In my travels I have learned that not everyone has the time or inclination to venture outside of the downtown area. Thankfully Downtown San Diego has seen a lot of new spots opening in the last few years making that a good option while still giving you a good taste of what San Diego has to offer.
Without even leaving the downtown area, you can easily access three of San Diego’s biggest and most established breweries, Ballast Point, Stone, and Karl Strauss. Stone’s tasting room is a bit more difficult to notice as you walk by but once you are inside you won’t want to leave. I suggest visiting Stone’s smaller company store locations anyway over their restaurants because the beers are slightly cheaper and you can still try most of the beers.
Some people may have written off Ballast Point after their sale to the wine distributor Constellation but if that doesn’t bother you, their Little Italy location is large and serves food. Not far from there is Bolt’s satellite tasting room though I suggest you skip that as there are better options. There is also a Mikkeller tasting room somewhere around here but I have not managed to visit yet.
Karl Strauss’ original location is in the heart of Downtown and is a spot I go to regularly for lunch. The food is excellent including vegan options and the beers have evolved nicely with the times. They still brew their standard Red Trolley and delicious Heffeweizen along with a lineup of hoppy beers. They are a brewery tourists tend to overlook for the more shiny spots but you can’t go wrong with their beer.
Other spots you can visit downtown include Resident Brewing, The Bell Marker, Half Door Brewing, and the newly opened 10 Barrel Brewing and Melvin Brewing. Resident is located inside the neighborhood bar called The Local. They have a wide variety of house beers along with a full bar and guest taps. The food is excellent and while it is not listed on the menu they have a few vegan options.
Half Door has not impressed me as much with their food but they have a good variety of hazy IPAs and also some excellent Belgian styles and stouts. They will finally be able to sell growlers and crowlers sometime in January 2019 with a new change to the law. Mission Brewery is near Half Door but I haven’t visited in years and don’t recommend it. Stone also has a small company store location near the ball park if you are in that area. I have never visited.
The Bell Marker recently opened with beers made by an ex- Pizza Port brewer and featuring an excellent variety of food including tons of vegan options. I have only ordered their hummus plate, which is an amazing deal during happy hour. I found their IPAs too bitter for my tastes but I quite enjoy their brown ale and other traditional styles.
I have not yet made it out to 10 Barrel and just stopped by Melvin for the first time recently but they both have brew houses so I included them in the list. 10 Barrel is owned by AB inBev (aka Budweiser’s parent company) and faced fierce opposition from locals, which is why I have never visited and don’t plan to. But if that doesn’t bother you, I hear the beer is solid. Melvin is a new location for a Wyoming brewery with a kung-fu and hip-hop vibe. Expect hip hop playing at high volume when you visit. Their founding brewer got his start in San Diego and they added a brew house at this location making them a San Diego brewery. They are so new that I just visited there a few days ago my first time. They focus on hoppy beers and serve Asian Fusion style food. Not far from these East Village location there are rumors that Little Miss plans to open a satellite tasting room as well sometime next year. Bay City has a new location in the works as well.
If you don’t mind taking an uber, it is not too far to head over to North Park, where you can visit 10 different breweries or Point Loma where you can visit Modern Times’ main location, Stone’s massive Liberty Station restaurant and Eppig’s waterfront beer hall. Those whose family drag them to visit the Hotel Del in Coronado should stop by Coronado brewing, one of the established breweries that I have not yet managed to visit. You could also venture down into Barrio Logan and visit Border X and Iron Fist.
I will do a separate post on North Park breweries later but most of them are excellent and the staff at any of them will happily point you to the best ones nearby. I didn’t include any mention of the numerous bars in the Gaslamp area mostly because I haven’t visited them. I also haven’t mentioned Monkey Paw because it is still unclear if they will re-open in some form after recent troubles. Rumors suggest that they will become a new location for South Norte, a brewery connected to Coronado brewing.
I also missed a few newer spots that I hadn’t even noticed had opened that you can read about on my fellow beer blogger’s site Craft Beer in San Diego Contrary to his suggestions, I would personally avoid East Village all together and focus on Resident, Karl Strauss, and Stone, though Half Door is certainly worth a visit. Both Amplified and Duck Foot make good beer but I want to send you to places that make excellent beer. It also depends heavily on what styles you like to drink.
I recently made a short weekend trip to Denver and during that time I visited some breweries I missed out on the last time. I heard a lot of great things about Crooked Stave and to a lesser extent TRVE, and visited Strange because someone I was visiting recommended them.
