The Most Essential Craft Breweries in San Diego
You’ve got your work cut out for you.
The world turns, the tides rise and fall, and new breweries come and go in the city with the best craft brewing scene in the country: San Diego (suck it, Portland). That America’s Finest City loves its craft beer is not exactly news -- San Diego's played home to more than 150 operational breweries for a while now -- but as the town has matured, so too have the types of breweries popping around town and the tap lists they offer. It’s the dawning of a new era in San Diego beer, one marked by fledgling operations and relative up-and-comers brewing some of the best (and most audacious) beers in the country. It’s also marked, unfortunately, by the passing of some of the city’s traditional brewing stalwarts (pour some out for Escondido Brewing Company).
Living in the time of COVID-19, though, sometimes all those options can feel more stressful. Sometimes, you’re just dropping by San Diego for a long weekend and want to know the creme de la creme. Sometimes, you don’t want to wade through the not-so-outstanding breweries to find the crown jewels -- and, per usual, that’s what we’re here for. We (selflessly) drank lots of local beers and compiled a guide to the best breweries in town, from the well-known to the hidden gems, from the longstanding to the up-and-coming, to help you plan out your next pint.
Puesto Cervecería is the largest in Puesto’s collection of restaurants and features its first craft brewery, focusing on Mexican lagers. Spearheaded by longtime San Diego brewer Doug Hasker, who led Gordon Biersch’s program for more than 20 years, the cervecería specializes in Mexican-style lagers that will eventually be distributed to Puesto’s six other California locations. Mission Valley is currently open for indoor and patio dining every day for dinner (5pm on) and lunch Friday through Sunday, pick-up, growlers to-go, and delivery through Postmates.
Beers to try: Puesto Mexican Lager, Puesto Mexican Amber, Puesto Mexican Negra Lager
San Diego’s first Latino-owned and operated brewery, Border X is a family affair, founded by brothers David and Marcelino Favela and Marcelino’s two sons, Marcel and Martin. Instead of trying to imitate European beers, they instead drew inspiration from traditional Latin flavors, first coming up with a flagship Blood Saison, a ruby red beauty rich with tart hibiscus flowers. The brewery soon expanded to Horchata Golden Stout, Abuelita’s Chocolate Stout, and a half-dozen others, earning it a 2020 James Beard Semifinalist nomination along the way. The brewery is open for indoor and patio dining, to-go and delivery.
Beers to try: Blood Saison, Horchata Golden Stout, Abuelita’s Chocolate Stout
It won’t be opening until October, but the highly anticipated Mujeres Brew House, San Diego’s first Latina owned and operated tap room/brewery will debut in the space formerly occupied by Alta Brewing. A partnership between Border X Brewing and Mujeres Brew Club, its mission is to be a welcoming place for women (and anyone!) to learn about, understand, and appreciate craft beer. Headed up by Carmen Favela of Border X and Estela Davila of Mujeres Brew Club, the brewery will feature a behind-the-bar work experience program and a brewing program. The brew house will initially serve Border X beer and collaborations between MBC and other local breweries, adding its own beer as it becomes available.
Beers to try: The tap list is under wraps until opening day, so stay tuned!
Kairoa is another beautiful ode to a foreign country, designed to evoke the lush scenery, unique cuisine, friendly disposition, and otherworldly hops native to New Zealand -- where the owners and head brewer all hail from. Decorated to incorporate aspects from the New Zealand countryside and coasts as well as Maori art into a sleek, modern architecture style, Kairoa specializes in brewing everything from English style ales to the pale ales San Diegans love, imbued with the hard-to-get New Zealand hop varieties head brewer Joe Peach has direct access to. Make reservations to enjoy their gorgeous rooftop bar for safely distant drinking or order crowlers online for pickup.
Beers to try: Tweaky Buggah coffee blonde, Sunny Nelson West Coast IPA
Battlemage takes its name from Dungeons and Dragons, the ubiquitous RPG board game that co-founders Ryan Sather and Chris Barry have enjoyed playing for the last 20 years. It’s one thing to have a theme a brewery is passionate about (Battlemage hosts weekly D&D and Magic: The Gathering game nights), but to really stand out you have to brew great beer, and Battlemage definitely delivers on the latter front. Like any good wizard, the brewery knows the value of experimenting with potions. Brewers are always willing to, say, add cocoa nibs to a hefeweizen, but as luck would have it, some of its finest brews are the ones that adhere to traditions, like its Shroud of Mist. The brewery is currently only open for pickup or delivery orders.
