, making the cut of 100 in 2016, ranking second in 2015, and eighth in 2014. In 2013, AleSmith was dubbed the top United States brewer in a format divided by country.

Outside of this year’s top ten, the breweries were listed alphabetically: Abnormal, Alpine, Ballast Point (Constellation), Mikkeller SD, Modern Times, Port Brewing / The Lost Abbey, and Stone.


2016 Recap: San Diego’s Best Breweries Right Now

Dec 15

What are the best breweries in San Diego? Having reported on the San Diego brewing industry for nearly 10 years and having written a guide to San Diego breweries, I get asked this question all the time. My answers vary quite a bit. Prior to 2012, that list didn’t change all that much. Heavy hitters like Ballast Point Brewing Co., Green Flash Brewing Co. and Stone Brewing were ever-present. Those interests got big making great beer that couldn’t be matched by smaller operations. These are not the times we are living in. Not only are small breweries able to keep up, because of their size, they are able to be nimble and do a lot more than large breweries. They can venture outside the box whenever they feel like it, chase any trend they like or even create their own, while the big boys find themselves locked into brewing the same core beers and a handful of seasonals to meet sales and distribution obligations. A new beer for them is a high-risk proposition that requires months (or even years) of test-batches and refinement.

Due to all of the above, my list of the best breweries in San Diego County is much different than ever before. Only one of the four San Diego interests in the Brewers Association’s list of the 50 largest craft breweries is on there, and its one that wouldn’t have been there several years ago. But there are five on the list that are less than three years old, nine that have a single brewhouse producing their wares, and seven that distribute their beers exclusively (or almost solely) in San Diego County. The following is my current (alphabetical) list of the top 12 brewing companies in San Diego County. (And please remember, there are more than 130 operating brewhouses in the county—not making this list doesn’t make a brewery below-average by any stretch.)

AleSmith Brewing Co., Miramar: This maker of BJCP-geared Old World beers has been around so long it’s now of legal drinking age. It has grown from a single suite to a sprawling manufacturing plant with an expansive, multi-faceted tasting-room component. Through that transition, the beer has remained solid. If anything, it would be nice to see some new beers. Disclosure: I used to work at AleSmith.

Alpine Beer Co., Alpine: Break out the asterisk. This back-country operation, which was purchased by Green Flash in 2014, makes this list for the beers it produces at its original brewery in its namesake town. There’s just something magical about that brewhouse and the pros who man it; they are the folks who built Alpine’s stellar rep and are maintaining it on a local level.

Bagby Beer Co., Oceanside: It’s no surprise that Pizza Port product and GABF master Jeff Bagby was able to transfer his brewpub prowess to his own project, but not only does he keep tons of quality beer on-tap, those taps are installed in an inviting two-story, indoor-outdoor coastal spot built by he and his wife’s true passion for craft-beer and the people who enjoy it.

Benchmark Brewing Co., Grantville: Beer-flavored beer sums up this entire operation. AleSmith alum Matt Akin keeps it simple; something that’s surprisingly challenging. Don’t believe it, see if you can find someplace that can sustain as good a reputation as Benchmark does armed primarily with a pale ale, IPA, brown ale and oatmeal stout while leading with a table beer.

Fall Brewing Co., North Park: Journeyman brewer Ray Astamendi isn’t looking to make the best beer you’ve had in your entire life. He’s more interested in giving imbibers a bunch of great beers to enjoy on any given night, and he does just that care of an impressive portfolio that includes ales and lagers alike, ranging from the hoppiest end of the spectrum to the maltiest.

Karl Strauss Brewing Co., Multiple Locations: San Diego’s longest-running post-Prohibition era brewing operation has taken recent steps to modernize its beers, introducing dry, hoppy ales, drawing attention to a constantly evolving line of beers that also show great technique. Recently constructed brewpubs in LA and the OC should keep Karl’s crew on their upward trajectory.

The Lost Abbey / Port Brewing Co. / The Hop Concept, San Marcos: Whether it’s Port’s SoCal-centric family of largely hoppy beers, The Hop Concept’s (THC, get it?) exploratory line of lupulin-laced imperial IPAs or The Lost Abbey’s unique array of Belgian-inspired, floral, bready, woody, tart and/or boozy ales, quality and innovation await at Pizza Port’s triple-threat packaged-beer cousin op.

