It’s gotten tough to keep up with San Diego beer. This is the year the number of breweries in our crowded beer landscape topped 150. But here’s the crazy part — that number has doubled in the past four years. Since the clock struck 2014, we’ve seen around 70 new brewery businesses open. To better illustrate how fast things have been happening, consider this: brash newcomer Modern Times Beer (2013) is older than more than half breweries operating today. So is the word “cronut.” These 70 breweries we’re talking about, they weren’t around to serve a beer to a mayor Bob Filner.
This issue is dedicated to the newcomers, that latter half of San Diego beer companies trying to grab a toehold in the shadow of craft-beer monoliths. We’re not pretending the first 25 years of San Diego beer never happened, just trying to highlight the best of what’s come since.
Next Generation Brands
Of the breweries that opened within the past four years, these brands have best established themselves by capturing customers’ imaginations and producing consistently well-made beers.
3038 University Avenue, North Park
North Park, 2016
This stylish urban brewer skipped the part where you open in an industrial location and went straight to being an active craft-beer neighborhood’s hub. The beautifully designed space has become a hub for North Park’s beer set; a place where brewers who work or live nearby commonly drop in for evening beers. Having a restaurant operating counter service to the brewery allows founder Kelsey McNair to serve a terrific assortment of guest beers here, but not one of the homebrewing legend’s house brews will let you down.
7705 Convoy Court, Kearny Mesa
Kearny Mesa, 2014
Brewer Liz Chism takes care of business whether she’s turning out IPAs or mixed-fermentation sours. In the short time she and husband Curtis have been growing their small operation, they’ve carved an indelible place for Council on the San Diego brewery map as one of only a handful of beer operations in the county to do both exceptionally well, one small batch after another.
El Cajon, 2016
As brewers and business partners, Burning Beard’s Mike Maass and Jeff Wiederkehr form one of the sharpest tandems in San Diego beer, and they've managed to do what no one else has, short of Alpine or Nickel Beer Company: open a destination brewery in East County. You needn’t drive so far as Alpine to enjoy this family-friendly, pet-friendly, rocker-friendly establishment that serves excellent beer across the board.
15378 Avenue of Science #222, Carmel Mountain
Carmel Mountain Ranch, 2015
Founded by OG San Diego brewer Marty Mendiola, Second Chance didn’t waste any time becoming a fan favorite. The beers have been stellar from the outset, and everything they put in a can is worth keeping in your fridge. Although in no way lacking for great beer, denizens of North Park eagerly await a Second Chance tasting room planned to open this fall.
3052 El Cajon Boulevard, Suite C, North Park
North Park, 2016
There’s no one around to compare Eppig’s beers to the 150-year-old New York brand it revived late last year, but it’s safe to say the new brews are way better. Principal brewer Nathan Stephens previously made R&D beers for a somewhat successful little company named Ballast Point, and his talent for capturing knockout flavors in a glass is evident in every sip, whether he’s brewing hoppy ales or traditional lagers favored by the brewery’s German-born namesake.
6350 Yarrow Drive, Carlsbad
After opening late last year, Burgeon has been steadily gaining acclaim among local beer fans and industry folk alike. Head brewer Anthony Tallman polished his craft for years at local breweries including Stone and Rough Draft, and his prowess avails itself here with a continual rotation of delicious brews ranging from delicate to bold in flavor. It should be great to see how much these guys accomplish in their second year.
4542 30th Street, North Park
North Park, 2014
This place basically shows the county how a brewery as neighborhood hangout is done. Open to friends, family, and dogs, and mostly open to the street, Fall fills up with groups of locals out to enjoy themselves just as much as it does beer enthusiasts. The beer and the vibe both click, with great examples of many styles suiting varied tastes. And a great food-truck lineup.
9030 Kenamar Drive #308, Miramar
You’d think it would be tough to stand out as a newer beer brand among the 20 or so packed into four square miles of Miramar, but Pure Project has quickly picked up an identity and run with it. First by embracing fresh and interesting adjunct flavors, and subsequently thanks to brewer Winslow Sawyer’s uncanny ability to craft a juicy and opaque, hazy IPA. Of course, it always comes down to great beers, and Pure Project’s got no shortage of those.
259 3rd Avenue, Chula Vista
Chula Vista, 2017; Santee, 2015
Following a brief stint producing beer at someone else’s brewery in East County, these punks came home to roost in Chula’s Third Avenue Village. They’ve cranked up their beers in a hospitable space and helped establish the South Bay city as a burgeoning craft hub with dank IPAs, refreshing lagers, and loads of laughter.
8675 Miralani Drive #100, Miramar
Some success comes in small batches. Thunderhawk’s got an eclectic Southwestern-styled tasting room, a one-barrel electric brew system, and a menu of beers good enough to keep friends and fans coming back for more.
Craft beer as we know it started with brewpubs — 7 of our 10 oldest brands started out making beer in restaurants. The industry grew away from that model for some time, but the past four years have seen a resurgence of the brewpub, led by these, mostly neighborhood oriented businesses.
601 South Coast Highway, Oceanside
To say Jeff Bagby had a pretty good run brewing for Oggi’s and Pizza Port is like saying Michael Phelps is a decent swimmer. Bagby was already one of the most acclaimed competition brewers on the planet when he opened his own brewpub with wife Dande, and — with apologies to the aforementioned pizza spots — these days his world-class beers pair with far better food. The restaurant is equally comfortable serving Belgian fries and San Diego tacos — which is fitting, since Bagby’s beers remain deliciously true to style, whether they hail from Belgian, English, German, or American craft traditions.