We received hundreds of responses from readers about who/what to watch in the San Diego beer and beverage world this new year, and we narrowed it down to 20 of the most interesting.
Scout / Harland / Ashland
After selling Saint Archer to MillerCoors, entrepreneur Josh Landan is back with Harland Brewing (which operates two tasting rooms in the county, and a third coming to the Marriott Marquis in downtown early this year), a hard seltzer line called Ashland (launching this month with four flavors: blackberry lemonade, pineapple, lime, and tangerine), and Scout Distribution Company. Scout’s current clients include three other San Diego beer makers (32 North, Abnormal, and Societe), hard cider (Bivouac), hard kombucha (JuneShine), plus a half dozen more brands and counting. Be on the lookout for Scout trucks rolling out even more kegs this year.
Locally made hard seltzer
Love them or hate them, hard seltzer products are sticking around in 2020. Some of the local beer makers now crafting alcoholic seltzers include Rouleur, Belching Beaver, San Diego Brewing, Kilowatt, Mike Hess Brewing, Modern Times, Resident, Original 40, Thorn Brewing, and the aforementioned Ashland. One of San Diego beer’s pioneers, Greg Koch, co-founder of Stone Brewing, was asked by VinePair.com how 2019’s year in beer will be remembered. Calling hard seltzer a “throwaway trend,” he concluded that it’s “likely the perfect drink for people whose best night of their lives was prom.” Shots fired!
Locally made hard kombucha
With JuneShine taking over Ballast Point’s Old Grove facility last February, Local Roots acquiring Latitude 33 Brewing’s production space in Vista just recently, and Boochcraft expanding production and distribution (and working on a tasting room), the year 2019 saw lots of movement in this realm of San Diegan beverages. Beer maker Novo Brazil is also growing their sister Nova “Easy” alcoholic kombucha brand, and Belching Beaver has been infusing fruit flavors into these drinks as well. Readers expect competition to heat up in this category with delicious results.
Ballast Point’s latest twist
In a somewhat surreal turn of events, ownership of Ballast Point Brewing changed hands for the second time in four years. Purchased from Constellation Brands by a small brewery located outside of Chicago, Kings & Convicts Brewing Co., the new owners are Chris Bradley and Brenden Watters. Ian Anderson, beer columnist at San Diego Reader, reported that the owners intend to lean on Colby Chandler, who is Ballast Point’s most senior remaining employee. This is welcome news, as Chandler, a former president of the San Diego Brewers Guild, is one of the architects of our local beer scene (including SD Beer Week). With a new regime at the executive level, readers are watching what Ballast will do in 2020.
Developments at Duck Foot
Hearts were broken when local favorite Benchmark Brewing shut down in 2019, but beer fans should be pleased that Benchmark’s former owner and brewer Matt Akin has landed on his feet as the new head brewer at Duck Foot Brewing. The Miramar-based company started in 2015 and has since expanded into the East Village with a gluten-free eatery (to enjoy with the brewery’s gluten-reduced beers). Duck Foot will release 12 or so small batch IPAs in 2020, and a sour program called Duck Foot Cellars is in the works. “It’s been fun to work with Matt so far,” says Duck Foot owner Matt Del Vecchio. “The first thing we did was examine our IPAs and we have been making some good changes there.”
TapRoom in North Park
TapRoom’s Pacific Beach bar has been focused on serving fresh, local beer through clean lines since 2006, so the decision to start up their own brewery almost seemed inevitable. Heavyweight industry design and construction firm CLTVT — whose clients include dozens of local beverage producers — has helped create a new playground for veteran brewer Bill Batten (formerly of AleSmith and Mikkeller). Situated catty-corner from the legendary Live Wire bar, TapRoom Beer Company will further solidify uptown’s beer credentials.
Everything East Village
Multiple neighborhoods in San Diego County are competing to be a must-visit area for local beverage drinkers and tourists alike, and East Village may be 2020’s top contender. Multiple juice bars, coffee shops, breweries, brewery satellite tasting rooms, and even a couple distilleries call East Village home (as do thousands of residents in newly constructed buildings). In addition to the upcoming Bay City Brewing tasting room and pizzeria, another business in particular to watch is the bar Neighborhood. An operation by hospitality group Consortium Holdings (and champion of the local beer scene since 2007), Neighborhood is currently undergoing renovations but will reopen this year.
