You’ll visit for the sun and stay for the beer, all over again: SD’s next-gen brew scene is brand-new and as good as you remember.
By Candice Woo
San Diego’s been called the “Napa Valley of craft beer” and named one of the top beer towns in the country too many times to list; 30th Street, which runs through the city’s North Park neighborhood, could go toe-to-toe with any of the best beer streets in America. There seems no stopping the beer boom in America’s Finest City, and for now, its thirsty residents and beer tourists are doing their part to support the 80-plus brewhouses in operation, which include many nano-sized start-ups; more than 20 breweries of all capacities opened in 2013 and more are planned for 2014. Even the industry’s more established brewhouses are finding fresh ways to grow; Green Flash announced plans for a future restaurant and barrel room, The Lost Abbey may add another brewery space, and Ballast Point is readying a new production brewery and a second restaurant. Though IPAs still reign supreme, Belgian, German and English styles are all being executed admirably, and the rise of session beers just makes good sense given San Diego’s sun. Here’s a guide to the latest and greatest beer-centric spots that have expanded the area’s already-stellar craft beer landscape in the last year.
Filling the spot left by departed craft beer landmark The Linkery, this restaurant has a partner who owns a popular bottle shop and a kitchen helmed by a Top Chef alum. It’s making its own name with a deep and varied bottle list, 30 taps that rotate on the regular and dishes that include fried oyster tacos and homemade charcuterie.
Coin-Op Game Room
This is an out-of-the-box hit thanks to more than two dozen vintage arcade games playable with just a handful of quarters and serious buzz (no pun intended) fueled by 20 craft taps and a good cocktail list. Watch for the bar’s weekend pig roasts, paired with pints from local breweries.
Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station
The San Diego forerunner has opened its second, sprawling 50-tap beer wonderland to much fanfare; an on-site 10-barrel system ensures there’s always something house-brewed on draft. Stone’s reach continues to grow, as tasting room annexes pop up in neighborhoods throughout the region.
Karl Strauss Brewing
The senior statesman of the local brewing scene, with satellite brewpubs sprinkled all over the county, finally opened its Pacific Beach production brewery to the public, debuting a 20-tap tasting room and beer garden with exclusive beers, frequent food truck visits and bike parking for cyclists heading in from the Rose Canyon trail.
Opening a second brewery in an old North Park church bookstore took Hess from nano to jumbo. Now, a raised walkway, suspended above the new 30-barrel brewhouse, delivers you to a spacious tasting room where 16 taps await your drinking pleasure. Among their six flagship beers is Claritas, a crisp and balanced Kölsch-style sipper.
A hipster cocktail den with style to spare, this award-winning spot is also notable for its 15 craft taps and made-to-order beer cocktails from some of the town’s most skilled bartenders. Next door, sister eatery Soda & Swine sends over gourmet meatballs and drink-friendly snacks.
A new mainland brewery tasting room pouring Islander and Idiot (both standout IPAs) is just the start of the brewery’s expansion plan. In addition to another eatery, the brewery anticipates establishing an even larger production facility; rumor has it it’s also entering the craft distilling game.
Modern Times Beer
Yes, a 20-foot-tall, Post-it Note mosaic of Michael Jackson and his pet monkey looms over the tasting room, but the real stars of this much-talked-about show are beers like Blazing World, a hoppy amber that’s just one of Modern Times’ core lineup, all packaged in easy-to-transport cans.
Sunny San Diego days are meant for sitting on Fathom’s pier-side perch while savoring the views, the housemade sausages and a beer list that mixes locals with resident taps from Russian River Brewing (Fathom’s owner is brewer Vinnie Cilurzo’s former roommate). This pint-sized treasure, decked out like an oceanographer’s clubhouse, still functions as a bait-and-tackle shop for the fishermen of San Diego Bay.
Imagine 44 craft beer taps ready to pour at your command. This high-tech, self-service bar issues sensors that interface with iPads posted at each tap; when you’re thirsty, simply grab a glass and fill it; you’re charged by the ounce.
Rip Current Brewing
Joining the surge of North County breweries is San Marcos’ Rip Current, founded by a former National Homebrewing Conference champ who’s equally skilled at crafting smooth milk stouts, sessionable IPAs and everything in between.
Pizza Port Bressi Ranch
The largest (and newest) jewel in Pizza Port’s crown houses a massive production brewery viewable from two floors of beer playground, each with its own 20-tap bar. It’s a one-stop drinking spot for the GABF medal-winners from its brewpub network, plus guest beers from all over the world.
WHERE TO BEER-SHOP: Bine & Vine boasts a well-curated and cared-for bottle lineup from San Diego and beyond; conveniently, it’s just a short stroll from one of the city’s best beer destinations, Blind Lady Ale House. Best Damn Beer Shop is really a natural foods store, though its impeccable bottle collection takes up most of the floor space. There’s a homebrew shop inside, too. The North Park branch of Bottlecraft Beer Shop is smack-dab in the heart of the 30th Street craft beer thoroughfare, and boasts JU/KE, the in-store, farm-to-table eatery.