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EatSD Lists Top-5-Craft-Breweries-San-Diego_EatSD

Published on December 11th, 2012 | by Lindsay N. Lauters


Top 5 Craft Breweries in San Diego 2012

When our editor asked me to do a top 5 list, the first word that popped into my head was “breweries.” If I had to pick anything that San Diego is known for besides the sun, surf, and the zoo, it’d be great craft beer.

There are so many amazing breweries in San Diego – it feels like a new one is opening up every week! How could I possibly pick between the giants, the micro-brews, and the lesser-known boutique contenders?

Somehow, I woman-ed up and put my must-drink list together. Give it a look, and let me know what you think in the comments!

Ballast Point Brewery San Diego EatSD#5 Ballast Point Brewery

The third largest beer distributor in San Diego, Ballast Point has long been providing San Diego with its infamous Sculpin IPA and Wahoo Wheat. Beyond that, they have an amazing set of tasting rooms with some great offbeat offerings, and have dipped their toes in spirits distillery.

Their (somewhat) recently renovated Old Grove tasting room is a sight to behold, with frequent tours, an outdoor deck, and specialty tasters for the more-than-reasonable price of $2 per or 5 for $6. Check out their online board here for a preview of their taps before you come in, but expect beauties like the Jalapeno Smokescreen, Indra Curry Stout, and the San Clemente Saison made with locally sourced San Diego ingredients.

Green Flash Brewery San Diego EatSD#4 Green Flash Brewing

Were you there for the tasting room opening of Green Flash’s Mira Mesa location? If so, you probably remember a who’s who of the craft beer aficionado world; the large tasting room and garden was a crush of people waiting in almost half-hour lines for a taste or two.

Well, things have calmed down considerably since then, but Green Flash is still amazing hopheads with a supremely drinkable collection of beers in a variety of styles. They’re most famous for their Hop Head Red (American Amber/Red with a creamy head and pine flavors) and Le Freak (a Belgian pale with a hoppy twist), but I’m partial to the Rayon Vert. A citrusy Belgian pale brewed with Brettanomyces yeast, this beer is described as an experimental expression of what would happen if a San Diego brewery was transported to historical Belgium. …What?! A concept beer? It’s practically Pink Floyd’s The Wall in a bottle!

To sweeten the deal, Green Flash invites San Diego food trucks to its Mira Mesa grounds and holds several special events per year. I highly recommend visiting on a Thursday, when three food trucks crowd the parking lot and the tasting room is flush with office workers and beer nuts blowing off steam.

Societe Brewing San Diego EatSD#3 Societe Brewing Co.

A relatively young brewery, Societe has made a name for itself by focusing on handcrafted IPAs and Belgian beers. The complex and delicate flavors of their Belgians are enough of a draw, but their tasting room cinches the deal. Spacious and outfitted with natural oak bars, an iPad check-out system, and supremely friendly and knowledgeable staff, Societe is the ultimate meeting place for hipsters and beer nerds alike.

Try the Pupil (a light IPA with some tropical notes), the Butcher (a roasty stout) and the Debutante (Belgian ale with a warm caramel flavor) for a quick introduction to what Societe can do.

Stone Brewing San Diego EatSD#2 Stone Brewing Co.

What kind of a list would this be without Stone? Most people love it, some people hate it (or at least claim it’s overrated), but the craft brew giant’s influence on the beer world can’t be denied. Their Arrogant Bastard ale and love for “big flavor brews” put them on the map, but they’re also famous for their IPAs like Ruination, and their experimental and collaboration brews (like the Ishii/Stone Green Tea IPA).

A gorgeous brewery and tasting room/restaurant that may soon be home to a boutique hotel with attached event space, Stone is also a community draw and destination spot. They host beer education classes, tours, and special events like their summer movie series, beer pairing dinners, and the infamous SourFest. Love it, like it, or hate it, you’re not a real San Diegan until you down some suds while putting your feet up in their garden.

Alesmith Brewing San Diego EatSD#1 Alesmith Brewing Company

Alright, I’ll admit it: Alesmith holds a special place in my heart. It’s the brewery that introduced me to the crazy world of craft beers, and I’ll never forget my first sips of Grand Cru (a fruity, spicy Belgian strong) and Horny Devil (a Belgian pale ale with strong banana notes). Of course, they’re most famous for their Speedway Stout, a strong, dark, coffee beer, and for generally kicking you in the gut with ABVs (alcohol-by-volume). Yes, that means get ready to get drunk – or sip your tasters very, very carefully.

Alesmith is well-established, but they still manage to surprise me with amazing specialty beers that melt the heart of even experienced brew lovers. Their Vietnamese coffee take on the Speedway is truly a wonder to behold: dark, creamy, and simple without being too sweet. Their tasting room is far from fancy, but the unique and masterfully crafted flavors of their beers make the trip well worth it.

That wraps up this list, but are you still thirsty for more brews? They may not have made the cut, but I highly recommend looking up the following spots:

  • Rough Draft Brewing Co. – Headed up by the nicest brewer you’ll ever meet, Rough Draft has some surprisingly good IPAs and free popcorn in the tasting room.

  • The Lost Abbey – It hurt my heart to leave the brewer of Veritas (a small-batch sour ale, and my absolute favorite of this style) off the list, but they were just barely edged out by Ballast Point.

  • Hess Microbrewery – Very, very small and very, very good beers. The brewery is practically a closet in an office park, but it’s always crowded and always delicious.

  • White Labs – Not a brewery so much as a yeast tasting room, White Labs offers a unique experience for the home brewer and advanced beer lover alike.


About the Author

grew up on the "weird stuff" her restauranteur father delighted in sharing with her. Her young palate eagerly consumed raw oysters, boeuf bourguignon, and tuna maki in equal measure with applesauce and boxed mac n' cheese. She moved from San Francisco to San Diego in 2001, and has been overjoyed to observe San Diego food culture growing in leaps and bounds. Today, Lindsay is a professional game tester and freelance writer who enjoys cooking, traveling, and (of course) playing video games. She spends much of her time at craft breweries, food trucks, and hole-in-the-wall gems, and she can't wait to share these culinary adventures with you! Twitter

13 Responses to Top 5 Craft Breweries in San Diego 2012

  1. Mike says:

    Alesmith recently remodeld thier tasting room now and it actually is fancy, so you should go check it out!

  2. Mike says:

    Just a friendly FYI: Stone Levitation is an Amber Ale, not an IPA.

  3. Mike Coleman says:

    Aztec Brewing and Manzanita deserve some love too!

    …gotta love that Chipotle IPA and Gillespie Brown, respectively.

  4. Duder says:

    These lists are hard to put together. However Lost Abbey should replace Societe in this list. I’m pretty sure Societe would agree.

  5. Chris Dunn says:

    It’s also worth mentioning that Hess will be opening a larger brewery and tasting room in the (in)famous 30th st area of North Park very soon.

  6. George Gomez says:

    Alpine Ale produces some very good beers and would probably be on a lot of people’s top 5 list.

  7. Hugomarink says:

    I would put Stone at #1 and replace Societe with Alpine or Lost Abbey.

  8. kittymat says:

    Yep, I’d include Alpine for sure. Not only is the beer great, but they’ve got the best fried pickles!!!!

  9. I can’t believe you left out Pizza Port (Carlsbad!, Solano Beach and Ocean Beach) and Iron Fist.

  10. jofunque says:

    Green Flash does not belong on this list…most of their beers are mediocre. Their salvation is they have so many beers they do have a few good ones. Lost Abbey is definitely in the top 5. Stone gets on the list for being the pioneer of this recent wave of local beer…their beer is good but there is so much better out there.

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