Exploring the craft beer scene of San Diego, California.
If you ever get the chance to visit the West Coast, be prepared for hops! It’s a well-known fact that California loves their IPAs and there’s definitely a wide-variety tapped and brewed throughout the San Diego County. This isn’t to say it’s all about the hops, but it will be a big part of your trip.
If you’re flying, one of your first stops should be Karl Strauss Brewing Company, a small chain of independent brewpubs, much like our area’s Iron Hills. A Karl Strauss bar can be found in the airport, perfect for getting a taste of what San Diego has to offer, such as their Tower 10 IPA, a well hopped ale featuring a blend of Chinook, Cascade, and Centennial hops.
From there, start the brewery tours! San Diego is home to many of the hottest breweries sending their delicious brews to the Philly beer scene such as Stone, The Lost Abbey/Port Brewing Co., Green Flash, and Ballast Point. Getting around to these more well-known breweries is nothing but a day trip, but you will need a car. Although, you’ll be surprised to find most of their beers are available in our region, every brewer offers tasting room specialties not commonly distributed, making the experience well worth the trip. Not to mention, you won’t get it fresher than from the brewer’s taps.
And of the above mentioned breweries, nothing is as impressive as Stone. Aside from the sheer scale of the brewery (which is undergoing a massive expansion), Stone also has its “World Bistro and Gardens,” one of the most extravagant and architecturally impressive restaurant spaces found on the West Coast. The massive outdoor patio and beer garden features ponds, fire pits, a flower-lined walking trail, and plenty of grassy landscapes to enjoy with a glass in hand. Add the 32 drafts on tap (including many guest beers), extensive bottle and wine list, and a gourmet menu built on local, small-farm organic produce, and you have yourself a place you won’t want to leave. If you plan for dinner, be sure to make reservations weeks in advance, as the Bistro has become a widely popular destination.
For the home brewer, stopping at White Labs is a must. The yeast company recently built their own tasting room featuring many California beers brewed with their yeasts in addition to a diverse selection of beers brewed just for the tasting room, where recipes are fundamentally the same per style but yeast is changed in order to give a person a truly unique experience in tasting how the yeast effects the flavor of the beer. You may even be able to sample beers brewed with new, unreleased yeast strains going through taste and fermentation tests.
Make sure you enjoy the weather and have yourself a day at the beach! When you’re done or need to grab lunch, check out Pizza Port in Ocean Beach, one of the handful of brewpub locations in California. Just as the name suggests, it’s a pizza joint and definitely nothing fancy when you walk through the door. The place appears to be akin to a stop on the AC boardwalk. But don’t let looks fool you. Pizza Port cleans up at the Great American Beer Festival year after year with many standouts. And these beers are only available at their locations, making it a must-stop for your pursuit of something unique and bold.
If bar hopping is your interest, you’ll be hard pressed to find a bar that doesn’t have good local beers on tap throughout the entire region. One destination that is worth mentioning is Toronado in North Park which features an extensive draft list but also 100+ bottles including many vintage and limited release beers.
San Diego is an awesome place with a great beer scene of its own. Things are a little more spread out, making a car a necessity, but driving through the beautiful landscape with the incredible weather is hardly a punishment. Just be sure to take it easy on the brews since it can easily be 15-20 minute hikes between destinations. Finally, be sure to pick up a copy of “West Coaster” a local beer newspaper found at most beer bars, brewpubs, and breweries for up to date events and a location directory. It’s definitely a helpful guide to navigating the scene!