Many consider San Diego to be the Craft Beer Capital of the country, so it’s easy to enjoy the city by immersing yourself in its beer culture. Trust our Local Expert and beer enthusiast, Mike Sardina, to direct you to some of the most inventive breweries, brewpubs, taprooms, bottle shops, and restaurants with excellent selections on this four day Featured Trip. As the Assistant Executive Officer at Societe Brewing, a member of the San Diego Brewers Guild and the local San Diego hombrew club, QUAFF, he really knows his stuff. If you’re a beer lover, don’t miss out on his recommendations. This post features his explicit comments on each of the venues.
By Mike Sardina
The Pizza Port “empire” now spans five different locations (including one located North of San Diego in San Clemente, CA), but if you only have the time to hit just one spot, make a trip to the original location: Solana Beach. Delicious pizza, a fun vibrant and colorful atmosphere, and amazing beers, all make Pizza Port one of the best brewpubs in the county. Pizza Port Solana Beach is a cozy brewpub that bustles with friendly staff and thirsty beer enthusiasts. Brewer Devon Randall is brewing fantastic beer out of the Solana Beach brewery, so be sure to try any of the beers that she is brewing in-house.
Casual décor and friendly staff are only two of the reasons that patrons keep returning to Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens. A popular bistro/brewery, the “Stone” delivers a wide-open feeling due to high ceilings, oversized windows, and spacious seating. The private dining area is elegant and intimate. Stone Brewing sources much of its organic produce directly from its own farm (Stone Farms), so the food is incredibly fresh. This brewery offers year-round brews as well as special releases. You’ll find more than one hundred specialty bottles and forty craft beers on tap, giving you lots of delicious quality choices! Stone Brewing is perhaps the most well known brewery in San Diego, which is certainly saying a lot considering that San Diego is one of the microbrewery capitols of the country. For a taste of some amazing beer straight from the source, don’t pass up a trip to Stone.
Housed inside the wine bar (57 Degrees) the San Diego Brew Project takes San Diego beer to the next level. Every tap is local. Every tap is awesome. Within a stone’s throw of the airport, this bar is a great spot for grabbing one last San Diego beer before you leave town—or at least, it’s an awesome spot to duck into if you need to escape your friends at a wine bar. But regardless of your reason, the beer should be reason enough to stick around a while.
Recently voted San Diego’s best restaurant, this spot is your best bet to check out the molecular gastronomy from another former Top Chef contestant, Chef Richard Blais. The menu is classic American food with a definitive left coast twist, all framed within Blais’ modernist approach to cuisine. Pair your meal with one of the handful of local craft beers on tap, like the Pilsner from Lightning Brewery or the Vienna Cream Ale from Mike Hess Brewing.
Chef Hanis Cavin and Sara Stroud operate this pork-centric cult favorite restaurant in North Park. The Snack Shack has been so successful in North Park that you can now also check out their new, second location in Del Mar. Don’t get put off by the long lines, they move quickly and once you place an order you can grab a seat and enjoy a great beer from a stellar draft beer menu while you wait for your Snack Shack B.L.T. or your order of the Carnitas Tacos.
If you have ever been to the Toronado in San Francisco, you might not recognize the place when you walk into Toronado SD. Clean, well-lit, with free wiFi and friendly bar service, the Toronado in San Diego even accepts credit card. Take one look up at the iconic Toronado beer board, however, and you will feel familiarly at home. This place is legit and the beer and the bartenders who serve it up to you, prove that every day. Look out for $4 pints of local San Diego beers on Mondays and visit on Tuesdays for Steak Night.
Beer and wine, the name says it all. Geoi Bachoua, the shop’s owner, curates an incredible section of fermented beverages, and as he says, every bottle in his shop in on-sale there for a reason. The selection at Bine & Vine highlights the local breweries, but also does a great job of showcasing the best beers by style, regardless of where they are produced. In addition to the awesome and fresh bottles of beer, you can find a quality selection of wine, sake, or mead too. Go visit Bine & Vine and ask Geoi for a recommendation, he won’t steer you wrong.
Blind Lady Ale House and Tiger!Tiger! Tavern are two of the finest beer bars in San Diego, period. You don’t need to spend time deciding whether to visit one of these joints, the only difficult question is deciding whether to visit one or to visit the other. Luckily, these two spots are located within walking distance of each other, with Blind Lady located on Adams Avenue in Normal Heights and Tiger!Tiger! right on the corner of 30th and El Cajon Boulevard in North Park. Go to both. Both spots have friendly, knowledgeable staff, awesome beer lists, and incredible food. Both spots also play host to Automatic Brewing Company, the brewery where former Stone brewer Lee Chase (and San Diego beer super-dude) makes some fun and delicious beers. Be sure to note, however, that both spots are closed on Monday for line cleaning and draft maintenance, these guys are that serious about the beer.