Beers to try: Shroud of Mist Hazy IPA, Hooded Assassin Old Ale, Verses of Victory Brown Ale
Viewpoint Brewing has an unbeatable view/atmosphere, overlooking the San Dieguito Lagoon, in fact, there might be no brewery with a better view in San Diego, and its outdoor patio is always lively. Plus, there’s some truly delicious food on the menu (like smoky brisket and an outstanding burger) as well as a constantly rotating tap list that indulges head brewer Moe Katomski’s experimental side. The brewery is open for indoor dining, as well as pickup and delivery.
Beers to try: Pandamnit IPL, Moe’saic Pale Ale
The road to Resident Brewing opening its doors was a purely San Diegan one. Head brewer and co-founder Robert Masterson established himself as a master homebrewer in the local circuit, as a side gig from his full-time job as an IT consultant. He won contests hosted by Pizza Port, Karl Strauss, and Stone -- the latter of which resulted in the brewing giant releasing his Coconut IPA to the masses. Eventually he decided to make his passion his work, and today, Resident slings wonderfully Americanized versions of English beers and still brews its signature, immaculate coconut IPA, in a welcoming environment inside The Local downtown. The spot is currently only open for pickup and delivery of bottles, cans and crowlers within San Diego. Orders over $50 are delivered free within San Diego.
Beers to try: Golden Kiss Belgian Ale, Industrial Gris Belgian Saison, Vacation Coconut IPA
Longship Brewery is styled as a tribute to owner Dan Jachimowicz's obsession with Viking conquerors, and like the Norse warriors who invaded and conquered foreign cultures, Longship’s brews blend multiple influences from American-style fusion ales to traditional German beers. Pickup and delivery is available Thursday through Sunday and the tasting room is open Friday through Sunday.
Beers to try: Ragnabock Doppelbock, Rolling Fog Hazy DIPA
Burgeon is helping to pioneer Carlsbad’s emerging brewing scene, and there’s hardly a day that goes by when it won’t be filled with professionals lounging (safely distanced, of course) in the tasting room adorned with lush flora. This year, the brewery will be hosting the 2020 Capital of Craft IPA collaboration beer with the San Diego Brewers Guild for SD Beer Week. The taproom is open seven days a week, and you can purchase beer for pickup, delivery, or shipping within California. Check out its mixed cases and recyclable keg.
Beers to try: Treevana West Coast IPA, Juice Press Hazy IPA, Keep it Simcoe West Coast IPA
Homebrewing extraordinaire Kelsey McNair’s pet project was born in 2016 after a three-year wait, but that anticipation proved to be worth it. Located right in the heart of North Park, the 9,000-square-foot tasting room is huge and ornately decorated, offering the perfect locale for anyone looking to grab a pint before a night on the town. McNair’s iconic Hop Fu! IPA is the single most award-winning homebrew in history, and is always a safe bet at the brewery. Head there for daily outdoor seating, as well as pickup, delivery, or shipping within California.
Beers to try: Hop-Fu! IPA, Covington American Pilsner, Party Cup Mosaic Lager
Pure Project’s entire oeuvre is unique. It was started in part by a Californian couple who returned to the Golden State after spending years in the Costa Rican jungle and felt the need to imbue the spirit of the country into a brewery. As a result, many of the beers feature floral and tropical notes like hibiscus you might not expect. But that doesn’t mean Pure Project’s success is based on gimmicks: before finishing its first year of operations, Pure Project had brought home a bronze medal from the Great American Beer Festival for its Roses Red beer. Dine-in and to-go hours vary by location, and beer can be shipped within California and Nevada. Check the website for new releases and special events.
Beers to try: Murklands Murky Pale Ale, Madeline Barrel-Aged Farmhouse Saison, Fingers of Gold Murky IPA
Midway, East Village
Modern Times’ Midway compatriot (it is located literally across the street from Modern Times), Bay City has scored multiple awards for its beers and developed a devoted following for their amazing array of juicy, tropical IPAs. The East Village tasting room is temporarily closed, but the Midway location is open Thursday and Friday for pickup.
Beers to try: 72 & Hoppy Session IPA, Jucci Gang Hazy DIPA, Murky Machado Hazy IPA
Modern Times has turned the brewing world upside since its inception. In a few short years, San Diego’s fastest-growing brewery has already cracked the top 50 independent breweries by sales volume across the United States. Simply put, they don’t make any bad beers -- hell, they make very few that aren’t absolutely fantastic. With a cheeky, fun-above-all mindset highlighted by their membership-based League of Partygoers and Elegant People the brewery specializes in session beers and specialty coffee-flavored releases that capitalize on their in-house coffee roasting. The Midway location has become a destination for beer and coffee lovers alike. Currently, the Midway and North Park locations are open for indoor dining, while the Encinitas venue (and their outstanding vegan menu) are takeout only.
