Bruce Glassman

About Bruce Glassman

Bruce Glassman is the author or numerous books on San Diego craft beer, including the award-winning San Diego’s Top Brewers. His San Diego Brewery Guide, which offers essential information on each brewery, tasting notes, and touring maps, is available at www.georgianbaybooks.com.
Bruce Glassman

A Six-Pack of San Diego’s Best New Little Breweries

San Diego’s beer scene has simply exploded over the past five years. That growth has meant expansion of all kinds. It has meant more breweries, but it also means that little guys have gotten medium-sized and the medium-sized have gotten big.

San Diego now boasts about a dozen breweries that are producing in the tens of thousands of barrels per year. Some, such as Stone Brewing Co., Karl Strauss Brewery, Green Flash Brewing Co and Ballast Point are on the country’s Top 50 Largest Craft Breweries list (Stone is currently #10).

The big breweries in town make great beer – that’s a major reason why they’re the big breweries! – but the vast majority of brewers in San Diego are relatively small. Most are brewing on 7-barrel or 10-barrel systems that can’t output more than a few thousand barrels per year at absolute maximum.

The nice thing about San Diego’s small craft brewers is that, in general, their systems still require them to craft every batch by hand – dumping in bags of grain one by one, measuring out hops, and pitching their yeast at just the right time. The handcrafted beverages they produce reflect the personal passion and attention that made these folks want to be brewers in the first place. While it’s certainly convenient to pick up a San Diego six-pack at a grocery store or bottle shop, most of the packaged beer available in those outlets is from medium to larger breweries. If you really want to “support local” and “drink local” it’s also important to visit the little guys. You’ll be glad you did. And I know they’ll be glad you did!

Here’s a list of six new outstanding small breweries that have opened recently. They all show great promise, they all make great beer, and – who knows – someday soon you may be seeing them on the list of the Top 50 Largest Craft Breweries in America.

1.

Amplified Ale Works

Amplified Ale Works Tasters

This is actually the second location for this brewery – the first was on Mission Avenue in Pacific Beach – but this is the first space they’ve had where they can house a decent-sized brewing system. This is good, because Amplified’s brewer Cy Henley is a talented guy who can now let his brewing colors fly.

The new tasting room (with brewery in back) is designed with fun touches that echo the rock ‘n roll theme of the brewery. A video loop of a live rock show plays on the wall, concert graphics and posters adorn the other walls, and tasting flights are served in nifty guitar-shaped boards.

The brewery offers a nice range and variety of beers, including their award-winning brews, Sell Out Lager (winner at the 2016 San Diego International Beer Festival) and Whammy Bar Wheat (winner at the 2016 World Beer Cup). When you visit, don’t miss a chance to taste Electrocution IPA (their most popular) and Electro-Lite, which is a deeply satisfying session IPA that clocks it at a mere 3.9% ABV.

Where: 9030 Kenamar Dr #309, San Diego, CA 92121
> Find out more about Amplified Ale Works

2. Pure Project Brewing

Orange Cream Ale - Pure Project

When you visit Amplified, you won’t have to go far to get to Pure Project; they are literally right next door. This is fortunate for the beer tourist, as you can enjoy two of San Diego’s best new breweries by making only one stop.

The tasting room is nicely designed with wood and floral features that are inspired both by nature and by Costa Rica, where the founders lived before returning to San Diego to start their brewery.

Brewer Winslow Sawyer cut his teeth brewing in Northern California, so he brings a somewhat different approach to the mix. He came to San Diego with a No-Cal palate and an affinity for more offbeat styles like gose and Kentucky common. All of Pure Project’s beers are very good, but their fruit-centric cream ales and wheat beers tend to be the hands-down crowd pleasers.

Where: 9030 Kenamar Dr #308, San Diego, CA 92121
> Find out more Pure Project Brewing

3. Division 23

Berliner Weiss - Division 23 - San Diego Breweries

Only minutes from Amplified and Pure, you’ll find Division 23 tucked away in yet another nondescript office park. You have to be persistent and follow the signs all the way to the back of this complex, but the hunt pays off with a casual and comfortable bar-style tasting room complete with shuffleboard, ping-pong, and comfy couches.

Division 23 offers a nice selection of well-made beers, including a few stouts and IPAs, but the most interesting option is the Berliner Weiss. Tasty and refreshing on its own, it’s even more fun sampled with a variety of flavored syrups, which are offered at the bar. The standout mix was the Thai-spiced Berliner Weiss with a splash of coconut syrup. Truly a super-delish treat.

Where: 7408 Trade St, San Diego, CA 92121
> Find out more about Division 23

4. Resident Brewing Company

Resident Brewing Tasting Room

Here’s a downtown destination where you can actually do a little bit of everything. You can sample the tasty beers from Resident, you can find great craft beers from other producers, and you can enjoy a full menu if you’re hungry.

The Local, on 4th Avenue just across from the Grant Hotel, used to be one of downtown’s best craft beer bars, and – now that Resident Brewing opened up in the (expanded) space and starting brewing right there on the premises – it’s even better.

The large space offers plenty of seating, tables for big groups, and a full menu of pub-centric food. The front section, as you enter, takes you into the Local, which remains one of the city’s best spots for craft suds. Moving toward the back, you’ll find the tasting room area for Resident Brewing.

Brewer Robert Masterson does a nice job with a range of food-friendly and crowd-pleasing styles. The Perky Blonde was notable for its excellent mouthfeel, its bready-biscuity flavors, and its crisp, clean finish. Other standouts include the Vacation Coconut IPA, (which has just the right amount of flavoring without overwhelming the beer) and the Back Alley Porter, which had alluring aromas of coffee, vanilla, and bittersweet chocolate.

Where: 411 C St, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about Resident Brewing

5. Bay City Brewing

Bay City Brewing Tasters

Nestled in the shadow of Sports Arena, this light and spacious tasting room provides plenty of space to gather with friends. A few large tables, a nice big bar, and some four-tops provide plenty of options.

The size of the space, as well as their impressive tanks and equipment, may make Bay City the largest brewery on this list of little guys. But, they’re still brewing on a relatively tiny scale.

Brewer Chris West learned his trade on a variety of small systems that provided ample opportunities to be creative and different. His modest lineup here is no exception. There are a few straightforward selections (including a very creamy and flavorful Vienna lager), but the more offbeat brews provide the real interest. If the Brown Sour or the Coffee Pale Ale are on tap when you visit, be sure to get some tastes.

Where: 3760 Hancock St, San Diego, CA 92110
> Find out more about Bay City Brewing

6. Bear Roots Brewing

Bear Roots Brewing Tasting Room

The brewing system at Bear Roots is definitely the smallest on this list (basically a homebrew setup). They probably best embody our nod to the “little guys.”

