A Lattice House in Costa Rica
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. There's also one hell of a trivia night on Tuesdays, if you’re hoping to kill some time after work.
Key beers: Ragnabock, Loki’s Wit
The relatively new Viewpoint Brewing doesn’t yet have the accolades many of the more established breweries on this list have. What it does have, however, is an unbeatable view/atmosphere; overlooking the San Dieguito Lagoon, there might be no brewery with a better view in San Diego, and its outdoor patio is always lively. Plus, there's some truly decadent food on the menu (like beef tartare and bone marrow), as well as a constantly rotating tap list that indulges head brewer Moe Katomski’s experimental side.
Key beers: Mandarina Pale Ale, Moe'saic Pale Ale
Burgeon's another relatively new brewery that, much like Viewpoint, is building a budding reputation and features stunning scenery. 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 in the tasting room adorned with lush flora. Their Noble Miner, which won gold for session beers at the 2017 California State Fair, is as perfect of a session ale as you will ever have.
Key beers: Treevana, Canopy Tour, Keep it Simcoe
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 sq. ft. tasting room is huge and ornately decorated, and offers the perfect locale for anyone looking to grab a pint before a night on the town. Protip: McNair’s iconic Hop Fu! IPA is the single most award-winning homebrew in history, and is always a safe bet at the brewery.
Key beers: Hop-Fu!, Covington Cream Ale
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 to find typically. However, 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.
Key beers: La vie en Rose, Murkeley, Roses Red
Intergalactic Brewing’s story is one of immense resilience, as owner Alex Van Horne had to make some drastic changes to the business last year to help keep it running. That financial uncertainty has never affected the quality of the beer produced by the sci-fi inspired brewery, though -- the brewery famously claimed four gold medals at the Los Angeles International Commercial Beer Competition. With beer names that draw inspiration from Star Wars and Star Trek, and a menu that spans the galaxy from coconut porters to Maerzans to Belgian pale ales, you’re guaranteed to find a beer you like.
Key beers: Alpha Mensae, Space Oasis, Planet Invader
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, their 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.
Key beers: Peanut Butter Milk Stout, Hop Highway
Having taken home the Champion Brewery award at the last two 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 varietals, which has achieved almost mythic status in the national beer scene.
Key beers: Speedway Stout, AleSmith IPA, AleSmith Wee Heavy
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 cities, 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?), here's where we tell you that 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.
Key beers: Duet, Nelson, Pure Hoppiness
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.
Key beers: The Pupil, The Apprentice, The Butcher
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.
Key beers: Swami’s IPA, Ponto Session IPA, Kook
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, Red Trolley, 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, though, Karl also makes award-winning brews across the spectrum including its Mosaic Session IPA and its Windansea Wheat.
Key beers: Mosaic Session IPA, Wreck Alley, Big Barrel Double IPA
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.
Key Beers: Enjoy by IPA, Russian Imperial Stout, Stone Xocoveza
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.
Key beers: Sculpin IPA, Victory at Sea, Dorado Double 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 is 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.
Key beers: Duck Duck Gooze, Deliverance, Framboise de Amorosa
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 of late, winning (among other awards) the Champion Mid-Size Brewing Company and Brewmaster at 2014's World Beer Cup.
Key beers: Idiot IPA, Stupid Stout, Sock Knocker
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 that San Diego became known for. The beauty of Green Flash’s IPAs, though, was how they balanced their intense hop notes, and perhaps no beer better embodied that than the legendary West Coast IPA, with its tropical grapefruit notes and floral body. That innovative spirit lives on with original beers like Green Flash’s Hop Head Red, and the new Soul Style IPA.
Key beers: West Coast IPA, Palate Wrecker, Double Stout
With its rooftop overlooking Pacific Beach, 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.
Key beers: Electrocution IPA, Pig Nose Pale Ale, Trois Cabrones