So You Want To Tour San Diego’s Breweries

August 9, 2013

Pub trivia on Tuesday proved to be somewhat successful. Playing at Bigfoot West for the first time, under the moniker “Bronies” (my “I Have A Black Belt In Autoerotic Asphyxiation”-style names were deemed too sexually frustrated to use), our team finished a respectable third out of…twelve? Fifteen? I wasn’t really keeping track. I was mostly there to answer music-related questions. I had hoped to prove I was well-rounded, but I’m pretty sure I was just the music guy. Oh well, maybe next time? Maybe never again if I was deemed too dumb to contribute to future pub trivia nights? We’ll see…

At one point the topic of San Diego beer tours came up, and I made a couple recommendations for folks who were thinking about driving themselves to some of Southern CA’s craft breweries. There’s a lot of options down there, and I’ve visited more than my share of both hyper-local breweries and the larger, better-known companies. So I thought…if I were to create my own little tour of San Diego’s beer culture, where would my hypothetical tourbus stop?

Here’s where!

Stone Brewing Company – If you’re driving south from Los Angeles you have to hit Stone, either on the way down or the way back. I recommend using it as a launch pad because you’ll want to see the biggest and most robust brewery first. The scope of their business is so much larger than anyone else in Southern California (that I can think of, at least), you’ll better appreciate both Stone and the littler guys once you can compare the size of their operations. Stone has a great ($3) tour, too. They start each day at noon and go every two hours until 6pm. I’ve taken it at least 5 if not 10 times with different friends through the years. There’s a tasting afterwards that I think affords each visitor four samples? And if you do a good job of expressing your interest by asking lots of questions and chatting with the tour guides, it’s likely you’re going to wind up with some extra pours. Stone’s on-site restaurant/bistro serves up great food with a fantastic beer selection, too. I’ve eaten there a bunch and can attest to the fact that the menu is solid. Also, it’s going to help you build up a little base for all the rest of the booze you’ll be knocking back throughout the day. Oh, and last time I was there they offered re-useable growlers, so they probably still have those as well. Pick one up, they’re cheap.

Lost Abbey – Since Stone is located off Route-78 between I-5 and I-15, you can hit Lost Abbey on your way back to the 5 if you want. Although to be honest you might be better off starting here and then hopping on and off the 15 the rest of the way. I guess it’s up to you… They only offer tours on Saturdays (generally there’s one every half hour or so between noon and 5pm), but the tasting room is open from 1pm to either 8 or 9 on most nights, so if you spend an hour or two at Stone you can roll right in here and try up to two-dozen different beers. Yeah, if you haven’t noticed already this “tour” is going to get you pretty drunk. Also, you’ll want a 1/2 gallon growler to take home with you (as you will from most of these breweries, so make sure you’ve got room in your trunk). They’re fucking cheap here. $5 for the re-useable growler, about $15 for the pour.

Ballast Point – The tasting room is open 6 days a week from 11-9 and on Sundays from 12-7. The first time I went, I got an incredible private tour with a free pint of beer. Don’t expect that kind of hospitality unless you’re the only one in the place, but I’m sure the regular experience is fun too. I don’t recall them offering growlers but I’m sure their website will answer that question for you. Best of all, if you go to the main brewery, which is just off I-15, you’re just a hop-skip-and-a-jump away from…

AleSmith – They’re a little tricky because while the tasting room is open every day but Monday (mostly 12p – 9p), the only tours available are on Sundays at 2pm. On my first visit I showed up in the middle of the week and got absolutely HAMMERED in the tasting room. Fifty-cent pours of 10 different beers, and since I was one of only a handful of people in the room the pours were generous. When I asked about a tour, the young woman who was refilling my cup said, “You can walk next door if you want to take a look around.” So I did. It was kind of a self-guided tour, I guess? If you plan your trip right and there aren’t too many other people bellied up to the bar you can leave here with a really solid buzz, which is why I’m recommending it as one of your later visits. They definitely have growlers here as well, as I took a Nut Brown Ale home with me and nursed that thing like it was a baby’s bottle for 48 straight hours. You’re gonna need some food after this one. Since you’re back between I-15 and I-5, now might not be a bad time to head back towards the 5.

Green Flash – These guys are also in between the two highways, just a little bit further west of AleSmith. The tasting room is open during the week from 3 to either 9 or 10 at night, and on weekends they open a few hours earlier. There are usually some food trucks around later in the day, but don’t fill up because we’ve got one more stop left on our little tour before we drive (hopefully not drunk? maybe you brought a DD along with you?) home.

Pizza Port – Depending on your level of hunger you’ve got a couple options here. You can get back on I-5 and drive north to Carlsbad (which you might want to do anyway if it’s early enough and you feel like it), or you can just stop in Carlsbad for a couple beers and then continue on to San Clemente. Either way, at whichever place you choose to hunker down and eat some pizza, you’re going to be imbibing some great beers. Each brewery has its own unique brews as well as some of the more popular ones that are served at multiple locations. There’s non-Pizza Port options available as well, and they’re usually really good as well. I like Carlsbad because it’s right down the street from an amazing beer store so I can stock up on bottles before I go home, but I LOVE San Clemente because of its proximity to the beach/pier. Honestly, you can’t lose. Get a pizza, hang out in a beach community, drink some beers, and love life. It doesn’t get much better. If you wind up in San Clemente, sober up by walking a mile down to the pier for a pretty sunset or to watch late night fisherman reel in baby sharks and stingrays and shit. No joke, that happened on my first visit.

There’s no way you’re going to time it right, but in the summer if you pass Disneyland on your way home there’s a chance you’ll get to watch the fireworks from the highway as you speed past. In all my trips down to San Diego I’ve only managed to pull that off twice, but each time was really special. I say that because had I spent any longer staring at the fireworks I would have ran my car off the road. Any time you can watch fireworks from your car and not kill yourself or anybody else in the process you’ve had a truly unforgettable experience.

Drunk enough yet? Good. Time to go home and sleep it off. You’ve had a long day. You deserve it.

Russian Circles – Deficit [MP3]

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