craft beer breweriesThis is long in coming. Why? Because my husband and I are what you might call “beer bitches”. What that means is that we are incredibly picky with beer. We mock people who drink average beer and we go against the norm of IPA. In fact, it is safe to say that we hate IPAs. My husband brews his own beer when he has any free time and we live here, the craft brew capital of California, North County San Diego. North County San Diego is, literally, filled to the brim with craft beer breweries and their lovely, tasting rooms.

For those of you outside of the area, this is how it works:

A craft brewery gets a space in an industrial complex. They set up shop brewing their lovely, yeasty beer and open a tasting room in front of their brew. They roll up the door in the space and call in the gourmet food trucks. Some, like Belching Beaver, even have live music. This all takes place in an industrial complex, so it is a little gritty.

There are a TON of these places in North County. Some are GREAT…some are….well, less than great. There is a maturation process for the craft beer brewers, as well. We try to revisit newbies we dismissed early on because we have been blown out of the water before. One brewery, who will remain unnamed until they are featured on my list, sucked when we tried them the first time. In fact we left half full glasses of beer on the bar. That is bad. We had occasion to revisit and they had matured. Not only was their space revamped but their beer was stellar. So…here we go:

Top 5 Best North County Craft Brew Breweries

  1.  Ironfist Brewery: They are amazing. They are our “go to” brewery and they have been open for 4 years running. Their beer is shockingly good and they have a lot of wonderful choices. I go there all the time and I still get flights because I can’t decide one good beer from the other. I want a little sip of each. There is always gourmet food available and they have a LARGE tasting room. They regularly have fun specialty kegs but their usual fair is tasty and intoxicating. My favorites include Dubbel Fisted and Velvet Glove, both over 8% ABV. 1305 Hot Springs Way, Vista, CA 92081
  2. Arcana Brewing Company: We thought we had toured them all and then, this little gem popped up on our radar. Despite the craft beer breweriessteampunk theme, which my husband detests, the beers are impeccable. They have smattering of incredible brews. We tasted 6 of their beers (not nearly all of them) and LOVED each and every one. They feature fruity greats, like their Newton’s Apple Graff and Bella’s Berry Ale which appeal to my love of sours. They also go for the not so sweet and they are equally delightful. Their Marley’s Ghost Ale, SD Saigeson (which has an herbaceous sage flavor), and Annabelle’s Umber can not be beat. We were surprised and impressed with Arcana. 5621 Palmer Way, Suite C, Carlsbad, CA 92010
  3. Booze Brothers: This is another brewery with at least 3 or 4 tasty brews, including their Sour Barrel Brown and their Apple Sauce. The Penny Blonde and Pail Ale are other treats.  Their space, though, is one not to be missed. They have horn beer pulls and have transformed the industrial into hipster chic with their cut wood tables and outdoor area. Muy bien hermanos de cerveza. 2545 Progress St, Vista, CA 92081
  4. The Lost Abbey: First, they are the only operation open 7 days a week. Their hours aren’t late and nasty but none of them are. 7 days is great, especially when coupled with their delicioso beers. They are also the brewery for port brewing so when you go to their tasting room you get all the Lost Abbey beers and the port brewing, doubling your options. I prefer the Lost Abbey brews 100% of the time, though. Judgement Day and Lost and Found are definite winners. Not to be outdone by their “Year Round” is their “Seasonal”….Witch’s Wit is great. Recently they have released a Cuvee that is sour cherry yummy. 155 Mata Way #104, San Marcos, CA 92069
  5. Belching Beaver Brewery: They made the list by the hair of their chinny chin chin. We love them, don’t get me wrong. They just don’t have a ton of options and more than half of them are IPAs. There are  about 2 or 3 beers we like on any give day that shine like a beacon. Most importantly, they have THE PREMIER Peanut Butter Milk Stout. We have tried those copies and none can compare. We would come here for the PB Stout, alone. They also have a new outdoor area and this Saturday they had live music.  Amazing for North County. Live music is hard to come by. 980 Park Center Drive, Suite A, Vista, California 92081

Honorable Mention

Barrel Harbor: They have 2 goodies we will go there for. Their Brown Ale and Stout are pretty decent beers. We like the owners and we enjoy the good company we find there. 2575 Pioneer Ave, Vista, CA 92081

These are the breweries not to be missed, they are not on the main thoroughfare, they aren’t on Main Street, they are out of the way, hidden little places. If you like beer, you will adore these North County San Diego Craft breweries. The beers are amazing! Check them out today, if they are open! Check first. Hours are always limited.


  1. Stephanie on September 11, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    Hi Rachael, it is Stephanie from bookclub. Since my husband and I am relatively new to north county, I have to say THANK YOU for posting this list. I am definitely planning on a visit to each of these breweries in the not-so distant future!

    • Rachael Atamian on October 6, 2014 at 3:58 pm

      I need to post a list of OC breweries. Although, I have only been to a handful…need to get drinkin’! hee hee!

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