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2017 Recap: Best New San Diego County Breweries

Dec 19

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.

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)

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Beer of the Week: Belching Beaver Smoldering Pirates

Oct 6

Smoldering Pirates from Belching Beaver Brewery

From the Beer Writer: In the world of sour ales, there are two types of beers: balanced brews exhibiting nuances of fruit and acidity, and brazenly tart, tangy juggernauts that force one’s palate to take notice. Since he got into the local fermentation game with Toolbox Brewing Company in 2014, Peter Perrecone has exclusively produced the latter. That preference didn’t change a bit when he got on board with fellow North County operation Belching Beaver Brewery, where he serves as barrel master. His sours are still fruited to the hilt, sporting puckering pH levels. Enter Belching Beaver Smoldering Pirates, a recently released creation packed with myriad tropical fruits. Its passion fruit and mango nose transports one to a pool-side folding chair at some island resort, with matching flavors bringing scores of vivacious zing to the party. Despite its acidic vibrancy, this 6.5% alcohol-by-volume sipper is light in body and finishes relatively crisp. This will be one of the special beers served up at Belching Beavers’ five-year anniversary shindig along with Hoppy, Hoppy Night IPA and Perrecone’s newest oak-aged release, Batch 5 Sour with Blackberries. That celebration will take place on Saturday, October 21 at the company’s headquarters in Oceanside. Tickets are currently available online.

From the Brewer: “Smoldering Pirates is an American sour barrel-aged in French red wine oak barrels. A few of the barrels date back to 2015, some of our oldest barrels, and the other barrels are about six months old. The older barrels added tons of funk and complexity to this sour while the younger barrels added balance to the beer. After we blended the base beer, it screamed for the use of tropical fruit. Passion fruit was the bulk of the fruit that was added…over 400 pounds. Mango, pineapple and guava were also added as supporting flavors. We hope you enjoy this tropical fruit bomb as much as our crew.”—Peter Perrecone, Barrel Master, Belching Beaver Brewery

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Q&A: Ehren Schmidt

Jul 5

Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle.

Master Blender & Brewer, Mikkeller Baghaven

West Coaster covers the San Diego brewing scene, which may lead one to wonder why we’re featuring an interview with an employee of globe-spanning, Denmark-based Mikkeller. It’s because Ehren Schmidt recently resigned from Vista’s Toolbox Brewing Company, requiring him not only to relocate to a country where he doesn’t even speak the language, but also bid adieu to a brewery to which he brought a great deal of prestige and, oh yeah, perhaps the finest brewing region on the planet. It’s an opportunity that came up fast, but a decision he put a lot of thought into. We sat down with him shortly before he boarded a plane for Copenhagen to find out how this came about and what awaits him across the Atlantic.

How did the prospect of employment with Mikkeller arise?
[Mikkeller owner] Mikkel [Borg Bjergsø] stopped by the brewery early one morning and I was in the middle of examining a new wild-yeast isolate under the microscope. He got to check it out and asked me a bunch of questions. We sampled through beers in barrels and sort of hit it off from there.

What does your new position entail?
I will be responsible for all of the beer production in a new oak-aging facility in Copenhagen at Mikkeller Baghaven. Baghaven is Danish for “backyard”. Nothing has previously been released from this project. It is still very new.

What at the tops of your priority list coming in?
I’m going to continue to focus on oak-aged wild ales and farmhouse-style beers with an emphasis on local microflora. I’m most excited about the Koelschip trailer—a mobile koelship/beer-transfer tank—and the chance to work and collaborate with some top European Brewers. Also, I plan on collecting wild yeast in Denmark just like I did in California. When I travel, I always try to find a way to collect local organisms (when applicable). I plan on incorporating as much local microflora into the beers as possible.

What are some of your greatest Toolbox accomplishments and what will you miss most about San Diego?
Toolbox was a time of incredible growth in my career. What we accomplished in the two years I was there is amazing. We have made some great beers and I’ve met some wonderful people. I’m grateful for the exposure I’ve gotten locally and nationally during my tenure as head brewer there. As for what I’ll miss, the Mexican food, the amazing weather and hills. There aren’t many hills in Denmark.

