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 first time I met Gunnar Planter, he was tableside, dressed in chef’s whites and describing a cavalcade of beautifully-plated dishes at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe’s fine-dining restaurant, Morada. I was there on a fact-finding mission as part of my food writing and, in preparation for my visit, Planter had conducted a thorough Internet search to find out what I’m all about — beer. He brought up that bailiwick along with the fact a chef-friend and former colleague from nearby gourmet gem Mille Fleurs was opening a brewery in Del Mar. I asked him if it was Viewpoint Brewing Company, he confirmed, and soon we were gabbing over the topic like a couple of beer nerds. It was a welcomed surprise, as was his announcement to me via a follow-up email that he was moving on from Morada to become executive chef at Viewpoint.
Being deep into beer and food, I was eager to learn more about Planter and Viewpoint founder Charles Koll’s vision for the business, especially when I discovered they were bringing on a third culinary professional, former pastry chef and Bear Roots Brewing brewer Moe Katomski, to serve as head brewer. That’s a great deal of gastronomic firepower, and they intended to put it all to use from the get-go at their high-profile brewpub on the banks of San Dieguito Lagoon directly across from the Del Mar Fairgrounds. That spot opened in July and has impressed behind a menu stocked with dishes that are a cut above more common brewpub offerings without coming across as stuffy or pretentious.
Pork belly “bites” are dressed with a molasses gastrique while a honeyed balsamic reduction adds sweet-and-sour zing to a salad of watermelon and feta cheese. Jidori chicken receives added savoriness from a jus infused with a house porter and hanger steak is bolstered by both pink peppercorns and a fresh chimichurri sauce. Even chicken wings are more exotic, coated in a dry-rub flavored with black limes or coated in a “Buffalo” sauce made with mild Calabrian chilies.
In my opinion, the most impressive differentiator at Viewpoint is implementation of a first for San Diego brewpubs—a food-and-beer tasting flight. Three beers served with three small-bite offerings designed specifically to pair with each ale. It’s the sort of idea so simple and smart one wonders how it doesn’t already exist. And now it does. Planter’s mode of conveyance for interchangeable flavors and ingredients is a brilliant pretzel bao bun. Viewpoint’s initial tasting flight paired a Mandarina Bavaria pale ale with salt-and-pepper shrimp, bacon jam and daikon relish; a red-rye India pale ale with pork belly, apples and kimchi; and a single-malt-and-single-hop (SMASH) saison with oxtail, pickled peppers and coconut hoisin sauce. It’s thoughtful, high-level pairing made better by a trio of chef minds.
The recipe for the house bao buns is rightfully well-guarded, but Planter did divulge a couple recipes for those looking to see things from his culinary point of view: mussels that includes nduja, a spreadable Italian-style pork sausage (which can be substituted with easier-to-find Mexican-style chorizo in a pinch) and shishito peppers in a German wheat ale broth. That’s followed by a popular vegetarian entrée from Viewpoint’s menu, roasted Romanesco cauliflower served over quinoa with roasted baby vegetables and heirloom tomato gazpacho. Get cooking… or simply make a visit to Viewpoint.
From the Beer Writer: When the team at Del Mar brewpub Viewpoint Brewing fell behind on their plan to brew a beer in honor of Oktoberfest, they picked themselves up and focused on a celebratory period they were plenty ahead of, the holidays. When brainstorming on an ingredient that would be appropriate from Thanksgiving through Christmas, they decided on the humble yet flavorful cranberry. But rather than make some flimsy, indiscernible “fruit beer”, they aimed to make something complex and unique, selecting a Belgian-style farmhouse ale as the base style and augmenting it with the fruit of the bog. Enter the hilariously named Viewpoint Cranbarely Sauced. With a French saison yeast strain bringing in huge floral, citrus fruit character in the bouquet and palate, this 7% alcohol-by-volume beer comes across tasting like blood orange with hints of anise and lemon thyme in the front, cranberries (sans their inherent tartness) in the middle, with a bone-dry finish leaving a lasting grapefruit pith bitterness in its wake. It’s a very interesting beer that is perfectly suited for the holiday season and unlike anything else in San Diego County.
