As if San Diego needed anything else going for it, the city lays claim to a number of amazing craft breweries. Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement. Within San Diego County, there are over 85 licensed craft breweries and brewpubs. The region boasts its own beer style: a hop-heavy double IPA. On a recent trip to the West Coast, I visited several San Diego breweries to see what the fuss was about.
For this trip, I found a local guide and craft beer aficionado, the blogger A Beerded Lady to lead my San Diego brewery tour. We picked up a copy of the West Coaster, a free monthly newspaper which proclaims “Serving America’s Finest Beer County.” This little newspaper has a handy directory of breweries and maps, making our little tour much more efficient.
Our tour focused on the “Hops Highway” – Route 78 through inland North County. There are 17 breweries staggered just off this highway.
Our journey started in Escondido at the largest brewery in Southern California – Stone Brewing Company. This massive 8,500-square foot purpose-built brewery is a sight to see and combines the brewery operation with a restaurant (complete with beer garden). Stone is known for their hoppy brews with creative names, like Arrogant Bastard.
We decided to have lunch here. The Brussels sprouts appetizer with brown sugar and bacon was delicious with the Stone Levitation Ale. But the duck tacos with tomatillo sauce are not to be missed.
On weekends, Stone is absolutely packed and we mingled with hipsters, yuppies and hippies while enjoying the brew. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to squeeze into one of the actual tours of the breweries, but could see the operation through the large glass windows.
In the afternoon, we wandered our way into an office park just off the El Camino Real. My expectations were pretty low. How can any serious craft brewery operate in an office park with the bankruptcy law office and the “we buy gold” store? I was about to find out as we entered Arcana Brewing Company.
We walked through the empty storefront, past a bathroom and into a garage. This brewery looked like it was in someone’s garage. I mean it looked EXACTLY like it was in a garage – a massive garage door in the back was closed, a handful of barstools lined up against a homemade bar that looked like it was assembled from leftover lumber. This place screamed “do it yourself.” I decided to try to the beer tasting flight. At first sip, any doubts were washed away. This was serious, serious beer.
My favorite was the Newton’s Graff Apple Ale, a wheat beer with a strong cinnamon aftertaste. This did not taste anything like a beer. Bella’s Berry Ale was a fun, playful ale with a crisp boysenberry finish and deep purple color. But any serious craft beer lover would swoon over the Dark X-mas Ale – a complex beer with chocolate, caramel and coffee notes. This is a beer to be savored. I could have spent all day at Arcana!
Dinner brings us to Half Door Brewing Co. in the East Village neighborhood near Petco Park. This brewery takes inspiration from all things Irish – from the name to the décor to the culture of the establishment. As such, you’d think they’d brew a fine Irish Stout…and you’d be right. The logical beer of choice here at Half Door Brewery is the Colemans Stout – a dry Irish on nitro. It’s earthy with sweet caramel and a hint of chocolate.
The other thing that Half Door does in spades is food. The house sausage mac and cheese isn’t the gut bomb you’d expect – it’s light (for mac and cheese) and incredibly tasty. But any good pub should have an excellent burger and that’s where Half Door excels. The HDBC burger is both a total taste treat and a sight to behold. The Fish and Chips (made with the Colemans Stout) was also exceptional!
A couple of other notable San Diego breweries to try are Ballast Point, Mission Brewery and Saint Archer.
San Diego proudly proclaims itself as the “Craft Beer Capital of America.” While it is true that other cities (Denver) have more craft breweries and produce more craft beer, San Diego’s beer scene is something special. Even if San Diego’s claim to America’s beer capital is more aspirational, there’s some damn amazing beer here! So, the next time you visit San Diego, why not have a pint at one of the San Diego breweries? Or better yet, take in a full beer tour of the San Diego breweries and brew pubs!