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Behind the Scenes at San Diego Breweries

National and international award-winning beers

Something amazing is brewing in San Diego. The region's craft breweries are turning out innovative beers that push the envelope and take top prizes at national and international competitions.

By: Bruce Glassman, Author of The San Diego Brewery Guide

See Where the Magic Happens With a San Diego Brewery Tour

At the World Beer Cup, an event that only happens every two years, San Diego breweries consistently rank among the best. In the recent past, local standouts like Ballast Point Brewing Company and Coronado Brewing Company have been honored as champion brewers, and many other San Diego all-stars—both young and old—scored honors for individual brews, including AleSmith, Karl Strauss Brewing Company, and Port/Lost Abbey Brewing Company.

Sampling these award-winning brews is best done right at the source and, if you’re a beer lover who wants to really pull back the curtain and see where the magic happens, a brewery tour is a must-do. Sign on for one of these tours and go behind the scenes, meet the brewers, get a few tastes, and learn all about the process of making great beer, San Diego style.

Stone Brewing Company

With a boldly creative attitude to match their aggressively hopped beers, Stone Brewing Co. is recognized as one of the best breweries in the United States by the two largest beer enthusiast websites, and Producing more than 300,000 barrels annually, Stone is the 9th largest craft brewery in the nation and is among the pioneers that put San Diego beermaking on the map.

"Hop" on a guided tour at Stone’s original craft beer mecca in Escondido and then enjoy a meal at the Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens, where the menu is full of options designed to pair with one of Stone’s outstanding beers. With 36 beers on tap and over 100 bottles from which to choose, plan to spend plenty of time enjoying this unique experience.

Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens – Liberty Station offers the option to get the Stone experience a little closer to downtown. Located in the Point Loma area of San Diego, this 50,000 square foot restaurant and bar serves up 40 beers on tap, including small batches brewed on site. A large, comfortable beer garden and bocce courts are only two of the special features that make this Stone facility a unique venue. Additional tasting rooms and Stone company stores (with fill stations) are located throughout the county.

Ballast Point

At Ballast Point, the brewers are experts at capturing the signature hoppy San Diego flavor profile. Among their many iconic beers are world-famous Sculpin IPA (Gold medal at World Beer Cup 2010) and Grapefruit Sculpin, in addition to Grunion, Even Keel, and their newest double IPA, Manta Ray. 

Take a behind the barrels tour at Ballast Point's flagship restaurant and brewery in Miramar, or enjoy a pint at the brewing facility in Scripps Ranch, the restaurant and R&D headquarters in Little Italy or the original brewing location in Linda Vista which also houses Homebrew Mart, one of San Diego’s best homebrew supply shops. There, you can see where the Ballast Point story all began and pick up some supplies while you’re at it (and sample some tasters too!).

AleSmith Brewery Company

AleSmith used to be tucked into an unassuming Miramar storefront, but now it inhabits one of the largest production spaces (and the largest tasting room) in San Diego. The company’s meteoric growth in recent years can be attributed to the dedication and vision of owner Peter Zien, a tireless beer perfectionist and San Diego's only "Grand Master" Level One Beer Judge.

Since he began brewing in 1995, Zien's beers have earned over 400 medals and honors including “Small Brewing Company of the Year” at the Great American Beer Festival, the nation’s premier gathering of craft brewers. Many of AleSmith’s beers have been rated “perfect” or nearly perfect on (Speedway Stout has consistently rated 100 points) and the brewery’s reputation for bold flavors and high quality are legendary in the industry. 

Tours of the massive new brew house and production facility are available on a regular basis at the brewery, and while you’re there be sure to check out the Tony Gwynn Museum, which houses an exclusive collection of Mr. Padre’s personal and professional memorabilia and baseball artifacts. 

Karl Strauss Brewing Company

Karl Strauss is commonly credited with igniting the local craft beer movement when it first began brewing on Columbia Street downtown in 1989. As the first post-Prohibition brewery to reintroduce San Diego to locally brewed, handcrafted beer, Karl Strauss’s beers set a new standard for San Diego and the craft beer industry at large. Nearly 30 years later, Karl Strauss Brewery restaurants can be found all around Southern California, where they offer a beer-centric menu of great pub food paired with their many award-winning brews. 

Karl Strauss Brewing Company was honored by the Great American Beer Festival in 2016 as the Mid-Sized Brewer and the Mid-Sized Brewing Company of the Year.

Green Flash Brewing Co.

Soon after they first began, Green Flash became the iconic brewery of San Diego’s most aggressively hopped beers, most notably West Coast IPA and then Palate Wrecker. Today, they retain a loyal following of die-hard hop-heads, but also have many fans of their others styles, such as Belgian-styles, lagers and stouts. 

These are just a few of the breweries that offer tours in San Diego. For more, browse San Diego's 100+ Craft Breweries to schedule a Brew Tour.

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