San Diego

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San Diego Beer Wiki


It's important to start by noting that most San Diegans think not just of the city of San Diego, but the populated portion of San Diego County when discussing "San Diego beer." That covers everything from the (yet to open) Bagby Beer in the northwest corner of the county in Oceanside, to the heralded Alpine Beer Company, 35 minutes east of downtown San Diego and what feels like a world away from the coastal areas of the county, conveniently home to a few different Pizza Port locations. This creates headaches for people looking to hit all the area all-stars over the course of a day, so trying to group visits to within a small area is recommended.

That said, a useful interactive google map of all the breweries (and bottle shops, and homebrew stores, bars, etc) can be found at West Coaster's website.

Another page on West Coaster's site has a continually-updated index of what breweries exist in the county as well as what's slated to open in the future. It seems redundant and fraudulent to replicate their handywork, so a link should suffice until someone adds detail for each and every friggin brewery on this page.

Craft Beer-Centric Bars & Restaurants

To start, let's reiterate West Coaster's comprehensive google map-driven annex of hot spots in the area.

Now, depending on where you're spending your time, there are a few must-visit places:

North County (let's call it north of highway 56, Del Mar, and Poway)

  • Pizza Port Carlsbad - until PP starts canning (late 2013?) you have to go to the source to get some of the best beer around. Video games, TVs, pizza, VERY family-friendly across the board. There are four, soon to be five Pizza Port locations, all of which are owned by the Marsaglia siblings, who also own Port/Lost Abbey as a separate venture, but it should be stressed that the beer at each location is brewed on site and they do not share the same beers (which is either a good or a bad thing, depending on how you see it).
  • Stone Brewing (Escondido) - duh. People tend to generally gravitate toward the majority opinion that the food isn't all that hot for how much it costs, but this is partially made up for by Stone's consistent tap list, a fairly acceptable guest tap list, and the gorgeous grounds and building which make for terrific post-work get-togethers and adult birthday parties outside that aren't at a beach or a park. Can get crowded, but if you're not arriving at 6:45 on a Friday or Saturday night you'll find a parking spot just fine and some place to stand or sit with a drink.
  • URGE Gastropub (Rancho Bernardo) - always solid tap list, and is alone on an island in an area a bit starved for great beer bars. They frequently have tap takeovers, not uncommon in itself, but with 40 or so taps, having (for example) an all-Allagash takeover is a treat.
  • Churchill's Pub and Grille - Often has an excellent tap list of rarer beers that is semi-frequently updated on their website, which can be helpful if you are in the area visiting Stone and/or Port/Lost Abbey.

Northern Part of the city of San Diego (south of highway 56, west of interstate 15, and north of interstate 8)

  • Eureka! (UTC Mall) - A very new place, burgers, beer & whiskeys are their thing. Noting this here because they have good local options on tap, it's very centralized, the burgers are good, and if you happen to have a partner who enjoys shopping this is a great place to kill some time while that happens. Their beer buyer seems to have a good sense of what's new, local and good so I'm expecting them to continue to have solid choices available.
  • SD Tap Room (Pacific Beach) -
  • O'Brien's - By far the least populated by hipsters with ironic facial hair of the County's craft beer spots due to the fact that it is located in the corner of a strip mall in the San Diego equivalent of Chinatown (e.g. nowhere near the craft beer cluster of North Park/South Park). The typical crowd is quite a bit older than the above options, but mostly comprised of older regulars. Service is quite good and the tap list is frequently updated on the website. Owned by Tom Nickel, a former World Beer Cup winning brewmaster who is often working at the bar (but does not produce any beer on site).

East County (east of interstate 15 and north of interstate 8)

  • KnB Wine Cellars (Del Cerro) - Just north of interstate 8 across from SDSU, this is a little gem tucked away in a strip mall. They serve small plates of food (and sometimes full dinners), sport a locals-heavy tap list of around 25 beers, oh, and there's also a first-class bottle shop in the rest of the building which you can purchase from and open on premises, a rarity in this area. Unlike the assumptions many have, this isn't a college/frat bar, and is more of a neighborhood bar/eatery where you're just as likely to see some young bearded hipsters as you are a couple in their 60s enjoying a wine flight over some tapas. They're apparently going to start a pilot brewing system soon too.

Southern Part of the city of San Diego + all areas south (south of interstate 8) - There's really a ton of fantastic bars, restaurants, and brewpubs in this area, as it's got the highest concentration of people. While this doesn't need to be a comprehensive list, here's some highlights...

