Your Premier Guide to the Best California Craft Beers

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The beautiful California landscape creates the perfect environment to create; whether you make art, music, or beer, it’s all better in California! Join us as we raise a glass to all the best California craft beers!

Related: best champagne for Thanksgiving, best California white wines, best California red wines

Craft beer neon sign.

What Are Craft Beers?

Craft beers are beverages typically produced by independent breweries that prioritize traditional brewing methods, high-quality ingredients, and distinctive flavors. These local craft breweries are usually characterized by their relatively small production scale compared to large commercial breweries. Craft brewers often emphasize innovation and a hands-on approach to brewing, allowing them to create a unique style of beer. 

Craft Beer Movement in California

California has been a focal point for the craft beer movement in the United States, with a rich history and a thriving community of craft breweries. The movement gained significant momentum in California during the late 20th century, mirroring the broader growth of craft beer across the nation.

Best California craft beers featured image. Beer glass on the beach.

Here are some key aspects of this pivotal movement:

  • Pioneering Breweries: California is home to some of the pioneering craft breweries that played a crucial role in shaping the movement. Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco, founded in 1965, is often considered one of the earliest craft breweries in the country. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, established in 1980 in Chico, is another iconic brewery that helped define American craft beer.
  • Diversity of Styles: California’s craft beer scene is known for its diversity of beer styles. Breweries in the state have embraced a wide range of brewing traditions, from hop-forward West Coast IPAs to experimental and innovative brews. The openness to creativity and experimentation has contributed to the state’s reputation as a hub for diverse new beers.
  • Craft Beer Hotspots: Several regions in California have become renowned for their concentration of craft breweries. The San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, Los Angeles, and the Central Coast are just a few areas with award-winning brews. Each region often has its own unique brewing culture and styles.
  • Influence of Local Ingredients: California’s agricultural abundance has also played a part in influencing its craft beer scene. Both large and small brewers in the state often incorporate locally sourced ingredients, such as fresh hops from the Pacific Northwest, fruits from local farms, and other unique regional additions.
  • Craft Beer Events: California hosts various craft beer events, including beer festivals with live music, brewery tours, and beer weeks, attracting both local enthusiasts and visitors. These events contribute to the sense of community and celebration within the craft beer culture.
  • Collaboration and Community: California breweries often collaborate with each other and engage with their local communities. The emphasis on community involvement, sustainability, and supporting local businesses is a common theme among many California craft brewers.

The state’s breweries continue to be at the forefront of the industry, pushing boundaries and shaping the evolving landscape of craft beer in the United States.

The Best California Craft Beers

There is nothing like the flavor of a perfectly brewed beer when enjoyed in the California sunshine. Luckily, the golden state is home to some of the country’s best breweries and craft beers. 

Getting to know the best California beers and microbrews is an adventure almost as exciting as exploring this great state, so grab a frosty glass and dive into the details of the very best craft beers in California!

Man holding a California craft beer.

AleSmith Brewing Company

AleSmith Brewing Company logo.

San Diego is such a unique and fun community and no one produces beers that reflect that better than AleSmith! This incredible Southern California brewery produces some of the best beers in the state; plus they have a great tasting room where the party never stops brewing! 

AleSmith makes a range of staple beers including stouts, IPAs, and everything in between. They also make wonderful seasonal, special-release beers, and non-alcoholic options. 

This establishment has quickly become a local favorite for our family because it is open daily, very family and dog-friendly, and they have a ton of indoor and outdoor seating.

The best way to get to know this brewery is with their classic San Diego Pale Ale .394. It’s a light yet hoppy beer with plenty of SoCal style! You can find it in cans, bottles, and kegs all year round directly from the brewery, shipped within California, or at select retailers. Another notable mention by AleSmith is their west coast IPA, Party Tricks. Featuring hints of grapefruit, strawberry, and passionfruit, this refreshing beer is a year-round essential.

Stone Brewing

Stone Brewing gargoyle logo.

If you’re looking for a great craft beer with a little bit of a wild side, then you need to check out Stone Brewing! For over two decades this west coast brewery has been bottling delicious and innovative brews in Escondido. According to the Brewers Association, Stone Brewery is ranked number 9 on the list of top 50 producing United States craft brewing companies. 

Stone Brewing has brewery tours at two of their brewery locations. It’s a great time for all ages, and those wishing to try the beer will get a chance to sample it fresh! Their beautiful beer garden is also a great place to grab a bite.Their food menu gives best beer pairing recommendations as well!

Stone Brewing makes everything from beer to hard seltzer and they have a little something delicious for every palate. They craft incredible year-round releases along with seasonal small batches with tons of personality and flavor, but possibly their most popular beer is their Arrogant Bastard Ale

This wonderfully unique and nationally available craft beer is full of itself and for good reason. It’s a bold and brash, full-flavored ale that flies in the face of traditional big brewers. Try this fan favorite beer if you dare, if you don’t, there are still lots of incredible beers to try from Stone Brewing such as their Tangerine Express Hazy IPA!

