It's all too easy to find yourself only drinking certain beer, or only visiting certain breweries. There's too much good beer in San Diego County to allow anybody—you or me—to fall into traps of habit and convenience. So I recently eschewed the beaten path and headed east into the wild hinterlands of Santee.
On the far side of Santee, BNS Brewing and Distilling Company (10960 Wheatlands Ave.) is on another planet compared to most San Diego breweries. As a Texas transplant, I feel pretty confident declaring BNS the most "Texas" place in San Diego County. Signs at the saloon-style gate warn motorcycle clubs to remove vests and colors. An oversized American flag hanging from the rafters and the live band on stage made me feel as though I'd stepped into a Toby Keith video. The tasting room is saloon and wild-west themed, with decorative six-shooters adorning the bar and signs on the wall declaring "We don't call 911." But for all this wild-west kitsch, the beer at BNS, served in mason jars, proved to be on-target. The Saloon Girl saison and Revolver IPA were quite good, as was their Gatling Gun imperial stout. BNS is a real change of pace yet meets the high standards of quality that San Diego beer lovers demand.
Pacific Islander Beer Company (8665 Argent St.) has just opened. Far different from BNS, it has a tiki-and-teak themed patio that's covered in bright green turf. Inside, the island theme continues both in décor and with piped-in Hawaiian music. It's only just had its soft opening, so there were only three beers available, but one of the best reasons to visit breweries when they first open is getting to try early batches of new recipes. Its full line-up should be on tap by September.
Twisted Manzanita Brewing (10151 Prospect Ave.) just celebrated its five-year anniversary, and offers a more traditional tasting-room experience. Santee's most established brewery is best known for its Chaotic double IPA. Weighing in at 9.7 percent ABV, it could be considered a triple, depending on your marketing strategy. The experimental beer list here makes Twisted Manzanita a must-stop on any trip to East County.
Tucked in just down the road from Twisted Manzanita, and occupying its original brew space, is Butcher's Brewing (9962 Prospect Ave.). The tasting room is on the small side, which contributes to a cozier, more personal experience. Its IPAs are flavorful, aromatic concoctions crafted to highlight certain ingredients, like the Select Rye IPA and Nelson-hopped Free Range IPA. While I'm not a fan of Hefeweizens, Butcher's Hubba Bubba Hefe was a revelation that challenged my idea of what was possible with the style.
This quartet of tasting rooms showed me that an independent creativity and entrepreneurial spirit resides in Santee. What East County might lack in hip trendiness, it more than makes up for in diversity and quality.