Raise a cold one to the world’s hottest brewers at this annual craft-brew bonanza. 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 beers, meads and ciders from nearly 200 breweries in more than a dozen countries at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, during the San Diego County Fair.
The thriving San Diego County craft-brewing scene, which includes popular makers like Mike Hess Brewing, Karl Strauss Brewing Company, AleSmith Brewing Company, and Green Flash Brewing Co., as well as California-based brewers in general, certainly holds 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 European lagers 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 and Beachwood BBQ & Brewing in Long Beach.
Running since 2007, the festival features four-hour tasting sessions, during which ticket-holders can meander and sample from hundreds of brewery booths, chat with brewers, browse beer-making gadgetry and ingredients, and try some delicious food 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.