Local beer suggestions
Our vacation to San Diego is fast approaching and I'd like to get some last minute recommendations for local beers to try. I'm a big hop head and really like a nice strong IPA. I also appreciate one with good aroma but maybe not so crazy bitter as some of the best IPA's. Looking for draft suggestions as well as bottle suggestions (will be shopping at Bevmo if that makes a difference).
I'm familiar with Stone and will be trying that for sure. I've heard Alpine makes good IPA's but are tough to find on tap or in a bottle (unless I track down a specialty bottle shop or something, I plan on hitting up Bevmo for most of my bottle purchases).
So curious to hear some recommendations for my beer style from the local offerings. I have a bunch of spots picked out to eat/drink at and will keep an eye out for these.
In terms of bottle shops near PB/Downtown - Olive Tree Market in Ocean Beach has a good selection of bottles (not sure about Alpine).
Windmill Farms is a grocery store in Del Cerro which is near SDSU right off the 8 freeway that stocks Alpine bottles and has recently expanded their selection of beer. It is about 15 minutes East of the beach and close to the highway exit. There is also a bottle shop in the same shopping center called K and B Wine Cellars that has a huge selection of bottles from various breweries.
All of the above suggestions are great - San Diego's breweries (and us local drinkers) are particularly fond of IPAs. I would definitely suggest trying the Sculpin IPA from Ballast Point, and I'd also try their IPL (yup, an India Pale Lager) if you can get your hands on one. You already know about Stone.
Now, as far as where to get said beer, BevMo isn't bad, but if you're going to be Downtown, try Super Junior's on 7th between Broadway and C street. Now, the exterior of the place is. . .not pretty. Urban wasteland chic would be the best description, but inside you'll find a shockingly good beer selection.
Do you know where you'll be staying?
San Diego's beer scene exploded in the past few years, and there are numerous great spots worth your time outside of some of our more venerable institutions.
If you're near downtown, I'd suggest spending some time in the Uptown area: South Park, North Park, Normal Heights and University Heights. Running up 30th St., you've got Hamilton's Tavern and Toronado, then down Adams to the east is Blind Lady Ale House, and to the west is Small Bar.
On the IPA front, you definitely owe it to yourself to pay Alpine a visit. Their Nelson is simply stellar, and for my money is the top IPA produced in San Diego.
In terms of buying local beer, it's hard to say what the best approach is there. Pizza Port's bottle shop is very good, but they seem heavily slanted towards beer from elsewhere. Holiday Wine Cellar in Escondido is good, but kind of the same deal as Pizza Port. These are shops that cater to the San Diego audience, so I think they tend to be more focused on beer from elsewhere than beer from here.
Downtown's Super Junior and South Bay Drugs, on the other hand, are big on local stuff. South Bay Drugs gets a lot of Alpine in bottles. That said, I agree with the other posters who think that's best experienced on draft.
Alpine drafts are more prevalent than they used to be, and it seems to me that Toronado and Blind Lady have their beers on pretty frequently.
South Bay Drugs
779 Palm Ave, Imperial Beach, CA
Blind Lady Ale House
3416 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA
My favorite IPAs in San Diego....
Pure Hoppiness - Alpine Beer Co
Duet - Alpine Beer Co
Exponential Hoppiness - Alpine Beer Co
Wipeout - Pizza Port Carlsbad
Sculpin - Ballast Point
IPA - Alesmith
IPA - Stone
Green Flash makes some great IPAs too, including the West Coast IPA and the Hop Head Red (although not technically an IPA), but their beers tend towards the bitter side compared to the others above, which are more in the strong pine-cone/citrus type of IPA.
Depending on where you are vacationing in San Diego, you could probably find most of these at Best Damn Beer Shop (inside Super Jr market) downtown. You might even be able to email Sid, who runs the beer supply there and see if he could hold some of these bottles for you, as the smaller production stuff tends to go quick. Otherwise, for Bevmo, they usually carry Pizza Port, Stone, and Green Flash. Sculpin from Ballast Point has recently gotten much wider distribution, so they might have it at BevMo as well. Although, I'd guess that they probably have all of the other common Ballast Point beers instead. Of those, the Calico IPA from Ballast is a good one. But it's slightly more bitter, and nowhere the same caliber as Sculpin.
In all cases, these beers taste massively better from the breweries themselves. The bottles give a sample of the flavor profile, but the taps are where they shine. Bottling an IPA just isn't the same as tasting it from a proper keg. The flavor profile and hop character gets weakened. In particular, Wipeout when had straight from the tap at Pizza Port Carlsbad might be the very best IPA in all of San Diego. Whereas, in the bottle it's not nearly as impressive. Don't even bother trying Exponential Hoppiness from the bottle if you can get it on tap at O'Briens or the brewery. On tap it's an intense over-the-top pint, with all of this insane flavor and kick, whereas in the bottle it's reduced to an overly sweet and bitter hoppy version of itself.
