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)
When Rawley Macias spoke with me about what he planned to produce at his work-in-progress brewery, he said he’d be going for a style-defying portfolio of beers. After visiting his now soft-opened Rouleur Brewing (5840 El Camino Real, Suite #101, Carlsbad) last week, it would appear he’s backed off of that a bit in favor of proving the versatility of Belgian yeast. Personally, I consider this a concept upgrade. While Belgian beer-styles have risen in popularity over the past decade, few are the operations that specialize in them in San Diego County. And no other company is trying to do as much with Belgian yeast strains as Macias.
Rouleur’s opening septet of beers all utilize Bastogne strain with the exception of a golden strong ale, and all will be available at the business’ official grand opening, an indoor-outdoor affair that will take place starting at noon on Saturday, April 8 (the same day as next-door neighbors, Wiseguy Brewing) and include live music and food trucks. That beer features big flavors candied lemon peel and peach commonly found in imperial IPAs, plus added fruit notes from the Belgian-yeast esters. Aside from being slightly sweet—which is pretty common in double IPAs—it really works.
Rouleur’s single IPA, The Clydesdale, isn’t as successful a foray into the merging of the Old and New Worlds. The beer is brewed with Centennial, Cascade and Amarillo hops, yet the beer is seriously lacking in aroma. Still, the beer is grassy and earthy, showing potential that may be realized soon. Macias’ Carlsbad contemporaries from Burgeon Beer Company have offered up some friendly advice about dry-hopping techniques. Rouleur’s owner happily accepted it. While he’s homebrewed prolifically for a dozen years, the seven beers available at Rouleur represent the first seven times he’s brewed on a professional system, a fact that makes the quality of his other beers that much more impressive.
The Domestique, a 5.6% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) blonde is nice and light, allowing the floral and citrus character of the yeast to shine through. It was my favorite beer of the bunch. A Belgian pale ale called The Puncheur is balanced, as is Macias’ golden-child, a golden strong ale dubbed The Soloist (because it utilizes one grain and one hop) that comes in at 8.8% ABV but doesn’t taste overly alcoholic and has an almost champagne-like effervescence and dryness. All three of these beers feature varying degrees of an orange-like flavor from the yeast, which works with all three. On the darker side, a red ale came across dry with a touch of spice, but a tad flat on the palate, while a 6.7% dark ale had a big roasty nose followed by prune, plum and anise character on the taste buds.
Aside from offering a respectable lineup of beers out of the gate, Rouleur has a lot of good things going on from an interior design prospective. Macias’ other passion, biking, is on full display care of a collage of vibrant modern and vintage photos (some dating back to the 1930s)—including some on the west wall that can be purchased if they catch your fancy—plus shots of Rouleur’s beers in yet-to-be-manufactured bottles leading to the brewery. an impressive bike-wheel sculpture of sorts Macias engineered on his own, and a rare 100% steel Masi Gran Criterium bicycle with Rouleur’s logo hand-painted on by legendary frame-painter Jim Allen. Rouleur’s space came as a blank white canvas in the third of developer H.G. Fenton’s Brewery Igniter complexes and Macias has gone to a great deal of work to deliver a complete concept from the get-go. That should help him pull ahead of the pack.
Additional reporting by Katie Conner
To consistently, meticulously and yet conspicuously create rule-bending beer—with the most discerning of recipes and ingredients—that commands the attention of both Cicerones and novices alike. It’s a U.S.S. Enterprise-like mission-statement that’s more put together than those of most breweries (the majority of which don’t even have a mission-statement), which makes it pretty impressive coming from an operation that has yet to open. But such is the level of attention homebrewer Rawley Macias is applying to his upcoming venture, Rouleur Brewing Company (5840 El Camino Real, Suite 101, Carlsbad).
Macias is an engineer by trade—a common vocation among brewers, which provides extremely useful skill-sets for dealing with complex day-to-day brewing, plumbing, electrical and mechanical issues. On top of that, he has been brewing beer for more than 10 years and is an experienced beer-judge. While training for judging certification and examining many a beer over the years, he started to question why there are so many rules to adhere to in terms of color, flavor and other beer traits. When homebrewing, he began experimenting with hybrid styles and less-traditional ingredients, and enjoyed the results. He entered these creations in beer competitions and regularly received praise for his flavor profiles and drinkability, but was regularly disqualified for being outside of style guidelines. It was from these experiences that Macias came up with the idea that eventually blossomed into Rouleur.
The name Rouleur comes from another of Macias’ pursuits—cycling. Translated from French, it means “roller” and refers to cyclists who are savvy, precise in their preparation and execution, and well-equipped for any ride. As Macias puts it, “rouleurs are able to break the rules because they transcend them, but they are usually understated off the bike, preferring to let their legs do the talking.” Like the mission-statement above, this is heady stuff. Bringing the brand to fruition will take time, but Macias will have it while H.G. Fenton completes construction on the third of its Brewery Igniter sites in Carlsbad. (H.G. Fenton’s other Brewery Igniter turnkey facilities are located in Miramar and North Park.) The company projects a move-in date of February 1, which will likely mean a March 2017 debut for Rouleur.
The strategic installation of the new Brewery Igniter complex will create a “brewery row” of sorts for inland Carlsbad. Rouleur and its Brewery Igniter neighbors, Wiseguy Brewing (an upcoming business reported on last month) will be located on El Camino Real, just south of the business complex that houses Arcana Brewing Company, Guadalupe Brewery and On-The-Tracks Brewery, and less than a mile west of the newly established Culver Beer Company and Pizza Port’s Bressi Ranch production-brewery and restaurant. Rouleur’s space will total 2,097 square feet, including a 420-square-foot tasting room, bathroom, office, walk-in cold-box, brewery and cellar.
Despite his cycling inspiration, Macias says Rouleur will not have an aesthetic or environment geared toward sports or its enthusiasts. It will be more a center for thoughtful tasting of his beers (sometimes in tandem with fine cheeses). Initially, Macias will create those beers on his own—moving up to a 10-barrel professional system from the half-barrel, semi-automated domestic rig he’s been using since 2005—but aims to eventually bring on a consulting brewer, A.G. Stoll, who served as the founding brewmaster of Buellton-based Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company (where he won over 100 medals in four years), before moving on to kickstart Killarney Brewing Company’s BrauKon facility in Kerry, Ireland, and subsequently became director of brewery operations for South Florida’s largest production-brewery, Funky Buddha Brewery.
Macias plans to open with a sextet of year-round beers. They will be loosely identifiable as a blonde ale, India pale ale, golden strong ale, etc., but none of them will follow traditional style guidelines. Other seasonal, specialty and experimental beers will also be offered, and be produced at a rate of 1,850 barrels per-year in toto.