Pen Pals with Coffee & Tea Collective
Established in 2010, the Coffee & Tea Collective continues its mission of serving quality beverages to San Diegans with North Park and East Village locations. This year, a new program called Pen Pals will highlight eight different roasters from around the globe. “The goal of Pen Pals is not only to showcase unique sourcing and roasting styles, but also to create a bigger sense of global community within the coffee industry,” the company said in a recent post. “It is also an opportunity for us to expand the local palate with offerings that aren’t normally available in San Diego.” January’s guest of the month is La Cabra Coffee Roasters from Aarhus, Denmark.
Tiny Bubbles from The Lost Abbey
On stage at the Brewbound Live conference in Santa Monica late last year, The Lost Abbey (TLA) co-founder and COO Tomme Arthur announced the launch of Tiny Bubbles, a distinct brand that will focus on canned sour beers in two flavors: original brut and rosé. Curiously, the Tiny Bubbles brand was purchased by TLA from Goleta, California’s Hollister Brewing. During his talk, Arthur waxed nostalgic on contemporary beer history, and explained his plan from the perspective of a long-time craft brewer. “We (craft brewers) have been busy imitating each other and not pulling new people in,” Arthur said, conceding that “many of these people don’t care for the flavors of beer we have spent our lives creating.”
After Gordon Biersch closed their Mission Valley brewpub, lager lovers were stoked to hear that brewer Doug Hasker would continue to helm the brewhouse for the space’s new owners: Puesto. “Since our concept is rooted in Mexican cuisine and culture, we’ll of course brew traditional Mexican styles of beer, including lagers,” says Puesto co-founder Eric Adler. “We will also continue collaborating with our friends who brew in Mexico, including Agua Mala, who we’ve created collaboration beers with in the past. There will be a lot of R&D in this early phase and we will aspire to do both traditional and unique styles.” Immediate plans are to brew for the other Puesto locations, with the distribution of packaged beer a possibility down the line. The brewpub was slated for an early 2020 opening at time of press.
Makers, Part 1: Charlie & Echo
Miralani Makers District member Charlie & Echo doubled their wine production in 2019, and those goods will start making their way into the market shortly. The company is building up their self-distribution portfolio in California, while also shipping to Virginia (and hopefully more states before 2020 closes). A minor logo refresh will grace the packaged lineup, including the hard spritzer series that took off in 2019. Additionally, the “Project X” series of weekly releases will continue, with themes like schnapps, sours, sangrias, and a variety of cocktail-inspired flavors, just for starters. On top of all that, multiple collaborations with other beverage producers are in the works, and there’s a possibility they’ll add a second location in 2021.
Makers, Part 2: Setting Sun Sake
Early this year, San Diego’s sole sake maker Setting Sun will release the first two offerings of their canned sake line, including Lil’ Cloudy, a semi-sweet vanilla nigori, and Arizona Bae, a peach and green tea-infused sake. Since partnering with Craft Beer Guild Distribution at the end of 2019, Setting Sun will spend the rest of 2020 spreading sake (simplistically described as rice wine) throughout California. Also be on the lookout for an updated website where folks can order sake to be delivered directly to their door. New to sake? Setting Sun will be hosting several “Sake 101” classes and sake pairings throughout the year; stay tuned to their social media pages for event dates and details.
Makers, Part 3: Thunderhawk Alements
Creative and involved in the community, Thunderhawk’s tasting room in the Makers District is warm and inviting, and there’s a beer for every palate. Small — operating a one-barrel electric brewhouse — but mighty, Thunderhawk earned a silver medal at the 2019 Great American Beer Festival’s competition with their Bowie Knife Black Ale (medaling at the prestigious annual ceremony is no small feat for a brewer of any size). Thunderhawk’s native San Diegan brewers Bill Lindsay and Jonathan Barbarin frequently collaborate with friends from other local beverage businesses like Amplified Ale Works and Bird Rock Coffee. Readers expect them to “keep making unique beers and taking chances” and suggest keeping an eye on their barrel program.
Bird Rock showcases truly local coffee
“Coffee’s one of the most global acts we do because most of the time we’re drinking coffee grown in a different country that’s imported to us,” said Grammy Award-winning singer and local farmer Jason Mraz in The San Diego Union-Tribune in October 2019. Indeed, locally grown San Diegan beans are a very new concept and exist in part thanks to Santa Barbara-based company Frinj Coffee. Frinj figured out how to inter-plant coffee beans with avocado plants, which Mraz then did at his farm in Oceanside, before working with Bird Rock to roast the finished product. The bean varietal, a Geisha, sold for $35 a cup in a limited release last year. One of the most desirable varieties of coffee, Geisha is originally from Ethiopia. Frinj Coffee started in 2017 and is working with 12 farms near Temecula and North County San Diego to grow coffee. Throughout California, Frinj has helped grow 57,000 trees at 42 farms. The end product takes around a year to develop, and harvest is May through September, so expect to see more San Diegan beans pop up later in 2020 from Bird Rock and beyond.