This cozy, rustic tasting room was a homebrew supply shop before it was redesigned. Now, homebrewing supplies share space with a comfortable sofa, some tables, and a welcoming, spacious bar.

Owner and brewer Terry Little, an experienced home brewer, has put together a simple, straightforward collection of well-made, full-flavored beers, including a very tasty Nelson IPA, a chocolate-caramel-vanilla laden Scotch Ale, and a deliciously decadent Peanut Butter Milk Stout.

Where: 1213 S Santa Fe Ave, Vista, CA 92083
> Find out more about Bear Roots Brewing

> Discover more San Diego Breweries

Bruce Glassman

Three Cheers for the Little Guys – 8 Small Breweries to Check Out

Three Cheers for the Little Guys - 8 Small Breweries to Check Out

If you’ve heard about San Diego craft beer, you’ve probably heard about Stone, Green Flash Ballast Point, and AleSmith. These are San Diego’s biggest and most widely distributed breweries (and they all produce fantastic beer!). Because they’re so good and so big, you can likely find their beers in shops all across the country. When visiting, these are also the breweries at which you’ll have the most “polished” brewery experience. Their spacious tasting rooms are beautifully designed and there are tons of taps…

So here’s an idea:

If you’re planning to spend a day or two touring San Diego’s 120+ breweries, make sure you make some time for the little guys. Why? Well, for five reasons specifically – and here’s my thinking:

1. The new guys have to be excellent or they’re dead in the water

With so many great breweries in town, the barrier to entry for the new brewers is pretty tough. And the bar has been set awfully high. But that’s good. That means the newbies have to come out of the gate with quality brews if they’re going to have a chance of survival – and most of them do.

2. You can only get the little guys here in San Diego

If you’re going to be here for a visit, why not experience some of the breweries that can’t be seen or tasted anywhere else? A lot of the small brewers are doing creative and interesting things, experimenting with new techniques and ingredients, and doing small batches that are here one day and gone the next. Being small and independent gives them the freedom to play around and – while that’s not always a recipe for success – at least it’s interesting.

3. The small guys need visitors

Most of the smaller breweries rely entirely on tasting room sales to stay afloat. Their systems (most of which are 10-barrel systems or smaller) can’t produce enough beer to go into full-scale distribution or even bottling. So the business model for these breweries is to sell everything they make through their tasting room.

4. You’re encouraging independence and innovation

By supporting the small brewers, you’re also supporting the notion that anyone can make great beer on any scale. The more brewers we encourage, the more diversified our talent pool will become, and that’s good for everybody.

5. It’s all about the beer

The typical tasting room at one of San Diego’s nanos is housed behind a rollup door in a light industrial office park; Not exactly a feature spread in Home & Garden. Concrete floors, simple seating, and inexpensive design are the hallmark of the San Diego small guy. But there’s actually a benefit to going without all the bells and whistles: it makes you focus on the beer. And, let’s face it, even our greatest brewery success stories began in humble basements or garages where our brewers first unleashed their true passion for making beer. 

It is important to point out a few things about San Diego’s nano breweries. First, with 120+ breweries in the mix, not all the small guys are making gold-medal beer. So, let it be said that just being small is no guarantee of greatness. Second, not all the new small guys are new to brewing. In fact, a number of the really good new breweries in town have been started by brewers who had considerable pro brewing experience under their belts.

8 Superior Small Guys

New breweries in San Diego county are currently opening at an average rate of one per month! So there’s no worry about finding small, new places to visit, no matter where in the county you may be. Here’s a list of 8 superior small guys who have shown the beer community at large that they have what it takes to stick around:

1. Benchmark Brewing (Grantville)

This family-run operation is headed up by a former brewer from AleSmith who knows his stuff. Their charming tasting room is outfitted with lots of comfortable, “crafty” touches, and top-notch beers.

2. Bolt Brewing (La Mesa)

Their brewery is a quonset hut. Their bar is a small structure with a rollup door, and their tasting room is a sunny outdoor patio space. Despite the lack of frills, Bolt’s lineup is high quality and nicely varied, with excellent options for hopheads and malt lovers alike.

3. Council Brewing Company (Kearny Mesa)

This husband and wife team (she’s the brewer) offer visitors a nice selection of hoppy ales, as well as a number of more interesting, less commonly brewed beers. The tasting room is airy and comfortable, with high ceilings and rollup doors that open to drench the space in sunshine.

4. Fall Brewing Company (North Park)

Set in a semi-residential neighborhood on San Diego’s most beer-centric street (30th Street), Fall is a cozy and welcoming place that offers a quality lineup and showcases the talents of a longtime brewer who brings his experience from Mission, Maui, and St Archer to this new endeavor. 

5. Half Door Brewing Co. (Downtown)

This family-owned-and-operated establishment sits inside a historic two-story house on the corner of Island and 8th Avenue. The brewer, who came up at Coronado Brewing, crafts a nice range of small batch, full-flavored beers, all of which pair well with the pub-style menu they offer (try the fish & chips!).

6. O’Sullivan Bros. Brewing Company (Scripps Ranch)

A simple, tiny tasting room with 10 taps, this nano offers visitors a nice selection of Irish-inspired beer styles, including malty browns, ambers, stouts, and porters.

7. 32 North Brewing Company (Miramar)

This new brewery offers an impressive mix of beer styles and interesting flavor combinations. The tasting room, though simply appointed, is spacious and open with plenty of room to move around.

8. Toolbox Brewing Company (Vista)

This little brewery came out of the gate with a desire to be different. They offer well-made hoppy ales as well as some malty ones. What distinguishes them is their selection of brettanomyces (wild yeast strain) beers, which produce oodles of sour, funky, fruity, fabulous flavors.

> Explore San Diego’s 120+ Breweries

Bruce Glassman

8 San Diego Brews Spreading the Holiday Beer Cheer

8 San Diego Brews Spreading Holiday Beer Cheer
8 San Diego Brews Spreading Holiday Beer Cheer

Photo by Bruce Glassman

There’s no shortage of beer innovation in San Diego – it goes on all year long – but the holiday season always provides an extra-special inspiration for many brewers. All over the county, brewery tasting rooms are tapping small-batch and specialty brews that were created especially to bring extra holiday cheer to craft beer fans.

