Long known to locals and a happy discovery for visitors, San Diego’s beer highway is an 18-mile stretch of California highway that’s home for 17 not-to-be missed craft breweries, running from the Carlsbad and Oceanside beach towns to inland Escondido. And to honor this California freeway, three local breweries recently released a celebrative collaboration, the Highway 78 Scotch Ale, a highland-style, toffee-flavored malt.
Three brew masters at Stone Brewing Company, Pizza Port/Port Brewery and Green Flash Brewing Company know this – that San Diego has become ground zero for the craft brewing industry, perhaps home to the most craft breweries in the entire nation. And San Diegans embrace their local brews known for a hoppy flavor that’s indigenous to a region boasting year-round sunshine.
According to the Brewers Association, which tracks U.S. operating breweries, San Diego county’s 60 breweries account for an astounding 2.5% of the national total, with 20 more craft breweries on tap to open (take that, Portland!). And in the midst of this hotbed is Highway 78, 38 miles north of downtown San Diego.
Craft breweries are exploding as tourist destinations for tasting a culture. Here’s how to do your own beer tasting tour, plying Highway 78’s craft breweries, ending at the Disneyland of craft brewing, the architecturally stunning Stone Brewing.
Carlsbad & Oceanside
To begin an exploration of these watery riches, start in the quintessential beach town of Carlsbad. This seaside village is home to Pizza Port, home of Port Brewery on 571 Carlsbad Village Drive. Underneath a ceiling hung with surfboards, as waves curled on flat screen televisions, taste a local favorite on tap, Carlsbad Crème Ale, a basic crème ale that’s superior to all others in its deliciousness. Or quaff an excellent wood and barrel-aged strong beer, Churchill’s Finest Hour 2012, at the wood bar. Its taste perfectly justifies why this strong beer, a blend of bourbon and vanilla, won gold at the last San Diego International Beer Festival.
Before hoping onto 78, reinforce your home supply at brewery’s bottle shop next door with its international array of brews, hard ciders and mead.
Next (and it will be hard to choose!) head east on Carlsbad Village Drive and turn left onto Interstate 5. You’ll soon see the exit onto Highway 78 where you’ll head east to Vista, CA. Exit at Melrose Drive, turn right and head south to Sycamore Drive. Turn left on Sycamore and take an immediate right on Hot Spring Way where you’ll find the Iron Fist Brewing Company at 1305 Hot Springs Way.
This Polish family-run concern has a barely legal brew master, Brendon Sieminski, who legally brewing began at age twenty-one. In their expansive, utilitarian tasting room, try Velvet Glove, a stout redolent of rum and vanilla bean or taste Renegade Blonde, a citrusy Kolsch. Leave your marks on the graffiti wall and then head over to nearby Indian Joe Brewing Company, the newest kid on the block. Simply turn right onto Sycamore Drive and make a left on La Mirada Drive to number 2379.
Founder Max Moran, a local Luiseno Indian, named Indian Joe Brewing after his great uncle. Try his unusual brews such as Téng’alish ya’ásh (Luiseño for “Medicine Man”), a stout crafted with organic oatmeal, coffee, white sage, agave nectar, and Tahitian noni berries. There are fruit-based Hefes, an American Indian pale ale and even a beer incorporating chia seeds. And don’t miss let your designated driver miss their no alcohol Root Beer, brewed with sassafras root. The jury is out on whether this brewery matches local quality but you make the call.
Next, turn left back onto Sycamore Drive and take the eastbound entrance onto on Highway 78 for your next stop. Exit at Twin Oaks Valley Road and turn left towards San Marcos’ industrial area. Go right on San Marcos Boulevard, right on Rancheros Drive and then, one mile later, go left on Mata Way. Turn right into the second driveway; on the left you’ll see the sign for Port Brewing, home of The Lost Abbey in suite 104, your destination.
Relax on grain sacks and barrels as you await your Judgment Day, a rich, dark Belgian Dark Quad-styled Ale, packing a 10% alcohol content. And don’t forget taste the powerful Inferno, a corked dry ale sporting a super dense head. A sign over the threshold to their barrel room reads In Illa Brettanomyces Nos Fides, a Latin phrase roughly translating to “In the Wild Yeast We Believe.” And, after experiencing their Belgian-inspired, premium beers, you’ll believe, oh yes, you’ll believe.
See also: Stumblefoot Brewing Company
Finally, end your trek at the Disneyland of craft brewing, Stone Brewing Company’s World Bistro and Gardens in nearby Escondido. Exit at Nordahl Drive and turn right, continue onto Auto Park Way and turn right on Citracado Parkway. You’ll see Stone’s monolithic building at 1999 Citracado Parkway.
This is the birthplace of Stone’s bold brews, including the Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, which has every right to feel that way. This dark IPA recently won gold at the inaugural Brussels Beer Challenge, demonstrating the rise of the humble Highway 78 breweries to international prominence.
Architecturally stunning, Stone is a craft brew fantasyland featuring tours, a tasting room and shop and a 1-acre beer garden. An 8,500-square-foot farm-to-table bistro serves up beer-centered cuisine from Stone’s own organic farm. In fact, if the Stinky Cheese Plate and the Stone Cali-Belgique IPA could run off together to Vegas they totally would.
One bistro wall is an expansive two-story high window that reveals the tall, massive tanks of the 55,000-square foot brewery, which produces almost 200,000 barrels annually.
Celebrate the end of your productive day by relaxing around an outside fire ring and indulging in a frothy, yeasty dessert, the Stone Smoked Porter Beer Float. Now you fully understand why Beer Advocate magazine dubbed Stone as the “All-Time Top Brewery on Planet Earth.”
And that’s another reason why San Diego’s Highway 78 is the royal road for craft brew diehards.
Another brewery to visit: Offbeat Brewing Company
Here’s the full list of Highway 78’s riches (going west to east). Alas, the aforementioned Green Flash Brewery is not on this list, having departed Vista for greener pastures in San Diego. During your tasting tour, expect to spend around $2 for a taster and $5 for a glass. For brewery tours, contact each brewery for reservations. Be aware that microbreweries brew in batches or seasonally so your favorite beer may not be available – but that’s all part of the adventure.
- Lenore Greiner