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)
The collection of artisanal producers in the pair of business parks near the corner of Miralani Drive and Camino Ruiz in Miramar already interact like partners. Home to four breweries, two wineries and a sake brewery, this is the most craft-saturated ultra-micro locale in all of San Diego County. And soon it will welcome its first actual partnership—a trio of businesses sharing a 3,500-square-foot space with a collective mindset and completely unique, hand-forged consumables. Lost Cause Meadery, Serpentine Cider and The Good Seed Food Company comprise this hand-in-hand threesome, all of which are on pace to open at different points within the month of October at 8665 Miralani Drive, Suite 100.
While they were searching for a site for their meadery, Lost Cause founders Billy and Suzanna Beltz met and hit it off with Serpentine headman Sean Harris at a brewery event. The entrepreneurs stayed in touch and, two months later, Harris asked if the Beltzes would like to join him and chef Chuy De La Torre as a third tenant in the space they intended to share. The marrieds followed in the footsteps of De La Torre, formerly the chef at Rancho Bernardo’s Urge Gastropub, and signed on. To a person, the quartet believe they are in the perfect geographical situation. This pertains to their individual facility, where all of their wares will appeal to artisanal-minded locavores, as well as their immediate surroundings.
The closest similar business to the shared space is Thunderhawk Alements, and the Beltzes say its owners have been extremely helpful. It’s the “Miralani Makers District”’s tangible colleagues-versus-competitors vibe that continues to lure so many small businesses to the area. A distillery is also en route for the area. It is reminiscent of San Diego’s roots from a brewery perspective and, in some ways, evokes memories of simpler times for that industry.
The Beltzes like the prospect of leveraging cider and, to some extent, beer, wine, sake and spirits from neighbors to attract cross-drinkers who might not specifically seek out mead, but will be more than happy to try it during an expansive tasting expedition. They realize mead is not as popular or understood as other beverages and aim to do a great deal of educating rom their tasting room (Serpentine will have its own sampling bar within the space, as well).
Lost Cause’s meads will be produced in 20- and 15-barrel batches located near the entrance to their tasting room. Billy has earned more than 35 medals for his meads in the past three years alone, and the Beltz’s research and techniques have been published in the American Homebrewer’s Association‘s Zymurgy Magazine and American Mead Maker, the official journal of the American Mead Maker Association. An integral part of their production process is a technique which allows them to control a slow, steady, healthy fermentation that retains extremely delicate honey flavors and aromas as alcohol builds.
Lost Cause’s initial line-up will all come in at 11% alcohol-by-volume and include:
The aesthetic of the shared facility will pay homage to Southern California and the Southwest region as a whole care of shared plants and furniture. For more information on each of the businesses’ debuts, follow each on social media.
A lot goes with trying to open San Diego County’s first all-organic brewery—sourcing ingredients, all of which are more costly than non-organic, securing enough of them, finding price-points that work for patrons and, of course, making quality beer. These are all very real challenges, but pale in comparison to the obstacles and consequences the founders of Protector Brewery faced in their former lives as Navy SEALs. By comparison, this should be a fairly straightforward mission. One thing is for sure. They’re going to war fully prepared.
Sean Haggerty is leading the charge from a base of operations located at 8680 Miralani Drive. If that address sounds familiar, it’s because the business park Protector calls home has become well known as a center of artisanality. Other businesses sited there include 2kids Brewing, Align Brewing, Setting Sun Sake Brewery and several urban wineries, with Thunderhawk Alements, a cidery and meadery in the works directly across the street. The fact Protector can bring something completely unique to such a saturated complex is impressive.
Haggerty—who produces beer with fellow brewer Ben Betz—brewed his first beer seven years ago in the most unlikely of places…while on deployment in Iraq. His team had just returned from a direct-action raid at 3 a.m. and he really wanted to drink a good beer to toast his team’s success. The only problem was, being at a military installation halfway across the world, there was no beer to be had. It was then Haggerty had the epiphany that he should make his own. He had ingredients shipped to him and used a five-gallon Gatorade jug for his debut brew. He’s significantly upgraded his equipment at Protector, where beers are brewed on a direct-fire stainless system that figures to produce 200 barrels of beer annually.
Protector’s portfolio will include a hefeweizen, imperial stout, a pair of pale ales (one of which is New World in its hop profundity) and a pair of IPAs (English and West Coast). The hardest part about creating the latter quartet is sourcing quality hops, but Haggerty is confident in the stock he’s secured. He has Cascade, Centennial, Citra, Mosaic, Simcoe and Zeus in cold storage. Only five states house organic hop purveyors and the price of those hops is three times higher than non-organic hops, on average, with highly coveted varietals like Nelson Sauvin going for as much as ten times its garden-variety counterparts. And unlike other local brewers, Haggerty can’t just head to White Labs when he needs yeast. He currently gets his strains from an Oregan-based company.
Given the increased costs, one would expect extremely expensive beers at Protector, but prices are competitive and Haggerty says even his costliest beers will never go higher than seven or eight bucks. He knows an organic brewery wouldn’t be feasible at the size of a Ballast Point or Stone, but believes he can make it work at his smaller size. And if he is successful, he’ll look to expand.
