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February Events Sampler Flight

Feb 1

In the beverage-industry, they say it takes until March for beer-consumption to rebound to normal levels after the holidays. Good thing San Diego’s beer-slingers didn’t get that memo, because February is jam-packed with a broad array of fun events celebrating local ales and lagers. Check out these standout events, and see a full list on our events page.

February 4 | Sour Saturday & Fourth Anniversary: Squeeze into one of the smallest but coolest beer-bars in San Diego for the ale-equivalent of an acid-drop. Cast your line and reel in a variety of sour beers tapped in celebration of this pier-mounted saloon, eatery and bait-and-tackle shop. | Fathom Bistro Bait & Tackle, 1776 Shelter Island Drive, Shelter Island, 10 a.m.

February 4 | National 2×4 Day: Wyoming-based Melvin Brewing is tapping its award-winning 2×4 imperial IPA (it’s taken top-honors at the World Beer Cup, Great American Beer Festival and multiple Alpha King Challenges) across the country, and Hamilton’s Tavern is where you can taste it and other Melvin hop-bombs. | Hamilton’s Tavern, 1521 30th Street, South Park, 12 p.m.

February 11 | Brewbies Festival: Brewers from throughout Southern California will not only show up in-force to help raise funds for the Keep A Breast Foundation, many of them will bring creatively crafted, pink-hued beers brewed especially for this fest, one of the best in our county each year. | Bagby Beer Company; 601 South Coast Highway; Oceanside; VIP: 12 p.m., General Admission: 1 p.m.

February 11 | Carnival of Caffeination: Like beer? Like coffee? Like beer and coffee infused into a buzzworthy beverage? Then head to this fest celebrating all you hold sacred via top-quality beers from breweries plucked from around the country, and watch as stimulants and depressants go head-to-head! | North Promenade; 2848 Dewey Road; Point Loma; VIP: 11 a.m., General Admission: 12 p.m.

February 18 | Winter Brew Fest: Because winter in San Diego is pretty much like every other season in San Diego from a weather standpoint, this night-time fest won’t center around brawny stouts and strong ales. Come expecting an array of all styles, including SD’s sun-ready IPAs. | San Diego Hall of Champions; 2131 Pan American Plaza; Balboa Park; VIP: 6 p.m., General Admission: 7 p.m.

February 25-26 | 10th Anniversary Beer Fest: For a decade, SD TapRoom has gone big in the bday department, throwing suds-soaked parties over multiple days. The big 1-0 will be no different thanks to 100 specialty beers, including Pliny the Younger and venue-exclusive Boxcar Speedway. | SD TapRoom, 1269 Garnet Avenue, Pacific Beach, Times Vary

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Amplified Ale Works goes collab crazy

Jan 11

The Amplified Collab Crew (left-to-right): Jeff Campbell, Cy Henley, Alex Pierson and JC Hill (also of Alvarado Street Brewery)

Many are the brewers and brewery personnel whose passion for music rivals their fervor for fermentation, but when analyzing the degree to which the musical bug has sunk its teeth into an entire business, no local operation is as afflicted as Amplified Ale Works. From the day it opened within its Pacific Beach kebaberie home, head brewer Cy Henley (you might not know it, but you’ve definitely shared space with him at a local live-music venue numerous times in your life) and company have driven home their love of aurally conveyed entertainment via beer names, apparel, graphics and more. So it’s no wonder that, when the estate of famed Motörhead front-man, Lemmy, sought a business to brew a beer commemorating the metal legend, they hit up Amplified.

Brewery owner and co-founder Alex Pierson was approached by a licensing firm last year. At first, he wasn’t 100% sold on the legitimacy of the company’s request, but when he ventured to an L.A. hotspot to meet with an entertainment exec, and that man was greeted with a knowing wave by star and recent Nobel laureate Bob Dylan, that gesture bolstered his faith level significantly. The two came to terms quickly, leading to Born to Lose IPA, a Citra-heavy India pale ale in the mid-6% ABV (alcohol-by-volume) range that takes cues from the recipe for Amplified’s Pig Nose Pale Ale. A prototype of the beer was on-tap at a Christmas Eve (its honoree’s birthday) release-party at famous West Hollywood live-music venue and Lemmy haunt, the Rainbow Bar & Grill, which now includes features a life-sized statue of Lemmy. A refined version of the beer is scheduled to come out in cans in February or March of this year, and a bourbon barrel-aged version of Amplified’s Belgian-style quadrupel is aging in bourbon barrels, waiting for its own Christmas Eve coming-out party later this year and a date with a bottling machine. That creation will be called Ace of Spades.

