Your Essential Guide to the Best Breweries in Orange County
All the greatest IPAs, pilsners, sours, and stouts in the OC.
Though Angelenos like to imagine all of Orange County as one grouchy, pompous, conservative next-door neighbor, the area is not a monolith. There are pockets of beauty, creativity, culture, and community in that gated suburban sprawl. There are great restaurants in cool neighborhoods, modern art, tacos, and there is also beer—so much fantastic beer.
The excellent OC breweries may even be better than the ones in LA county, which makes an extremely compelling reason for Angelenos to take a trip behind the Orange Curtain. To aid in that journey, we’ve rounded up the best breweries in Orange County:
Costa Mesa, Orange, Sunset Beach
Best Beers: Anything hoppy
IPAs have become totally inextricable from the larger craft beer movement. Pungent hop-driven beers are the most common style at almost every brewery in town, and IPAs are also the style that haters swing like a cudgel to make fun of beer nerds. That is to say, it’s not hard to find good hoppy beer in Orange County. But even in a crowded marketplace, Green Cheek’s IPAs stand out. Whether you like the bright and bitter West Coast style or the rich and jammy Hazy versions born in New England, Green Cheek has a killer beer for you. They have three locations dotted around the county; the Costa Mesa and Sunset Beach spots feel like modern brewpubs with TVs and solid food. The Orange location is in an industrial park in classic SoCal brewery style.
Best Beers: Community Garden Shandy, Passion Fruit Mango Fuego Seltzer
One of the newest breweries in Orange County is also one of the area’s most stylish. Everywhere opened in August 2022 with a sunny ’60s psychedelic minimalist art style and a bright, airy space across the street from El Camino Real Park. That fun and laid-back aesthetic carries through to the brewing, too, with a wide range of crisp light beers and a special emphasis on heavily fruited hard seltzers that come in a rainbow of colors from guava pink to spirulina blue. The requisite array of hoppy beers are here too, and they’re quite good, if maybe less eye-catching than the electric blue seltzer.
Best Beers: Pay To Win IPA, There Is No Cow Level Coffee Milk Stout, GameCraft Leit
Beer pairs well with all sorts of activities—watching sports, tubing down a river, yard work, and, as GameCraft Brewing makes clear, board games. They have a whole library of games to play while you drink, from classics like Battleship and Boggle to modern hits like Azul, Munchkin, and Forbidden Island. They also host regular game-themed events like tabletop miniature painting nights, game tournaments, trivia, magic, and an educational speaker series in collaboration with the OC chapter of the International Game Developers Association. All that, and the beers are excellent across the board, especially if you like crisp light lagers.
Best Beers: Any Hazy IPA, Feminist Tripel
When Monkish opened in 2012, its name was a reference to the beers brewed there—twists on Belgian monastery classics like Singles, Dubbels, and Tripels that founder Henry Nguyen infused with herbs, spices, and flower petals. Monkish was staunchly anti-IPA, avoiding the big hop bombs that were particularly fashionable at the time. Then, in 2016, the brewery pivoted—Hazy IPAs, a style born in New England, had become all the rage among beer nerds nationwide, and the brewers at Monkish found they had the Midas touch. They started knocking out some of the very best versions you could find on the West Coast, drawing long lines for every can release and sending the brewery’s national reputation soaring. Monkish is still making fantastic Hazy IPAs, both at the original Torrance location and the new Anaheim Packing District outpost, but don’t overlook those earlier brews. The delicate Belgian styles are absolutely worth your time.
Best Beers: Dictionary Roulette, Huckleberry Hard Seltzer, Battlesnakes Pilsner
If you’re doing a brewery tour of Southern California, you will spend an inordinate amount of time cruising through industrial parks. But even in a sea of big warehouses, Brewery X stands out. It is genuinely gargantuan, with dozens of tap handles, a ton of TVs, a selection of vintage cars inside the building itself, and a massive beer garden just outside. That huge brewing capacity is put to good use, too, churning out beers in all sorts of styles, from fruited light lagers to malty porters, with a whole section dedicated to international styles like English-style bitters and a South African lager.
Best Beers: Second That Emotion, Dreams Never End
Because of the vagaries inherent to the brewing process, it can take a long time for new breweries to dial their beers in. But Radiant suffered no such growing pains, hitting the ground running right from opening in 2020—even winning Small Brewery of the Year at Great American Beer Festival in 2021. That was to be expected from a team with Andrew Bell as the Director of Brewing, though. He was an Experimental Brewer and the Innovation Manager at legendary far-out OC brewery The Bruery (also on this list). The beers at Radiant are perhaps more familiar than some of the insanity at The Bruery, but they are all the better for it; the IPAs and lagers are among the best around. And there’s still plenty of wacky stuff, too, from smoothie-style sours to big stouts aged in whiskey barrels with plenty of spices.
Huntington Beach, Garden Grove
Best Beers: Amalgamator, Hef Leppard, any version of Coolship Chaos
Beachwood Brewing’s soul may be in its Long Beach brewery and tasting room, but most of its brewing is now in Orange County at its large Huntington Beach production facility. Like many local breweries, they are best known for outstanding West Coast IPAs, but Brewmaster Julian Shrago has a deft hand with various styles, from crushable lagers to big coffee stouts and everything in between. The Belgian-style sour side project Beachwood Blendery is still based in Long Beach, but the beers are often on tap at OC locations and are more than worth a try.
