We stand on the threshold of another month chock-full of exceptional reasons to crack a cold one in the presence of others. Yes, it’s a great time to be alive, but to do things up right requires some planning. We’ve started you off with some standout San Diego beer events for March, but don’t limit yourself. Click here to check out our full local calendar.
March | Beer to the Rescue Fundraisers: As part of a year-long campaign benefiting locals living with lupus, Gordon Biersch will hold a release party for a Mexican lager brewed with Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing, complete with a taco bar, live band and piñatas on June 1. On March 13, Pure Project Brewing is holding Beer to the Rescue Day at its Miramar tasting room. On March 28, Pariah Brewing will release This Is New IPA, and on March 29, North Park Beer Co. will tap a specialty cask, with portions of proceeds from both beers going to the Lupus Foundation of Southern California. | Various Locations, All Events Start at 5 p.m.
March 2 | Crowler Awareness Day: Gone are the days when the only conveyance vessel for draft beer was a glass jug requiring constant sterilization. Compact, disposable and often quite attractive, crowlers have changed the industry and, for the first edition of this made-up annual holiday, brewery tasting rooms offering these modern marvels will offer them at discounted rates. | Participating Breweries: Amplified Ale Works (Pacific Beach, Miramar), Bay City Brewing (Point Loma), Coronado Brewing (Bay Park), Council Brewing (Kearny Mesa), Eppig Brewing (North Park, Point Loma), Intergalactic Brewing (Miramar), Mikkeller Brewing San Diego (Miramar), North Park Beer Co. (North Park), Resident Brewing (Downtown), Thunderhawk Alements (Miramar)
March 4 | Renaissance: Epic tap lists and next-level ale-and-lager free-for-alls are nothing new for Churchill’s Pub, but this venerable North County beer bastion sets aside one day each year to really go all out. Tons of rare beers, including some brewed just for the occasion, will be on tap, and bottles of whale pod leader Churchill’s Finest Hour imperial stout will be for sale. | Churchill’s Pub & Grille, 887 W. San Marcos Boulevard, San Marcos, 11 a.m
March 10 | SD Homebrew Festival & Competition: The richness of San Diego’s commercial beer and brewing scene is a result of the county’s vibrant, thriving and always-evolving homebrew culture, something celebrated via more than 35 homebrewed beers at this festival devoted to the recreational—yet very serious—pursuit of the beer-making sciences. | The Observatory, 2891 University Avenue, North Park, 12 p.m
March 31 | Second Anniversary: El Cajon’s Burning Beard Brewing opened its back lot and a can of celebratory whoop-ass for its first anniversary last year, and this year they’re aiming to outdo themselves. Expect multiple beer stations stocked with a wide variety of liquid stein fodder, a raffle, take-home stein and three bands (including The Creepy Creeps) rocking out live. | Burning Beard Brewing, 785 Vernon Way, El Cajon, 1 p.m
In the summer of 2016, after 23 years of brewing solely at its flagship location in Mission Valley, the owners of San Diego Brewing Company decided to expand brewing capacity by leasing a space in North Park’s Brewery Igniter rent-to-brew facility on El Cajon Boulevard. SDBC took charge of the largest of the campus’ trio of units, one with a lower level brewhouse facing the street and an elevated tasting room complete with a bar and roll-up door facing Ohio Street. It’s the jewel of H.G. Fenton’s North Park space (which is also home to Eppig Brewing and Pariah Brewing), but it will soon be leased to another following SDBC’s decision to vacate the premises within the first quarter of 2018.
SDBC co-owner Lee Doxtader says that securing additional brewing space was absolutely the right idea, and that the company’s time producing at the Brewery Igniter space proved that. Such is the primary advertised advantage of those temporary turnkey spaces according to H.G. Fenton—proof of concept. For most tenants that means verifying the merits of a brand-new business, but in the case of SDBC (as well as Amplified Ale Works at the Miramar Brewery Igniter campus) the goal was to satisfy, as well as generate, increased consumer demand.
In the end, Doxtader and company determined patrons missed the atmosphere and on-site food options provided at its original brewpub. As such, they are in the process of selecting a site in which to install a second brewery-restaurant combo. But first, they must finish out negotiations with H.G. Fenton and complete the process of moving out of the North Park space. It is undetermined how soon that will occur. While SDBC may extract as soon as January, there is a chance it will stay in the Brewery Igniter suite and continue to brew as far out as March. To a certain extent, the timeline will be determined by how quickly H.G. Fenton secures a new tenant. The company is currently showing the space to interested parties.
