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2017 Recap: Beers of the Week

Dec 22

Each week, I feature a locally produced beer that is special from one of numerous standpoints. Sometimes it’s an anniversary beer, other times I go with collaborations. The draw of something unique often piques my interest, then there are times when a beer just tastes outstanding. But the basic plan of action is to highlight quality ales and lagers from around the county without featuring the same brewery twice during a single calendar year. This year, I decided to list all of the weekly standouts and rank them. In order to best do this, I broke them into categories (apples-to-apples versus triple-IPA-to-cream-ale). As one would expect from a beat this drenched in hop oil, IPAs of all ilks were featured most often, but there were plenty of lagers, Belgian-style ales, stouts and other concoctions. All were good, but some were outstanding enough that they should be recognized here.

Alpine HFS India Pale Ale


A collaboratively brewed Nelson Lager from Dos Desperados Brewery and Prodigy Brewing Company


  • Nelson Lager, Dos Desperados Brewery & Prodigy Brewing, San Marcos: This wasn’t just one of the best lagers I had all year, it was one of the best beers overall; crisp, clean and bursting with Nelson Sauvin character.
  • Natural Bridge Festbier, Eppig Brewing, North Park: This is a beer so well-crafted, true-to-style and absolutely perfect for everyday consumption that I find myself thinking about it just about every day.
  • Herd of Turtles Baltic Porter, Bagby Beer Co., Oceanside: With so few Baltic-style porters in the county, they could have passed any dark lager off as one, but of course, this standout operation aced it.
  • Bird Park Bohemian Pilsner, North Park Beer Co., North Park
  • Helles Yeah! Helles, Division 23 Brewing, Miramar
  • Ragnabock Doppelbock, Longship Brewing, Mira Mesa
  • Sea Señor Mexican Lager, SouthNorte Brewing, Coronado

Origin of Shame from The Lost Abbey

Belgian-style Ales

Bear Cookie Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout seved on nitro at Vista’s Bear Roots Brewing


Hop Slap’d #5 American Pale Ale from New English Brewing

Other Styles

* Author’s Note: This year, Nickel Beer Co. had two Beer of the Week features due to the untimely passing of local publican Larry Koger, for whom owner and business partner Tom Nickel brewed a commemorative beer. It was a good reason to break policy.

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2017 Recap: Best San Diego County Breweries

Dec 21

What are the best craft breweries in San Diego County? I get asked that all the time. When people pose that question, it’s usually because they’re visiting, so I tailor my response around the types of beers they enjoy, where they’re staying, if they have transportation, etc. But when I take stock for the purposes of an end-of-year article, I impose a different set of criteria. I begin by removing Big Beer-owned interests (it’s simply a different playing field, monetarily, than independent operations), then examine the make-up and, foremost, the overall quality of each brewery’s portfolio of beers. Is this the perfect formula? Probably not, but now you know where I’m coming from. Will my list match yours? Probably not, but that’s OK! Let us know your list in the comments. The wonderful truth is that there are many outstanding breweries in San Diego County, and a list of 15 only scratches the top layer of foam.

Alpine Beer Co.

Gold Tier

Alpine Beer Co. | Alpine: A small brewery in an unincorporated town on the fringe of our county didn’t become a nationally respected cult-favorite by accident. This house built by hops continues to churn out largely hoppy stock worthy of coveting. More impressive, it’s keeping its street cred intact post-acquisition, something only good beer can accomplish.

Bagby Beer Co. | Oceanside: The sheer volume of beer produced and consistently on-tap is impressive, but the fact all of it is so traditionally to-spec and worthy of praise (as proven by an always-growing collection of Great American Beer Festival medals) is rather incredible. No place spends more time making unsexy styles utterly desirable.

Pizza Port | Bressi Ranch, Carlsbad, Ocean Beach & Solana Beach: To have one brewpub pumping out high quality beers across styles like any of Pizza Port’s do would be a big deal. To have four in a single county (plus another in San Clemente) and remain consistent year in and year out for the better part of three decades is the basis for legend status.

