May 17, 2016

The Ultimate San Diego Brewery Tour – A Walk Through North Park

It used to be pretty hard to really show people what the San Diego beer scene meant.  Sure, you could have them take a taxi out to Miramar and visit a few establishments.  But in 2016, there a couple ‘scenes’ that are making bold statements about what San Diego and its craft beer community are really about.

The other night, with a good friend visiting from Italy, we decided to organize an impromptu ‘brewery tour’ on foot.  We talked about hitting some iconic places like Alesmith, Mike Hess, Ballast Point and St. Archer out in Miramar (among other great choices in the neighborhood).  But we were talking about a Saturday night.  And our group would inevitably be coming and leaving at different points during the evening.  So we decided to hit North Park, which boasts more than 15 breweries all within walking distance of 30th and University.  Its central location (relatively speaking) also offered flexibility for others to come and go.

We met up at Thorn Street Brewery, which has to be one of the most iconic places in San Diego. As you walk through North Park towards Thorn Street for the first time, you’ll look at your phone to ensure you have the right address.  It appears, after all, that you are walking through a neighborhood – away from the urban hipsters (not towards the belly of the beast).  But you’ll find that Thorn Street Brewing is a true diamond in the rough.  Its a place that makes me want to buy a house across the street in the hope of one day walking through the doors and being called ‘Norm.’  We gathered there, had a couple pretty amazing beers (with the Castaway Coconut Porter standing out).  We got some amazing nachos from the food truck out front, and I could’ve hung out the rest of the night there, but we had places to go and people to see!

We had to hike a bit to our second stop at Modern Times.  This was unfortunate since most of us were not properly lubricated for such a long 10 minute walk.  You can imagine our dismay when we got there and were told that our group was too big to actually get seated. This was laughable because the place could have easily fit probably 30-40 more people (and we were about 12-13).  But hey, the guy at the front was just doing his job, so we marched on.

Mike Hess was our next step, and it was what most people think of when they imagine a ‘brewery.’  Its got a great feel to it as you walk across bridges into the middle and order at the bar.  There are beautiful wood high tables and darts.  Mike Hess is known for their Cream Ale, and the Solis Occasus is what you’d consider your typical San Diego IPA, although probably a little less hoppy than you’d expect. We stayed at Mike Hess for a while after our treacherous hike, but once again, we had to keep moving.

The next stop was Rip Current Brewing, just up the road on 30th.  Now it was probably wasn’t the best idea to have a Caught in a Rip Triple IPA at this point of the evening, but hey, I loved the beer and after I had a good buzz going, I thought to myself, “hey, how bad could it be tomorrow?”  Rip Current is a great place, and like its neighbor, Belching Beaver, while not the original flagship, is still an amazing experience.  With these two next door to one another, you can’t go wrong, whether you want crazy hoppy florals or the somewhat famous Peanut Butter Stout from the guys at Belching Beaver.

Needless to say, after these stops, we were feeling great.  We stopped and took photos in front of the San Diego mural.  I have been asked where this mural is and I still couldn’t tell you exactly.  But with a little sober investigation the next day, I found more about the Greetings from San Diego mural here. Our goal at the beginning of the evening was to visit five North Park breweries, however.  And with our non-entry into Modern Times, we were one short.  Fortunately, we had room for a great audible.  

barnbreweryWe were very close to Barn Brewery, which would be our last stop for the night (as a group).  When you walk into Barn, you feel as if you were entering…yep, you guessed it, a barn.  The owner saw the space first, then was inspired to create a brewery that fit the (barn) theme.  And they did a great job.  This stop was the favorite of more than one person in our group.  The temperature had dropped outside and we found ourselves warming up by the fire.

The head brewer (Chris Finch) at Barn was the head brewer and founder at Firehouse Brewing, which was pretty high on the San Diego beer scene until the beer recession of 2008-2009.  Since then, he’s opened up the nearby Poor House and now Barn.  I tried the Barn IPA, and it was surprisingly delicious.  I say surprisingly because the place itself is pretty modest, but can compete with its San Diego brethren on several levels.  I have also been back and tried not only the lager, but also the saison.  While this place is small, I will definitely be keeping an eye on what they’re doing.

There are many places in the neighborhood that are awesome that didn’t make the cut this time.  North Park is thriving with beer.  Places like Fall Brewing, Waypoint Public and Toronado are pretty iconic just as stand alone in this neighborhood. Plus, lots of people continue to salivate over the much anticipated North Park Brewing.  

Whether you have one night to experience San Diego’s Beer scene through a walking tour, or you have a week, you don’t want to miss North Park when it comes to having a conversation about #sdbeer.

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