Sunday, February 24, 2008

Craft Breweries of San Diego

Let it not be said that this household is composed of teetotalers. We imbibe just about anything that has been fermented, but beer holds a special place in our drinking habits. For Brian's birthday this year, I gave him a whole day of beer tasting through Brewery Tours of San Diego. (I stayed home because of my motion sickness issues that would have made a six hour trip in a shuttle bus (combined with alcohol) unpleasant for all.) He visited Oggi's, San Diego Brewing Company, Stone, and the Home Brew Mart. It was a grand success, and I am now officially deemed "the best wife EVER!"

KPBS recently (okay, more like two months ago, but I meant to tell you then) devoted an half hour to San Diego brews, and featured Peter Rowe, columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune, Greg Koch, CEO and co-founder Stone Brewing Company, and Colby Chandler, award winning brewer for Ballast Point Brewing Company, general manager for Home Brew Mart, as well as president of the San Diego Brewers Guild. I was intrigued by the bit of brew history that came up in the special, so I did some digging to find out some more.

Ernie Liwag, author of the Journal of San Diego History article "Craft Beer in San Diego Society," wrote that "before prohibition [in 1919], San Diego had approximately 112,000 people, seven breweries and fifty-five saloons, including San Diego Brewery, City Brewery and Depot, San Diego Consolidated Brewing Co., and Bay City Brewing Co." Only three of those breweries survived after the repeal of prohibition: Aztec Brewing Company, San Diego Brewing Company, and Balboa Brewing Company, but all had closed their doors by 1953. During WW II, national brewers dominated the market by arranging deals with taverns, stores, and restaurants to sell their product exclusively.

San Diego Brewing Company's horse-drawn beer wagons (no date). Photo courtesy of the San Diego Historical Society Photograph Collection.

In the period between 1953 and about 1985, San Diegans drank domestic beers made by the likes of Anheuser-Busch and Miller and imports such as Heineken, Becks, and Guinness. But in 1985, the european imports had become outrageously expensive, and much less expensive Mexican imports such as Dos Equis, Corona, and Pacifico took their place on the grocery store shelves. About that time, there was a growing demand for craft brew that the imports and domestic brands couldn't fill, and the first craft brewery in San Diego, Bolt (no longer in business), opened in 1986, followed by Karl Strauss in 1989 and the La Jolla Brewing Co. in 1990. Today, San Diego is now home to 20 artisan breweries (at 29 different locations), none of which have reached their 21st birthday.

There was a general consensus between the guests on the KPBS special that San Diego beer is not only some of the best in the country, it's some of the best in the world. Having tasted at least one beer from all but a couple of the San Diego breweries, I agree wholeheartedly. Don't take my word on it, though, you should try it out yourself!

San Diego Breweries:
Alesmith Brewing Company
Alpine Beer Company
Back Street Brewing
Ballast Point Brewing Company
Coronado Brewing Co.
The Firehouse Brewing Company
Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant
Green Flash Brewing Company
Karl Strauss Brewing Company (5 locations)
La Jolla Brewhouse
Lightning Brewery
Oceanside Ale Works
Oggi's Pizza and Brewing Company (3 locations)
Pacific Beach Ale House
Pizza Port (2 locations)
Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey
Rock Bottom Brewing Restaurant (2 locations)
San Diego Brewing Company
San Marcos Brewery and Grill
Stone Brewing Co.

For more info on San Diego's breweries, visit the San Diego Brewer's Guild website.

Want to take a brewery tour? Purchase tickets from Brewery Tours of San Diego.

Interested in brewing your own? Visit the Home Brew Mart in Linda Vista.

Read Ernie Liwag's entire article on "Craft Breweries in San Diego" at the San Diego Historical Society website.

Read Jay Porter on the reasons behind the rising cost of craft beers.

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