Helm’s Brewing Co.
Photo by Andrew Dyer

There's something in the air in Ocean Beach. Adding to the usual mix of salt and sativa are the similarly distinct aromas of yeast, malt and hops. One of the last truly blue-collar coastal communities in Southern California, OB now has several breweries targeting the bohemian hood for expansion.

Four are now operating within walking distance from one another, with more on the way. On May 10, Ocean Beach Brewery announced on its Facebook page that brewing had begun. Belching Beaver will also be opening a storefront.

Helm's Brewing Co. (4896 Newport Ave.) opened a satellite tasting room on May 16. Head brewer Dan Lawrence said North Park was also considered for expansion, but that in the end it was the community in OB that won over the brewery. "Every neighborhood in San Diego has its own small community," he said. "OB is one of the tightest."

Lawrence acknowledged some concerns about the effect breweries might have on the neighborhood, noting the notorious battle over OB's Starbucks.

"We don't want to knock anybody out or for this to be a 'beer neighborhood,' we want there to be a solid beer selection," he said. "It creates a destination."

Culture Brewing Co. (4845 Newport Ave.), a short walk from Helm's, has a decent sized space but little seating. There are kegs to sit on and a few chairs, but mostly the space is for standing and socializing. Stacks of just-filled barrels line one wall. In about six months Culture will release its first barrel-aged sours.

Mike Hess Brewing (4893 Voltaire St.), like Culture and Helm's, features large roll-up windows that leave the tasting room open to cool Pacific breezes. Its new triple IPA, Infinity +1, is available on tap and in bottles. This easy drinking hop bomb clocks in at a dangerous 12.3 percent ABV, so approach with caution.

When I asked my son where he wanted to go for his eighth birthday, he said "Pizza Port." I almost cried. When I was in the Navy this was where I would bring my family before saying goodbye. Those painful farewells are a thing of the past, but Pizza Port (1956 Bacon St.) remains a family-and-dog-friendly destination when we go to the dog beach or want to celebrate a birthday.

On any given day the menu board boasts three or more of its legendary, world-class IPAs along with its porters and stouts. It can get prohibitively crowded on weekends, however, with eager patrons standing and waiting for someone to leave so they can swoop in and claim their seats. But there is usually room on the patio, where you can watch the police write parking tickets for those unfortunate few who park in front of the architectural firm across the street.

OB has always existed in a time warp, a throwback neighborhood of old hippies and surfers. Hopefully there is room to accommodate the change breweries and tasting rooms bring while still preserving that which makes the neighborhood such a desirable place to hang out and enjoy.


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