Given their limited quantities of holiday brews, most of the medium and small brewers in town will restrict their special releases to their tasting rooms. In some cases, very limited bottlings will be available, but – again – mostly at the brewery location. If you’re in the holiday spirit – or want to get some holiday spirits – I encourage you to check your favorite breweries online (or use TapHunter or similar apps) to see what’s being offered and when. Then head out and get to those tasting rooms, as specialty beers from good brewers never last long.
San Diego for the Holidays

If, for some reason, you miss out on a holiday beer you wanted from a small brewery, don’t fret. There are also a bunch of great holiday releases that you can find in bottles at many major retail outlets, including many of the big supermarkets (and also at the breweries themselves). These beers tend to be from the larger producers in town, but they are every bit as fun and tasty as anything being made in San Diego. They also make awesome gifts for those special beer-lovers in your life…

Here’s a round-up of holiday beers I was able to preview. In addition to tasting notes, I’ve also included some thoughts about pairings. After all, with all those pecan pies, Christmas cookies, and buche de noels around the house, you’ll want a few beverages to help wash them down. Besides, who needs more eggnog, anyway?!

1. Six Suits A Hangin’ (Karl Strauss/Pacific Beach)

This Imperial Belgian-style brown ale is a dark, rich, full-bodied brew that has been aged in French oak. It has aromas of freshly baked bread and spices, and has flavors of molasses, caramel, nuts, peppery spice, with a hint of tropical bubble gum. This beer paired very well with apple pie and pumpkin pie, but was an absolute knockout with orange bourbon pecan pie.

> Find out more about Karl Strauss Brewing Company

2. Jolly Folly IPA (Green Flash/Mira Mesa)

Holidays are for hop-heads, too! Even though most holiday releases tend to be heavier, more malt-driven styles, there are a few beers out there for hop lovers as well. This IPA is bold, West-coast-style hoppy brew with major aromas of pine (Christmas tree!) and freshly cut grass. With a medium mouthfeel, this beer delivers crisp, piny hop flavors with a hint of honey and pleasingly bitter finish. We paired this with a spicy chili, which was wonderful, but other spicy or highly seasoned stews or soups would fare equally well.

> Find out more about Green Flash Brewing Co.

3. XOCOVEZA (Stone/Escondido)

How about a Mexican hot chocolate for the holidays? Well, Stone has brewed the beer version. This thick and rich mocha stout is brewed with cocoa, coffee, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and Pasilla peppers, all of which waft from the glass as soon as it’s poured. Dark chocolate, coffee, and cinnamon are predominant flavors, along with notes of vanilla, smoky pepper, and nutmeg. Stone has released a few variations of this beer, including an extra-special “charred” version, which has been aged in bourbon barrels. Perfect pairings include chocolate, pecan pie, almond cookies, and roasted nuts, but this is one you can also simply sip by itself in front of the fire pit.

> Find out more about Stone Brewing Co.

4. Mission Holiday Ale (Mission/Downtown)

This Belgian-style dark ale smells of raisins, candied fruit, figs, plums, and the characteristic “breadiness” of the Belgian yeast. The beer tastes of molasses, raisins, and candied fruit, with a light spiciness. Best pairings include cherry pie, chocolate cookies, and candied nuts.

> Find out more about Mission Brewery

5. Gift of the Magi (Lost Abbey/San Marcos)

According to their web site, this rich golden ale is brewed with a small amount of Myrrh (an herb) and is bittered with the help of Frankincense (for some reason they left out the gold!). On the nose, this beer smells of caramel, honey, and raisins and has flavors of caramel, raisins, and pecans, along with a pleasing spiciness, a light funk from the Brettanomyces yeast, and crisp hop bitterness. Pumpkin cake and almond biscotti were equally perfect pairings with this beer, but this gem would also surely enhance any fruitcake.

> Find out more about The Lost Abbey

6. Santa’s Little Helper (Port/San Marcos)

This imperial stout is a perfect example of its style. Rich aromas of chocolate, coffee, and caramel come out of the glass, backed up by plenty of chocolate, coffee, and caramel flavors in your mouth. If you want to turbo-charge your stout experience, Port also offers a bourbon-barrel-aged version of this beer, which has all the deliciousness of the base stout with the added decadence of bourbon notes. Chocolate covered espresso beans and chocolate covered walnuts were seamless pairings for this brew, as would be any kind of chocolate cake or mocha dessert, such as Tiramisu.

> Find out more about Port Brewing Company

7. Macaroon Nut Brown (Aztec/Vista)

Ever wonder what a beer equivalent of a Mounds bar would be? Well, wonder no longer. Aztec’s special end-of-year release has big coconut on nose and an intense coconut flavor. It’s a brown, so it has a lighter mouthfeel and body than a stout, along with a lighter maltiness. Pair this with chocolate cookies, chocolate covered walnuts, or – yes! – even a Mounds bar.

> Find out more about Aztec Brewing Company

8. Enlightenment (Twisted Manzanita/Santee)

Here’s what you’d get if you dropped your candy cane into your beer glass and waited for it to dissolve…This Santee brewery usually creates their peppermint-infused chocolate stout just in time for the holidays. The beer has strong aromas of eucalyptus and peppermint, with candy cane flavors that are supported by a light maltiness, a light mouthfeel, and hints of dark chocolate. Pair this with dark chocolate truffles, chocolate pastry/cookies, cheesecake, or vanilla ice cream.

> Find out more about Twisted Manzanita Ales & Spirits

> Sip & Savor at 100+ San Diego Breweries

Happy Holidays!

Bruce Glassman

Walk This Way: 8 Great Downtown San Diego Tap Lists

8 Best Taphouses in Downtown San Diego
8 Best Taphouses in Downtown San Diego

Photo by Bruce Glassman

Yes, San Diego is home to more than 100 awesome breweries, and each has its own tasting room (some have two or three!). But, San Diego is a big county and, though many breweries are somewhat “grouped” in geographical areas, the majority of them are a 20-40 minute drive from downtown. So, how do you sample some of America’s finest beer from America’s Finest City if you’re only going to be downtown? It’s simple: There are a slew of great bars to choose from, if you know what to look for. And they’re all within a 20-block radius of one another, which means, you can easily sample a few different places while you stroll around.

You can find San Diego beer on almost every menu in the city at this point, which is great, but the majority of downtown restaurants and bars are still pushing the mass-produced stuff harder than the craft stuff. The eight places on the list below are notable for the depth and breadth of their craft beer taps and bottle lists, most of which often include at least 50% San Diego beers (though these things rotate and change on a sometimes daily basis).

Just for fun, I’ve also noted the places that do some interesting craft beer cocktails. These offerings come in especially handy when craft beer lovers are out and about with craft-beer newbies…they offer a “kinder gentler” way to start appreciating the wonderful array of flavors available in great craft beer.

Here’s the list of my recommendations, starting on Beech Street (in Little Italy) and working south and east toward Island:

1. Craft & Commerce

Spacious and welcoming, with seating options both indoors and out, this craft-and-cocktail-centric restaurant is easy to settle into. In addition to its full menu of tasty and creative comfort food, Craft & Commerce has about two dozen taps of well-chosen craft beers. They also offer about five different craft beer cocktails, including a delicious IPA cocktail (IPA, grapefruit-infused asperol, orgeat, and lemon) and the Pony Boy (Ballast Point’s Wahoo Wheat with cynar, lemon, and honey).

