For ten days every year one of the world’s top beer destinations rolls out the red carpet to locals and visitors alike for San Diego Beer Week. While laying claim to over 115 professional brew houses in the county is impressive, the number of breweries isn’t the most important thing to note. And although San Diego is well-known for making an India Pale Ale (IPA) style that is so unique other parts of the planet replicate the style, that’s not the most impressive piece, either. What really sets San Diego Beer apart is the breadth of quality across so many styles that you can find. Tart, fermented fruit? Check. Crisp classic pilsners? Check. One of the best belgian style beers
this side of, well, Belgium being brewed anywhere (you know who you are)? Check.
There are alot of independent men and women making very good and creative beer in San Diego. And this week is a chance for seasoned pros of the festival scene and people who just want to dip their toes in the water to have a go. I can’t go to every event, but I thought I’d give some highlights of things you probably want to check out if your schedule permits. Here’s my short list of a few events I’d strongly recommend.
First off, I should mention that there are several breweries I’d advise going to – or seeking out their beer at a local bottle shop or market – regardless of the existence of San Diego Beer Week. For my money, the Elemental Pilsner by Lightning Brewery and the Claritas Kolsch by Mike Hess Brewing are two of the best examples of these styles of beer that I have had anywhere in the country. They are on the “light and refreshing” end of the spectrum, so I often recommend them to people who are just starting to dabble in beer or who don’t fancy the heavier options. Karl Strauss is brewing a Mosaic IPA that is so good I have it on tap at home. Two of the newer kids on the craft beer block – Council Brewing in Kearny Mesa and Fall Brewing in North Park – are making beer so good you’d think they’d have been at it for decades. Fall Brewing is one of only two breweries I’ve ever been to in which I enjoy every single beer. If you happen to be on the northern portion of 30th Street up by Adams, it’s really a place you should stop. Bonus: They’ve turned a former mechanic’s shop that no one had a reason to hang out in front of into a fun brewery and tasting room where there are plenty of people for all occasions hanging out and enjoying themselves. The guys have really done their part to help create a sense of place on a block that spent many years being merely a connection between the drive or ride between two other places. Nice job.
Now let’s get on with the events.
EVENT: VIP Brewer Takeover at the Port Pavilion
DATE: Friday, November 6th at 6PM – here
Down at the Port along Harbor Drive there is a big kick-off event that spans two days. The picture above is by Tim Stahl Photographics and it is the scene from on high of many lovers of great beer. If you’ve seen a great photo inside a brewery in the last couple years, chances are Tim was behind the lens. I typically only do the first night because it’s a bit more sedate and I like to take my festival experiences in calm, mellow doses. You’ll get a great chance to sample small amounts from breweries all over the county. I typically ask for 1 oz pours of a few tastes and then narrow in on a few favorites. You can have a really fun experience and only consume the equivalent of two beers over a couple hours. Definitely worth the ticket.
That pdf above is really all you need to know about the incredible beer line up, food availability, and general goodwill awaiting you at the VIP Guildfest.
EVENT: Smokeout at Carnitas Snack Shack
DATE: Sunday, November 8th from 12:00 to 5:00pm
I love Carnitas Snack Shack. If they told me they were cooking water I’d probably show up to try it. But despite my bias, this is one of the better things to put on your calendar for the first weekend. Heart & Trotter is a whole animal butcher in North Park that prides itself on respect for its work and offering a really high quality product and they’ll butcher an animal that Chef Max will promptly grill. If you are not into meat this probably is one you can skip. For the rest of us, yes. Lots of yes. Green Flash’s Green Bullet is really worth having. Plus for this event they typically put beer on in the back at the Shack that is just really good and only available for this event. I have a soft spot for Ironside, who will also be present with oysters for days, both because the Little Italy eatery puts out some incredible food and because the owners have a passion for making a whole experience for their guests and it really sets them apart. Plus, ya know, oysters. I might even have to tailgate a bit for this one.
Event: Brew, Views & Chews at Tom Ham’s Lighthouse
DATE: Monday, November 9th at 6:00pm – here
A friend of a friend told us to go to this event last year and it was a surprise hit. I can still remember enjoying the pairing that Chef Chad White put together with The Lost Abbey as being one of the better things I tasted all of Beer Week last year. I can’t even go this year (probably), but I liked the event so much I wanted to shout it out. A bonus for this event is that $5 from EVERY TICKET goes to the San Diego Food Bank’s Backpack program. How cool is that?
Event: Ritual Tavern and Second Chance Beer Brewer Dinner
DATE: Wednesday, November 11th (open seating) at Ritual Tavern Kitchen & Beer Garden
I met the brewer, Marty Mendiola, a couple years ago through his brother and he was one of the nicest and approachable multiple-award winning professionals I could imagine. Mendiola opened up his own brewery after a very distinguished career within another company. He has teamed up with the good folks at Ritual Tavern to offer, well, see for yourselves.
