This is a great option for a beer tour in Miramar that doesn't require transportation between breweries. The Miralani Makers District has got to have one of the highest concentrations of breweries anywhere, surely. The first three are within about 130 feet of each other in the same commercial building. Around the back is Setting Sun Sake Brewing. There's a wine tasting room and a distillery in the same small complex, and a sushi restaurant. Across the street is Thunderhawk Alements. Very close to Thunderhawk are the excellent co-located Serpentine Cider and Lost Cause Meadery. Lost Cause has won national mead competitions; I strongly recommend that you include a visit there if you are in the area. There is a kitchen in the tasting room, too. Protector is one of the nation's few all-organic breweries, and it is veteran owned and operated.
There's a real sense of excitement and growth in the Miralani Makers District, and it is a wonderful example of synergies and cooperation between neighboring businesses being good for all of them.
There are seventeen breweries and two satellite tasting rooms in Miramar. That's far too many for a single beer crawl. But almost all of them are excellent, so there are lots of great options for a day out drinking. There's a reason they call it "Beeramar." Check the reviews of each location in the links below to make your own itinerary, or use my "best of" list, below.
Miramar is north of the Marine Corps Air Station, between the 805 and the 15. Depending on traffic and route, it is about a 25 minute drive from downtown. It is mostly a light-industrial/commercial area. There are plenty of restaurants, bars, furniture stores, etc. The area is not walkable, so plan on bringing a designated driver or taking a Lyft if you are going to several breweries. Since tasting room hours change from time to time, you'll need to check brewery websites to confirm. One thing to be aware of is that opening times at different breweries are not always in alignment. AleSmith, for example, is open many more hours per day than, say, Division 23. Plan accordingly.
The AleSmith brewery — and now the neighboring CheeseSmith! — is a huge site. The main tasting room is nice but the mezzanine is even nicer, and the small, sort-of-hidden barrel aged tasting room is even nicer still. The $10 tour here is excellent and comes with a beer and a commemorative glass. They offer a wide variety of beers, all of very high quality. There's no kitchen on site, but food trucks are almost always parked next to the large patio.
Mike Hess makes some of my favorite beers. The original Miramar location is now just a tasting room and pales in comparison to their impressive North Park brewery, but it is a worthwhile stop if you are in the area. If you can go to the North Park location instead, that's the better choice.
It is true that Ballast Point is owned by Constellation Brands and hence does not count as craft beer. They are, however, San Diego-made beer — excellent beer, in fact, and this headquarters location also serves good food. The bar, restaurant and patio areas are all elegantly decorated with plenty of seating. It is an impressively large operation; you can get a 45-minute tour and commemorative glass for $5 (book online in advance). Some people are tempted to go across the street from Ballast to Reckless Brewing since it is close, but that is not the best move if you can only go to a few Miramar beer locations. Instead go just a short way down the road and you'll find more world-class beer.
If you are at the tiny but mighty Pure Project, it does make sense to go next door to Amplified Ales and just around the corner to Duck Foot (though I think both Amplified's and Duck Foot's locations in East Village are the better ones to visit if you can). One of the big successes of the Brewery Ignitors in San Diego, Pure Project has a devoted following for its regular can releases, and they will open additional tasting rooms in Banker's Hill (near Downtown) and Carlsbad later in 2019.
White Labs is not primarily a brewery, of course: They make the yeasts that brewers use in their beers, as well as other products such as Clarity Ferm that allows brewers to make gluten-reduced beers. Founded and headquartered in San Diego, White Labs has locations in Asheville, Hong Kong, and Copenhagen. For the craft beer lover on a beer tour in Miramar, a stop at White Labs is extremely interesting. The tasting room is beautiful (much nicer than most breweries!). The tap list includes multiple beers brewed from the same batch of wort but fermented with different strains of yeast. Directly comparing the effects of different yeasts on the same beer is a rare and eye-opening (palate-opening?) opportunity.
The San Diego location of Mikkeller Brewing includes a fairly large and nice-looking tasting room. I think their stouts are the best thing they make, but lately they've been deep into the hazy NEIPA thing, too.
