Best places for beer in SoCal

It goes without saying that West Coast beers represent some of the hoppiest beers present in today's American Craft Brew industry and perhaps on the planet. Some might even go as far as saying that San Diego is THE beer Mecca for the west coast. I'm inclined to believe this, outside of Russian River and a few "hop" spots in NorCal such as the Bistro and the well rounded Toronado. I had the pleasure to re-visit the SoCal area for a graduation at UCSD -- and what's a trip down to San Diego without a bit of beer hunting.
  • 135 N Hwy 101
    Solana Beach, CA 92075
    5.0 étoiles

    Between all of the mandatory "family" activities slated for the weekend, it was my number one objective to squeeze as much SoCal beer as I possibly could into the visit. As a result, the first night we were in town I felt it was best to hit up a must visit spot -- none other than the infamous Pizza Port in Solana Beach.

    As usual, the line for food and beer was out the door and down the street and there was no seating in sight. It always amazes me that their brewing area is about the size of a shoe box and it's not behind any closed glass or separated from the rest of the dinning area. I can only imagine what wonderful smells waft out into the dinning area when their equipment is in full force! Brewing with the wonderful aromas of Pizza. MmmmmmBeer and Pizza. To say they are maxed out of space in this place is an understatement. Let's just say the wait paid off.

    To name a few beers on their tap list:

    California Honey Ale, Shark Bite Red Ale, Hot Spot Hefeweizen, Swami's IPA, Grandview Golden Ale, Ponto Pale Ale, Amigo Lager, Junk 'n da Trunkle Dunkle, Hop 15, Doc's Pale (On Cask), Port's Porter (On Nitro), The list goes on..

    And of course a variety of quality guest beers were also available ranging from Drakes IPA to Stone's Pale and Ruination to Sierra's Pale that I didn't get to.

    First on the list (in order of tasting):

    California Honey Ale - A golden ale and the first beer I even tasted at Pizza port from my last trip that had inspired me to make a homebrew recipe. I wanted to taste this beer again to see how it stood up against the beer I had brewed in its honor. I found the originally to be slightly more bitter and hoppy than the recipe I had formulated and very refreshing! Slight honey accents meshed with delicate malt complimented the Mt Hood and Liberty hops that resonated in the long bitter finish. Delicious! Dare I say the best beer of the night for drinkability.

    Hot Spot Hefeweizen - Their seasonal summer brew. Banana and clove flavors were present however leaning heavily to the Banana end of the spectrum. I thought the beer lacked the carbonation and head retention for style but was pleased to see they did not include the so often fu fu lemon slice with the beer. Granted when you compare this with the other amazing selections it was probably my least favorite beer of the evening however it was extremely quaffable indeed.

    Port's Porter (On Nitro) - Wonderfully creamy porter. Almost stout like in quality with bittersweet coffee and chocolate notes. Apparently they brew this beer with Kiln Coffee Malt. In the top three.

    Doc's Pale (On Cask) - For all those cask lovers this is one not to miss. Soft and delicate in mouthfeel in much of an English Bitter sort of way that only handpumped cask ale can provide yet assertively hoppy in true American pale ale style. A true hybrid between English Style and American Flavor. The second best beer of the night.

    Hop 15 - A double dose of American big-C and piney hops to go with their award winning Double IPA. Darker in color than most double IPAs and with more malt than I expected. You can't drink too many of these without getting in trouble as they serve them in full pint glasses.

    Junk 'n da Trunkle Dunkle - Finally I decided I would break out of my comfort zone and finished the night with this catchy named Dunkle. Dark and complex melanoidal malts accompanied by a slight roastiness and toasty notes that dominated over the banana and clove weizen characteristics that played a supporting role to this tasty brew.

    Did I mention the pizza? Hands down the best Pizza I've ever had or maybe that was just the Hop 15 talking. Either way, one thing I've noticed about San Diego is that they really do have the Pizza and Grog down to a science. If you've never been to Pizza Port, it is a must! Recently Pizza Port has taken over the old Stone brewery. I can only guess that they are gearing up to distribute bottles. Let's hope some of these beers finally make it up to the bay area.

  • 4646 Convoy St
    San Diego, CA 92111
    4.0 étoiles

    No trip to San Diego is complete without a visit to O'Briens Pub and it was our last stop before turning home.