Crooked Stave has been brewing farmhouse ales and sours as their main focus for a while. Sometime more recently, they started experimenting with IPAs and have come up with some fantastic cloudy/juicy IPAs. While the taster price for their sours initially seems ridiculous (some are $4 or $5 for a 5oz taster) keep in mind that those same beers are $14 for a 375ml bottle, so the price on tap is not much worse per ounce than a bottle.
Crooked Stave is located in the back of a small shopping complex that was converted from an old abandoned brick building. When you first pull into the dirt parking lot in front, which is almost always full, you may question whether you should be there at all. It looks quite sketchy. Once inside, you will see a number of small shops and restaurants and Crooked Stave’s tasting room is at the far back area. They don’t have an outward sign telling you where to go either, but once you are inside you will feel right at home in their tasting room setting. Tasters range from $2 to $5 depending on the style and I broke up my tasting into two sets of 3 and came home with a few bottles as well.
I started with the Damn IPA which was cloudy and nicely carbonated with tons of citrus and ginger notes. The Sourless IPA was also quite tasty with lots of citrus and some mild herbal note and a bitter finish. Both were solid examples of the juicy IPA style. I got a taster of the porter for my husband before he went off to do other things but he didn’t care for it. I found it to be very delicious with lots of cherry notes that balance with bitter chocolate and some herbal hop notes. The beer was quite smooth and medium body.
For sours I started with Origins, a Flanders Red style of sorts. It had a strong tart kick with some mild jam notes and hints of caramel and mild balsamic vinegar. I went next to the two L’bretta beers one with raspberry and one with blueberry. I found the raspberry the clear winner with tons of jam character, strong fruit notes, and a nice tart acidic finish. The blueberry was a bit more subtle and less acidic. Flavors are so subtle that if you drink it right after the raspberry you might miss parts of it.
Fantastic sours and now great juicy IPAs.
TRVE is a younger entry on the scene and has a heavy metal theme at their brewery with leanings towards satanic imagery. Thankfully the music isn’t blasting as loud as a typical metal head might prefer so you can still order beers and have a conversation without going deaf. I had a total of four tasters because while they were good I wasn’t craving more and my friends wanted something a bit more hoppy.
The first beer I had was a hoppy saison called Caeruleus. It was nice and fruity with a good mix of spice and some mild hop kick. The aged saison was lightly tart with lots of lemon notes and a crisp finish. The IPA was smooth and balanced, mostly herbal hops, fairly average. The gose was a darker version of the style which added a nice caramel note to the typical lightly tart and lightly salty gose. I brought home a bottle of a currant sour from them so hopefully that is more impressive. While I enjoyed the beers I had, I don’t feel an urge to return to the brewery based on the beers available on tap.
Visit for Belgian style beers and a collection that plays with different styles.
Based on a recommendation from my friend we stopped for a flight at Strange Brewing, which consisted of six beers mostly stouts and IPAs. Stout was very true to style 5% stout. The cherry bomb stout added a little kick with cherry and peppers but nothing outstanding. The different IPAs were all fairly average with the exception of the grapefruit IPA which had a lot of great citrus character even though it didn’t taste like it had any added zest or juice.
I visited Minneapolis Minnesota on the weekend of May 20, 2016 and I got to visit a few local breweries. My experience was slightly different than usual because of an art festival that was going on, which actually made Surly not as busy as usual and made it a madhouse at Indeed Brewing, really busy at Dangerous Man, and made Fair State not so fun to visit, since they chose to use plastic cups for the weekend. This led me to visit two other breweries I wasn’t planning on visiting, thanks to a recommendation from a friend, Sisyphus and Boom Island.
First I will start with some general thoughts on the area. I really liked that the breweries were all in an area that is pretty small so that the breweries are not too far apart and none are too far out of town. Also a lot of the larger breweries don’t serve tasters, thus I didn’t try as many beers at the breweries listed as I normally would. While I might taste a lager of a pale ale and end up liking it enough to do a pint, I rarely will just order one I haven’t tasted before. Also if you happen to come visit wanting to bring bottles home, the liquor stores are all closed on Sundays so plan accordingly.
