October has always been my favorite month for two reasons, my birthday and beer. October is the month Germans, and so many others around the globe celebrate Oktoberfest which is the world’s largest beer festival. Beer is worth celebrating, it is the oldest recorded recipe in the world. The ancient Egyptians documented the process of brewing beer on papyrus scrolls around 5000 BC. Beer is the reason man gave up his nomadic ways, settled down and began farming. A steady supply of beer needs a steady supply of ingredients to brew it. Settling down assured that everyone had a good local source of fresh beer. Before prohibition there were over 1356 breweries running in the US, only 40% of those survived the 13-year dry spell. After prohibition most small breweries were absorbed by large breweries such as Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors. Most Americans chose a major brand of beer they liked and that is what they drank, there was not a lot of crossover. The two main styles of beer that dominated the market were pilsners and lagers as most of the major brewers were German and those were the styles they brought from home. This lack of choice would not last forever as most things of quality always come back around.
The craft beer movement which consists of smaller independently owned breweries had a resurgence in the 1970s and has been growing ever since. Today there are over 7500 breweries of various sizes all over the US, we have over 150 craft breweries in San Diego alone. Currently there are 75 different styles of beer in play so now we have a lot more to choose from when choosing a beer.
The craft beer journey for us here in San Diego started with a handful of craft breweries: Karl Strauss, Stone, Ale Smith, and Green Flash. They all hit the scene nearly 20 years ago. When these breweries first started most establishments pouring draft beer had no place for them to sell their product. The taps literally belonged to large national breweries that put the draft taps in for free to assure that their brand of beer was sold exclusively. The agreement was one or two taps could be used for local beers and the rest belonged to the brand that installed them. The battle of the beers was on, the craft breweries in town became fierce rivals competing for the few taps that were available to them. It was a long journey, but today local breweries no longer have that problem. Draft beer taps (also referred to as handles) are now almost entirely dedicated to local brews, in fact, unless it is a hotel or chain restaurant it is unusual to find a handle dedicated to a national brand.
San Diego now has so many craft breweries, instead of competing with the national brands they are now competing amongst themselves. There are so many world class beers available to us, gone is the day when you had a favorite beer and that is all you ever ordered. Most beer lovers have a favorite style of beer, and they look for the best local versions of that style. Lagers, Pale Ales, IPAs, and Stouts, you can find award winning examples of your favorite style just about anywhere in town. I mentioned there are 75 different styles of beer, but for San Diego there is one style in particular, and one type of beer that every local should have on their radar, the India Pale Ale (IPA) and Session beers. San Diego does some of the best India Pale Ales in the world, that is just a fact. Session beers are important because of our warm weather and our love of playing outdoors. They are lighter in alcohol and are great if drinking beer is something you plan to do throughout the day. The most iconic style of beer to San Diego is the IPA short for India Pale Ale.
San Diego is part of a larger West Coast tradition of extremely hoppy IPAs, known now around the world as a “West Coast IPA.” The name IPA goes way back to the British rule of India, a lso known as the British Raj, when India was a colony of Great Britain. Supplies were sent to India from England and one of the most requested items from home was beer. India can be brutally hot, so you cannot blame the colonists for wanting something refreshing and familiar to drink. Unfortunately, the beer would arrive spoiled after its long hot journey by boat. The answer was to increase the hops and the alcohol content to prevent it from spoiling. A hop forward, refreshing beer with a punch was born. India Pale Ales come in many different types, West Coast (very hoppy), East Coast (lighter on the hops), and recently “Hazy” or, unfiltered IPAs have been all the rage.
The other beer type that should be on every local beer lover’s radar, especially in the warmer months, are session beers. These beers are lighter in alcohol content, between 4 and 5%, and they come in many styles such as: pale ale, blonde, lager, even IPA. The feature that makes them a session beer is the lower alcohol. A session beer keeps the focus on flavour with less alcohol so you can drink more without getting smashed. These beers are great for long days playing outside, boating, barbequing, or mowing the lawn. So many craft beers pack a punch when it comes to alcohol content, so if you are having more than two, I suggest you check these out. Mass produced beer such as Budweiser or Miller contain 3-5% alcohol by volume (ABV) while most craft beers weigh in at 7% plus, that is close to double the alcohol.
