A Tour of San Diego Breweries: Alpine Beer Company, Manzanita Brewing, Monkey Paw, and Stone Brewery

Those are beers.

“Beer. It’s what for dinner.” After chuckling at the pun based on the 1980s meat slogan I saw hanging in a local pub, I thought about beer, and its effects on popular culture. Not the alcoholic effects, but the economic and social events that circulate around bars, clubs, and restaurants. Created as early as Mesopotamian times; this frosty liquid has become the most consumed beverage in the world, contributing $223.8 billion to the US economy in 2010. Here in America, the marketing department of the beer world convinces consumers through flashy commercials that drinking bland carbonated beverages will bring half naked models to their house, and their favorite sports team will win the championship, but beer offers so much more than what the predictable advertisements present.

Today, aside from the dominating factories producing mass amounts of canned beverages are local microbreweries, each crafting flavorful creations to set themselves apart. After spending time in Minnesota, where the beer flows as rapid as the Mississippi river, I learned the intimate details of the beer culture, from the classification of brews, to aromatic blends of craft drafts, even which glassware is necessary to complete the experience. While I lofted around the Midwest, San Diego’s beer culture grew exponentially. Besides the larger and better known brewery-restaurant combos, exist the smaller, brewer owned establishments.

Electrified by the idea that returning to my hometown did not mean I would be without my small brew culture; I took this opportunity to explore local breweries around the county. Each brewery offers something different, so any beer lover can choose their destination and enjoy.

 

Alpine Beer Company

2351 Alpine Blvd, Alpine, CA 91901

Miles away from civilization, in a town with two main roads, rests a hidden treasure. The Alpine Beer Company flanks the Alpine Bookstore, serving up tasty food and even tastier beers. I was surprised to learn that in my little hometown, among the churches, Mexican food shops, and banks was a piece of beer heaven. Wanting to share my excitement with the rest of San Diego, I had to highlight this gem. With a pub that opened in 2010, Alpine Beer Company brings in not only local East County residents but beer enthusiasts all the way from Orange County, who drive the tedious Interstate 5 just to sip on their favorite brewski. In true small town fashion, the tiny Alpine Beer Pub packs in diners looking for some good beer and sandwiches. With a collection of seating options snuggled under beer posters highlighting the nation’s other local breweries, and photos of the past and present, the pub attracts a crowd.

Of their flagship beers, at 8% ABV and IBUs (International Bitterness Units, ranked out of 100) so crazy high that they remain the brewer’s secret, is their West Coast Double IPA, appropriately named Pure Hoppiness. This beer swarms the tongue with hops, a little more hops, and then if the first bits were not enough, more hops. The popularity of this hop-headed India Pale Ale places this garage built brewery in the ranks of its larger companions.

If hop heads crave more hops than Pure Hoppiness can provide, the beer company’s seasonal Exponential Hoppiness takes the hops taste to another plane. With each hop portion doubled from the previous in the brewing process, this American Double IPA comes served in a snifter, with a definite hoppy taste but pleasant citrus aftertaste. Tasting like a hop salad sprinkled with fruity zest, this beverage delights the nostrils and taste buds. Although the beverage is not bitter or heavy, it does contain a hefty amount of alcohol (10.75% ABV), so enjoy at a pace. 

Stout drinkers have a place at Alpine Beer too, with Captain Stout leading the taste buds with its roasted malts, coffee, and chocolate influences. This Chocolate Oatmeal Dry Stout provides drinkers a meal in a glass. Tasting like an oatmeal cookie dipped in chocolate milk; this dark beer’s creaminess overwhelms the taste buds. At 6% ABV, and only 31 IBUs, the stout falls between the lightness of a wheat beer, and the tanginess of an IPA.

For a lighter option, at 4.9% ABV and 4 IBUs, Willy Vanilly is the choice. This American Pale Wheat Ale tastes like cream soda compared to the heavier options at the beer company. An insider suggested I try mixing Capitan Stout and Willy Vanilly together to create the undercover creation, the Capitan and Vanille. After some giggles, I mixed equal parts of the brews to behold a sweet, but malty beverage reminiscent of a black and white shake. To enjoy off premises, the Alpine Beer Company offers 22oz bottles, 64 oz growlers, and 12 packs as off sale. For a scenic day out of town, I recommend heading up Interstate 8 for some beer goodness. 

Monkey Paw

805 16th Street, San Diego CA 92101

Opened in August 2011, I had not heard of this brewery until the Adams Ave Street Fair.  While enjoying the beer garden with a few friends, I heard East Village brewery Monkey Paw offered a Saison with a taste of hibiscus. Wanting a break from my usual heavier IPAs, I asked the volunteer for their Bekantan Saison to refresh my palate. At 5.5% ABV, this Farmhouse Ale merged a fruit basket together with spelt malt, creating a banana, grapefruit flavor that countered the hoppy IPAs before it.  The taste at first was too sweet for my liking, but the crisp aftertaste soothed my hopped burned throat. Smelling of summer, the Bekantan Saison had me visioning a Hawaiian vacation with its flowery scents and fruity flavor.

