San Diego County has something like 115 operating breweries.
I don’t know if that number is *just* breweries, or if it includes satellite tasting rooms and brewpubs, but no matter what, it’s a lot. And more are opening all the time — I’ve heard it said that you could visit one brewery a week in San Diego and basically never actually finish because new ones keep opening.
But that doesn’t have to stop us from trying, right?
A couple weeks ago (the tail end of Beer Week, actually), some friends came down from LA looking for a real “San Diego beer experience.” Pretty much every day for a week, my husband and I discussed different breweries and debated possible “itineraries” for a little self-guided brewery tour. We could hit up the bigger ones, Stone and Green Flash and Ballast Point, breweries our friends would be familiar with, but probably had only tried the mainstays. We could introduce them to the smaller ones that don’t distribute outside of the region. We could find breweries we had yet to try and just take a chance.
Eventually, we decided on cruising around the area off Miramar Road, starting with lunch at the newest Ballast Point location and ending at White Labs. In between? Well, Husband and I both opened up our maps apps and started searching.
And holy shit. This area, in between the 805 and 15, just north of what I always assumed was an Air Force base — it’s actually a Marine Corps Air Station — is largely industrial. There’s some office buildings, but mainly lots of warehouses and, well, industrial spaces. Which are the easiest places to get permits for operating breweries. And tasting rooms, apparently. Basically, we could’ve spent literally all weekend there, if the tasting rooms were open 24 hours, and still not have visited every brewery in the area.
Instead, we limited ourselves to five.
Like I mentioned, this is Ballast Point‘s newest location, and its largest. I didn’t get a picture of the outside (bad blogger, sorry), but it’s huge. I think this is their main production location now; their original brewery in Scripps Ranch is mostly R&D and specialty beers. This is also their second location with a full-service restaurant.
The restaurant is huge as well and…sort of in keeping with general brewery/restaurant trends in San Diego — industrial/hipster-chic, more or less. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s got the highest LEED certification and is full of sustainable materials and all that jazz. The food was delicious and the portions nice and filling.
But the beer.
They were offering three 4-ounce pours for $5 when we were there. Not sure if that was because of Beer Week or if that’s a normal thing; most of the 4-ounce pours were between $2-3 each. They also had huge selection of Sculpin varieties (I’m pretty sure that was because of Beer Week). It was damn near impossible to limit our choices, but we managed.
Longfin with grapefruit — this one was tart and not super fruity. Longfin is their lager beer, so I think I was expecting the grapefruit flavor to be more pronounced (since there aren’t many other strong flavors to compete with), but it was pretty subtle.
Boob Check Awareness Ale — I almost couldn’t bring myself to order this because of the name, but the ingredients/flavors listed — hibiscus, cherry, honey, lime — just looked too interesting to pass up. It’s brewed for breast cancer awareness and I think sales support Susan G. Komen or something. And it’s pink. And…quite tasty. I feel like all the flavors came through equally — nothing overpowered the others and the sweet and tart sides were nicely balanced.
Mango Sculpin — So, I love their traditional Sculpin IPA, and I love their Grapefruit Sculpin, and I am all for adding tropical fruits and flavors to IPAs and pale ales. Hear that, brewers? Go ahead, make a Mai Tai IPA. I will drink it and probably find it delicious. Citrus too. Go wild. And while I’m waiting for that, Ballast Point, will you pretty please bottle this one? So fresh and refreshing and delicious. Sorry I’m such a horrible beer taster, but all my notes say on this one is “yum! Ballast point please bottle”
I also sipped the beers my husband tried, which were the Sculpin on nitro (smoooooth), Barmy (brewed with orange blossom honey and apricots, another really refreshing flavor that wasn’t overly sweet), and the Big Eye IPA with ginger (good, but I wish the ginger was a little stronger).
The Ballast Point Miramar location is at:
9045 Carroll Way
Tasting room hours:
Monday – Saturday: 11:00 am – 9:00 pm
Sunday: 9:00 am – 9:00 pm
I’ve been wanting to try Duck Foot, which opened pretty recently, for awhile. Their head brewer has Celiac Disease, so all their beers are made using an enzyme that makes them virtually gluten-free. My aunt has some serious problems with gluten and likes beer, so I wanted to vet these for her — and now I’m thinking about swinging by and picking up a growler from them for her to try at Thanksgiving. They also released a hilarious April Fools press release shortly before they opened, and I always appreciate that kind of cleverness.
We actually walked here from Ballast Point — this isn’t really a pedestrian-friendly area, but it’s basically around the corner. The tasting room is on the small side and you can see their working brewery in the back. They’ve got some old board games available (hipsters love that nostalgic shit). You’ll find a food truck out front most days they’re open. We shared six 2-ounce samplers here: the California Blonde, Duck Foot Red, East Coast IPA, West Coast IPA, Duck Foot Saison, and the Porter (not the chocolate hazelnut one listed on their site).
The saison and red were the standouts for me. I feel like reds and ambers can be really good, but if they’re off just slightly, they’re pretty meh. This red was solid with a good malt flavor that didn’t get too caramel-y or sweet for me. Both IPAs were tasty; I slightly preferred the East Coast one (which surprised me), while my husband liked the West Coast better. The porter had a really nice coffee flavor with a hint of vanilla. It was maybe a little thin on the mouthfeel, but the flavor was spot-on.
