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Ten Breweries Making Epic Lagers in San Diego

A lot of people first become interested in craft beer when they taste an IPA and fall for the bitter punch or the pine resin but many brewers and beer drinkers eventually learn to appreciate the delicate flavors of a well-crafted lager, usually in the German or Czech style. There are many types of lagers in all ranges including the higher alcohol baltic porter, a strong dark beer brewed with lager yeast. For purposes of this article, I will focus on lower alcohol versions of the style and breweries in San Diego where you can consistently find an excellent version of that style.

1. Societe Brewing Company – Societe is one of the first San Diego breweries where I encountered an excellent lager. They often have two or three variations of the style on tap at once, including single-hopped versions to showcase a hop or more classic varieties. Around Oktoberfest, starting in September, they put on some delightfully authentic versions of the festbeer and kellerbier.

2. Fall Brewing Company – Fall has been delivering six-packs of their delightful pilsners for some time with Plenty for All first followed by the Rise Up Czech style Pilsner. Both are excellent and always refreshing examples of the style. I’m hooked on Rise Up and the lovely wildflower honey flavor I get from it.

3. Burning Beard – Burning Beard’s Normcore Pilsner has been named best beer in San Diego in 2016 as voted by readers of The West Coaster. Then for 2017 it was named best lager in San Diego from the same readers. This beer has quite a following just as the Beard has its loyal fans. Though not brewed in as large quantities as others this is always a reliable choice when you are craving a good lager.

4. Alesmith – Alesmith didn’t always have lagers on tap but then recently they released both the Sublime Mexican style lager and the delicious Spezial Pils, a German style lager. Both are excellent though I prefer Spezial when I am craving something classic. This is now available year-round in cans.

5. Pizza Port – Though not a brewery generally associated with lighter beers, I was really blown away by the quality of the Festbier that Pizza Port released in 2017 as a limited release through their tasting rooms. I was craving more once I finished that six-pack. They also brew a number of one-off beers throughout the year.

6. ChuckAlek Brewing – Chuckalek is the only brewery I know of in San Diego that lets you order a full liter of their German styles at their tasting room, usually limited to the altbier and helles German style lager. Though I usually end up ordering their delightful ESB, ChuckAlek makes a consistently delicious helles lager and altbier, a malty traditional German style.

7. Eppig Brewing – Eppig has a regular pilsner and schwartzbier (dark lager) on rotation along with a Japanese style dry rice lager. I was most impressed by the schwartz, which to me is one of the best examples of the style I have had in California and most authentic to the traditional style. Eppig displays their commitment to this classic style in their choice to open a large beer hall on the waterfront recently.

Schwartz overlooking the water.
Pilsner, overlooking the water.

8. Stone Brewing – Stone brews their year-round lager called “Who You Callin’ Wussie” but they have also released some delightful small-batch lagers throughout the years. More recently I was quite impressed by their Kolsch, an ale brewed with lager yeast. Though not technically a lager, the Kolsch would satisfy most people’s craving for the style.

9. Gordon Biersch – Gordon Biersch is often overlooked as a big brewery that happens to have a location in San Diego but their head brewer is the local guru when it comes to brewing lagers. They are not flashy but the lagers coming out of the Mission Valley location are consistently of high quality.

10. Bagby Beer – Like Gordon Biersch, Bagby gets overlooked by people looking for beers to hype up because they consistently brew beers to style rather than trying for the next big thing. Most times you visit Bagby you will encounter at least one if not two excellent lagers. They also tend to have excellent lagers from out of town on tap as guest beers.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

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Wild Barrel Brewing – San Marcos San Diego

Wild Barrel Brewing surprised me as I hadn’t heard a ton about the brewery until a short time before opening. With a brewer who used to work at stone and a keen eye for what the market wants, they launched out the gate with some IPAs, massively fruity kettle sours, and a coffee stout with barrel aged stuff to come in time. You can tell when you walk in that they spent a lot of time on the layout of the space including their choice for the acoustics because it doesn’t get as loud as many breweries do when crowded.

Wild Barrel serves tasters in larger glass to give room for aromas to come through. In the crowded San Diego brewery scene this is fairly uncommon but always welcomed. I was not really that excited when I saw three fruited Berliner Weiss style beers on the board (called here San Diego Vice) but was soon glad i tried them. San Diego breweries regularly make fruited versions of this style but often with minimal amounts of fruit. Not so here. All 3 of them, cherry, blackcurrent, and guava were massively fruity with a light tart bite on the back.

These may be the most fruit flavor I’ve had in any beer of this style, surpassing my previous favorite at Georgia based Creature Comforts. If their crowlers were available I might have left with a couple of crowlers. It is hard to pick a favorite of the three because they were all so delicious.

The two IPAs available were both in the modern style though staying away from the thick hazy style so far. The single IPA was nice and citrus forward with a light bitterness and a dry finish. The double IPA was a bit more dank and resinous with a slightly thicker body and still not a ton of bitterness. The IPAs remind me of the style brewed at Protector in many ways.

