Five brewers you need to know
By Matt Jaffe
January 4, 2018
The “brew bros” ahead of me in the checkout line at the Bottlecraft shop in North Park had just hit the cold case, stocking up on Pliny the Elder from Russian River Brewing and an assortment of IPAs produced by Alpine Beer Co. in east San Diego County.
I was looking for something else: made-in-San Diego lagers. Word is that lagers have gained new prominence in the beer scene that IPAs built. So when I reached the register, armed with an assortment from local brewers, I floated that notion to Gene Fielden, the store’s manager and beer buyer.
Fielden gave me a look, a slight smile on his face. For a moment, I assumed it was the kind of silent putdown that those in the know like to deliver to those who don’t know. But I had asked the right guy. The dude certainly knows (and loves) lagers.
“Oh, absolutely. We’re seeing a resurgence in lagers across the board,” Fielden said, before launching into an explanation of the style’s virtues. “If you make mistakes with your IPA, you can add some hops and cover it up. But lager beers, Helles Lager or especially a Pilsner, are known as the ‘Brewer’s Beer.’”
“Brewers use lager as a measuring stick for one another. That’s because you really can’t hide behind any flaws. It’s naked and open and free,” said Fielden. “A well-made lager is a thing of beauty.”
Lager, he explained, is a process, not a single type of beer, and Fielden has seen San Diego craft brewers start producing the full range of styles. While West Coast IPAs still dominate in San Diego, he believes that lagers have grown in popularity as beer lovers search for greater sessionability: brews with lower alcohol by volume and reduced hoppiness that allow people to drink more than one without paying the price later.
Based on Fielden’s recommendations and some unscientific sampling around town, here’s where to find some of San Diego’s top lagers from the best brewers.
Although new to North Park, Eppig is the resurrection of a Brooklyn family brewery founded in 1866. Fielden said Eppig should be the first stop for anyone looking for lagers in San Diego. “They’ve done more in this neighborhood to transform people’s perceptions of lagers than any single brewery. I would argue that they make some of the best lagers in the whole city.” Eppig brews across a wide spectrum, from a Japanese-style dry lager to its Schwarzbier German black lager. 3052 El Cajon Blvd.; (619) 501-1840; www.eppigbrewing.com
Societe Brewing Co.
In contrast to the cartoonish belching beavers and angry sharks at some craft brewers, Societe is positively genteel, incorporating Victorian-style silhouettes into its Clairemont Mesa tasting room and company imagery. Societe’s founders, Travis Smith and Douglas Constantiner, strive for balanced beers that are full-flavored but not overpowering, and the Heiress, a crisp Czech Pilsner, certainly meets those standards. And with its clear golden color and lingering white head, the Heiress is positively pretty. 8262 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.; (858) 598-5409; www.societebrewing.com
Fall Brewing Co.
Fielden is sufficiently taken by this North Park-based brewer’s Plenty for All Pilsner that he wrote an extended email offering a brief cultural history of what he believes might be the “most poured local lager on draft in the entire city.” Clean and with hints of hop bitterness, Plenty For All is named for a song by the San Diego band Hot Snakes. 4542 30th St.; (619) 501-0903; www.fallbrewing.com
SouthNorte Beer Co.
The label reads “Hecho en San Diego” and SouthNorte’s Sea Señor Mexican lager takes its inspiration both from days at the beach and the cross-pollination of cultures along the border. Founder and head brewer Ryan Brooks has lived and worked on both sides, and his Agavemente, a lager with hints of Mexico’s popular Jamaica agua fresca, took a bronze medal in the specialty beer category at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival. It’s not regularly available but you’ll find Sea Señor at Bottlecraft and other locations around San Diego. www.southnorte.com
AleSmith Brewing Co.
Founded in 1995, AleSmith has moved from its compact Miramar tasting room and brewery facility into impressive new digs nearby — complete with San Diego’s largest tasting room and a museum honoring the late local baseball hero Tony Gwynn. AleSmith collaborated with reggae-punk band Sublime to produce its Sublime Mexican Lager, a smooth, amber-hued beer with a malty sweetness. The brewery’s slightly dry Spezial Pils German-style Pilsner is another one of San Diego’s best lagers. 9990 AleSmith Ct.; (858) 549-9888; www.alesmith.com