For now, it’s about producing four barrels of beer per week, teaching people about organic beer and showing them it can taste every bit as good as everyday craft ales and lagers. Initially, that will be done exclusively at Protector’s tasting room, a neutral-toned spot punched up with organic color from a framed piece of art made of black barley and hops, depicting a Spartan helmet. Sketched artwork of fantasy-style defenders lines one wall while the brewery’s motto, “people, planet, progression, protector” is painted on the wall beside the bar. Haggerty and company hope to improve the planet through their actions, pushing the organic movement and market forward, not just for themselves, but for farmers, their families, wildlife and the environment.
Protector’s soft-open period begins June 2. The tasting room will be open from 2 to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, leading up to a grand opening in July.
Last week, we examined some of the most promising work-in-progress beer projects in the eastern portions of San Diego County. Today, as part of this bi-annual four-part series, I am offering up information on the most intriguing brewery-owned venues coming to the western communities.
Thorn St. Brewery, Barrio Logan: In building a facility to up production and meet demand, one of North Park’s most popular breweries is taking over two identical former factory spaces on National Avenue, stocking one with tons of stainless and an intimate tasting room, and the other with a distillery, restaurant, retail space and a large patio area. It’s the type of grand project that figures to keep Barrio Logan’s artisanal renaissance chugging right along.
Click here to read more about this project
Protector Brewery, Miramar: Beeramar’s most brewery-saturated area (and that’s saying a lot), the Miralani Drive industrial park just west of Camino Ruiz, is getting its fourth fermentation operation (joining 2kids Brewing, Align Brewing and Setting Sun Sake Brewing) care of former Navy SEALs who are installing San Diego’s first all-organic brewery in an effort to produce quality beer while helping American farm workers and preserving the environment.
Viewpoint Brewing Co., Del Mar: While San Diego has breweries owned by chefs, this brewpub will be the county’s first purely chef-driven interest. Years in the making, it will give purpose and life to a rundown building along the banks of the San Dieguito Lagoon while providing Del Mar its first ever brewery. Culinary innovations and beers built to pair with cuisine is what this place is all about. At last check, owner Charles Koll was planning to soft-open this Friday.
Click here to read more about this project
Last year, personal differences led to long-time friends and Pacific Brewing Company co-founders Andrew Heino and Chris Chalmers shutting down their business and heading their separate ways. At that time, Heino shared his interest in picking up the pieces and building a new brewery. It wasn’t long before he set out on that mission and, now, his Align Brewing Company is an estimated month or two away from making its debut at Pacific’s former home in Miramar. We summoned him from the construction-site long enough to ask about his phoenix-from-the-ashes interest.
West Coaster: What motivated you to start work on Align so soon after closing Pacific Brewing?
Andrew Heino: I’ve been trying to open a brewery since 2008. All four of my first attempts were with brewer-partners. The fact that Pacific opened was only because I had learned so much from the first three tries and never gave up. Unfortunately, it was short lived, but I still view Pacific as a success and huge learning experience. Partnerships are very difficult especially as time goes by and people change. It’s not uncommon for partnerships to end poorly. But I picked myself up, held my head high, directed all my focus on a fifth brewery attempt and here we are now, close to opening Align. I could not have done it without the support of my wife, family and friends. And if brewery number five doesn’t work out, I’ll probably try to open another one.
WC: Tell me about the team behind Align.
AH: I’ve been working in the brewing industry and homebrewing non-stop for 10 years. I started out as a volunteer at Oceanside Ale Works, then got hired on at Stone Brewing as, I believe, their first assistant brewer. I worked in various positions there, learning every day and becoming more and more knowledgeable. I decided to start my own brewery about eight years ago and I’ve never looked back. I am mainly doing everything myself at Align, and am extremely fortunate and very grateful for having some amazingly talented and generous people in my life who have helped me in many ways throughout the rebuilding process; from making my logo-art, to some plumbing and electrical, and a number of other areas.
WC: How will Align differ from Pacific Brewing?
AH: Since it’s just me now, I can make whatever I want whenever I want. I have total creative freedom and I’m excited to try making some exceptional beers…and maybe a few weird and wacky beers. You’ll be seeing a lot of experimental beers as well as seasonal recipes, and we are planning to do a lot of collaborations with other brewers. More emphasis will be focused on expansion of the company and distributing these amazing beers to more people. On the brewery-side, every piece been changed and upgraded to a seven-barrel system. The brewhouse kettle is a new, innovative system that no one else in San Diego has. The only parts of that location that are the same are the cold-box and the bar-top that I built in 2013. Everything else has been revamped for the better.
WC: What styles of beer will Align offer?
AH: Our year-round core beers will be well-rounded to accommodate all tastes, and will most likely include a cerveza-style Pilsner, stout, pale ale and many IPAs. The seasonal brews will be the higher-ABV styles and weird-addition types. Because we’re not a niche or specialty brewery, we are not going to be focusing mainly on one style. That said, we are true hop-heads and consider IPA to be the pinnacle of beer in many ways. So, we will certainly be offering many new and unique IPAs and hop-forward beers over time.
WC: What will the tasting room be like and when will it open to the public?
AH: The tasting room will feature sacred geometry, interesting lighting, local art, ocean, stars and comfortable chairs. It will be very clean and streamlined, and feel more like a brewery than a restaurant. We’re currently waiting on the final government OK to start brewing, then we’ll brew nonstop for about three weeks until we have our core-beers. Provided all goes well, the soft-opening will be followed by our grand-opening. It’s hard to say a specific date, but I think April is a good possibility.