San Diego is known worldwide for it’s unparalleled weather and beautiful beaches, great shopping and active nightlife. Lately, San Diego has been making a bigger name for itself in the local craft beer scene. But microbreweries have been present in San Diego since the late 1800s, and have developed quite the cult following thanks to places like Stone Brewing and Karl Strauss, which have paved the way for up and coming breweries. Take Green Flash Brewing Co., founded in 2002, for instance, which just weeks ago took home two gold medals and one silver from over 4,000 entries submitted to this year’s Great American Beer Festival from 666 breweries nationwide. Sixteen awards were given to San Diego breweries, with Green Flash securing the most medals of any midsize brewery in the entire state of California.
Recently, beer making and beer tasting have become more of a lifestyle than merely a hobby. Brewmasters and consumers alike have developed a passion for the craft and taste of a good beer. In honor of San Diego Beer Week this month, we tour four local breweries that exemplify the art of craft brewing — Ballast Point, The Lost Abbey/Port Brewing, Iron Fist, and On The Tracks. While they all have very different brewing styles with differing tastes, they share a passion for excellence.
Our first stop is Ballast Point in San Diego. One of the earlier local breweries, Ballast Point is increasingly gaining popularity. Stop in and take a tour of the brewery for an up close and personal look at the beer making process, then step into to the tasting room and enjoy a selection from 27 different taps — all detailed on a chalkboard above the tasting bar. Pints are offered, as well as half pints and tasters, and if you’re not quite sure what your preference is, don’t be afraid to ask the beer tender. The staff is knowledgeable about their selection and more than willing to answer any questions you may have. If you’re a hophead, my recommendation is the Sculpin. Just like the fish it’s named after, this IPA is seemingly light and crispy but packs a powerful punch. Be sure to bring some lunch if you plan on hanging out for a bit. (www.ballastpoint.com)
The next stop is The Lost Abbey/Port Brewing in San Marcos. The Lost Abbey is a division of Port Brewing (Pizza Port) and they specialize in Belgian-style ales — think heavier taste and higher alcohol content. The brewery itself has a very industrial feel — a wide-open warehouse with exposed fermenting tanks and beer barrels make up the scenery. The tasting bar offers a large chalkboard (much like Ballast Point) showcasing a wide selection of year-round and seasonal beers, as well as various selections from Port Brewing. Also available are food vendors (not necessarily always the same one) to offer some nourishment in between tastings. Should you catch it on rotation, I recommend the Dawn Patrol Dark. This traditional English bitter finishes smoothly enough for even the non-English bitter fans to enjoy. (www.lostabbey.com)
Next up — Iron Fist in Vista. This family owned brewery’s atmosphere reflects just that. Like The Lost Abbey, Iron Fist is set in a warehouse with fermenting tanks in plain sight and beer barrels set up as tables. Iron Fist also offers a large chalkboard detailing their year-round selection and seasonal rotation. Because the actual tasting bar does not offer much space, guests get a chance to explore the rest of the brewery space. Iron Fist also plays host to various food vendors for when that hunger inevitably creeps up. For the beer lover who prefers to stay on the lighter side, Renegade Blonde is right up your alley. This ale is mild, light in body, and has a crisp taste and refreshing finish — the perfect brew to kick back and take the edge off. Remember to bring the dogs with you when you stop by. (www.ironfistbrewing.com)
The final stop is On The Tracks in Carlsbad. Also a family-owned brewery, On The Tracks is arguably the best-kept secret in town. Though the location is not difficult to find, you won’t find it unless you are specifically looking for it. The tasting room is small but still comfortable, and does not have anywhere near as much traffic as the first three breweries. This works to your benefit, allowing for detailed conversation with the beer tender concerning the beers offered. Another benefit is a smaller range of beers, leaving room to sample all of the selections. You can definitely taste the quality in their beer. Plus — who doesn’t love a local brewery that brews ginger beer! (www.ottbrew.com)
Be sure to check out San Diego Beer Week (November 2-11), which kicks off with the San Diego Brewer’s Guild Festival on November 3 at the downtown Embarcadero. Hundreds of local breweries and alehouses will be showcased during the ten-day countywide festival, concluding with an exclusive beer dinner November 11 at The Lodge at Torrey Pines. (www.sdbw.org) CRISTINA LUSETTI