Tasty, edgy microbrews lure visitors to this West Coast beer mecca

Granted, water is San Diego’s dominant liquid, from the US Navy presence to Sea World. Yet California’s second-largest city also boasts a burgeoning beer scene. More than 30 area microbreweries quench the thirst of beer lovers. Check out three of the best.

Stone Brewing Co.

This aggressively gorgeous, 55,000-square-foot Escondido brewery is beer’s answer to a SoCal theme park. March through the packed parking lot, under a curving canopy of greenery, and into the high-ceilinged entrance hall before unleashing your taste buds. Swig the signature Arrogant Bastard Ale (7.2%) or Stone Pale Ale in the 380-capacity bistro, built around a majestic rock water feature. Ready to investigate those towering stainless steel tanks beyond the interior floor-to-ceiling windows? Free 45-minute brewery tours are offered daily, guided by perky, humorous “indoctrination specialists” and culminating with a four-beer tasting. In the gift shop, score T-shirts, glasses, and even skateboards with Stone’s gargoyle logo. Or take home the official history book, The Craft of Stone Brewing Co. ($25 US), which features food and brewing recipes. 

Green Flash

From the Rolling Stones to Death Cab For Cutie, rock music echoes through Green Flash’s new, warehouse-style tasting room off Mira Mesa Boulevard. Happily, the beer rocks too. “People who never even knew what craft beer was come in and say, ‘Wow, this is amazing,’” says certified cicerone Dave Adams. Craving flavourful ales? Try the West Coast IPA, super-bitter with a citrus character and malt backbone. Relish a twist on Belgian Tripel with Le Freak (9.2%), with its huge banana nose and hints of bubble gum and spice. Green Flash offers scheduled weekend tours and private tours by appointment. Ask to toot the steam whistle. greenflashbrew.com

Lost Abbey

Beer is a religion at this well-hidden, 2006-founded San Marcos brewery. Surreal, suds-themed paintings of the Magi and the Four Horsemen overlook the bar, where patrons quaff everything from the booze-laden Belgian-style Inferno Ale to the copper-coloured Avant Garde – similar to a French Saison – with its distinctive aftertaste. In the “fight between good beer and bad beer,” as lead bartender Jason Danderand puts it, Lost Abbey’s crusade includes one of America’s largest barrel programs, with about 1,000 barrels. Sacred rites range from barrel-tasting nights to masquerade balls. lostabbey.com 

More Ways to Beer It Up

Create your own San Diego beer route, downloading a free map from the San Diego Brewers Guild, which outlines public transportation options. Alternatively, contact Brewery Tours of San Diego and sample selected highlights over five hours while being chauffeured around.

Want one-stop beer shopping? Savor more than 200 bottled beers and dozens of draughts at Hamilton’s Tavern. Or meet local brewers at San Diego Beer Week in November, enjoying tastings, food pairings, and book signings. The festival offers 200-plus events.