  • Blind Lady Ale House - Blind Lady is home to both a craft beer centric bar as well as the Automatic Brewing Co. which apparently operates out of the back. Often very crowded and the food is quite expensive. BLAH is somewhat distant from the other high profile beer bars, but occasionally the City/Bars run a bus between BLAH and the other famous places like Hamilton's and Toronado. Seating is a premium and there are often children present. The Tiger! Tiger! has common ownership with and is similar in feel to the BLAH.
  • Toronado - San Diego's version of the famous San Francisco Toronado beer bar. By all accounts the San Diego version of the bar is superior in every way from the original San Francisco version, although regulars of the San Francisco original will disagree (probably just because its "their" bar). Other than the name and logos and the fact that they are on the same distribution list for beers made specifically for the Toronado, there is no real relationship between the two. The SF original is famous for not taking credit/tabs and for having rude or derisive waitstaff, which is not a "feature" at the San Diego version. As for the bar itself, there are around 40 taps, full menu, accepts credit cards/tabs. Unlike many of the other spots in town, the Toronado is rarely extra crowded, even on weekends, but there is not an abundance of seating. Tap list is rarely if ever updated on the website and it can be somewhat difficult to tell when events are going to occur here, but overall this is one of the best spots in town if you are looking to try a lot of different beers and you don't want to be crowded out. Bring a jacket; they never close that swinging door.
  • Hamilton's - Located in the South Park district on a very unassuming street. Tap list is updated almost daily on their website. While the tap list is excellent and they do a great job telling you about events and such on their site, the bar is often extremely crowded on all but the slowest days. It does not help that the bar is half filled with pool tables and a shuffleboard table. Kitchen is excellent but service is slow and unpredictable as to when it will be open. Be sure to check the hours since Hamilton's opens relatively late for a bar on any given day. Owned by Scot Blair, who you will very often see hanging around the bar and who also owns the Small Bar and the Monkey's Paw Pub and Brewery. All three have a very similar feel, but be careful if you want to visit the Monkey's Paw because it is in an actual ghetto and not merely a gentrified former ghetto (although again, argyle and ironic facial rule when you go inside).
  • Slater's 50/50 (Liberty Station) - 100+ beers on tap, build your own burgers. That's really all that needs to be said. Service from tables can be very slow due to a strange system of translating your order from A to B. They also have a full service bar (read: liquor) if you have non-craft beer nerd friends to feed.
  • Pizza Port Ocean Beach - Nice location on the beach in a slightly shady part of town. This is the most accessible of the Pizza Port locations if you do not live in North County, but it is also somewhat difficult to access due to the fact that there is little parking near the beach. The beer, while good, is not of the same quality or selection as the flagship Carlsbad location.
  • Live Wire - One of the "original" beer bars in town; this looks exactly like a full-on dive complete with old 80s movies on the CRT televisions, broken down pool table and red vinyl. The reason I say "looks like" instead of "is" is because on a Saturday night, you will see the same assortment of ironic facial hair you will see at any of the other above bars. Although there are only 10 or so taps, it is often quite inexpensive to drink here.

Bottle Shops

Like the bars/restaurants/brewpubs in the county, this list can go on for quite a while. The standard for a "decent" bottle shop has been raised considerably even in the last year or so, turning a number of previously nondescript liquor stores into full blown beer meccas over the course of a few months. Everyone's got their 'secret spot' or two, and that secret spot is likely shared by dozens of beer fiends in the immediate area, but many of the heavy hitters in the county are diligent about posting updates on social media when new/rare arrivals come in to reward those willing to drive around a bit to get their desired allocation of the newest hot item.

With that said, let's break this section down the same way the bars/restaurants/brewpubs section is divided:

North County (let's call it north of highway 56, Del Mar, and Poway)

Pizza Port Bottle Shop (Carlsbad) - next door to the restaurant is a terrific bottle shop with plenty of options that are difficult to find elsewhere. The employees, in my experience, have been helpful in suggesting and weeding out the gems among the lesser known European breweries.

Texas Wine & Spirits (Carlsbad) - cramped, slightly expensive for the rarer items, but the fact they've got them in the first place is a testament to their selection. People doing the beer tourist thing in Carlsbad can hit this shop and PP C'bad's bottle shop back to back - they're on the same street.

Holiday Wine Cellar (Escondido) -

Northern Part of the city of San Diego (south of highway 56, west of interstate 15, and north of interstate 8)

Mesa Liquor & Wine Co (Kearny Mesa) -

Bristol Farms (La Jolla) -

Whole Foods (La Jolla) -

East County (east of interstate 15 and north of interstate 8)

KnB Wine Cellars (Del Cerro) - Also a bar/eatery, but the selection here is heavy on Belgians and they have a steady supply of Pliny which is always nice.

Beverages 4 Less (Santee) - If you lack a moral center and don't care about bottle muling, ridiculous markups, or skunky beer, make sure to hit this place up. The selection's terrific, but no A/C in a very hot part of the city + a gouging owner + annoying sales guys = find it elsewhere unless you absolutely, positively, cannot do so. They used to be the only store which shipped, too, but that's changed now, removing the one ace they had up their sleeve.

