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The Best San Diego Beers

San Diego beers nab 14 medals at Great American Beer Festival. Try these now.

By Troy Johnson

San Diego beers took 14 medals at the 33rd Annual Great American Beer Festival. It’s where craft beers go to be celebrated, drank, judged. Here are a few of our favorites and ones we’d most like to spend quality time with:

GOLD MEDAL: Old Numbskull by AleSmith Brewing Co.

First place out of 51 entries in the category. Barleywine isn’t wine. It’s confused. It’s beer. A very old beer invented in England back when showers were a pretty irregular thing and septic systems were a loopy sci-fi concept. Maybe that’s why barleywines are one of the strongest, thickest style of beers on the planet. Couple glasses of Old Numbskull (11% ABV) and those long-dead Englishmen would’ve blissfully forgotten how often people in their neighborhood used the word “squalor.” Barleywines age really well, just like wine. If you like dark fruit and hops, Old Numbskull is for you.

GOLD MEDAL: Oatmeal Stout by Benchmark Brewing Co.

There were 94 entries in its category (Session Beer), so huge congrats to the Mission Gorge brewery. Why make a beer using breakfast food? Because oatmeal gives it a real smooth, silky, creamy body. Benchmark’s tastes like chocolate, coffee, and all that is dark and good in this world. At 4.8% ABV, you can drink a couple of these and maintain basic language skills.

GOLD MEDAL: White Ale by Saint Archer Brewing Co.

This took top prize in the Belgian-Style Witbier category (65 entries). Saint Archer is just killing it. First, they’re owned by pro skaters, surfers and snowboarders. So their release parties are well-tanned and high in swimsuit models. But pretty, mocha-tinted, world-class athletes wouldn’t matter if your beer tasted like sadness. This gold medal suggests Saint Archer’s taste pretty great, and we agree. You know witbiers—spicy, refreshing, light. This one tastes like coriander and orange peels. Yes, like Moroccan food. It’s excellent.

GOLD MEDAL: Witty Moron by Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Stations

If Karl Strauss invented craft beer in San Diego, Stone exploded it. They distribute most other craft beers in town (they literally haul their “competitors” beers in refrigerated trucks to retail outlets). They created a scene. Witty Moron has the usual witbier spices, but it’s darker, more complex. The poetry major of witbiers.

SILVER: Guillaume by Pizza Port Ocean Beach

Second place out of 94 entries in the Session Beer category (session means lighter beer with a lower alcohol content so you can drink more than one of without losing all motor control). Unless our math is bad, that’s about top 2-3% in the nation. Awesome work by one of the early leaders in San Diego’s craft beer scene. It’s a golden ale, 4.4% ABV. A touch sweet. You just surfed and the sun is out? This is your beer.

SILVER: Hop 15 by Port Brewing Co.

This beer always wins awards. It’s good at doing that. It’s also good in your mouth. Hop 15 is not shy at 10% ABV. It’s definitely made for the small glass, high class beer crowd. As you can guess by the name, it’s hoppy. Beer people call it “sticky” and “resinous.” Wonder if they refer to their weed as “refreshing.”

BRONZE: Le Freak by Green Flash Brewing Co.

In the American-Belgo-Style Ale category, this took second place out of 69 entries. Le Freak is a combination of Belgian-style Trippel and American Imperial IPA. It’s day-glo orange in the glass with a little bit of citrus, a little bit of flower and a little bit of funk. One of my personal favorites in San Diego. Green Flash is set to open a new brewery/tasting room in Poway.

BRONZE: Mosaic Session Ale by Karl Strauss Brewing Co.

This is a hoppy little IPA brewed as a “session” beer. It smells like grapefruit and a tropical vacation well-spent. Perfect for those 100-degree days in October when you’re just sitting around talking about global warming with your buds.

BRONZE: The Pupil by Societe Brewing Co.

Third place at the country’s biggest beer festival is a huge honor. Yet this still feels like they were robbed. What a great beer. It’s got a nice full body with a touch of oiliness. Oily can be good (Thai food is proof). Grapefruit, assorted citrus, endorphins. Big fan.

ALPHA KING: Pound Town by Belching Beaver

You thought Belching Beaver was a pretty interesting name. Well, the Vista-based brewery doubled down on your shock value by naming their double IPA “Pound Town.” This 10.3 ABV ditty hasn’t been released yet. But oh you bet it will now. Wide and far.

For a full list of winners, click here.

The Best San Diego Beers

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