An area within Miramar that is worthy of its own tour: The Miralani Makers District.
I was in a bit of a grumpy mood on my way to Fourpenny House. All that melted away as soon as I walked in to see a cozy well-decorated room, a fire crackling, a happy people enjoying quality food and drinks, and a small group playing traditional Celtic music for the crowd's entertainment. It was a pleasant scene, and I immediately wished Fourpenny was closer to my house so I could visit more often. That wish was solidified throughout the rest of my visit.
I first stopped into Fourpenny House on a Sunday in May 2018, during their soft opening phase, hoping to try both their beer and their Sunday roast dinner. Unfortunately we were too early for the roast dinner, but they did have a few beers available. Even then, I thought their house Scottish Ale was very good. Since then they have not only dialed-in recipes/processes and added many more beers to the menu, they have hired a new brewer who brings a lot of experience and seems to be off to a great start.
My second visit was in early January of 2019. Again I missed the Sunday roast dinner (it starts at 1:30pm), but the Sunday brunch offerings were available. The omelette with avocado, Irish bacon and cheddar was delicious (though it was much too large to finish: two people could share it and still be satisfied). The kitchen accidentally made an extra order of the house Fourpenny toast, baked with spent grains from brewing, and shared it with a few of us at the bar, too.
Although my main focus was trying the beer — there were seven house beers on the board plus quality guest taps like Harp and Guinness — someone ordered a smoked Auld Fashioned made with Scotch whisky and the smoking process looked so cool I had to try it. Several other people at the bar felt the same way, so it turned into a bit of a bonding thing. It seems that Fourpenny succeeds in creating a friendly pub atmosphere. And the Auld Fashioned turned out to be great. Worth the trip to La Mesa by itself.
Service was excellent from every part of the operation--friendly, helpful, efficient. Food was a little slow to come out, though I did arrive at the height of the lunch/brunch rush and the place was pretty full. From what I could see around the restaurant, all the food was excellent.
The beer exceeded my expectations.
Fourpenny Ale (Scottish Ale, 5.5% ABV). Malty, a bit of a red ale bite, smooth finish, soft/round mouthfeel. Refreshing and tasty. Maybe too sweet to have a lot of. 3.75/5
Pacific Crest (International Pale Ale, 6.4% ABV). I can’t quite figure out why, but this one did not do it for me. Maybe the yeast is too fruity? There’s a sour bite on the end. Dirty line? I just can’t tell. It is the bartender’s favorite, though. 3.25/5
Stout du Monde (Milk Stout, 5.8% ABV). Excellent. Medium to medium-thin mouthfeel, deeply roasty malts with notes of smoke and coffee. 4/5
Bog Fairy (Fruited IPA, 7% ABV). This brand new beer had just been tapped. I REALLY like it. It should probably be listed as a DIPA at 7%. Loads of flavor. The cranberry is deft and light, giving a nice background tartness. The lemon reminds me of a shandy, but with a NEIPA hops flavor/mouthfeel (though this is not a hazy). 4/5
Resilience (IPA, 6.8% ABV). This is Fourpenny's version of the Sierra Nevada recipe brewed across the country to raise money for the victims of the Camp fire, which was right next to the Sierra Nevada brewery. It was lighter in color and less intense in flavor than other versions I’ve had, but still quite good. 3.5/5
Overall, I give Fourpenny high marks. It is as close to a Scottish pub as you can find in San Diego, with very good beer and food.
Beth Demmon's article on Fourpenny House came out in San Diego City Beat the day after I visited the location. I delayed publishing this so as not to step on toes. She comes to much the same conclusion. Fourpenny is a place you should visit!
Maybe this is true of every year but, wow, it seems like a lot has happened in craft beer this year. This is a long read (about 3400 words), but I hope you'll find some interesting stuff here. Just so I don't bury the lede: San Diego County saw a net increase of thirteen breweries and satellite tasting rooms in 2018, a 7.3% increase over 2017. There is a lot of detail needed to contextualize and explain that number, however.
