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)
This is the third in a series of four posts taking a look at some of the most promising brewing venues currently in the works around San Diego County. The first two examined spots in the eastern and western communities. Today, we switch our attention to North County and the Hops Highway.
Wild Barrel Brewing Co., San Marcos: Two ex-Stone Brewing employees are teaming up to produce a wide variety of beers steps from Stone’s original brewery (now home to Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey). Renowned beer-expect Bill Sysak is leading the charge while Bill Sobieski (formerly of Anaheim’s Hoparazzi) will do the brewing using a brewhouse procured from El Cajon’s since-closed URBN St. Brewing Co.
Click here to read more about this project
Horus Aged Ales, Oceanside: Creating a portfolio made up exclusively of barrel-aged beers is no easy feat, but it’s one Kyle Harrop is eager to attempt. And he’ll do it with a little help from his friends, namely brewers from all over the country, including local interests such as Abnormal Beer Co., Rip Current Brewing and fellow North County work-in-progress White Fence Brewing. This is a boutique brewery if there’s ever been one.
Click here to read more about this project
Ebullition Brew Works, Vista: While information on the beers that this long-time work-in-progress will debut are hard to come by, details uncovered about the environment they’ll be consumed within are promising. A stylish tasting room with plenty of bar space and a special beer-delivery system in which glasses are placed onto pop-up taps and filled from the bottom up will provide a pretty cool differentiator that doesn’t exist in any brewery in the county.
You may not have heard of Kyle Harrop, but plenty of brewers in San Diego and beyond are familiar with him. A fervent bottle-sharer and festival-goer for more than a decade, he’s made lots of industry-friends—many of whom he met before they entered the brewing game—and is preparing to make his own jump into the pro-ranks with his work-in-progress operation, Horus Aged Ales (4040 Calle Platino, Suite 120, Oceanside). Everything from brewing to barrels to blending, packaging and even the logo will be 100% him. That’s not an unfamiliar scenario in nano-rich San Diego County, but what is unique is that all of Horus’ beers will be barrel-aged.
Harrop says he has solid recipes for IPAs, but his sours and fruited beers have garnered the greatest compliments by the aforementioned industry insiders. From a consumption perspective, he finds the wares of inspirational entities Brasserie Cantillon, Funk Factory, Hill Farmstead and Side Project both delicious and fascinating. Thus, wild, Bretty and buggy brews, mixed-fermentation and spontaneously fermented brews will make up Horus’ portfolio. Those beers will be available at a tasting room in Oceanside’s Rancho Del Oro neighborhood outfitted in a “bird of prey meets Southwestern” motif featuring rustic custom tables, hawk paintings and photographs, and Mexican blankets hand-cut by Harrop’s wife. The entire facility comes in at 3,200 square feet, and provides room for next-phase additions that include puncheons and fouders.
Though his is a one-man operation, collaborations are a big part of the company-culture. Harrop recently completed brew-sessions at New Orleans’ Courtyard Brewery, Pomona’s Homage Brewing, and Rancho Bernardo’s Abnormal Beer Company. The latter yielded a Belgian-style quadrupel conceived by Harrop and head brewer Derek Gallanosa, both of whom are self-proclaimed beer-geeks who are doing well in their professional transitions, thanks in great part to relationships forged in their days as recreational connoisseurs. Harrop recalls many tasting sessions, including a standout evening in a Carlsbad Motel 6 where he, Julian Shrago and Bill Sysak tasted their way through some rare offerings. Shrago has gone on to become one of the most award-winning brewers in the country at Los Angeles’ Beachwood BBQ & Brewing, while Sysak is known the world over for his beer-knowledge and is in the process of building his own interest, Wild Barrel Brewing Company, in a site down the street from San Marcos’ The Lost Abbey. Harrop has stayed in touch with many such ambitious ale appreciators, and has future collaborations lined up with El Segundo Brewing (located in his original home-town), Monterey’s Alvarado Street Brewery, Phoenix’s Wren House Brewing, Miami’s J. Wakefield Brewing, Richmond’s The Answer Brewpub, and Great Notion Brewing in Portland, Oregon. And here at home, he’ll brew an old ale with Rip Current Brewing in San Marcos and multiple beers with a future Vista concern called White Fence Brewing.
When asked where and when beer-fans will be able to taste these collaborations, Harrop says to keep an eye out for upcoming information about an event “like nothing else the craft-beer world has seen before” at which each of the beers crafted by him and his network of allies will be available. As far as Horus’ barrel-aged stock, those will be released in 750-milliliter bottles, numbering anywhere from 150 to 650 total per-batch. Those will go on-sale online and occasionally be distributed to popular bottle-shops. Horus’ first bottled beer, a sour ale, is scheduled to debut at Bine & Vine in Normal Heights.