After discussing a few Los Angeles-area spots, we head back down I-5 to one of the best beer cities in America. At this point I’ve visited 60 breweries across San Diego County. The first San Diego article looked at four amazing establishments, but the longer I have stayed here, the more delicious beers I’ve found. In fact, all four breweries discussed in this article were places I hit after that first article. There were several I considered including, and in the conclusion, I’ll give a few of my other favorites a shout out. But for now, prepare to delve into more of the craft scene in America’s Finest City. If you compare the map below to the earlier one, you may notice a slightly more northern focus this time around, as I have made my way further up the coast a few more times.
- Stone Brewing, Escondido
- Home Brewing, San Diego
- Pure Project, San Diego
- White Labs Brewing, San Diego
I could write an entire article on Stone. Started back in 1996, they are a big reason why the West Coast IPA soared in popularity. After humble beginnings, they now not only have two impressive facilities in the San Diego area, but also breweries in Virginia and Berlin! And when I say impressive, I am underselling it. Escondido is home to the Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens and walking into the main dining area can take your breath away. Towering ceilings with floor to ceiling windows looking into either the brewery or gardens on either side greet you, a cool rock formation is right in the middle near the bar area, and a massive stone wall inscribed with the gargoyle logo looks down on guests. The food is delicious too, as I enjoyed the ribs and my wife had the barley and spinach salad. If you have time, the tour is informative, both in their brewing process and the history of Stone. You wind through the brew houses and the separate building for packaging.
Between my flight with lunch and the samplings during the tour, I tried nine beers. And for the most part I loved them all. IPAs made Stone famous, and five of the samples I had were of this variety. I’m Peach and Enjoy By 5.17.18 were the two best of the bunch. We were actually trying the first batch of I’m Peach, and for those who enjoy a little sweetness in their IPA, this is a good choice. Enjoy By is a series that is of course geared towards producing a fresh IPA. In this case it was dry-hopped with Nelson and Galaxy hops and was a dank delight. Other highlights include Pineapple A-Salt, a Pineapple Chili Gose with a nice unique heat on the back end to compliment the salinity, and Totalitarian Imperial Russian Stout, with it’s roasty, smooth, and oaky body. Keep an eye out for Fear Movie Lines, as I got to sample the pilot batch of this new Hazy IPA.
Side note: Stone was my 300th brewery, which made it an even more memorable experience. If you are in San Diego for the beer scene, you would be remiss to not include this iconic spot. And if you don’t want to drive up to Escondido, the Liberty Station location is right near the airport outside of downtown.
Visiting Home Brewing was such a great experience. Located right on El Cajon Boulevard in North Park, the location is tough to beat. Six years as a homebrew store (called The Homebrewer), 3 years as a brewery and tasting room, they have a fun place. It’s split basically right in half, with the homebrew store on the left, and the taproom on the right. Ingredients, equipment, and books provide the shopper plenty to look at, while the plethora of taps (16 when I visited) give visitors a variety of options to drink. The 7 bbl-brewhouse is directly behind the wall of the taproom, and I was able to get the tour thanks to head brewer Jacob. They work on several smaller experimental batches amongst their regulars and offer several styles you do not see as often. I’d also like to point out that calling the brewery Home Brewing is an excellent play on words.
Lots of great beer! Thanks to Jacob, I was able to try a total of seven beers. Four stuck out, starting with Raspberry Zungen Brecher, a somewhat unique offering called a Lichtenhainer made with smoked fruit while showcasing a nice tartness. Be careful if you order It’s a Stout!, as it drinks much easier than the 10% ABV would suggest along with rich chocolate and a dark caramel. This was my second favorite behind the Zungen Brecher. Two styles that are often under represented were executed well here. Monk’s Lunch, a to-style Belgian Single, and Owl’s Lament, a Weizenbock with burnt sugar and caramel throughout were both enjoyable. And for those seeking an IPA, Sharks with Lasers should quench your thirst with plenty of peach and orange notes. Finally, Your Favorite Beer is your typical light, crushable blonde, perfect for that hot summer day.
Whether you are looking to buy some hops, a book on brewing techniques, or would rather just kick back with a beer made by someone else, Home Brewing is the place for you! It’s clear the people here are passionate about their work, which certainly makes the experience even better.