For having these on tap, definitely hit up O'Brien's in Kearny Mesa, if you're nearby. It will have the most Alpine on tap short of the brewery. Pizza Port in Ocean Beach, Solana Beach, or Carlsbad (the best one) will also have great beers, plus guest beers. And the Ballast Point brewery in Linda Vista has a fun brew mart with tasting counter to sample and buy some growlers.
Driving to Alpine to the brewery, Carlsbad for Pizza Port, Scripps Ranch to the Ballast Point formal tasting room (nicer than Linda Vista one by miles), or San Marcos/Escondido for the Stone Brewery (which is a beauty) are all too far out of the way if you're staying anywhere central to SD. If you're near any of those though, do check them out.
Thanks guys! I'm going to make some notes here for sure.
I agree on the 'better from the tap than the bottle' but sounds like they are all really out of the way (which doesn't work out too well if a guy wants to have more than one and still drive!). I plan on making it to Yardhouse, Downtown Johnny Brown's, Tap Room, PB Ale House, and I'm sure a few others in downtown / PB I might be forgetting (feel free to throw some suggestions out there).
I won't get to Carlsbad (though might stop in to the bottle shop on the way into town). Also seems like I won't get any Alpine from the tap (nowhere downtown or PB for this it seems).. but will try to get some bottles.
Love to hear some more suggestions.
1269 Garnet Ave, San Diego, CA 92109
Downtown Johnny Brown's
1220 3rd Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
Skip Yardhouse. Very few local beers represented. Walk the extra few blocks to the Neighborhood. Serious beer selection, good local handles last time I was there.
I'd suggest a 30th St. run (which was voted the best beer blvd. in America by the Men's Journal for what it is worth) with stop at:
(then take a right on Adams and continue to Blind Lady Ale House).
And yes, seek out the Nelson (even worth a drive out to Alpine). Best. Beer. Ever.
3794 30th St, San Diego, CA 92104
Blind Lady Ale House
3416 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA
4095 30th St, San Diego, CA 92104
Ah, yes. Good catch. I meant to say Big Eye IPA from Ballast Point, not the Calico. Like I said above (mistakingly about Calico) Big Eye is good, but a lighter-weight IPA with more bitterness and pretty much none of the nice floral/hop character as Sculpin, etc.
Although, the Big Eye does go excellent with the food at Blue Water, where they serve a full range of Ballast Point's "Standard" beers on tap (Yellowtail, Calico, Big Eye...but not Sculpin or any of the other specialty brews).
For great aroma without crazy bitterness in an IPA, Ballast Point Sculpin and Alpine Nelson are the two best examples I've tried. AleSmith's summer version of YuleSmith (the bottles has a red, white and blue logo) also fits the bill perfectly.
Alpine's other hoppy beers are typically world class, and they are fairly difficult to find outside San Diego county. Their recently opened restaurant has been getting great reviews, but I haven't been myself.
If you have a chance to try Even Keel from Ballast Point, it is amazing when fresh. It's a true session beer (under 4% abv) hopped enough to fit in here in hop happy San Diego. Ballast Point's Homebrew Mart has a small tasting bar that often feature one off beers that won't be seen elsewhere. It's strictly a tasting bar, no full pints are served.
Each of the Pizza Port locations brews its own beers (which are different than the Port Brewing Company bottled beers), and they are usually excellent. These beers are also seldom found outside San Diego. The food at Pizza Port is pretty forgettable in my experience.
Stone's latest offering, the West Coast Bitter, should not be missed.
Green Flash has released a large number of limited production beers on tap recently, including the highly enjoyable Citra pale ale and Matt's Bitter; niether is likely to see wie distribution. 30th Street Pale Ale is also great.
Www.taphunter.com is very useful for finding out what's on tap where in San Diego, although some bar owners are much more diligent about updating their offerings than others.
If you restrict yourself to Bev Mo, you will miss out on the best that SD has to offer. Depending on which bevmo you are going to, there is likely to be a nearby bottle shop or brewery that is worth the detour to be able to pick up some goodies.
That being said, Alesmith IPA is a good one. Bevmo stocks a good selection of Alesmith offerings and all their beers are at least very good. Speedway Stout is a great stout and Horny Devil is strong Belgian-style Pale Ale that is very tasty.
Ballast Point generally has very good offerings - if you can find Sculpin, snap it up as it is a fantastic beer.
If you are a hophead you owe it to yourself not to leave SD without trying some Alpine IPAs.
The Pizza Port Bottle Shop in Carlsbad will likely be one of the best places to pick up SD beers that are rare outside SD. It's just a couple block off of I-5 on Carlsbad Village Drive. Pizza Port Carlsbad is just next door for some great beers on tap. Enjoy your trip!