Beers to try: Elara Hazy IPA, Sky Party Hazy DIPA, Blazing World Amber Ale
Thorn has made one hell of a name for itself since its initial location opened in 2012. Beyond a sterling reputation for IPAs and a willingness to experiment with flavors (they famously have a cannabis-flavored session IPA), co-founders Dan Carrico, Dennis O’Connor, and Eric O’Connor founded the initial location on Thorn Street with the goal of becoming a true neighborhood staple. They succeeded, and today the original, homey North Park location is integral to the fabric of the community; it’s a place where you’re likely to run into some of the most interesting locals you’ll ever meet (and a handful of dogs) over pints of perfectly brewed pale ales. Indoor dining and patio seating days and hours vary by location, and beer can be delivered by the keg or case (check out their subscriptions).
Beers to try: Relay West Coast IPA, Hopster Pot New England-Style Hazy IPA, Barrio Lager Baja-Style Lager
Belching Beaver has made waves in the San Diego beer scene since its start in 2012, and has found massive success. The brewery now ships to eight states outside California, and has five locations in the city. While the names of the brews produced by Belching Beaver might seem a bit sophomoric, its craftsmanship is anything but. Head brewer Thomas Peters has won the renowned Alpha King award twice in his career (most recently in 2017), and seemingly can’t go wrong when it comes to trying out innovative flavors. The Ocean Beach and North Park tasting rooms are temporarily closed, but the other locations are open for indoor and patio dining -- check the location for days and hours or order online from the location’s website.
Beers to try: Peanut Butter Milk Stout, Deftones Phantom Bride IPA, Hazers Gonna Haze Hazy IPA
Societe Brewing Company doesn’t have the decades-long history of an Alpine or an AleSmith, but it has had a meteoric rise to prominence in town since opening its doors in 2012, winning West Coaster’s Best Brewery award in 2014 and 2016. The brainchild of brewmaster Travis Smith and brewery curator Douglas Constantiner, Societe makes a bevy of the best damn IPAs you’ll ever have, most notably The Pupil -- another one of Beer Advocate’s top beers -- and The Coachman, the 2015 gold medal winner at the Great American Beer Festival for session IPAs. The brewery is open daily for indoor dining, pickup, delivery, and shipping services.
Beers to try: The Pupil San Diego IPA, The Apprentice West Coast IPA, The Debutant Belgian Amber Ale
With rooftops overlooking Pacific Beach and Petco Park, Amplified Ale Works might just be the best place in San Diego for a great beer with a view. The brewery's decorated with a collection of music memorabilia, there’s always good tunes playing -- no Chainsmokers here -- and head brewer Cy Henley even gives musically inspired names to his brews. On top of all that, the kitchen makes some of the best kebabs you’ll find anywhere in San Diego, which can make it feel next to impossible to actually leave the brewery. The Miramar location is available for takeout on Saturdays only, but the East Village and Pacific Beach venues are open for dine-in and takeout.
Beers to try: Black is Beautiful Imperial Stout, Punkdemic Pilsner, Electric Mud Hazy IPA
Lost Abbey was spawned in 2006 when, as we told you earlier, Tomme Arthur left Pizza Port to start Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey. Port Brewing retained its West Coast beer style, but The Lost Abbey went about brewing a Belgian-inspired line of beers, and we’re all better for it. No other brewery on this list offers the type of specialty beers that The Lost Abbey does, and if you want to try one of the most original brews in the city, go for the Duck Duck Gooze -- or, if you're not one for sour beers, go for the Lost & Found Dubbel. All three locations are open for outdoor dining, but check your location for days and hours.
Beers to try: Duck Duck Gooze, Carnevale Brett Saison, Red Barn Farmhouse Ale
When the craft beer explosion of the mid-2000s happened, Green Flash was at the forefront of the movement led by San Diego brewing legend (and former brewmaster) Chuck Silva, who brewed a handful of the hop-heavy IPAs. The beauty of Green Flash’s IPAs, though, was how they balanced intense hop notes, and perhaps no beer better embodied that than the legendary West Coast IPA, with tropical grapefruit and a floral body. That innovative spirit lives on with original beers like Green Flash’s Hop Head Red, and the new Soul Style IPA. The brewery is only filling to-go orders from Monday through Wednesday, but the tasting room and beer garden is open Thursday through Sunday.
