CRAFT BEER IS INCREDIBLY HOT RIGHT NOW, and if you are in the mood for a cold one, there are more venues than ever where you can slake both your thirst and adventurous gustatory spirit. The most recent data available from the Brewers Association shows nationwide increases in “small and independent” craft brewing of 18% in volume (capturing 11% of market share) and 22% in sales (up to 19% market share) in the past year. Many cities claim to be the capital of American craft brewing; but no list of craft beer meccas is complete without San Diego County, which at the time of this writing is home to 115 licensed breweries, but has been adding more than one per month for the past several years.
Although the actual production of beer in San Diego is spread from the coast to the mountains and deserts of the county, and local brews are available at most reputable restaurants and watering holes, there is no part of town with more enthusiasm or a higher density of craft beer-centric establishments than the eclectic North Park neighborhood.
If you simply want to buy a few bottles of local IPA to wash down your lunch, you can stop at virtually any grocery store or mini-mart and get the goods. And don’t be fooled by the modest exteriors of traditional liquor stores like Quality Liquor or Ray’s Liquor Center: the beer selections in these traditional spaces are deep enough to keep you wandering the aisles for way longer than you had planned. But if you really want to get your beer nerd on, head over to Bottlecraft North Park, where you may very well have a life-changing conversation with one of the expert staff. And as long as you are there, hit up Venissimo, the cheese shop/deli in the back of the store, and nosh on some high-end cheese and charcuterie as you quaff flights of beer in the tasting area.
If your interest in beer goes beyond taste profiles and food pairings, and into the technical aspects of brewing, you will want to visit one of the working breweries in the neighborhood, such as Mike Hess Brewing, where you can watch the brewers toil in the stainless steel labyrinth below as you enjoy a World Beer Cup Gold Award-winning Habitus Rye IPA. Or two. Another great working brewery where you can fill up your growler, or have a few tasters (or pints) while enjoying the wares of a rotating cast of food trucks parked outside is Thorn Street Brewery, located in a quieter part of the neighborhood, a few blocks away from the busy University Avenue and 30th Street intersection. Fall Brewing, on the north end of 30th Street, is the latest brewery to open in North Park, offering a stripped-down aesthetic, a sense of humor, and a passion for classic beer styles. If you are that hardest of hardcore beer geeks—a homebrewer—you definitely need to spend some time with George and the friendly staff at The Homebrewer on El Cajon Boulevard, whether to take a class, stock up on supplies, taste some brews, or just talk shop.
After a day of beer shopping, beer tasting, and beer education, you deserve to sit down to a delicious meal and a refreshing pint of beer. Your options for a beer-centric meal are too plentiful to list here, as almost every restaurant in the neighborhood offers a comprehensive beer list. To narrow it down, ask yourself whether you want to go to a craft brew joint where you can get excellent food (Toronado, Rip Current, Modern Times Flavor Dome; e.g.), or an excellent restaurant where you can get killer craft brews (Waypoint Public, Ritual Tavern, Urban Solace, URBN Coal Fired Pizza, just to name a few). Inevitably, you will come to the same conclusion: you need to spend a couple more days in North Park.