San Diego vs. Chicago: A Beer Battle Royale

Revolution or Ballast Point? Sculpin or Goose IPA? It’s time to pit two of America’s greatest beer cities against one another. San Diego has long been known as a hoppy heaven for beer drinkers. And in recent years, Chicago has made its own mark on the national beer scene. The Midwestern metropolis has brandished many award winners in the past few years as countless new brewers aim to create liquid excellence for the city’s citizens—and the greater world of beer lovers.

Which town makes better grain-based drinkables? Let’s take a look at some of the finer brews from both Chicago and San Diego. Will the West Coast trump the third coast? Can the challenger take down the champion? May the best beer town win.

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The Champion:

San Diego

The Challenger:



The Brewery: Ballast Point, San Diego, CA
The Brew: Sculpin IPA
The Style: India Pale Ale
The Bitter: 70 IBU
The Buzz: 7.0%

Sculpin is a legend of the IPA world. Touting a rating of 100 on, this brew helped turn Ballast Point from home brewers to medal collectors with three public sipping facilities, widespread distribution, and a massive Miramar-based brewing operation. To date, Sculpin has 27 awards to its name, including a coveted 2014 World Beer Cup Gold medal.

Armed with a titanically wide hop profile, this apricot- and grapefruit-hinted ale is generously hopped at five separate stages and packs a punch that’s a bit too heavy for the standard two-round lunch.

Don’t forget to try: Sextant, Grunion, Victory at Sea

The Brewery: AleSmith, San Diego, CA
The Brew: Speedway Stout
The Style: American Double Imperial Stout
The Bitter: 70 IBU
The Buzz: 12.00%

According to their site, “AleSmith Brewing Company was founded back in 1995 as an artisanal craft brewery that specializes in handcrafted ales inspired by European classics.” And yes, while they might have a beer called Lil Horny Granny, nothing can distract us from the fact that this brewery is serious about the craft. And they have the beer to prove it. Armed with a new brewing operation in Miramar and a no-nonsense approach to the brewing process, AleSmith brewmasters have built a reputation for creating beer that even the most German of Germans would appreciate.

Speedway Stout is a jet-black beer with a thick, off-white head. It races to the palate with notes of coffee, toffee, and dark chocolate, as well as rich malt flavors. It’s as complex as it is delicious. Each taste brings new revelations. Its crispness balances the feel. gives it a 100. We concur.

Don’t forget to try: The Bourbon Barrel Aged rendition.

The Brewery: Coronado Brewing Company, Coronado, CA
The Brew: Islander IPA
The Style: American IPA
The Bitter: 75 IBU
The Buzz: 7.0%

Not too many years ago, Coronado Brewing Company was simply a microbrewer with mega potential. And then came the Islander IPA. It’s the brewery’s flagship, gold-medal winning beer. Despite an above moderate alcohol percentage, this ale is refreshingly tropical and drinkable; it’s rare to find an IPA above 6.5% that’s so easy on the palate—and so refreshing. Islander has helped bring Coronado Brewing Company to the forefront of the San Diego beer scene. Unlike you after three of them, it has perfect balance. At the end of a work day, this is what a California IPA should taste like. Hop purists note its lack of bitterness, but there’s just something about a beer that doesn’t try too hard.

From the brewer’s mouth: “a liquid expression of hometown pride.”

From ours: A dangerously drinkable beer with an impressive hop profile.

Don’t forget to try: Orange Ave. Wit, Idiot IPA

The Brewery: Stone Brewing Company, Escondido, CA
The Brew: Stone Xocoveza
The Style: American IPA
The Bitter: 50 IBU
The Buzz: 8.10%

‘Tis the season. Xocoveza is a winter-spiced and Mexican-inspired mocha stout. This brew comes back in black for the holidays. The chocolatey, peppery, and nutmeg-y brew was first sanctioned for special release in 2014. It’s a heavy pour with an even heavier, tan head. And a prize brew originally concocted by local homebrewer Chris Banker as part of an annual competition. Once bottled, it quickly became a nationwide sensation.

According to BeerAdvocate reviewer FriedSlug, “The aroma is a heavenly blend of chocolate, coffee, peppers, roasted malt and a nice underlying sweetness. The taste is a balanced medley of sweet chocolate, bitter coffee and spicy peppers with a bitter char finish. This is a great beer. I wish I bought more.”

We’ll pick up an extra 6, Slug.

Don’t forget to try: Citracado, Enjoy After Brett IPA, Coffee Milk Stout, Smoked Porter

The Brewery: Modern Times, San Diego, CA
The Brew: Monsters’ Park
The Style: Imperial Stout
The Bitter: 60 IBU
The Buzz: 12%

Located in a Point Loma hipster compound coined the “Lomaland Fermentorium,” Modern Times is a beer snob’s dream destination. And we mean that in a good way. The brewers at Modern Times continually push the envelope without exceeding their own expanding boundaries. Monsters’ Park is no different. The brewery emphatically describes the beer as a “hulking, cantankerous imperial stout sporting a brawny malt bill and a dry, lingering finish.” Many of the flavors don’t reveal themselves until moments after each sip. The toasty tastes ring strong and notes of coffee and chocolate spring through the finish. It’s a shockingly balanced and drinkable beer, given its high alcohol content.

