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San Diego North emerges as microbrew destination

Award-winning microbreweries dispense sampling of nation's finest craft beer

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With three of the top 10 brewers in the world, according to the popular RateBeer.com, San Diego North's explosion of microbreweries has transformed the region into a hot spot for a cold one. Popular beer tasting tours are transforming visitors into beer connoisseurs as they sample award-winning products and learn the secrets behind making fine craft brews.

The region's microbreweries consistently win prestigious beer awards from various popular beer festivals and outlets, including Denver's Great American Beer Festival, BeerAdvocate.com, RateBeer.com and the Brewers Association World Beer Cup. With more than 30 breweries in the region, several beer events and various microbrew tours, here's a sampling of some local favorites to include in a microbrew experience:

Microbreweries and brewpubs

Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens -- Brewing more than 50,000 barrels of beer annually in its 55,000 square foot Escondido-based brewery, Stone is recognized as one of the nation's best breweries by top beer enthusiast Web sites RateBeer.com and BeerAdvocate.com. The rich, sophisticated and expertly handcrafted microbrews at Stone Brewing reflect the company's intricate, award-winning architecture and ambiance that create the world-renowned Stone Brewing brand. Stone's one-of-a-kind Arrogant Bastard Ale is reminiscent of the company's famous gargoyle mascot, boasting bold, strong and aggressive flavors.

Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens in Escondido

Accompanying its signature beers, the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens offers a fresh, organic menu and is host to several beer and food pairing events throughout the year. The Stone brewpub is also host to a variety of microbrew events and experiences, such as beer and chocolate pairings, behind-the-scenes tours and interactive classes that transform visitors into beer connoisseurs.

Port Brewing Co. and The Lost Abbey -- Named one of the top 10 brewers in the world by RateBeer.com and the World Beer Cup, Port Brewing Company and The Lost Abbey is Pizza Port's new company-owned brewing distribution subdivision. The San Marcos-based brewing company has quickly gained momentum and recognition across the world, winning awards for its beers and brewery in various national beer competitions.

Green Flash Brewing Co. -- Locally brewed and bottled, Green Flash Brewing Co. is located in Vista. The brewery uses high-quality, all-natural ingredients in its handcrafted microbrews, which have received high accolades from beer enthusiast outlets, including a recent gold medal from the World Beer Cup. Green Flash brews its beers in small batches to ensure a high-quality, fresh and pure taste.

Oceanside Ale Works -- Besides being Oceanside's first brewery, Oceanside Ale Works is also one of the few manual brew houses in the nation. The brewery features European-inspired brewing techniques, using Old World recipes, interpreted with Southern California flair, for its handcrafted brews. Staying true to its coastal roots, the microbrewery offers beers reminiscent of its Southern California location, such as Surfer Stout and Buccaneer Blonde.

Lightning Brewery -- Located in Poway, Lightning Brewery focuses its beer-making tactics around its company's philosophy: "Better Beer Through Science." The company's president and head brewer, Jim Crute, who has a Ph.D. in biochemistry, strongly emphasizes the biology of yeast and the biochemistry and chemistry processes involved in creating craft beer, ensuring high-quality microbrews. Lightning Brewery is the only local brewery that has a separate decoction vessel for boiling the "mash" created by the unique San Diego "Step Mashing" brewing process, which further enhances the body and flavors of the beers.

Microbrew experiences

Brew Hop -- The Brew Hop's tours turn beer sampling into a luxurious experience as guests are transported in style to several local breweries. Packages include samples of microbrews and a behind-the-scenes tour of the breweries. Visitors can choose between a five-hour "Beer Connoisseur" tour, stopping at four local microbreweries, and a 2 1/2-hour "Beer Tasters" tour, which includes two to three brewery stops.

Brewery Tours of San Diego -- The Brewery Tours of San Diego offers three unique packages, each stopping at three local breweries. All transportation to and from the breweries, beer tastings, behind-the-scenes tours and a souvenir tasting glass are included with each tour package.

Stone Brewing Co.'s Annual Anniversary Beer Festival -- Featuring more than 40 different breweries, the Stone Brewing Anniversary Celebration & Invitational Beer Festival is held each year in August. The festival features a variety of great food and microbrews from across the region. Proceeds generated from the event are donated to various charitable organizations.

Pizza Port Carlsbad Annual Beer Festivals -- Pizza Port's Carlsbad location is host to three popular annual beer enthusiast festivals. Festival admission includes a complimentary commemorative glass in addition to beer tastings. The beer festivals at Pizza Port Carlsbad are the country's oldest organized showcasing of beers from a single style.

¥ 12-Hour Belgian Beer Party (March)

¥ San Diego Real Ale Festival (June)

¥ San Diego Strong Ale Festival (December)

San Diego Beer Festival -- With more than 160 brews presented by 60 different breweries, the San Diego Beer Festival is the largest beer-tasting expo in San Diego. Thousands of patrons gather each year in September for great entertainment and samplings of award-winning beer. All event admission proceeds benefit San Diego organizations in the fight against cancer.

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