Things have slowed down a bit brewery-wise over the past few months, but they have by no means stopped. New breweries are still opening up—albeit at a slower pace—and many new ventures are renovating existing spaces and moving into facilities that have become available as previous breweries have moved, closed, or changed hands.
Here’s a trio of small, inviting brewery/tasting rooms (worthy of a visit) that have recently opened to the public:
Northern Pine Brewing (Oceanside)
Over the course of the past few years, the Oceanside brewing scene has been one of the most dynamic in all of San Diego County. By my count, O’side now has nine breweries, which includes the addition of the recently opened Northern Pine Brewing. Located on Horne Street just off the I-5 freeway, this brewery helps to expand the downtown Oceanside beer map beyond Coast Highway, which, so far, has been the nexus of all things sudsy near the water.
The Northern Pine tasting room is large and airy, with a nice long bar, plenty of seating, and tables that can accommodate a wide variety of parties. The furnishings are not fancy, but the big roll-up window and the high ceilings make the place feel light and roomy, with plenty of options for couples or large groups. Also part of the space is a small BBQ food counter that offers a limited (but tasty) selection of beef, pork, and chicken from the smoker in addition to cornbread, fries, collard greens, coleslaw, and a bunch of other down-home goodness (Frito pie!).
The beer lineup at Northern Pine is an impressive mix of styles, some of which—E.S.B, Rye Porter, and California Common, to name a few—are not well-represented in most San Diego tasting rooms. Of particular note is the Golden Horizons IPA, which has heady aromas of lemon and tropical fruit on the nose balanced by low hop bitterness; the Rye God Porter, which emanates smoky coffee and dark chocolate on the nose with a light lactic sweetness on the finish; and the Hooked on Necropolis Dark Saison, which has rich aromas of banana, clove, and tropical fruit balanced with just the right amount of maltiness—it’s an especially well-crafted beer that’s clean, crisp, and easy to drink. And dark saison? You don’t see that in many places.
Latchkey Brewing (Midtown; Mission Brewery Plaza)
Talk about reimagining a previously inhabited space: The new location for Latchkey Brewing has seen more than its share of tenants through the years. In fact, Mission Brewery Plaza—downtown near the airport—is an historic location for many reasons. It takes its name from one of San Diego’s most prominent pre-Prohibition breweries (today’s Mission Brewery is downtown on 14th and L, near Petco), but the site has also been home to a substantial amount of current-day San Diego brewing history as well. Over the course of the past two decades or so, Mission Brewery Plaza has been a brewing home to such luminaries as Coronado, Five Points, New English, and Acoustic Ales in addition to its newest resident.
The Latchkey team has simplified the space that previously housed the Acoustic tasting room, providing more of an open, airy feeling that highlights the fairly cozy copper-topped bar. According to Latchkey management, the adjoining outdoor plaza space will soon be outfitted with tables and umbrellas, and after that, a small empanada kitchen is planned for inside the tasting room. The tasting room itself will also eventually expand its footprint by utilizing what is currently back storage space.
The opening tap lineup at Latchkey is modest in number and does not stray too far from straightforward, mostly hoppy styles. The beers are all well made—nicely balanced, clean, and easy to drink (all selections were 6.5% ABV or lower). Of particular note are the highly aromatic and nicely bittered Dank Diggler IPA and the Squeak Pale Ale, which has lovely citrus and tropical aromas, good fresh hop flavors, and a mellow low-bitterness finish. The brewing team (which includes a couple of Ballast Point alums) plans to add a selection of traditional German styles, Belgians, and various kinds of sours as they grow into their space, so stay tuned. My prediction is these folks are worth keeping an eye on.
Council Brewing Co. (Santee)
Lately, trying to keep all of San Diego’s tasting rooms and breweries straight can feel a little like a game of musical chairs, and Council’s newest location (their first satellite) only compounds that feeling. This tasting room, on Prospect Street, was actually home to the original Manzanita when it was Santee’s first official craft brewery. When Manzanita expanded and moved across the street, Butcher’s Brewing took over. Within a year or so, Butcher’s decided to re-brand itself, so they busted through the walls, doubled the tasting space, built a brand-new brewhouse, and announced they were now called Finest Made Ales. A year or so later, Finest Made called it quits and that presented the perfect opportunity for the folks at Council to expand. And that brings us to today: This weekend (June 8-10), Council will mark their latest milestone with a grand opening celebration that includes the special release of their Fourth Anniversary beer, which is an Imperial Sour Brown Ale aged in Cabernet barrels with Balaton cherries (rich, delicious, and stunningly complex). The new tasting room will also make its debut with a large selection of Council’s impressively varied and multi-colored offerings, which include their stellar mixed fermentation fruited beers and unique barrel-aged beers as well as their “straightforward” hoppy brews, like Gavel Drop and Bully Pulpit IPAs, and the excellent Questionable Advice Double Dry-Hopped Hazy IPA.
Co-founder Curtis Chism says the Santee facility will enable Council to significantly expand its production beers and will fuel growth of packaged products while it also makes the company’s taps available to an entirely new East County community. “I remember being at this location for the first anniversary of Manzanita,” Curtis recalls. “If you had told me then that seven years later we’d be opening our second location here, I would have thought you were crazy. But here we are!”