From the Beer Writer: Beer dinners take place all the time in San Diego. Not to sound completely jaded, but after going to dozens of them, it’s easy to take some for granted, even when the food and beer taste great. Typically, the fermentation-based feasts that stand out are the ones held by businesses that go the extra mile. Case in point, O’Brien’s Pub. Not only does owner Tom Nickel and his crew form real relationships with local brewers and cull some of the most interesting ales and lagers from their stock, he also brews collaboration beers that take his venerable establishment’s multi-course affairs to the next level. Last weekend, O’Brien’s teamed up with Bay Ho’s Bitter Brothers Brewing, debuting O Brother, Where Tart Thou?, a collaboratively-created wine-barrel-aged golden sour ale. Three versions of the beer were presented to diners, each of which documented a different stage in its evolution to the final product, which goes on sales in bottles at Bitter Brothers’ tasting room today.
From the Brewers: “O Brother, Where Tart Thou started out as a golden sour ale dry-hopped with Mosaic hops. It was then moved and spent time in white-wine barrels. At the eight-month mark we added apricot and let it mature for another two-and-a-half months. The beer is slightly orange in color with a sturdy white head and nice acidity. It was really cool to try all three iterations of this beer—dry-hopped and both the fruited and non-fruited barrel-aged versions—at the O’Brien’s dinner. It was nice to enjoy and compare them side-by-side, and we’re happy we’ll have all three of them at our tasting room, plus bottles for sale, starting today.”—Tyler Tucker, Head Brewer, Bitter Brothers Brewing Company
“When the idea came up to do a collaboration with Bitter Brothers, it immediately struck me that we should do a kettle sour with them based on how good their seasonal Family Tart series was right from the start. We talked about making a beer a bit stronger and, since it was for O’Brien’s, a bit hoppier, of course. The original version of the beer was a 6% golden kettle sour dry-hopped with Mosaic hops. It was a fantastic beer, but it was just stage one. The beer was aged in Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc barrels for several months. After tasting it, we decided to add apricot purée. The result is a fruited sour beer that I am so proud to have been a part of. The overall impression is myriad fruit and sour flavors with subtle barrel notes. My favorite thing about it right now is that next year’s batch has already been brewed. Cheers to the entire Bitter Brothres crew for creating a wonderful libation…and O’Brien’s’ own Tyson Blake for the amazing name.”—Tom Nickel, Owner, O’Brien’s Pub & Nickel Beer Co.
Some set aside January as a time of counteractive restraint following a month or more of holiday-strength indulgence, but that doesn’t stop local breweries and bars from offering tons of temptation and darn good reasons to brush that angel off one’s shoulder and enjoy exceptional ales and lagers. Check out the quintet of extraordinary examples, then head to our events page for even more early-2018 fun.
January 13 | Second Saturday: Every month, Hamilton’s Tavern salutes a brewing company (and its patrons), by offering a wide array of that business’ brews, including numerous specialties. Few, if any, are as stocked with great and varied offerings as January’s spotlighted interest, Pizza Port. From SD-style hop monsters to dark coffee behemoths and everything in between, treats abound! | Hamilton’s Tavern, 1521 30th Street, South Park, 5 p.m.
January 15 | Five-Course Beer-Pairing Dinner: The Good Seed Food Company, a new Miralani Makers District biz from a former Urge Gastropub chef, will pair its local-and-organic-focused cuisine with culinary-minded beers at Pariah Brewing Company’s tasting room. Try an uni-infused stout with a fresh oyster, spicy pecan pie with a blonde coffee stout and much, much more (MMM). | Pariah Brewing, 3052 El Cajon Boulevard (inside CRAFT by Brewery Igniter), North Park, 6 p.m
January 20 | One-Year Anniversary: It might be the business’ first birthday, but Burgeon Beer Co.‘s approaching its celebration like time-tested veterans, with live music, an octet of beer-and-food pairings courtesy of multiple food trucks, and even more beer beyond that, including first-run cans of a Northeast-style double IPA dubbed Can’t Stop Juicin’. | Burgeon Beer Co., 6350 Yarrow Drive, Suite C, Carlsbad, 12 p.m
January 27 | Anniversary Party: Despite having one of the county’s smallest tasting rooms, Pure Project Brewing has a big day planned in celebration of two successful years in business. They’ll be converting their parking lot into a beer garden, and offering cellared and otherwise rare brews, plus two aluminum-clad anniversary collaboration beers (a triple IPA and imperial pastry stout)! | Pure Project Brewing, 9030 Kenamar Drive, #308, Miramar, 1 p.m
January 27 | Changing of the Barrels: To mark a whopping 29 years in the beer industry (the most of any San Diego brewery), Karl Strauss Brewing will hold a party at its PB headquarters fueled by a plethora of specialty beers, including this year’s barrel-aged anniversary saison and the non-oaked beer that will be siphoned into wooden receptacles and later used to toast the big three-zero. | Karl Strauss Brewing, 5985 Santa Fe Street, Pacific Beach, 5 p.m
January 30 | Supper Club: Small Bar regularly collaborates with breweries on food-and-beer events, but with an owner who is also a veteran chef, this event with Bay Ho’s Bitter Brothers Brewing figures to be a slam dunk for lovers of good eats and local ales. Go off that January diet two days early and have a fun and delicious time tossing aside that resolution in the interest of a life well lived. | Small Bar, 4628 Park Boulevard, University Heights, 6:30 p.m
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)
Having lived in the area for more than a decade, Morris and Robin Nuspl always wanted to bring a brewery to their community, but finding good, industrial-zoned real estate was problematic. So they considered Kearny Mesa, Mission Valley and areas near Lindberg Field before coming upon the eventual home for Deft Brewing (5328 Banks Street, Suite A, Bay Park), a 1950s gable-roofed former fishing-boat factory in a cul-de-sac a block off Morena Boulevard, Linda Vista and Friars Roads. Plenty of windows, a roll-up door and a patio were deal-sealers for them.
Morris will serve as head of brewing and operations. A former electronics-industry executive and engineer, he is an avid homebrewer who believes in small-batch creation. He and assistant Mike Finn will employ a two-barrel pilot system to develop and fine-tune beers before installing an eventual 10-barrel brewhouse to ramp up production. That move is currently slated for next year and will only happen after Deft brings on a professional brewer with experience running larger breweries. At that point, 10- and 20-barrel fermenters will be brought in to replace the current stock of two-, five- and eight-barrel tanks.
The company’s product portfolio will be made up mostly of ales of British, Belgian and German origin, each infused with twists—described as “deftness”. While there will be hop-forward offerings (English-style IPA), Morris intends to make approachability (Kölsch) his primary focus and isn’t scared to bring malt-heavy beers (Irish-style red ale) to a county that generally eschews grain-centric brews. He’s also eager to present Western European styles seldom produced on a commercial level. Year One production is estimated to meet or exceed 500 barrels.
Despite being a rather centralized neighborhood accessible from Interstates 5 and 8, the Nuspls concede Bay Park is still tucked away and unfamiliar territory for many San Diegans. They hope to do their part to change that by adding good beer with existing Bay Park interest Coronado Brewing Company and the incoming tasting room from Grantville’s Benchmark Brewing Company. They believe in the camaraderie of the industry and cite Home Brewing, Duck Foot Brewing, Eppig Brewing, Bitter Brothers Brewing (in nearby Bay Ho) and Hauck Architecture as businesses that have helped them a great deal over the past year-and-a-half. Deft is on track to open around Labor Day.