On the reunion tour front, Henley, Pierson and director of brewery operations Jeff Campbell spent a day collaborating at their Miramar brewhouse with Amplified co-founder JC Hill. Hill who now calls the coastal city of Monterey home and spends his time on the larger project he’s since moved on to, Alvarado Street Brewery. The fruits of the foursome’s enjoyable labors, Trois Cabrones (a name inspired by a classic album by The Melvins), will go on-tap at Amplified’s Miramar tasting room tomorrow, Thursday, January 12. The beer is a “hazy IPA” that had Summer and Nelson Sauvin hops added in the kettle, followed by Nelson and Mosaic in the whirlpool. It incorporates a combination of wheat, rice hulls and oats in its malt bill and was designed to smell and taste of big hops…and look like custard. The quartet admits this collaboration should have happened a long time ago. In an effort to make up for lost time, the Amplified crew will travel to north the last week of this month to brew the beer again at Alvarado Street, where it will be canned as well.

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Sampler Flight: January Events

Jan 2

Yeah, yeah, we can pretend we’re going to stick to all those healthful resolutions that sounded so good when we were way inebriated at midnight on December 31, or we can get real and start planning for some beer-inspired fun. If you, like me, are opting for the latter, check out these higher-profile events, then head to our Events Page for even more #SDBeer happenings.

January 7 | San Diego Brew Fest: Don’t be a quitter. Get right back into the sudsy swing of things a mere seven daze after swearing off alcohol. You know you want to and, with plenty of breweries converging on the festival-ready grounds of Liberty Station, why fight what is clearly a fermented form of fate. Say good-bye to better judgment and hello to a good time. | NTC Park, 2455 Cushing Road, Point Loma, 12 p.m.

January 14 | Two-Year Anniversary: Last month, Rip Current Brewing celebrated its fourth year in business at its San Marcos brewery. Fast-forward several weeks and it’s time to celebrate the not-so-terrible twos at its North Park satellite tasting room. Expect a tap-list chock full of specialties, including a boat-load of barrel-aged beers, plus some discount special deals. | Rip Current Brewing Company, 4101 30th Street, North Park, 12 p.m.

January 22 | Family Dinner: Much like brewers, chefs like to hang with other chefs. So when Bitter Brothers Brewing’s veteran chef owner invites culinary contemporaries over to cook a beer-paired dinner with him at his brewery, he has plenty of willing participants to choose from, all of which are top-notch kitchen practitioners who enjoy beer as much as the people they’re serving. | Bitter Brothers Brewing Company, 4170 Morena Boulevard, Bay Ho, 5 p.m.

January 28 | Changing of the Barrels: Each year, Karl Strauss Brewing holds a suds-filled soiree at its PB headquarters where it unveils a barrel-aged beer that’s been aged for a year, serving it alongside a long list of staples and specialties. It’s the greatest single-night of beer-sampling one can experience at San Diego’s longest-running post-Prohibition era brewing interest. | Karl Strauss Brewing Company; 5985 Santa Fe Street; Pacific Beach; 4 p.m. (VIP), 5 p.m. (General Admission)

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2016 Recap: San Diego’s Most Improved Breweries

Dec 14

Yesterday, I laid out what I believe are the best new breweries to have opened in 2016. Today, in part two of my three-part retrospective series on breweries in San Diego County, I’m listing the half-dozen operations I think most significantly upped their games over the past 12 months. It’s important to note up-front that being on this list in no way implies that these brewing companies were doing a bad job or making subpar beer until this year. It just means that, even if they were already good, they are doing even better now.

The Karl Strauss team celebrates at this year’s Great American Beer Festival

Karl Strauss Brewing Co., Pacific Beach: Uncle Karl’s crew has been churning out quality beer for decades, but in recent years they have put the pieces in place to reach all-time highs. Hoppy offerings like Mosaic Session IPA and Aurora Hoppyalis IPA are legitimately among the best of San Diego’s hoppy stock, and the brewery-restaurant chain’s portfolio is so stout with good beer, Karl Strauss was named Best Mid-Size Brewery at this year’s Great American Beer Festival.

Council Brewing Co., Kearny Mesa: I named this husband-and-wife aspiration one of the best new breweries to open in 2014. Back then, the business’ line-up was pretty solid, but nowadays the hoppy beers are dialed in, and its eclectic barrel-aged, bottled offerings are interesting and reliably delicious. They strive to do lots of things and are finding ways to successfully juggle all of it while providing an inviting atmosphere.

Toolbox Brewing Co., Vista: Many thought this business was done for after it parted with its original head brewer, but since picking up a hippy fermentationist with a scientific bent, this operation is not only making its 100% wild operation work, but rocking things out with intriguing, outstanding beers that are more cohesive than what came before. It’s an unlikely, but very welcomed outcome.

32 North Brewing Co., Miramar: In three years, this operation has had just as many head brewers. After having brought on the majority of Fall Brewing Co.’s brewing and sales personnel this year, the beer-quality is at an all-time high. That’s good timing, as 2017 finds 32 North making a big push to become better known and more successful via increased distribution of cans and kegs.

Groundswell Brewing Co., Grantville: A small system and lack of experience kept this business from realizing its potential, but after landing now-closed URBN St. Brewing Co.’s former head brewer, the beer has improved to the point where Groundswell’s ownership felt confident purchasing the large Santee brewery and distillery abandoned by defunct Twisted Manzanita Ales & Spirits.

