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
In the summer of 2016, after 23 years of brewing solely at its flagship location in Mission Valley, the owners of San Diego Brewing Company decided to expand brewing capacity by leasing a space in North Park’s Brewery Igniter rent-to-brew facility on El Cajon Boulevard. SDBC took charge of the largest of the campus’ trio of units, one with a lower level brewhouse facing the street and an elevated tasting room complete with a bar and roll-up door facing Ohio Street. It’s the jewel of H.G. Fenton’s North Park space (which is also home to Eppig Brewing and Pariah Brewing), but it will soon be leased to another following SDBC’s decision to vacate the premises within the first quarter of 2018.
SDBC co-owner Lee Doxtader says that securing additional brewing space was absolutely the right idea, and that the company’s time producing at the Brewery Igniter space proved that. Such is the primary advertised advantage of those temporary turnkey spaces according to H.G. Fenton—proof of concept. For most tenants that means verifying the merits of a brand-new business, but in the case of SDBC (as well as Amplified Ale Works at the Miramar Brewery Igniter campus) the goal was to satisfy, as well as generate, increased consumer demand.
In the end, Doxtader and company determined patrons missed the atmosphere and on-site food options provided at its original brewpub. As such, they are in the process of selecting a site in which to install a second brewery-restaurant combo. But first, they must finish out negotiations with H.G. Fenton and complete the process of moving out of the North Park space. It is undetermined how soon that will occur. While SDBC may extract as soon as January, there is a chance it will stay in the Brewery Igniter suite and continue to brew as far out as March. To a certain extent, the timeline will be determined by how quickly H.G. Fenton secures a new tenant. The company is currently showing the space to interested parties.
2017 has been a year of changes for one of San Diego’s longest-tenured brewing interests. Early this year, ownership closed (the second iteration of) Callahan’s Pub in Mira Mesa’s, the business that paved the way for SDBC to open in Mission Valley. Over the summer, the company parted ways with head brewer Jeff Drum, placing Matt Navarre in the lead role. Ownership feels the transition has gone well and is looking forward to an upcoming milestone: SDBC’s 25th anniversary. With any luck, they will have a new site to announce by the time they reach the quarter-century mark.
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: The importance has remained at the forefront of discussions among those within and enamored with the local craft-brewing industry. Trade organizations such as the Brewers Association and the San Diego Brewers Guild have both gone to lengths to ensure that, but at the end of the day, it’s the actions of the small, independent breweries struggling to compete against their deep-pocketed Big Beer adversaries that will carry the day. Nobody can fight the fight for them, and thankfully, many have stepped up. Count North Park’s Pariah Brewing Company among them. Earlier this year, the newcomer to the county’s brewery landscape released an India pale ale (IPA) dubbed Pariah Indie Or Bust IPA. It seems a simple tactic, incorporating the term “indie” into a beer’s name, but it is effective. It has become a popular offering for the company, which is mostly known for making outlandish ales infused with exotic ingredients. However, this is a straightforward IPA that gets its depth from a modern-day hop bill blending Citra, Galaxy and Idaho 7 varietals. The result is a beer with peach, melon and toasted pine cone on the nose, followed by grilled pineapple, guava and an orange-like juiciness leading into an extra-dry finish. It’s an ideal ale for the current marketplace; one which helps keep an item of importance top of mind while delivering a delicious, high-quality product from a truly independent brewery.
From the Brewers: “Indie Or Bust IPA came about while hanging out with the breweries that brewed the 11 Barrel IPA. (South Park Brewing owner) Scot Blair was at Resident Brewing and, while talking with him about the idea behind the beer, he asked if we’d be interested in brewing our own version. The stipulations were that it had to be 7% alcohol-by-volume and include the relative newcomer hop, Idaho 7. I’d contracted a small amount of Idaho 7 but hadn’t had an excuse to use it yet, so I jumped at the chance and brewed it literally the following day. Since the 11 Barrel IPAs had already been released, we wanted a different name and, with political slogans being used at the time fresh in our minds—as well our personal convictions—Indie Or Bust IPA seemed appropriate. The beer also features Citra and Galaxy hops. The malt bill is pretty much 100% Pilsner with a sprinkle of very lightly colored malt. Our house Wicked ale yeast undertook the fermentation. We are exceptionally proud to be a part of the indie-beer scene and we are glad drinkers today feel the same way. When it comes time for a beer, it’s either going to be an independent beer or we’re ordering a whiskey!”—Brian Mitchell, Head Brewer, Pariah Brewing Company