It wasn’t until the local brewery boom of the mid-2010s that the East County municipality of La Mesa finally saw fit to loosen its regulations pertaining to alcohol production, making it legal to manufacture beer within the city limits. While that move did not signal widespread brewery construction, it resulted in the establishment of enduring operations that are much beloved by locals and worth a visit for beer-motivated travelers, as well as small but notable stops in the nearby College Area and Del Cerro neighborhoods.
Bolt Brewery & Beer Garden
8179 Center St
Not only was Bolt Brewery the first beer-producer to establish a presence in La Mesa, it was also one of the county’s first-ever modern-era craft brewing operations. The original Bolt opened in a Quonset hut in Fallbrook in 1987. While ahead of its time and short-lived (it shuttered after a little over a year), it served as the archetype for Bolt 2.0, which was constructed on a large lot on an industrial side-street south of the Grossmont Center shopping mall. Erected in 2014 by original Bolt founder, Clint Stromberg, the centerpiece of the sprawling property — which features a tiered kid- and dog-friendly beer garden with a shipping-container bar, multiple seating areas and games — is a Quonset-hut structure housing the brewery and cellar.
Bolt’s dozen year-round offerings comprise one of the largest core-beer families of any local brewery. That portfolio includes a quartet of IPAs highlighted by West Coast model, OG IPA, and NEIPA, Stairway to Hazyville. Fruited blonde ales, Mango Me Crazy and Local Lemon, are fan favorites, along with a sometimes-adjuncted sour ale. In addition to core beers, visitors to Bolt’s headquarters will find one or two experimental, small-batch beers not available anywhere else.
Over the past nine years, Bolt has expanded, opening a pair of bar-equipped restaurants in San Diego’s Little Italy and Old Town areas. To focus as much attention and energy on those high-traffic venues as possible, the La Mesa brewery and beer garden is open exclusively on weekends, Friday through Sunday.
Pro Tip: Looking for beer with a side of entertainment? Check Bolt’s website for dates when they offer live music and comedy shows.
Helix Brewing / Sourworx
8101 Commercial St
What started as a simple space designed to turn people on to the glories of craft beer in the most low-key, fun and relaxing manner possible has been such a success that it’s evolved into a red-brick, dual-building sanctuary drawing locals in droves. Visitors to this craft compound of sorts can hang a left at the main courtyard to grab pints of SoCal sun-suited IPAs, pale ales and golden-hued lagers, while those seeking a walk on the wild side can veer right into Helix’s “Sourworx” structure (pictured above), a wine- and spirit-barrel repository with is own tasting bar serving up all manner of wood-aged sour ales.
Owner, head brewer, native La Mesan and fervent outdoorsman, Cameron Ball, has devised a line of low-ABV beers suited for post-activity refreshment. Those crushers include a Mexican-style lager called Surveza, and a green, woodsy session IPA aptly named Active. The latter provides a delicious segue to flagships Puff Puff Pale Ale (mango nose, dank tropical-fruit medley on palate) and Stoner Moment IPA (orange candy, lemon zest, pineapple), as well as seasonal standout, N&Ns, a West Coast IPA hopped with popular New Zealand varietals, Nelson Sauvin and Nectaron. And don’t sleep on Helix’s dark beers, which include a chocolate rye porter and a far-more-flavorful-than-Guinness dry Irish stout with cola notes and a toasted-hazelnut nose.
Helix’s game plan is simple. Ball and his staff’s main goals are to stoke people out and turn customers’ frowns upside-down using beer as the catalyst for both.
Pro Tip: If you’re headed to Helix on Friday or Saturday night, get there well ahead of the 6 p.m. live-music start time to snag a table.
Little Miss Brewing – La Mesa
5208 Jackson Dr
After originally setting their sights on Ocean Beach, the owners of Little Miss Brewing moved inland in search of a less suds-saturated community in which to build their fifth satellite tasting room. Located across Interstate 8 from Grossmont Center, it carries on the company’s theme of celebrating the U.S.’s World War II Allies care of a Canadian flag running the length of the ceiling and a taxidermy moose-head mounted to the wall. But you won’t find Moosehead lager here. Instead, expect Little Miss’ varied array of IPAs and world-inspired ales.
KnB Bistro & Brewery
6380 Del Cerro Blvd
When San Diego’s craft-beer scene was taking off in the early-2000s, KnB’s combination bottle-shop and bistro in the bedroom community of Del Cerro offered one of the largest and best assortments of local and import brews around. Ditto its beer-centric special events. Eventually, ownership decided to get even more involved in the craft-beer community by setting up a nano-sized brewing setup in the back of the venue with which to produce its own small-batch creations. Though sporadic, they show up on the bistro’s tap list from time to time.
Oggi’s Pizza Express – SDSU
(at Aztec Student Union) 5550 Campanile Dr, Ste 150
Though based in Orange County and producing beers under the Left Coast Brewing moniker, Oggi’s (which originally operated as Stuft Pizza & Brewing until a name change in 2000) has a long history in San Diego. Its original location in North County inland’s Carmel Mountain neighborhood is a brewpub that is still in operation today. In 2014, Oggi’s opened this fast-casual, patio-equipped offshoot inside San Diego State University’s Aztec Student Union, which serves the company’s beers as well as those of other craft breweries.