Pure Project had been hyped up to me by a few people since getting to San Diego, and I’m happy to report it lives up to it. It’s somewhat unassuming, sitting in the back of a business park in Miramar next to Amplified Ale Works. The space is also on the small side, but they really spruced it up. I would describe it as woodsy and natural, with lots of log tables, vines slithering around the menu, and a neat wood wall complete with their logo made from moss. In the back you can also catch a glimpse of the brewhouse. As the name hints at, they focus on providing ‘pure’ products, focusing on using quality ingredients and sustainability. Their website also mentions several organizations they support, many of who are local. Bottle releases are a big deal here, so if you are in the area keep your eye out for what is coming out next.
Thoroughly enjoyed all five beers I sampled. My favorite, Madeline, is a Barrel-aged Mixed Fermentation Farmhouse Saison that walks the line between extreme tartness and some barnyard funk. My second favorite was a doozy, as Log Cabin w/coffee comes in at 12.8%. This Imperial Stout is a mountain of beer, with a full body complete with silky chocolate, sweet maple, and plenty of warmth from the alcohol. Sunset Crush is a fun beer, as this Cream Ale with organic strawberries and vanilla has a creamsicle feel to it and is berry-rific. My IPA choice was Formless Reflections, a Murky IPA that highlights the style Pure is best known for. Nelson, Mosaic, and Hell Melon hops are combined for a nice tropical haze. Finally, Proper is a simpler beer, but I had the pleasure of having the English Pale Ale on nitro. The smoothness allowed this well-balanced and uncomplicated beer to shine.
Pure is making delicious beer. Even though they are located in a brewery-dense area, they are sticking out. Fun fact: their beer is also vegan!
White Labs is one of the more unique places I’ve profiled during my travels. Founded as a company in 1995, they are a yeast manufacturer that now uses 68 core strains to produce a multitude of variants. Homebrewers can shop for yeast here, and other breweries also place larger orders. Fast forward to 2012, and White Labs opened a tasting room and brewery. They have several different beers they brew, but what makes them special is that they brew the same beer multiple times, but with different yeast. They do this by dividing the same wort base into their vast number of fermenters. This allows drinkers to analyze how yeast affects the final product. White Labs has five other locations as well, but none of them brew beer. In the States, Davis, CA, Boulder, CO, and Asheville, NC are all contributing in different ways, while Hong Kong and Copenhagen also provide support.
I sampled both their Oatmeal IPA and Breakfast Stout, comparing two different yeast strains from each. Beginning with the IPA, the two strains were Pacific Ale Yeast and San Diego Super Ale Yeast. It truly is crazy how much different the beers were. The fruits you get on both the nose and tongue changed drastically, as the Pacific Ale leaned on mango and papaya, while San Diego had strong notes of grapefruit as well as orange. Honestly, they were both equally delicious. For the Breakfast Stout, British Ale Yeast and London Ale Yeast provided another contrast. Nutty, toffee, and slightly more bitter than its counterpart, British provided what I would consider a more traditional approach. With London, lightly burnt toast, chocolate, and soft apple swirl together, and was my favorite of all four. This is a place that I would enjoy revisiting someday, as the information you can learn is both plentiful and useful.
I was impressed that White Labs not only provides patrons with a unique experience with the yeast, but that the beer was also incredibly delicious. Most drinkers do not realize how much yeast can change their beer, but this place is trying to change that.
At some point in the future I will probably write a third article on San Diego breweries, as there are still many that deserve recognition. Burning Beard, Groundswell, Rip Current, Bear Roots, Fall, Lost Abbey, the list goes on and on. The sheer amount of choices here is somewhat overwhelming, and the number of truly quality options exceeds most other places. My advice for those visiting San Diego on a beer trip is to focus mainly on two areas. Both North Park and Miramar offer a ton, and if you have more time to travel up North the Vista area is chalk full of breweries as well. But in reality, you can find delicious beer in just about every corner of the city.
My wife and I are returning home to Milwaukee after this assignment but are going to go spend some time with my grandparents in Napa and a week up in Oregon first. The next article will profile breweries on this upcoming road trip from San Diego to Napa and ensuing route to Oregon. After that a certain craft beer mecca in the Pacific Northwest will be profiled (hint hint).
Current Brewery Count
327 breweries across 143 cities in 30 states. These numbers are current as of 6/4/18. For an up-to-date count and to follow my adventures, check out my social media accounts: