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Posts Tagged The Lost Abbey / Port Brewing Co.

2016 Recap: San Diego’s Best Breweries Right Now

Dec 15

What are the best breweries in San Diego? Having reported on the San Diego brewing industry for nearly 10 years and having written a guide to San Diego breweries, I get asked this question all the time. My answers vary quite a bit. Prior to 2012, that list didn’t change all that much. Heavy hitters like Ballast Point Brewing Co., Green Flash Brewing Co. and Stone Brewing were ever-present. Those interests got big making great beer that couldn’t be matched by smaller operations. These are not the times we are living in. Not only are small breweries able to keep up, because of their size, they are able to be nimble and do a lot more than large breweries. They can venture outside the box whenever they feel like it, chase any trend they like or even create their own, while the big boys find themselves locked into brewing the same core beers and a handful of seasonals to meet sales and distribution obligations. A new beer for them is a high-risk proposition that requires months (or even years) of test-batches and refinement.

Due to all of the above, my list of the best breweries in San Diego County is much different than ever before. Only one of the four San Diego interests in the Brewers Association’s list of the 50 largest craft breweries is on there, and its one that wouldn’t have been there several years ago. But there are five on the list that are less than three years old, nine that have a single brewhouse producing their wares, and seven that distribute their beers exclusively (or almost solely) in San Diego County. The following is my current (alphabetical) list of the top 12 brewing companies in San Diego County. (And please remember, there are more than 130 operating brewhouses in the county—not making this list doesn’t make a brewery below-average by any stretch.)

AleSmith Brewing Co., Miramar: This maker of BJCP-geared Old World beers has been around so long it’s now of legal drinking age. It has grown from a single suite to a sprawling manufacturing plant with an expansive, multi-faceted tasting-room component. Through that transition, the beer has remained solid. If anything, it would be nice to see some new beers. Disclosure: I used to work at AleSmith.

Alpine Beer Co., Alpine: Break out the asterisk. This back-country operation, which was purchased by Green Flash in 2014, makes this list for the beers it produces at its original brewery in its namesake town. There’s just something magical about that brewhouse and the pros who man it; they are the folks who built Alpine’s stellar rep and are maintaining it on a local level.

Bagby Beer Co., Oceanside: It’s no surprise that Pizza Port product and GABF master Jeff Bagby was able to transfer his brewpub prowess to his own project, but not only does he keep tons of quality beer on-tap, those taps are installed in an inviting two-story, indoor-outdoor coastal spot built by he and his wife’s true passion for craft-beer and the people who enjoy it.

Benchmark Brewing Co., Grantville: Beer-flavored beer sums up this entire operation. AleSmith alum Matt Akin keeps it simple; something that’s surprisingly challenging. Don’t believe it, see if you can find someplace that can sustain as good a reputation as Benchmark does armed primarily with a pale ale, IPA, brown ale and oatmeal stout while leading with a table beer.

Fall Brewing Co., North Park: Journeyman brewer Ray Astamendi isn’t looking to make the best beer you’ve had in your entire life. He’s more interested in giving imbibers a bunch of great beers to enjoy on any given night, and he does just that care of an impressive portfolio that includes ales and lagers alike, ranging from the hoppiest end of the spectrum to the maltiest.

Karl Strauss Brewing Co., Multiple Locations: San Diego’s longest-running post-Prohibition era brewing operation has taken recent steps to modernize its beers, introducing dry, hoppy ales, drawing attention to a constantly evolving line of beers that also show great technique. Recently constructed brewpubs in LA and the OC should keep Karl’s crew on their upward trajectory.

The Lost Abbey / Port Brewing Co. / The Hop Concept, San Marcos: Whether it’s Port’s SoCal-centric family of largely hoppy beers, The Hop Concept’s (THC, get it?) exploratory line of lupulin-laced imperial IPAs or The Lost Abbey’s unique array of Belgian-inspired, floral, bready, woody, tart and/or boozy ales, quality and innovation await at Pizza Port’s triple-threat packaged-beer cousin op.

New English Brewing Co., Sorrento Valley: One would be challenged to find a brewery in San Diego with as great a degree of quality and consistency as this interest. The only thing keeping it in unjust obscurity is its devotion to less-popular English styles, but the introduction of expertly crafted IPAs has opened some eyes and helped grow a following and, in turn, brewing capacity.

Pizza Port, Multiple Locations: Perhaps no other local brewing biz more succinctly embodies San Diego’s style, brewing and otherwise. Expertise across all styles with flashes of ingenuity and inventiveness, tons of awards but none of the pomp and ego that comes with shiny medals, a laid-back surf-vibe inviting tanks and flip-flops—Pizza Port is America’s Finest on many levels.

Rip Current Brewing Co., San Marcos: The founders of this business deserve big-time credit for sticking to their guns. They could make more money focusing on their excellent hoppy beers, but are so devoted to keeping the homebrew spirit alive, they toil away on dozens of other lesser-selling styles, many of which win awards but still get ignored. It’s a shame.

Second Chance Beer Co., Carmel Mountain: During his decade-plus brewing at La Jolla’s Rock Bottom, Marty Mendiola was well-respected in the industry, but fairly unknown among San Diego beer-drinkers. Since opening his own spot in 2015, he’s finally gained the recognition from the public that he always deserved behind long-time and newly built recipes alike.

Societe Brewing Co., Kearny Mesa: I work here, so I am biased, but this list would be incomplete were Societe not on it. Fans flock here for a rotating family of IPAs as well as Belgian-style ales, dark beers and oak-aged sours that, after many years of maturation, are starting to trickle out of the barrel-room at a steady clip. Versatility and consistency are the keys to this operation’s success.

Author’s Note: This is the third post in a three-part series of pieces which previously examined San Diego’s Best New Breweries and San Diego’s Most Improved Breweries over the past year.

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Inside The Confessional

May 4

Photos by the author

Satellite tasting facilities are a trend on the rise throughout San Diego County. For the most part, brewing companies located in less central communities such as North County, East County and South Bay have gone this route to expose potential customers in the City of San Diego to their wares. But that’s not always the situation. Case in point: The Confessional, a taproom recently installed by three-tiered, San Marcos-based business, Port Brewing Company/The Lost Abbey/The Hop Concept.


Inside The Confessional

Sequestered within a popular Cardiff strip mall that also houses Seaside Market, Zenbu Sushi and Rimel’s Rotisserie, rather than reach out to residents of San Diego’s urban core, The Confessional will mostly serve coastal denizens, tourists and, during the summer, visitors to the San Diego County Fair seeking pre- or post-event refreshments. When they arrive, they will find a sampling space that, despite being just over 1,100 square feet in area, sports as much, if not more, of the business’ artful, abbey-inspired character than its original North County tasting room.

A large, distressed steel sign sporting the tasting room’s name hangs above more than two-dozen taps dispensing beers from this three-headed operation. Those can be savored inside, under moodily dim lighting that matches earth-toned interiors punched up by various bottle art prints from local artist Sean Dominguez. Those include paintings for Judgment Day, Deliverance and the so-racy-they-had-to-make-alterations Framboise de Amarosa (see accompanying image), the latter of which is hung above one of a handful of banquettes with wooden, pew-like seating. The main bar and barrels-turned-belly bars provide additional imbibing options, as does a small outdoor area looking out onto a courtyard lined with a green patch of eco-friendly turf while offering a distant view of the Pacific Ocean.


Tomme Arthur

Merchandise and growlers also help convey the company’s brand, leaning heavily toward its Belgian-inspired component. Even some bare faux tree trunks leftover from the venue’s previous life look good and relatively on-theme. (Though they will look even better once they are lined with snaking hop bines.) Much of the reason the design is so cohesive just a week into the tasting room’s lifespan is because the company had much more time than originally planned to work on it while it cleared hurdles for permitting through the City of Encinitas’ Planning Commission and other agencies.