Matt and Rachael Akin have quickly built one impressive brewing operation over at Benchmark Brewing Company. After gaining commercial brewing experience at AleSmith Brewing Company, Matt opened up his own brewery with a focus on sessionable-style ales. His “life-changing” Oatmeal Stout won Gold Medal recognition at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival in the “Session Beer” category. With session IPAs being the latest and greatest trend, this Gold Medal accomplishment is no small feat for a beer that is by definition not hoppy and full of robust flavor. Their family-friendly tasting room has a local sports focus, and it is a terrific spot to catch a game and enjoy a pint (or several pints throughout a session).
A thrill for the microbiology nerd and the beer geek alike, any visit to White Labs’ facility in San Diego is bound to be both an educational and (now) thirst quenching experience. The tasting room at White Labs features a ton of educational content with information about yeast and about the laboratory processes that White Labs is using to culture, propagate, store, and deliver world-class brewers’ yeast to some of the most well-known breweries in the world. The tasting room also features 32 taps where you can taste split batches of beer, side-by-side. By taking the same wort and fermenting the beer with a different yeast strain, the beer drinker and brewer can learn what each yeast strain imparts upon a batch of beer. Learning and drinking could not be more scientifically fun.
Another iconoclastic member of the “Old Guard” of breweries in San Diego, AleSmith Brewing Company opened in 1995 and it has been brewing some of the highest quality beers in San Diego and winning awards and recognition ever since. AleSmith brews possibly one of the most diverse, yet consistently awesome, lineup of beers. Pale ales, IPAs, barleywines, imperial stouts, old ales…you are sure to find something you will love from this brewery. If you keep an eye out for their Barrel-Aged beer releases, you can purchase bottles of Barrel-Aged Speedway Stout or Barrel-Aged Old Numbskull online and then pick up your beer at your own leisure in their tasting room.
Karl Strauss Brewing Company is one of the oldest, yet still one of the most relevant breweries in San Diego. Go check out their Tasting Room at the production brewery location where you can catch a glimpse of the bottling line in action. Or, you can check out the lab where Karl’s quality assurance team does its thing in order to make sure that bad beer never leaves the brewery. These guys take the mantra “quality, quality, quality…” to heart. While you are there, try the GABF medal winning Mosaic Session IPA. Brewed with 2-row barley, malted wheat, and a kiss of crystal 10 malt, this beer has a refrained malt profile to showcase the glory of the Mosaic hop. Damn tasty stuff.
Tom Nickel, the owner and proprietor of O’Brien’s Pub, is a living legend in the San Diego beer community. Former brewer at both Pizza Port and at Oggi’s brewpubs, and current owner and the brewer at Nickel Beer Company, Tom was also instrumental in founding the San Diego Brewers Guild. As the owner of O’Brien’s Pub, an awesome beer bar in Kearny Mesa, Tom is a publican in every sense of the word. In fact, Societe Brewing Company (located just around the corner from the Pub in Kearny Mesa) brews a beer named “The Publican” in honor of the man, and Tom’s silhouette adorns the tap handle. All that to say: if you’re looking for a genuine pub, look no further. This place will have you covered.
A bit more of a brewpub, than a production brewery, Monkey Paw is driven by the philosophy of the brewer. Here, Cosimo Sorrentino is the man behind the beer, and in a sense, Monkey Paw is the actualization of Cos’ vision and philosophy of beer. And it is awesome. Hop-driven, innovative, with a focus on crisp and clean drinking beers, Monkey Paw is a must visit brewpub for a house beer and some delicious food. Head to this brewpub for one of the best cheesesteaks in town, and pair it with a pint of something hoppy; you won’t be disappointed.
Recently named as the Best Bottle Shop in San Diego by San Diego CityBeat magazine, this establishment certainly lives up to its name. If you are looking to pick up some bottles of local San Diego beer to ensconce home in your luggage, here is the perfect stop on the way to the airport. The annual Sour Fest (now in its fourth year) hosted at the Best Damn Beer Shop is also a “do-not-miss” event for all those beer enthusiasts who cannot get enough of the sour beer trend.
Focused on cultural, sustainable fare, Alchemy delivers an elevated dining experience that does not feel pretentious. Located right next door to the legendary Hamilton’s Tavern, Alchemy’s beer list is right alongside with a spin toward local beers that are clean, crisp, yet full of flavors to compliment or contrast any meal. With a menu of crowd pleasers and things that to suit the bold, you shouldn’t have too much of a hard time finding something delicious—and the shoe-string frites with house-made curry ketchup and garlic aioli are not to be missed.
Representing one-third of the Scot Blair triumvirate (he is also the owner of Monkey Paw and Small Bar SD), Hamilton’s Tavern is a historic beer bar located in the South Park neighborhood. Extremely deliberate in decision making when it comes to beer, you will not find anything that does not make the cut on tap at Hamilton’s. Check out this spot for one of their “Bites + Flights” events, a food and beer pairing that always showcases a local brewery alongside some delicious small bites of food.