Where: 675 W. Beech St. San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about Craft & Commerce

2. Downtown Johnny Brown’s

Feel like going on a little treasure hunt? You can’t see DTJB’s from the street (it’s tucked inside the courtyard that houses the Civic Center) but this classic San Diego beer bar is worth seeking out. The ambience is no-frills and the food is basic pub fare, but the tap list (about 30 handles) and selection have made it a downtown beer mecca. Also to its credit: DTJB’s was one of the first bars downtown to actively embrace, promote, and support the San Diego craft beer movement – so, big props to them.

Where: 1220 3rd Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about Downtown Johnny Brown’s

3. The Beer Co.

Here’s a place where you can taste a small lineup of beers brewed on premises in addition to a nice array of other craft handles. A large bar dominates the somewhat dark but nicely done space, which also has tables and booth seating. The 20+ tap handles offer good variety and tend to focus on easy drinking selections that pair well with the food on the full bar menu.

Where: 602 Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101

4. Quad Alehouse

One of the newer (and nicer) beer bars downtown, this spacious and tastefully designed space offers big windows, more light, and a much nicer view than most of its Fifth Avenue neighbors. Being up high, on the third floor, is a nice option, and it’s fun to have more than 28 taps to choose from while you look out at the bustling Gaslamp below.

Where: 868 Fifth Avenue, 3rd Floor, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about Quad Alehouse

5. The Tipsy Crow

Head south on Fifth Avenue from Quad Ale House and, within a minute, you’ll be standing in front of The Tipsy Crow. This well-established bar has been offering patrons the “classic” pub experience for many years: the ground floor offers low light, dark wood booths, and small darkened spaces, while the second floor offers a more comfortable lounge-inspired setting. The tap list is a bit lean, but the bottle list, with about 80 selections, makes up for it.

Where: 770 Fifth Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about The Tipsy Crow

6. The Hopping Pig

One more block south on Fifth brings you to The Hopping Pig, which has more in common with the Tipsy Crow than Quad Ale House. Those who crave the ambience of their favorite dive bar will find this space comforting, and their tap list, which comprises more than 30 handles, will provide more than enough choice to make your visit a tasty one.

Where: 748 Fifth Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about The Hopping Pig

7. Neighborhood

This smallish corner bar beckons those who appreciate the eclectic approach to watering holes. Filled with all sorts of curious objects and images, including mounted stuffed animals, rubber dolls, and religious iconography, Neighborhood also provides an eclectic mix of beverages. Their excellent lineup of 28 taps provides good breadth and depth, but the full bar also offers a deep list of bourbons and whiskeys, including their own homemade fireball hooch, which is well worth a try.

Where: 777 G St, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about Neighborhood

8. Stella Public House

Seekers of the light will de-light in the space that makes up Stella Public House. Much of the pub/bar opens to the outside and overlooks the Coronado Bridge and a large span of town that backs up to Petco and the new library. 30 taps, including two hi-tech nitro taps, provide an excellent selection of well-chosen beers, about half of which on average are local. Stella also had one of the more developed menus of craft beer cocktails, which includes a MAI IPA (Mai Tai mix with IPA and lemon), a Fizzy Gin (Belgian beer with Tanquerey, lemon, and agave), and a Breakfast Beer (Stoli Raz, Coffee, and Belching Beaver Peanut Butter Stout).

Where: 1429 Island Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about Stella Public House

Bruce Glassman

Ales and Ambience: San Diego's 10+ Best Tasting Rooms

One of Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits Tasting Rooms - Miramar
One of Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits Tasting Rooms - Miramar

Courtesy of Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits

Have you ever noticed that things taste better when you”re in the right surroundings? The beer and wine experience, especially, improves when you”re sharing with friends and doing it in a great space. That”s why San Diego”s best tasting rooms and brewery spaces are worth noting (and seeking out).

Of course, great tasting rooms come in as many varieties as there are beers, so I”ve decided to offer a few thoughts on what I think are the best of the best in 10 categories (all of which have to also provide excellent beer). That way, you can decide for yourself which kind of tasting room experience will best suit your needs.

1. Best Interior Design: Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits (Miramar)

This is by far the largest and most “designed” of Ballast”s 4 great locations, and it offers a nice mix of spaces in which to enjoy the wide variety of beers on tap. From the large bar, visitors can sit and look into the enormous production area, where two huge copper kettles are proudly displayed. Nearby, an area with comfortable sofas and chairs provides a more private option for those who want to sit and chat quietly. A large outdoor patio space gives sun worshippers still another option for sitting, sipping, and dining on treats from the kitchen, which offers a full menu.

Where: 9045 Carroll Way, San Diego, CA 92121
> Find out more about Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits

2. Best Outdoor Space: Bagby Beer Company (Oceanside)

There is plenty of nice indoor space at this new Oceanside brewery, but the variety of outdoor space is what makes it unique. Upstairs, a rooftop patio provides good seating and tables, as well as a partial view of the water. Downstairs, the courtyard area encompasses an Adirondack-equipped deck area as well as open-air seating with a view directly into the brewhouse. Another outdoor area surrounds a large bar and a brick oven that cooks up a nice selection of delicious items, including pizza.

Where: 601 S Coast Hwy, Oceanside, CA 92054
> Find out more about Bagby Beer Company

3. Most Comfortable & Casual Space: Acoustic Ales Brewing Experiment (Midtown) and Mother Earth Tap House (Vista)

For a small, intimate, and comfortable room, Acoustic offers one of the best layouts in town. Overstuffed sofas and chairs add to the “speakeasy” feel, and a bar, high-top bar tables and chairs, provide the more traditional options. For a grander, more spacious option, Mother Earth features a very large bar, plenty of tables (some communal), and a nice outdoor patio space.

Acoustic Ales: 2120 Washington St, San Diego, CA 92110
> Find out more about Acoustic Ales

Mother Earth Tap House: 206 Main St, Vista, CA 92084
> Find out more about Mother Earth Brew Co.

4. Most Kid-Friendly Space: Pizza Port Bressi Ranch (Carlsbad)

All of Pizza Port”s locations are fun, loud, casual, family-centric places, but their newest (and largest) location in Bressi Ranch is by far the easiest for kid-wrangling. Family-style picnic tables fill the large space downstairs, and a balcony area upstairs provides a (tiny bit) quieter option. Outside, a fire pit online casino is surrounded by cushioned sofa seating, which provides a comfy spot for sipping as the sun sets.

