A couple of weekends ago a friend of mine, LA chef Debbie Lee, drove down to San Diego with her boyfriend and a pack of his friends for a day of craft beer tasting. The guys had a few places in mind, but as we were lingering over charcuterie and pizzas at Blind Lady Alehouse, they asked me for recommendations. I'm not much of a drinker so my first impulse was to text my pal Brandon Hernández for help. Everyone who reads about local brews and food reads Brandon's stories for the San Diego Reader and many other publications. He's San Diego's go-to guy for all things suds--and, lucky him, he now even has his dream job working for Stone Brewing Company.
I wish his new ebook, The San Diego Beer News Complete Guide to San Diego Breweries, just published by The Reader, had been downloadable that Saturday. The guys could easily have identified several of San Diego County's nearly 80 brewhouses that appealed to them based on rankings in key areas: beer quality, service, setting, and extras that go above and beyond typical options. They'd have identified the styles of beers each brewery creates, which were more restaurant oriented versus office park tasting rooms, which have top service, which offer tours or special tasting flights. In short, they'd get a micro evaluation that gets straight to the point to send them on their way. Well, I didn't have it at hand then, but just in time for San Diego Beer Week 2013, here it is.
It's no longer surprising to learn that San Diego is one of the nation's leaders in the microbrew biz. But it is astounding how quickly these facilities are springing up. Many of the venues listed here have only recently opened in the last year. Check the book's index and you'll see some 40 more are set to open soon. Somehow Brandon has managed to digest and evaluate with an eye for tiny details the key qualities that beer fanatics and newbies alike will care about across this ever-broadening spectrum of offerings.
The book is divided into seven geographical regions with a streamlined listing for each brewhouse that offers the pertinent info (address, phone, website, type of venue, hours of operation, seating, food, beer styles, best beer bets, and any specialty releases) followed by a quick but detailed paragraph describing the place, and concluding with a bar chart listing rankings. In some cases, where the place is so new, there may be no or limited rankings.
I particularly enjoyed Brandon's descriptions of each place. Here you get the benefit of his years of expertise and supple writing. About Central San Diego's White Labs he writes, "Base beers are brewed, then split into separate fermentation vessels, and dosed with different strains of yeast to show that ingredient's immense impact on the flavor of the finished beer. It's an eye-opening educational experience for beer aficionados and newcomers alike. The only knock is that the base beers could use some improvement." Throughout, he clearly is trying to be honest, instructive, and even-handed. Those places that get nicked get the treatment gently and hopefully see it as an incentive to improvement. And, he is quick to point out, he left ratings for Stone's venues to his panel of industry experts.
The index is helpful in sussing out a variety of categories. Just interested in breweries/distilleries? You'll find a quick list for those. Want to play it safe and create a tour by highest overall score? There's a list of those, along with lists of beer quality, service, setting, and location. Pick what matters most to you and follow the suds.
Overall, The San Diego Beer News Complete Guide to San Diego Breweries is a hugely useful guide that's also enjoyable to browse. Even the lack of photos is a plus since what you're getting is unadulterated information that's quick to download and surf. If you have a smart phone, you now have an indispensable pocket guide for your pub crawls. You can find it on Amazon and The Reader for $6.99