Raise a cold one to the world’s hottest brewers at this annual craft-brew bonanza every June. The San Diego International Beer Festival is the largest event of its kind on the West Coast. For three days, beer lovers can sample their way through more than 400 varieties of beer, mead, and cider from nearly 200 breweries that hail from more than a dozen countries at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
The thriving San Diego County craft-brewing scene, which includes such popular makers as Mike Hess Brewing, Karl Strauss Brewing Company, AleSmith Brewing Company, and Green Flash Brewing Co., as well as California-based brewers in general, certainly hold their own against the world’s best in the annual competition at the festival. Beers compete for a gold, silver, or bronze medal in dozens of specific categories that range from traditional brews like English-style pale ales and Czech pilsners to newer craft-style smoked beers and bold stouts. Certified judges crown one brewery the overall champion, and recent local winners have included Pizza Port Carlsbad, San Diego’s Duck Foot Brewing Co. and Amplified Ale Works, and Beachwood BBQ & Brewing in Long Beach.
Running since 2007, the festival features five four-hour tasting sessions, during which ticket-holders (general admission or VIP passes are available) can meander and sample from hundreds of brewery booths, chat with brewers, browse beer-making gadgetry and ingredients, and try some delicious food-and-brew pairings. They can also take in a series of stage presentations that look at all things beer: home brewing, how to judge beers, and even how to pair beer with chocolate and other delights.
The festival also offers a Gold Medal Beer Pairing Dinner that serves up four of the year’s brand-new Gold Medal-winning beers with a four-course plated meal.
Insider tips: The San Diego International Beer Festival is the ideal event to get to and from via public transportation. Sold as a package with festival admission, the Fair Tripper ticket includes round-trip fare on North County Transit’s Coaster, Sprinter or Breeze transportation services. The festival is a pet-free event.