San Diego Experience
San Diego On Tap
The secret is out: San Diego is the nation's best beer town. In addition to more than 30 local breweries, San Diego has a stretch of beer-nerd heaven nicknamed the Belgian Corridor (30th Street in North/South Park). You can find all styles of beer in San Diego, from the meek to the mighty, but many local brewers contend that the specialty is the big, bold Double IPA (also called an Imperial IPA). It's an India Pale Ale with attitude—and lots of hops. Nearly every local brewery has its own version.
Bars with the best microbrew selection: Blind Lady Ale House, Hamilton's Tavern, Live Wire, O'Brien's, Toronado.
Best fests: Want one location and a seemingly endless supply of beer? Try the Belgian Beer Fest (March), the San Diego Festival of Beers (September www.sdbeerfest.org), San Diego Beer Week (November www.sdbw.org), and the Strong Ale Fest (December). www.sandiegobrewersguild.org has more listings.
Best way to sample it all: Sign up for Brewery Tours of San Diego (www.brewerytoursofsandiego.com) to sample the best craft beers without a second thought about directions or designated drivers.
San Diego's Best Breweries
You can also head to the source, where beer is brewed. These are outside of the city center, but worth the trek for beer aficionados.
AleSmith Brewing Co.. This artisanal microbrewery offers tastings at its out-of-the-way locale in the Miramar area. Just how artisanal is it? The "Kopi Luwak" special edition of AleSmith's popular Speedway Stout is brewed with Civet coffee from Indonesia, made from rare and expensive coffee berries that have been eaten—and passed, undigested—by the Asian Palm Civet. Visitors can tour the entire brewery on Saturdays at 2pm. 9368 Cabot Dr., Scripps Ranch, San Diego, CA, 92126. 858/549–9888. www.alesmith.com.
Alpine Brewing Co.. Well worth the mountain drive, this family-owned operation may be itty-bitty, but it's also a big champ: brewmaster Pat McIlhenney, a former fire captain, has won national and international kudos for his hopped-up creations and took the title of the fifth-best brewery in the nation from Beer Advocate. Tasters are only a buck each, or fill a growler, which holds a half gallon, for future imbibing. If they're on tap, don't pass up Duet, Pure Hoppiness, or Exponential Hoppiness. Alpine recently opened a pub a few doors down where you can taste flights of their various beers. 2351 Alpine Blvd., Alpine, San Diego, CA, 91901. 619/445–2337. www.alpinebeerco.com.
Ballast Point Brewing Co.. This isn't the best location for a casual visit, but if you're in the Miramar/Scripps Ranch area, swing by for a tasting. Otherwise, be on the lookout for their offerings at local brewpubs—the Sculpin IPA and Wahoo wheat beer are especially awesome. 10051 Old Grove Rd., Scripps Ranch, San Diego, CA, 92131. 858/695–2739. www.ballastpoint.com.
Stone Brewing World Gardens and Bistro. The Big Daddy of San Diego craft brewing was founded by a couple of basement beer tinkerers in 1996; the company now exports its aggressively hoppy beers—instantly identifiable by their leering gargoyle labels—to bars and stores across the nation. Stone's monumental HQ is off the beaten path, but totally worth a visit for its tours ($3 includes souvenier tasting glass), vast on-tap selection (not just Stone beers), and hard-to-beat bistro eats. 1999 Citracado Pkwy., Escondido, CA, 92029. 760/294-7866. www.stonebrew.com.
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