Where: 2730 Gateway Rd, Carlsbad, CA 92009
> Find out more about Pizza Port

5. Most Social Atmosphere: South Park Brewing (South Park) and Monkey Paw (16th Ave. at F)

It”s no coincidence that these two places are owned by the same guy, Scot Blair, who also owns Hamilton”s Tavern and Small Bar. Blair”s vision for all his establishments is to provide a welcoming, casual, accessible atmosphere for enjoying great beers. His newest venture, South Park Brewing, combines a small-batch on-site brewing operation with a casual seafood pub. The large wooden communal tables and booths are perfect for families and groups, and the vibe is no frills, relaxed, and friendly. Monkey Paw is more of a traditional pub atmosphere, with large dark-wood tables and a killer selection of craft beers, including great brews made right next door.

South Park Brewing: 1517 30th St, San Diego, CA 92102
> Find out more about South Park Brewing Company

Monkey Paw: 805 16th St., San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery

6. Funkiest Design Elements: Modern Times (Point Loma)

The large warehouse space that houses one of Modern Times two tasting rooms (the other in North Park) provides a somewhat unique opportunity to enjoy an abundance of air above your head – it feels a little like tasting beer in an airplane hangar. But that”s cool. The high ceilings also provide walls that serve as mega canvases; in this case, one wall has been covered with a giant mural by artist Amy Krone, who constructed the image with more than 12,000 Post-It notes. Other funky design elements include the bar made from hundreds of antique books, and a state-of-the art hi-tech growler station that fills with no foam.

Where: 3725 Greenwood St, San Diego, CA 92110
> Find out more about Modern Times Beer

7. Best Beer & Food Combination: URBN Street Brewing (El Cajon) and Karl Strauss Brewing Company (4S Ranch and other locations)

Most breweries in town do a great job with the menus they provide, but only one offers a truly excellent thin-crust brick oven pizza; that”s URBN Street. There are plenty of other tasty items to choose from, but the combination of great wood-fired pizza with a freshly brewed beer…well, let”s face it, that”s tough to beat. The large space provides plenty of options for groups and families to spread out, both indoors and out. For a more traditional “brewpub” menu, Karl Strauss offers a wider selection of specifically beer-centric food (don”t miss the black garlic fondue!), all paired with their food-friendly excellent quality brews.

URBN Street Brewing: 110 N Magnolia Ave, El Cajon, CA 92020
> Find out more about URBN Street Brewing

Karl Strauss Brewing Company: 10448 Reserve Dr, San Diego, CA 92127
> Find out more about Karl Strauss Brewing Company

8. Most Fun Stuff To Do: Stone Liberty Station (Point Loma)

One of the great things about Stone Brewing Co. is that they get to play big. Everything about their two main locations in Escondido and Liberty Station is well-designed, user-friendly, and large-scale. In addition to sampling from a stellar 40-tap lineup (and 100 bottles) at Liberty Station, visitors can play bocce on the bocce courts, watch outdoor movies at night, or hang around the fire pits or water features in the spacious beer garden.

Where: 2816 Historic Decatur Rd, San Diego, CA 92106
> Find out more about Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens – Liberty Station

9. Most unique space: Half Door Brewing (East Village)

So many small breweries in San Diego have taken up residence in light industrial office parks, brewing in a square space with concrete floors and a rollup door. That”s great – most of those folks have lovingly made each of those spaces their own. Half Door, however, went an entirely different route. They set up in an old two-story house downtown, where a large Southern-style porch is part of the tasting space and the downstairs main room is the bar. The result is an unusually comfortable and homey vibe, where the unique space provides an extra boost to the enjoyment of Half Door”s top-quality beers.

Where: 903 Island Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about Half Door Brewing Co.

10. Best view: Amplified Ale Works (Pacific Beach)

Lots of San Diego breweries have created their own beautiful settings in which to enjoy beer, but very few have access to a natural view. It”s not oceanfront, but the view from the patio at Amplified Ale Works includes a nice bunch of beach as well as views of the water. The open space is soothing, and there”s nothing more relaxing than sipping great beers while you inhale the unmistakable salty smell of the sea.

Where: 4150 Mission Blvd, Suite 208, San Diego, CA 92109
> Find out more about Amplified Ale Works

> San Diego Brews and Views You Can”t Refuse

> Sip at More Than 100 San Diego Breweries & Tasting Rooms

Bruce Glassman

Three Cheers for the Little Guys – San Diego’s Nano Breweries

San Diego Nano Breweries
San Diego Nano Breweries

Three Cheers for the Little Guys – San Diego’s Nano Breweries

If you’ve heard about San Diego craft beer, you’ve probably heard about Stone Brewing, Green Flash, Ballast Point, and AleSmith. These are San Diego’s biggest and most widely distributed breweries (and they all produce fantastic beer!). Because they’re so good and so big, you can likely find their beers in shops all across the country. When visiting, these are also the breweries at which you’ll have the most “polished” brewery experience. Their spacious tasting rooms are beautifully designed and there are tons of taps…

So here’s an idea:

If you’re planning to spend a day or two touring San Diego’s 100+ breweries, make sure you make some time for the little guys. Why? Well, for five reasons specifically – and here’s my thinking:

1. The new guys have to be excellent or they’re dead in the water

With so many great breweries in town, the barrier to entry for the new brewers is pretty tough. And the bar has been set awfully high. But that’s good. That means the newbies have to come out of the gate with quality brews if they’re going to have a chance of survival – and most of them do.

2. You can get the big guys’ beer all over, but you can only get the little guys here in San Diego

If you’re going to be here for a visit (or even if you’re just visiting from another part of town) why not experience some of the breweries that can’t be seen or tasted anywhere else? A lot of the small brewers are doing creative and interesting things, experimenting with new techniques and ingredients, and doing small batches that are here one day and gone the next. Being small and independent gives them the freedom to play around and – while that’s not always a recipe for success – at least it’s interesting.

3. The small guys need visitors

Most of the smaller breweries rely entirely on tasting room sales to stay afloat. Their systems (most of which are 10-barrel systems or smaller) can’t produce enough beer to go into full-scale distribution or even bottling. So the business model for these nano breweries is to sell everything they make through their tasting room.

4. You’re encouraging independence and innovation

By supporting the small brewers, you’re also supporting the notion that anyone can make great beer on any scale. The more brewers we encourage, the more diversified our talent pool will become, and that’s good for everybody.

5. It’s all about the beer

The typical tasting room at one of San Diego’s nano breweries is housed behind a rollup door in a light industrial office park – not exactly a feature spread in Home & Garden. Concrete floors, simple seating, and inexpensive design are the hallmark of the San Diego small guy. But there’s actually a benefit to going without all the bells and whistles: it makes you focus on the beer. And, let’s face it, even our greatest brewery success stories began in humble basements or garages where our brewers first unleashed their true passion for making beer.

