From the Beer Writer: First came Mosaic Session Ale. I had my first pint at the debut of Karl Strauss Brewing‘s revamped Brewery Gardens in Sorrento Mesa and instantly loved it. Enough that I pulled co-founder Chris Cramer aside to gush about the session IPA. Next came Double Mosaic, which I had via a growler delivered by Nickel Beer Co. owner Tom Nickel, who assisted Karl’s brewmaster Paul Segura in “doubling” the strength of that beer to a standard single-IPA alcohol level. Being such a fan of its progenitor, it wasn’t surprising I enjoyed Double Mosaic just as much, but I was caught completely off guard—and convinced in the consistency of my palate—when, at this year’s Changing of the Barrels at Karl Strauss’ headquarters, I ordered a beer called Isomerizer IPA, and once again experienced love at first sip. Bright with citrus and tropical-fruit aromas and flavors, exhibiting perfect weight and texture, dry and quenching in the finish, I was again driven to reach out to the Karl crew to share how much I liked it. It turns out, Isomerizer is a fine-tuned version of Double Mosaic and, fun fact, it will be available in canned six-packs and on-draft at Karl Strauss’ brewpubs and restaurants starting Monday. Whether you enjoy this veteran company’s Mosaic or simply the hop varietal its named after, you’re sure to love this beer. Maybe even as much as I do.
From the Brewer: “Isomerizer IPA was inspired by our Mosaic Session IPA and the tropical flavors of the Mosaic hop. It’s such a beautiful hop, the best one I’ve seen come along in a while. so we wanted to make an IPA that really showcased its full spectrum of flavors. We kept the malt profile subtle, which allowed the Mosaic to shine through the beer with its flavors of grapefruit, passion fruit, mango, blueberry and all of that tropical goodness. After some R&D work, we were so happy with the final batch that we decided to scale it up and add it to our core lineup as a year-round brew.”—Paul Segura, Brewmaster, Karl Strauss Brewing Company
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)
On Memorial Day weekend of 2016, downtown Julian’s The Bailey Wood-Fired BBQ closed its doors. That move shut down its on-site fermentation component, Julian Brewing Company. The business was taken over and converted into a brewpub in 2012 by San Diego brewing veterans Vince Marsaglia and Tom Nickel. The latter is the owner of O’Brien’s Pub and West Coast BBQ & Brew, and sold off his stake later that year, going on to open his own brewery, Nickel Beer Co., just down the street. Marsaglia, co-founder of Pizza Port, Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey, soldiered on but struggled to make a success of the operation. After exploring the option of selling The Bailey, he made the decision to close it and revamp it almost in its entirely. Soon, it will reopen with a new identity that will make it unique from a beermaking perspective, not only within Julian, but throughout San Diego entire county. Read more »
This is the third in a four-part series examining work-in-progress brewery projects throughout San Diego County. This component shines a light on the most promising businesses in the North County expanses. Click the following links to take a look back at assessments of WIP brewery projects in the south and east, then check back next week as we close out with a look at future East County venues.
Julian Brewing Company | 2315 Main Street, Julian: Pizza Port co-founder Vince Marsaglia is reopening and reimagining this business, turning it into a mountain farmhouse brewery, offerings from which will include lambics and saisons using fruits, vegetables and herbs from an on-site two-acre garden. The five-barrel system will also be used for pilot brews of experimental beers from sister business The Lost Abbey, while the country casual restaurant portion of this brewpub will serve up smokehouse fare augmented by pizza, sandwiches and various pickled items.
Karl Strauss Brewing Company | San Marcos: In the past few years, San Diego’s longest continually operating post-Prohibition brewing company has expanded, doing so mostly in LA and the OC. But new facilities are in the works locally, as well, including an R&D brewery on a recently secured two-acre lot in the city of San Marcos. It remains to be seen whether it will include a hospitality component, but more beer and more beer-styles from this award-winning operation are always a plus.
Beach Grease Beer Company | 3125 Scott Street, Vista: This newcomer was founded by a successful veteran of the street-wear/action sports clothing industry who loves craft beer and feels no existing brands have authentically engaged the folks in his social circles. A contract-brewed IPA called Surf Reaper is already on tap at roughly 50 local accounts, but future beers will be produced at an upcoming brewing facility with a 10-barrel system and a tasting room decked out in a modern art gallery aesthetic.