What are your feelings on the big move?
Moving is always difficult, especially to a new country, and with dogs and a girlfriend. I am incredibly excited and stressed out. Denmark isn’t the easiest country to get a work visa in, but luckily I got one. I’m grateful for everyone who has supported Toolbox and myself through thick and thin. We’ve been through a lot in a short amount of time and without the loyalists I don’t think I would be where I am today. It truly is an amazing feeling. I want thank each and every supporter from the bottom of my heart. There will be more beers!

 

 

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Beer to the Rescue back bigger than ever to help lupus patients

May 3

When I was diagnosed with the chronic auto-immune disease, lupus, in 2014, I felt very ill and entirely defenseless. I’d been suffering from the condition without a diagnosis for nearly a decade and was dismayed that there is no cure or medications specifically engineered to combat lupus. Nearly three years later, I am still rather ill, but I feel emboldened and lifted by the support of so many in the brewing community (60-plus and counting)  who have come together to help, not just me, but lupus patients throughout San Diego and Imperial Counties, by participating in the Beer to the Rescue charity campaign established to raise funds for the Lupus Foundation of Southern California.

Over the past two years, this campaign has raised more than $70,000 to fund the complimentary support services the LFSC provides locals in need as well as their work to support research and educational initiatives. Because dozens of San Diego County breweries brewed charity beers, made donations and held fundraising events, the LFSC is able to do more and people like me have reasons to be more helpful. We also have cause for increased happiness. Before Beer to the Rescue, most of the lupus sufferers the organization helps only saw each other when commiserating at support group gatherings. A fringe benefit of this cause is that its events are fun ways for lupus patients to comingle in an enjoyable, uplifting atmosphere where they feel cared for and supported. For that, we thank the participating breweries as well as the many, many beer fans who have come out to support the cause. It’s all of this that led me to push to make this year’s Beer to the Rescue campaign the biggest and best yet for all of us.

The 2017 Beer to the Rescue calendar kicked off on May 1 and includes over 40 events packed into the month of May—Lupus Awareness Month. At least one event will take place at a local brewery or watering hole each day this month, and hit numerous communities from Downtown to Fallbrook to Oceanside to PB to La Mesa and more, providing opportunities for beer enthusiasts and humanitarians all over the county to take part and enjoy some good beer and good times, in many cases right alongside the LFSC’s volunteers and beneficiaries. The full schedule is provided below. Thank you to everyone out there who has helped move the needle and make a positive difference for our region’s lupus patients. It means more than you can know and we look forward to seeing you around San Diego in May! To keep up with Beer to the Rescue, you can check out the campaign’s official website or follow on social media via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram (@beertotherescue).