New English Brewing Co., Sorrento Valley: One would be challenged to find a brewery in San Diego with as great a degree of quality and consistency as this interest. The only thing keeping it in unjust obscurity is its devotion to less-popular English styles, but the introduction of expertly crafted IPAs has opened some eyes and helped grow a following and, in turn, brewing capacity.

Pizza Port, Multiple Locations: Perhaps no other local brewing biz more succinctly embodies San Diego’s style, brewing and otherwise. Expertise across all styles with flashes of ingenuity and inventiveness, tons of awards but none of the pomp and ego that comes with shiny medals, a laid-back surf-vibe inviting tanks and flip-flops—Pizza Port is America’s Finest on many levels.

Rip Current Brewing Co., San Marcos: The founders of this business deserve big-time credit for sticking to their guns. They could make more money focusing on their excellent hoppy beers, but are so devoted to keeping the homebrew spirit alive, they toil away on dozens of other lesser-selling styles, many of which win awards but still get ignored. It’s a shame.

Second Chance Beer Co., Carmel Mountain: During his decade-plus brewing at La Jolla’s Rock Bottom, Marty Mendiola was well-respected in the industry, but fairly unknown among San Diego beer-drinkers. Since opening his own spot in 2015, he’s finally gained the recognition from the public that he always deserved behind long-time and newly built recipes alike.

Societe Brewing Co., Kearny Mesa: I work here, so I am biased, but this list would be incomplete were Societe not on it. Fans flock here for a rotating family of IPAs as well as Belgian-style ales, dark beers and oak-aged sours that, after many years of maturation, are starting to trickle out of the barrel-room at a steady clip. Versatility and consistency are the keys to this operation’s success.

Author’s Note: This is the third post in a three-part series of pieces which previously examined San Diego’s Best New Breweries and San Diego’s Most Improved Breweries over the past year.

The Friday Five: 5Q w/ Bruce Glassman

Apr 12

Glassman, left, with Publisher Amy Stirnkorb and Executive VP/Photographer Michael D. Pawlenty at Mission Brewery

Today we speak with Bruce Glassman, President of Chefs Press, the award-winning local publishing company behind hits like “San Diego’s Top Brewers”. We ask him about the panel of beer experts he’ll be quizzing next week for the SDSU Business Alumni Network in Liberty Station — tickets are available to the general public for $40 online — plus what’s new with Chefs Press and more.

Can you tell us about the SDSU panel on the 17th?
It’s a symposium/discussion hosted by the SDSU Business Alumni Network and it’s part of their ongoing Signature Series called “The Business Of…” They wanted to do a program about our craft beer industry, how it has impacted San Diego, specifics about the brewing community and culture, and how aspects of it relate to other core businesses in town. They asked me to help assemble a panel of leaders in the field—people who would offer various important perspectives.

Whose perspective are you really looking forward to hearing?
Well, I’m thrilled to have the panel we’ve been lucky enough to assemble. We’ve got Chris Cramer, co-founder of Karl Strauss, Steve Wagner, co-founder of Stone, Mike Hinkley, co-founder of Green Flash, Peter Zien, owner of AleSmith, Doug Constantiner, co-founder of Societe, Scot Blair, owner of Hamilton’s Tavern, and Joe Terzi, President & CEO of the San Diego Tourism Authority. So, whose perspective am I looking forward to hearing? All of them! Who wouldn’t?!

sdsu-ban-bus-of-craft-brew-4-17-13-final1What’s coming up for Chefs Press?
Lots of new projects in the works. Most notable, for beer fans: “Colorado’s Top Brewers” will be pubbing in July and then “The San Diego Brewery Guide” will be pubbing in November. We’re also releasing an update of “San Diego’s Top Brewers” as an e-book in the next few months, and we’ll then follow up with an update print version. Check out and our Facebook pages for sneak peeks and news….

What beer trends interest you this year?
I’m seeing a lot of breweries that are working to develop what seems to be one of the brewer’s “holy grails”: a session beer—with all the satisfying qualities of a great IPA—that delivers all the flavor and body of a bigger ABV beer. I’ve had a number of these from lineups around town and some are very good.

What new breweries do you have your eye on?
So many, and more every day. I’ve been impressed by the quality of some of the new guys, particularly Culture, Belching Beaver, and Rip Current. Of course, my eyes are fully trained—as are many people’s—on Babgy Beer, Nickel Beer Co. and the new Hess opening in North Park.