Don’t forget to try: Neverwhere IPA, Fruitlands, Protocosmos

Honorable Mentions:

  • Peanut Butter Milk Stout – Belching Beaver
  • Cable Car Ale – The Lost Abbey
  • The Highbinder – Societe
  • Hop Head Red – Green Flash
  • IPA – St. Archer



The Brewery: Begyle Brewing Company, Chicago, IL
The Brew: Begyle Blonde
The Style: American Blonde Ale
The Bitter: 20 IBU
The Buzz: 5.4%

The self-proclaimed straightforward microbrewer excelled in this release. The Begyle Blonde is incredibly smooth and drinkable, yet with enough depth to convey bready notes. It’s equal parts bitter and sweet, which makes for a great spring weather brew, armed with enough body and carbonation for the ideal afternoon drinking session in Chicago.

Don’t forget to try: Barrel Aged Imperial Pajamas Stout, Comb the Desert

The Brewery: Goose Island Beer Co., Chicago, IL
The Brew: Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout
The Style: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout
The Bitter: 60 IBU
The Buzz: 13.8%

Goose Island invented the bourbon-aged stout. Hold onto your Cubs hats. This urban, bourbon legend speaks volumes (and percentages) about how far Chicago has come as a beer town. Goose Island’s brewmasters are some of the finest in the United States. That is never more evident than during the first sip of this dark and dense malty beast of a brew. Armed to the teeth and tongue with six malts, it steps forward with an intense amalgamation of charred oak, vanilla, caramel, and chocolate—all seemingly smoked right on the palate.

This brew has two World Beer Cup Awards to its name. As stated plainly on Goose’s site, “One sip has more flavor than your average case of beer.” You won’t find a better stout in Chicago. Period.

Don’t forget to try: Matilda, Big Lazy Joe, Goose IPA, Netflix and Chill

The Brewery: Half Acre
The Brew: Daisy Cutter
The Style: American Pale Ale
The Bitter: 60
The Buzz: 5.20%

Half Acre’s Daisy Cutter is the Rick Astley of craft beers. It’s never gonna give you up. It’s never gonna let you down. It’s become a staple in the Windy City as a hoppy pale ale that looks as good as it tastes. Oh, and the smell! Never was there a beer that people enjoy sniffing so much. The citrus, floral, and grassy notes are balanced well with mellow malt and bright hops. The copper color and fluffy head leads way to a flavor that just won’t quit. Although a summer drink du jour, Daisy Cutter is a go-to year-round. Just ask’s antoines15 who says, “The flavor is nice and never gets old. You can literally drink eight 16 oz. cans while golfing and still not get tired of that flavor.” You don’t say.

Don’t forget to try: Deep Space, Plura, Maple Big Hugs, Other Half Rainbow Never Ends

The Brewery: Off Color Brewing
The Brew: Troublesome
The Style: Gose
The Bitter: 10
The Buzz: 4.3%

Troublesome is the tart, lemony, salt-tinged love child of a wheat beer and an overly acidic beer with a little extra sumpin’ sumpin’ that makes it a fall favorite, especially when left to its own devices. As one of the newer kids on the block, Off Color Brewing didn’t waste any time living up to its quirky name. Some call their beers offbeat. Others refer to them as obscure. We just like the fact they keep us on our toes with the beers they put out. There’s no room for boring at this brewery, which leaves us thirsty for more.

Don’t forget to try: Hell-Broth, ProCATStination, Coffee Dinosmores, Grizzly King

The Brewery: Revolution
The Brew: Eugene Coffee Porter 
The Style: Porter
The Bitter: 28 IBU
The Buzz: 7.00%

The dark pour and strong coffee notes of the robust Eugene Coffee Porter may be best suited with a plate of eggs and bacon. But we’ll leave it up to you on how you want to drink it. The added chocolate notes and roasted malt flavor makes this one palatable pour no matter the time of day. One BeerAdvocate reviewer likens it to his “5th (or so) birthday cake” due to its velvety finish, which we feel is as good excuse as any to celebrate. Cheers!

*We also can get behind a brand who takes pride in their beer and doesn’t let its brewery or its customers settle for less.

Don’t forget to try: Working Woman, Jukebox Hero, Anti-Hero, Gravedigger Billy

Honorable Mentions:

  • 312 – Goose Island
  • Old Style Lager – Old Style
  • Alpha King – Three Floyd’s
  • Flywheel – Metropolitan Brewing


The Verdict:  A draw. We know—people love winners. But when it comes down to beer produced by these two cities, the lines are thin and it all comes down to your specific tastes. You be the judge. Happy pours!