By Frank Sabatini Jr.
The name dates back to 1896, when San Diego Brewing Company opened on a parcel of land that eventually became part of the 32nd Street Naval Base. With a capacity to produce 75,000 barrels of amber beer, the brewery ranked as the largest manufacturing enterprise in the region.
Mission Brewery emerged several years later, proving that craft beer resides in San Diego’s DNA and that it isn’t a recent phenomenon invented by millennial hipsters.
San Diego Brewing Company has fueled the craze twice; from its birth until shutting down in 1942, and from its reincarnation as a brewery-restaurant in 1993 to now.
More recently, the company’s modern-day owners opened a tasting room and offshoot brewing facility at 3052 El Cajon Blvd. in North Park to augment the production of more than a dozen core and seasonal beers as well as a rather pleasant tasting berry kombucha.
But only at the brewery’s Grantville location, fronted by Einstein Bros. Bagels in a busy strip plaza, will you find classic bar food to pair with your beer — and plenty of it.
Dropping in for a sudsy lunch with a devoted fan of the place, we charged up our appetites with a sampler quartet plus a few additional beers from the company’s diverse portfolio.
The Lefty Ruse Belgian tripel is “trouble in a glass,” as described by general manager Karen Bernauer. Indeed, the palate is coddled by a smooth honey finish that effectively hides the devilish 9.2 alcohol content.
An Irish stout called Rain Dog delivered the expected flavor of roasted malts followed by a lovely, bitter finish. Conversely, the Blueberry Wheat beer made with extract delivered a summery, fruity flavor right up front. Think of a blueberry muffin minus the added sugar.
If you forgot what IPAs tasted like before brewers unleashed mega doses of hops into their products, then look no further than the San Diego IPA. It’s refreshingly gentle and pretty much complements everything on the food menu, from assorted pizzas using house-made dough and chicken wings sold in various quantities to fish tacos, charbroiled burgers, baby back ribs and more.
We started with an order of borderline-crispy wings, choosing Buffalo-style sauce over barbecue, sweet Thai chili, suicide and several other options. But it was the beer cheese soup served in a sourdough bread bowl that sent me over the moon at the start our meal.
Made with vegetable stock, cheddar and the company’s Kolsch Gold beer, it’s like fondue that stays creamier for much longer compared to wine-based versions.
My lunch companion steered me in the right direction when perusing the burger list. The result was a flame-grilled beef patty cooked medium and topped with guacamole, pepper jack cheese and jalapenos. It paired swimmingly with nearly every beer on our table.
We also shared a plate of fish and chips. The beer batter encasing the cod was a tad salty, but all three filets were meaty and flaky. And the french fries and fresh coleslaw were generously portioned.
If you come knocking for pizza, the choices are vast when building your own. Three types of crust are available: white, whole wheat and gluten-free. There are also seven sauces and a lengthy list of toppings to choose from, such as pulled pork, andouille sausage, eggs, various vegetables and (gasp!) pineapple.
Among the daily specials is “wing night” from 7 to 10 p.m. every Wednesday, when the wings sell for 65 cents each in multiples of five. There are also deals on house beers, well drinks, wine and food during happy hour, from 4 to 6 p.m. on weekdays.
San Diego Brewing Company flaunts dozens of taps, some of them offering beers from other craft breweries.
For a peek at what’s available in real time, visit the brewery’s live tap list at sandiegobrewing.com.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.