Port Brewing / The Lost Abbey / The Hop Concept | San Marcos & Cardiff by the Sea: No local tasting room offers as many expertly executed and variedly challenging beers as this triple-threat simultaneously focusing on West Coast IPAs, Belgian-inspired ales and barrel-aged everything. Even the occasional bottling hiccup barely detracts from feats accomplished here on an everyday basis.

Societe Brewing | Kearny Mesa: Batch-to-batch consistency across varied ales and lagers—hoppy, session, Belgians, stouts—and an expert level of balance and drinkability that even extends to wine-barrel-aged offerings keeps beer fans and brewers alike coming back to this living tribute to the quality and community of the San Diego beer scene. Disclaimer: I work for this company.

North Park Beer Co.

Silver Tier

AleSmith Brewing | Miramar: From English session beers to high-octane Belgian, Scotch and coffee-infused juggernauts, this veteran continues to make flawless time-tested beers, but recent additions have been a mixed bag. A new pilsner is spectacular, a gimmick Mexican lager is blah, an extract orange pale is disappointing and the flagship IPA could use a youthful sibling.

Fall Brewing | North Park: The brewing team has experienced more than its fair share of fluctuation over the years, but through it all, its recipes and process remain sound. Stop in anytime, order a beer and you’re bound to encounter something both flavorful and refreshing, registering somewhere between very good and where-you-been-all-my-life status.

New English Brewing Company | Sorrento Valley: Consistently one of the most underrated local breweries, this one knocks it out of the park on the English ale front. That’s to be expected, but New World IPAs, the occasional Belgian beer and barrel-aged beers taste lovely. They have the best cask beer in town, too. (But, personally, I’d lose the Blueberry Blonde.)

North Park Beer Co. | North Park: Captivating the masses with largely session, internationally-inspired beers can be hard to do in the county’s hipster capital, but it’s been accomplished in spades at this two-story hub for members of the Finer Things Club. Consistency is up in Year Two and it’s been nice to see chances taken with occasional collaborative creations.

Second Chance Beer Co. | Carmel Mountain & North Park: Not a lot is flashy about this company’s beers, and not because of stringent traditionalism. They actually tend to veer slightly away from the norm. It would seem balance is the brewmaster’s chief aim, and he achieves it big-time as proven by devout patronage and big beer-competition wins.

Burning Beard Brewing

Bronze Tier

Benchmark Brewing | Grantville & Bay Park: This place is all about “beer-flavored beer,” and if that’s what you prefer—straightforward ales made for everyday drinking—you’ll seldom be disappointed here. It would be nice to see new beers come along more often, but limited focus has led to arguably the best table beer, brown ale and oatmeal stout in town.

Burning Beard Brewing | El Cajon: A blending of punk-rock bravado and respect for the classics has resulted in a unique brewery offering delicious beers both New and Old World in nature. There are plenty of hop-heavy numbers to choose from, but Belgian-style ales and a crowd-favorite pilsner diversify this company’s offerings and cement its cut-above reputation.

Eppig Brewing | North Park: The lagers produced at this Brewery Igniter standout are of the highest grade. They make up only one third of the beers on the board, sharing space with IPAs, kettle sours and a rogue’s gallery of outliers. All are enjoyable even if some have room for improvement, but this business is just one year old and well ahead of the game.

Karl Strauss Brewing | Pacific Beach, 4S Ranch, Carlsbad, La Jolla & Little Italy: Many regions have elder-statesman fixtures like this. They’re old, boring and averse to change. This business is not. It actively works to remain current and relevant, and has succeeded at that. Its brewpubs produce creations of varied quality, but their overall track record is impressive.

Rip Current Brewing | San Marcos & North Park: This company’s love of seemingly all of the world’s beers (despite trendiness or marketability) makes for one of the most diverse beer boards in San Diego. Batch-to-batch consistency suffers sometimes, but they regularly do right by locales and artisanal heritages seldom celebrated by others in the local beer community.

Author’s Note: Breweries in each tier are presented alphabetically.

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Julian Brewing Company v2.0

Nov 28

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 »

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Brightest Beer Futures: North San Diego County

Nov 21

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.