2017 has been a year of changes for one of San Diego’s longest-tenured brewing interests. Early this year, ownership closed (the second iteration of) Callahan’s Pub in Mira Mesa’s, the business that paved the way for SDBC to open in Mission Valley. Over the summer, the company parted ways with head brewer Jeff Drum, placing Matt Navarre in the lead role. Ownership feels the transition has gone well and is looking forward to an upcoming milestone: SDBC’s 25th anniversary. With any luck, they will have a new site to announce by the time they reach the quarter-century mark.
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)
Each month, we present several best-bet local beer-related events for the following 28 to 31 days, but as we all know, November isn’t any normal month in America’s Finest City. It’s the month that houses San Diego Beer Week (SDBW), a ten-day span encompassing literally hundreds of events. So, we’re doing things a little different this month, providing a little insight on some of the biggest and most unique happenings taking place from November 3-12. Enjoy, but don’t forget to check out other goings-on via our events page and the official SDBW website.
Friday, November 3
Saturday, November 4
Sunday, November 5
Monday, November 6
Tuesday, November 7
Wednesday, November 8
Thursday, November 9
Friday, November 10
Saturday, November 11
Sunday, November 12
In early April of this year, Tom and Brett Gent realized a dream, opening the doors to Wiseguy Brewing in Carlsbad. The father-son duo signed a lease to install their business in one of the ready-to-brew units at developer H.G. Fenton’s North County Brewery Igniter campus. The pair of suites in that facility house identical brewhouses, cellar setups and tasting-room footprints, and are blank slates for tenants to personalize as they please. As one would expect, the Gents were excited at the prospect and approached the project with gusto, but unfortunately, less than six months after its debut, an A-frame sign stands outside of Wiseguy’s tasting room proclaiming that this Saturday, September 30 will be its last day of operation.
The Gents set out to craft traditional beers using the 10-barrel system that came as part of their lease with H.G. Fenton. Early on, they were able to cultivate a following, literally working side-by-side with Brewery Igniter neighbors at Rouleur Brewing Company. The breweries even held a dual grand-opening event using their shared front lawn. While Rouleur has begun to distribute its beers in North County San Diego and begun the process of regular can-release events, Wiseguy has made the decision to exit the industry.
When reached for comment, Brett Gent cited difficulties with the overhead for his facility, a lack of steady business in Carlsbad, and the inability to put up street-facing signage as reasons for pulling out. Online, he expressed that he is “super-bummed,” adding he “will take another crack at this one day” and stating he “learned a lot.” Other Brewery Igniter tenants attest that the model is expensive and unsustainable over a prolonged period. For most, it is a means of achieving proof of concept before garnering additional financial backing and moving on to open a permanent brick-and-mortar elsewhere. One Brewery Igniter tenant, speaking on condition of anonymity, shared that H.G. Fenton has exhibited a tendency to be strict even with struggling tenants, stating they tend to compare them all to Pure Project Brewing. That business is easily the most successful of the septet of companies leasing space between the three Brewery Igniter sites.
Pure Project and Amplified Ale Works were the first to experiment with the model at H.G. Fenton’s initial rentable brewing campus in Miramar. The former has been a runaway success behind frequent can-release events and barrel-aged bottle releases, but appears to be an anomaly. Arguably the next most successful Brewery Igniter tenant is Eppig Brewing Company, which is nearing its one-year anniversary as the first business to open at H.G. Fenton’s second beer-making site, a three-suite facility in North Park. Eppig has earned acclaim for its beers, primarily its lagers, prompting its owners’ recent securing of a satellite tasting room in Point Loma, but even with solid returns out of the gate, that business will inevitably reach a point—sooner than later—where it must move to a larger facility with greater production capabilities, more space for customers and lower monthly expenses.
Brewery Igniter was developed as a stepping stone for aspiring brewers as well as an option for existing companies seeking a secondary brewing facility as a means to increase production. Amplified Ale Works and San Diego Brewing Company, a 20-plus-year stalwart of the local industry that leased space at the North Park campus to brew enough beer to start distributing beyond its namesake pub, fit into the latter, less common category, while Pure Project, Eppig, Rouleur and Pariah Brewing Company (also in North Park) fit the bill of entrepreneurs looking to realize fermentation aspirations, a faction Wiseguy was part of for a sadly far-too-short period of time.