Craft Brew 101 basics

Cool Fact

Drink­ing beer historically is one of the world's favorite pass times and has been for 1000s of years.  The oldest written recipe ever found is over 4000 years old. This recipe is not for food but yes, beer! This famous tablet is called the Ninkasi Hymn from Mesopotamia. Ninkasi is the ancient Sumerian goddess of beer.

 San Diego has a long history of brewing beer. Learn more about San Diego's beer history here.

Craft Beer San Diego Style

Today there are so many crazy vari­ations and flavors of amazing, mind bending, pallet busting craft beer.   San Diego embraces some of the best styles while breaking rules and tradition with hops, fruits, creativity and passion.

Bagby Brewing Oceanside CA

San Diego is best known for their Double IPAs. Also known as Imperial IPA, American IPA or West Coast IPA and even recently world wide the "San Diego IPA".  This is where the beer is loaded up with more hops and malts thus providing a stronger beer with higher alcohol usually above 6.8%.  San Diego is in another class for Double, Triple and every other kind of IPA which are usually much stronger than the rest of the country.  Setting a new bar for what is considered "Balanced", San Diego is loaded with quality IPA brewers like Pizza Port, Stone, Ballast, Coronado and many more. But San Diego does not stop there but dominates a variety of of world class beer styles.  Sour Beers are a big part of the San Diego beer scene with some amazing brewers such as Tool Box, Council and Indian Joe. Saison beers are another favorite of our local brewers like Karl Strauss, Mikkeller and Thorn St.  San Diego Stout beers win awards world wide and most of San Diego's breweries have an amazing stout available. Gotta mention Monkey Paw's Mighty Joe Young, Belching Beaver's Peanut Butter Stout and all the coffee stouts from Modern Times.

Novo Brazil Brewing Co Chula Vista

 Types of Beer

When beer tasting it’s important to understand the various types of beer. This is a very long topic but we have put together a list of some of most common beers you will run across while beer tasting San Diego.  All beer is made from four basic ingredients: hops, malted barley, yeast and water. Most craft beers have other botanicals —spices, fruit or vegetables—added to the basic beer recipe. These days there are no rules when adding ingredients to create a new amazing beer. Ginger, Habenero, Curry, Chocolate, Coffee and other flavors are something you can run across while beer tasting in San Diego.




Beer Styles Types of Beer

There are two main types of beer: Lager beer and Ale beer. There is a third rather obscure type of beer, called a Lam­bic, which is made only in Belgium, (American versions are called Wild or Spontaneous Ales) and is not as popular due to the difficulty and high cost of brewing them. San Diego has been know for its Ales, but we are starting to dominate the Lager field as well.

Beers are divided into these two categories by the kinds of yeast used during their creation and by the temperatures used to ferment the two different kinds of beer. Lagers use a yeast that ferments at cool temperatures, and Ales use a yeast that ferments at warmer temperatures.

Types of Lagers


Pale Lager:
Pale lagers have a light color and are light-bodied. They are highly carbonated and have a light taste. Mainstream examples of pale lager beers are Coors and Budweiser. Locally we have something a bit better with Bay City Brewing Company's Bay City Lager and ChuckAlek Independent Brewers Flycaster

A Pil­sner beer has a pale color like a pale lager, but is more bitter in taste. The flavors of Pil­sners are more distinctive than pale lagers. A modern Pilsner has a very light, clear colour from pale to golden yellow and a distinct hop aroma and flavor. The alcohol strength is typically around 4.5%-5% (by volume). Some great local Pilsners would be Fall Brewing Company's Plenty for all  and Heiress by Societe Brewing Company.

Light Lager:
There are two dif­fer­ent types of light lager beers. Amer­i­can light lagers use less hops and bar­ley in order to cre­ate low calo­rie beers. Euro­pean light lagers are lagers that are pale in color and light in taste. A good sample of this style would be Mission Brewery's Mission Light Lager and La Playa Citra Lager by Novo Brazil Brewing Co.

Dark Lager:
Dark lager beers are made with roasted hops and barley. This means they have a much richer fla­vor and are dark in color. They are full-bodied. Stumblefoot offers an award winning Schwarz be with you... Black Lager and Eppig Brewing Company Schwarzbier is a wonderful Black Lager..



Types of Ales

India Pale Ale:
The IPA style of beer has a whole lot going for it. First and foremost is taste, which some could argue is an acquired one. The flavor of IPA beer highlights the complex and varied results that can be achieved through hops and other beer ingredient staples. Some good examples of a world class pale ale is Stone's Enjoy by IPA Series and North Park Beer Co's Hop Fu.

Double and Tripple IPA: (AKA San Diego IPA)

Also called "American" IPA or  "Imperial" IPAs, this uniquely American style takes the craving for hops and runs with it. These usually use double or even triple the typical amount of hops, but also add more malts to balance. The resulting beer has huge hoppy highs and deep malty depths with an high ABV to match. We have some of the best double IPAs like Nelson from Alpine Beer Co, Port Brewing Co. Mongo and Green Flash's West Coast IPA. There are 100s of world class, hopped up, award winning Double IPAs through out all of San Diego.

