Despite recent talk of takeovers, sellouts and nasty hashtags, the independent beer industry has a generally inclusive atmosphere—“99% asshole free,” according to Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione’s famous quip. That makes it jarring, and weirdly refreshing, to read the succinct, smart and occasionally irreverent observations in Brandon Hernández’s guide to San Diego beer establishments.
That isn’t to say that those occasional harsh judgments are unfounded. Hernández, a long-time journalist for publications like The San Diego Reader, The Los Angeles Times and Imbibe, and this magazine, applied a thorough, objective metric for evaluating each establishment that takes into account beer quality, service, setting and value-added extras like tours, festivals or flights. He also called upon an expert panel that numbers in the dozens and includes bar owners, Cicerones, professional brewers and avid fans.
The result? When he praises a newer establishment like the Nickel Beer Co. and Council Brewing Co., the hopeful beer tourist bookmarks them immediately. He also includes glowing commendations of long-time staples like Pizza Port’s Solana Beach outpost and Stone’s World Bistro, and as for Societe, of which he says, “This crowd favorite is one of San Diego’s best … period”? Period. Done and done.
It also makes his write-offs of other unfortunate breweries all the more cutting, as when he writes of one that it is “a long-standing nothing brand building off the sophomoric spirit of a variety-pack staple from way too long ago,” in a masterful example of both a stinging put-down and an exercise in subordinate adjectival clauses.
But with 104 beer-drinking establishments and counting, San Diego’s scene could use some weeding out. Hernández is the man to do it, and if you’re planning on drinking any beer in sunny SoCal, this Complete Guide to San Diego Breweries (San Diego Reader Books, Paperback, $11.99, 295 pp) deserves a place in your carry-on.