As popular as San Diego breweries are, few distribute nationally. Green Flash says it’s in 50 states, which means Alpine now is, too. Stone's at 41, while AleSmith's at 19 and rising. Of course, Ballast Point has recently taken extreme measures to get above its current 30-state reach.
For most local breweries, distributing to Orange County and Los Angeles is a victory in itself. But some have hit the benchmark of in-state success: the 500-mile mark. That gets you to the San Francisco Bay Area.
I visited some of San Francisco's thriving beer destinations to get an idea which San Diego beers have made it to the city and which are currently popular there. I found all of the aforementioned, a few of the other well-distributed brands, and even a few smaller, newer companies establishing a presence in California's cultural capital.
At Toronado, the Lower Haight's mothership to our North Park taproom, I spotted Port Brewing and the Lost Abbey's Hop Concept on tap, alongside beers from Coronado Brewing and Vista's Mother Earth. In the Mission, I visited Zeitgeist, a popular craft-beer dive bar that always offers a Stone IPA on tap; they also featured Coronado, Mother Earth, and Lost Abbey.
Elsewhere in the Mission, I stopped by the Monk's Kettle, a tap room and restaurant with a penchant for Belgians, barrel-aged beers, and wild ales, including a vintage bottle selection that dates back years. Featured on that list were a couple of Stone selections, some Port Brewing, and plenty of Lost Abbey. As the bartender told me, the latter is a particular favorite: "We get as much Lost Abbey as we can and hide it as long as we can," he said, adding that Modern Times had become really popular among his regular clientele.
A bartender at City Beer Store, San Francisco's preeminent bottle shop, has also noticed an increase in demand for the two-year-old Point Loma brewery. "Since Modern Times came into the market earlier this year," he said, "we see a fair amount of them." He went on to say, "Alpine is kind of a staple at this point…. Pizza Port now as well." He also mentioned occasional shipments from Monkey Paw, Rip Current and Societe — usually delivered personally by brewery staff enjoying a visit to the city.
However, when I asked him whether the shop was actively seeking beer from any of our smaller or newer breweries, he struggled to name any others. "I'm not following the San Diego scene as closely as I used to," he said, crediting a recent boom in Bay Area craft beer. "The past two, maybe three, years the Bay Area has seen a huge growth," he added. "I'm really excited about drinking everything that's happening here now."
That boom includes breweries Cellarmaker, Alpha Acid, Hop Dogma, Fieldwork, and Berkeley sour specialist The Rare Barrel. I tried beers from each of these breweries — all good to great. Now I'm forced to wonder how long before they make the 500-mile trip to distribute regularly to our local beer haunts.