Saisons are sturdy farmhouse ale that was traditionally brewed in the winter, to be consumed throughout the summer months. Not so long ago it was close to being an endangered style, but over recent years there's been a massive revival; especially in the US. Saison beers usually still have the great hoppy taste but with lower alcohol content . Check out Thorn St Brewing's Saison Du South Park and Ficus Saison by Mike Hess Brewing Co.

Sour beer is beer which has an intentionally acidic, tart or sour taste. The most common sour beer styles are Lambics, Gose, Gueuze, Kriek,  Berliner Weiss and Flanders red ale. Tool Box's Peachin Camaro is a must try along with Council Brewing's series of sours Beatitude tart Saison.  Can't forget Cellar 3 with their Natura Morta.



For such a geographically small country, Belgium sports quite an impressive number of beer styles - and delicious ones at that! This style can get complicated quickly and spiral out of control with variety and opinions.  Belgian beers are primarily ales with a heavy emphasis on malts and a lot of fruity yeast flavors. So American IPAs have more hops and Belgian beers have more malts. That is the simple version for beer 101. Some great beer locally that are brewed in the belgian style are The Widow a strong dark ale by Societe Brewing Company,  Anything from The Lost Abbey(Judgment Day, Inferno, Devotion) and their forever changing list of beers at Automatic Brewing Company

Red Ale:
Primarily a catch all for any beer less than a Dark Ale in color, ranging from amber to deep red hues. This style of beer tends to focus on the malts, but hop character can range from low to high. Expect a balanced beer, with toasted malt characters and a light fruitiness. One San Diego's most famous red ales is Red Trolley by Karl Strauss and gotta try Chronic by Pizza Port Ocean Beach.

Brown Ale:
Brown ale beer is red to cop­per in color and is rather mild in flavor.  Brown ales are known for additions of nuts and coffee and are commonly referred to as the most forgiving beer to brew.  Shake your Money Brown Ale by Acoustic Ales is one of the best along with Sweet Georgia Brown by Monkey Paw.


Porter beer is darker in color and is full-bodied, with the bar­ley fla­vors dom­i­nat­ing over the mild hop fla­vors. They are richly fla­vored. Some porters even taste like chocolate. A couple of great local porters worth mentioning are Vanilla Storm Porter by Rip Current Brewing which is an award winning rich, smokey dark masterpiece perfect for desert and we have to suggest Green Flash's Cosmic Ristretto Baltic Porter which is smooth and chocolaty with an espresso kick. 


Stout beer is very sim­i­lar to a porter. Stout beer is the dark­est and thick­est of the beers. The strong bar­ley and hops fla­vors pre­vail in this dark beer. San Diego is known for some amazing coffee stouts and even a Blond stout like Stones Master in Disguise. Looks like a pilsner but is rich and creamy like a stout. Keep your eyes open for Fall Brewing's 2AM Bike Ride Stout and Ale Smith's line of amazing Speedway stouts.

Wit Beer:
Wit­bier (or Wheat beer) is a beer that is brewed with a large pro­por­tion of wheat. Wheat beers often also con­tain a sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of malted bar­ley. Wheat beers are usu­ally top-fermented.The flavour of wheat beers varies con­sid­er­ably, depend­ing upon the spe­cific style.  A must try wheat beer is Wind an Sea Wheat from award winning Karl Strauss and Modern Time's Fortunate Islands.



Barrel-Aged Beer:

A wood- or barrel-aged beer is any lager, ale or hybrid beer, either a traditional style or a unique experimental beer, that has been aged for a period of time in a wooden barrel or in contact with wood. This beer is aged with the intention of imparting the unique character of the wood and/or the flavor of what has previously been in the barrel. Barrels being used in this process come from Bourbon,Tequila, Scotch, Whiskey along with red and white wine.  This is the future of Craft Brew and you will start to see beer lists that look a lot like wine lists.  Check out San Diego's own Lost Abbey and Cellar 3 to try some of the worlds finest Barrel Aged Beer. Speak Easy at Alesmith is a must. Shhh.

Cellar 3 by Green Flash Poway

 We have listed some of the most common styles you will see but there is well over 120 different beer styles world wide. For those who are interested in learning more can find some great info on beer styles at Beer Advocate.


What is a beer on Nitro?

Smooth & Creamy are two words almost always used with Nitro beers.

When people talk of nitro, it's a reference to the type of gas used in the carbonation process.  The addition of Nitrogen to a beer gives way to much smaller bubbles, creating a smoother, creamier experience. Many have experienced this with a Guinness Stout.  Beyond mouth feel, Nitro are variances in appearance and smell as well. It means the difference between the creamier nitrogen beers (N2) and their lively, prickly CO2 counterparts. A typical nitrogenated beer contains about 70 percent nitrogen and 30 percent carbon dioxide.

Fall Brewing 2am Bike Ride on Nitro( left front)


What Are Microbrews, Macro Brews and Nano Brews?

Micro­brews are beers that are brewed in small, inde­pen­dent brew­eries. They often have unique prop­er­ties to the beers because of the use of local ingre­di­ents. Micro­brew­eries often brew beer in much smaller batches, using spe­cialty ingredients.

