Here’s why the craft-beer scene in San Diego county — home of the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines — has no equal

Every day feels like a weekend when you live in the microbrew capital of the world.

Shana Novak

A well-poured draft and comfortable barstool is the precise recipe for professionals of a certain age to remember the 5-cent and 10-cent lagers they enjoyed around the time of their first shave. Beer was simple then, even if my own engagements with dearly departed mugs o’ fun began in the 35-cent era. Still, at that steep price, mi amigo Caveman and I had plenty enough dosh from his job at a drive-in movie theater and mine looping at the Road to slurp Pabst and play shuffleboard until last call at 02:00.

None of us perceived beer as boring in the day, but we erred in thinking that just because it was cold and cheap it had reached perfection. Yuengling Lager was brewed less than 50 miles from where I grew up, but it was served in few bars in Philly at the time, and my father pronounced it tasted like yak urine. Today, of course, Yuengling is enjoyed by tipplers across our 50 states united, and in his later years even me da would happily slake with one.

In the staid yesteryear of beer, Yuengling was different to Philly taste buds in an age when different was bad (in more ways than one) and change was unwelcome. Even rebels like Caveman and I thought we were living life on the edge by crushing Moosehead. It’s from Canada! That’s like 300 miles away!

At the time of said recollection, I was catching up with Captain Ron, another first mate and professional who moved to San Diego — America’s biggest navy town — from New York a few years back.

“Ahoy, Cap,” said I. “Did you know the U.S. Open is going to be in your neck of the woods this summer?”

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Not a golfer, Captain Ron was unaware but could scarcely hide his delight at the prospect of visiting golf fans encountering the craft beer scene in his new hometown. California has arguably contributed more to the microbrewery phenomenon than any other state, starting in 1965 when a fellow called Fritz Maytag purchased Anchor Brewing in San Francisco. The microbrewery scene went mainstream in the 1980s and ’90s, and San Diego County can confidently lay claim to being its modern-day epicenter. There are more than 150 craft breweries in and around the region, and nearly 60 craft beer tasting rooms.

Throw in another nearly 50 breweries or tasting rooms in the works and you wonder why they don’t just change the name to Beer Diego. A study conducted by Cal State San Marcos in 2018 cited more than 1.1 million barrels of craft beer output from San Diego County in 2017.

All those suds had an economic impact of $1.1 billion in the county, and the $802 million in revenue the brewers generated was more than the Padres hauled in that same year. You have your legends like Karl Strauss Brewing, which began doing its thing in 1986, and your comically named, like Belching Beaver. From Ballast Point and Coronado to Stone and Alpine, you’ll have a hard time finding a bad beer while you’re in town.

If you’re visiting San Diego for the national championship, swing by Dogleg Brewing in Vista for a round on the golf simulator and several rounds of head brewer Jim McCaskey’s finest. Dogleg is what happens when four thirsty people become friends on the golf course (you can read their story below). There are sure to be some special brews flowing during U.S. Open week. Co-owner Christina Lumsden says her go-to is the Scotch Ale while her husband, Nick, says you should try the Range Session IPA while it lasts.

Right about now a Scotch Ale sounds the very thing to celebrate new friends and old and the way the ancient game brings us all together. It reminds me of that day in 1759 when I was hanging with Arthur Guinness as he simultaneously invented pint glasses, pubs, shillelaghs and Ireland. Said one old-timer refusing to drink the strange black porter with a mile-deep head, “I don’t go for all this new stuff, Mr. Guinnefs. I prefer the old ways. Now, another manure-infused mead, and be quick about it.”

At Dogleg Brewing, you can hit shots on a simulator — and sip a fine selection of microbrews. Joh Ledesma

That Dog’ll Hunt

The partnership that is Dogleg Brewing began on a golf course. That’s where Christina and Nick Lumsden met their co-owners, Jim McCaskey and Corey Gustafson.

It was Nick who realized there were no golf-themed breweries among the many in San Diego, and Dogleg was born. Head brewer McCaskey was a Navy aviator for more than two decades and no little legend in home-brewing circles. The gang opened the brewery in November 2019, timed perfectly for a pandemic disruption.

What they learned from that unfortunate alignment, however, was that the San Diego brewing community is clutch. Christina, who stuck it in the ground as a collegian at Kent State, and Nick, who has played in a few U.S. mid-ams, discovered they loved the people who underpin America’s craft beer capital.

“You never know what peers and colleagues will be like when you start out in an industry,” Christina said over the wireless as she and Nick were driving to Bandon Dunes for some R&R. “The welcoming and supportive nature of San Diego’s craft beer community is unparalleled in the U.S. regardless of business sector. The camaraderie is unbelievable. We’ve only been able to make it as far as we have in a short period of time because of the way brewers help each other out. When we were short of cans during the pandemic, we’d ask someone if we could borrow some of their cans, and there was no hesitation. In turn, we would do the same when we had extra cans. Everyone pays it forward, and it’s overwhelmingly fulfilling to be part of it all.”

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