Duck Foot is at:
8920 Kenamar Dr., Suite 110
Tasting room hours:
Monday – Wednesday: 2:00 – 9:00 pm
Thursday – Saturday: 12:00 – 10:00 pm
Sunday: 12:00 – 6:00 pm
I had never even heard of 2Kids until earlier in the week. It’s founded and run by a husband/wife duo, and wanting to try something different (especially after I looked up their beer list and got really intrigued by some of their less-common offerings), we headed to their space next.
Their tasting room small, and totally reminds me of an 80s basement/rec room. You’ve got simple folding tables and chairs they totally scavenged from their parents’ attics or whatever. I get the sense their tasting room is still a work in progress and I kinda love it. It’s basically a big storage space with a roll-up door, so despite being small, it feels nice and open.
For Beer Week, they had a special “Stoutfest” going on, where you could get a tasting flight of their Winning! Chocolate Stout plus four variations of it — with Mexican vanilla, hazelnut, cherries, and maple. So of course we had to give that a shot.
The original (just chocolate) was pretty solid on its own, but I loved the hazelnut and cherries variations. Just smelling the hazelnut one was like Nutella punching you in the face, and even though I’m not that in Nutella, it was so good. And I loved the tartness + sweetness from the cherry one. My compatriots agreed with me on the Nutella, but they preferred the maple version over the cherry one. Fine — I got to drink most of the cherry sampler and they had to share the maple (which wasn’t bad at all, just a little on the sweet side for me).
Then I went back up because I was intrigued by the Apple Pie Amber and Obligatory IPA with grapefruit (I told you, I’m game for any IPA + tropical or citrus fruit).
My notes for the Apple Pie Amber just say “fucking delicious.” With similar spices you find in many pumpkin beers (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, etc.), it was a nice twist having apple instead of pumpkin in there. And you could actually pick up a true apple flavor, not just the spices. I loved it.
And the Obligatory IPA with grapefruit? It miiiiight be better than the Grapefruit Sculpin. Just sayin’…
2Kids is at:
8680 Miralani Dr. #123
Tasting room hours:
Monday – Tuesday: Closed (for brewing)
Wednesday – Thursday: 3:00 – 9:00 pm
Friday: 3:00 – 10:00 pm
Saturday: 1:00 – 10:00 pm
Sunday: 1:00 – 8:00 pm
This wasn’t on our original list, but when we parked at 2Kids and saw Pacific just across the parking lot, we figured why not. We wandered over and were greeted by this little dog who came out as we approached, and I swear it checked us out, came over and sniffed my hand, then turned and led us into the tasting room. Totes adorable.
This was another small space, decorated — naturally — with surfboards on the walls. I tried The Cruiser, a really decent, solid pale ale, and Simma Down, a dry stout that I’d give to someone who said they don’t like stouts. It was pretty light and (I think) had a low ABV, so it was nice and drinkable. I also sipped my husband’s taster of the Wallaby Hunter, a double IPA that I actually really liked. I don’t always like double and triple IPAs because they just get too sweet and overpowering for me, but this one maintained a nice balance between the sweet and hoppy bitterness.
Pacific Brewing’s beers didn’t stand out as much after we’d just tried all these crazy and experimental flavors, but I got the sense they weren’t into playing that game — they’re more about just making a really solid beer in whatever style, and I can appreciate that. I can also appreciate that in their bathroom, there was a basket labeled “for the ladies” with pads and tampons.
Pacific Brewing is at:
8680 Miralani Dr.
Tasting room hours:
Monday: 2:00 – 9:00 pm
Tuesday – Wednesday: Closed
Thursday: 2:00 – 9:00 pm
Friday – Saturday: 12:00 – 10:00 pm
Sunday: 12:00 – 8:00 pm
Oh, White Labs. It’s like a mecca for true beer geeks. Their thing is actually producing the yeast that breweries and homebrewers alike use to make their beer, but they also have their own tasting room where they’ll offer four of the same beer, just made with different yeast strains. Hops seem to get all the attention for the different flavors they product, but yeast is actually a huge factor in the end taste of your beer, and trying them side-by-side like this really drives that home. We shared the “Balling Flight” of ambers and “Hansen Flight” of wheat ales (because we hadn’t tried a single wheat ale yet).
The wheat flight was interesting, because each sample almost tasted like an entirely different beer. I don’t think a single one stood out as my favorite. On the amber flight, I really liked the sample made with “whiskey yeast,” which gave it an interesting oaky flavor.
White Labs tasting room is at:
9495 Candida St.
Tasting room hours:
Monday – Saturday: 12:00 – 8:00 pm
Sunday: 12:00 – 6:00 pm
Other breweries we could have visited
Planning your own self-guided tour…
Be smart — bring a responsible driver along. And water. And snacks. Or check the various food truck schedules or plan on visiting a restaurant/deli/taco stand at some point. Go in a group and stick with samplers/tasters that you share (alcohol kills germs, don’t worry). If you’re really going to taste and evaluate different beers, three or four breweries is probably plenty (we were a little overambitious), or just hang out at Ballast Point all day (you probably still won’t get through their tap list). You know. Common sense.