In addition to the saison, the Monkey Paw tasting room offers a selection of IPAs, Stouts, Porters, Rauchbier (German smoked beer), and Gose (German soured wheat beer), along with classic beers and local breweries. The ambitious decision to brew beers unknown to most Americans makes Monkey Paw separates it from the other local breweries. Aside from brewing and sampling beer, Monkey Paw holds various events throughout the year, ranging from a home brew contest to a Halloween party in October.

The dive bar atmosphere welcomes those interested in hanging out for the night or lavishing in happy hour beverages. This brewpub’s commitment to its varied selection of beer and laid back setting makes it a place for locals to watch a game and enjoy a homemade brew.

Manzanita Brewery

10151 Prospect Avenue, Santee, CA 92071

Located on Prospect Avenue between warehouses and freeways is Santee’s spot in the beer scene. Opened in July 2010, this local brewery provides San Diego locals a taste of fresh, crafted beer. After expanding to a larger brewery to accommodate their imminent expansion, Manzanita Brewery supplies East County with flavorsome brews.   Their tasting room outfitted with a chalk board beer list, wooden taps, and friendly bartenders gives it that neighborhood bar atmosphere.

One fall Friday, a fellow beer enthusiast and I bellied up to the wooden bar announcing we wanted to sample their best on tap. The bartended suggested we start with a flight of their original beers, and then continue to the newer creations. Continuing the Manzanita tree theme, their sampler flight, complete with five 4oz tasters, comes in a handcrafted wooden tray for $5. If the presentation does not already impress patrons, their beers will. Settled in a specific order, each taster surpassed the previous one.

On the smaller end of the bitter scale, Riverwalk Blonde Ale, at 6% ABV and only 25 IBUs, possess a crisp, fruity banana flavor. Farther up the bitter ladder, at 49 IBUs, sits the Gillespie Brown Ale. The Manzanita brewers created a taste bud pleasing combination of coco, mocha, and hops that can satisfy hops and stout lovers alike. With a balance taste that makes the mind believe its drinking a coffee blended beverage, drinkers will not believe this beer rests at 9.5% ABV.

At the top rung of the ladder is the bitter king of the Manzanita beers, their IPA. Simply named IPA, at 88 IBUs, this 8.0% ABV India Pale Ale is not as bitter as some of its IPA counterparts, but still packs a hop flavor. For a festive drink to enhance the Halloween spirit, Manzanita brewed Witch’s Hat, a pumpkin ale blend of sweetness and pumpkin spice that casts a spell on its drinkers. However, at 8.8% ABV, too much of this potion will make a witch fall off her broom. Those looking to expand their beer horizons in a relaxed and friendly environment should head to Manzanita Brewery for a taste of draft delights.

Stone Brewery

1999 Citracado Parkway, Escondido, CA 92029

This massive brewery earned a place on the list due to its national appeal. While plenty of San Diegians explore the colossal brewery and lush garden in Escondido, complete with a tour and tasting, Stone reaches places outside the California bubble. While in Minnesota, I could usually find the black, square handle of the Stone IPA nestled between the standard Surly Furious and Summit EPA taps at my favorite local haunts. The excitement of seeing a piece of home brought a bit of giddiness, especially since I had not seen many San Diego breweries represented in the Midwest. At 6.9% ABV, and 77 IBUs, this hop infused and highly bitter appeals to those who enjoy a classic IPA. It is the taste bud pleasing blend that gives Stone IPA its universal appeal, with beer geeks and others coming together to enjoy the flavor.

On August 13, 2012, Stone released another Anniversary Ale, the 16th Double IPA. I first tried this ale out of state, where a local café possessed the only keg of the Anniversary Ale in the area. It tasted like someone had let fruit soak in the original Stone IPA then poured the juices into a keg. The new sweetness did not take away from the hoppy flavor, just added more hops, and more diversity to a classic. Do not be fooled by the fruity influence. Some may think this the Double IPA would taste “lighter” than its predecessor, but at 10% ABV and 85 IBUs, this beer hordes zest.

If the bitterness of the IPAs did not fully satisfy the palate, try the unrivaled Arrogant Bastard Ale. At 7.2% ABV and confidential IBUs, this American Strong Ale delivers an enchanting taste of malt, piney hops, and coffee to the mouth. Available for sale in 22oz bottles, this beer remains scrumptious till the end. To continue the Arrogant Bastard phenomena, Stone released limited variations of its aggressive ale, Oaked Arrogant Bastard, Double Bastard Ale, and Lucky Bastard.  Stone Brewery’s imaginative creations, widespread fame, and restaurant stand as a model for future breweries.

 

The constant expansion of San Diego’s beer culture is sure to delight beer lovers. With smaller places such as the Alpine Beer Company and Manzanita Brewery’s popularity continually increasing, I predict their futures to be prosperous. This concise list samples only a few of the breweries San Diego county offers, serving as inspiration for others to explore the county to support the local beer culture. In almost every neighborhood of San Diego, a local brewery can be found. As a whole, they attempted to master the scientific process behind brewing. This challenge to cohesively combine flavors, portions, and temperature to please the taste buds rivals the intricate details of a chef’s creation. This tricky method garners a high reward, since at each brewery listed the taste of pride resonates in the glass. The established breweries, such as Stone, receive national appeal through a commitment to add variety to classic crafts, thus keeping the beer industry craving more. By supporting the up and comers, the beer culture will remain ever-changing, exciting beer lovers and perhaps converting non craft drinkers into enthusiasts.

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