Brewery Travels #29: San Diego
San Diego County has somewhere around 200 breweries/brewpubs at the moment. That doesn’t even include the ones that have duplicate locations (and there are plenty of those). To say I have my work cut out for me during my stay here would be a drastic understatement. Thankfully, I’m not one to back down from a challenge and have been taking advantage of my time. For those unaware of the San Diego craft scene, there are several areas and neighborhoods flush with breweries. Downtown and nearby North Park are the most centrally located areas, and both have clusters that are extremely walkable. What separates San Diego from other large metropolises lies up north. Staying within city limits, Miramar and Kearny Mesa have an overwhelming number of options. Further north, the communities of Escondido, Vista, and Oceanside provide a multitude of offerings. Even the suburbs of La Mesa, Chula Vista, Ocean Beach, and El Cajon have several establishments. Basically, anywhere you go you can find fresh, locally made, and usually delicious craft beer. I’ve selected four of the breweries I’ve experienced to this point that I have enjoyed the most:
1. Mike Hess Brewing, San Diego (North Park location)
2. Mikkeller Brewing, San Diego (Miramar)
3. Modern Times Brewing, San Diego (North Park location)
4. Novo Brazil Brewing, Chula Vista
Mike Hess has become one of the bigger names in the San Diego beer community, and in many ways, the nation. In fact, he has spoke at the last several Craft Brewer’s Conference and is regarded as one of the experts on nanobreweries. I visited the main location in North Park and was a huge fan. You walk in on a catwalk with the 30-barrel system sitting below you on each side. It’s a unique entrance, and an eye-catching one at that. My other favorite aspect of the taproom is the mural of downtown San Diego, and the medals hanging directly above it. While this is one of my favorite taprooms in the area, the beer is what sets them apart. Each beer is an immaculate example of the style. And for the most part, there are no crazy recipes or additives, just straight-forward, delicious brews.
As a sour fan, I of course loved My Other Vice, the Berliner Weisse that has the perfect level of tartness. But the beer that impressed me the most was Claritas, the Kolsch. I’ve had many a Kolsch during my travels, but I have never been blown away by one the same way Claritas did. So clean, so crisp, this is simply an amazing crushable beer. Moving on, I also enjoyed my dark option, Brunus. This Robust Porter was another to-style choice, with smooth chocolate notes. 8 West, an Orange Honey Wheat, was similar to Claritas in that it is wonderfully easy, but with a balanced mixture of sweet honey and orange. My IPA of the stop was Into the Sunset, which is their classic IPA but with Blood Orange. It’s more subtle on the nose, but on the first sip you do get a rush of orange up front.
I had high expectations going to Mike Hess, and yet I walked away even more impressed than I imagined. This is easily one of the best breweries I have been to, not just in San Diego, but in the entire country. Plus being in the brewery-packed North Park area means you can visit plenty of others after you stop here!
Mikkeller is certainly an interesting story. It was founded back in 2006 over in Denmark and focused on making collaborations and experimental beers without operating their own official brewery. Fast forward to now, and there are now two Mikkeller breweries in the Unitied States. One just opened in New York, and the other (opened in 2016) is found in San Diego. The spot they are using was formerly home to AleSmith, but they have made it their own. A common theme of Mikkeller is the use of colorful, abstract murals depicting people doing a variety of things (drinking and surfing in California). They also host a running club and a variety of events, including trivia nights. In terms of beer, they have up to 19 beers on tap, and seem to lean heavily on Northeast styles (IPAs and Pale Ales), as well as several sours.
And speaking of those beers, they are delicious. All four I had were excellent, but two stuck out. Raspberry Blush is one of the best sours I’ve had anywhere. A Berliner Weisse with raspberries and coffee from 2nd Craft Coffee, it’s devilishly tart with heaps of Raspberry on the nose and tongue. The coffee is in the background, just present enough so you know it’s there. Traeblod was the other big winner. This Imperial Maple Stout is like drinking pancakes that have been drenched in alcohol. The maple sweetness helps add some balance. The other two were both great as well. Resting Brew Face, a NEIPA, has amble melon, orange peel, and overall tropical notes, giving this hazy brew a nice body. One of the classics, California Dream provides a easy-going option as a Hoppy Pilsner. Crisp with a slight bitterness, it’s simple, yet satisfying.