Beer Writing in 2018
In some ways, it has seemed like an ominous year for beer writing. The venerable All About Beer Magazine shut down after thirty-nine years. Part of the reason, at least, is a decrease in the number of people who read print magazines, including print magazines about beer. Even The Session, an online venue for bloggers to participate in writing on a single topic where the posts are collected together in one place, has come to an end after almost twelve years and 142 monthly topics. A lack of interest and a change/decrease in beer blogging was cited as a reason. And, it seems, it is getting harder to make a living solely as a beer writer, with layoffs at various outlets.
At the same time, however, readbeer.com started up in fall 2018. It is a beer blog/news aggregator, and as of 12/28/2018 it has 184.5 pages of 2018 beer articles and blog posts where each page has 18 articles listed. That's 3,321 articles about beer in 2018, and I'm sure that's not a comprehensive list. The problem The Session had with finding hosts and getting participation might not be that beer blogging has decreased, but rather that it has exploded to the point that the beer blogosphere is fragmented and disconnected. I didn't even know about The Session until about a week before I hosted one in October 2018, and I've been reading and writing about beer extensively for more than two years. Hypothesis: Craft beer writing is mostly local now, just like craft beer itself.
In addition, I published my monthly summary of openings and closings in the San Diego beer industry and its accompanying LIST — the best, most complete and most current list of San Diego breweries and tasting rooms available anywhere. At the end of 2018 there are 199 breweries and tasting rooms in San Diego. More on that below.
I was fortunate that my beer blogging won me a national award: BrewDog's 2018 Beer Blogger Geek award, plus the overall award out of the seven categories in their competition, which makes me the 2018 America's Biggest Beer Geek. Eoghan Walsh, Europe's Biggest Beer Geek, edged me out for the title of World's Biggest Beer Geek, but he definitely deserved it. It has admittedly been a complicated year to be associated with BrewDog given their various marketing shenanigans/screw-ups, but the judges of the contest were independent, and the competition was stiff, so I am very appreciative of the recognition. And I'm grateful for the trips to Denver and Belgium that were the prizes. The other winners I had the pleasure of meeting in Denver were all awesome people.
In non-beer writing news (it's my blog, I can write what I want to), I also had my first academic book accepted for publication and I submitted the final manuscript — that book will be published in April 2019. And I started my first novel. (About 37,000 words drafted so far.)
The San Diego Beer Scene in 2018
The number of breweries in San Diego at the end of 2018 is almost identical to the same time last year. But that numerical consistency masks a great deal of change. Some people have claimed that there's a slowdown in the growth of San Diego craft beer, but I don't think that's the right take, as I'll explain below.
Early December 2018 saw two events that shook the SD beer community: Benchmark's seeking of an investor, and Council's closing. Some people have taken it as a sign of doom. The question is whether these two cases, and the other closings in 2018, are a statistical blip, a market correction, or something else.
Since the beginning of 2018, nineteen new craft breweries and eleven satellite tasting rooms have opened in San Diego (including four closings and re-openings under new owners). That's thirty locations in fifty-two weeks or 0.58 openings per week. In 2017, it was twenty-eight new breweries and seven new tasting rooms for a total of thirty-five new locations, or 0.67 per week. That's a pretty small difference, year-over-year.
There is a sense in which brewery openings are a "lagging indicator" of the health of the industry: People make plans to open a brewery or tasting room usually much more than a year before it happens, and they make those plans based on then-current market conditions (often optimistically interpreting those market conditions). So it is possible that a bunch of breweries just opened into a bad market. Costs are certainly rising, thanks in part to increasing rents, corresponding pressure to increase wages, and increases in supply and equipment costs (partly due to Trump's tariffs). There is also increasing competition for hops and other ingredients because of the increasing number of breweries around the country and around the world.