Originally slated to debut in August, the project faced hurdles at every turn and took well over a year to complete. However, upon opening its doors on April 20, it was immediately flooded with patrons who had eagerly awaited its arrival, so despite delays, it’s off to a healthy start.

confessional_01The Confessional is located at 2007 San Elijo Avenue.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays.

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San Diegan Brewers Earn 14 Medals at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival

Oct 4
Ballast Point Brewing Co.

Ballast Point Brewing Co. (photo courtesy of The Brewing Network)

San Diegan brewers earned fourteen medals at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival; 5 gold medals, 3 silver medals and 6 bronze medals overall.

For this year’s competition, there were 5507 beers entered that were rated by 222 judges from 10 countries.

Category: 14 Session Beer – 94 Entries
Gold: Oatmeal Stout, Benchmark Brewing Co., San Diego, CA
Silver: Guillaume, Pizza Port Ocean Beach, Ocean Beach, CA
Bronze: Mosaic Session Ale, Karl Strauss Brewing Co. – La Jolla, La Jolla, CA

Category: 21 American-Belgo-Style Ale – 69 Entries
Bronze: Le Freak, Green Flash Brewing Co., San Diego, CA

Category: 51 International-Style Pale Ale – 88 Entries
Bronze: The Pupil, Societe Brewing Co., San Diego, CA

Category: 52 American-Style Pale Ale – 145 Entries
Gold: Grunion, Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits – Scripps Ranch, San Diego, CA

Category: 55 Imperial India Pale Ale – 135 Entries
Silver: Hop 15, Port Brewing Co., San Marcos, CA

Category: 57 Imperial Red Ale – 62 Entries
Bronze: Shark Attack, Port Brewing Co., San Marcos, CA

Category: 62 Irish-Style Red Ale – 60 Entries
Silver: Piper Down, Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits – Scripps Ranch, San Diego, CA

Category: 71 Belgian-Style Witbier – 65 Entries
Gold: White Ale, Saint Archer Brewing Co., San Diego, CA

Category: 76 Belgian-Style Tripel – 58 Entries
Bronze: La Flama Dorada, Pizza Port Ocean Beach, Ocean Beach, CA

Category: 78 Other Belgian-Style Ale – 26 Entries
Gold: Witty Moron, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station, San Diego, CA

Category: 81 Classic Irish-Style Dry Stout – 26 Entries
Bronze: Asphalt Jungle, Bagby Beer Co., Oceanside, CA

Category: 89 Barley Wine-Style Ale – 51 Entries
Gold: AleSmith Old Numbskull, AleSmith Brewing Co., San Diego, CA

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San Diegan Brewers Earn 14 Medals at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival

Oct 12
Team Monkey Paw

Team Monkey Paw

San Diegan brewers earned fourteen medals at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival; 5 gold medals, 3 silver medals and 6 bronze medals overall.

Category 12 (Session Beer)
Gold: Beer Hunter, Pizza Port Ocean Beach, San Diego

Category 19 (American Style Sour ale)
Bronze: Red Poppy, The Lost Abbey, San Marcos

Category 51 (American-Style Strong Pale Ale)
Gold: Bonobos, Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery, San Diego
Bronze: Kung Fu Elvis,  Pizza Port Ocean Beach, San Diego

Category 55 (Imperial Red Ale)
Silver: Rhino Chaser, Pizza Port Ocean Beach, San Diego

Category 60 (Irish-Style Red Ale)
Gold: Red Trolley, Karl Strauss Brewing Co., San Diego
Bronze: Ragtop Red, Rock Bottom La Jolla

Category 61 (English-Style Brown Ale)
Bronze: Longboard Brown, Rock Bottom La Jolla, La Jolla

Category 63 (American-Style Black Ale)
Silver: Black Sails, Coronado Brewing Co., Coronado
Bronze: Oxymoron, Oceanside Ale Works, Oceanside

