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)
From the Beer Writer: Large doses of CTZ, Cascade and Chinook hops went into this week’s featured beer, Duck Foot KASHI-entious IPA, but the ingredients that make it particularly special are those that make up the malt bill: oats and wheat. Pretty sexy, eh? Under normal circumstances, this is hardly noteworthy, but the components in question are “transitional”. Few know what this means, but that’s why this India pale ale was brewed, to help educate the public on ingredients produced by American farmers during the lengthy period required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to gain Organic certification. The idea for this came from Solana Beach-based Kashi, who helped Duck Foot Brewing Company procure the transitional oats and wheat for this beer, which comes in at 7.4% alcohol-by-volume and comes across as a bit of a throwback to the days when IPAs had long-lasting, assertive bitterness. A lemon bouquet gives way to grapefruit and toasted biscuit notes on the palate, leaving a tacky pithiness in the back of one’s throat. Much like newfound info about Organic certification, it’s a lot for the mind and taste buds to contemplate. The beer debuts today and will also be on tap at Duck Foot’s second anniversary party, which will take place on Saturday, July 8.
From the Brewer: We’ve collaborated with San Diego’s own Kashi on this IPA brewed with transitional ingredients in order to help American farmers in the process of increasing organic farmland. It takes three years for farmers to convert their fields to be eligible for USDA Organic certification. During this time, they cannot use pesticides, but they also cannot yet call their crops Organic. Kashi…and now Duck Foot…is trying to raise awareness of the hardship that these farmers endure during this ‘transitional’ period. By featuring transitional ingredients in this beer—in this case, rolled oats and hard red winter wheat—we hope to help promote their cause. As Kashi would say: ‘Don’t just brew something awesome, do something awesome!’”—Brett Goldstock, Chief Fermentation Officer, Duck Foot Brewing Company
Winners of the San Diego International Beer Festival’s professional brewing competition were released today. A component of the San Diego County Fair’s annual festivities, the competition included entries from across the globe judged by professional beer judges and Southern California brewing professionals in late-April. A total of 68 medals were awarded to San Diego-based breweries. Of that number, 23 were gold, 21 were silver and 24 were bronze.
San Diego breweries won all three medals in eight categories: American-style Red/Amber Ale, Bitter, Bold Stout, Brett and Other Sour Beer, German-style Ale, German-style Weiss, Imperial Stout and Pilsener. Miramar-based AleSmith Brewing Company once again took home Champion Brewery honors behind three medals—a gold and silver in the same category (one of which was awarded to a Scotch ale) and a gold in the Barley Wine category.
The most local medals went to Pizza Port. That brewpub’s Carlsbad brewpub also won a gold and two silvers. Its Ocean Beach arm won two (one gold, one bronze) and Bressi Ranch production brewery earned a silver. The most medals awarded to a single brewery went to San Marcos’ Rip Current Brewing Company and less-than-a-year-old North Park interest Eppig Brewing. Both of those companies earned a gold, silver and two bronzes. San Marcos’ The Lost Abbey and South Park Brewing Company earned three medals apiece, as well. Also impressive was Rip Current winning two of three medals in the German-style Bock category.
The following is a complete list of the winners from this years SDIBF…
The three-day public beer-fest portion of the SDIBF will take place at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, Friday, June 16 through Sunday, June 18. Tickets and information can be found online.
From the Beer Writer: I’m going to be frank. I am sickened by the rise of senseless violence plaguing our country. Gays, blacks, Muslims, cops and the homeless have all been recent targets for the world’s most pathetic type of people—those who lack regard for human-life. Whether bigots drunk with power, zealots driven by warped piousness or scrambled-brain lunatics, perpetrators of the recent murders filling our news-feeds are making it hard to see all the good that exists in our world. That’s why this week’s featured beer, Hillcrest / Karl Strauss All You Need Is Love is so important. Conceived by members of LGBTQ-run entity Hillcrest Brewing Company and brewed with Karl Strauss Brewing Company brewmaster Paul Segura, this hoppy session red ale shows support for victims of the Pulse Nightclub shootings that took place in Orlando, Florida last month, raising money for survivors and the families of the lost. When news of this collaboration came out, a large number of other San Diego County breweries joined in this project, brewing up beers under the same name to start a full-fledged movement to raise more money and counteract the hatred behind that massacre (a full list of participating operations is included below). The beers are available at each brewery’s tasting room, but will be showcased en masse Thursday, July 21 at Monkey Paw Pub and Brewery in the East Village during a special keep-the-pint-night featuring a commemorative glass decorated with the All You Need Is Love logo. It is efforts like these that help us to remember the immense love, understanding and goodness that is not only present in our society, but rules it. Yes, racism, hate and stupid people will always exist, but it’s important to remember that the majority of us accept everyone, regardless of their gender, race, social-status, political affiliation or sexual orientation. That’s something that can’t be silenced no matter how many gun-toting hatemongers channel their frustration into homicidal endeavors. As evidenced by All You Need Is Love, such hideous acts only serve to galvanize the populace in support of our brothers and sisters of all walks of life, and remind us of how precious life—every life—is. And how precious love—all love—is. That’s something I will toast with every sip of this very special, rainbow-colored family of beers.
From the Brewers: “The beer is a hoppy session red ale, one that we were fortunate enough to brew with a few different breweries. We immediately reached out to Paul at Karl Strauss. He’s an incredible brewer and an even better guy. His input, ideas on how to proceed and reputation brought this project to a whole new level. Adding our friends at Gordon Biersch was another huge honor, as brewmaster Doug Hasker is a legend in his own right. As someone who is relatively new to the San Diego beer scene, it was a great experience to be able to sit down for a pint with those two guys at the same table and hear them talk about beer. The more we reached out to people, the more we realized that this entire community was stoked on the idea. Initially, we wanted to be physically involved with each beer, but it grew to a point where we just didn’t have enough hours in a week to be able to directly brew these beers with everyone. One day, I helped mash out at three different breweries. It’s been a humbling experience and during a time where my faith in humanity has been severely shaken, it’s truly been a large breath of fresh air.”—Clinton Shaver, Assistant Brewer, Hillcrest Brewing Company
Participating Breweries: 2Kids Brewing Company, AleSmith Brewing Company, Amplified Ale Works, Bagby Beer Company, Belching Beaver Brewery, Border X Brewing Company, ChuckAlek Independent Brewers, Duck Foot Brewing Company, Gordon Biersch, Hillcrest Brewing Company, Intergalactic Brewing Company, Karl Strauss Brewing Company, Mission Brewery, Second Chance Beer Company, South Park Brewing Company, Wavelength Brewing Company