I had the pleasure of brewing professionally for three years in San Diego. You might think that makes me biased, and to some extent it does. But I grew up outside of New York City, so I could begrudge California, any number of things, including their incredible weather.
Working in the industry has allowed me a better understanding of the brewery process and that understandably, informs my take on beer. It’s also why I believe that San Diego is the premier city for the craft beer industry – and should be recognized as such.
Portland, Oregon continually edges out San Diego for the number one spot on “Top Beer City” lists, so let’s compare these two cities’ craft beer markets.
California is home to 431 breweries, which is the most in the country. 116 are in San Diego County, however, the state only ranks twentieth in breweries per capita.
Oregon, on the other hand, has 216 breweries with 91 within Metro Area but boasts the second largest brewery per capita rating nationwide.
Several articles include these facts and use them as determining factors in deciding the best beer markets. But to me, these are simply numbers that do not shed light on the quality of the beer in those regions, which is, as far as I’m concerned, the only aspect that we should evaluate.
I personally don’t care which state has won the most Great American Beer Fest medals, (even though California has won 177 more gold medals than Oregon since 1987).
To truly understand a beer scene, we must dissect the sum of its parts.
Critics consider San Diego to be an IPA-only producing region and although the best American IPAs in the world are made in San Diego, breweries like AleSmith, The Lost Abbey, Societe, Pizza Port and Ballast Point all produce phenomenally diverse beers. IPAs are so popular because they have been studied, perfected by brewers and reflect the climate and character of San Diego drinkers.
Many people feel that San Diego is a saturated market with only a handful of great breweries. But due to the amount of competition, many of the region’s perceived “mediocre breweries” would be considered great if they were located anywhere else in the United States. And yes, there are great beers brewed everywhere in America but to have so many consistent, quality and diverse breweries, in one rich metro area is rare.
San Diego is a proving ground for the next generation’s brewers, Larger breweries like Stone, Ballast Point and Green Flash are all producing well-trained brewers, many of whom go on to work at startups throughout the county and beyond.
The San Diego brewing community is also considered to be leading industry trendsetters (both nationally, and increasingly, internationally) – and its breweries are now acclaimed for setting the bar for innovation and quality,
Bottom line, San Diego is the best beer city in America. Just my take, but I’m sticking with it.
More Brewing Factoids