The thing you need to know about this gem of a restaurant at 30th Street and Polk in North Park is that the food they put out is consistently extremely good. I’d say it is a restaurant with a good beer list, not a beer bar with good food. So if you are looking for a sit down meal with some really outstanding beer, this is for you.
EVENT: Societe Brewing Brewer Dinner with Cucina Enoteca in Del Mar
DATE: Thursday, November 12th in Del Mar – here
Going to this event requires an Uber because it’s not walking distance – at least not for me. This was the first event my wife wanted to sign up for and given how many great choices there are walking distance from our house, this is saying something. If ever there was proof of the value of a great beer, there’s really no way I’d go all the way to Del Mar for a casual meal just ‘cuz. I don’t even know what the pairings are but given how insanely careful Travis and Doug (the co-founders and brewers) are with every other aspect of their beer, I imagine they’ll have given some thought to making sure the food is chosen to really complement the beer options. Societe makes one of my favorite IPAs, two actually. But my wife and I both really think the Harlot is one of the best beers in San Diego, and it is a belgian style. This is something we are really looking forward to.
EVENT: Speedway Grand Prix
DATE: Friday, November 13th at the new Alesmith tasting room in Miramar – here
I actually can’t go to this, although I’ll be showing craft beer supporter Congressman Scott Peters and some of his friends around the place on an unrelated tour the same day. Congressman Peters is a member of the Small Brewers’ Caucus in Congress and has made it a point to support this important industry for small business. If you live in the coastal communities, he’s who you should vote for. Trust me. But back to the beer, I’ve only ever done the version of this event that used to be at O’Briens, but Speedway Stout is one of those beers that really will alter your perspective about what beer can be. If you are thinking of doing something on this day, I’d say get an Uber or a designated driver and give this event a shot. It is a very big beer (meaning not only that it has alot of flavor but that it has plenty of alcohol by volume). So exercise caution.
EVENT: Modern Times Bike and Beer Extravaganza
DATE: Saturday, November 14th from 11:30 – 5PM starting at Soda and Swine in North Park/Normal Heights
Nova Swing, Blazing World, Monster’s Park, Fruitlands, Booming Rollers, City of the Sun. These are all beers that I have enjoyed from Modern Times. And not just me. Lots and lots and lots of people. So even if the lowest paid employee in Modern Times wasn’t making at least $14/hr (considered by many a livable wage in San Diego), I’d still say to go to this event. And even if the company did not offer unlimited paid time off so that employees with kids didn’t have to freak out if a kid gets sick, I’d still find the offerings more than worthy of my taste buds. Owner Jacob McKean has taken a strong stance in favor of the types of things that make a community livable for people who aren’t in cars, which is great. And his business model includes compensating the people who work for and with him in a way that respects the effort they give. Sometimes when you pay for something at the store it’s easier to write that check because you know something about the business behind it. This is one of those. Plus, riding around on a bike in San Diego?
EVENT: The Beer Garden at The Lodge at Torrey Pines
DATE: Sunday, November 15th from noon to 3PM – tickets here
Okay, you made it! One last event to put a bow on Beer Week. I have yet to be in town for one of these, but I have heard from people who are smarter than me that this is one of the best events of the fall in San Diego. I got the photo above from this great site, which seems to have captured the spirit of the event in the writing and photos. This is one event I always hear about and always wish I planned my time better. The restaurants at The Lodge have seen the light on craft beer for some time so it’s great to see them getting proper love with the signature final event.
So, that’s a wrap. A fun week if you can get it all in. There are, of course, tons of other events and plenty of great opportunities even after the week ends. But if you were looking for an excuse to explore some really unique flavors, this week is just the ticket. Cheers
P.S. – For those who scrolled all the way down, this is the point where I acknowledge two women you may never have heard of if your world is not in tourism or craft beer – Candice Eley and Paige McWey. Candice is one of the key driving forces across behind elevating the profile of San Diego Beer for our visitors and even among San Diegans so that our out of town guests know what they should not miss. Whether it’s Barrio Logan, 30th Street, the WestcoasterSD-coined Beer Belt in Miramar or the beach communities, Candice does an incredible job using craft beer as a vehicle for telling great stories about the communities of San Diego.
Paige is the Executive Administrator of the Brewers’ Guild. She is one of those people that just gets the job done, over and over and over. Obviously the brewers and their staff are the primary driving force behind the great beer we have in San Diego. But with Paige doing massive heavy lifting to make sure the rest of us have opportunities to enjoy that beer in responsible and fun ways, the industry has really grown. If you happen to see Paige around over the next 10 days, please thank her for helping grow this world we really enjoy.