San Diego Beer History

San Diego Brewing for over 100 years!

Brewing is nothing new to San Diego as there have been great brewers here for a long time. Of course nothing compares to the latest boom in craft beer with over 150 breweries and more on the way. Here are some facts on the history of brewers in San Diego.
Some Wiki facts:
The San Diego Brewing Company opened in 1896 as the first commercial brewery in San Diego County; Alonzo Horton, the father of modern San Diego, was one of the founders. At the time it was the largest manufacturing enterprise in the county. It was located on 32nd street in San Diego. It closed in 1920 because of Prohibition. It reopened in 1935 and continued in operation until 1942, when it was displaced by the U.S. Navy's 32nd Street Naval Station. A brewpub by the same name now operates in the Mission Valley neighborhood today.

San Diego Brewing Company 1896


The enforcement law, commonly known as the Volstead Act, passed Congress on October 29, 1919, and prohibition officially went into effect on January 17, 1920. The national prohibition experiment was in effect for 13 years from 1920 to 1933.

Mission Brewery, located in the Middletown neighborhood of San Diego, opened in 1913 and closed due to Prohibition. It was never reopened as Mission Brewery. The landmark five-story brick building was re purposed several times, for kelp extraction until the 1980s and ultimately becoming an office building, still in operation and is now the home of LatchKey Brewing. The Mission Brewery building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989] The name Mission Brewery was revived in 2007 by a new brewery located in Downtown San Diego.

Mission Brewery Building 1915

The Aztec Brewing Company was founded in Mexicali in 1921 as Cerveceria Azteca SA. During Prohibition it helped to supply Americans with the beer they could not legally buy in the United States. The company moved to San Diego in 1933, following the repeal of Prohibition, and became San Diego's largest brewery. It was located on Main Street in Barrio Logan. It featured a large Rathskeller, or basement beer hall, decorated with murals, paintings, and woodcarvings by Jose Moya del Pino. By 1944 Aztec was the only brewery still operating in Southern California. The company was purchased by Altes Brewing Company in 1948; Altes was then bought by the National Brewing Company, which closed Aztec Brewing Company in 1953. For the next 36 years there was no local commercially brewed beer in San Diego County. The name Aztec Brewing Company has been revived in a Vista brewery which opened in 2011.

Aztec Bottling beer 1937

Before Prohibition there had been seven breweries in San Diego. After repeal there were three: Aztec Brewing Company, San Diego Brewing Company, and Balboa Brewing Company. These were soon either purchased by the Big Three national brewing companies (Anheuser-Busch, Coors, and Miller) or driven out of business by the aggressive marketing practices of the Big Three. From 1953 until the 1980s the local beer market was dominated by the large national brewers, with the alternative being imported beer from Mexico. But changes in national and state law in the late 1970s made home brewing legal, and in 1982 California allowed breweries to operate restaurants on their premises, which made brewpubs possible.


Balboa Brewing Co Employees 1933


The first brewery that opened post prohibition in San Diego was Bolt Brewery which was founded by Paul Holborn. Paul and his assistant brewer Clint Stromberg opened Bolt Brewery located in Fallbrook in 1987and it was open for less than a year. Stromberg revived the legendary Brewery in 2014 located in La Mesa Ca. Bolt Brewery  currently has a tasting room in Little Italy.  In 1989 the Karl Strauss Brewing Company opened a brewery and brewpub on Columbia Street in Downtown San Diego and expanded into distribution brewing in 1991. Karl Strauss gets the credit for opening the first commercial brewery in San Diego since 1953. (Technically is was Bolt in 87)

For many San Diego consumers it was their first exposure to freshly brewed beer and to styles such as amber lager and pale ale. In the mid-1990s a second, more adventurous wave of craft breweries appeared, led by Pizza Port, Stone and Alesmith. The local craft beer movement was inspired in part by homebrewing hobbyists, supported by the storefront Home Brew Mart, which opened in 1992 and later spun off the Ballast Point Brewing Company.

Beer festivals like the Real Ale Festival, launched in 1997 by Tomme Arthur (Pizza Port / Lost Abbey) and Tom Nickel (Current owner of Nickel Brewing in Julian and O'Brien's Pub Kearny Mesa), promoted the new styles and educated a new generation of beer drinkers. By 2004 San Diego was so well established in the brewing world that the biennial World Beer Cup competition was held there; 11 medals (out of more than 200) went to locals. San Diego hosted the event again in 2008, taking 14 medals, and in 2012, taking 16 medals.

The Great American Beer Festival's "Best Small Brewer" Award has gone to San Diego County brewers multiple times: 2004 (Tomme Arthur for Pizza Port Solana Beach), 2007 (Arthur for Port Brewing / Lost Abbey), 2008 (Alesmith), and 2011 (Yiga Miyashiro, Pizza Port Ocean Beach). Pizza Port Carlsbad won the Best Large Brewpub award in 2009, 2010, and 2011.The World Beer Cup's biennial "Best Small Brewer" award went to San Diego County Brewers in 2004 (Tom Nickel for Oggi's Pizza and Brewing), 2008 (Arthur for Port Brewing / Lost Abbey), 2010 (Ballast Point), and 2014 (Coronado Brewing Company).

In 2013–14 the San Diego History Center featured a special exhibit on the history of beer in the county, titled "Bottled and Kegged: San Diego's Craft Beer Culture."