From the Brewers: “The idea came about while (Viewpoint founder) Charles Koll was talking to chef Nathan Lingle from L’Auberge about the holidays just before San Diego Beer Week. We were hoping to do a collaboration with him for our grand opening but the timing didn’t work out, so we decided to collaborate on a beer for the holidays. While talking about the many different flavors that reminded us of the holidays, cranberry was universal. Charles and I talked about using our French-saison recipe because it has earthy pepper notes that would complement the tartness of cranberries. To add to the overall balance of the beer, we added some Red X malt to the base recipe for more sweetness and a little darker color. Chef Nathan came in to brew the beer with us and we discussed the best way to make the cranberry sauce. Because we added sweetness with the grain bill, no sugar was used while making the sauce. Instead, Nathan made a fennel stock and that was the liquid used to reduce the fresh and dried cranberries. We used about 10 gallons of the cranberry sauce and later added fennel pollen for aromatics, like a dry-hop addition. The Cranbarely Sauced French saison is beer-forward with the cranberry coming at the finish. The fennel is sudden and comes more on the nose. The goal was to keep beer in the foreground and have the other flavors play a complementary role.”—Moe Katomski, Head Brewer, Viewpoint Brewing Company
Back in March, we introduced you to key personnel from Viewpoint Brewing Company (2201 San Dieguito Drive, Del Mar), Charles Koll and Gunnar Plantar. The former conceptualized the business and brought on the latter to lead the kitchen, but both are chefs with white-linen backgrounds. Over the past four months, they’ve been busy putting finishing touches on their brewpub (Del Mar’s first-ever beer manufacturer), which included hiring a head brewer. Not surprisingly, that individual, Moe Katomski, amassed years of chef experience before transitioning to the fermentation industry via a job with Vista’s Bear Roots Brewing. As soon as next week, the general public will be able to see what this trio of toques has been working on when Viewpoint opens its doors.
The opening has been a long time coming—more than three years, in fact. Having recently toured the space, that time was put to good use. Viewpoint is in a simultaneously great and not-ideal location. Located across the San Dieguito Lagoon from the Del Mar Fairgrounds, it is highly visible and should receive plenty of patronage, not only from San Diego County Fair and Del Mar Racetrack visitors, but Del Mar residents, in general, and walkers on the trail abutting Viewpoint’s shaded outdoor patio. The latter area is outfitted in a mixture of concrete and artificial turf, with live-edge, wooden communal tables and banquettes with tabletop fire features, as well as large, open, globe-shaped swings and corn-hole setups. These contemporary SoCal environs are particularly inviting and will surely inspire would-be exercisers to sit a spell and shift from calorie-burning to consumption.
Those dropping in by car might find themselves a little less enamored rolling into a parking lot that, with Viewpoint’s industrial roots fully exposed (perhaps to too great an extent, aesthetically), doesn’t appear to house a restaurant. The front door is small and inauspicious, but upon stepping through it, guests figure to be glad they did. While not as luxurious as the patio, the main dining room is neatly situated and comfortable. A zig-zagging bar gives way to two high-top communal tables and additional bar-seating bordering Viewpoint’s fermenter tanks. Roll-up garage-style doors provide access to the outdoor area as well as a pair of Skee Ball tables, further increasing the family-friendly aspect.
Viewpoint’s license allows for sale of guest beers to supplement a selection of house brews currently coming in at five. Katomski’s wares include a single-malt-and-single-hop (SMASH) beer made with Maris Otter and Chinook hops, a rye IPA with Red X malt that lends a chocolate-like character washed away by a dank finish, and a light-bodied Belgian-style saison that’s herbaceous and lemony with a hint of bubble gum. There is also a pair of pale ales. The first, Pleasant Surprise, was the initial beer run through Viewpoint’s 15-barrel system and didn’t turn out exactly as planned, but is not without its charms. Built on a Kölsch-recipe base with minimal infusion of Chinook hops for bittering, it may actually be a big hit with Del Martians. The second go at that beer is big on citrusy Mandarina Bavaria hops and a much more successful iteration in Katomski’s opinion. That recipe is now set in stone.