Beer Week Kick-off Round-up

Nov 2

We’re not the only ones writing about our local beer scene; here I’ve rounded up coverage from some of San Diego’s top beer writers. *Alert me of more SDBW coverage via

Peter Rowe has put out a few great articles this week, including his 10 SD Beer Week picks, a “This Weekend in Beer” for Nov 2-4, and a story on Stone Brewing Co. Beverage Coordinator “Dr.” Bill Sysak that ran in today’s U-T.

Michelle Dederko also writes consistent articles on the local beer scene for the U-T/Discover SD. Read hers here.

Brandon Hernández writes for many fine publications in town; don’t miss his categorized “Best of Beer Week” on San Diego Magazine’s website, his day-by-day breakdown on The Reader’s site, or the four-page spread in Pacific San Diego Magazine’s November 2012 issue (pp 60-63).

Craft Beer Tasters has organized a tasting of Mexican craft beer on Nov 6 & 11 at The Beer Co. downtown. In addition, they’ve spotlighted the brewers on their website.

Three B Zine posted a good interview with Bruce Glassman, author of San Diego’s Top Brewers and the new book BREW FOOD that will be officially released tonight at Mission Brewery.

TapHunter has been collecting Tips from the Pros over at their blog; I was the first featured industry member before Andrew Killion of The Lost Abbey, Kory & Derek from LOVELIKEBEER yesterday, and “Dr.” Bill Sysak from Stone Brewing Co. today.

Ian Cheesman had his picks published in this week’s San Diego CityBeat, page 12.

LOVELIKEBEER just put up a vegan’s guide to SDBW, complete with pairing suggestions or go-to events for each day.

WC Publisher Mike Shess posted his picks for each day yesterday.

Here are a few more, just for good measure:

1 Beer, 13 Ways — 5 oz pours of 13 different varieties of Ballast Point’s Victory at Sea Imperial Coffee Vanilla Porter will be served at Hamilton’s Tavern Sunday, November 4th starting at 10 a.m. Check out all the varieties here.

Get Educated — Last year the lab manager for local yeast manufacturer White Labs, Neva Parker, visited Sea Rocket Bistro for a “Flavors of Yeast” class, and it was so successful that she’s coming back again Saturday November 10th from 2-4 p.m. Her presentation will include four saisons brewed at White Labs with different yeast strains.

First Sour, Available Once — Green Flash’s new sour, Flanders Drive, derives its name from the brewery’s cross street as well as its beer style (Flanders red ale). Bottles will only be available on Monday, November 5th at the special release party which is part of their 10 Years of Great Beers SDBW plans.

Tougher Than It Looks — Think you can tell the difference between Stone IPA, AleSmith IPA, Mission IPA, Ballast Point Big Eye IPA, Societe Dandy IPA and Green Flash West Coast IPA? If you can, you’ll get a $100 gift certificate from Blind Lady Ale House. Hurry, though, this event ends tonight at 6 p.m.

51 Taps, All Local — Just like it sounds: URGE American Gastropub is filling the taps with beer from local breweries this weekend. This includes the release of Mother Earth’s 100% Citra dry-hopped “Wet Hop Dreams”

12 To Watch In 2012

Feb 13

See the full spread in our February 2012 issue. Here we predict who is going to make news in 2012. An eclectic collection, the twelve mentioned in this feature are united in their involvement in the local beer community. This list includes a bustling commercial district; a vegan beer pairing troupe that fundraises for charities; an enterprising publishing company; a portfolio of righteous beer bars (plus a brewpub); an outstanding yeast laboratory; a brewhouse equipment manufacturer; a feature film focusing on SD beer; the prestigious World Beer Cup; and several brewing companies poised to offer something unique to our city. Created as a reference point, we’ll reflect back on these selections throughout the year. For now, the 12 in ‘12 is a snapshot of our county’s beer industry as of January 2012, with a focus on a huge year ahead.

Greg Koch speaking to the media about Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens - Liberty Station last May

Liberty Station
Why you should watch: Back when Stone announced their plans for a Liberty Station brewpub in May of 2011, Slater’s 50/50 and SOL Markets weren’t even on our radar. Who knows what else will pop up over the coming year in the developing district, which also houses Oggi’s Pizza, Sammy’s Pizza and Tender Greens locations.
Coming up: SOL — standing for “seasonal, organic, local” — Markets is currently under construction. 24 taps (correction: 12 taps) and cooking classes are just the tip of the iceberg. They hope to have their doors open by April 1st.
Fun fact: When Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station opens (estimated late Spring 2012), they’ll share Slater’s 50/50 current parking lot. The ACE hardware next door should be so lucky.