It is important to point out a few things about San Diego’s nano breweries. First, with 100+ breweries in the mix, not all the small guys are making gold-medal beer. So, let it be said that just being small is no guarantee of greatness. Second, not all the new small guys are new to brewing. In fact, a number of the really good new breweries in town have been started by brewers who had considerable pro brewing experience under their belts.

8 Standout San Diego Nano Breweries

New breweries in San Diego county are currently opening at an average rate of one per month, so there’s no worry about finding small, new places to visit, no matter where in the county you may be. Here’s a list of 8 superior small guys who have shown the beer community at large that they have what it takes to stick around:

  1. Benchmark Brewing (Grantville)
    This family-run operation is headed up by a former brewer from AleSmith who knows his stuff. Their charming tasting room is outfitted with lots of comfortable, “crafty” touches, and the beer is all top-notch.
  2. Bolt Brewing (La Mesa)
    Their brewery is a quonset hut, their bar is a small structure with a rollup door, and their tasting room is a sunny outdoor patio space. Despite the lack of frills, Bolt’s lineup is high quality and nicely varied, with excellent options for hopheads and malt lovers alike.
  3. Council Brewing Company (Kearny Mesa)
    This husband and wife team (she’s the brewer) offer visitors a nice selection of hoppy ales, as well as a number of more interesting, less commonly brewed beers. The tasting room is airy and comfortable, with high ceilings and rollup doors that open to drench the space in sunshine.
  4. Fall Brewing Company (North Park)
    Set in a semi-residential neighborhood on San Diego’s most beer-centric street, 30th Street, Fall is a cozy and welcoming place that offers a quality lineup and showcases the talents of a longtime brewer who brings his experience from Mission, Maui, and St Archer to this new endeavor.
  5. Half Door Brewing Co. (Downtown)
    This family-owned-and-operated establishment sits inside a historic two-story house on the corner of Island and 8th. The brewer, who came up at Coronado Brewing, crafts a nice range of small batch, full-flavored beers, all of which pair well with the pub-style menu they offer (try the fish & chips!).
  6. O’Sullivan Bros. Brewing Company (Scripps Ranch)
    A simple, tiny tasting room with 10 taps, this nano offers visitors a nice selection of Irish-inspired beer styles, including malty browns, ambers, stouts, and porters.
  7. 32 North Brewing Company (Miramar)
    A few minutes down the street from Ballast Point’s flagship location, this new brewery offers an impressive mix of beer styles and interesting flavor combinations. The tasting room, though simply appointed, is spacious and open with plenty of room to move around.
  8. Toolbox Brewing Company (Vista)
    This little brewery came out of the gate with a desire to be different. They offer well-made hoppy ales as well as some malty ones, but what distinguishes them is their selection of brettanomyces (wild yeast strain) beers, which produce oodles of sour, funky, fruity, fabulous flavors.

> Safely Sip at San Diego’s Nano Breweries on a Chauffeured Brewery Tour

Bruce Glassman

The Flavor Debate: Pushing the Boundaries of Craft Beer

Craft Beer - Courtesy Candice Eley
Craft Beer - Courtesy Candice Eley

Should a craft beer just taste like beer?

What is beer supposed to taste like?

Hardcore craft beer fans are often divided on this question. On one side, you have the people who say “beer should taste like beer,” meaning that adding “crazy” flavors and ingredients takes away from the “true” craft beer experience. These folks also argue that there are plenty of variations in flavor that occur just by mixing up the four core ingredients of beer: water, malt, hops, and yeast. For example, some malts produce light, bready flavors, while others add notes of caramel, butterscotch, chocolate, or coffee. Some hops add a grassy or piney dimension, while others contribute flavors of tropical fruit and citrus. These flavors all occur “naturally” in the brewing and fermentation process.

The other side of the flavor debate says that the whole spirit of craft beer is about creativity, rebellion, and pushing the boundaries of what”s acceptable. These folks argue that experimentation with “crazy” ingredients or special flavorings only expands the possibilities of craft beer and highlights just how creative brewing can be.

San Diego, which is an epicenter of craft beer innovation, has no shortage of brewers who are looking to expand the boundaries of online casino flavor in beer. And, while there may be those who fundamentally disagree with the notion that beer can be “infused” or flavored with almost anything, the brewers who are exploring these avenues are worth our attention.

Here”s a partial list of ingredients that have been used in – or added to – San Diego beers that I have tasted:

Vanilla, coffee, chocolate, cinnamon, coconut, ginger, allspice, coriander, curry, cumin, cayenne, nutmeg, oregano, rosemary, sage, lavender, lemongrass, lime, grapefruit, blueberry, lemon, peach, apricot, mango, guava, watermelon, orange, apples, chipotle, Serrano, jalapeño, habañero, poblano, ghost peppers, pine nuts, maple, raisins, pumpkin, peppermint, agave, hibiscus, peanut butter, hazelnuts, and pecans. It”s a virtual farmer”s market of flavors!

Now, I”ll admit that not every one of these beers was a resounding success. It wasn’t that certain ingredients were wrong, it was that some of the ingredients were used wrongly – that is to say, ultimately they played too small or too large a part in the finished beer. It was a matter of balance. Most of the time, it was because the “crazy” flavor became the dominant flavor and the beverage no longer tasted like beer.

In many of the “experimental” or “specialty” beers, the flavors and balance were actually very good. And the overall experience was interesting, palate-expanding, and unique. (My first time tasting Ballast Point”s Indra Kunindra – which is brewed with curry, cayenne, cumin, coconut, and Kaffir lime – was actually mind-blowing.) And, even though many of these boundary-pushers are not beers you’d drink a whole pint of or reach for on a Wednesday night after work, they do play a valuable (even necessary) role in the overall craft beer conversation. They prove that almost nothing is off-limits and that beer is a wonderfully adaptable and flexible medium. Above all, these experiments give the curious beer enthusiast an opportunity to experience another dimension of what great craft beer can be.

> Sip and Savor San Diego”s Craft Beer Scene

Note: Most brewers do their experimenting in small batches, so their results are often consumed quickly. This means that, if an experimental beer is on tap when you visit a tasting room, go for it. It may be your only chance…

Bruce Glassman

“Props” for Hops: San Diego’s Sensational Session IPA Craze

San Diego Session IPA
San Diego Session IPA

San Diego Session IPAs offer a big, satisfying flavor without the knock-you-on-the-floor punch after a pint or two. Courtesy of The San Diego Brewery Guide/©Georgian Bay Books

San Diego is world famous for the quality of its craft beer, and also the creativity and innovation of its brewers. Of all the styles of beer the county produces, it is probably most famous for the creation and development of the “West Coast” or “San Diego Style” IPA, which is – above all other things – a super-fresh, super-hoppy, full-bodied beer that makes most other American IPAs seem like Pilsners or Kolschs. This “no excuses” style of IPA has become one of the hallmarks of San Diego brewing, but it has also presented one downside: The bigger beers tend to also be higher in alcohol and, thus, limiting in the amount that can be responsibly consumed.