Drinkability and approachability were strived for and achieved with Viewpoint’s first beers, but Katomski also plans to follow some suggestions from Plantar, who regularly turns him on to exotic ingredients from the culinary world. For now, he’s fighting the urge to get “too crazy” and that seems a good game-plan for a community that has yet to have much exposure to craft beer.
With so many cooks in the kitchen, one might expect a for-chefs-by-chefs menu that’s overly extensive and out of control. Viewpoint’s is relatively brief but offers variety, including an assortment of appetizers that includes riffs on poutine and Jidori chicken wings served by the dozen with house sauces, charcuterie, salads, sandwiches, entrées (steak frites, salmon) and desserts. Beer and its ingredients make it into accoutrements such as a hop vinaigrette and milk stout demi-glace. Then there’s a rare first for the local beer scene, a beer-and-food flight wherein three of Viewpoint’s beers are served with a trio of pretzel bao buns stuffed with ingredients selected to match their liquid counterparts.
Following its debut, Viewpoint will be open seven days a week. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. it will operate as a tasting room offering light bites, before converting to a full-on restaurant from 4 to 11 p.m.
While the rest of the country waits for summer, San Diegans get a leg up on the season thanks to eternal sunshine. Take advantage of this benefit of Southern California residence by getting out ad drinking in local beer at any of the many events taking place in June. Start with the following featured happenings, then check out even more on our events page.
June 1 | Beer to the Rescue Extra Innings: So you missed the 43 May events raising funds for the Lupus Foundation of Southern California via sales of special beers from local breweries? No problem. There’s one more bonus event with charity beers from Bay City Brewing, Mason Ale Works, Nickel Beer and Resident Brewing plus lip-smacking, rib-sticking barbecue fare! | West Coast BBQ & Brew, 6126 Lake Murray Boulevard, La Mesa, 5 p.m.
June 3 | Pink Boots 10th Anniversary Beer Festival: The Pink Boots Society is celebrating a decade of promoting the inclusion and importance of women in the brewing industry with a great big beer festival featuring a bevy of breweries bringing their A-game—including numerous beers brewed by PBS members—in honor of the great work and impact of this fine organization. | Ingram Plaza at Liberty Station, 2751 Dewey Road, Point Loma, 12 p.m.
June 10 | 3rd Anniversary Party: Council Brewing Company is going big with its anniversary festivities, breaking out a beer list 50-plus strong. More than 30 of those brews will be barrel-aged. They’ll also debut an 11.2% ABV biere de miel (a bubbly, honey-infused French-style farmhouse ale) in corked, caged bottles during a celebratory toast taking place at 1:30 p.m. | Council Brewing Company, 7705 Convoy Court, Kearny Mesa; VIP: 11 a.m., General Admission: 12 p.m.
June 16-18 | San Diego International Beer Festival: The San Diego County Fair’s salute to suds is our region’s largest annual beer festival. Start the day with funnel cakes, carnival rides and jacuzzi shopping, then get your fill of unlimited samples of beers from all over the world, many of which took home awards in the competition component of this grand-scale summertime stalwart. | Del Mar Fairgrounds, 2260 Jimmy Durante Boulevard, Del Mar, Times Vary
June 24 | SOCIETE 5: This two-phased beer festival and multi-coursed feast has been sold out for months. So why is it listed here? Because Societe Brewing rarely debuts new draft offerings, but they’ll tap four at this event and all of them will be available to the public the next day. If you’re going, great. If not, no biggie. Those beers will taste just as good on Sunday! | Societe Brewing Company, 8262 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Kearny Mesa, 1 p.m.