Best Beers: Bent Branches, A Juicy Tale
A selection of IPAs at a SoCal brewery is an absolute given, and considering the general demand for the style, most breweries wouldn’t survive without them. Gunwhale’s hoppy beers are solid, but the real reason to visit is to sample the yeast-driven beers, especially the selection of modern Belgian-style saisons and farmhouse ales. Some are infused with fruit like peach or prickly pear, and some are more straightforward old-world takes, but they are all crisp and interesting, a more than welcome change of pace from all the big bitter beers that dominate the landscape. It doesn’t hurt that the tasting room and branding ooze understated coastal cool.
Best Beers: All of the IPAs
Artifex Brewing opened in the summer of 2014 with a focus on hoppy beers, but over the last eight years or so, the brewery has expanded its range. While still best known for its IPAs, the lineup has grown to include all sorts of styles, from lagers and wheat beers to big pastry stouts. Artifex has even ventured into the novelty game with a Hard Tea and a weekend-only beermosa. Eight years is a long time in the brewing industry, but Artifex remains a stalwart of the tiny but tight-knit South County brewing community.
Fullerton and Costa Mesa
Best Beers: Golden Chaos, Knuckle Sandwich
Bootlegger’s was an early entry into OC’s modern craft-beer boom when it opened in 2008 as the brainchild of experienced homebrewer Aaron Barkenhagen, who wrote the business plan while attending Cal State Fullerton. What started as a small seven-barrel system in an industrial park adjacent to the train tracks has grown into a massive brewery and tasting room with a second location in a brewery-dense pocket of Costa Mesa. More than 14 years later, the flagship beers Golden Chaos and Knuckle Sandwich still hit the spot.
Best Beers: Fundamental Observation, RedEye November, Recursion
The local award for best brewery branding might go to Bottle Logic, which concocted an elaborate steampunk-from-the-retro-future aesthetic that extends from the decommissioned wall-sized 1940s computers that line the tasting room to the bottle labels for core beers, like She Shot First, which features a drawing of an adventurous heroine named Eve, one of three characters initially created to tell the Bottle Logic story. Luckily, the beer is bold enough to back up the alluring design, with space-age innovation and award wins as its constant. Bottle Logic has gained particular notoriety for the barrel-aged pastry stouts, which are part of the ongoing series called the Stasis Project.
Best Beers: El Camino, Abbey Mae, Dusk Til Dawn
For over a decade, San Clemente has provided Orange County with a taste of some serious San Diego beer culture. The iconic brewpub chain Pizza Port has outposts in several of San Diego County’s beach cities, and it’s become a well-known local pit stop for house-made hoppy beers, which have won a pile of awards and helped put San Diego on the international beer map all those years ago. But what makes each Pizza Port unique is that the head brewer at each location dreams up their own beer recipes, meaning most of what’s on draft in San Clemente never leaves the house.
Best beers: Anything hoppy
When pitted surfer-skaters decide to hit the brewing equipment instead of the sick swells, you get Riip, an all-hops-everything operation that references the waves as much as the weed. Though they have a beach-side tasting room on PCH and Warner, the brewery started as a contract operation, and beers were only available through an unconventional system of pre-order and delivery. The original vintage milk truck that used to run deliveries still sits outside the tasting room, which doubles as a growler fill station, bottle shop, local bar, and miniature homebrew store.
Best Beers: Anything old-world style
You might not expect a fine-dining fish house to be one of the area’s best breweries, but for over a decade, TAPS in Brea won more regional, national, and international awards than any other OC brewery. The brewer behind many of the brand’s original wins, Victor Novak, left in 2014, but the quality remains world-class, especially in old-school and old-world styles like Irish red ales, Scotch ales, and German-style wheat beers.
Best Beers: Whatever’s weirdest
When most of America’s beer geeks think of breweries in Orange County, they inevitably think first of The Bruery, which has long been known for its off-the-wall, Belgian-style, mixed-fermentation, and barrel-aged experiments as well as its various membership “societies,” which allow you to purchase one-off and rare beers unavailable to the public. The Bruery changed the game not just in OC or SoCal, but in the US, which, when it opened in 2008, was only beginning to develop a palate for complex Belgian-style beers. These days, The Bruery is so prolific it’s separated its “clean” beers from the “infected” ones with a separate facility for sour and wild ales nearby called Bruery Terreux and a third splinter called Offshoot Beer Co., which makes the IPAs that The Bruery’s owner Patrick Rue swore he’d never make under the original label.
Best Beers: Old Town IPA, Lemon Heights Hefeweizen
Tustin Brewing Co. is a survivor of the ’90s brewpub days that’s managed to keep time with today’s craft-beer renaissance. Sure, there are the approachable workhorses like Golden Spike Light Ale and a lemony Hefeweizen, but the brewery keeps things interesting with a rotation of new IPAs, barrel-aged strong ales, and more.
Best Beers: Shatterspike, Anthia
If there’s one thing brewers love, it’s a theme, and few brewers have gone so hard into a theme as Unsung’s Mike Crea. Crea is a superhero enthusiast, a comic book lover, and a huge Spider-Man fan, and each of his beers has its own extremely detailed origin story. There is Anthia, the alien scout; Citrique, the mutated chemist; Lumino, the pitcher who throws fireballs; and more. Unsung’s graphics lean into the theme, too, with ornate labels, heroic fonts, comic book-style artwork, and superhero memorabilia around the tasting room. And never fear—the beers also live up to their heroic namesakes, too.
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Sarah Bennett is a freelance writer who covers food, drink, music, culture, and more (you know, the fun stuff). See what she's rambling about today: @thesarahbennett