In recent years, San Diego has become a thriving city for craft beer lovers, giving way to 88 microbreweries throughout the county. The sunshine, coastal environment, and terroir have allowed for some unique flavors you can’t find anywhere else.
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Defining the Craft Brewer
Craft brewers are defined by the Brewers Association as small, independent, and traditional.
- Craft brewers offer limited production, usually only about 6 million barrels of beer a year—that’s only about 3 percent of annual beer sales in the country.
- On average, a member of the beverage alcohol industry owns less than 1/4 of a craft brewery.
- Craft beers use traditional ingredients but offer plenty of innovative, unique twists.
- Craft brewers also remain active in their communities through donations, volunteering, and sponsorship.
The Growing Trend
Craft brewing has seen amazing commercial popularity. Between 2010 and 2012, the number of new craft brewery licenses more than doubled.
San Diego Microbreweries at a Glance
- San Diego is considered the Craft Beer Capital of the U.S.
- California is ranked as the #1 craft brewery state with over 300 craft breweries, which means San Diego accounts for nearly 30% of all craft breweries in California!
- San Diego’s oldest brewery is the San Diego Brewing Company, which opened in 1896.
- In 2011, breweries in San Diego generated about $680.8 million in sales, generating about $299.5 million for San Diego County.
- Between 2011 and 2013, brewery-related jobs increased by 40 percent to over 2,200.
- As of 2014, San Diego County is home to 88 breweries with many more sprouting up regularly.
- Annual events:
- February: San Diego Winter Brew Fest
- April: San Diego Brew Classic
- June: San Diego International Beer Festival
- September: San Diego Festival of Beer
- November: San Diego Beer Week
A Sampling of San Diego’s Suds
- Arcana Brewing (Carlsbad)
- On-The-Tracks Brewery (Carlsbad)
- Pizza Port (Carlsbad)
- Aztec Brewing (Vista)
- Backstreet Brewery (Vista)
- Belching Beaver (Vista)
- Iron Fist Brewing Company (Vista)
- Indian Joe Brewing (Vista)
- Latitude 33 (Vista)
- Mother Earth Brew Company (Vista)
- Prohibition Brewing Company (Vista)
- Breakwater Brewing Company (Oceanside)
- Oceanside Ale Works (Oceanside)
- Culture Brewing Company (Solana Beach)
- Lost Abbey/Port Brewing (San Marcos)
- Rip Current Brewing (San Marcos)
- San Marcos Brewery (San Marcos)
- Stumblefoot Brewing (San Marcos)
- Offbeat Brewing Company (Escondido)
- Stone Brewing Company (Escondido)
- Alesmith Brewing Company (Miramar)
- Ballast Point (Miramar)
- Green Flash Brewing (Miramar)
- Helms Brewing (Miramar)
- Hess Brewing (Miramar)
- Intergalactic Brewing Company (Miramar)
- Rough Draft Brewing (Miramar)
- Saint Archer Brewing (Miramar)
- White Labs (Miramar)
- Callahan’s Pub and Brewery (Mira Mesa)
- Wet ‘N Reckless Brewing (Mira Mesa)
- New English Brewing (Sorrento Valley)
Central San Diego
- Amplified Ale Works (Mission Beach)
- Acoustic Ales (San Diego)
- Blind Lady Ale House (Normal Heights)
- Coronado Brewing Company (Coronado)
- Gordon Biersh (Mission Valley)
- Hillcrest Brewing Company (Hillcrest)
- Poor House Brewing (Hillcrest)
- Modern Times (Sports Arena)
- Monkey Paw Brewery (Downtown)
- The Beer Company (Downtown)
- Pacific Beach AleHouse (Pacific Beach)
- San Diego Brewing Company (La Jolla)
- Societe Brewing Company (Clairmont Mesa)
- Thorn Street Brewing (North Park)
- Tiger! Tiger! (North Park)
South Bay/East County
- Alpine Beer Company (Alpine)
- BNS Brewing (Santee)
- Butcher’s Brewing (Santee)
- Manzanita Brewing Company (Santee)
- Cold Bore Brewing (Jamul)
- Julian Brewing Company (Julian)
- Lighting Brewing (Poway)
- Mad Lab Craft Brewing (Otay)
The Best of the Breweries
1) Belching Beaver – Vista
- Established in 2012
- Owners: Tom Vogel and Dave Mobley
- Beavers Milk – Milk Stout, 5.3% ABV, 19 IBUs
- Frothy, silky, and light to the taste, this milk stout offers roasted coffeeband sweet milky flavors. Specialty malts include rolled oats, dark malts,and barley.
- Rabid Beaver Bite – Rye IPA, 7.0% ABV, 60 IBUs
- Clean and lighter than most IPAs, this brew still offers plenty of hops and a touch of spiciness to its malty flavors.
- Ol’ Dirty – Russian Imperial Stout, 10.5% ABV, 70 IBUs
- This winter seasonal is their biggest brew to date. Much of this batch is stored in rye bourbon barrels.
2) Stone Brewing Company – Escondido
- Founded in 1996 by Greg Koch and Steve Wagner.
- As of 2012, Stone is the 10th largest craft brewery in the country.
- Arrogant Bastard Ale – American Strong Ale, 7.2% ABV, Classified IBUs
- If the name doesn’t give it away, this is no normal ale, and Stone keepsits formula heavily guarded. The beer offers intensely dark flavors,mixing bitter hops with floral malts.