When you talk with brewers, you find out that most of the great innovations in craft brewing start with what the brewers most want to drink for themselves. Being consummate hop-freaks, brewers – like any craft beer fans – want to be able to enjoy a big, satisfying flavor without being knocked on the floor after a pint or two. Enter the latest (and greatest) trend coming out of our brewing community: The San Diego Session IPA. The goal with a session IPA (named for its ability to be consumed in a “session,” meaning more than one) is to provide all the bright hoppy aromas, flavors, and body of a West Coast IPA without the attendant higher ABV. Needless to say, for the most die-hard hop-heads out there, this brewing trend is nothing short of manna from heaven.

How Do They Brew Session IPAs?

Each brewer has his or her own unique technique, and each is striving for a specific flavor profile. In most cases, brewers rely on the dramatic effects of heavy dry-hopping or “hop bursting” to pump up the aromas and flavors of their session beers. And many brewers have employed newer varieties of hops – recently released onto the market – to provide higher alpha acids, aromas, and compounds that more efficiently produce the desired effect. Mosaic and Galaxy hops have become quite popular in this regard, as are other newer hops – such as Cashmere, Motueka, El Dorado, and Meridian.

Lots of San Diego brewers have embraced the session IPA concept, so you’re likely to find some sort of session offering at a majority of tasting rooms around the county. For our purposes, I have defined a session IPA or pale ale as anything 5.5% ABV or below. Here is a small (and very incomplete) listing of session brews (in ascending order by ABV) that are especially notable for their great hop aromas, flavor, body, and ultimate drinkability. So go out and start a session today!

8 Great San Diego Session IPAs:

  1. Even Keel Session IPA (3.8% ABV) – Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits
  2. Go To IPA (4.5% ABV) – Stone Brewing Co.
  3. Citra Session IPA (4.5% ABV) – Green Flash Brewing Company
  4. Hop Solo Session IPA (4.6%) – Mother Earth Brew Co.
  5. Tush Session IPA (5%) – Acoustic Ales Brewing Experiment
  6. Penalty Shot/Evacuation Pale Ale (5.3%) – Nickel Brewing Co.
  7. Monkey Paw Hooked on Chinook American Pale Ale (5.3%) – Monkey Paw Brewery
  8. Publican IPA (5.5%) – Societe Brewing Co.
Bruce Glassman

San Diego Brews and Views You Can’t Refuse

Amplified Ale Works - Pacific Beach - Brews with a View
Amplified Ale Works - Pacific Beach - Brews with a View

Drink beer the San Diego way with a cold one in your hand a view of the Pacific Ocean. Photo courtesy of The San Diego Brewery Guide / Georgian Bay Books

In my humble opinion, the two greatest things about living in San Diego are the beaches and the beer. So, what could be better than combining the two? Here’s a list of breweries and brewpubs that offer the best combinations of brews with views. I’ve organized them from north to south – basically along the coast – from Oceanside all the way down to Coronado Island.

Surf on Up to Breakwater Brewing Company, Oceanside

Situated on the Coast Highway, Breakwater is only a block up from the beach. The brewpub has embraced the casual surfer vibe of the area, and even serves their tasting flights on little wooden surfboards. A perfect spot to relax after a day at the beach, Breakwater has a full menu and an impressive variety of taps that feature their own house brews (about 14) as well as guest beers (about 24). Be sure to also grab a taste of their Rabiscus Mead, which is a fairly unique offering.

Where: 101 N. Coast Highway, Oceanside, CA 92054
> Find out more about Breakwater Brewing Company

Coast on Down to Pizza Port, Carlsbad

Another casual, family friendly brewpub that’s only a few blocks or so from the water, Pizza Port has been a top local favorite for many years. Awesome pizzas and salads accompany some of San Diego’s most award-winning beers, all available from a large selection of taps (Sharkbite red and Swamis IPA are two crowd faves). Interesting guests beers are another regular feature of Pizza Port, as is the loud, fun, boisterous atmosphere that makes it a perfect after-beach chill for parents and kids alike.

Where: 571 Carlsbad Village, Carlsbad, CA 92008
> Find out more about Pizza Port Carlsbad

Drift Down to Pizza Port and Culture Brewing Co., Solana Beach

The Pizza Port in Solana Beach, like its siblings in Carlsbad and Ocean Beach, is also just a shell’s-throw from the water. And like all Pizza Ports, the beach-inspired setting is all about good food, great beer, and relaxing in a casual, friendly spot. Each Pizza Port shares certain beers with all the others, but each location also has its own brewer, so don’t miss the excellent offerings that are unique to each location.

Where: 135 N. Highway 101, Solana Beach, CA 92075
> Find out more about Pizza Port Solana Beach

Culture Brewing is just a block or two from Pizza Port and two blocks from the beach. As one of the “new kids,” this small tasting room and brewery has faced the challenge of offering their beers in the shadow of Pizza Port, which has been a Solana beer mecca for a long time. The talented folks at Culture, however, seem up to the task (try the black IPA if you can).

Where: 111 S Cedros Avenue, Solana Beach, CA 92075
> Find out more about Culture Brewing Co.

Float on Over to Karl Strauss, La Jolla

Karl Strauss has a number of excellent brewpubs located all over San Diego, but this one is closest to the water and the beach – though it is a few blocks up the hill, in town. One of the newer locations, this beautifully designed spot features large windows, an outdoor seating area, a full menu of great beer-inspired dishes, and a nice selection of the brewery’s tasty beers. On tap, usually, are some of Karl’s core production beers, some of their specialty beers, and one or two seasonals. (If available, don’t miss Off the Rails (red), Tower 20 IIPA, or Wreck Alley Imperial Stout.)

Where: 1044 Wall St, La Jolla, CA 92037
> Find out more about Karl Strauss La Jolla

Wade Down to Pacific Beach Ale House and Amplified Ale Works, Pacific Beach

Here are two great ocean-centric locations, each right off the beach with great views. The family friendly PB Ale House offers a full menu as well as 8 or 9 house beers, all served up in a large space that offers everything from outdoor seating, to indoor tables, to an awesome rooftop area, which is the place to go for the most impressive view.