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Sampler Flight: Best of San Diego Beer Week 2017

Nov 1

Each month, we present several best-bet local beer-related events for the following 28 to 31 days, but as we all know, November isn’t any normal month in America’s Finest City. It’s the month that houses San Diego Beer Week (SDBW), a ten-day span encompassing literally hundreds of events. So, we’re doing things a little different this month, providing a little insight on some of the biggest and most unique happenings taking place from November 3-12. Enjoy, but don’t forget to check out other goings-on via our events page and the official SDBW website.

Friday, November 3

  • 11 a.m. | 4th Anniversary, Stone Company Store – On Kettner, Downtown
  • 3 p.m. | Boulevard Ale Trail, Multiple Locations, North Park
  • 6 p.m. | Guild Fest VIP Takeover, Broadway Pier, Downtown
  • 6 p.m. | Amplified Ale Works 5-Year Anniversary, Lafayette Hotel, North Park

Saturday, November 4

  • 1 p.m. | Brewers Guild Festival, Broadway Pier, Downtown
  • 3 p.m. | Beer Without Borders, Vol. 3, Machete Beer House, National City
  • 6 p.m. | Barrel Night, The Lost Abbey, San Marcos

Sunday, November 5

  • 8 a.m. | DRK Festival, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, Escondido
  • 11 a.m. | Kegs & Eggs Brunch with the Brewers, Duck Foot Brewing Company, Miramar
  • 2 p.m. | FiftyFifty Brewing Tap Takeover & Meet the Owner, Rip Current Brewing Company, North Park
  • 3 p.m. | A Night Out with Urge, Multiple Urge Gastropub Locations
  • 6:30 p.m. | Melvin Brewing Beer Dinner, O’Brien’s Pub, Kearny Mesa

Monday, November 6

  • 3 p.m. | Brewery & Magic Factory Tours, Council Brewing Company, Kearny Mesa
  • 6 p.m. | Brews, Views & Chews Beer Pairing; Tom Ham’s Lighthouse; Harbor Island

Tuesday, November 7

  • 6 p.m. | QUAFF Homebrewers Turned Pro Meetup, North Park Beer Company, North Park
  • 6:30 p.m. | Supper Club with Ska Brewing, Small Bar, University Heights

Wednesday, November 8

  • 7 a.m. | 9th Annual Fling, Morley Field Disc Golf Course, Balboa Park
  • 4 p.m. | #SDBeer Allstars Flight Contest, Longship Brewery, Mira Mesa
  • 4 p.m. | East County Breweries, Alpine Beer Co. Pub, Alpine
  • 5 p.m. | Fieldwork Brewing Night, O’Brien’s Pub, Kearny Mesa
  • 5 p.m. | West Coast IPA vs. New England Haze, Urge Gastropub, Rancho Bernardo

Thursday, November 9

  • 6 p.m. | Women in Beer Tap Takeover & Meet the Brewer Night, Small Bar, University Heights
  • 6:30 p.m. | Brewmaster Dinner with Duck Foot Brewing, Waypoint Public, North Park

Friday, November 10

  • 10 a.m. | SDBW Beer Garden (Day 1), SD TapRoom, Pacific Beach
  • 11:30 a.m. | House Favorites Semper Fi Fundraiser, Urge Gastropub, Rancho Bernardo
  • 12 p.m. | North Comes South: North County Breweries, Third Avenue Alehouse, Chula Vista
  • 6 p.m. | BYOBib Crawfish Boil, Coronado Brewing Company, Bay Park

Saturday, November 11

  • 10 a.m. | Woodshop Bottle Share, North Park Beer Company, North Park
  • 10 a.m. | Beer for Breakfast with Fieldwork Brewing, Small Bar, University Heights
  • 11 a.m. | 4th Anniversary Party, Booze Brothers Brewing Company, Vista
  • 11 a.m. | Employee R&D Kegs, Council Brewing Company, Kearny Mesa
  • 12 p.m. | Collabapalooza by Karl Strauss, The Observatory, North Park
  • 12 p.m. | Barrel-Aged Tap Takeover, New English Brewing Company, Sorrento Valley

Sunday, November 12

  • 12 p.m. | Beer Garden, The Lodge at Torrey Pines, La Jolla
  • 6:30 p.m. | The Lost Abbey Dinner with Tomme Arthur, O’Brien’s Pub, Kearny Mesa

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