San Diego once known for Mexican food and Sea World, diversified itself sometime in the late 1990s and the downtown scene grew into a hot spot for nightclubs and bar/lounge venues. From the lift in residents and tourism as well as the college scene San Diego once again grew into a dining landmark with award winning restaurants recognized both nationally and globally. Since the start of the new millennium the San Diego Brewery scene began to emerge. What started out as young breweries making a name for themselves locally and state wide soon merged with the great dining scene to establish them as the premiere destination for beer and food pairings on the West Coast.
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The list of locations keeps growing: as of today, there are 139 craft breweries in the county, plus 25 of their satellite tasting rooms. There are also 6 other non-craft breweries and 15 craft brewpubs that serve their own beer that is brewed outside of San Diego. All together that’s a total of 184 locations. Way to go, San Diego!
Not counting additional places that are projected to open between now and the end of my quest, I will consider my quest completed when I’ve visited the 139 craft breweries and their 25 tasting rooms plus the 6 non-craft breweries. At least two San Diego breweries have no tasting room (they are production breweries for distribution rather than on-site consumption). That means my quest includes 168 places in total–plus whatever else opens before I finish.
I’ve done 102 reviews so far on my blog. Of those, two were for locations that have since closed (Lightening and the 32 North tasting room in Liberty Station); two were for non-San Diego brewpubs (Oggi’s Mission Valley and BJ’s La Jolla); and one was a cidery (Newtopia). That means 97 of my reviews so far count towards the quest for 168.
I had originally hoped to finish within a year of the date I launched my blog, Oct. 19, 2016. As of July 11, there are 15 weeks until the anniversary. That means I need to visit 4.7 breweries per week. Both my liver and my wallet had better watch out! At this point I’ll be surprised if I make it within the year, but that’s okay. I’ve been averaging 2.6 reviews per week up to this point. At that rate I’ll be done around the end of January 2018.
Ten *Really Good* San Diego Breweries
Now that I’ve been to more than 100 San Diego breweries and tap rooms, I’m in a position to tell you the best places I’ve visited so far. For me, visiting a brewery or tap room is not just about the beer–though the beer is definitely key. I consider the totality of the experience, including everything from how annoying it is to get there, to interior design, to parking availability, to service, to how comfortable it is, to the availability of food–even the other patrons (it matters who you spend your time with). My judgements are based on my full experience going there, ordering a flight, and drinking the beer. Things like “buzz,” reputation and popularity don’t have much effect on my impressions of a place. In fact, there are several very well-regarded (even historically important) San Diego craft breweries my response to which is “meh.” And that’s okay. Your mileage may vary. This list represents the breweries and tap rooms that have really impressed me. I called it “Ten Top San Diego Breweries and Tasting Rooms” instead of “The Top Ten…” partly because I haven’t been to all of them yet and partly because top ten lists are fairly meaningless, really, since everyone’s tastes are different. These are places I liked, and I think you will probably like them, too. Given the huge number of great breweries in San Diego, there are lots of others that are worth a visit as well. If you watch What’s On Draft (and you should!) you’ll see that Tom’s Top Ten list includes 31 locations–like him, I can’t pare my top ten list down to just ten.