Hot coffee beers
New English Brewing Company, Zumbar Chocolate Coffee Imperial Stout — 9.3% ABV
Made in collaboration with Sorrento Valley neighbor and coffee roaster Zumbar, this reigning gold-medal coffee beer parlays a blend of Indonesian and Latin American beans into a dark, luscious stout made all the richer with Belgian chocolate.
AleSmith Brewing Company, Speedway Stout — 12.0% ABV
Strong, dark, and smooth, this longtime gold standard inspires devoted fanship across the country, to the point limited releases of it prompt bottle-trading frenzy among beer geeks online.
Fall Brewing, 2am Bike Ride — 5.0% ABV
Fall also teamed up with a coffee-roasting neighbor to produce this coffee-and-vanilla-bean stout. The Dark Horse coffee integrates seamlessly with the roasted malts, and the vanilla smooths it out brilliantly.
Saint Archer, Coffee Cream Porter — 6.5% ABV
Not a lot of coffee beers effectively capture a single-origin coffee’s nuanced palette of flavors. Saint Archer’s second collaboration with Bird Rock Coffee Roasters does so. The Bolivian beans to express a little terroir, with some creamy vanilla to smooth out any rough edges.
Bodacious blondes and killer cream ales
Guadalupe Brewing Company, El Vainillo — 5.5% ABV
Guadalupe brought this smooth, malty, and vanilla beverage north when it moved its base from Baja to Carlsbad. Given the ale’s great taste and popularity in Baja-Med restaurants, it seems a wise move.
Mother Earth Brew Co., Cali Creamin — 5.2% ABV
One of the Vista brewery’s most popular beers is its honey-malted vanilla cream ale. Close your eyes while you’re drinking it and you might flashback to being a kid drinking cream soda.
Mike Hess Brewing, Grazias Vienna Cream Ale — 6.3% ABV
Make sure you read that right — this one says Vienna, not vanilla. As in the amber Austrian lager that inspired it. Hess takes it darker, smoother, and creamier, complementing its toasted malt characteristics with hints of chocolate and vanilla. It also made a great coffee beer with the help of Swell Coffee roasters.
Before American craft picked up the baton and ran with it, Belgium had the most diverse brewing culture on the planet. In San Diego, things have come full circle, as many brewers seek to replicate and put their own take on the Belgian styles that inspire them.
Rip Current Brewing, Body Surfing Blonde — 7.0% ABV
They’re great at IPAs, but the winners of the “Very Small Brewery of the Year” award at the Great American Beer Festival earned the honor by nailing some Belgian and German styles. This deceptively simple ale won a gold medal this year and exemplifies the lowland nation’s penchant for clean yet flavorful beer.
URBN St. Brewing Co., Saison — 6.9% ABV
Many local breweries craft this style of Belgian farmhouse ale, but this one best keeps the telltale phenols under control, resulting in a light body and subtly spicy, grassy, and fruity flavors. Must be why it earned a medal at the Great American Beer Festival.
Green Flash Brewing Company, Le Freak — 9.2% ABV
Green Flash kicked off the Belgium-meets–West Coast concept with this heavy hitter that dry hops Amarillo over Belgian yeast strains in a Tripel style strong ale. Each style expresses hints of fruit in a slightly different way, and this smooth drinker shows off both with aplomb.
Stone Brewing Co., Cali-Belgique — 6.9% ABV
Stone ramped up the Belgian IPA concept with this impressively hoppy ale the brewery describes as an “otherwise identical twin to Stone IPA that was raised in a Belgian culture. Literally.”
Lost Abbey, Devotion Ale — 6.3% ABV
Lost Abbey brought Belgian style to our collective attention, and a dozen of their beers could rightfully be named in this category as the best. But in keeping with the theme, I chose this dry-hopped pale ale, which used European hop varietals for low-key grassy characteristics. It’s nothing like an IPA with Belgian influence — more like a Belgian with a touch of IPA influence.
Great German styles
Rip Current Brewing, Night Surf Munich Dunkel — 5.0% ABV
Bavarian purity laws limit the ingredients Munich brewers may use, and therefore the outcome. This dark lager is one of the region’s more interesting, favoring caramel and chocolate malt characteristics along with the usual breadiness. This well-crafted example delivers fantastic malt flavor without being overbearing. Delicious.
Mission Brewery, Mission Blonde — 5.0% ABV
This Kölsch style beer is all about subtlety — you won’t be overwhelmed by malts, hops, or yeast characteristics. Rather, it all melds into a delicate, clean drink that novice and expert beer drinkers alike may enjoy.
Societe Brewing Company, The Bachelorette — 5.4% ABV
Societe’s Bachelor series takes a single IPA recipe and gives it a different single hop so fans may appreciate the slightly different flavor with each seasonal release. With the Bachelorette, they’ve applied the same approach to a lager, and it can be fantastic, giving a style most Americans grew up drinking a touch of added character, highlighting the different directions such a beer can go.
Stumblefoot Brewing Company, Schwartz Be With You — 5.0% ABV
Starting with its sweet-tart aroma, this multiple medal-winning black lager takes you many different places. There’s an essence of dried fruits in the fruity acidity, and despite its dark complexion, it drinks light and crisp, with earthy and roast-malt character.
Port Brewing Company, Port Pils — 5.5% ABV
Port describes this as an “homage to the traditional German Pilsner,” a style that drinks so clean you might miss it. At the far end of the spectrum from the hoppy full-flavored beers the city’s known for, great pilsners are tougher to make than macro breweries would have you believe. This one registers crisp, with light citrus and bready malts — not quite Bavarian, but fantastic for summer by the beach.
Wonderful Wheat beers
Lightning Brewery, Thunderwiezen — 5.5% ABV
This unfiltered hef comes courtesy of the Poway brewery that puts a lot of stock in German styles. Its thick body and citrus-over-banana tartness is as pleasurable to drink as its nearly opaque golden orange color is a pleasure to pour.
Ballast Point Brewing Company, Wahoo White — 4.5% ABV
Another unfiltered wheat, this hailing from the Belgian white beer style, pours a cloudy light yellow and features orange rind and coriander notes to complement the lemony citrus conveyed by unmalted wheat and oats.
Bay Bridge Brewing, Wolf Canyon Wheat — 5.0% ABV
Opting for an American-style wheat, Chula Vista’s Bay Bridge took gold in 2012 at the San Diego International competition, and still drinks like a winner. A sly hop character punches up the crisp finish on a beer that drinks a little juicier than the aforementioned wheats.
Saint Archer Brewery, White Ale — 5.0% ABV
Say what you will about selling to big beer — Saint Archer’s white took gold at Great American last year and remains an excellent go-to summer drink. Lightly tart, with hints of fruit under a layer of spice, it refreshes without boring the tastebuds.
Modern Times Beer, Fortunate Islands — 5.0% ABV
One of its core beers from the outset, this hoppy take on a wheat ale delivers tropical fruity complexity along with some wheaty tartness, and a robust layer of hops to tempt the San Diego palate. A recent grapefruit-zested rendition added to the allure of this hybrid style that should probably be more prevalent.