Like a smooth, aged wine, beer has cemented its earned appreciation within the San Diego Community-- not just as the perfect accompaniment to fish tacos, but as a full-bodied experience crafted with the utmost attention and love. Now a well-established practice, local breweries around San Diego County have their signature brews down to an art form—and drinkers are raising their glasses in acknowledgement. Most San Diegans may be unaware that America’s Finest City has shot its way to being the best beer city in the nation, but take another sip and you’ll taste just why San Diego beer is so fantastic.
Though California is littered with well respected brewing companies such as Sierra Nevada, Russian River, and Lost Coast, San Diego has more legitimate and respected breweries than in any other city in the entire nation. According to the San Diego Brewers Guild, there are 32 working brew houses in San Diego, each complete with their own unique blends and attitude regardless of the company or manufacturing size. Famous and well recognized breweries include, but are obviously not limited to: San Diego Brewing Company, Karl Strauss Brewing Company, and Stone Brewing Company. The picky drinker has found a haven for comfort in San Diego. In fact, Men’s Journal named San Diego the “Best Beer City in America,” beating out Chicago, Portland, and even New York City.
The history of craft brewing in San Diego is not a recent trend by any means. According to the company’s website, San Diego Brewing Company, perhaps the oldest running brewery, was founded in 1896 and served as the largest manufacturer in the whole county. Other companies, such as the Mission Brewing Company, attempted a shot at similar success. Though sales were less successful during the Prohibition from 1919-1933, profits slowly began to increase during World War 2. According to the Journal of San Diego History, craft brewers of the earlier 20th century “made deals with local bars, taverns, liquor stores, and package stores to sell their brands almost exclusively.” In the 1970’s and 80’s, a series of bills were passed in California which granted home brewers as well as wine makers the ability to legally manufacture, market, and sell their creations, putting the freedom of production in the hands of eager brewers. The following years to come introduced San Diego to a handful of local breweries and their labor of love. And more recently, interests have struck the hearts of college-age individuals with the same mindset and hunger to home brew their own blends for individual recreation and enjoyment. It’s a trend worth getting excited about.
Smaller craft brewing companies don’t always have it so easy, even if the product they sell is certainly turning heads. Going up against major beer corporations can be an unfathomable mountain to climb in terms of profit, branding, marketing, and related sales. Marketed to millions of people world-wide, name brand beers like Budweiser and Coors can be found in a vast majority of both high-end, chic bars and seedy, local pubs. But for San Diego, the top dogs don’t always hog the attention. Exhibiting an uncompromising dedication and love for the craft, some local brewers and their breweries are saying “no” to selling name brand beers and are instead focusing their devotion and passionate energy on their brews. This refusal transcends to local San Diego bars like Churchill’s Pub and Grille in San Marcos, the Blind Lady Ale House in North Park, and Newport Pizza and Ale House in Ocean Beach, who primarily feature anything but name brand beers.
With each sip, local breweries are steadily making a name for themselves. Within the last few years, the sales of local San Diego breweries have slowly inched their way up in profits. Have they made enough to make the conglomerates worried? Not enough to run for their money. According to San Diego Magazine, craft-beer companies have a relatively modest market share by volume percent value—but competition is not in the spotlight. Well crafted beer is.
Perhaps the addictive laid-back Southern California attitude can activate positive attention to beer crafting. It most certainly shows when paired with California cuisine. Like wine pairing, beer pairing is no surprise to your average guzzler. Take, for instance, Stone Brewery, which hosts a four-course prix fixe dinner appropriately titled “Master Pairings,” featured at their headquarters in Escondido. According the company website, Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens Executive Chef, Alex Carballo, and Certified Cicerone (beer sommelier) Dr. Bill, “are on a mission to enlighten the masses and elevate beer to its rightful place as the ultimate pairing beverage.” Because of the range in flavors and characteristics of beer, some can find beer as a more satisfying partner to food than wine might be. Culturally more accessible and casual than wine, beer can be considered as laid back as any Southern California diner. And for San Diego, it can appear as a seamless match made in malty heaven.
It doesn’t stop there-- restaurants, bars, and clubs in San Diego all currently carry at least one brew from a local brand, whether it is Ballast Point, Firehouse, or Green Flash. Stop in any place for a beer around town and chances are your selections will include a taste of locality. But there are always restaurants that serve their own trademark beers. Oggi’s Pizza and Brewing Company, for instance, is a restaurant chain that features their authentic brews on tap as well as a full menu of their signature pizzas, sandwiches, and more. Not only does beer taste refreshing with fresh tacos and greasy, loaded pizza, but breweries have accepted that “pub food” has the potential of being a cut above the rest.
Unique is the key. Locality of product, though a current culinary trend, is very important to beer connoisseurs and fanatics. Drinking a beer that was crafted within steps of your bar stool brings a great sense of pride. Whether you enjoy your beer refreshing and light, rich and smooth, dark and bitter, or hoppy and aggressive, San Diego has elevated its status to “Beer Capital.” With a range of many new beers to try, consider a home town brew over a name brand. It’s a bit of love crafted into each sip. Drink up San Diego! But, drink responsibly, of course.
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