In San Diego it feels like there is a new craft brewery popping up every day. The county houses over 100 craft breweries, making it one of the most densely populated areas in the United States when it comes to craft breweries, brewpubs, and microbreweries. It is home to the founding of the Double IPA (Vinnie Cilurzo, current owner of Russian River Brewing Company) and was a haven during prohibition due to its proximity to Tijuana. It's the place to go for beer drinkers who are into IPAs, but luckily there's so much beer flowing that there's really something for everyone. With 100 breweries currently in operation and more debuting each year, it can be difficult to prioritize which San Diego breweries to visit. While in town last month I had the opportunity to partake in many, and here are my current top 5:
Even though it was founded by a Bruin (and at a billion dollar acquisition price it's hard to call it a microbrewery), the creativity and expansiveness of Ballast Point's beers are hard to compete with. Most commonly know for their Sculpins (Regular IPA, Habanero IPA, and Grapefruit IPA), each of their multiple taprooms throughout San Diego have over 25 beers on tap, many of which can only be found at their breweries. While you're there, even if you don't like dark beers, you have to try their stouts. There's Indra Kunindra which is a curry stout (sounds weird, but it works) and plenty of oatmeal, chocolate, and coffee stouts for the traditionalists.
With over 20 years of brewing under its belt, Coronado knows what people like and they aim to please. Their eight Core Series beers brewed year round are all crowd pleasers with my favorites being the Blue Ridge Coffee Stout and the Islander IPA. That said they are also always experimenting with new beers in their brewers series. You can check out their calendar to see what's up next and plan your visit accordingly. They have a location on Knoxille Street which has lots of beer on tap, a location on Coronado Island which is more of a brewpub as well as a location in Imperial Beach. While there, try the basics as well as whatever's new in town.
Somewhat newer to the brewing scene, Green Flash has quickly risen to its esteemed place as the 4th largest brewery in San Diego and the 48th largest craft brewery nationwide (based on sales volume). With their extensive and ever changing beer list and outdoor patio area, you could spend all day here and still have more to try. Their claim to fame is, surprise, surprise, a double IPA they call the West Coast IPA. While not an IPA, my absolute favorite was their new Cosmic Ristretto. It's like a mocha iced coffee in a beer!
Half Door Brewing opened in early 2015 under the beer leadership of Daniel Drayne and his son Daniel Drayne Jr. who got their brewing starts at Coronado Brewing Company. They are kings of small batch brewing which means there's always something new at their Gaslamp location. They're best known for their Bearleener Sour Wheat, which is a surprisingly smooth and refreshing sour. It's perfect to enjoy on their southern inspired wrap-around porch on a warm summer night. Not into sours? Their IPAs are incredibly balanced and drinkable, even to a non-IPA fan. So the short of it is, if you haven't liked it before, try it here :).
Located in a property formerly occupied by Stone Brewing Company, The Lost Abbey (a part of Port Brewing Co.) is in good company. Started by the owners of Pizza Port (who moved their head brewer over to Lost Abbey in 2006), their focus is on sours, barrel-aged, and Belgians. There are six beers always on tap, and The Lost Abbey is perpetually bringing new beers into the mix. There are the traditional Belgian style beers as well as their “non-denominational” line made in no particular style. You must try the Judgement Day as it's one of their most famous. I also recommend the Red Barn Ale. Contrary to its name, it's a saison and it's delicious.
P.S. Headed to San Diego and need to know what to do? Download this one day guide to San Diego to jumpstart planning the perfect trip.