San Diego is on pace to add more than 20 new breweries in 2016, for the second year in a row, and there will likely be 135 by year’s end. Ten years ago there were less than 30.
While thousands of beers pour from San Diego taps, highlighting just a few hardly seems fair. So we talked to beer buyers in bars and bottle shops, and to experts in beer and food pairings to help dig down through the craft beer subculture to identify those breweries that have stood out in 2016, and their beers.
And cans. There are a lot of beers in cans this year.
Breweries of Note in 2016
Karl Strauss Brewing Company
Home base: Bay Ho
5985 Santa Fe Street, Pacific Beach
Verging on 28 years in business, it looks like the venerable Karl Strauss just might be hitting its stride. It’s working on its tenth (active) brewpub, and happens to have just been named Mid-Sized Brewery of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival. The brewers of Team Karl work together at its production brewery, and alternately head off a couple days a week to pilot batch beers in the pubs — a model that promotes brewer — and new beer — development. Aside from its own great brews, San Diego’s original craft brewery has had a massive impact on the local beer landscape. Cofounder Chris Cramer notes three of Karl’s opening-day employees went on to found breweries of their own: San Diego Brewing Company, Pizza Port, and Ballast Point.
1999 Citracado Parkway, Escondido
Stone Brewing Company
Home Base: Escondido
Heading into its 20th year, Stone produced enough beer to rank the tenth largest independently owned craft brewery in the nation — actually down a spot from the year before. Then it became the first American craft beer maker to open a brewery in Europe, followed by a bigger one in Virginia, and plans for a Napa brewpub next. Despite recent layoffs, it’s safe to say Stone will not drop out of the top ten any time soon. Though it declines to commit to a number, San Diego’s largest brewery looks on pace to reach a half a million barrels annually within the next couple years.
2055 Thibodo Road, Suite H, Vista
Mother Earth Brew Co.
Home base: Vista
Stone wasn’t the only North County beer company to open a brewery outside the state this year. Mother Earth recently launched a production brewery in Nampa, Idaho — a unique choice intended to expand distribution of its popular bombers and cans throughout the Northwest, the mountain states, and eastward. The new facility is much bigger than its Vista brewery, which in turn is much bigger than when it started out. Mother Earth has gotten busy doing what many of the 70 breweries to open in the past three years are hoping to do.
3725 Greenwood Street, Midway District
Home base: Point Loma
According to Modern Times founder Jacob McKean, the Tuesday morning after Labor Day was the first time the three-year-old company didn’t have an open construction permit with the city since the day it opened. And three new ones would be filed by end of day.
Expansion has been nonstop for Modern Times — whether it’s increased brewing capacity, a new bottling line, a café in the tasting room, or additional warehouse space to make room for its thousand or so barrels filled with the beer company’s eclectic variety of styles. Next up is a Los Angeles pilot brewery and restaurant, and beyond that all we know for sure is demand for Modern Times keeps rising, and the original brewhouse is running out of room to add more tanks.
805 16th Street, East Village
Home base: East Village
It didn’t greatly expand production or distribution, but this East Village indie brewery caught unexpected attention this year when a big beer subsidiary from out of state decided to plan a glittering and controversial brewpub only a block away. Amid the ensuing controversy, head brewer Cosimo Sorrentino stepped up in the brewing community to lead a dialogue on how to best preserve and promote the San Diego beer brand, and always outspoken owner Scot Blair had plenty to say about its appropriation.
16990 Via Tazon, Rancho Bernardo
Abnormal Beer Co.
Home Base: Rancho Bernardo
Six months was all it took for the guys behind Abnormal to decide to invest another million dollars in the company, expanding to the tune of 550 percent increased production capacity. The suddenly much larger brewhouse has been pumping since August, and Abnormal has lived up to its pledge to “experiment with a wider variety of styles on a larger scale.” The beers turning up on taps around town have kept to the front end of international brewing trends, engaging in the big-picture dialogue in craft beer about how palates grow and evolve, and provoking curiosity about each beer’s ingredients and brewing process.
New breweries off to a fast start
Being one of twenty new breweries in a county that already had over a hundred of them makes it easy to get lost in the mix. These four have already managed to stand out.
9030 Kenamar Drive #308, Miramar
Home Base: Miramar
Does the turnkey brewery business model work? Ask these guys. After fighting an uphill battle trying to operate a brewery in the wilds of Costa Rica, the Pure Project partners slid right into a brewhouse-for-lease and skipped the usual growing pains of a long build-out and planning phase. It didn’t hurt that they tapped a talented young out-of-town brewer in Winslow Sawyer, who applies their no-extract ethos with a healthy balance of creativity and (more surprising) restraint, turning out interesting and very drinkable beers across the board.
Burning Beard Brewing
Home Base: El Cajon
When homebrewing pals Mike Maass and Jeff Wiederkehr launched a brewery together, they didn’t go the trial-and-error, learn-as-you-go, do-it-yourself route. They hired the craft beer architect to design their brewery, the craft beer attorney to handle their paperwork, worked with a brewing consultant to scale their recipes for commercial production, and hired an experienced head brewer to ensure everything ran smoothly. As a result they served delicious beer in an engaging space from day one, making a great first impression and giving validation to QUAFF (Quality Ale & Fermentation Fraternity) homebrew friends who encouraged them to go pro.