The closing of Council, a highly respected and well-loved brewery that seemed (from the outside, at least) to be on an upswing, was a shock to many in the San Diego beer loving community. The announcement didn't give all the details and others may know a lot more about this that I do (please add your knowledge in the comments below), but it sounds like opening the Santee brewery and tasting room was a kind of last-ditch, Hail-Mary move for them. They had already been struggling and decided to "go big or go home" in a sense, throwing everything at an expansion in the hopes that it would pay off big, and quickly enough. That didn't happen, and without sufficient reserves and without reasonable expectation for sufficient growth to cover their increased costs, they decided to pull the plug. They were paying rent (and staff) for three locations (Kearny Mesa brewery and tasting room, a nearby warehouse space for aging beer, plus the brewery and tasting room in Santee). It is worth mentioning that the Santee location they purchased seems to be cursed: Twisted Manzanita had the space awhile and shut down, Finest Made Ales (originally named Butcher's Brewing) had it awhile and shut down, and now Council. In a grand gesture, Council sold down their stock of bottles for $5 cash, each, and donated the proceeds to the Sore Eye Sudsmas food drive: they gave a check for over $14k, which is extremely generous in any circumstance but especially so in the context of shutting down their business.
Benchmark's woes are partly attributable to shifting beer trends — they make excellent but non-hype beers, and a lot of attention/market activity is related to hazies, pastry stouts, and other adjunct-laden beer. I think the long delay in being able to get their Bay Park tasting room open is a factor — they had to pay rent there for months without the location generating an income stream. I think they also suffer from location problems. The brewery location in Grantville is not one that people think of visiting (even though the tasting room is very nice) and it isn't close enough to other breweries to benefit from a synergy like we see in the Miralani Makers District, for example, where people visiting one location very often visit other adjacent locations. I'm as yet unconvinced that the Bay Park location they chose has enough traffic (or parking) to make that location as viable as their beer would justify. Benchmark also suffered from what they described as a bad distributor relationship and thus their outside sales were declining. Now that they have switched distributors and have stopped the bleeding, I think they have a very good chance of making it. Help them out: Go drink their beer.
The situation with Green Flash earlier this year, and especially its sub-brand Alpine, was shocking for many fans, too. That was pretty clearly a case of bad business practices, though: over-expansion and undercapitalization with way-too-optimistic sales projections. The down-sizing and realignment after being purchased by a venture capital firm seem to have allowed things to settle. One presumes that the venture capital firm would not have been interested in purchasing the brewery if it didn't see a financial upside. You may have noticed the re-branding that is underway, including the re-launch of the original-recipe West Coast IPA.
So, the big question: Do all these closures indicate that the San Diego craft beer market is oversaturated, finally? Is the recent spate of meaningful closings a market correction, a general economic downturn, or just a statistical blip? I'm not an economist, so I can't give a definitive opinion on all of that, but my impression is that things are not dire — far from it, in fact. New breweries are opening at a rate similar to previous years. There is overall growth, and even more new breweries and tasting rooms are slated to open in the near future. There were more closures this year than we are used to, for sure, but the numbers don't raise any real cause for concern. There is a false appearance of more closings simply because there are so many more breweries, but the rate of real closings is not much more than last year, and it is much less than the average closure rate for bars and restaurants.
Don't forget, too, that in addition to nineteen new breweries and eleven new tasting rooms, several (many) local breweries are flourishing and even expanding. Look at Helix's new Sourworx barrel aging program, or Second Chance's. Burning Beard just started a coolship natural fermentation and barrel aging program. Modern Times, Novo Brazil and others have significantly increased production and distribution. Protector is vastly expanding its capacity. Plenty of others are aiming to expand production and sales, too. There will be winners and losers as breweries jockey for shelf and tap space, of course, so we'll see which of these moves pay off.
There is definitely increased competition. That is going to force breweries to be firing on all cylinders in order to be successful. The days of easy, quick growth, especially in wide distribution, are pretty clearly over. But smaller, locally-focused (neighborhood-focused) breweries have opportunities to thrive, provided they do everything well. New breweries probably have a shorter window of time during which consumers will cut them slack while they dial in recipes. There are so many excellent options in town that few are willing to drink mediocre craft beer anymore.
