Since migrating south of my former stomping grounds in Orange County to North County San Diego, I have slowly been discovering the wonders of San Diego’s culinary opportunities and more recently its exciting local and craft brewery scene. Taking the concept of designating a capable driver to a higher level, I was quick to agree to wander the city’s beer taps with other like-minded food and travel bloggers via a cushy and extremely stretched black limousine courtesy of Aall in Limo (858-336-1834).
The limo was fitted with the usual luxuries of a state-of-the-art sound system, spacious and comfortable seats, and a stocked bar, including a chilled bottle of bubbly which I, along with my new blogger friends (Katherine Belarmino, Carla King, Elaine J. Masters, Gina Douglas Tarnacki), and others, decided that should be the first beverage tasted before moving onto malt, barley and hops. Our limo driver James, formally dressed and knowledgeable about the San Diego brew scene was always quick to open our doors and ensure the comfort of his passengers.
I was amazed to learn that San Diego County is home to more than 50 breweries, and, beware ComiCon, the city had the honor of hosting the 2012 World Beer Cup — The “Olympics of Beer.”
It’s important to understand the distinction, according to the American Brewers Association (BA), of exactly what defines a craft brewery: craft-breweries are those that brew less than 6 million barrels (barrel = 31 gallons) of beer annually. As of 2013, the BA counts more than 2,300 craft breweries doing business in the United States. The association further breaks down craft beer industry into four markets:
What Is A Craft Brewery?
Craft Breweries Must Brew brew no more than 6 million barrels annually. They are further broken down into these submarkets:
Sells 75% of more of its beer off-site through wholesale distributors, direct to retailers as wholesaler, or direct retail)
Sells 25% of more of its beer on site
Contract Brewing Company
Brewery that doesn’t make its own beer, rather it hires another brewery to make it. These are more sales and marketing organizations than true breweries and focus on branding, packaging and distribution.
Regional Craft Brewery
An independent regional brewery “who has either an all malt flagship or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.”
It’s no secret that for the last several years I’ve furthered my education on adult beverages with a determined focus on wine, I cannot deny that my training for tasting began many years before and was a passionate advocate for the first-stage of our country’s craft-beer revolution in the early 1980’s with the founding of the first microbreweries in the country including New Albion Brewing which became Mendocino Brewing as well as the now much larger Anchor and Sierra Nevada Companies.
So when James opened the door of our limo and guided us through the doors of Mission Brewery (1441 L Street, San Diego, CA 92101 (corner of 14th & L) 619-544-0555) our first San Diego brewery of the evening. Housed in an 120 year old classic brick warehouse that was once home to Wonder Bread. Though it has no heritage, Mission Brewery hold homage by adopting the name of one of San Diego’s first breweries which was founded in 1913 but shut down in 1919 thanks to prohibition.
Inside, Mission Brewery uses the warehouse space to advantage with high ceilings, galvanized metal accents, natural wood beams, exposed duct work and weathered concrete flooring. The bar runs nearly the length of the customer space. Mission usually offers a dozen different brews, so unless you know the beer and what you want, I suggest starting with a taster flight of 4 beers ($5.50). I chose the Mission Blonde, El Conquistador (an extra pale ale) and the Carrack (a red ale). While I tend to gravitate to lighter and less hoppy beer these days, I preferred the Red Ale over the blonde.
Mission Brewery is a classic brewery and pub and they do not serve food. But on any given day you can be sure one of the country’s exciting food trucks will make an appearance. Due to the number of beers to taste and the diverse range of interests and experiences of my fellow bloggers, and the comfortable surroundings and friendly staff of Mission, we ended up staying longer than planned. That’s a good thing.
Yet soon James was ushering us back into the limousine and whisking us over the Coronado Bridge where we watched the lights of downtown San Diego and the Gas Lamp fade as we headed onto the island famous for its tony resort hotel and colorful Hollywood history.
Coronado Brewing Company
Yet tucked into the neighborhood streets of Coronado Island, James guided us to the Coronado Brewing Company (170 Orange Avenue Coronado, CA 92118). Founded in 1996, it’s safe to say the Coronado Brewing Company (CBC) was ahead of its time and perhaps the first micro-brewery in the area. The Coronado location is quite a contrast from Mission with rich colorful interior that feels more like an upscale diner than a brewery.
Like Mission, CBC offers a tasting flight of unique beers with even more unique names such as Blue Bridge Coffee Stout, Idiot IPA, Stupid Stout and Frog’s Breath IPA — watch the alcohol levels here as both the Stupid and Idiot push 9% ABV. Though I was skeptical, I had to try the Blue Bridge Coffee Stout, not only is it one of the less potent beers, it is rich, flavorful and even a bit light on the palate. Sadly the Coronado Golden Pilsner was not available the night we visited, I promise to return.
With so many beers to taste, we needed to sample the brew pub’s culinary faire, opting to try several appetizers including Calamari Strips (decent), the BrewMaster Pretzel (huge and yummy) and the Green Chile & Jalepeno Hummus (it was gone before I could try!).
As one of the oldest and now fast growing breweries in San Diego, Coronado Brewery Company is now making its beer on the other side of the bridge in San Diego (1204 Knoxville Street San Diego CA 92110) where it also has a tasting room.
With great camaraderie and too much beer and food to taste, we soon found that our 4 hour trip was coming to an end. Though we only had a chance to visit two of San Diego’s 50 or so breweries, we all agreed that the time was well spent and we truly were able to experience part of the San Diego burgeoning brewery scene. We’ll be back to try more soon!