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)
This is the last post in a four-part series examining work-in-progress brewery projects throughout San Diego County. Our last stop finds us in the western expanses, a region with strong and varied interests in the works. Check them out and, if you missed any of our other tours, take a look at upcoming projects in the south, north and east regions.
Gravity Heights | 9920 Pacific Heights Boulevard, Sorrento Mesa: It will take the better part of a year to get this brewpub project built, but it has some star power behind it. The project belongs to Arturo Kassel, the restaurateur behind Whisknladle and the Prepkitchen eateries, and figures to be smart, stylish and sustainable. When searching for someone to mastermind brewing operations he went straight to Skip Virgilio, the original owner of AleSmith Brewing who devised many of that company’s award-winning recipes. This should prove a solid opportunity for a return to the local beer scene.
Latchkey Brewing Company | 1795 Hancock Street, Five Points: Headed by a brother-in-law duo bit by the brewing bug, this will be the sixth business to give brewing at Mission Brewery Plaza post-Prohibition a go after taking over the existing production facility and tasting room from Carlsbad-bound Acoustic Ales Brewing Experiment. The factor of this interest that inspires the most hope is the fact a brewer with experience garnered at Ballast Point Brewing will be heading the ale-and-lager making. Look for this biz to debut in spring of next year.
Attitude Brewing Company | 1985 National Avenue, Barrio Logan: Many are the beer businesses aiding in Barrio Logan’s renaissance. To date, they’ve been existing companies, but this will be the first to debut there. Its headquarters will be a combination brewery and eatery offering gourmet wraps, burgers and more. The ultimate goal is for house beers to eventually be distributed throughout San Diego as well as across the border in Mexico. It’s a lofty aspiration, but one that’s time has come with cross-border beer-appreciation at an all-time high.
Artistic expression inspires artistic expression, and it isn’t limited to visual and aural art. In the case of three alumni from San Diego State University’s Business of Craft Beer certificate program, a logo from one of their favorite bands inspired the name of their upcoming beer-making business. Specifically, the 13-point lightning bolt bisecting the skull in a classic Grateful Dead logo. It gave them the idea to name their interest 13 Point Brewing Company (8035 Broadway, Lemon Grove) because when visiting their tasting room, the owners want you to experience some of the feelings you would have at a Grateful Dead show. In their words, that equates to “a heartfelt, welcoming sense of community, great music and one hell of a good time.”
It was a more straightforward form of inspiration that launched the idea for 13 Point. Two of the company’s founders ended up in bar-stool conversation with employees from Ballast Point Brewing during the 2014 edition of San Diego Beer Week. After hearing about the brewers’ daily work, Bob Frank and Robert Bessone turned to each other and asked themselves why they weren’t crafting ales and lagers for a living. Fast-forward to present day and they’re in the process of constructing the first brewery ever sited within the city of Lemon Grove.
When asked why they selected uncharted territory, they say they look forward to benefiting from the press and attention of being the community’s first manufacturer of homegrown beer. They also cite being well received by both the City of Lemon Grove and the sheriff’s office. And because of the support of City staff in particular, who helped 13 Point’s ownership propose a legislative provision to City Council, the business will be able to sell cans, bottles and crowlers from their tasting room for off-site consumption.
Ownership says it will be anywhere from four to nine months before 13 Point opens its doors. When it does, the tasting room will provide an open view of the brewery, which will include a seven-barrel brewhouse with three fermenters. That setup will allow for production of roughly 1,000 barrels of beer per year, but they intend to regularly add fermentation vessels to eventually maximize output at 2,500 barrels annually. On the brewing front, drinkability will be the primary focus, even with larger beers like a vanilla porter called Ol’ Nessie, which will be brewed using whiskey-soaked vanilla beans.
Winners from the 2017 edition of the Great American Beer Festival were announced earlier this morning. Held annually by brewing-industry trade organization, the Brewers Association, in Denver, Colorado, this year’s GABF saw nearly 8,000 beers entered by more than 2,000 breweries in 98 style categories. 293 were awarded gold, silver and bronze medals after being evaluated by 276 judges. GABF is the country’s largest and most prestigious professional brewing competition. San Diego County breweries have historically fared incredibly well. This year saw another strong showing with the region’s brewers racking up double-digit awards.
Eleven local brewing companies brought home 14 medals this time around, including five golds in the Robust Porter (Second Chance Beer Co.) Honey Beer (Karl Strauss Brewing Company‘s Carlsbad brewpub), Imperial India Pale Ale (Ballast Point Brewing) Other Specialty Belgian Ale (Stone Brewing World Brewing & Gardens – Liberty Station) and Session Beer (Pizza Port‘s Ocean Beach brewpub) categories. That went along with six silver medals and three bronzes.
Notable is the fact only one individual brewing facility in the county won more than one medal, Carmel Mountain Ranch’s Second Chance with a gold and a silver. Newly launched SouthNorte Brewing Company garnered a bronze medal in the Specialty Beer category for a beer called AgaveMente that hasn’t even been released to the public yet. And Monkey Paw Brewing, which Coronado acquired earlier this year, earned a silver medal in the English-style Summer Ale category. Also, Vista-based Mother Earth Brew Co. medaled in the Fresh or Wet Hop Ale category for Fresh As It Gets, a beer brewed at its Nampa, Idaho production facility.
Adding to the unofficial medal count was Belching Beaver Brewery, which for the second time in its history won top honors at the Alpha King Competition. Held in conjunction with GABF each year, this friendly competition crowns the brewing company that submits the hoppiest offering amid a stacked field of IPAs. Belching Beaver previously won Alpha King in 2014. On top of that, Chula Vista Brewery owners Timothy and Dalia Parker received the Samuel Adams Brewing and Business Experienceship, following in the footsteps of Ramona-based ChuckAlek Independent Brewers, who earned the same opportunity in 2014.
The following is a complete list of the winners from brewing facilities located within San Diego County…