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 stopped by Archetype first because I was feeling like trying some Belgian inspired beers. They have a fairly open tasting room that doesn’t get too hot despite lack of air conditioning and the warm weather outside. All 4 beers on my flight were Belgian inspired and they all had a similar flavor.
The saison was super dry with light funk and mild cracked pepper. The beer had notes of peach white wine and mild cherry with a crisp dry finish. The farmhouse was very similar with a bit more pear white wine and subtle brett funk. The Belgian style pale ale was dry and funky with subtle herbal hops and mild bitterness, very similar to the farmhouse before it. The brett IPA was the most funky of the bunch and mildly hoppy and not too bitter. Though they were all similar, they were all subtle and balanced in a way that tells me the brewer is quite talented.
I stopped by Zillicoah by the recommendation of the bartender at Archetype. They are in a large building close to a river with huge amounts of both indoor and outdoor seating. I wasn’t immediately excited by the tap list but then I tried a splash of their session IPA and went for a full pour of that.
It was super creamy with tons of pineapple hop aroma and mild bitterness. It reminded me of Holy Mountain’s similar beers. The best part of this brewery is their $5 full pours and seating by the river. We relaxed there for a while before moving on to the next stop.
Heist wasn’t on my list for Charlotte initially. I ran into a friend who had been out to Charlotte recently (the brewers from Council Brewery) and they immediately said Heist was their favorite. Out of the small number of breweries I visited this was also my favorite. Depending on your style preferences, you might enjoy Heist more than any nearby breweries including popular Ashevillle options. They also have fantastic food.
Heist has a restaurant and focuses primarily on hazy IPAs and fruited sours. Even their honey blonde is hazy. I enjoyed all of the beers there and a few stood out as favorites. I started with Mango Pick’n, a Berliner Weisse with tons of mango added. It was thick and creamy with prominent ripe mango puree flavor. The mango overpowered the base beer so it only had a hint of lacto tart on the finish. This was my favorite of the bunch and I left with a few four packs.
Next was High Fives, described as a honey blonde, this tasted more like a hazy pale ale with some honey added. Mild honey sweetness supports the hop aromas of tangerine. The beer had a nice medium body and wasn’t very bitter or acidic. I was tempted to get a crowler of this one as well. Next was Torguga, a hazy IPA with pineapple and coconut. The adjuncts blended in perfectly with the base beer and it was like a creamy pina colada hazy. My husband took a sip and remarked that it doesn’t taste like an IPA. The hop aroma was minimal or non-existent and the beer was minimally bitter.
The two hazy double IPAs were both solid but both were fairly muted in hop aroma and neither had the same level of flavor as the others on the flight. Blurred up was super tropical on the nose but did not come through with similar flavors. The beer was acidic on the finish and had a nice creamy body with mild sweetness and low bitterness. The Cloud Control was a bit softer and less acidic with prominent notes of pineapple. While they nailed the mouthfeel it could have had more explosive hops.
Though I didn’t care for the double IPAs, the other beers were quite impressive at heist. This is a spot you should not miss if you are either local or stopping through.
High Fives hazy honey blonde
Despite the name, there were no barrel-aged offerings when I visited Divine Barrel. They have a huge open tasting room but it has quite an echo because with just the talking of people it gets uncomfortably loud. This led me to speed through my flight more than I might have otherwise. They had solid beers but nothing that really stood out as better than the others.
The saison was fairly standard with notes of honey and pear white wine. It finished with hints of pomegranate. The hazy IPA was bitter and piney and just mildly creamy. The hops don’t work very well with the hazy style.
Cadillac Rainbows was an incredibly tart fruited berliner with notes of apricot and passion fruit. The lacto tartness was so prominent it overpowered the fruit. This is a nice counter to other more juicy versions of the style but I don’t think I could drink more than a taster of it. Ice Cream Paint Job is a similar berliner but with more berries and the addition of lactose. It was much less tart than the other and had only light acidity from the berries. Lactose adds sweetness.
Maybe in a few years Divine Barrel will have more barrel aged offerings but for now they are fairly standard with their offerings. If you like more acidic berliner weisse styles this might be a good spot to try.
Resident Culture is one of the most talked-about breweries in Charlotte. This is in part because it was started by an ex-brewer from Russian River. They had a large variety of beers on tap though I only tasted 4 because my husband needed to rest and it was quite loud. Thankfully they had a couple of bottles I was able to bring with me to-go.
Resident Culture has a large tasting room and the day we visited they had some live music. I started with the hoppy farmhouse. It had prominent herbal hops and notes of bubblegum with a mild earthy finish. It was a solid farmhouse. Books on Tape, a peach brett beer was my favorite of the day. The flavors worked wonderfully with peach and brett funk blending together. The beer had a light acidic finish. I probably would have ordered a pint of this out of the four I tried.
Thunder Study hazy IPA was creamy with notes of vanilla and pineapple and a mild herbal hop finish. It was solid though not as flavorful as Heist. The brut IPA was a bit buttery, which may have been diacetyl. The beer was super dry with mild herbal hop character though overall a bit too subdued hops for my preference.
I had two bottles in my hotel room directly after leaving the brewery. Both were mixed culture saisons aged in oak. Secret Feelings was super carbonated with notes of buttery oak, subtle funk, and mild lemon. It had an excellent balance. Ghost Particle, aged a bit longer, was funky and oaky on the nose and a bit more carbonated. The beer had notes of caramel and kiwi with flavors more on the fruity side than the other one. Both were excellent for the style but I prefer the Secret Feelings of the two.
Though not as impressive as Heist, Resident Culture is excellent and if I were to come back I would try a few more beers there. They certainly know how to work with brett.
Books on Tape – Peach Brett Ale
Secret Feelings – Mixed Culture Saison