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
We stand on the threshold of another month chock-full of exceptional reasons to crack a cold one in the presence of others. Yes, it’s a great time to be alive, but to do things up right requires some planning. We’ve started you off with some standout San Diego beer events for March, but don’t limit yourself. Click here to check out our full local calendar.
March | Beer to the Rescue Fundraisers: As part of a year-long campaign benefiting locals living with lupus, Gordon Biersch will hold a release party for a Mexican lager brewed with Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing, complete with a taco bar, live band and piñatas on June 1. On March 13, Pure Project Brewing is holding Beer to the Rescue Day at its Miramar tasting room. On March 28, Pariah Brewing will release This Is New IPA, and on March 29, North Park Beer Co. will tap a specialty cask, with portions of proceeds from both beers going to the Lupus Foundation of Southern California. | Various Locations, All Events Start at 5 p.m.
March 2 | Crowler Awareness Day: Gone are the days when the only conveyance vessel for draft beer was a glass jug requiring constant sterilization. Compact, disposable and often quite attractive, crowlers have changed the industry and, for the first edition of this made-up annual holiday, brewery tasting rooms offering these modern marvels will offer them at discounted rates. | Participating Breweries: Amplified Ale Works (Pacific Beach, Miramar), Bay City Brewing (Point Loma), Coronado Brewing (Bay Park), Council Brewing (Kearny Mesa), Eppig Brewing (North Park, Point Loma), Intergalactic Brewing (Miramar), Mikkeller Brewing San Diego (Miramar), North Park Beer Co. (North Park), Resident Brewing (Downtown), Thunderhawk Alements (Miramar)
March 4 | Renaissance: Epic tap lists and next-level ale-and-lager free-for-alls are nothing new for Churchill’s Pub, but this venerable North County beer bastion sets aside one day each year to really go all out. Tons of rare beers, including some brewed just for the occasion, will be on tap, and bottles of whale pod leader Churchill’s Finest Hour imperial stout will be for sale. | Churchill’s Pub & Grille, 887 W. San Marcos Boulevard, San Marcos, 11 a.m
March 10 | SD Homebrew Festival & Competition: The richness of San Diego’s commercial beer and brewing scene is a result of the county’s vibrant, thriving and always-evolving homebrew culture, something celebrated via more than 35 homebrewed beers at this festival devoted to the recreational—yet very serious—pursuit of the beer-making sciences. | The Observatory, 2891 University Avenue, North Park, 12 p.m
March 31 | Second Anniversary: El Cajon’s Burning Beard Brewing opened its back lot and a can of celebratory whoop-ass for its first anniversary last year, and this year they’re aiming to outdo themselves. Expect multiple beer stations stocked with a wide variety of liquid stein fodder, a raffle, take-home stein and three bands (including The Creepy Creeps) rocking out live. | Burning Beard Brewing, 785 Vernon Way, El Cajon, 1 p.m
It may be the shortest month of the year, but February is stocked with beer and brewery events. The anniversaries alone could keep an ale enthusiast busier than a one-armed hop-bine tender (trust me on that one). Peruse this short-list of quality events, then go a step further and take in the full list of goings-on at our constantly updating events page.
February 4 | Super Sunday Cellar-bration: It takes a lot for a non-sporting event to compete with the almighty Super Bowl. Realizing this, Stone Brewing is pulling out all the stops—and some of its rarest kegs—putting on a beer festival at its Escondido eatery featuring vintage beers going back as far as 2005, plus plenty of one-offs and a special food menu. Game on! | Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, 1999 Citracado Parkway, Escondido, 10 a.m.
February 10 | Brewbies: Supporting a worthy charity is both easy and rewarding at this annual fest put on by the Keep A Breast Foundation, where scads of SoCal breweries bring out their best, including one-offs, many of which are pink-hued in honor of the fight against breast cancer. | Bagby Beer Company, 601 South Coast Highway, Oceanside, 1 p.m.
February 10 | Second Saturday: Hamilton’s Tavern’s monthly tap-takeover extravaganza will feature the varied liquid wares of Karl Strauss Brewing, including Onyx Ledbetter, a black IPA brewed collaboratively with South Park Brewing as the first beer of the 2018 Beer to the Rescue fundraising campaign benefiting the Lupus Foundation of Southern California. | Hamilton’s Tavern, 1521 30th Street, South Park, 5 p.m.
February 14 | Truffles, Truffles Everywhere: Few things scream Valentine’s Day like chocolate confections, and some of the best in San Diego are produced by Andrea’s Truffles. So sweet are her sweets that a whopping three beery venues will feature them during the day of amore. Eppig Brewing is doing a beer-and-truffle pairing, while just down 30th Street, Andrea will collaborate with Mastiff Sausage Company at North Park Beer Co. And over in Beeramar, White Labs will temper its beer pairing with a side of education. Ooh la la! | Various Locations, Times Vary
February 24 | Carnival of Caffeination: In 2017, West Coaster readers voted “Modern Times Beer festivals” as the best beer events in San Diego, and the beer-and-coffee biz is teaming with guest roasters and brewers to put on the second edition of its fete celebrating all things caffeinated, including barrel-aged beers and exotic java, plus live music and food trucks. | Broadway Pier, Downtown, 12 p.m.
Anniversaries Galore: There are so many, I felt inclined to list them. Cheers and happy birthday to the whole lot of them!
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
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. | 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.
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.
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.