    Dubbed "An American Pub" and "The Hoppiest Place on Earth", the atmosphere is modest and comfortable not to mention OBrien's has the most extensive tap and bottle list I've seen outside the Toronado. I was disappointed to see they were fresh out of the Night Rider Imperial Stout served on cask. Doh! It didn't hurt that they had the Spain vs. Tunisia game on a huge HD LCD display and the place was buzzing with energy and vibe. Wanting to try two final local brews, it took me several minutes to decide on the correct hop choice and ordered a "Pure Hoppiness" brewed by Alpine Brewing. Not as hoppy as I had remembered from the Bistro's IPA Fest in Hayward but a very well made IPA with citrus grapefruit and orange notes that complimented its drier finish. Lots of hops were present -- needless to say that it seemed a bit small for a double IPA especially after Oggi's "Hop Juice". I thought I would change it up again and the final beer was to be Alesmith's Grand Cru. It's not everyday you get to try such a true San Diego masterpiece, let alone on tap. A lovely full bodied Belgian styled ale that arrived from the tap to my mouth in a tulip glass. Dark caramel and molasses notes wafted from the glass I suspect from dark Belgian candy sugars. The almost clear dark copper beer had very little to no head or carbonation probably due to the amount of alcohol it contained. Complex dark fruit of raisin and plum dominated the flavor that were accented by delicate Belgian yeast qualities finally dissolving into a warm and sticky-sweet almost cloying finish. As I drank the beer my taste buds adjusted to it's finish and away from the hop centric qualities of the others for the day. In contrast to all the hoppy beers I had this trip this one was a change in latitude for sure.

  • 1145 E Las Tunas Dr
    San Gabriel, CA 91776
    4.0 étoiles

    Come for the beer and stay for the sandwiches!

    I'm a big beer geek and this place is a must visit every time I am down in LA.

    Their bottled beer selection is out of this world.  He's got more in the back that's not on his list but you need to know the special handshake and be able to talk the talk so Sam knows your "worthy" of parting with his best.  The highlights of some of the beers are vertical tasting 6 packs of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot and Celebration that date back to the early 90's.  His draft beer selection is also almost always phenom.  The funny thing is he's always serving holiday/christmas beers in July.  

    My only complaint with the beer is that he only serves you in plastic cups so bring your own glass or buy one of his collection he's got on sale for a reasonable price.  Bottles are available to-go but before you order any beer you'll need to order food.... On to the food!

    The sandwhiches are great! The pastrami is very very tasty and you really can't go wrong with any of them.   Two words for a side dish... "freedom fries"

  • 13612 Newport Ave
    Tustin, CA 92780
    4.0 étoiles

    With over 12 locations in SoCal it took a bit of work to find the closest one to our hotel. The atmosphere was pleasant and sports-bar like and had a very friendly staff. We opened the place @ 11am and as usual we ordered their sampler in search of their best. I have two words for you.... "HOP JUICE". A pure representation of a West Coast Double IPA. The hop resins and bitterness stuck to my tongue almost as if I had put an ounce of centennial and simcoe hops in my mouth and sucked on them. "First Mouth Hops". I couldn't taste whether this was a single or a double IPA due to it's lovely and powerful hoppiness. Serious hoppage and no Randal required. My wife took one whiff of the glass and decided she wasn't even going to attempt it (more for me!). I give this beer the "GuyPA" stamp of approval as it was the hoppiest beer of my trip to SoCal! With so many hopped to the hilt beers down here in, this is by far no easy feat. Needless to say, "HOP JUICE" wasn't just a clever name.

  • 3.0 étoiles

    I was itching to wet my whistle with some local beer and I convinced everyone we needed to stop at Karl Strauss Brewing.

    This place is a lot like a Gordon Biersch in it's atmosphere and service but without the corporate franchise-ness and their beers prove it with the run of the mill brewpub regulars of golden, hefe, pale, amber, stout, Vienna lager, and IPA. We ordered two samplers to share at the table and although they were not as beer-geekily interesting as some of the others of the trip, I found them to be very well made, clean and enjoyable. My favorites were the Vienna Lager, A delicate helles styled lager finishing with Vienna malt complexity and their Stargazer IPA. Although I thought their IPA was a bit heavy on the malt and a bit light on the hops it was still very tasty.

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