Category 72 (Belgian-Style Abbey Ale)
Silver: Decadence 2012 Quadrupel, AleSmith Brewing Co., Miramar

Category 75 (Robust Porter)
Gold: Moonlight Porter, Rock Bottom La Jolla, La Jolla

Category 80 (Oatmeal Stout)
Bronze: Oats., Pizza Port Solana Beach, Solana Beach

Category 84 (Barley Wine-Style Ale)
Gold: Old Numbskull, AleSmith Brewing Co.,  Miramar

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The Most Expensive Real Estate in San Diego?

Aug 26


Prohibitively expensive San Diego real estate has not deterred emerging breweries from opening, and San Diego County is on pace to break the 90-brewery mark by the end of 2013, from just north of 30 breweries five years prior. Even affluent neighborhoods can find great beer within walking distance; from Thorn St. Brewery within reach of Golden Hill, or Culture Brewing Co. in tony Solana Beach. And while breweries quickly fill the surplus of “real property” in San Diego, tap space isn’t keeping up.


Slater’s 50/50, Liberty Station

“It used to be tap space in search of beer,” said Craig Broderick, proprietor of Brody’s Burgers and Beer in Jamul. “Now, it’s beer in search of tap space.”

Though 18 miles from the heart of downtown, rural Jamul has a neighborhood brewery in Cold Bore Brewing Co., who self-distributes and is a regular feature on Brody’s 23 taps. According to Broderick, Brody’s came online at the right time.

“Had I started my biz earlier, I would have been in dire need of beer,” Broderick remarked in regard to his geographical disadvantage, “but from last year to this year, it’s night and day in terms of beer availability.”

Broderick continued, noting that smaller breweries had issues getting carried by a large distributor, such as Crest Beverage or Budweiser/Anheuser-Busch, but that changed when Stone Brewing opened the distribution side of the company and started carrying smaller-batch breweries who couldn’t meet larger distributors’ quotas.

While providing a much-needed relief valve to the mega-distributor bottleneck, Chad Heath, Southern California sales director for Stone Distributing. still feels pressure to keep up with the onslaught of new local breweries.

“This amazing explosion of selection has challenged distribution a bit in keeping up with the sheer amount of products we are now able to sell,” Heath said. “There will come a point when breweries aren’t able to find distributors to distribute their beer because they are ‘full’.  To date we aren’t there yet, but I feel that is inevitable and, for some of the startup brands, it would become more and more difficult to secure distribution deals.”

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any hope for emerging breweries, Heath continued. “Good beer will win out and there will always be room in a quality distributor’s portfolio for breweries producing exceptional product.”


In a business that’s all about relationships — as distributors are prohibited from negotiating with vendors based on price — Heath maintains that the biggest challenge in those relationships is providing access to limited-release, rare beers.

“Almost all craft breweries these days are making small batch, exclusive beers,” said Heath. “They put a good demand on the wholesaler to make sure these beers get to the right accounts, on time and with the correct quantity… Stone has refined this process to a ‘T’.”

Frank Green, brand ambassador and sales manager for Port Brewing Co./The Lost Abbey, said that there is great opportunity for breweries who have in-house representatives and also partner with a larger distributor, such as Stone.

“Having (Stone) working in concert with me allows for more visits and touches on my accounts,” Green said.

Grant Tondro, co-owner of Urge Gastropub, The Barrel Room, and Brothers Provisions in Rancho Bernardo, said that, like all good relationships, the vendor-distributor romance involves give and take.


Grant Tondro @ Urge Gastropub

“All our distributors know that our goals are to have specialty kegs for specialty events, which drive our sales and are a lot of fun to put on,” Tondro noted. “(Distributor) goals are to hit their depletion quotas.  As a result, we often have conversations that revolve around ‘I’ll take a Fat Tire now if I can be guaranteed a La Folie later’ topics.