 Bolt Brewing Co La Mesa

Here is an unofficial breakdown of how this works:

  • Macro Brewery ( Great than 6 million barrels / year )
  • Micro Brewery ( Less than 6m barrels / year )
    • Nano Brewery (Small and produces less than 200 gallons / year )
    • Brew Pub (Only brews / sells on premises only )
  • Home Brewery (non-distributed home brews)

Macro Breweries is a term usually reserved for the big corporate guys like Bud, Coors and Miller.

Production Breweries

"Production Breweries" based on their ability to distribute beer. San Diego has some of best with Stone Brewing, Coronado Brewing Co., Ale Smith, Karl Strauss and Green Flash which are in the top 50 beer producers in the US. 

Coronado Brewing Co. Main Production Brewery Bay Park

San Diego Nano Breweries

San Diego has some amazing Nano Breweries and Brewpubs. These are beers you can not find anywhere else but here. This is where you can really appreciate the beer your having because it may be a while before you see it again. Nano breweries have a major advantage and that it costs much less to experiment with new flavors and try new ideas. San Diego Nano Breweries can be found all over San Diego. Some worth mentioning are Council Brewing, Kilowatt Brewing, Intergalactic Brewing, Amplified Ale Works and Monkey Paw.

Kilowatt Brewing Co Kearny Mesa

Tast­ing Beer

Most San Diego Breweries offer a sampling of their beers called a "Flight". A flight usually has between 3 and 6 small pour samples of the beers offered. Most breweries let you choose which beers to add to your flight while others may just offer a select few or what is known as their "Core" beers.  Flights are usually fairly inexpensive and great way to try new amazing beer styles.  Here is Beer Advocate's rules for Tasting Beer and it works for us.


Take pause and marvel at its greatness before you partake of it. Raise the beer in front of you, but don't hold your beer to direct light as this will dilute its true color. Describe its color, its head and its consistency.
Swirl your beer, gently in the glass. This will pull out aromas, slight nuances, loosen & stimulate carbonation and test head retention.
90-95% of what you experience is through you sense of smell. Breathe thru your nose with two quick sniffs, then with your mouth open, then thru your mouth only (nose and mouth are connected in the experience). Let olfaction guide you. Agitate again if need be, and ensure that you are in an area that has no overpowering aromas. Enjoy its bouquet.

Now sip the beer. Resist swallowing immediately. Let it wander and explore your entire palate. Let your taste buds speak. Note the mouthfeel, the consistency of the liquid's body, and breathe out during the process of tasting. This process of exhaling is called "retro-olfaction" and will release retained stimulations at the mucus and mouthfeel level, but at a higher temperature. At times this will be the same as the olfactory process if not different and complimentary. Try to detect any sweetness, salty flavors, acids and general bitterness. Explain what they are, or what they are similar to.

Also, try tasting the beer after it warms a bit (just a bit mind you). Really cold beer tends to mask some of the flavors. As a beer warms, its true flavors will pull through, become more pronounced.


Council Brewing Co Kearny Mesa

How to Pair Beer and Food

In gen­eral, it’s good to pair foods of like heav­i­ness and fla­vor with like beers. This is the process fol­lowed by most beer con­nois­seurs. When you are drink­ing a beer you like a great deal, take some time to think about what food might com­ple­ment the fla­vors nat­u­rally occur­ring in the beer. Take a sip of beer, close your eyes as you roll the beer around in your mouth, swal­low and see what types of food come to mind.

Food and Beer Pairings

The fol­low­ing are com­mon beer and food pairings that are just suggestions. There are no rules that have to be followed here:

IPAs, Fish Tacos
San Diego is know for great weather, world class west coast ales and mouth watering fish tacos. Being a border city we have our share of quality taco shops offering the best fish tacos around. Try a local IPA to wash them down. In San Diego we will tell you the IPA and Double IPA is good with everything. If the IPA is to strong try a pilsner or saison beer.

Light Beer, Spicy Food
Lighter ales and lagers go best with spicy foods. Heavy beers will make the meal too oppres­sive for the taste buds, and com­plex beers will be lost once your taste buds are met by the spicy food.

Brown Ale, Brown Food
Brown ales go great with mush­room gravies, beef dishes and wild game. Meatloaf and burgers are a good fit too.

Porter Beer, Heavy Stew
Try a porter with a thick cut pork shop and apples or a steak with with caramelized onion jam.

Dry Stout/Oysters
There’s noth­ing like shuck­ing a plate of oys­ters while enjoy­ing a glass of stout.

Sweet Stout/Sweet Dessert
Pair a sweet stout with a rich dessert like choco­late cheese­cake or with some our local Andrea's Truffles!

A pil­sner is great with a plate of fried shrimp or crab cakes and fish tacos..

Amber Beer/Pizza
Bring out the amber beer when you’re serv­ing up a home­made Chicago-style deep dish pizza.


Amplified Ale Works Pacific Beach


There is much more to discover in the world of craft brew. We are just touching the tip of the iceberg. These basics should be good start for anyone looking to go out and try some craft beer in San Diego.