Good beer doesn’t travel well. It is always best when consumed fresh and close to where it was brewed, so don’t let good beer come to you, instead make a trip to drink good beer at its source, your local brewery. We have our own brewery here in town, Coronado Brewing Company. CBC has a great family friendly brew pub that serves good food and a fun line up of beers, some that are old favorites and a rotating line up of seasonal creations. Branching out to other great beer drinking destinations is easy.
A short drive South down the Silver Strand will get you to Hess Brewing Company located on the main drag at the corner of Sea Coast Drive and Date, a mere 70 feet from the beach. They have a great lineup of craft beers, a fun “IB Biergarten” with outdoor seating, corn hole games, and amazing food from City Tacos. City Tacos is amazing. If you have not tried them at one of their other San Diego locations you are in luck, now they are right down the street. The Hop Cloud IPA (7% ABV) is a tasty version of a Hazy, unfiltered IPA. The Solis IPA (7.5% ABV) is simply a solid India Pale Ale with a touch of citrus. Easy Drankin’ a session range but is still, as the name states, easy to drink. Hess has several locations around San Diego, one of my favorites is in South Park just down the street from the original City Tacos. The North Park locations is fun because to enter the tasting room you have to walk a bridge that takes you directly over the brewing equipment, which is busy pumping out all the great beer they make in house. Hess beers are for sale on tap and in cans all over San Diego.
Driving over the bridge will land you in Barrio Logan where there arc two fun breweries in the neighbourhood that arc unique and offer some great beers. Border X Brewing is across the street from the iconic taco shop Salud on Logan Avenue. It is a brewery that embraces its location in the Barrio and its proximity to Mexico with a Chicano vibe, an amazing taco kitchen on its back patio, and fun beers made with regional ingredients like horchata and chocolate. The Chiquitin, a session India pale ale (4.4% ABV) is low in alcohol while still rocking all the hoppy goodness of an IPA. The Saladito, a German style gose (4.2% ABV) is a true session beer with a hint of salt that makes you want to have just one more. The Abuelita’s Chocolate Stout (7.5% ABV) is unique and delicious, it is a perfect example of what they do best. Keeping true to their roots Boarder X also offers several versions of a beer cocktail called a michelada. What is a michelada you ask? A michelada is a beer cocktail made of beer and spiced up Clamato juice. It is served over ice with lime and a salted rim, like a Bloody Mary, but with beer. Border X beers are not currently available in stores so head on over for drinks and some killer tacos.
Thorn Brewing Company is one of San Diego’s favorite local breweries. I was so excited when they opened the Barrio Logan location right on National Avenue. This is more of a large-scale brewing operation with a tasting room. The layout is open in a warehouse setting with large roll up garage doors. They do not have a kitchen, but food trucks are often part of the mix. Barrio Lager, a Baja style lager (4.5% ABV) isavailable only in the Barrio Logan tasting room. It is a fun example of a session beer with a nod to the beers we grew up drinking in Mexico. The Hopster Pot, a New England style hazy IPA (7% ABV) isone of my favorites, the fact that it is not filtered adds to the enjoyment. Relay is a West Coast style IPA (7.2% AVB) with the characteristic hoppy punch San Diego IPAs are known for. These two beers are amazing and are tasting room favorites. Thorn also offers tribute to their surroundings with tasty michelada made with their Barrio Lager. Thorn has several tasting rooms around San Diego, one of my favorites being the charming North Park location. Their beers are for sale on tap and in cans all over town.
Once you cast your stone into San Diego’s large pool of breweries the ripple effect is never ending. The further out you travel the more beers there are to discover. A growler is an easy way to take your favorite beer home with you. A growler is a reusable glass jug that when purchased, will be filled with your favorite beer to go. Warning, beer tasting and brewery hopping is addictive so, pace yourself, UBER, or bring a designated driver. There used to be a “Trails and Ales” tour offered through the senior center, a fun walking tour of local breweries so keep your eyes open, hopefully it will resurface. Cheers, drink responsibly!
• Clyde Van Arsdall IV is an executive chef and lives in Coronado with his family.