Why San Diego is a Great American Beer City

Nearly 30 years after the start of the U.S. craft-beer revolution, the industry continues to thrive. Beer culture came early to San Diego, and its claim to be America's Capital of Craft Beer is bolstered by more than 130 innovative breweries and an energetic culture of beer connoisseurs.
 

Photo courtesy of Border X Brewing

From a horchata-flavoured golden stout to fruity sour ales, the variety of craft beer on tap in San Diego is staggering. The choice is all the more impressive given most of the city’s brewers started the same way: making beer of questionable quality with store-bought homebrew kits.

North Park Beer Co.’s Kelsey McNair began in his garage, where he quickly graduated from beer kits to creating his own recipes. In 2010, the then-video game developer won a competition hosted by Stone Brewing—one of San Diego’s oldest craft breweries—and the chance to scale-up production of his ale using Stone’s equipment.

 

“It’s very grassroots and continues to be.”
—Kelsey McNair, North Park Beer Co.

 

McNair says brewing his beer on industrial equipment confirmed his desire to start a brewery. Six years later, he opened his beer hall-style taproom and brewing facility in the North Park neighbourhood—the refreshing, west coast IPA, Hop-Fu!, is a must-try. Although Stone is now a competitor, McNair doesn’t think they have regrets about helping him on his way.

“Everybody kind of came from the same place, most craft brewers were homebrewers and we all remember that,” says McNair. “It’s very grassroots and continues to be.”

Keeping with San Diego’s home-brewing traditions, brothers Martin and Ivan Favela brewed their first beer on their apartment balcony. Eventually, they turned their hobby into a business, and, with a few other family members, opened Border X Brewing in 2013.

 

North Park Beer Co., photo by Kiley Brinson

 

The pair grew up just across the border in Tijuana, Mexico, and drew on flavours from their youth. Beers offered at their taproom, located in the Barrio Logan neighbourhood, include a bright-red hibiscus blood saison, horchata golden stout and Mexican chocolate stout.

“Latinos have never been properly catered to, all the beer that’s made for them is bland and generic,” says Martin. “People bring friends here and they say, ‘Try this beer, this is the [hot] chocolate I grew up with, but now it’s in beer form and it’s awesome.’”

Behind the taproom, there is a beer garden with tables offering views of their brewing tanks. You can also spot the comparatively tiny equipment from the brothers’ home-brewing days tucked away in a corner, gathering dust.


U.S. Beer by the Numbers

25 Million

The number of barrels craft breweries in the U.S. produced in 2017

12.7 %

Craft beer’s share of the overall U.S. beer market (by volume)

128,000

The number of jobs at craft breweries across the U.S. in 2016

$67.8 Billion

The amount of money craft brewing contributed to the U.S. economy in 2016


 

[This story appears in the August 2018 issue of WestJet Magazine]

 

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