Booze blog: Tips and takeways from a San Diego beer excursion

Pizza Port’s Ocean Beach location

“They don’t have really good beer in Vegas,” said the San Diegan.

Usually, those would be fightin’ words—I drink Joseph James, Tenaya Creek and Big Dog’s as often as I can—but what the tour guide said next somewhat lessened the blow: “This group came all the way from Vegas to drink good beer!”

See, I was inside Escondido’s Stone Brewing Company—one of the biggest success stories to come out of the American craft brewing scene—and the promise of free(!) Stone samples at the end of our tour shut me up pretty quick.

While it’s great to support local brew, it’s also great to expand your hoppy horizons. And with San Diego just five hours away on the I-15, I recently made the trek to America’s Finest City for a tour of breweries with a pair of fellow ale aficionados.

In the end, we made it to five breweries—Stone, Ballast Point, Societe, Monkey Paw and Pizza Port—and I found possibly the best beer I’ve ever tasted.

Make an afternoon out of Stone

With an attached restaurant and garden area, there’s a lot to experience at Stone’s flagship Escondido location, and I suggest you do it all. Brewery tours occur several times throughout the day, so arrange your visit for either before or after a meal. I recommend the duck tacos, butternut squash soup or mac ‘n’ cheese—all three of which are made with Stone beer. All that learning and eating is likely going to make you tired, so order one last brew for your walk through the lush brewery gardens, perfect for lounging on a sunny San Diego afternoon.

Ask brewers where to go next

San Diego’s brewery guide is a great resource, but it’s always a good idea to ask the locals where to go. Brewers at both Stone and Ballast Point directed my group to Societe, a small operation that has apparently made quite the splash on the SoCal scene since opening its doors 16 months ago.

Beers worth the five-hour trip

Societe doesn’t distribute in Las Vegas, so you’ll need to make the trip to enjoy one of their phenomenal pulls. And it’s worth it, as their Debutante is the best thing I drank all year—maybe even ever. Clocking in at 7 percent ABV, the refreshing Belgian ale features light citrus notes and is extremely drinkable. My growler of the stuff didn’t last long, and I can’t wait for the next fill.

I was really excited to visit Ballast Point’s tasting room, as only a handful of their beers make it on the shelves here in Las Vegas. Everything tasted phenomenal, though the Thai Chili Wahoo Wheat definitely stood out. I’m always wary of spicy beers, as the majority of them taste like fermented Tapatio. Not Ballast’s. The Thai chilies balanced beautifully with the wheat beer, so much that you could detect hints of ginger and lime, also used during the brewing process.

End your trip at Pizza Port

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