The coffee stout had notes of popcorn and coffee on the nose with a fairly thin body and a nice mix of light roast, smoke, and coffee notes. I found the coffee to be a bit more subdued than I tend to enjoy but it is a nice balanced beer.

I am looking forward to see how Wild Barrel develops over the coming months and expect I will be back again regularly to see what flavors of San Diego Vice come up next. They have excited me about a style that has generally been enjoyable but not particularly exciting for me before now.

Top 2:
Blackcurrent San Diego Vice
Cherry San Diego Vice

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

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Stone City Ales – Kingston Ontario Canada

Stone City is the most recommended brewery in Kingston and I was blown away by every beer I had there. They had eight beers on tap and my least favorite of the bunch would generally be a standout anywhere else. They also serve food and have seating inside and out. To prepare for the beers I ordered their large hummus plate that had so much hummus that I couldn’t eat it all, but it was fantastic.

I started with the newer specialty beers. The first flight had their English Mild, Gose, and Saison. The English Mild was soft and mellow with notes of apricot and caramel, mild vanilla, and a creamy finish from the lactose. When I got a larger pour of this later I got some notes of black tea and almonds as it warmed up. This is a great modern take on the classic style.

The gose was a creamy white/yellow color and had a fantastic mix of lime, ginger, and mild tropical fruit. The creamy mouthfeel reminded me of some of the softer hazy IPAs out there. The modern take on the style was so delicious that I predict it will spawn a whole new version of gose like the first hazy IPAs did. The saison was soft and fruity with notes of crisp pear, and a light grassy finish.

Their American wheat is like a session hoppy wheat from San Diego. The beer had tons of fruity hops on the nose and flavors of guava, pear, pineapple, and a soft creamy body with minimal bitterness. The Belgian Wheat was more classic to style with notes of spice, vanilla, and mild white cake. The other two hoppy beers were similarly soft, all in the style that I have tasted at breweries like Fieldwork or Crux. The session ale was very similar to the american wheat with notes of juicy pineapple and tangerine.

The IPA had notes of white cake, pineapple, and citrus, like eating pineapple cake. The stout was creamy and mildly sweet with notes of marshmallow, vanilla, and caramel and a mild roast at the finish. It is quite impressive for the style as well. Another thing that I liked at Stone City is that they sell growlers pre-filled after they are sterilized, purged with CO2 and capped and encourage people to bring back their growlers to be sterilized prior to filling. This is one way to get around the issue of dirty growlers.

Full pour of the gose
Full pour of English Mild.

Stone City was one of the most impressive breweries of this trip and their beers were all fantastic. I drank a bit more of the English Mild and Gose because they are very different than what I can get of a similar style out in California. I hope to make my way back there again in a few years to see how they’ve grown.

Top 3:
English Mild
Gose
IPA

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

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Half Door Brewing Downtown San Diego

I had been to Half Door brewing a few times but never got around to writing a full post about them. Recently they expanded into brewing hazy IPAs and I featured them in my list of San Diego breweries making hazy IPAs. Half Door serves beer in a restaurant in Downtown San Diego where they also offer a modern take on pub grub. I visited them recently on a Sunday morning and tried a flight of tasters.

All of the IPAs I tried were of the hazy style known to some as the North East style of IPA. I started with the Hoban House. It was fruity and soft with a light acidity and low bitterness, exhibiting notes of pineapple. The Hype Machine single-hop Nelson IPA was soft with subtle grapefruit and a mild bitterness that lingers on teh back of the tongue. It is a great example of what a Nelson IPA should taste like. The Buzzwords double IPA is an intensely fruity double IPA, soft and hazy with very mild hop acidity. This stood out from the rest on the list as the best of the IPAs for the day.

I tried the IIIPA, which was an insane hop bomb with little alcohol flavor or sweetness, and mild bitterness. The only reason I didn’t like it as much as the Buzzwords IIPA is that I got some herbal notes in the IIIPA that I didn’t care for. Otherwise, it is an exceptional example of what a IIIPA should taste like. I also tried two stouts. The Coleman’s Stout is their dry Irish stout on nitro. It is dry and roasty with a smooth body and a mild floral hop kick. This is one of the beers I tried the first time I visited and it is still just as good as it was then.

The Coleman’s on Craic imperial stout with coffee was smooth and roasty with notes of chocolate and coffee excellently balanced. I slightly preferred the dry version though they are both delicious. Before leaving I got a taster of the tripel just to see how well they handle Belgian styles. It was one of the more impressive San Diego tripels, lacking in the ester notes that tend to overpower American-brewed Belgian-style beers. It had a bready malt character with some earthy malt notes and a well-attenuated finish (not too sweet). If the hazy IPAs weren’t so good I might go back for this one.

Half Door brewing is one of the few San Diego breweries, maybe the only one, that doesn’t sell bottles or growlers to go. This is due to their license and hopefully will change soon. Though I didn’t eat anything when we visited, my friends who joined me were very impressed by the food they had. Parking can be crazy around Half Door during the weekdays but it is worth visiting if you are already downtown or can park nearby and Uber in.