Most of the breweries in planning that I am aware of share a feature that should make some existing breweries worry: many of the newcomers have strong financial backing and are entering the market with large, high-concept places that include food and are elegantly designed. Kairoa, Gravity Heights, Double Peak, Draft Republic, Epic Wings 'n Things, and My Yard Live all fit this description.
There's a potential worry that's on few people's radar, though Mike Shess from West Coaster Magazine and San Diego Beverage Times is thinking about it: There are now a lot of wineries and wine tasting rooms in San Diego. And cideries and meaderies. And local distilleries. That's competition for folks' limited entertainment dollars that could have an impact on the local brewing scene.
Should breweries chase the trends? My opinion — or maybe it is a hope — is that they shouldn't. If hazies or pastry stouts are why you exist, great, though watch out when trends change. But if your market identity is something else, making such beers only to be part of the trend will probably not be successful, in my opinion at least. You might get a temporary bump, but long-term consistent business depends on excellence. Excellence can only come from being yourself. There's an important sense in which chasing trends is a kind of selling out; maybe as bad or worse than selling out to Big Beer. I understand the need to do what is required to stay in business, but there is a wide and deeply interested consumer base who will drink good beer when they can get it, and those are the folks who will bring you long term success. There might not be enough of such people to support ten places like Deft, but there is clearly room in the market for one; same for Benchmark.
Consumers need to take some responsibility, too.If you are spending your beer money trading online or even chasing whales at the bottle shop, that money is mostly not going to support local breweries. Ask yourself whether the $100 bottle you bought is really worth ten $10 bottles of a different beer, or even twenty $5 bottles. You'll never convince me that the $40 pint-bottle of pastry stout on the shelf at Whole Foods is really six times better per ounce than the Speedway Stout or fifteen times better than the Tabula Rasa on the shelf next to it. Imagine if all the money that went into chasing whales went to breweries instead of to brokers and illegal traders. In short, if you care about craft beer, buy local craft beer. I'm not saying you should buy bad beer: I'm saying you should spend your money in a way that supports the industry you claim to love.
Craft Beer Nationally in 2018
Nationwide, sales by volume are up 5% over 2017 to reach a new record high once again. And that's despite a 1.2% drop overall in beer sales by volume. There are now 7000 independent breweries in the USA, up 20% (!) over 2017. Eighty-five percent of the US population lives within ten miles of a brewery.
In 2016, there were 2042 brewpubs, 3196 microbreweries, and 186 regional breweries across the US.
In 2017, those numbers were 2252, 3812, and 202. In other words, in 2017 there was an increase of 210 brewpubs, 616 microbreweries and 24 regional breweries. That translates to growth of 15.5% by brewery count, as compared to the end of the previous year.
In 2018, there appears to be roughly 12% growth in the number of breweries, to a new record high of 7000 breweries, but the details are not available yet. Sales by volume increased overall by 5%, so there are growers and shrinkers among the 7000.
Craft beer slightly increased its share of total national beer sales by volume to 12.7%. Although it is an increase, that should be a sobering number, I think, especially for those of us whose focus is entirely on local independent beer: Craft beer drinkers are a tiny minority of all beer drinkers. There is less craft beer purchased in the USA than import beer, even. However, this does indicate that there is still plenty of growth opportunity for craft beer, since the vast majority of US beer drinkers are not (yet!) drinking craft beer.
In 2017, nationally 165 brewpubs and microbreweries closed, while 995 opened. As rates measured against the total operating locations at the end of 2016 (5238), that means a 3.15% closure rate and a 19% opening rate, nationally. Comparable data is not available yet for 2018.
Craft Beer in San Diego in 2018
In San Diego in 2017, we saw net growth of nineteen locations or 12% compared to 2016. Ten craft breweries and tasting rooms closed and twenty-nine opened in 2017
In 2018, things look different in San Diego. We have slow growth in the *net* number of breweries. In December 2017, there were 149 craft and six non-craft breweries in San Diego; in December 2018, there are 152 craft and five non-craft breweries. That represents 2.0% growth in the number of San Diego craft breweries over 2017.
