San Diego In Two Days

Eno Sarris, September 10, 2013

I received this email from a friend that wishes to remain clandestine. I thought I'd share it with you, since it has great insights, particularly for those planning some beer tourism in one of the best beer towns in America:

I was down in San Diego with [--redacted--] for the long weekend, and I thought I would share my opinions on the current beer scene. In short, the number of breweries has exploded but unfortunately that has meant that the number of mediocre breweries has exploded as well. Here's hoping this list helps you avoid that mediocre ones.

    Top Bars

1.   Hamiltons -- excellent, varied tap list. Young clientele, and pretty good bartender service.
2.   Toronado San Diego aka Bizarro Toronado -- friendly, talkative service. Enjoyed a bottle of Firestone Walker Tequila Barrel Aged PNC Stout -- delicious!
3.   Churchill's -- close to Lost Abbey in San Marcos, Churchill's looks like typical English bar except great beer selection. Just missed out on getting a bottle of Churchill's Finest Hour.
4.   Stone Liberty Station -- actually has its own brewery and restaurant. Produces some non-typical Stone beers like a strong Scotch ale that were actually decent. Excellent tap list featuring some non-SD breweries like Beachwood (Laurel IPA -- excellent!) and Craftsman among others.

My Brewery Rankings

Lost Abbey -- I didn't have a beer here this time just picked up a few bottles so not ranking them.   Tasting Room is pretty cool though.
1.   Alesmith -- pretty much excellent across the board. Vietnamese Coffee Speedway Stout on draft!
2.   Rip Current -- probably a little high in the rankings.  Kinda reminds me of Green Flash in a good way: very good hoppy beers and just solid overall with a mix of BJCP styles.  Not into the Saisons or wild ales, at least not yet. Very friendly bar stuff who answered tons of questions. Needs some work on the marketing maybe like Green Flash too, imo.
3.   Societe -- a new brewery that really nails the hoppy beers. They do half hoppy beers and half belgians -- I thought Belgians were good but not special. Really nice tasting room makes it a good place to hang out for a beer.
 4.   Alpine -- they nail hoppy beers too -- Nelson and Pure Hoppiness are fantastic.   Brewery and Pub are kinda out of the way compared to other places and look kinda divy. On beer alone, I might put them ahead of Societe... tough call.
 5.   Green Flash -- if you haven't been here in the past 2 years, they have a huge tasting room with a varied tap selection. Just a solid brewery.
 6.   Modern Times -- Based on potential in alot of ways. The grand opening is September  7th. They have a huge new tasting room but on labor day weekend only had five beers on tap. They look to be specializing in saisons and wild ales. They had a very good Brett IPA but they were not doing growler fills for it. Boo!

I consider 1-6 to be way ahead of the rest of this list.   None of the below are must-stops for me on my next trip.     

7.   Pizza Port Carlsbad -- Really enjoy their hoppy beers, and a decent selection of taps from other breweries. No Poor Man's IPA this trip.  :(
 8.   Helms Brewing -- Opened less than a year ago. Seven-barrel system so pretty small, and made some solid beers. They were pretty friendly and laid back. I wish them well.
9.   Intergalactic Brewing -- A nano-brewery on a 1.5-barrel system that opened in May this year. They impressed by having 10 or so beers on tap since they brew pretty much every day. Some of the BJCP styles like Scottish 80, and Oatmeal Stout were good. IPA needs work. Pretty nice and talkative bartender and brewer.       
10.   Aztec Brewing -- In Vista. Okay beers, nothing special. I thought the marketing was pretty good -- attractive labeling and the focus on using Mexican ingredients (cinnamon, cocoa nibs, etc) was kinda cool. I actually thought the coffee blonde (yes, blonde!) was pretty good.

 7-10 I might check out again, but I'm not sure about the remainder.
11.   Hess Brewing North Park -- The beautiful 30-barrel brewery is the reason to check this spot out. The brewery is beautiful, but the tasting room still needs some work, and they need to do a better job of selling the beers. Also, they just opened the new brewery in June so maybe they are still adjusting to brewing at 30 barrels but the beers were very mediocre and not one beer stood out to me. Beer list was in a dirty plastic sleeve and beer descriptions left alot to be desired. I think the old Hess space is still open so maybe I'll go back there next time.
12.   Indian Joe -- In Vista. Kinda kitschy looking tasty room, country-ish music, and a geriatric clientele -- beers were average -- strange place.
13.   Iron Fist -- I think they are in the Old Green Flash location in Vista, and absolutely nothing stood out at all. Apparently, Vista, CA is now the home of mediocre breweries.
14.   White Labs -- Cool space, love the concept, but their beers have to be drinkable. Slow service because they are mainly pouring tasters ... as a homebrewer I would have liked more info too: OG, fermentation schedule, etc. That said, I may actually check it out again since the tasting room is pretty nice.