Surly is probably the most popular of the breweries around the area and certainly one of the larger more widely distributed breweries. Their cans are a mainstay in the general area extending to neighboring states. During my visit to Surly I tasted the Pentagram dark sour, Furious IPA, Four Imperial Stout, and Todd the Axe Man. Pentagram was a very tasty nicely balanced dark sour with plenty of jammy wine notes, and a light sour finish. I mainly tried a small pour on tap so I could make sure I wanted bottles for myself. Furious is Surly’s first IPA and while it was I’m sure groundbreaking when it first came out I didn’t really get into it. It is super dry and quite bitter with a mix of citrus and pine flavors. While it is not overly malty, the malts do give it a solid balance. I found it to be a bit too bitter personally such that it lacked prominent aromas from the hops.
Four Imperial Stout was originally their fourth anniversary beer and it was the one beer my husband enjoyed during our visit. It is a double milk stout made with espresso. It was super smooth and creamy with powerful coffee flavors, very reminiscent of some recent San Diego espresso beers. Surly also has lighter coffee beers but when trying one back home I wasn’t too big on them and found them to taste a bit thin. Todd the Axe Man, while also quite bitter, is much more balanced than Furious and it is exploding with fruit flavors including lots of tangerine and melon. I really enjoyed this one and ended up coming home with a four pack to share with my friends back home. I recommend skipping Furious and going straight for Todd if you are into IPAs.
Four Imperial Stout
Todd the Axe Man
I only briefly visited Fair State because they had run out of most of the specialty beers they had earlier in the week and they were serving beers in plastic cups and were not allowing tasters. While I only tried one beer at the brewery, I did pick up two bottles of their specialty offerings to bring home with me for later, that I am excited to try. I tried the Lactobac 12, a ginger and lemon grass sour. It was tasty and balanced with a solid ginger taste and a good light tart kick. The alcohol is so low you might confuse this beer for Kombucha. I would have loved to have tried more but I don’t like drinking from plastic cups. Perhaps on another visit I will try more. Fair State is known for their sours and wild ales. I was quite impressed by the dark sour I brought home with me after visiting.
I also only tried two beers at Dangerous Man. This was mostly because I didn’t really get into the two stouts I tried and they were quite crowded at the time. They are often praised for their chocolate milk stout and the peanut butter porter so I started with those. The chocolate milk stout was super smooth but also fairly light body and didn’t have a ton of chocolate flavor to it. While it wasn’t dry either, I didn’t get much flavor overall. The peanut butter porter is a good example in the style that has gotten popular at a number of breweries and has a nice smooth light body and a solid nutty finish. If you have enjoyed other popular peanut butter porters then you will also enjoy this one.
I would have tried more beers at Dangerous Man but they didn’t offer tasters and I wasn’t excited to try any of the other beers on tap at the time.
This is the only brewery where I got to do a flight of tasters. The brewery is fairly new and brews on a really small system but came highly recommended by a friend. They have a nice relaxed tasting room that was even more relaxed since they were not close to the festival going on. I tasted the amber ale, apple ale, apogee IPA, Feast of Littlefoot IPA, and India Brown Ale. The amber ale was really smooth and fruity with hints of peach and a mild caramel malt finish. This is one of the best ambers I have had and really says a lot about the talents of the brewer. The apple ale was tasty and very crisp with a light body and mild apple flavors. It is a mix between a cider and a beer but not fully a cider.
The two beers I list as IPAs might have been listed as pale ales on the board but they are both strong enough at 6.5 to be an IPA to me. The Apogee was really balanced fruity/juicy IPA with a dry finish of citrus and pine. I enjoyed this one the most of the two IPAs and was glad that it was fairly low on the bitterness. Feast of Littlefoot was also quite fruity and citrusy but a lot more dry and bitter on the finish. I went back and forth between the two IPAs and enjoyed how they both developed over time. The India Brown Ale is a really hoppy brown ale that is dark enough to be a stout. It was super bitter and hoppy with a bit of a smoky finish. To me it was simultaneously too bitter and too smoky and I didn’t really like it at all. For a new brewery, Sisyphus was quite impressive and I was glad I visited. I’m sure they will become a mainstay in the community over time.
Boom Island Brewing
Boom Island is known for Belgian beers and they were my last stop for this trip. I tried the triple brett wild ale and the Belgian chocolate stout. The triple brett was very smooth and malty and tasted like a dubel style beer with added brett. The malts give it delicious flavors of dark fruit and the brett balances things out with some nice funk. Neither my husband nor I really cared for the Belgian chocolate stout. It was super dry and mildly hoppy, which combined with the Belgian yeast for something I didn’t enjoy. It didn’t seem to have much flavor of chocolate or roast to me either. Still, I got the sense from the triple brett that the brewery knows how to do Belgian styles right and I would have ordered a flight if they hadn’t had the triple brett available.
