750 B St Ste 1500
San Diego, CA 92101-8131
Phone: (619) 232-3101
Welcome to the West’s newest capital of beer
San Diego has emerged onto the beer scene in a big way, with breweries known for a host of coveted beers: brews with assertive hops, which provide bitterness and fresh, herbal notes; barrel-aged beers; cask-conditioned ales; and variations on traditional Belgian styles.
While Belgian imports are hot here, San Diego’s border location also makes it an ideal place to get a taste of Mexico’s resurgent microbrew scene. Tijuana Guera, Tijuana’s well-balanced “session” beer (an easy-drinking brew), is one of several Mexican labels that can be hard to find elsewhere in the U.S. Its availability here is yet another sign that when it comes to beer, all roads lead to San Diego.
ALESMITH BREWING COMPANY AleSmith has a huge following. Tours draw visitors from around the world. Brews to try: YuleSmith (released in winter as a double red ale and in summer as a double IPA) and Speedway Stout, considered one of the world’s great beers.
ALPINE BEER Its double West Coast IPA, Pure Hoppiness, stands out as reason even to make the drive into Mt. Laguna’s foothills. Firefighter-brewer Pat McIlhenney’s masterpiece starts with massive bitterness yet finishes smooth. How in blazes does he do that? Brews to try: Pure Hoppiness and its triple IPA brother, Exponential Hoppiness.
BALLAST BREWING This San Diego microbrewer produces ales and lagers in two locations—a nondescript warehouse and a strip mall—that belie the outstanding beers being crafted within. Brew to try: Malty Calico Amber Ale and the stunning (but limited-production) Victory at Sea, a coffee imperial porter.
GREEN FLASH BREWING Tucked into an industrial park, this place is hard to find but worth the effort. Brew to try: West Coast IPA, a classic rendition of this SoCal style, with a bristling hoppiness.
HAMILTON’S TAVERN The full-service tavern in charming South Park has a jukebox, game tables, and a menu of organic pub grub. But the real attraction is the smartly curated beer list. Brew to try: One of the cask-conditioned ales; the on-tap menu rotates weekly.
O’BRIENS PUB Though it sits in a strip mall surrounded by noodle shops, this place, with 20 tap handles and 100-plus bottles to try, is often ranked among the country’s top 10 beer bars. Brew to try: Cabernale, the grape-infused ale from Pasadena’s Craftsman Brewing Company, and Fantôme Saison, a Belgian farmhouse beer with a berry aftertaste.
PIZZA PORT CARLSBAD Part of the Port Brewing Company family, this barnlike brick building is the site of annual festivals celebrating ales and huge Belgian-style beers. Brew to try: Hop Suey, a double IPA with oily, intense hop bitterness, plus touches of menthol and grapefruit.
PORT BREWING What happens if you cross surf culture with the brewing traditions of Belgian monks? You get Tomme Arthur’s Lost Abbey brews. Brew to try: Cuvée de Tomme, with sour cherry and bourbon flavors.
STONE BREWING Grab a bite in the airy Escondido restaurant or lovely gardens. Ken Wright’s tours, on topics like how Arrogant Bastard Ale got its name, are fun and informative. Brew to try: Stone Pale Ale and Stone Smoked Porter, both aggressive yet balanced.
TORONADO SAN DIEGO This sister to San Francisco’s Toronado is perpetually packed. Blame the 50 tap handles, strong on local brews and hard-to-find Europeans. Brew to try: Rodenbach Grand Cru, a classic sour ale.