While Tondro uses New Belgium Brewing for an example, he said there are similar pushes being made by self-distributing breweries and their representatives.

“Of course, we wouldn’t take a keg of absolute crap just to secure a specialty keg, but we feel that it is reasonable to help them hit their depletions as long as they help us put on great events,” said Tondro.

One brewery that Tondro mentioned as being notably persistent and a regular feature on Urge’s tap list is Firestone Walker Brewing Co., a sentiment echoed by Broderick at Brody’s.

“Firestone is at a size where, although distributed by Crest Beverage, they’re actively pursuing full-time space,” said Broderick. “And they have reps out in Jamul who are willing to work on those relationships.”

Broderick added that, in addition to self-distributing breweries, the recent arrival of Craft Beer Guild Distributing of California gives even greater access to smaller breweries and their limited releases, which prompts the question: with distribution options increasing, who drives vendor-distributor negotiations?

“Nobody is indispensable,” said Darren Renna, general manager of the Coaster Saloon in Mission Beach. “For example, Ballast Point and Green Flash are distributed by Crest Beverage — by far the biggest player — but if you want first access to Palate Wrecker, Dorado or a new specialty product, then you are better off dealing directly with the brewery than the distributor.”

Green at The Lost Abbey sees growing popularity for distribution reps among smaller breweries, but many times that means that one person is wearing multiple hats.

“A lot of these new breweries are working without a sales rep. I know of one brewery where the brewer is literally doing everything himself,” which includes bartending, brewing, and distribution rep work. So while the distribution representative position has become more popular, sometimes this means one person wearing multiple hats; not necessarily a new hire.

According to Green, relationships work at their optimal level when vendors work with breweries and distributors in tandem. This results in win-win-win for brewery, distributor, and vendor.

“I currently work with six Stone sales reps, along with their sales manager and several others in the sales department,” Green said. “The more beer I sell for them, they benefit and, in turn, sell more beer for me and I benefit.”

As a vendor, Renna added that he gets the benefit of increased responsiveness by working with the breweries and distributors.

“The salesmen do not want to see (flagship beers pulled off tap). Five years ago, such a threat would not have gone very high up the ladder, but today I would have a regional manager calling me within hours.”


Tondro noted that the number of distributors and reps with whom he works has increased by nearly 50 percent within the last year, and much of the increase is due to new breweries that self-distribute.

Green countered that, by working exclusively with a brewery representative — and not partnering with a distribution company — the portfolio of beers available is more limited.

Despite such reservations about working with breweries exclusively, dealing directly with smaller and newer breweries becomes an increasingly viable alternative for vendors. In fact, for at least one local brewery, working directly with the brewery is the only way to get their highly sought-after beer.

Societe is selling all the beer they can make,” said Broderick, referring to Societe Brewing Co. who, by design, only self-distributes its beer.

Brody's Burgers. Photo courtesy of AmigoKandu

Brody’s Burgers. Photo courtesy of AmigoKandu

“It’s a privilege for me to be able to get it, as opposed to a bigger brewer who is just battling for tap space and only now realizing how valuable it is.”

For Broderick, the privilege is such that he drives to Societe to pick up the kegs himself.

“They said they’d love to sell us beer, but they couldn’t drive out to Jamul to get it to us. I said, ‘No problem, I’ll pick it up,’” and even then, Broderick is only able to pick up what beers Societe has available, but even expending this much time and effort can outweigh the indignity of dealing with hard-driving sales representatives.

“It’s such valuable space and there is so much beer to fill that space, how are you going to put on a mediocre beer by a brewery just for the chance, the lottery, or opportunity to get a select beer later?” Broderick mused.

“It’s an unrealistic goal for me to get (Russian River Brewing’s) Pliny the Elder. It’s been made clear to me by their distributor. But now it’s not an issue because there are more beers that can match Pliny. No disrespect to Pliny; it used to be the lead dog, but the rest of the pack has come up.”

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