San Diego Craft Beer Experiences

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beer photoSan Diego has gained an international reputation for inspired beers with area breweries earning more medals at the 2010 World Beer Cup than breweries in the traditional beer countries of England, Germany and Belgium combined. Many of San Diego’s 90-plus breweries offer tasting rooms and tours that allow visitors to sample these award-winning brews and meet the brewmasters in person. Not content to rest on these five year old laurels, the industry continues to innovate, providing pleasure for the beer loving palate.

The following are just a few of the many San Diego craft beer experiences:

Brewery Tasting Rooms

  • The award-winning AleSmith Brewing Company in Miramar is an artisan microbrewery specializing in handcrafted brews.  Visitors can find fresh flavors inspired by Great Britain’s and Belgium’s high alcohol content and strongly hopped beers. Tours of the brewery are available on Saturdays.
  • Originally opened in 1915, Mission Brewery would be San Diego’s oldest brewery – if it hadn’t been shut down during Prohibition. Reestablished in 2007, the new Mission Brewery is steps away from downtown’s ballpark, Petco Park, in the East Village, making it the perfect spot for a pre- or post-game beer tasting. In the tasting room, guests can play shuffle board while sampling Mission’s wide variety of beer styles. Tours of the brewing facility are offered hourly on Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
  • Ballast Point Brewing Company offers tours and tastings at both their main brewery in Scripps Ranch and its home brew store/brewery in Linda Vista.  Guests can tour behind the barrels for tastings of specialty citrus hops, scotch ales and German Klosch-style beer; they can also purchase a selection of “do-it-yourself” beer making supplies ranging from starter kits to advanced brewing systems.
  • Green Flash Brewing Company in Mira Mesa showcases the use of fine, all natural ingredients in their award-winning beers that are brewed in small batches to ensure each glass is of the freshest and purest quality. Their bottled beer selection includes a line of beers named for San Diego neighborhoods. The brewery features an on-site tasting room with 30 taps and offers public tours Wednesdays through Sundays.
  • Considered a “nano-brewery” due to their small size when they first opened in 2010, Mike Hess Brewing Co. recently opened a state-of-the-art 12,500-sq. ft. brewery in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood. The location offers the public a unique tour perspective, allowing guests to access and view the brewhouse from raised catwalks above the tanks.
  • Located in San Marcos, Port Brewing is the home of The Lost Abbey, a niche label focused on brewing beers that follow the monastic and artistic Belgian brewing traditions.  Brewed in very small batches, these exquisite beers have won awards – and fans – the world over.

[tweetthis]San Diego has gained a reputation for inspired #beer selections. Here’s a few to choose from.[/tweetthis]

Brew Pubs

In addition to creating outstanding craft beer on-site, the following breweries boast great restaurants where beer tourists can fuel up for further exploration.

