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)
Winners from the 2017 edition of the Great American Beer Festival were announced earlier this morning. Held annually by brewing-industry trade organization, the Brewers Association, in Denver, Colorado, this year’s GABF saw nearly 8,000 beers entered by more than 2,000 breweries in 98 style categories. 293 were awarded gold, silver and bronze medals after being evaluated by 276 judges. GABF is the country’s largest and most prestigious professional brewing competition. San Diego County breweries have historically fared incredibly well. This year saw another strong showing with the region’s brewers racking up double-digit awards.
Eleven local brewing companies brought home 14 medals this time around, including five golds in the Robust Porter (Second Chance Beer Co.) Honey Beer (Karl Strauss Brewing Company‘s Carlsbad brewpub), Imperial India Pale Ale (Ballast Point Brewing) Other Specialty Belgian Ale (Stone Brewing World Brewing & Gardens – Liberty Station) and Session Beer (Pizza Port‘s Ocean Beach brewpub) categories. That went along with six silver medals and three bronzes.
Notable is the fact only one individual brewing facility in the county won more than one medal, Carmel Mountain Ranch’s Second Chance with a gold and a silver. Newly launched SouthNorte Brewing Company garnered a bronze medal in the Specialty Beer category for a beer called AgaveMente that hasn’t even been released to the public yet. And Monkey Paw Brewing, which Coronado acquired earlier this year, earned a silver medal in the English-style Summer Ale category. Also, Vista-based Mother Earth Brew Co. medaled in the Fresh or Wet Hop Ale category for Fresh As It Gets, a beer brewed at its Nampa, Idaho production facility.
Adding to the unofficial medal count was Belching Beaver Brewery, which for the second time in its history won top honors at the Alpha King Competition. Held in conjunction with GABF each year, this friendly competition crowns the brewing company that submits the hoppiest offering amid a stacked field of IPAs. Belching Beaver previously won Alpha King in 2014. On top of that, Chula Vista Brewery owners Timothy and Dalia Parker received the Samuel Adams Brewing and Business Experienceship, following in the footsteps of Ramona-based ChuckAlek Independent Brewers, who earned the same opportunity in 2014.
The following is a complete list of the winners from brewing facilities located within San Diego County…
Co-owner & Head Brewer, ChuckAlek Independent Brewers
In 2015, ChuckAlek Independent Brewers entered into an “experienceship” with The Boston Beer Company—the producers of Samuel Adams beers—via the Brewing the American Dream program. This business mentorship opportunity included an influential meeting with Boston Beer founder Jim Koch that helped ChuckAlek’s owners, Grant Fraley and Marta Jankowska, refine their business strategy and led to their decision to open a second location in North Park. The experience also birthed Time Hop Porter, a beer brewed in collaboration with Samuel Adams. It was released during several events in the San Diego area in 2015, providing valuable exposure for ChuckAlek. That business stands to get a great deal exposure starting today, when that beer is re-released in limited-edition Brewing the American Dream Collaboration Packs that will go on-sale nationwide. ChuckAlek’s beer wil share space with brews from fellow experienceship mentoriees Roc Brewing, Bosque Brewing, Woods Beer and Brewery Rickoli. We caught up with Fraley to get some insight on this big development and ask about his experiences with Boston Beer.
How did the concept for Time Hop Porter beer come about?
Porter has always been a passion at ChuckAlek and we’d experimented with a dry-hopped porter, as was traditionally in 19th century England. It turned out Eryn Bottens, who oversaw the impressive research-and-development nano-brewery run alongside the 10-barrel system at Sam Adams’ Boston brewery, also had interest in pushing big citrus notes from American hops on the back of a chocolaty British-style porter.
Have you interacted with other Brewing the American Dream mentorees?
I visited Boston and had the opportunity to meet the other brewers in 2016 as we all prepared to scale up our collaborations for the 12-pack release. It was really inspiring to hear the business journey of each of them and the impact that Brewing the American Dream has had on us all. Jim Koch’s book, Quench Your Own Thirst, was released not long before our visit and we had a great time chatting with him over some of the stories and lessons in the book while sharing beers from each of our respective breweries.
What led you to seek mentorship through Brewing the American Dream and what’s it been like?
Early in our company’s days, we received a small loan to kickstart distribution of our beer beyond our tasting room, which was funded by Brewing the American Dream through The Boston Beer Company’s lending partner Accion. We attended many events such as speed coaching and webinars, and caught wind of the experienceship program that recipients of Brewing the American Dream loans could apply for. Marta and I spend two days in Boston to kick off the experienceship, during which we met with many of the executives and brewers at The Boston Beer Company. We’ve maintained connections with several of them and they’ve continued to mentor us. Marta also had the opportunity to travel to Bavaria with members of the Pink Boots Society via a Brewing the American Dream scholarship, which was great given our big focus on German-style beers.
What do you think of the profits from the Brewing the American Dream 12-packs going to Accion?
Many of the awesome food and beverage businesses in San Diego have received loans from Brewing the American Dream through Accion in their salad days. It’s tough to obtain funding from the big banks when you’re just getting going, especially for a capital-intensive business like brewing. Accion also takes it a step further and engages with business resources to help their clients succeed. It’s great to be a part of giving back to their mission and the Brewing the American Dream program.
Will you have any events around this beer that San Diegans can take part in?
We are having a release event with Sam Adams this Tuesday, July 18 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at ChuckAlek Biergarten (3139 University Avenue, Northh Park). Time Hop Porter will be poured alongside hosted food by Nana’s Heavenly Hot Dogs (another BTAD loan recipient) with live music by Peter Hall. Details can be found online.
Every six months, I take a look at the work-in-progress breweries throughout San Diego County and offer opinions on those that show the most promise. My current list has more than 40 upcoming brewery-owned venues, so there are plenty to consider. I’m breaking down this series into a once-per-week piece taking on one section of the county at a time, starting with the eastern expanses.
Depot Springs Beer Co., La Mesa: In the works for more than two years, this project’s greatest obstacle is its ambition. A combination brewery, distillery, restaurant, coffee shop, kid-zone and music venue, it has struggled every step of the way, causing a level of interest-fatigue for those awaiting its arrival. Still, it’s a heck of a project on paper and figures to be worth visiting when it eventually jumps off the page. Ownership hopes that will happen this summer.
Click here to read more about this project
Julian Brewing Co., Julian: Last year, Pizza Port co-owner Vince Marsaglia shuttered this operation and its associated Bailey BBQ restaurant in order to re-concept it. Stainless vessels were recently delivered to the project-site and there is a chance Marsaglia may grow ingredients on-site to infuse into house beers, a la the farmhouse-brewery model. It’s a concept that seems fitting for JBC’s rural, small-town environs.
Smoking Cannon Brewery, Ramona: Ramona got its first brewery when ChuckAlek Independent Brewers opened in 2013. Its second will open this Saturday in the former home of Brown Chevrolet at 780 Main Street, Suite I, offering an IPA, cream ale, pale chili ale, rye, brown mild, American stout and smoked peanut butter ale. Extra faith in these initial products is provided by the knowledge Green Flash Brewing brewer Lucas Nelson consulted on them.
Click here to read more about this project