The 2015 U.S. Beer Championship, held this year in Oxford, Ohio -- crowned our own

Ballast Point Brewing as its 2015 Grand National Champion US Beer Championships.

Ballast Point won three gold medals and one silver. Ballast Point Pale Ale, Calico Amber Ale and Sculpin IPA won gold

That closed the deal for Ballast Point being purchased for 1 Billion Dollars by Constellation Brands Inc. Nov 16, 2015.

San Diego is now considered a craft beer mecca and one of the best craft beer cities in the world!

Brewbies Beer Festival Bagby Brewing Co. 2015

Beer styles

San Diego County brewers produce the full range of craft beers, but they are best known for strongly-hopped, high-alcohol beers such as India Pale Ale (IPA), and particularly for an even stronger, hoppier style known as Double IPA. Double IPA beers are made with intensely aromatic, bitter hops, which result in a very bitter beer. A standard mass-produced American beer scores less than 20 on the International Bitterness Units (IBU) scale; an average IPA scores about 60 IBU; and a double IPA commonly scores 100 IBU or higher. The style was pioneered by brewer Vinnie Cilurzo at the now-defunct Blind Pig Brewery in Temecula in 1994; nowadays almost every brewery in San Diego County produces a double IPA. Double IPA has been called San Diego's signature beer, and some people refer to Double IPA beers as San Diego Pale Ale.

Economic impact

As of Sept 2015 the county is home to over 115 licensed breweries and brewpubs, with many more in the planning stages. Brewing has been one of the fastest-growing business sectors in San Diego, with seven new licenses issued in 2010, fifteen in 2011 and eighteen in 2012. In 2011 the county's brewers and brew pubs generated $300 million in direct economic impact to the county, making $600 million in sales and generating or sustaining 2,800+ jobs. In addition, beer-related tourism is an important part of San Diego County's visitor industry throughout the year,, the county is described as a "beer city destination". Many breweries offer tours of their facilities and tasting rooms, and dozens of commercial tour operators market "beer tours" in San Diego County.

Stone Brewhouse modern day


California Impact

The California craft beer is a $6.5 billion industry, according to new data released by the California Craft Brewers Association (CCBA). As of March 2015 there were 554 operating breweries in California, more than any other state in the nation. 

“Over the past few years we’ve seen consistent growth in the craft beer industry both here in California and across the nation,” said Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association.  “Last year was by far the strongest upward trend we’ve seen, an amazing year for craft brewing in California.”

California is the birthplace of the American craft brewing movement and at the forefront of the industry’s growth. California produces one out of every five craft beers produced in the United States.

“California craft brewers play an important role in supporting the economic engine in California,” said McCormick. “The CCBA’s initiatives continue to promote and protect the growth of the craft brewing industry in California.”


Economic Impact – In 2014 Craft beer contributed more than $6.5 billion to the economy of California. That’s up 18% from 2013.  The craft beer industry in California has a higher economic impact than any other state in the U.S.

Employment – In 2014 the craft beer industry created more than 48,000 jobs.

Growth – During 2014 the number of operating breweries grew by more than 24% giving us a total of 520 operating breweries in California at the end of 2014.

Taxes – In 2014 California craft brewers paid more than $56 million in State and federal excise taxes and paid more than $1.3 billion in income and other local, state and federal taxes ($880 million in state and local income taxes and $465 in federal income taxes).

Production Volume – California craft brewers produced 3.4 Million barrels of beer in 2014.

Exports – California craft brewers exported 1.3 million barrels of beer in 2014. That’s still higher than the total production of all but two other states (PA and CO)

As of April 2016 the county was home to 123 licensed breweries and brewpubs, with several dozen more in the planning stages. Brewing has been one of the fastest-growing business sectors in San Diego, with seven new licenses issued in 2010, fifteen in 2011 and eighteen in 2012.  In 2015 the county's brewers generated $851 million in sales, a 17% increase over 2014. More than 4,500 people worked in the brewing industry, a 20% increase over 2014. Beer-related tourism is an important part of San Diego County's visitor industry throughout the year; the county is described as a "beer city destination" and "The Capital of Craft". 

  At the end of 2015 San Diego's own Ballast Point was purchased for 1 Billion Dollars by Constellation Brands who has distributed major Mexican beer brands including Corona, Modelo and Pacifico. Best known for its wine brands, the Constellation portfolio includes Robert Mondavi, New Zealand’s Kim Crawford and, as of this summer, the Pinot Noir label Meiomi. This purchase will be the company’s first incursion into the world of craft beer.

This is the second big San Diego brewery to go big this year; Saint Archer sold to MillerCoors in September. The Ballast Point news comes just a few months after the sale or partial sale of the Petaluma’s Lagunitas Brewing Company, Firestone Walker in Paso Robles and Golden Road Brewing in Los Angeles. Brewery wars begin. Stones Greg Koch vows to never sell out and will start a group of investors to support breweries looking for to be bought. 

2016 was a great year for San Diego craft beer with huge presence of local tasting rooms starting in Ocean Beach are making Ocean Beach the new craft beer hot sport. There were new amazing breweries opening like  North Park's own Eppig Brewing, North Park Beer Co and El Cajon's Burning Beard.  2016 was another great year for big awards, 18 total awards at GABF with  Karl Strauss taking home 4 medals including best Mid Sized Brewery in the US.

San Diego is still going strong at making more craft beer history. As of February 2018 San Diego is home to 151 Craft Breweries and still even more be being planned for opening this year.