This year saw more new-brewery openings than any in San Diego County’s history. Happily, in this reporter’s opinion, more of them were of good quality than in year’s past. Enough that whittling down a list of the top half-dozen was extremely difficult, and ranking that sextet even harder. At least three breweries were on the bubble for the last spot, so if you’re using this as any sort of guide to the good stuff, don’t feel encouraged to limit your brewery touring to these selections. These are just your best bets based on the opinion of one well-researched individual. In that spirit, feel free to leave comments about any exceptional new breweries you’ve discovered over the past 12 months in the comments section. (Author’s Note: Breweries marked with an asterisk opened in 2016, but too late to be considered for the list of best new breweries for that calendar year.)
Eppig Brewing * | North Park: Nathan Stephens and Clayton LeBlanc, the duo producing the beers at this Brewery Igniter standout have a tasting room exhibiting the variety of the Little Italy outpost of their previous employers, Ballast Point Brewing. That’s saying something, especially since brewing days there resemble a game of life-sized Tetris. Still, some of the finest, most consistent lagers, plus an array of nice hoppy and even sour ales provide glimpses of what seems a very bright future for this reincarnation of a nineteenth-century family fermentation business.
Wild Barrel Brewing | San Marcos: Beer fans everywhere couldn’t help but wonder how well infinitely popular ale-and-lager expert “Dr.” Bill Sysak would fare as a brewery owner. Commenting on beer is one thing, but manufacturing it is a different game entirely. With the help of head brewer Bill Sobieski, he’s fared extremely well, hitting the ground running this fall with quality IPAs, an effective entry-level witbier and a brilliant coffee stout. Throw in a stellar tasting room complete with a gargantuan barrel at its center, and you have something special.
Burgeon Beer Co. * | Carlsbad: After gaining experience at Stone Brewing, Rough Draft Brewing and Back Street Brewery, Anthony Tallman united with long-time friends to forge his own business, and it’s been going strong since day one. Built around a smart, modern-day business model combining outside keg sales with regular in-house can releases, this newcomer has built a solid following around an array of multi-faceted IPAs and dark beers. No trend is off limits for them. That said, they’re at their best when they stay true to tradition.
Pariah Brewing | North Park: Some say this Prince-ly purple, dungeon-esque Brewery Igniter spot is no place for beer purists, and while it’s true that Stone and Helm’s Brewing alum Brian Mitchell specializes in beers that go outside the box by incorporating an array of flavorful adjuncts as simple as coffee and orange peel to as oddball as fenugreek and uni (yes, sea urchin), there are to-style gems like Indie Or Bust IPA. But this place is geared to adventurous drinkers and provides an impressive departure from the everyday, even in a town soaked in beer.
Battlemage Brewing | Vista: Role-playing game enthusiasts got a brewery playing to their passions when yet another former Ballast Point duo, Ryan Sather and Chris Barry, teamed to open this testament to the communal power of beers and broadswords. It’s become an ideal backdrop for fans of RPG and tabletop enterprises, but you don’t have to know the difference between a Halfling and a half-orc to appreciate the beers, which flow into rarely charted territory (dark mild, old ale) and come across clean and tasty. Perfect sustenance for a lengthy campaign.
Black Plague Brewing | Oceanside: An operation that looked like it might veer off course at the onset of its journey steered its way into veteran leadership when it contracted former AleSmith Brewing and Mikkeller Brewing San Diego brewer Bill Batten to assist with its fermentation operations. The resulting line-up of beers, including multi-fruited takes on an IPA that’s best on its own, plus myriad other styles, is fun and highly drinkable. The name, plague-doctor motif and black-walled tasting room are strange, but the beer provides a guiding light.
This Year’s Other Contenders: Align Brewing (Miramar), Alta Brewing (Barrio Logan), Chula Vista Brewery (Chula Vista), Circle 9 Brewing (Kearny Mesa), Ebullition Brew Works (Vista), Escondido Brewing (Escondido), Jacked Up Brewing (Escondido), Knotty Brewing * (East Village), OB Brewery * (Ocean Beach), Protector Brewery (Miramar), Rouleur Brewing (Carlsbad), Smoking Cannon Brewery (Ramona), SpecHops Brewing (Vista), SR76 Beerworks (Valley Center), Thunderhawk Alements * (Miramar), Viewpoint Brewing (Del Mar)
Maybe Next Year (Late Additions): California Wild Ales (Sorrento Valley), Deft Brewing (Bay Park), Horus Aged Ales (Oceanside), Northern Pine Brewing (Oceanside), Oeuvre Artisan Ales (Miramar), Savagewood Brewing (Scripps Ranch)
Previous Top-Ranked New Breweries
2016: Burning Beard Brewing (El Cajon), North Park Beer Co. (North Park), Resident Brewing (Downtown), Pure Project Brewing (Miramar), Bear Roots Brewing (Vista), Bitter Brothers Brewing (Bay Ho)
2015: Fall Brewing (North Park), Second Chance Beer Co. (Carmel Mountain), South Park Brewing (South Park), Abnormal Beer Co. (Rancho Bernardo), Duck Foot Brewing (Miramar)
2014: Bagby Beer Co. (Oceanside), Nickel Beer Co. (Julian), Council Brewing (Kearny Mesa), URBN St. Brewing (El Cajon), Toolbox Brewing (Vista)
2013: Rip Current Brewing (San Marcos), Benchmark Brewing (Grantville), Amplified Ale Works (Pacific Beach), Belching Beaver Brewery (Vista), Modern Times Beer (Point Loma)
2012: Societe Brewing (Kearny Mesa), Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery (East Village), Latitude 33 Brewing (Vista)
From the Beer Writer: These days, brewers are here today, at another brewery tomorrow. Next thing you know, the brewer at your local fermentorium is some new guy who came in and is picking up the pieces while trying to carve out a niche for themselves. But when there is overlap and the reins to a brewhouse are handed over properly, it typically works out for the best. It also creates a scenario where both regimes can collaborate on a creation, as is the case with this week’s featured beer: Freshly Arrived Triple IPA. It is the work of current Abnormal Beer Co. head brewer Nyle Molina and his predecessor Derek Gallanosa. The latter recently departed to help open a new business in the Sacramento area, Moksa Brewing, but before doing so he and his assistant-turned-headman decided to cook up a triple IPA (an India pale ale coming in at or above 10% alcohol-by-volume) for Pliny the Younger season. The result is this graceful juggernaut of a beer, which smells of mangoes and citrus, tastes so much like oranges that one would expect to encounter pulp, and ends with a semisweet but dry and slightly alcoholic note similar to high-proof rum, giving it an almost island-cocktail character. It makes for a delicious way of simultaneously saying good-bye and hello with equal parts fare thee well. Read more »