- Stone IPA – IPA, 6.9% ABV, 77 IBUs
- Stone’s definitive IPA, this brew is filled with hoppy aromas, citrusy flavors, and subtle malts for a crisp, refreshing solution for a hot day.
- Stone Smoked Porter – Porter, 5.9% ABV, 53 IBUs
- Dark, smooth, and infused with chocolate and coffee flavors, this porter has become a staple among beer lovers, providing the perfect complement for nearly any meal.
3) Port Brewing Company/The Lost Abbey – San Marcos
- Located together in the facility that was previously home to Stone.
- Lost and Found Abbey Ale – Dubbel, 8% ABV
- Featuring a fruity nose, cocoa aromatics, and a chocolate malt finish,this Lost Abbey ale offers a surprising amount of complexity thanks to layers of malt and yeast.
- Wipeout IPA – American IPA, 7% ABV
- Featuring amazing fruity flavors, floral hops, and a bitter pine finish, this beer from Port Brewing makes the perfect refresher for anyone just getting back from a day on the surf.
4) AleSmith – Miramar
- Founded in 1995 by Ted Newcomb and Skip Virgilio.
- Currently owned by Peter Zien.
- Nut Brown Ale – English Brown Ale, 5% ABV, 17 IBUs
- A rich, malty flavor, creamy texture, and earthy hops make this a versatile beer for sipping alone or enjoying with your favorite foods.
- Anvil ESB – Extra Special/Strong Bitter, 5.5% ABV, 30 IBU
- AleSmith’s flagship brew, the Anvil ESB has toasty malts and a mild hoppy profile for a subtle but bold flavor.
- IPA – IPA, 7.25% ABV, 73 IBUs
- Citrusy aromas and fresh pine lead into some deep, crisp bitterness for a classic San Diego IPA.
5) Ballast Point – Miramar
- Founded in 1996 as a back room brewery by Yuseff Cherney and Jack White.
- Pale Ale – Pale Ale, 5.2% ABV, 23 IBUs
- The beer that launched the brewery, Ballast Point’s original pale ale has a bright, refreshing taste that mixes German hops with American and Munich malts.
- Longfin – Lager, 4.5% ABV, 18 IBUs
- The classic German beer adjusted for San Diego’s beaches. Offers a hint of hops with a clean finish.
- Sculpin – IPA, 7% ABV, 70 IBUs
- This beer’s hops pack apricot, lemon, mango, and peach flavors with plenty of crisp bitterness.
6) Green Flash Brewing – Miramar
- Established in 2002 by Mike and Lisa Hinkley.
- Le Freak- Belgian-style Imperial IPA, 9.2% ABV, 101 IBUs
- The first ever hybrid of an American Imperial IPA and a Belgian Trippel, Le Freak offers fruity aromatics, bitter hops, and a firm finish.
- Double Stout – Black Ale, 8.8% ABV, 45 IBUs
- A modern version of an old-world classic, the Double Stout offers hints of coffee with a mix of bittersweet chocolates.
- Hop Head Red – Double Red IPA, 8.1% ABV, 70 IBUs
- Floral aromas, deep hops, and a caramel malt base creates an amazingly seductive experience.
Central San Diego
7) Coronado Brewing Company – Coronado
- Founded by brothers Ron and Rick Chapman in 1996.
- Coronado Golden – Pilsner, 4.9% ABV, 20 IBUs
- A brew that features a light body with delicate hops that’s perfect for drinking any day.
- Orange Avenue Wit – California Wit, 5.2% ABV, 19 IBUs
- Supported by orange zest and orange blossom honey, this brew is packed with citrus flavors and makes an excellent homage to Coronado’s main street.
8) Monkey Paw Brewery – Downtown
- Cornelius IIPA – American Double IPA, 9.6% ABV
- A bright gold color gives way to orange, pine, and grapefruit aromas that end with some distinct bitterness
- Great Ape Nectar – Hazelnut Chocolate Milk Stout, 5.6% ABV
- Sweet hazelnut, chocolate, and dry cocoa give way to a sweet drink that isn’t cloying. Match it with desserts or use it as the base for a beer float.
- Howler IPA – American IPA, 6.7% ABV
- This brew has everything you could need in a San Diego IPA—citrus, tropical fruits, florals, hops, and a clean finish.
South Bay/East County
9) Alpine Beer Company – Alpine
- Founded in 2002 by Pat Mcilhenney.
- Alpine Ale – Pale Ale, 5.5% ABV, 32 IBUs
- Alpine’s staple ale, this beer is full-bodied, malty, and clean, offering everything you could want in an easy-drinking brew.
- Pure Hoppiness – West Coast Double IPA, 8% ABV, Classified IBUs
- Packed with hoppy bite from beginning to end, if you love hops, this is the beer for you.
- Captain Stout – Chocolate Oatmeal Dry Stout, 6% ABV, 31 IBUs
- This brew is just plain pleasant to drink, offering roasted malts, hints of coffee and chocolate, and a smooth finish for a drink that pairs well with everything from breakfast to dessert.
10) Butcher’s Brewing – Santee
- Founded by Rey Knight—founder and owner of Knight Salumi Company—and Gabriel Tennberg—surf industry designer.
- Free Range IPA – American IPA, 7% ABV
- Packed with hops, this IPA features a medium body with toasted malts and rye for a bittersweet endnote.
- Hubba Bubba – Hefeweizen, 6% ABV
- This beer’s main attraction is the yeast, which combines with the wheat for flavor notes that include cloves, banana, bubblegum, and plum.