Where: 721 Grand Ave. San Diego, CA 92109
> Find out more about Pacific Beach Ale House

Just a few blocks south of PB Ale House is Amplified Ale Works, which also boasts a good view of the water, a full menu (it’s part of California Kabob House), and nice outdoor seating bathed by fresh ocean breezes.  Though their list of house brews is relatively short, they are all long on flavor (Belgian fans should not miss the Bier de Garde).

Where: 4150 Mission Blvd. #208, San Diego, CA 92109
> Find out more about Amplified Ale Works

Paddle on Over to Coronado Brewing Company, Bay Park

In the spring of 2013, Coronado completed this wonderful new facility just a quarter-mile or so from Mission Bay. A huge brewery fills most of the space, but there’s plenty of room for thirsty patrons in the large tasting area. Given its proximity to the bay, this Coronado location provides the perfect capper to a busy day of water sports, beachcombing, or exploring the many wonders of SeaWorld. After all that activity, few things will taste as good as a cold Orange Ave. Wit, a Mermaid’s Red, or the Frog’s Breath IPA.

Where: 1205 Knoxville St., San Diego, CA 92110
> Find out more about the Coronado Brewing Co. Tasting Room

Dive into Pizza Port, Ocean Beach

Here’s another great Pizza Port location, a block or so in from the water, and filled with great beer, delicious pizza, and a warm, friendly, SoCal vibe. On the small side, compared to its Carlsbad siblings, this location still provides a great lineup of house-made beers, as well as Pizza Port core production beers, and guest beers.

Where: 1956 Bacon St., Ocean Beach, CA 92107
> Find out more about Pizza Port Ocean Beach

Sail on Over to Coronado Brewing Company, Coronado Island

There’s no better vantage point than Coronado Island for getting a panoramic view of the beautiful San Diego skyline, replete with glistening water, marinas, and flocks of seagulls. And less than a block from the Coronado harbor you’ll find Coronado Brewing Company, which offers visitors a large brewpub setting with more than a dozen delicious house beers on tap, all of which pair very well with the casual pub-inspired menu.

Where: 170 Orange Avenue, Coronado, CA 92118
> Find out more about Coronado Brewing Co. Brew Pup

Bruce Glassman’s San Diego Brewery Guide, which offers essential information on each brewery, tasting notes, and touring maps, is available at www.georgianbaybooks.com.

Bruce Glassman

Beer-Centric Bites: 5 Great Craft Beer Restaurants in San Diego

Let’s face it, touring San Diego’s many craft beer offerings is hard work. All that standing at bar counters, lifting your arms up and down as you sip…it’s not difficult to work up an appetite. Fortunately, San Diego is not only home to more than 70 great craft breweries, it’s also home to dozens of great beer-centric restaurants, bistros, and pubs.

Here is just a smattering of some great craft beer restaurants in San Diego (starting in North County and moving south):

Churchill’s Pub & Grille (887 W San Marcos Blvd.)

churchills stout braised pot roast san diego craft beer restaurants

The pot roast at Churchill’s is stout-braised, of course. (Photo ©Mike Pawlenty/Chefs Press)

This popular spot boasts one of San Diego’s best selections of craft beers on tap and a great menu of beer-friendly and beer-inspired food to go along with it. More creative than simple “pub comfort food,” the kitchen offers a wide variety of apps, soups, salads, burgers, and craft-centric entrees, including a Spicy IPA Burger, Cottage Pie made with brown ale, Imperial Stout Pot Roast, and a Grilled Salmon topped with a sour ale beer blanc sauce.

URGE Gastropub (16761 Bernardo Center Dr.)

urge beer battered mac n cheese san diego craft beer restaurants

Craft beer mac n’ cheese at URGE (Photo ©Mike Pawlenty/Chefs Press)

With 51 craft beers on tap (mostly from San Diego) and more than 100 bottles to choose from, URGE’s food offerings are unabashedly beer-inspired. Brew-infused, hearty pub fare makes up the core of the menu (Beer Cheese Fries and Beer-Battered Mac and Cheese!), with many dishes that include more interesting elements, such as wild boar and rabbit, and burgers, sandwiches, and appetizers that come with a variety of craft beer dipping sauces (Sculpin mustard, Ur-Bock Aioli, and Sour Cherry Ale BBQ sauce to name a few). For the light of heart, there are numerous salad options, including a goat cheese salad topped with a Wit Beer Vinaigrette and a wedge salad topped with a Barbar Honey Ale Blue Cheese dressing.

Local Habit (3827 Fifth Ave.)

local habit cali belgique braised pork san diego craft beer restaurants

Pork braised in Stone Brewing Co’s Cali Belgique at Local Habit (Photo ©Mike Pawlenty/Chefs Press)

This Hillcrest restaurant is a bit of a hybrid: it combines the casual, comfortable aspects of a pub setting with a more elevated take on salads, small plates, and sandwiches. An excellent selection of local brews on tap, along with great non-local craft selections, make it easy to pair the creative but comforting fare with great beer. A regular lineup of special beer-and-food pairing menus and brewmaster dinners means that, whenever you go, chances are good some special beer-inspired food awaits.

Ballast Point Little Italy (2215 India St.)

ballast point brewery tasting room and kitchen san diego

Ballast Point’s new Little Italy Tasting Room & Kitchen

Fans of this brewery’s great beers are already flocking to Little Italy’s newest tasting room and kitchen for a taste of Ballast Point’s new food menu. In addition to an impressive selection of Ballast beers on tap, the menu offers numerous beer-infused choices that include everything from beer-battered onion rings to house-made pretzels with beer cheese and beer mustard, to a grilled chicken sandwich with beer vinaigrette. And note to garlic lovers: don’t pass up the beer-steamed mussels with ginger.

Stone World Bistro & Gardens Liberty Station (2816 Historic Decatur Rd #116, San Diego)

stone brewing co. world bistro and gardens liberty station san diego

Stone Brewing Co.’s new World Bistro & Gardens at Liberty Station

Opened this past summer, Stone’s impressive new dining site on Point Loma rivals its Escondido sibling in every way. Beautifully designed, with numerous indoor and outdoor dining and drinking options, Stone offers an extensive draft and bottle list along with a varied menu that highlights organic, local, and farm fresh ingredients (Stone’s own organic farm supplies many of the bistro’s products). For beer-centric bites, a few of the options include Arrogant Bastard brined pork chops, Cheddar, Garlic, and Stone Ruination IPA Soup, and the super popular BBQ Duck Tacos dressed with Stone Levitation BBQ sauce.

Enjoy!

bruce glassman author of san diego brewery guideBruce Glassman is the author or numerous books on San Diego craft beer, including the award-winning San Diego’s Top Brewers. His San Diego Brewery Guide, which offers essential information on each brewery, tasting notes, and touring maps, is available at www.georgianbaybooks.com.