The Decade in San Diego Beer: Winners and Losers

You had me at IPA, as in this Karl Strauss' Double India Pale Ale.
(Courtesy Karl Strauss Brewing)

Our dearly departing decade overflowed with bubbly triumphs and soggy tragedies


Win Some, Lose Some, 2010-2019

For San Diego craft beer, the twenty-tens — is that the right term for our dearly departing decade? — overflowed with bubbly triumphs and soggy debacles. A few that stood out to my colleague, Daniel Wheaton, and myself:

Style of the Decade: India Pale Ale

Duh. The IPA era was well underway by 2005, when Ballast Point’s Sculpin signaled a turn to softer, fruitier versions. But in the past 10 years, the market has been flooded with black IPAs, white IPAs, session IPAs, rye IPAs, double IPAs, triple IPAs, Belgian IPAs, brut IPAs, hazy IPAs. Once a tightly defined style, the India Pale Ale is now our Everybeer.

Trend of the Decade: Chutzpah

Two of San Diego’s largest breweries suffered painful setbacks. Mike and Lisa Hinkley lost control of Mira Mesa’s Green Flash after their coast-to-coast strategy imploded, causing them to sell their East Coast brewery and pull their wares from most of the country. This year, the Flash contracted further, abandoning its Nebraska tap room to focus exclusively on the Western U.S.

In 2016, Escondido’s Stone had the stones to build an ale-focused brewery and bistro in Germany. In the fatherland of lagers this was a bold gamble — and, like many bold gambles, it failed. This year, the entire plant was sold to a Scottish brewery.

Silver Lining of the Decade: Stone World

Despite the Berlin setback, Stone spent the decade embracing the world. Besides the Richmond, Va., brewery that opened in 2016, there are now Stone tap rooms in Pasadena, Napa, Berlin and Shanghai. Are these outposts the foundation of a future global empire?

Marketeers of the Decade: Modern Times

Since its 2013 birth in Point Loma, Modern Times has establish outlets in North Park, Encinitas, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Portland, Ore. Besides making excellent beer, founder Jacob McKean has mastered the art of marketing. Seductive graphics and cheeky terminology — the L.A. Dankness Dojo, the Lomaland Fermentorium, etc. — sends a clear signal: this ain’t your parents’ craft beer.

Eye-Opener of the Decade: Baja Beer

The Baja peninsula is leading Mexico’s craft beer revolucíon. With great beer (Agua Mala, Border Psycho, Wendlandt, Mamut) has come great camaraderie. When the Mexican state’s governor helped to shut down Insurgente for suspect reasons, other Tijuana breweries stepped in to brew Insurgente’s distinctive beers.

Movement of the Decade: Localism

What Wheaton calls “purity politics” hit hard, if inconsistently, at out-of-town entities trying to break into San Diego’s beer scene. Purists boycotted Saint Archer and Ballast Point after they were purchased by brewing behemoths (MillerCoors and Constellation Brands, respectively) in 2015.

Yet a brewery/restaurant owned by a mid-sized, out-of-town corporation — looking at you, Gordon Biersch — got a free pass. Ditto, Mikkeller, a boutique brewery opened in 2016 by a Danish brewer.

Roll of the Dice of the Decade: Buying Ballast Point

In 2015 Constellation, an alcoholic beverage titan, bought Ballast Point for $1 billion. Constellation lost a ton.

In 2019, an eight-person company from suburban Chicago, Kings & Convicts, purchased the same brewery for an undisclosed sum in the five- or six-figure range. Will newcomers Brendan Watters and Chris Bradley lose their shirts? I hope not, but look forward to finding out in the coming decade.

Kings of Beer

Appearances matter. When I first encountered Piraat (10.5 percent alcohol by volume), this strong Belgian pale ale sported a label that looked like it was lifted from the lurid EC Comics’ “Piracy” series. The 750-ml. bottle I recently bought, though, could be a classy cousin of Dom Perignon.

Uncorked, Piraat releases yeasty aromas. My first pour resulted in a glass that was three-quarters head — this is one enthusiastically carbonated brew and it took a few beer mustaches to reach the ripe kumquat-colored body. Once you reach this, though, Piraat captures your taste buds with gently toasted malts, coriander, a dash of pepper and slice of pineapple.

A strong pale ale, Piraat is one of the flagship beers from Brouwerij Van Steenberge in Ertvelde, Belgium. The brewery was founded in 1784, when piraats still roamed the nearby North Sea.

Words to Drink By

“Be at War with your Vices, at Peace with your Neighbours, and let every New-Year find you a better Man.” — from the 1755 edition of “Poor Richard’s Almanac.” Like most of the material printed in the Almanac, this is attributed to Benjamin Franklin although there’s no definitive proof he was the author.

No matter. With some updating — “a better Person”? — it’s a nice toast to ring in 2020.