Twice as many San Diego breweries opened as closed during the pandemic. Here’s what’s new
In spite of pandemic and governmental restrictions, county’s brewery venue count increases during COVID-19
While COVID-19 and related governmental restrictions took their toll on San Diego’s beermakers, the catastrophic industry-wide collapse most feared hasn’t come to pass.
Local brewing companies have proven nimble, shifting their business models to focus on selling, shipping and delivering packaged beer in response to nearly nonexistent demand for kegged product. This and other shrewd moves have allowed the county’s breweries to keep their doors open throughout the pandemic.
Over the past 14 months, 15 local brewery-owned venues shuttered. The majority were satellite tasting rooms, almost all of which have since been taken over by other local beer interests, with only six brewing companies folding entirely, several of which were on the ropes before the pandemic took hold. Over that same span, twice as many new breweries have launched and established brewing companies have opened 15 satellite locations.
This expansion in unlikely times tracks with overall beer-industry figures. According to the national trade organization, the Brewers Association, 346 breweries closed their doors in 2020 (3.9 percent of total U.S. breweries), while 716 opened. San Diego is only slightly behind those figures and currently boasts more than two dozen work-in-progress brewery locations.
The following are the most recent additions to San Diego’s resilient suds scene.
Mcilhenney Brewing (2363 Alpine Blvd, Alpine, mcilhenneybrewing.com): In 1999, retired firefighter Patrick Mcilhenney founded Alpine Beer Co., a small operation that gained a big reputation behind expertly crafted IPAs and pale ales. Those highly hopped standouts inspired beer lovers the world over to make pilgrimages to East County, and motivated Mira Mesa’s Green Flash Brewing to put in a bid to acquire the brand. Mcilhenney sold the business to Green Flash in 2014, and he and his son, head brewer Shawn Mcilhenney, stayed on to guide the ship as distribution of Alpine’s beers expanded from San Diego county to most U.S. states.
Last summer marked the end of the Mcilhenney family’s tenure with Green Flash. Untethered and eager to get back to the good old days of making pub-scaled batches of beer and serving them to friends and neighbors, the family took over the duo of suites that birthed their brewery and have spent the past year installing a new and improved brewing system, while revamping a rustic tasting room giving way to a 1,300-square-foot tiered backyard patio where, starting this weekend, guests will be able to enjoy Mcilhenney Brewing initial offerings.
Beers to try: Honey Hill Orange Honey Ale, Palo Verde Pale Ale, Muntz New Zealand-hopped Rye IPA
Little Miss Brewing (12245 Woodside Ave., Lakeside, littlemissbrewing.com): Despite being a relatively small operation, Little Miss Brewing boasts more tasting rooms than any other local brewery. In opening its sixth and latest in a 1,600-square-foot former bar, the Miramar-based company gave Lakeside its first-ever brewery venue. Each Little Miss location honors a different U.S. Ally nation from World War II. Australia is the inspiration for this new arrival and that comes through care of murals featuring boxing kangaroos, koalas and Crocodile Dundee, and specialty beers brewed with hops cultivated Down Under.
Beers to try: Little Workhorse Oatmeal Stout, Fog of War Hazy IPA
CENTRAL SAN DIEGO
Burgeon Beer Co. – The Arbor (1326 Kettner Blvd, Little Italy, burgeonbeer.com): What started as an idea by three longtime friends to start a small neighborhood brewery has been so well received that, after just four years, Carlsbad’s Burgeon Beer Co. now operates three tasting rooms. Their latest is the first south of State Route 78 and, situated downtown mere blocks from the Santa Fe Depot, Waterfront Park and Little Italy’s commercial core, it figures to raise exposure for the already popular brand. The 2,000-square-foot, high-ceiling interior is outfitted with a live-edge bar fashioned from wood salvaged from the 2003 Cedar Fire, a vibrant nature-inspired mural and a flora-draped arbor (for which the venue is named) as well as roll-up doors providing access to a sidewalk patio perfect for people-watching. An on-site kitchen from The Good Seed Food Co. pumps out a menu of suds-friendly fare (ribeye tacos, jambalaya, Szechuan tofu, dry-rubbed chicken wings) that changes with the seasons and beer list.
Beers to try: Juice Press Hazy IPA, Treevana West Coast IPA
One Season Brewing (5839 Mission Gorge Road, inside TRVLR Coffee Roaster, Grantville, travelercoffeeroaster.com/one-season-brewing.com): Like many, TRVLR Coffee Roaster owner Dan Romeo says San Diego is devoid of seasons; it’s just one continual sun-soaked stretch perfect for being outside and drinking beer. As such, he’s added a retail operation selling bicycles, one-wheels and activewear, and a nanobrewery producing crisp, low-alcohol, low-calorie beers perfect for enjoying after outdoor activities in always-sunny San Diego. Consider it a kinder, more communal take on REI with two types of house-made brews.
Beers to try: Grantville Light Blonde Ale, Found the Light Lager
Ataraxia Aleworks (7292 Opportunity Rd, Ste C, Kearny Mesa, ataraxiaaleworks.com): Many brewers started their careers at Ballast Point Brewing, equipping themselves with skills and experience to apply to their own entrepreneurial ventures. The latest Ballast Point vet to move on and cast his dream into brick-and-mortar reality is Daren Rudy, who teamed with co-founder Alex Kim to take over the Kearny Mesa facility that once housed Circle 9 Brewing. The duo has since overhauled the tasting room, converting it from a low-frills warehouse to a tranquil den rife with wood and plant life, which will debut to the public this weekend.
