Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Beer Tourism: San Diego

Modern Times
I recently went on a trip to San Diego and the southwest to see my family and go camping. Since I'm from San Diego I usually make this trip 2-3 times a year. If you don't already know San Diego is one of the craft beer meccas of the world, if not the beer mecca: 90-ish breweries up and running in the county (and dozens more in the works), several craft beer juggernauts (Stone, Green Flash, Alesmith, Ballast Point, Port/Lost Abbey, etc), lots of fast rising stars (Societe and Modern Times), entire neighborhoods that are defined by their craft beer culture, and some of the best bars (a seperate IPA bar housed in a shipping container within another craft beer bar? Yes please) and bottle shops around. I mean a small mountain town with one main street, no stoplights, and a population of 1500 people has 2 breweries! 

This is essentially the Disneyland of craft beer. 
Modern Times
While beer is never the sole reason for my trips to San Diego it's always involved. This is a recounting of my last trip to San Diego breweries and one in Arizona thrown in. The rundown in the order I visited them:

Modern Times**
Arizona Wilderness (AZ; ratebeer's 2013 best new brewery in the world)**
Ballast Point (Scripps Ranch location)
Green Flash
Groundswell Brewing**
Coronado Brewing (Knox St)*
Pizza Port (Solana Beach)
Culture Brewing**
Stone Brewing (Liberty Station)**
Nickel Brewing**
* New to me
**New brewery

Lots of breweries, so I'm not going to do a blow-by-blow (you can look at the pretty pictures), but I'm going to hit the highlights and summarize my thoughts. 

Modern Times and Culture were easily my favorites of the new breweries. MT is about 10 minutes from the airport so this is worthy of a stop when you get into town. Their Fortunate Islands hoppy wheat and Black House coffee stout are 2 new favorites of mine and their space is great. Culture is a few minutes walk from the beach in north SD county and definitely has a surf vibe. Lots of variety in the beers they brew and all of them were tasty. Again the space here is wonderful; small with nicely finished woods everywhere, but there's 2 garage door size openings that make it feel big- one is the entrance and the other leads to an outdoor patio. The bonus to a Culture visit is that pizza port is a block away. Pizza port has multiple locations in San Diego and all of them serve fantastic pizza and house brewed beers (some of which they've started canning). 

The other new places: Wet'n'reckless, Intergalactic, Groundswell, and Nickel all were mostly positive visits. WNR is tiny tiny tiny, but the beers were good. Intergalactic and Groundswell were both fun places, with nice space and good beers. Nickel is intriguing since it's in that 1500 people mountain town. The beers were interesting, but average. I would likely go back as there's something that tells me they will improve. 

The only non-SD brewery I went to was Arizona Wilderness outside of Phoeniz, AZ. They recently were awarded RateBeer's "2013 Best New Brewery in the World" title... and I'm not sure why after my visit. When I went they had 5 beers on tap, none of which I would drink again as they were average at best. Service was slow and the food we ordered was just okay (fries were great though). I'm not saying AZW is a bad brewery/brewpub, and for all I know I could've been there on a bad night, but results from my one point of data inducate I'd rather go to dozens of other places before I go to AZW again. 

Most of the other breweries I visited this time around were places i'd been to before or places that had a new location (Stone and Coronado). One thing that really struck me about a lot of the places was the amount of inviting space they have available for beer drinkers to lounge around in; something that Indy breweries are sorely lacking. There are few places that come to mind around here that I would actually spend time in other than to fill my growler. It's unfair to compare Indy breweries to posh beer landmarks like Stone and Green Flash, but there are breweries in San Diego that do a lot more with a lot less and that's ignoring the weather and geographic advantages they may have. There's a fair amount of breweries in Indy that make better beer, but I'd pick the SD counterparts just because they're a lot more inviting. In other words It's time for places to start thinking outside the (cold concrete) box. Again, it's unfair to compare the scenes in my 2 homes, but there's a lot that can be learned from San Diego's beer community... I mean they've got to be doing something right if they can sustain all those breweries.

Whether or not you've been there before, there's always something new to explore in the San Diego craft beer scene. I would highly recommend anyone with a serious interest in craft beer take a trip there and spend at least few days exploring. You will come away with a serious appreciation for the San Diego beer scene... just don't blame me if you don't want to leave.   

Arizona Wilderness
Ballast Point

Green Flash
Coronado Brewing- Knox St

Culture Brewing

Stone- Liberty Station

Stone- Liberty Station

Nickel Brewing

Nickel Brewing


  1. Nice article! I'm actually in the process of planning a trip to San Diego for this summer.

    1. Thanks Paul! If you want some tips or anything let me know... I'd be happy to help you sort through things.