In general I found the beer scene to be vibrant and worth visiting during my visit to the Twin Cities. Cans of Surly’s Todd the Axe Man are easily obtainable outside the area but their more limited Pentagram not so much. Also Fair State’s sours are fantastic and worth stopping by to check out if you are into the style. They seem to have a great tasting room spot so it is a shame that I visited in the middle of a festival. As far as visiting a brewery directly, Sisyphus is a great place to hang out while you are in town. I really wish I had gotten to visit Indeed brewing but it was way too crowded for me.
There are tons of breweries I missed so if you think I missed a key one that I didn’t even mention, tell me in the comments.
The San Francisco Bay Area is a large place and visitors often travel as far north as Santa Rosa to visit Russian River or as far south as Santa Cruz to visit Sante Adarius Rustic Ales or SARA for short. I chose to fly into San Jose for this brewery visit so that I had a fairly short drive down to Santa Cruz, or the neighborhood of Capitola where SARA is located. I also visited a newer brewery known as New Bohemia Brewing a short distance away. Both breweries complement each other nicely.
SARA is a cult favorite for their sours and farmhouse ales, many of which are bottled and released exclusively from the taproom. I happened to visit when they were releasing bottles of Lady in Grey and they also had bottles available of their Farmhouse Noir, a dark sour. I tried a number of different beers over two separate visits including the Chavez porter, Lady in Grey, Anais saison, Vanilla Joe, and 831 IPA. The Chavez porter is a very smooth and delicious beer with hints of vanilla and chocolate with a mild roast at the finish. This is the base beer for many of their adjunct versions including Vanilla Joe, made with vanilla and coffee. The Vanilla Joe was a delicious mix of coffee and vanilla and so popular that it was no longer available when I returned for my second visit. This was also my husband’s favorite beer.
The Lady in Grey is a delicious complex oaked blonde with a dry finish and bright fruit notes. I enjoyed this one and picked up a few bottles for myself and a few friends back home. The Anais is a super fruity saison with mild funk and an earthy finish. The 831 IPA is quite fruity with darnk pine at the finish. I found the IPA to be overly bitter at the finish, not from hops but from something else. This is an issue they have identified and should be fixing for future batches. I also got to try the Farmhouse Noir thanks to a kind regular who bought a bottle for us to share. I had already purchased some to bring home but it was not available on tap. Famhouse Noir was a delicious dark sour with just the right amount of tart finish and lots of fruit and mild vinegar. I look forward to exploring the flavors of this beer more when I open the bottle I brought back with me.
On the two different days I visited SARA had quite a few people even as early as 12PM. The first day I visited was a Saturday which also happened to be a bottle release day so people were lining up for bottles and hanging around for beers. When I stopped by the next day there were no lines and the crowd was a little smaller but still respectable. There is plenty of seating available for people to hang around for a while. Flights are not available but they serve everything in half pours or full pours and the servers do a great job of explaining the beer styles prior to ordering something.
As SARA attempts to re-create the Farmhouse styles from Belgium, New Bohemia puts a lot of effort into creating German style pilsner, heffeweizen, and Vienna lager. I tried the pilsner, IPA, Mole Stout, Double Duchess coffee porter, and black IPA on nitro. The pilsner is super clean and delicious with a medium body and light German hop kick to balance out the bready pilsner malt. I passed on the heffeweizen because it is the Bavarian style which I don’t particularly like (tending to taste of banana and cloves).
The IPA was super smooth and juicy with notes of tangerine and melon, with a nice amber color. This is in line with the modern style of IPAs with lower bitterness and more hop aromas and was very impressive. The mole stout was deliciously balanced with the coffee, chocolate, and chilies all blending together perfectly. The chocolate and chilies trade off at the finish and the beer is smooth all the way through. The Double Duchess coffee porter is thick and delicious with tons of coffee flavor and a mildly sweet finish. The black IPA is served on nitro and it does a great job of mellowing the hops further while offering a super smooth finish. The hops are given a chance to shine and like the IPA it isn’t overly bitter.
For a new brewery I was quite impressed by the delicious beers offered at New Bohemia, though the brewer has a ton of experience at other places prior to opening up his own brewery. There is a little something for everyone here and the large number of stouts available was quite nice to see. We originally stopped by for a flight of four tasters but returned later for more because they ran out of the Vanilla Joe at SARA so we had to have more Double Duchess instead. That is how delicious it was.