Founders Kory Stetina and Derek Humbard flank Chad White of Sea Rocket Bistro

Why you should watch: Founders Derek Humbard and Kory Stetina dedicate themselves to putting together creative vegan cuisine and craft beer events that support local charities, including SD Animal Rescue and the SD Chapter of Engineers Without Borders. All four of their 2011 events were well-attended and highly-praised, with the donation amount per night often reaching their goal of $1,200-$2,000.
Coming up: A Valentine’s Day multi-course vegan dessert and beer pairing at Tiger!Tiger! Tavern benefiting Jeans4Justice, a local non-profit geared to ending sexual violence.
Fun fact: LOVELIKEBEER’s San Diego Beer Week event at Sea Rocket Bistro also showcased vegan beers by a vegan brewer, Ron Jeffries of Dexter, Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales. All those photos @

Bruce Glassman at Mission Brewery for the book's Beer Week kickoff

Chefs Press
Why you should watch: The book San Diego’s Top Brewers, which mixes brewery stories with pairing recipes, has been a hit in the local beer industry since its November release, and a new beer cookbook is already in the works. President & CEO Bruce Glassman says the company is shooting for a San Diego Beer Week 2012 release of the new project which will feature more local brewers, chefs, personalities and establishments than before.
Coming up: Chefs Press will begin shooting images for the book in February, and we plan on tagging along for some new web content.
Fun fact: On the Top Brewers website there are nearly twenty “Have a Beer with the Brewer” videos you can watch.

Blairen, at Karl Strauss' 22nd Anniversary Party last February. Photo: Kristina Yamamoto

The Blair Empire
Why you should watch: Scot and Karen Blair opened some of San Diego’s most beloved pubs– Hamilton’s Tavern, Small Bar, Bar Eleven, and Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery – in under ten years. Beers from their newest venture, Monkey Paw, have started popping up at various locations around town.
Coming up: “Second Saturday” featuring Karl Strauss at Hamilton’s. If you haven’t been to a Second Saturday event, you’re missing out. 17 Karl draught beers and two “dueling” casks complement complimentary Cajun food on February 11th.
Fun fact: It is highly appropriate to refer to the couple as “Blairen” when you see them together.

Coronado's new facility is well underway and will open in the spring

Coronado Brewing Co.
Why you should watch: Coronado’s beers make it to several countries outside the US, including Japan and England. Stateside, the company has a new national sales director, Jeff Hansson, who has brought the brewery he was planning with friend Anthony Levas under the Coronado Brewing Company umbrella. “Tusk & Grain Brewing Co.” will begin with Stone Distribution in mid-2012, and Coronado is currently interviewing candidates to launch the new brand.
Coming up: A new brewery/tasting room just east of Fiesta Island, scheduled to open in the spring, is expected to double production to 15,000 barrels by the end of 2012. Long-term capacity at the new brewery will be 60,000 barrels.
Fun fact: Director of Brewing Operations Sean DeWitt has spent the past seven years as the San Diego Brewers Guild Vice President, and will take over Marty Mendiola’s role as President for a one-year term beginning in summer, 2012.

Yeast vials, including the San Diego Super Yeast, at White Labs production facility off Miramar Road

White Labs
Why you should watch: The local yeast production company has settled in to their newer, bigger facility off the I-15 at Miramar Road, and business is booming. Their educational program is in constant development, with an all-day seminar on yeast essentials for homebrewers and local pros set for March 24th.
Coming up: An experimental tasting room featuring beers brewed on-site. Some day’s beers will share the same ingredients except for the yeast, while other days showing the impact of varying fermentation temperatures as the theme.
Fun fact: Last year, Mayor Jerry Sanders declared June 15th White Labs Day in San Diego, the day before the start of the National Homebrewers Conference in Mission Valley.

The Julian Brewing Company brew house. Lots to come from this system

Julian Brewing Company
Why you should watch: Vince Marsaglia, owner of Pizza Port and Tom Nickel, owner of O’Brien’s, teamed up to revamp the Bailey BBQ property in Julian. Marsaglia is handling the BBQ side of the operation, while Nickel’s creative ideas for the brewery include an active guest brewer program.
Coming up: A grand opening party with live music and dancing once a few house-brewed beers line the taps. The first three are Bailey Pale Ale, which will be brewed with locally grown hops from Star B Ranch in Santa Ysabel, an American stout collaboration with Marsaglia that will be dispensed on nitrogen, and something hoppy in the IPA range. More details on that event when it hits our inboxes.
Fun fact: Nickel has some New Zealand hops that he wants to do single varietal beers with, and this summer he’ll craft some smoked beers with house-smoked malt in the wood pit smoker.

