With more breweries than ever calling San Diego County home -- 70-plus, with more than 30 in planning stages as of this year -- it's no surprise that San Diego Beer Week, which runs Nov. 1-10, is one of the most intense beer celebrations in the country.
Since 2009, for 10 days a year, the country's most notorious beer culture gets an even bigger dedicated spotlight, with every single craft beer–loving establishment in the area hosting something, from basic tap takeovers to beer-pairing dinners. This year, more than 20,000 people from across North America are expected to descend upon San Diego to experience all that the region's rich beer culture has to offer. And with Los Angeles' own beer personality still in its infancy, this week was built for a mini road trip to a land more commonly known as the Holy Grail of Beer Cities.
But where to even begin with a festival this monstrous? If you thought the Los Angeles Beer Week events this year was an overwhelming slough of opportunities to try local beer, try sifting through San Diego Beer Week's list of an estimated 600-plus craft beer events. After pouring over the massive calendar of happenings from North County to North Park, we found five special events that will make the two-hour drive worth every minute.
5. Beer U: Craft Beer in San Diego, Tuesday, Nov. 5
Need a primer on the San Diego beer scene? Or just want an update on what's going on down there? This is the event for you. Ken Wright -- Stone's so-called Minister of Evangelism and Indoctrination -- will host a night of education about the region's major players and up-and-comers. Stalwarts such as Ballast Point, Port Brewing and Alesmith will be discussed alongside newcomers Rip Current, Monkey Paw and Mike Hess Brewing. Samples from each will be provided, giving attendees a palate full of local flavor. Beer U: Craft Beer in San Diego, $32, 7 p.m.-9 p.m., Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens at Liberty Station, 2816 Historic Decatur Road, San Diego.
4. California Love: SoCal vs. NorCal IPA Battle Royale, Wednesday, Nov. 6
Hopheads unite! This one's for you. West Coast IPA is a mega hop-forward variation on the style now synonymous with California brewers, but the state is a pretty big place and on this night, beers from palate-wrecking San Diego will go head to head with those from balance-driven NorCal. Urge Gastropub will put 12 of these bad boys on for the night and dole out two taster flights, which will be served blind. Vote on your favorite and at the end of the night, see who the real IPA kings are. This is a great warm-up to Mohawk Bend's inaugural Los Angeles IPA Festival, which starts Nov. 17. 5-11:45 p.m., Urge Gastropub, 16761 Bernardo Center Drive, San Diego.
3. The Lost Abbey Ultimate Box Set Listening Party, Monday, Nov. 4
The title of most ambitious and craziest rare beer release in recent history might go to the Lost Abbey's Tomme Arthur, who earlier this year released his "The Ultimate Box Set," an actual musician's road case filled with bottles so rare, they had never before left the brewery. Starting in January 2012, the San Marcos brewery began releasing specially brewed fruit beers, wood-aged sours and an assortment of spontaneously fermented ales -- all with names inspired by classic rock songs -- that were available for on-site consumption only. Eventually, 500 bottles of each ended up in these special box sets, which were sold for $450 each to those lucky enough to have a connection. On this night, all 13 beers will be opened for an intimate tasting at Noble Experiment, the 45-capacity speakeasy hidden behind a false door inside one of the Gaslamp's best beer bars. The Lost Abbey Ultimate Box Set Listening Party, $50, 7 p.m., Noble Experiment inside Neighborhood, 777 G. St., San Diego.
2. Best Damn Sour Fest 3, Saturday, Nov. 9
Los Angeles gets spoiled every other year with Beachwood BBQ's epic, weeklong Sour Fest, but just because we had some of the world's best tart beers pouring in our own backyard a few months ago doesn't mean that there isn't room to drink even more of them. At the end of San Diego Beer Week, the Beer Co. in collaboration with the Best Damn Beer Shop are again presenting their Best Damn Sour Fest event, a night of 50-plus kegs of puckering beers from around the world. A ticket gets you 10 taster pours of rare beers from Cantillon, Russian River, Cascade, Crooked Stave, the Bruery and more, so choose your battles wisely. Best Damn Sour Fest 3, 5:30-8:30 p.m, $60 advance, $65 at the door, the Beer Co., 602 Broadway, San Diego. (619) 232-6367.
1. San Diego Brewer's Guild Festival, Saturday, Nov. 2
Start off San Diego Beer Week right at what may be one of the country's best regional beerfests. A VIP Brewers Takeover event is scheduled for Friday evening as an informal first part to this festival, but we still prefer to go on Saturday when 50-plus breweries pour seasonal, specialty and rare beers under blue skies on a pier that overlooks the beautiful San Diego Bay. Local food vendors also are slated to set up shop. Last year, the mayor even stopped by to tap a ceremonial Karl Strauss firkin. VIP Brewers Takover, 2-5 p.m., Port Pavilion on Broadway Pier, 1000 N. Harbor Drive, San Diego.
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BONUS: Beer Museums!
Never thought beer would make it into museums? Think again. Only in San Diego would the world's oldest fermented beverage get the academic treatment, with not one but TWO exhibitions dedicated to the world's oldest fermented beverage. Visit the San Diego Museum of Man's "Beerology" first. It's a historical glimpse at beer's path -- according to the exhibit -- "from hunter-gatherers to hipsters," which explores how beer has affected agriculture, writing, religion and more throughout the centuries. Afterwards, visit the San Diego History Center, where an exhibit called "Bottled & Kegged: San Diego Craft Beer Culture" takes a more local approach to the subject, with a comprehensive look at beer in the Southern California city from pre-Prohibition to the experimental and highly influential breweries that today dot its landscape. Beerology at San Diego Museum of Man, through summer 2014, and Bottled & Kegged: San Diego Craft Beer Culture at the San Diego History Center, through Jan. 20.
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