Like a duck looking still on the surface but paddling furiously underwater, however, the net 2% growth in number of breweries masks a lot of activity underneath. Between my December 21, 2017, update and December 30, 2018, twenty-two breweries closed, and twenty-five craft breweries opened. That corresponds to closing and opening rates of 14.8% and 16.8%, respectively. Note, however, that that this calculation includes six breweries that continued existing after being purchased by new owners as both a closing (sale) and an opening (purchase). If you consider just the breweries that closed outright or opened from nothing, then sixteen breweries closed, and nineteen brand new breweries opened for respective rates of 10.7% and 12.8%.
At the same time, however, there was massive growth in the number of satellite tasting rooms in 2018. There are forty-two satellite tasting rooms in the county now (including two non-craft), whereas there were only thirty satellite tasting rooms (including zero non-craft) at this time last year. That increase of twelve is FORTY PERCENT GROWTH in the number of satellite tasting rooms in 2018. For craft satellite tasting rooms alone, the growth was ten locations or 33%.
In total, the net change in 2018 is an increase of thirteen craft beer locations in San Diego County. We are up to 192 breweries and craft tasting rooms, which is a 7.3% increase over the 179 we had at the end of 2017. In addition, there are seven non-craft locations, one more than last year.
It is important to note that an element of chance is skewing the 2018 numbers, too. According to information I've gathered, before the end of January 2019, three new breweries and three new tasting rooms will open. Most of those (plus several others on my "in planning" list) had originally thought they would open before the end of 2018 but hold ups with permitting, construction, etc., have delayed them. Without those delays, the 2018 numbers would look a lot more positive.
Plus, the end of 2017 and dawn of 2018 saw several sudden brewery closures. We'll see if that phenomenon becomes a trend, but I hope not.
So, if this year-in-review post had been written in January, the picture would seem a lot different. Assuming everything projected to open by January 2019 really does open (and for once there is every reason to believe that will actually happen), there will be 155 craft breweries and forty-three tasting rooms.
The net growth January-to-January would be seven breweries or a respectable 4.7% growth over the 148 operating at the beginning of 2018.
Removing the six breweries that were closed then reopened under new owners, January 2017 to January 2018 will have twelve closures and nineteen openings.
Craft satellite tasting rooms will have increased in that period by thirteen, or 43%.
Taking craft breweries plus satellite tasting rooms together, there will be a January-to-January increase of 20 locations, or 11.2% growth overall.
It is useful to remember the arbitrariness of annual comparisons. There is no significance to growth being measured December-December instead of July-July or April-April.
The December 2017 to December 2018 change in craft breweries and craft satellite tasting rooms in San Diego County.
The January 2018 to January 2019 change in craft breweries and craft satellite tasting rooms in San Diego County.
Here is a topic I want to address in a future piece: How do administrative barriers impact breweries? My guess so far is that local, state and federal regulations are a severe brake on brewery and tasting room growth, both as barriers to entry and as sources of significant delay and expense. The only "winners" because of this are landlords who get paid rent while businesses sit empty waiting for approvals. Sometimes they open eventually (Benchmark Bay Park) and sometimes they don't (Little Miss OB).
It has been a labor of love to produce this post, with an emphasis on the labor. I put in at least 20 hours on it — and that is not counting all the time I spend each month maintaining my list of beer locations. I have no advertising on my site, and no one pays me to do this. So, if you find what I do to be valuable or useful, please consider clicking the "Donate" button at the bottom of the page and help out with my beer fund. Thanks, and Happy New Year!
Below are some of the sources used for this post, in case you want to dive into the details.
Helia Brewing is an excellent spot. Although in some ways it is a typical brewery in a light industrial park, in other ways it is much more than that. They have the advantage of being sited closest to the street, on a little hill. That means the small patio out front has something of a view, and it feels separated from the road below. (So far the patio has just one picnic table, but there's room for more.)
