Ladies and gentleman, rejoice, because it’s National Drink Beer Day. Yes, that is absolutely a thing, and yes we are absolutely celebrating it. Because craft beer. So being National Drink Beer Day, it seemed only appropriate to share some of my favorite California breweries. This is by no means gospel, and there are certainly many more amazing California breweries across the state, but these are some of my go-to breweries in and around the bigger cities. So without further adieu, find some of my favorite California breweries and beers below.
Ballast Point. Ballast Point may be one of the larger, more familiar California breweries in San Diego, with several outposts around San Diego County, but I’ve yet to find a Ballast Point beer that I haven’t loved. Ballast Point’s Grapefruit Sculpin IPA is one of my top-five favorite beers in America, while a number of their other beers stack up just as well, including their Sculpin IPA, Big Eye IPA, Calm Before the Storm Cream Ale, and California Amber. However, this summer I quite enjoyed some of their newer, more summery beers, like the Mango Even Keel IPA and Pineapple Sculpin. If fruiting your beer like this is wrong, then I don’t want to be right. Ballast Point has several locations, though their Long Beach location overlooking the water may be my new favorite. For the full Ballast Point experience, there’s Scripps Ranch, where you can also taste their distilled spirits. Yes, Ballast Point also makes booze. Best brewery ever?
Alpine Beer Company. Alpine is actually located outside of San Diego, due east in the small town of Alpine, and believe me, it’s worth the drive. Alpine Beer Company makes several of my favorite beers, including Pure Hoppiness, Duet, Nelson, and Hoppy Birthday, all of which are IPAs, and among the best West Coast IPAs in my opinion. While their beers are becoming more readily available across the West Coast, visiting Alpine Beer Company is where it’s at, featuring a no-frills tasting room, but with the opportunity to taste some of their beers that you can’t just find anywhere. Plus, they recently expanded the pub to include an outdoor and indoor bar, patio, and more seating.
Stone Brewing. Stone Brewing was my first introduction to West Coast craft beers with Stone Pale Ale, one of their flagship beers you’ll frequently see on the West Coast. While Stone Pale Ale is a good beer, my tastes have expanded, as I now prefer some of their other beers, especially their Arrogant Bastard series of brews. The Arrogant Bastard beers, such as the Arrogant Bastard Ale, are characterized by more complex, intense flavors. Like Ballast Point, Stone Brewing, too, has created something of a brewery empire, with locations across Southern California, including Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens locations in Escondido and Point Loma’s Liberty Station, and other outposts in Oceanside, San Diego’s Gaslamp District, and even at Petco Park and San Diego International Airport. Stone Brewing is even planning a brewery in Berlin. Yes, Germany.
Three Weavers Brewing. Three Weavers, located in Inglewood, was really the first brewery that got me excited about craft beer in L.A. before the boom of the last couple years that has brought a number of new craft breweries to the City of Angels. Three Weavers, while in the middle of L.A., feels like such a community brewery, located at the end of a warehouse space, with an indoor seating area, outdoor patio, board games, and the option to bring in your own food. Bonus points, their head brewmaster, Alexandra Nowell, is one of L.A.’s first female brewmasters, bringing careful attention to the beers she brews. You’ll likely be able to find something you like, since their core beers include a kolsch, session IPA, West Coast IPA, English-style , and imperial stout, and seasonal beers that’ll often include styles like a blonde, saison, and red ale.
Monkish. Monkish is my single favorite brewery in all of L.A., characterized by a hoppin’ tasting room, fun vibe, and delicious beers. It’s not unlikely that if you go on a weekend, you’ll be crowding around a barrel with your friends, just beneath large tanks filled with beer, and with the aroma of a local food truck just a few feet away. Monkish is largely known for their Belgian-style beers and sours, though they’ve recently been doing a number of special IPA releases. I can testify that they are delicious. Even better, you can walk (yes, you can walk in L.A.) just around the corner to Smog City Brewing Company when you want a break from tasting European-style beers.
Firestone. While Firestone is originally from Central California, they opened a store and brewpub in Venice earlier this year, and it is the beer spot in L.A. every day (and evening) of the week. Firestone has long been one of my favorite West Coast breweries, named best brewery at Great American Beer Festival a couple years ago, so I was stoked to see them open an L.A. brewery, where they’re focusing on rustic ales (similar to farmhouse style ales). Beyond the rustic ales, every single beer in Firestone’s Lion & Bear Series are fantastic, including the pilsner, British pale ale, pale ale, and IPAs. My favorite beer is their Luponic Distortion, a beer that changes seasonally, using a different selection of experimental hops every time. The food is pretty good at their Venice location, too, though if you visit on a weekend, you’ll want to arrive early, as you’ll often have to wait for a table during busy lunch and dinner times.
San Francisco Bay Area
Speakeasy Ales & Lagers. If you spend any time around Northern California then you’ll likely come across Speakeasy Ales & Lagers, which has some of my favorite beer branding, feeling like the beer of prohibition. Located southeast of downtown San Francisco in Bayview, Speakeasy Ale & Lagers is one of San Francisco’s longest-running breweries, brewing beer since 1997. Speakeasy’s “Usual Suspects” line featuers a lager, a couple different ales, couple IPAs, and a porter. While these beers are good, I prefer some of their other special beers, such as the hoppy Blind Tiger Imperial IPA. Visit on Saturdays for tours, which are $7, and must be booked in advance.
Anchor Brewing Company. Anchor Brewing Company is one of the most famous California breweries, if not one of the most famous West Coast breweries, having brewed beer since the late-1800s. Anchor Steam is their famous beer, deriving its name from the 19th-century method of brewing beer without ice. And it only seems appropriate in such a foggy city like San Francisco. Anchor has been in its current location, in Potrero Hill, since 1979, where brewery tours and tastings are offered daily, but by reservation only, and fill up quickly. Nonetheless, it’s one of my favorite brewery tours. Unbeknownst to many, Anchor also has a spirits brand, Anchor Distilling Company, which has been distilling spirits for a couple decades.
Lagunitas. Lagunitas is another long-time California brewery that has grown massively from its beer-making beginnings, which started more than two decades ago in Petaluma, California. The Petaluma brewery remains, and is much bigger, but now they have locations also in Southern California (San Gabriel Valley) and Chicago. Among their classics are the “A Little Sumpin'” beers, which include a Belgian IPA, double IPA, and wheat ale, while my favorite Lagunitas beer is the double Hop Stoopid Ale. The Petaluma taproom is open Wednesday through Sunday, with free tours and live music available daily.
Russian River Brewing Company. Russian River Brewing Company may just be my favorite brewery on the entire West Coast because of two beers, Damnation, a golden ale like what you’d find in Belgium, and Pliny the Elder (double IPA), which is one of the most sought after beers (along with its cousin, Pliny the Younger) on the West Coast. Visit the brewpub every day of the week to have any of their beers on tap, as well as enjoy a large selection of pub food. Additionally, the pub has a daily happy hour from 4-6:30, and all day on Sunday, which you can’t just find at any brewery tasting room. If you find yourself liking some of Russian River’s more “top-shelf” beers, make sure you hoard some to take with you, since Russian River beers can be hard to find in many places, especially Southern California, where when you do find it, you’re limited to a couple bottles.
What are your favorite California breweries?