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“You stay classy San Diego,” Heidi Hageman mocks, rolling her eyes.

“Seriously, every travel article I read about San Diego ends like that. I’m sure you’ll be more imaginative.” Shit. There goes my closing line.

Heidi is a local who is treating me to dinner at one of San Diego’s best gastro pubs, so I owe it to her to go beyond Ron Burgundy for inspiration.

Poor old San Diego; in many ways it’s had to put up with being the runt of California’s litter.

While liberal, landmark-rich San Fran and glam, celeb-saturated LA have hogged the limelight, San Diego has long been best known as a slightly insalubrious military town and annual gathering place for the socially inept (the city hosts Comic-Con every year).

Then came Will Ferrell’s comic tour de force, Anchorman, seemingly sealing San Diego’s fate by ensuring it would forever be synonymous with [adopt silly Ron Burgundy voice] “a whale’s vagina”.

Crafty culture

But in recent years California’s second-largest city has been assembling a far more appealing reputation for itself. T

hanks to the celebrated list of microbreweries and nanobreweries based in San Diego, plus the fact that the World Beer Cup – which pits the planet’s best brews against each other – takes place here, it is widely labelled ‘America’s craft beer capital’.

‘What does America know about beer?’ I hear you snort. But you’d be dead wrong to dismiss the US as a nation of Bud-swilling beer philistines.

The ever-spreading fad for going local – the likes of ‘farm-to-table’ and ‘artisan’ are inescapable when confronting a menu in the US – has twined its tendrils around food and drink, paving the way for a lengthy catalogue of brews to rival even those of Belgium.

And while in the UK, beer geekery tends to conjure images of beardy blokes in socks and sandals, in the US, it’s very much the territory of cutting-edge cool.

Never is this more apparent than in Little Italy’s Craft & Commerce, where Heidi has brought me. A low-lit, book-lined bolthole – in which the soundtrack of a posh Brit narrating a novel accompanies a visit to the loo – I’m seated facing a wall lined with at least 20 local beers on tap.

I’m also sipping a beer cocktail: Negra Modelo blended with house-made sangria, lime, cayenne pepper and salt.

Summer Nixon, co-founder of Brew Hop Tours, likes to call the phenomenon “beer enlightenment”.

Coming off as every inch the Californian, with her gold-blonde hair, peppy temperament and habit of prefixing every adjective with the word “super”, Summer isn’t your archetypal ale-chugger.

But you won’t find a more enthusiastic proponent of the San Diego beer scene. Over a curry stout at Ballast Point’s brewery, the first stop on the tour, she tells me: “You could drink a different beer every day and never catch up. There are 20 to 40 styles coming from each brewery in the area per year.”

Resultantly, beer tourism is a growing industry – hence Summer’s Brew Hop business. And it’s a different prospect from tasting the fruits of Europe’s older brewing traditions, most notably in Germany and Belgium.

The scene in San Diego is more “experimental”, Ballast’s head brewer Yuseff Cherney tells me. Just think back to that curry stout.

The next stop on our frothy odyssey is Stone World Bistro and Gardens – or “Disneyland for beer drinkers,” as Stone Brewing Company’s Randy Clemens calls it.

As it offers 37 varieties of draught beer and 125 of bottled, a food menu boasting ingredients such as Stone Smoked Porter and garlic beer cheese, and sweatshirts emblazoned with the moniker of one of the brewery’s best-loved ales, Arrogant Bastard, there’s little room to disagree.

“[CEO] Greg has delusions of grandeur that would make Napoleon blush,” Randy half-jokes.

“His motto is ‘act now, think later’.” For that reason, the owners are in the midst of building the brewery’s first boutique hotel.

Looking about the bistro’s sun-soaked gardens with a glass of Stone’s obscenely silky Imperial Russian Stout in hand, I can’t think of a better idea for a getaway.


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California dreaming: visit San Diego and discover California's best-kept secret
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