The art, interior design, fittings and furnishings inside show attention to detail and a concern to create a comfortable space that feels special. The interior is large enough that there are seven distinct zones, including the brewhouse, bar, ping pong, the area immediately inside the front door, and three seating areas--plus the patio. One of the seating areas is a bench along the side window that has one of the most innovative and beautiful armrest tables I've ever seen. Light streams into that front room — which would be lovely at most times of day/year, though when we tried to sit there we got unlucky and the sun was getting low and it was blinding. We ended up deeper in the building, between the brewhouse and the bar, in a little cluster of rattan settees and armchairs around a Persian rug. It was cozy and comfortable and even felt a bit private.
The beer was very good. I tried six of the eight that were available. I can't remember a brand new brewery that opened in the last year or two where all the beer was this good within just a month or so of opening. (Melvin is the only other contender I can think of, but they have the advantage of being a long-established brewery in Oregon.)
Helia IPA (American IPA, 6.7% ABV). The flagship IPA is crisp, clean and flavorful. Floral and fruit aromas become even more pronounced on the palate, the body is light-medium and the finish is mostly clean with a slight lingering pine aftertaste. 3.75/5
Cubano IPA (American IPA, 7.1% ABV). Straw color, medium mouthfeel, earthy finish but not overpowering. I was talking to someone at Bear Roots Brewing and she thought this was a great beer; another example of how tastes vary. 3.5/5
Happy Pale Ale (Pale Ale, 5.6% ABV). Amber, clear, lightly malty, crisp bitter finish. Perfect day drinker. 3.75/5
Hazy Jae (New England IPA, 7.0% ABV). Yellow but not hazy, strong grapefruit aroma. Soft creamy mouthfeel, fruity finish. 3.75/5
Ponytail Red Ale (Red Ale, 5.2% ABV). A lovely red. Malty with that red bite, moderately hopped. Soft creamy finish. 3.5/5
Helia Porter (American Porter, 7.4% ABV). Beautiful full mouthfeel, silky. Roasty malts, smoky background. Reminiscent of Guinness but a little sweeter. I’d prefer it a little more bitter. 3.75/5
There is an excellent grouping of eight craft breweries and satellite tasting rooms in Ocean Beach. It is a great location for a beer tour because of the vibrant street life, abundance of food options, and proximity to the beach and pier. Parking on Newport and around OB in general can be difficult and it can get very crowded in summer. The Wednesday farmer’s market makes traffic worse, of course. Save yourself the trouble (and a potential DUI after all this beer) by taking a Lyft.
In order of best to least-best craft beer locations (in my opinion, obviously — your mileage may vary):
Of those eight, six are on three adjacent blocks on Newport Ave, near the beach. Of those, only OB Brewing and Pizza Port brew on site; both of those also have food and so does Hodad's (the newest as tasting room but longstanding and popular as a divey burger joint). Hess is in a different part of Ocean Beach than the others, but it is only 0.6 miles away. I rate OB Brewing lower because of my personal experiences there, but they just won the 2018 GABF Best Small Brewpub of the Year award and their beers have won two GABF medals in the last two years. Helm's has been purchased by new owners since I was there, so things may have changed. A lot of people seem to like Kilowatt but I have never really "gotten" it, though they did win a 2018 GABF medal for their chocolate porter. Pizza Port is famous and historically important to craft beer in San Diego. They keep winning beer competition medals, too, but most of the time I myself underwhelmed both by their food and their beer — with all the time and success they have had, I think they should be great rather than just good. Taking all this into account, here's my recommended Ocean Beach beer tour:
Eight craft breweries and tasting rooms make Ocean Beach a prime location for a beer tour. Here’s a link to the Google Map so you can navigate this route on your phone.
Start at Mike Hess. Make sure your flight includes Habitus, a Rye DIPA that is one of my favorite beers in the world (also the 2014 World Beer Cup gold medalist for rye beer).
Walk to Pizza Port. Eat here, or at the next stop, Hodad's.
Hodad's is new and only has four house beers at the time of writing.
Walk two blocks away from the beach to Culture. World class beer, including their GABF medal-winning Brown and Blonde ales.
Cross the street to Belching Beaver. Their Peanut Butter Milk Stout is their most famous beer, but they have awesome IPAs too.
Go back towards the water, stopping at Helm's.
