In 2010, an entrepreneur from north of San Diego County delivered a brewpub concept to downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter. Dubbed The Beer Co., it was a spin-off operation that failed to generate much of a reputation among San Diego’s craft-beer enthusiasts. Not even a gold medal from the 2012 Great American Beer Festival for its barrel-aged strong ale, The Manhattan Project, measured so much as a ripple in local waters. Still, it soldiered on for more than half-a-decade before closing down. Now, the space that housed it is ready to birth a second brewery-restaurant brought to San Diego by nearby out-of-towners, The Bell Marker (602 East Broadway, Downtown).
That business will debut on January 22, complete with a veteran, native San Diegan brewer at the helm. That individual, Noah Regnery hails from vaunted locally-based business, Pizza Port, where he worked at the chain’s San Clemente brewpub from 2007 to 2011 and contributed to its award-winning reputation before departing to become head brewer at Hollister Brewing in Goleta, California, a post he held until 2014 when he departed the industry altogether. His return should be highly anticipated, but as with so many developments in the suddenly complicated local suds scene, it comes with some drama. The Bell Marker is the first location south of Los Angeles for LA-based Artisanal Brewers Collective, a company established by Golden Road Brewing co-founder Tony Yanow. That in itself is not all that significant, but the fact Yanow and Golden Road partner Meg Gill sold the business to macrobeer conglomerate AB InBev in September of 2015 muddies things a bit for fans of independent craft brewers as well as members of the local industry.
Since Golden Road’s sale, Yanow (a bar owner before and throughout his tenure with Golden Road) and his ABC partners have been busy gobbling up hospitality venues throughout LA. The Bell Marker is the first to possess a brewing component and Yanow’s original venues—Mohawk Bend and Tony’s Darts Away—were craft-centric venues which were ahead of their time. Figuratively, this is not unfamiliar territory for this seemingly insatiable entrepreneur, even if it is from a geographic standpoint. How it will be received from a local population which vehemently eschewed last year’s arrival of AB InBev’s 10 Barrel Brewing brewpub in the East Village remains to be seen.
The Bell Marker houses a copper-clad, 15-barrel brewhouse that will be utilized to produce American, English, German, and Belgian beers. The opening-day line-up will include a cream ale, hefeweizen, brown ale, pale ale and IPA augmented by guest beers selected to fill in any stylistic gaps. There will also be a full cocktail program to appeal to non-beer fans. The 8,000-square-foot venue can seat 212 at a time and will be open seven days a week from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
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.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas—well, as wintry and holiday-like as we get in sunny San Diego, but that warm weather is perfect for enjoying beer, so it’s OK if Saint Nick keeps ignoring our dreams of a white yuletide. There’ll be plenty of fun events happening, holiday-themed and otherwise. We’ve hand-selected a few, but be sure to check out our events page for even more.
December 1 & 2 | Strong Ale Fest: Few experiences are as nostalgic for local beer-scene veterans as huddling together in the crowded back-lot of the Pizza Port bottle shop and repetitiously making one’s way to an outside bar many taps strong. The term “strong” is apt, because everything on tap at this annual fest is high in ABV yet innovative and diverse. Merry Christmas, Uber! | Pizza Port, 571 Carlsbad Village Drive, Carlsbad, Times Vary
December 2 | Three-Year Anniversary: Celebrate the three-year anniversary of La Mesans getting beers brewed in their hometown. If it’s anything like the past two years, live music and a plethora of beers will make a very fun party pad out Bolt Brewery’s sprawling, tiered outdoor tasting area. If you’ve never been to this East County spot, this is the perfect opportunity to do so. | Bolt Brewery, 8179 Center Street, La Mesa, 1 p.m.
December 10 | Belated One-Year Anniversary: December 10 is National Lager Day, and an apt day for one of the best lager producers in the county, Eppig Brewing, to celebrate its first year in business. This interest is looking to reward the beer connoisseurs who’ve made it one of the most revered new operations in town with a fun and easy event stocked with beers worth coming out for. | Eppig Brewing, 3052 El Cajon Boulevard, Suite C, North Park, 1 p.m.
December 17 | Santa at the SouthNorte Pole: It can be challenging to find beer-related holiday happenings that are family friendly, but thanks to Santa’s decision to visit Small Bar—with gifts for believers of all ages in his sleigh, no less—along with the team from newly established SouthNorte Brewing and their beers, a rare all-ages beer-brunch experience can be yours! | Small Bar, 4628 Park Boulevard, University Heights, 10 a.m.
December 31 | Craft Beer New Year: Whether you in North County or San Diego proper, Stone Brewing has a NYE bash of epic proportions for you. Join them at either of their restaurants and enjoy a smorgasbord of farm-to-table food along with various musical offerings, games, a photo booth, midnight toast and, of course, lots and lots of craft beer and commemorative glassware. | Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, 1999 Citracado Parkway, Escondido; Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station, 2816 Historic Decatur Road, #116, Point Loma; 8:30 p.m.