Last year, my friends and I surprised my boyfriend’s brother Brian with a beer tour in San Diego for his 40th birthday. We knew he would love it. He is a home brewer, so he is always excited to see the intricacies of each operation as well as try all the beers. I found a private van service called The Drunk Driver. They have a tag line that states, “We’ll drive you to drink!” With a sense of humor like that, reasonable prices, and positive online reviews, I knew I did not need to look any further. We absolutely loved the service and our driver Robert. They were on time, will pick you up and drop you off anywhere in the area you specify, and are a blast to interact with. They will even take pictures of your group throughout the tour and email them to you after you get home. Their beer tours have become such a popular part of their services they have now started a new site BreweryToursSanDiego.com. We had such a fantastic time last year that Brian decided we should go back out for his birthday again this year.
Last year’s tour focused mainly on medium and larger-sized operations. We had the van pick us up at Stone Liberty Station in Point Loma, just northwest of the airport. This place is something every beer fan should see once in their life. The brewery/restaurant facility is over 23,000 square feet and also has a huge outdoor patio, outdoor movie theater, bocce ball courts, and event space. After we left Stone, we visited Societe Brewing Company, AleSmith Brewing Company, Rough Draft Brewing Company, and Green Flash Brewing Company. Aside: Is anyone else seeing a name pattern here? Why do they all say that?
There are now over 100 craft brewery locations in the San Diego metro area, so it was not at all difficult to come up with a different tour. The difficulty lies in the logistics because of how spread out they are. There are not many breweries in the walkable downtown corridor (although we did go to a majority of those that are located downtown, mostly on different days). My assumption is that it is because of the high property costs downtown. Both times I had to research hours of operation and adjust the order of the visits accordingly, calculate average length of time of travel between breweries, and limit them to a number we could actually dedicate enough time to without getting completely obliterated and forgetting the remainder of the tour. For this year’s festivities I decided on a route that would bring us to some smaller places, ones that you could see yourself owning in your brewing dreams.
Our driver Steve (we were originally worried because our friend Robert was not available, but Steve is awesome, too) picked us up from Ballast Point Tasting Room and Kitchen in Little Italy in a 2014 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. There were only five of us and it seats 12, so it was a luxurious amount of space. We had just finished a private tour at Ballast Point (see that story here on our site). We carried our two to-go growlers, cups, water, and snacks on to the Sprinter. Yes, you can drink in the vehicle as long as you are sitting behind the driver. It helps to have refreshments for the journey when/if you are sitting in Southern California traffic.
These are the places we visited on this tour: Benchmark Brewing Company, Groundswell Brewing Company, Fall Brewing Co, and Thorn St. Brewery. It was interesting that while we “met” some sour beers along the way, they were not as popular as I thought they would be. West Coast-style IPAs are still big, but there were more beers infused with fruit than I remember previously. For instance, although it was June, several places had coconut porters on tap. All of the breweries had interesting and distinctive features, yet they differed from each other enough both in style of décor and size of brewing equipment to make it exciting to anticipate each new stop. The five of us were able to pretty much come to a consensus on a rank order of the breweries’ beers we enjoyed — as a whole — from most to least. Although we were there last, and you would think that our palates would be shot by this time, we liked Thorn St. very much. This was followed by Groundswell (they had the smallest production and equipment so their rank is impressive), Fall, and Benchmark. I would say that Fall had the best atmosphere. They only opened about a year ago, but are receiving a great deal of acclaim and are planning a second location.
At the end of the day, Steve dropped us off at Stone Liberty Station. It was hard to say goodbye to our driver both times because they quickly begin to feel like a good friend you won’t get to see again for a long time. We all even hugged. Aw, how sweet.