Beers to try: Cowbell IPA, The Great Deliverer Porter
Harland Brewing (4112 Napier St., Bay Park, harlandbeer.com): One wouldn’t expect Scripps Ranch to be the epicenter of cool, but Harland Brewing has built a cult following on the backs of various lagers, IPAs and avant-garde of-the-moment milkshake IPAs, pastry stouts and more. They recently expanded their reach to another cozy community, taking over the indoor-outdoor Bay Park tasting room vacated by defunct Benchmark Brewing and installing modern décor with a brass bar-top and leather stools, plus an inviting 1,750-square-foot patio furnished with cushy seating and succulents galore.
Beers to try: Japanese Lager, India Pale Whale IPA
Mike Hess Brewing at Seaport Village (879 W. Harbor Drive, Ste W14-E, Marina District, mikehessbrewing.com): Mike Hess Brewing started as San Diego’s smallest brewery in 2010 and has gone on to open five popular local venues in San Diego proper. Its latest is a mostly outdoor spot at Seaport Village with a sizable patio that overlooks San Diego Bay and features live entertainment on weekends. The company’s full array of beers is available along with tasty casual fare from Quiero Tacos.
Beers to try: Claritas Kölsch, Habitus Rye Double IPA
California Wild Ales (4896 Newport Ave., Ocean Beach, californiawildales.com): When Two Roots Brewing gave up the lease on its OB sampling space, the county’s only all-sour-ale brewery stepped in and converted it into a spot as quirky as the surfside community it calls home. Adding to the allure of 16 taps dispensing fruited, barrel-aged wild ales are art installations crafted from reclaimed fence wood and ornate antique mirrors, a Lego bar backsplash, and a floor coated in pennies donated from Obecians.
Beers to try: Peach on Peach Barrel-aged Sour Ale, Grilled Pineapple American Wild Ale
Brewers Deck at Del Mar Highlands Town Center (12925 El Camino Real, inside Del Mar Highlands Town Center, Carmel Valley): Memorial Day weekend marks the soft opening of an outdoor area at Del Mar Highlands Town Center’s new Sky Deck, featuring three local breweries. Those operations—Oceanside’s Northern Pine Brewing, Mira Mesa’s Rough Draft Brewing and Chula Vista’s Boochcraft (hard kombucha)—share the third-floor, 2,700-square-foot Brewer’s Deck, operating their own individual bars. It mirrors the Sky Deck’s collective mentality, which sees 10 hospitality concepts operating independently under one roof to provide a varied, heightened food-and-beverage experience.
Pure Project Brewing (1305 Hot Springs Way, Vista, purebrewing.org): Once a tiny startup in a similarly small lease-to-brew suite in Miramar, demand for its “murky” (hazy) IPAs, sour ales and decadent stouts allowed Pure Project Brewing to take over the 13,850-square-foot brewery previously operated by Vista’s Iron Fist Brewing when that business shut down at the onset of the pandemic. That facility will serve as Pure Project’s new HQ and, though the indoor tasting room is still under construction (with a summer ETA), its patio is open for business, providing an al fresco imbibing experience with shaded tables, couches and a temporary overflow area with picnic benches to serve as many North County denizens as possible.
Beers to try: Rain Unfiltered Pilsner, Super Beta Murky IPA
Municipal Beer (2002 S. Coast Hwy, inside Municipal Taco, Oceanside, municipaltaco.com): Installed at Municipal Taco in the former home of Urge Gastropub and Whiskey Bank, this brewpub is the second concept marrying cerveza and Mexican food to debut in Oceanside over the past year (the other being Craft Coast). House-brewed ales and lagers are easy-drinking, hop-driven and designed to pair with the food menu, which, as the brewpub’s name suggests, centers around tacos (mahi-mahi, shrimp, carne asada). Margaritas, Mexican-inspired cocktails, tequila and mezcal flights round out the beverage program.
Beers to try: Maximillian’s Folly Vienna Lager, Welcome to South O’ Double IPA
Booze Brothers Brewing at The Mill (838 E. Mission Road, inside The Mill, Fallbrook, boozebros.com): Brothers Donny and Dave Firth started their brewery in Vista in 2013 and went on to launch a second brand, Owl Farm Unique Fermentations in 2018. Now, they’re getting in on their sister’s act, installing a 4,000-square-foot outdoor beer garden at The Mill, an abandoned barn their sister — Tiffany Garcia — refurbished to house her home décor store. Booze Brothers’ flatbread spinoff, Pizza Bros, will factor in down the line along with the brewing company’s first foray into coffee culture.
Beers to try: Mango Tajin Gose, 1-800-Tropics Hazy IPA
Brandon Hernández is founder of San Diego Beer News (www.sandiegobeer.news), a site providing daily coverage of the county’s brewing industry, a beat he’s covered for 14 years. He has authored multiple guides to San Diego breweries and worked for local breweries from 2012-2019. Follow him @sdbeernews or contact him at: email@example.com
Sign up for the Pacific Insider newsletter
PACIFIC magazine delivers the latest restaurant and bar openings, festivals and top concerts, every Tuesday.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Pacific San Diego.