  • Stone Brewing Company is recognized as one of the best breweries in the United States by the two largest beer enthusiast websites. Brewing more than 200,000 barrels of beer annually, it is also one of the fastest growing breweries in the nation.  Guests can enjoy big character beers like Arrogant Bastard Ale at their brewery locations in Escondido and Point Loma. Both locations also feature the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, an expansive on-site bistro serving high quality food made from organic ingredients, many of which are grown on Stone Farms, the brewery’s proprietary farm. Opened in 2013, the new Point Loma location also features a bocce ball court, and both sites include lawns for al fresco movie screenings.
  • With multiple San Diego settings and brews served and sold in more than 3,000 Southern California locations, Karl Strauss Brewing Company is one of the largest craft breweries in the country.   The brewery offers a core lineup of five delicious beers, plus a variety of seasonal beers and special releases, each perfectly paired with the restaurant’s menu of West Coast-inspired cuisine.  Karl Strauss also hosts monthly “firkin” parties in which kegs are tapped in the traditional way, by driving a spigot through the front of the keg with a wooden mallet. Guests can find locations in Sorrento Mesa, La Jolla, downtown San Diego, Carlsbad and 4S Ranch. Karl Strauss’ main brewery in San Diego is open for public tours offered Wednesdays through Sundays.
  • Pizza Port is a favorite San Diego restaurant with locations in Solana Beach, Carlsbad and Ocean Beach.  Guests can enjoy hoppy and award-winning Pizza Port beers and more than 15 different pizzas served on the Port’s signature wholegrain beer crust.
  • Family owned Coronado Brewing Company is located just minutes from downtown San Diego across sparkling San Diego Bay. The brewpub features quality handcrafted beers and delicious food like woodfired pizzas and fresh seafood, which can be enjoyed fireside in the brewery’s restaurant.  Eight signature beers are brewed on-site including the popular Coronado Golden, the unfiltered Idiot IPA, and the full-bodied Outlet Stout.
  • At Blind Lady Ale House, located in Normal Heights, 20 taps pour local, regional and hard-to-find Belgian brews from a list carefully curated by owner Lee Chase, a former head brewer of San Diego’s own Stone Brewing Company.  The restaurant specializes in hand-crafted Neapolitan-style pizzas with fresh mozzarella, house-made sausages, local produce and sustainable meats. The Blind Lady Ale House is also home to the brewing facilities of Automatic Brewing Co., whose brews can be sampled on-site.
  • Opened in 2012 in the LGBT-friendly Hillcrest neighborhood, Hillcrest Brewing Co. claims to be the world’s first “Out and Proud LGBT Brewery.” The lively and lighthearted brewery serves nine in-house craft brews with suggestive names like the “Banana Hammock” Scotch ale and “Crotch Rocket” Irish red ale. The fun continues on the restaurant menu with pizzas named the “Meatpacker” and the “BBQueer Chicken.”
  • Located in downtown’s East Village, Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery offers an Old World pub atmosphere, complete with a menu of pub food like cheese steaks and hot wings. More than two dozen taps feature some of the best beers from around the world as well as Monkey Paw’s own brews, which include creative concoctions like the “Live Wire Caramel Coffee Milk Stout,” named for a popular local dive bar.

Beer-Centric Bars & Restaurants

A wide variety of San Diego pubs and restaurants cater to those who enjoy unique, locally crafted beers. In January 2013, DRAFT magazine’s annual list of the “100 Best Beer Bars in America” featured seven regional bars, making San Diego one of the most represented destinations on the list.

  • The craft beer experience begins at the San Diego International Airport for visitors flying into America’s hoppiest city. As part of a major airport redevelopment, Terminal 1 features a new craft beer-centric restaurant. Inspired by the many local beer bars that line 30th Street in the North Park neighborhood, the new airport restaurant, called Craft Beer on 30th Street, features 12 taps pouring beers from small local producers and a rotation of seasonal beers, as well as tried and true favorites.
  • Located in North Park, Tiger!Tiger! Tavern is the sister restaurant of the Blind Lady Ale House. Local beer lovers gather at long communal tables to enjoy the tavern’s excellent beer list as well as a variety of gourmet sandwiches served on bread baked in-house in a wood-fired oven.
  • Located directly above the waters of San Diego Bay on the Shelter Island Fishing Pier, Fathom Bistro, Bait & Tackle offers breathtaking views complemented by 15 varieties of craft beer on tap. Hungry visitors can enjoy sausages, hot dogs and sandwiches from Fathom’s kitchen, or catch their own dinner utilizing the supplies from a neighboring bait shop.
  • Located in downtown San Diego’s East Village, Neighborhood offers more than 27 local craft brews on tap and a creative, upscale take on classic American dishes including juicy burgers. Tasting flights of San Diego beers and international selections are also available.
  • Located in North Park, Toronado San Diego is a sibling of San Francisco’s famous beer outpost. At Toronado San Diego, the focus is clearly on craft beer with 50 beers on tap featuring the best from local, domestic and international breweries.  Bottled offerings number more than 230 varieties and focus on Belgian, French, German and English brews.
  • With more than 75 years of service, Hamilton’s Tavern in South Park is the oldest beer and wine licensed establishment in San Diego. The local landmark offers high quality ales and craft beers from around the world, boasts one of the most diverse bottle selections in San Diego and offers weekly “Firkin Friday” tastings of special releases.
  • Ritual Kitchen, Tavern & Garden in North Park, a dark cozy pub with a modern medieval atmosphere, serves a dozen craft beers on tap and boasts an extensive list of bottled beer that leans heavily toward European imports, with Belgium and Germany well represented.  Its menu favors sustainably and humanely raised meats and locally sourced produce with a nod to classic pub fare. On warm days, diners enjoy their fare in the restaurant’s backyard beer garden, complete with live hops growing on the trellis.
  • The 25 taps and extensive bottle list at O’Brien’s American Pub in Kearny Mesa features local San Diego drafts and rare brews.  Known locally as the “hoppiest place on earth,” guests can find an extensive selection of the pub’s specialty, hoppy beers, including Alpine Beer Company’s Pure Hoppiness, AleSmith’s Speedway Stout and Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA, along with a tasty, traditional tavern menu.