Top 3:
Buzzwords IIPA
IIIPA
Coleman’s Dry Irish Stout

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

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10 San Diego Breweries Making Great Hazy IPAs in 2017

The Haze Craze is here to stay and is just going to grow bigger in the coming months. While a few Los Angeles area breweries have been getting a lot of attention for the style, I want to focus this post on where you can find the haze in San Diego. I will continue to update this poss throughout the year as this information changes rapidly.

Last Updated: 9-10-17

The breweries in this post are not in any particular order. Higher or lower numbers do not reflect the quality of the beer.

1) Modern Times Brewing

(Sports Arena and North Park)
The brewery is doing monthly can releases you can pre-order online or buy direct from the source starting the release day party. Most of these beers show up on tap at the tasting room prior to release so you can figure out which ones you like best. Word on the street is the Modern Times hazy IPA cans hit the sweet spot after two weeks. Their latest release, Luna Park has hit the sweet spot of soft hazy beer with tons of fruit.

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Photo by Mike Lindeblad

 

2) Pure Project

(Miramar)
Pure Project releases small batches of hazy beers at their tasting room on tap and does small batch can releases. The quality of Pure Project cans has improved nicely since the beginning of 2017. Cans continue to sell quickly in the tasting room. They have started doing releases earlier in the day so that they can sell more quickly before they start serving beers.

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3) Mikkeller San Diego

(Miramar)
Mikkeller is doing regular small batch can releases and have already announced that they expect to do a number of hazy releases throughout the year. Hazy releases in 2017 have been impressive so far and Mikkeller is the first to add a regular hazy beer for distribution. Pay close attention to their description of each beer as they sometimes add things like lactose or honey to the IPAs. Mikkeller recommends drinking the beers within the first two weeks after purchase.

 

4) Council Brewing

(Clairemont)
Though Council has only done one hazy can release so far, a collaboration with Alvarado Street Brewing, they already have a great reputation among hop heads. I expect we will see more hazy can releases throughout the year. They may decide to stick with the sour hazy IPAs like their first release, which would help them differentiate from the rest. More recently, they have added hazy IPA offerings in the tasting room.

Council has released a number of hazy IPAs in 2017 but for me what stood out was their September 23rd release of Beg for Murky in collaboration with Aslin brewing. It finally added the creamy mouthfeel and soft body that make people crave a hazy beer. I am optimistic that they will continue releasing more in this style.

Beg for Murk Hazy IPA.

5) Novo Brazil Brewing

(Chula Vista)
Though much further south than most beer drinkers venture, Novo Brazil makes some impressive hazy IPAs. They have already had a few can releases in 2017 and some of them even found limited distribution outside the brewery.

6) Abnormal Beer Company

(Rancho Bernardo)
Abnormal has released an astounding number of IPAs over the short time they have been open. In 2016 they released New Money, their hazy IPA and it disappeared quickly from every bar that had it on tap. Abnormal’s hazy IPAs tend to be high on the hop acidity for those who enjoy that style.

Abnormal has done a couple of releases in 2017 from the tasting room. The latest release was today and they have dialed down the hop acidity from earlier batches.

7) Resident Brewing

(Downtown San Diego)
Resident released a hazy galaxy hop IPA in 2016 and followed it with other delicious hazy offerings. So far they have only been available on tap. A crowler machine was installed recently at the brewery, making it easier to take home this delicious beer. Because of their popularity they have done more limited crowler releases rather than having them available all the time.

My additional pour of the delicious Chasing Galaxy IPA.
My additional pour of the delicious Chasing Galaxy IPA.

8) Burgeon Beer Company

(Carlsbad)
This small brewery barely had a grand opening but already when I visited they had some excellent hazy IPAs. I expect more to come this year as word gets out. So far in 2017 they have done one can release of two hazy beers. I expect more to come throughout the year.

burgeon-beer-co-03

Breweries with hazy IPAs on tap only

9) Half Door Brewing

(Downtown San Diego)
Despite opening in the style of a traditional Irish Pub, Half Door hasn’t wasted any time experimenting with other styles. Half door makes some of the best hazy beer in San Diego though you must go to the tasting room to order it as they do not offer growlers. It is worth making a trip to try what they have to offer.

10) Burning Beard

(El Cajon)
Burning Beard is known mostly for their traditionally balanced IPAs but they have been experimenting with hazy IPAs and they released a couple of small batch hazy IPAs in 2016 that were quite popular. With how delicious their core IPAs are, you can’t go wrong with anything from them.

 

Other Notable Mentions

Toolbox Brewing

Toolbox has been making hazy IPAs and milkshake IPAs (brewed with lactose and fruit) lately. So far they have done one can release. They are in the early stages of haze but off to a great start.

ChuckAlek Biergarten North Park

ChuckAlek started serving hazy beers recently out of their North Park location. All beers are brewed in Ramona but for most people the closest option is their Biergarten in North Park. I stopped by to try them recently and they were quite delicious. They have yet to do any can releases.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

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