The recent openings of Eppig’s new facility and the adjacent Dogleg Brewing bring the total number of breweries in Vista to 18, according to CraftBeerInSanDiego.com and the Vista Brewers Guild. With three non-brewing satellite tasting rooms on top of that, beer is big business in Vista. Working closely with the local city government, the Vista Brewers Guild has done a solid job promoting the hottest thing to come out of the farm town since avocados. And Vista’s influence is spreading; Booze Brothers (whose “Mr. Manager” Kris Anacleto is this year’s San Diego Brewers Guild President) is working on a tasting room in Oceanside.
Beverages in Barrio Logan
Spring Valley’s Liberty Call Distilling Co. was scheduled to finish its expansion into the Mercado del Barrio mixed-use center in 2019, but cool things take time. According to Eater San Diego, the distillery and restaurant will be 3,000 square feet and include a 400 square foot patio, plus a menu that serves “California tapas” made to pair with Liberty’s lineup of gin, rum, bourbon, and whiskey. The distillery will complement Iron Fist’s tasting room, and Attitude Brewing’s brewpub, which are located within the same building. Across the street, Ryan Bros. Coffee has been roasting since 1994. Down the block, there’s Thorn Brewing & Cafe Virtuoso. And TapShack kombucha now calls Barrio Logan home for their production facility.
Sunny skies for Sol-ti
Sol-ti has refined its art in the years since its original inception in 2014 as Shakti. After a rebrand, more investment, and a move to Miramar, the company began pumping out organic, cold-pressed juice filtered with UV light and packaged in glass bottles. Product lines now include the Classic SuperShot, HEMP+ Tea, HEMP+ SuperShot, the Nourishment Cleanse, and SuperAde Line. Founder Ryne O’Donnell told West Coaster in the summer that Sol-ti had already added more than 2,000 retail locations so far in 2019, distributing to more than 25 states. Late last year, the company hired Rob Paladino, an experienced beverage executive, as president. With new senior leadership, tasty juice, and a polished lineup, watch Sol-ti in 2020.
Unique distilled offerings
Expect the insatiable demand for new flavors to be met with interesting concoctions in 2020. Ocean Beach-headquartered Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey continues to enjoy a popular following, and newcomers 8-Ball Chocolate Whiskey (founded by Paul Thomas of Julian Hard Cider) are already planning to debut a tasting room. Distilleries are even collaborating with local tea companies, like the Seven Caves x Paru Tea Bar bottle we featured last month. On a larger scale, Miramar’s Cutwater Spirits — acquired by Anheuser-Busch last year — recently released a tequila made with 100% blue agave harvested from Jalisco, Mexico. Oh, and save the date for the next Distilled Festival at the Del Mar Fairgrounds: Saturday, June 27.
Escondido’s wine scene
Flying under the radar for years, the Escondido winery scene is catching the attention of readers. Wineries like Hungry Hawk, Orfila, and Cordiano are located in the hills surrounding San Pasqual Valley, offering estate-grown wines and killer views. Less traditional in setup but also worth a visit are the urban wineries such as BK Cellars and the Sans V tasting room (home to Vesper and Stehleon vineyards). The Escondido Visitors Center is doing a great job of promoting the local beverage scene, as the North County neighborhood is home to several breweries, too. Downloadable maps and more info can be found at VisitEscondido.com/wineries or @VisitEscondido on Instagram.
Mead’s buzzing with possibility
Will 2020 be the year of mead in San Diego? This ancient beverage, consisting primarily of honey, yeast, and water, has young local roots (at least on the professional side), with Oceanside’s Golden Coast Mead popping up just under a decade ago. Since then, they’ve inspired a community, joined by businesses Twisted Horn Mead & Cider (Vista), Raging Cider & Mead (San Marcos), Lost Cause (Miralani Makers District), and Meadiocrity Mead (San Marcos). Additionally, Mjødhall Meadery continues serving at home brew festivals while they weigh brick-and-mortar possibilities, and Good Omen Mead is working towards opening in downtown Escondido. Are you interested in learning more about what it takes to craft this beverage? UCSD Extension is offering an “Introduction to Mead Making” course next month, including honey tastings and basic sensory training, with Lost Cause’s Billy Beltz teaching.