Pub Crawls:  By Foot and by Rail

Sometimes you don’t want to commit to just one place, you want to check out several. For those times, a pub crawl is the perfect choice.

  • In downtown San Diego, there are several options for beer lovers to map out their perfect pub crawl.  Breweries within easy walking distance of most downtown hotels include Karl Strauss’ downtown location, Mission Brewery and Monkey Paw Brewing Co. in the East Village.  Local beers can also be sampled at numerous downtown pubs and restaurants like Downtown Johnny Brown’s, Neighborhood, and Knotty Barrel.
  • Locals call 30th Street in the neighborhood of North Park “the best street in the world for craft beer.”  More than a dozen restaurants and bars located along 30th Street proudly serve local craft brews including beer-havens like Hamilton’s Tavern, Toronado San Diego, The Linkery, and Ritual Tavern.  Just a short walk away on Adam’s Avenue in neighboring Normal Heights, Blind Lady Ale House serves a top-notch selection including their own craft beers.
  • The San Diego Brewer’s Guild offers itineraries with detailed directions by rail for visiting local breweries and brew pubs. Riding the light-rail San Diego Trolley and local Coaster commuter train, a Central San Diego route stops at Ballast Point, Gordon Biersch, Oggi’s and the San Diego Brewing Company; a North County tour begins at Ballast Point and visits both Pizza Port locations in Solana Beach and Carlsbad.
  • Offered by San Diego Beer & Wine Tours, the Beer Train Tour of San Diego allows guests to hop on the Coaster train along the beach and ride to breweries within walking distance of the stops. In addition to beautiful views of the coastal scenery, the tour offers tastes of local craft beers, food parings, guided brewery tours, games and prizes.

Guided Brewery Tours

For those who want to experience San Diego’s beer culture, meet the brewers and leave the driving to someone else, guided brewery tours are an excellent option.

  • Brew Hop offers custom-designed private brewery tours of San Diego letting visitors relax in luxury as they are chauffeured to their choice of local breweries.  The 5-hour “Beer Connoisseur” tour includes samples, behind-the-scenes tours at four breweries and a meal.  The 2.5-hour “Beer Tasters” tour stops at two or three breweries and includes samples and tours.
  • Brewery Tours of San Diego offers regularly scheduled tours on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.  Each tour visits three breweries and includes transportation, tastings and lunch.

Beer Events

Every November, San Diego hosts San Diego Beer Week, an annual 10-day craft beer celebration throughout the county.  Smaller beer celebrations and tasting events are also held in San Diego neighborhoods throughout the year.

  • On June 17-19. 2016, the San Diego International Beer Festival give beer fans the opportunity to sample more than 400 varieties of beer from more than 15 countries. The event brings together the brewers and beers to recognize the best in the industry and highlight new and upcoming breweries. Attendants can also enjoy admission to the San Diego county Fair.
  • San Diego Beer Week returns Nov. 4-13, 2016 for a celebration of local craft beer and San Diego’s thriving brewing culture.  Festivities kick off with a Brewers Guild Festival and conclude with a Chef Celebration of San Diego Beer, a gourmet beer and food pairing event.  Last year’s San Diego Beer Week boasted more than 400 events, ranging from beer dinners to meet-and-greets with local brewers, with an estimated 20,000 attendees.
  • On January 16, 2016, the San Diego Festival of Beer returns to downtown San Diego. More than 5,000 beer lovers gather annually for the festival which features 60-plus brewers offering samples and tastings alongside live musical performances, vendors and food booths.

As always, select a designated driver and drink responsibly.

Did we miss one of your favorite San Diego beer spots? Leave your recommendation in the comments.

Photo credit: QuinnDombrowski

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