Beers to try: West Coast IPA, Palate Wrecker Imperial IPA, Saturhaze Hazy Session IPA
San Diego is sprawling, and as tempting as it is for a casual beer fan to not venture past the breweries in the more central locations of the city, sometimes you need to make a hike, namely to Alpine Beer Company. If you're the type to put stock in beer rankings (and really, why wouldn't you?), RateBeer listed Alpine as the sixth-best brewery in the world in 2015, and BeerAdvocate lists the brewery’s Keene Idea Double IPA as one of the 120 best beers in the world. The Pub is temporarily closed, but the Tasting Room is open for to-go orders only.
Beers to try: Duet West Coast IPA, Nelson Golden Rye IPA, Pour Habits American Porter
Founded by Greg Koch and Steve Wagner, Stone made its name by being boldly unapologetic, and no beer embodies that more than its flagship Arrogant Bastard Ale: a beer so renowned it birthed its own separate brewing company, Arrogant Brewing. Stone never backed away from its ideals, and the results speak for themselves: It’s been voted as RateBeer’s “Best California Brewery” and “Best Place to Grab a Beer,” and its Russian Imperial Stout is sought after across the globe. The J Street location is temporarily closed, but the Escondido, Liberty Station, and Kettner venues are open for indoor dining, pickup, and delivery.
Beers to try: Enjoy By IPA, Scorpion Bowl IPA, Ruined Again Triple IPA
Of all the staple beers made by San Diego breweries -- the Red Trolley Ales, the Speedway Stouts, the Arrogant Bastard Ales -- none are as nationally ubiquitous and uniformly delicious as Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA. And yet, while Sculpin consistently ranks among the best beers in the country, the brewery hasn’t rested on its laurels: Of its three current locations, Ballast Point uses its spot in Little Italy purely for experimentation in the hopes of creating San Diego’s next truly iconic beer. The brewery is open for indoor and patio dining, to-go, and delivery.
Beers to try: Sculpin IPA, Victory at Sea Imperial Porter, Longfin Lager
Whereas many of the city’s best breweries came out of the industrial sprawl that is Miramar, Ron and Rick Chapman picked their hometown of Coronado to put down roots in 1996. Twenty-plus years later, they’re still staying true to their mission statement of staying coastal by brewing beers inspired by beaches across the globe, with citrus and tropical notes like orange and guava to match. Coronado’s been on an absolute tear, winning (among other awards) the Champion Mid-Size Brewing Company and Brewmaster at 2014’s World Beer Cup. All locations are open for indoor and patio dining, to-go, and delivery within California.
Beers to try: Idiot IPA, Stupid Stout, Weekend Vibes IPA
Having taken home the Champion Brewery award at a few San Diego International Beer Festivals, AleSmith clearly doesn’t need any more recognition in this town. That said, if you're reading this and you're somehow unfamiliar with this brewery, go out to its sprawling, state-of-the-art headquarters and get acquainted. AleSmith’s offerings are incredibly well-balanced and universally excellent, from its IPAs to its Anvil ESB, though none is as legendary as the Speedway Stout and all of its varieties, which has achieved almost mythic status in the national beer scene. Open for indoor dining, to-go and local delivery.
Beers to try: Speedway Stout Russian Imperial Stout, AleSmith IPA, Horny Devil Belgian Strong Golden Ale
The beauty of Karl Strauss is that it brews a multitude of different beer types, all exceptionally well, the most well-known of which is the inimitable Red Trolley Ale. Karl’s take on an Irish Red has won a slew of gold medals at the World Beer Cup and the Great American Beer Festival, and it rose to international renown at a time when the city was primarily known for its extremely hoppy IPAs. Red Trolley aside, Karl also makes award-winning brews across the spectrum including its Mosaic Session IPA and its Windansea Wheat. The Pacific Beach location is temporarily closed, but all other locations are open for indoor and patio dining, to-go and delivery through third party apps. Check the location for days and hours.
Beers to try: Mosaic Session IPA, Wreck Alley imperial stout, Aurora Hoppyalis IPA
Pizza Port is as San Diegan as a sunburn in January, or being completely incapable of merging onto a freeway at an acceptable speed. Since its founding in 1987, it’s expanded to include five locations, and has birthed two offshoot breweries (Lost Abbey and Port Brewing Company), but the original is still king in our eyes. Pizza Port has collected over 90 medals at the Great American Beer Festival, and has an absolutely stunning range of brews that rotate through its five locations. Try the Kook or the Swami’s IPA, two of the many staple beers of the Pizza Port empire. The Carlsbad bottle shop is temporarily closed, but all other locations are open for indoor and patio dining and pickup.
Beers to try: Swami’s IPA, Ponto Session IPA, Kook DIPA
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