From the Beer Writer: Stone Brewing hosts many top-tier events, but one of my favorite is the company’s American Homebrewers Association-sanctioned AHA Rally and its associated homebrewing competition. Every year, some of the county’s most talented, ambitious recreational brewers submit their beers for judging by a panel of Stone employees, including key members of the brewing team. Each year’s winning beer gets produced on Stone’s system and distributed nationally (which now means to all 50 states). While Stone is known for innovating, the company has a defined style of bold and largely hoppy beers, so it is always fun to watch the brewers tackle beers that, for the most part, don’t fit the typical gargoyle-shaped mold (read: insert-type-of-IPA-here). This year’s winning entry, Paul Bischeri & Patrick Martinez / Abnormal / Stone Neapolitan Dynamite, once again goes against the grain in a delicious attempt to bring the primary flavors of Neapolitan ice cream—chocolate, vanilla and strawberry—to the forefront in an imperial stout. Freshly poured, the beer comes across slightly creamy on the palate with big cocoa and a touch of vanilla, but as the beer warms up, the latter makes itself more known along with strawberry fruitiness. It’s for sure a beer that would not be part of the Stone portfolio were it not for this contest, and the quaffable embodiment of why this event is such a brilliant component of Stone’s heritage. Read more »
There are movers and shakers in the local beer-brewing and beer-drinking subculture. Then there is Derek Gallanosa, a BMOC among both factions who, while coming up in the industry with Karl Strauss Brewing before leaving to open and head brewing operations at Rancho Bernardo’s Abnormal Beer Company, maintained his recreational fanatic status via beer trading, tourism and bottle shares. On top of that, he has spent the past three years as an instructor in San Diego State University’s Business of Craft Beer certificate program. Few are the craft-inclined in San Diego who don’t know of him, making his announcement earlier this week that he’ll be moving away to pursue a new brewery project all the more surprising. We sat down to ask him about it and found out the opportunity he’s pursuing is as exciting as it is bittersweet.
What is most exciting about taking on a new endeavor?
Starting fresh with a new lineup of beers and new customers. It’s going to be a learning process just like any new chapter of your life but I feel I have the experiences to succeed in most situations.
What are you able to share about your next chapter?
The name of the brewery will be released in the near future but it will be somewhere in Northern California. I will be a partner in the business, and we will have a big focus on direct-to-customer sales with a lot of can and bottle releases. Just like Abnormal, I will continue to innovate, learn and grow as a brewer. There is no “brewmaster” here, just someone who wants to spend a lifetime knowing more than he did the day before.
Will you continue to collaborate as you did at Abnormal?
The collaborations will continue and will be a part of our marketing strategy. There is so much knowledge to share and so much to gain through collaborating with other breweries. I am excited to continue the friendships I have gained during my time at Abnormal and hope to expand my network with even more like-minded craftsmen.
What is your transition plan?
I am confident Abnormal will continue on without any change in quality. We have a talented team in place and I will spend the next month unloading everything I have learned in the past two-and-a-half years running the brewery. We are a dynamic company and will always try to push the limits our creativity, so my job is to set them up for success as they continue to be a big player in the craft-beer scene.
Do you think the brewing style will remain the same at Abnormal?
Abnormal has always been about keeping a few core beers [perpetually] on tap while having a bunch of specialty one-offs fill up the rest of the in house tap list. I see that still being the case moving forward, same core beers and a few other specialties that cater to the demand of our customers.
Who will be taking over brewing at Abnormal?
The new head brewer for Abnormal will be Nyle Molina as of October 1. The knowledge and experience he has gained from previously working at Green Flash Brewing and Funky Buddha Brewery was the reason we brought him into the Abnormal family. In the few weeks he has been here, he has shown great work ethic and a passion to produce quality products. With that being said, we are now looking for a new brewer to fill his role so send those résumés to email@example.com.
What is the hardest part about leaving Abnormal?
All the people that I work with that have been so supportive of the beer coming out of the brewery, the fact that I have an awesome restaurant I can order lunch from every day, the beer dinners, the camaraderie of the San Diego brewing scene, the drinking community that I love to geek out with, and all that beer I’m leaving in oak barrels for the next guy will be things I will miss. But the most important thing I will miss by moving away are the friends and family that I love who have supported me along my personal and professional journeys.
Any parting words for the San Diego beer community?
Thank you to all the fans of our beer from San Diego and beyond. A lot of people ask me what it’s like to live a dream. I’ve been responding with, “I don’t know,” because right now I feel like I have been living beyond a dream. It’s too much to comprehend. The people who choose to spend their hard-earned money on our beer or take the time, money and effort to listen to me lecture in my Marketing Craft Beer class at SDSU are the ones whose hands I would love to shake in the next month. So once again, from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!