The Premier Stainless group, taking a break to strike a pose

Premier Stainless Systems
Why you should watch: President Rob Soltys has been in the beer business for more than 20 years, and the Escondido-based company he founded in 2000 pushes out an average of one brewhouse per week, ranging from 3 to 30 barrels. Forecasts for growth in 2012 look good, with Premier’s impressive international client list making for a solid reputation in the industry. Local breweries with full systems by Premier Stainless include AleSmith Brewing Company, Iron Fist Brewing Co., Mission Brewery, El Cajon Brewing Company, Mother Earth Brew Co., as well as Pizza Port Solana Beach, Ocean Beach and San Clemente.
Coming up: Premier Stainless will build the brewing systems for Rampage Brewing, scheduled to open in San Diego before May, Coronado Brewing Co.’s upcoming expansion off Morena Boulevard, and Temecula’s under-construction Ironfire Brewing Company, led by former Ballast Point brewers John Maino and Gregory Webb.
Fun fact: Soltys helped build the first brewery system at Pizza Port Solana Beach and plans on wearing the original T-shirt to the party celebrating the 20th anniversary of beers first being served in 1992.

OB Head Brewer Yiga Miyashiro uses the pizza oven for his more unconventional brewing ingredients

Pizza Port
Why you should watch: The Carlsbad and Ocean Beach brewpubs are riding a wave of success after 2011 Great American Beer Festival Brewpub of the Year awards, and two key staff members in director of brewing operations Jeff Bagby and San Clemente head brewer Noah Regnery have recently moved on to other ventures.
Coming up: Pizza Port is looking to break ground on a two-story fifth location in Carlsbad around April 1st. The facility will house a canning line and brewery-restaurant, acting as a hub for production, distribution and employee training.
Fun fact: Live cams on the Pizza Port website show you what’s currently on tap at each location.

Smith and Constantiner at Home Brew Mart

Societe Brewing Company
Why you should watch: Societe’s brewers are Travis Smith and Doug Constantiner, who both hail from the deliciously creative, Orange County-based brewery, The Bruery. Before that, Smith was brewing for Russian River. During a short stint at La Jolla Brew House in 2010, West Coaster staff got to try a few of Smith’s beers and they were outstanding. Smith and Constantiner plan to be unique from other San Diego breweries by focusing on sour beers.
Coming up: The opening of Societe will take place in the spring. The soon-to-be Kearny Mesa brewery just finished laying down their floor late in January 2012.
Fun fact: The guys at Societe recognize the importance of updating beer fans on the brewery’s progress, and are active on their blog, Twitter, and Facebook pages.

Kaplan, right, pours at GABF while showing film clips

Suds County, USA
Why you should watch: Well, it’s a film about San Diego beer, to start, and director/producer Sheldon Kaplan has been hard at work for the last few years piecing together the most comprehensive look at local beer history to date.
Coming up: The film’s release. Kaplan is planning to premiere the film during the Craft Brewers Conference in May, followed by screenings at local breweries.
Fun fact: The narration for the film is being performed by Kevin Murphy, best known as the voice and puppeteer of Tom Servo on the comedy series Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Attendees enjoy a variety of beers. Photo (c) 2010 Jason E. Kaplan

World Beer Cup and Craft Brewers Conference
Why you should watch: The World Beer Cup, a highly-prestigious international beer competition held every two years since 1996, returns to sunny San Diego for the third time (2004, 2008) this May. Entries to this year’s World Beer Cup from outside the U.S. increased by 28 percent over 2010, making up 32 percent of the close to 4,000 total entries. The judging and awards dinner book-end the Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo Trade Show, a huge draw for brewers from all over the world. Unfortunately, these are not open to the public, but there will be a plethora of beer events going on around town.
Coming up: Local brewers will be pulling out all the stops to brew great beers to enter at the World Beer Cup, and we’ll track down some of their brew days for web content.
Fun fact: San Diego brewers won 21 medals at the 2010 World Beer Cup in Chicago, and Ballast Point took home the Champion Brewery and Brewmaster award in the small brewing company category.

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