Modern Times Beer

Modern Times Beer logo. A San Diego craft brewery.

Modern Times Beer is a San Diego-based craft brewery known for their commitment to quality, creativity, sustainability, and having some of the best craft beer on the market. The original location of their main production facility and tasting room is located in the Point Loma neighborhood of San Diego but over the last decade, have expanded to other locations in North Park and Encinitas.  

Oderville Hazy IPA is a signature beer that’s part of their year-round collection. Orderville stands as a Hazy India Pale Ale, skillfully merging the fruity essence of mosaic and sultana hops with the inviting allure of various dank varieties. The outcome is a remarkably impressive. juicy beer, boasting a distinctly captivating aroma and a thoroughly saturated hop profile that persists from start to finish.

Knee Deep Brewing Company

On the outskirts of the beautiful Northern California forest country lies the community of Auburn and the wildly delicious Knee Deep Brewing Company! This microbrewery has been crafting local favorites for over a decade. 

Knee Deep Brewing has a great tasting room where you can enjoy their unique craft beers. They have a huge, bright, family-friendly space with games and activities. Knee Deep even brings in food trucks so you can truly enjoy the beer in comfort and style! 

At Knee Deep, they brew up a delicious spectrum of California craft beers. They specialize in tasty IPA but they also make some great lagers, ales, and sour beers. 

A great beer to try from them is their Deep Haze Hazy IPA. It’s a wonderfully juicy, hazy, and bright beer that tastes like Northern California sunshine! You can sample it at their tasting or from select retailers in California. 

Kern River Brewing Company

Kern River Brewing Company logo.

About an hour northeast of Bakersfield is a wonderful craft brewery focused on crafting some of California’s finest beverages, the Kern River Brewing Company. This lively microbrewery is a must-stop on your way in or out of Sequoia National Forest!

Kern River Brewing makes delicious craft beers at their brewery with a view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They have a rustic and welcoming brew pub where you can see the magic happen and then taste it for yourself! 

The beers produced by Kern River are as spectacular as the mountains they come from. Their Sequoia Red is the perfect beer to toast to outdoor adventures. It’s bold, balanced, and refreshing with a distinctive Cali flair. 

Russian River Brewing Company

Russian River Brewing logo.

Northern California has made a name for itself in the wine industry but Russian River Brewing Company aims to make this region into a craft beer destination!

Russian River Brewing is a microbrewery with a brewpub in Santa Rosa and a full brewery in Windsor. They have grown into one of the best-known names in California craft beers. 

Russian River makes a range of delicious drinks, including many award-winning beers. They received the prestigious titles of “Brewery and Brewmaster of the Year” at both the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup.

They offer flagship beers and limited releases. Their styles are diverse and delicious including barrel-aged brews, Belgian-inspired beers, IPAs, ales, and more. 

If you want to dip your toes into the river of flavor this Sonoma County brewery has to offer, try their STS Pils. It’s a wonderful blend of West Coast and European techniques and tastes with a crisp, refreshing body. If you’re in the mood for something slightly bitter with notes of citrus and pine, consider giving their Pliny the Elder double India Pale Ale a go. Aside from their establishments and online retailers, you can find this brew at select grocery stores.

21st Amendment Brewery

21st Amendment Brewery logo. California craft beers from the bay area.

San Francisco is a symbol of freedom to the world but American beer lovers wouldn’t be free without the 21st constitutional amendment. Out of that spirit of freedom and beer-loving innovation rises 21st Amendment Brewery

This San Francisco native is no stranger to the craft beer scene. They have been brewing up independent and delicious beers for over two decades. 21st Amendment celebrates the innovative spirit behind brewing and how beer can bring communities together. That is why their brewpub is always the spot to gather over food and incredible craft beers!

They make a variety of beers as interesting as the country that inspires them. Their year-round roster has a little something for everyone; from hoppy to fruity they have some real hits! 

To get to know 21st Amendment Brewing better, try their Brew Free or Die. It’s a cold IPA with a clean and refreshing finish. It’s available in California and many other states, so people around the United States can raise a glass to the 21st Amendment! 

Golden gate bridge in San Francisco.

As we wrap up this flavorful journey through the best California craft beers, it’s clear that the state’s breweries are the heartbeat of innovation and quality in the craft beer market. For craft beer drinkers seeking an adventure in every sip, California stands as a hop-forward haven. From the scenic coastline to the thriving urban landscapes, the best places to savor this unique beer is as diverse as the beers themselves.

Here’s to exploring the endless possibilities and raising a glass to the talented brewers who continue to redefine the craft beer landscape in California – a state where the art of brewing truly comes to life.

Best California craft beers Pinterest pin image.

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