You can expect to find a variety of fun options at Mikkeller, and they seem to be always adding new recipes to their repertoire. I would definitely recommend this place if you are into the current haze craze or enjoy some tartness in your drink.
The main Modern Times brewery is up North in Point Loma, home to a 30-barrel system. I do hope to make a trek up there, but I did stop by their tasting room in North Park, known as the ‘Flavordome’. This is one of the more interesting spaces I’ve been in, as the décor is seemingly random and prominent. First of all, the ceiling is covered in lamps. Like old lamps that are all mounted upside down. Some of them act as the actual lighting. In one corner, colorful floppy drives form a collage. The bar is coated with the ends of VHS boxes, and another wall seems to be lined with pages from encyclopedias and maps. Church pews provide part of the seating, and large floor-to-ceiling windows allow plenty of natural light and street views.
They’ve got some good stuff brewing at Modern Times, and similar to Mikkeller, the haze craze has seemingly taken over. Dinosaur World (an awesome name), is one of the Hazy DIPAs offered on tap. It was slightly sweeter than other similar beers, with lots of tropic character. Citrus, grapefruit, orange, there is plenty to take in. My sour here was New Atlantis, a bold Wine Barrel-aged Pale Sour. The tartness sits more in the back, and the wine elements are more prevalent. My easy-going choice was Ice, a basic Pilsner. Even for this style, this one went down quick. Black House was the dark beer of the flight. An Oatmeal Coffee Stout, it’s got a medium-body, and the coffee punches hardest in the aftertaste. They seem to try to rotate in plenty of new options, but also have some mainstays to keep customers happy.
Visiting any Modern Times location will enthrall the senses, but especially your taste and vision. The one in Point Loma apparently has a cool collage using post-it notes, so that’s something different.
I spent the final month of my undergrad studies in Brazil. So when I walked into Novo Brazil it brought back many wonderful memories. Bright colored beams, stools, and labels, a colorful parrot mural on the outside of the building, and beer names that showcase places, events, and culture of Brazil all funnel into one great experience. Whether you’ve been able to walk along Copacabana Beach or not, you can at least drink a beer that carries its name. They just celebrated their 3-year anniversary with their own Carnaval Celebration. I should mention that the owners are actually from Brazil, so this is not just some gimmick. And off to the side you can see they have won several awards from different competitions.
Jobim Haze was my favorite of the six beers I sampled. A Northeast IPA, the juicy palate of pineapple, mango, and pear leads to a refreshing taste. My other two high scorers were Corro Negro, a dark Russian Imperial Stout that won a bronze at the World Beer Cup, and Passion of the Weisse, a Berliner Weisse that leans heavily on peach and passion fruit. For a fun beer that represents the theme better than any, order The Carnaval, a coconut lager that will have you feeling like your sitting below a palm tree somewhere warm. The coconut is especially strong on the nose. Also, the aforementioned Copacabana is a more classic, West Coast-style IPA.
The Brewers Association recently released their list of the 50 Fastest Growing Breweries in the US, and Novo Brazil came in at #8. So, I am clearly not the only person who has become a fan of these guys. All I have to say them: Obrigado!
There is so much to take in here in San Diego. It’s slightly overwhelming, as it seems everywhere you go there is another brewery to visit. That said, it’s not a bad problem to have! I still have some to visit in North Park, but the majority of my time will need to be spent further north for the next couple months. There will be another article on San Diego breweries at some point!
I’ve traveled up to Los Angeles a few times now and have been able to visit several breweries across the area. Downtown, Torrance, and Anaheim all have some entertaining spots, and I’ll select the cream of the crop to profile!
Current Brewery Count
292 breweries across 130 cities in 29 states. For an up-to-date count, and to follow my adventures, you can click the links below.