Windy City Liquor (El Cajon) - A pretty new place that's expanding their choices and ships too. I can't confirm this, but I believe they also ship some of the "limit 1" sorts of beers too, unlike a few other places in town which retain those for their local customers.

Southern Part of the city of San Diego + all areas south (south of interstate 8)

Palm Springs Liquor (La Mesa/Lemon Grove/Spring Valley (where they all kinda meet)) - Hole in the wall, there's a slim chance you could be involved in a robbery situation at any given time, but the beer selection is rapidly taking over shelf after shelf and they've got things which I don't see anywhere else. A little cramped, and you'll constantly be moving out of the way of people if you're trying to view what's on some of the end caps, but it seems that whenever anywhere else in the area has sold out of a limited release beer, they'll still have them on the shelf, and it's not because they've bought them from another store and jacked the price up; everything's monetarily in line with the rest of the fair-priced places in the area.

Helix Liquor (El Cajon) - The son of the couple who own it has been given carte blanche with the beer ordering, so they're quickly growing out their selection, heavy on San Diego breweries and never lacking in limited releases. Another place which is quick to update what's fresh on the shelves via Facebook.

Bine & Vine (Normal Heights) - The shop with perhaps the best reputation in the area, and one of four places to receive Westvleteren XII when it was released stateside (Best Damn Beer Shop, Bottlecraft and Holiday Wine Cellar being the other three). The owner, Geoi, is quick on Twitter/Facebook to alert people of what's new, and he's got a great taste for what to order. If you're a saison fan, get there asap. Everything's open and accessible in the store, and right between a few different freeways so it's never far away. They also do online orders and have an easily-browsable site for seeing what's available.

Bottlecraft (North Park & Downtown) - I've personally never been to either location, somehow, but I know their reputation and they need to be on this list. I'll let someone else fill this one out.

Clem's Bottle House (Kensington) - Again, haven't been here, but heard decent things. I'll let someone else edit this to reflect how it actually is.

Best Damn Beer Shop (Downtown) - It's not a trip to BDBS unless a bum hits you up for your recently-purchased booze or the money you used to buy said booze. Probably the best collection of singles in the county, they have a ton of square footage to expand if they want and have begun to do so in the last 9 months or so. They also host (at a nearby building) big tasting parties with some truly jaw-dropping keg/bottle lists, from stouts to sours and a lot in between. Very good about keeping customers abreast of new releases (which they can reserve bottles of) via email mailing list.

Keg Guys, aka Fuller Liquor (Old Town/Sports Arena area) - Good about updating on Twitter/Facebook and seems to be tucked away in an area of town that's more industrial/tourist-based, so the "local crowd" is small and their limited releases usually last a few days. There's really no such thing as a "hidden spot" in a large metropolitan city, but this gets touted as one of those places by a number of people.

Olive Tree Marketplace (Ocean Beach) - A visit here is almost compulsory with a visit to Pizza Port OB. While I personally find their selection a little thin compared to some other places, they have a great reputation for stocking prime choices from breweries like Fantome and a number of small Belgian/Dutch breweries which we don't really see elsewhere around here. I've also heard they have very good sandwiches in the shop too, but I'll let someone else confirm/deny that.

What Is/Is Not Available Here?

For local beers, the short answer can be found by checking the West Coaster link at the top of the wiki. Beyond that, the always-useful and frequently-updated SeekABrew is there to give you a good idea of what's on store shelves. Aside from all the beer-focused stores listed above, Bevmo and basically every grocery store will also have a fair to surprisingly good selection of local and regional crafts. If you're a nerd (and you're on a beer wiki page, so you are), view the selections at the following shops: Bine & Vine & Holiday Wine Cellar - between the two sites, you'll gain a good idea of what should be available in whatever good store you enter.

Spending some time on beer trading forums, the beers we don't get which seem to be the most desired by San Diegans and Californians on the whole are Founders, Bell, Cigar City, Three Floyds, and the highly-sought after Goose Island offerings (BCBS and the like). Standards from those breweries for things like Alpine or Russian River are common trades we have to make.

"I Have One Day In San Diego..."

(Going to make this to be an "I'm around (neighborhood) and have a day, what do I need to do?" section which should be a comprehensive enough answer to not have to reiterate it each time it comes up in the SA thread)

Tips For Tourists

(General things like "don't try to take more than 6 people to Alpine's pub, they will turn you away completely," "where to get a beer in the airport," "if you don't have a car, kiss a bunch of the best places goodbye," and a brief list of traps of both the tourist and CHP varieties. Also, Mexico?)