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2016 Recap: San Diego’s Best New Breweries

Dec 13

It’s the final month of the year, and time to reflect on the year nearly gone-by. For me, that means assessing San Diego County’s brewery landscape. That’s what I’ll be doing in a three-part series of posts this week, starting with a look at the plethora of new brewing operations that opened in 2016. More breweries opened this year than any in history. And it’s important to note that more good breweries opened in 2016 than in the past several years. Many tout the double-digit number of rookie fermentation operations added to San Diego’s brewery-count each year, but I’ll be honest and say that the past half-decade has seen too many average-to-subpar businesses join the fold. Sure, some duds opened in 2016, but the same can be said of any food-and-beverage business. The bottom-line is, aspiring entrants into the local suds-scene seem to understand, now more than ever, that they better have good beer if they’re going to compete, and that’s leading to better breweries, from conception to birth and beyond. The following are my picks (in order) for best new breweries of the past 365 days (with the exception of some that were simply too new to be fairly evaluated).

Burning Beard Brewing Company in El Cajon

Burning Beard Brewing Co., El Cajon: Rockin’ beers and rock-and-roll make for amenities worth an East County excursion at this small but well-run spot featuring a variety of beers ranging from Belgians to San Diego-style hop-elixirs to deep, dark stouts and, eventually, fouder-aged ales. Throw in employee exuberance that ranges from the brew-crew to the bar staff, and it’s sort of a holy-grail situation.

North Park Beer Co., North Park: One of the most anticipated new brewery project of the past four years, the brainchild of its namesake community’s proud denizen Kelsey McNair finally came to life. Its former MMA gym home has been transformed into a beautiful, two-story, wood-paneled den of communal enjoyment of beers that are largely sessionable and rely on impressive balance versus belligerent brawn.

Downtown’s Resident Brewing Company

Resident Brewing Co., Downtown: Urban bar and eatery, The Local, is a long-time supporter of the craft-beer movement, but when it added on-site fermentation to its equation, the resulting product was something special. An award-winning homebrewer-turned-pro is pumping out some of the bolder, ideally hopped West Coast-style beers of the rookie-class while bringing flavor with myriad other styles.

Pure Project Brewing, Miramar: If a wide array of easy-drinking beers—crisp to full-bodied, clear to hazy, fruited to (GABF medal-garnering) barrel-aged—weren’t enough reason to become enamored with this, the first brewery to test out the Brewery Igniter ready-to-brew model, the fact it’s a generous One Percent for the Planet business is enough to pull the wishy-washy off the fence.

Bear Roots Brewing in Vista

Bear Roots Brewing, Vista: A small homebrew-supply store opening a three-barrel nano-brewery with a bar that takes up half its shop…sounds risky if not ill-advised, but a husband-wife duo have not only made it work, but amassed such a cult-following behind a varied beer line-up that includes a tasty cookie-inspired dessert beer that they’re looking at growing their baby to papa-bear status in 2017.

Bitter Brothers Brewing Co., Bay Ho: The first brewery to open in 2016 has done well for itself, producing a solid line-up of hoppy beers offset by a number of English-style malt-driven styles and “candy-bar” beers. Further refinement of its wares in the coming year should keep this operation on its upward trajectory, as should fun, well-done quarterly beer dinners in its tasting room.

It’s important to note that, in previous years, a half-dozen picks for best new brewery would have been excessive. This year, I could have added another two or three rather easily. The following are those that missed the cut, but never before has the division between the best and the rest been so slim. Cheers to that!

This Year’s Contenders: Culver Beer Co. (Carlsbad), Guadalupe Brewery (Carlsbad), Kensington Brewing Co. (Mission Valley), Little Miss Brewing Co. (Miramar), Longship Brewery (Mira Mesa), Mason Ale Works (Oceanside), Midnight Jack Brewing Co. (Oceanside), Mikkeller Brewing San Diego (Miramar), Oceanside Brewing Co. (Oceanside),

Maybe Next Year: Burgeon Beer Co. (Carlsbad), Eppig Brewing Co. (North Park), Knotty Brewing (East Village), OB Brewery (Ocean Beach), Thunderhawk Alements (Miramar)

Previous Top-Ranked Breweries

2015: Fall Brewing Co. (North Park), Second Chance Beer Co. (Carmel Mountain), South Park Brewing Co. (South Park), Bay City Brewing Co. (Point Loma), Abnormal Beer Co. (Rancho Bernardo), Duck Foot Brewing Co. (Miramar)

2014: Bagby Beer Co. (Oceanside), Nickel Beer Co. (Julian), Council Brewing Co. (Kearny Mesa), URBN St. Brewing Co. (El Cajon), Toolbox Brewing Co. (Vista)

2013: Rip Current Brewing Co. (San Marcos), Benchmark Brewing Co. (Grantville), Amplified Ale Works (Pacific Beach), Belching Beaver Brewery (Vista), Modern Times Beer (Point Loma)

2012: Societe Brewing Co. (Kearny Mesa), Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery (East Village), Latitude 33 Brewing Co. (Vista)

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