All-Month 5/1-31
Spring Fling Lemon Verbena Saison @ Bitter Brothers Brewing Co.
Daily Grind Coffee Cream Ale @ All Oggi’s Locations
Monday 5/1
Beer to the Rescue Kick-Off @ Rip Current Brewing Co. – North Park
Tuesday 5/2
Charity Tuesday @ Societe Brewing Co.
Wednesday 5/3
Dank Drank Charity Beer Fundraiser @ Pariah Brewing Co.
Thursday 5/4
Coffee IPA Fundraiser @ Duck Foot Brewing Co.
Beer to the Rescue Night @ Thorn St. Brewery
Friday 5/5
– Cinco de Drinko Fundraiser @ Booze Brothers Brewing Co.
Saturday 5/6
– A Sweet & Sour Fundraiser @ Indian Joe Brewing
Sunday 5/7
– Beer to the Rescue Day @ Pure Project Brewing
Monday 5/8
– Beer to the Rescue Rafflemania @ All Barrel Harbor Brewing Co. Locations
Tuesday 5/9
Charity Tuesday @ Societe Brewing Co.
Wednesday 5/10
Mason Ale Works Charity IPA Fundraiser @ All Urge Gastropub Locations
Brett Coast IPA Fundraiser @ Green Flash Brewing Co. – Cellar 3
Thursday 5/11
– Beer to the Rescue Night @ North Park Beer Co.
Friday 5/12
– Specialty Beer Fundraiser @ Mission Brewery
– Hoppy Saison Fundraiser @ Kilowatt Brewing Co.
Saturday 5/13
– Dank & Sticky XPA Fundraiser @ Second Chance Beer Co.
– Prodigy Brewing Co. Collaboration Nelson Lager Fundraiser @ Dos Desperados Brewery
Sunday 5/14
– Hazy Double IPA Fundraiser @ All Amplified Ale Works Locations
Monday 5/15
– Beer to the Rescue Night @ New English Brewing Co.
Tuesday 5/16
– Charity Tuesday @ Societe Brewing Co.
Resident Brewing Co. Beer to the Rescue Night @ The Local Eatery Downtown
Wednesday 5/17
– Blood Orange Double IPA Fundraiser @ Division 23 Brewing Co.
– Beer to the Rescue Night @ 32 North Brewing Co.
Thursday 5/18
Nickel Beer Co. Hops to the Rescue Double IPA Fundraiser @ O’Brien’s Pub
Friday 5/19
– South African Nelson IPA Fundraiser @ Bay City Brewing Co.
Saturday 5/20
Prodigy Brewing Co. Collaboration Nelson Lager Fundraiser @ Dos Desperados Brewery
– Beer to the Rescue Day @ Bolt Brewery La Mesa
Sunday 5/21
– Blonde Session IPA Fundraiser @ 2kids Brewing Co.
Monday 5/22
– Beer to the Rescue Cask Night @ Benchmark Brewing Co.
Tuesday 5/23
– Charity Tuesday @ Societe Brewing Co.
Wednesday 5/24
– Beer to the Rescue Week Kick-Off @ White Labs
Thursday 5/25
– Charity IPA Fundraiser @ Belching Beaver Brewery – Oceanside
Friday 5/26
– Corn-Hole & Foosball Tournament @ Iron Fist Brewing Co. – Vista
– Belgian Coffee Ale Fundraiser @ Burning Beard Brewing
Saturday 5/27
– Bottle Beer Release @ Toolbox Brewing Co.
– Beer to the Rescue Day @ Fallbrook Brewing Co.
Sunday 5/28
– Oat Imperial Pale Lager Fundraiser @ ChuckAlek Biergarten
Monday 5/29
– Trending Travis-ty Hazy Session IPA Fundraiser @ Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station
Tuesday 5/30
– Charity Tuesday @ Societe Brewing Co.
Wednesday 5/31
– Beer to the Rescue Closing Ceremonies @ Rip Current Brewing Co. – San Marcos
Thursday 6/1
– Nickel Beer Co. Hops to the Rescue Double IPA Fundraiser @ West Coast BBQ & Brews

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Groundswell Brewing sets opening date for Santee facility

Jan 31

Last year, Groundswell Brewing Company took large, highly visible steps toward increasing the size and scope of its operations by purchasing the 12,000-square-foot brewing and distilling facility vacated by defunct Santee business, Twisted Manzanita Ales and Spirits. This move came shortly after Groundswell brought on veteran brewer Callaway Ryan (Surly Brewing, Stone Brewing, URBN St. Brewing) to shore up its fermentation operations. With him on-board, ownership felt comfortable taking this step forward. After months of work transforming its new environs, Groundswell is ready to debut its Santee tasting room to the public at a grand-opening event taking place Sunday, February 12.

A few pieces of décor remain to be placed in the facility’s public-area, but on the brewing-side, company president Kevin Rhodes says his team is hitting their stride, brewing roughly every other day after cleaning out and modernizing the space to fit their needs. Ryan has overseen the transition from the company’s original, much smaller location in Grantville. Groundswell has also brought on additional talent in the form of ex-Toolbox Brewing Company brewer Brent Donovan, who will be charged with implementing programs for sour and barrel-aged beers.

Groundswell Brewing’s new Santee tasting room

Groundswell plans to hold on to its Grantville venue, converting the brewery into storage space while reconfiguring the tasting room so that it includes additional seating. Tickets to the opening event for the Santee tasting room will go on sale online, tomorrow at 6 a.m.. That venue is located at 10151 Prospect Avenue and the event will take place from 12 to 8:30 p.m. That tasting room’s regular hours are 1 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays.

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