Cross the street and check out Kilowatt, or come back here for the nighttime partiers after you see the sunset at OB Brewery.
End the afternoon on the rooftop at OB Brewery. You can eat here if needed after all that beer and, even if you are not a huge fan of the beer, the rooftop patio has amazing views of the ocean. You could try to time it for sunset for maximum effect.
Eight locations is too many for one day even if you have a large chunk of time. Hodad's, Helm's and Kilowatt are the ones to leave out if you need to. You can always come back for a second day. I say Culture and Hess are the two “must do” ones for beer quality, OB Brewing for the patio, Belching Beaver and Pizza Port for beer and history.
An alternative route that is 0.1 miles shorter is this one:
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In 2018, the East Village of San Diego's downtown suddenly became a beer destination to rival North Park. Well, okay, maybe not quite that good. But really good, for sure.
East Village has long had some craft beer gems, of course. The venerable Stone Tap Room next to the ballpark. Half Door Brewing is a crowd favorite. Mission. Knotty Brewing. And, until earlier this year when it closed down, the well-loved Monkey Paw.
But now, there are suddenly eight breweries and satellite tasting rooms in this pretty small area. That number will soon to grow to nine when Little Miss opens their tasting room directly across the street from Duck Foot (current best guess, in January 2019), and in the not-too-distant-future it will be ten when Bay City opens their tasting room next to Knotty Brewing (projected opening summer 2019). Plus there is 10 Barrel, but it is owned by Big Beer so it doesn't count as craft even though the company started in Oregon as, and still looks like, a craft beer place. That's not to mention the six other craft breweries and tasting rooms in the rest of downtown, and the five in neighboring Barrio Logan to the south.
East Village is a convenient area for a concentration of beer locations: it is close to the Convention Center, hotels, Petco Park and transit hubs. The Gaslamp Quarter is immediately to the west; the people who go there for food and drink could easily find their way to East Village for craft beer. There is a lot of apartment construction in East Village now, too, and it seems to be targeted at young professionals, a group that enjoys craft beer. Befitting the convention crowds, tourists, and wealthier residents coming to the area, many of the craft beer locations in East Village are slick and polished in a way that isn't common enough in some other parts of the county.
Right now, East Village is home to the following breweries and tasting rooms. The links will take you to my reviews of each location.
Little Miss Brewing East Village (tasting room, food?)
Bay City Brewing East Village (tasting room, barrel aging)
The most efficient path I've found is the one pictured below, which lets you hit all eight (soon nine, later ten) in about a 1.4 mile walk. Interestingly, the Little Miss and Bay City locations are so close to the spots already on this route that adding them doesn't add much distance.
San Diego’s East Village neighborhood is home to eight (soon ten) craft breweries and tasting rooms you can hit on a 1.4 mile walk. Here’s a link to the Google Map so you can navigate on your phone.
Here's a short but good route that takes you to five (soon six, eventually seven) in a 0.9 mile loop that starts and stops at the Park & Market trolley stop. That is excellent strategy since you don't want to be driving on a beer tour like this one.
Or, if you have a merely-extraordinary liver rather than a super-human one, you can split the tour into two groupings over two visits:
First leg of a two-day craft beer tour of San Diego’s East Village.
The second leg of a two-day craft beer tour of San Diego’s East Village neighborhood.
If you just want a "best of" list, well, that's definitely a matter of personal preference. But this is what I would do if I had one day and wanted to hit four spots in about four hours. You could sub in Stone’s Tap Room on J Street for any of these, too.
Like most parts of San Diego, East Village is spoiled for choice when it comes to craft beer. The good news is, you can hardly go wrong. Even at Hodad’s where the beer isn’t yet up to San Diego standards, you can still get an excellent burger and lay down a good foundation for all the beer you will enjoy on your tour.
My fellow beer blogger, Paul from SDHopAddict.com, recenty posted his own tour hitting his highlights of Downtown and East Village. You might want to compare for another perspective. (He is more of a “haze bro” than I am, so if your tastes run that direction he’ll steer you right.)
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