The first impression upon entering this space is that it is open, airy and welcoming. The very tall ceiling arches away to sky lights directly above the bar, over which hangs a huge chandelier made from beer bottles. The broad wood beams are impressive, and the hexagonal shape is unusual. The whole makes for a very pleasant feeling. There is also a nice smell as you walk in, coming from the brewing operation right behind the bar.
It is self-seating, with about 30 seats at high and low tables in the main room, a large wrap-around bar, and a very nice patio (although it is in direct sun there are some umbrellas).
We went for lunch on a Saturday, and there were quite a few people there. A group of ten friends back from volunteering somewhere, several individuals and regulars at the bar, and a guy showing his older parents his favorite hang-out. The vibe was chill and friendly, with a wide mix of people enjoying the afternoon together. Two smallish TVs showed college football.
Hillcrest Brewing has been open 4 years as of June 2016. Hillcrest was the first openly gay craft brewery. As far as I can tell from rudimentary internet research, it might still be the only one. The emphasis is on good beer, good food and a welcoming environment, so don’t let the “gay bar” label keep you away.
There were nine house beers on the board (out of two today). Given the very small brewing system, it is impressive that they keep nine taps in rotation. There are also seventeen really good guest taps, too.
Red Ribbon Ale (Session Red Ale, 4.5% ABV). Reddish brown, crisp bite, malty sweetness. 3.25/5
Service was quick and friendly. I asked the bartender to give me a flight of his favorites, and I was not disappointed.
Beerhead (Lager, 4.9% ABV). A simple lager, well executed, with hints of fruit on the opening. 3/5
The Marguerita pizza pretty good, with very fresh tomatoes and basil. If the tomatoes had been de-seeded there would have been less liquid on the slices to run down our hands.
Crotch Rocket (Red Irish Ale, 5.5% ABV). This one was not my favorite. It reminds me of Karl Strauss’s Red Trolley, but not quite as good. It is too sweet for me, and the malt’s remind me of Coors. 2.75/5
We enjoyed the music that was playing. Pearl Jam, Led Zeppelin, Alice In Chains, Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, Sound Garden, and more like that. I don’t know if that’s their typical playlist, but it worked for us today.
Just the Hop (IPA, 7.2%). Yellow straw color, white head laces the whole glass. Funky/floral hop nose. Not too bitter, a little spicy. 3/5
Parking is actually pretty easy. There is a parking lot out front, and there is plenty of street parking all around. Note that the entry to the bar is actually on Normal Street, not University as the address would suggest.
Long & Stout (Russian Imperial Stout, 11% ABV). Brandy and root beer flavors, boozy but not rough. Very black, with a reddish-brown head. Subtle toasted malts. A bit thin on the finish, but overall pretty good. 3/5
They have great Hoppy Hour specials, 4-6pm every day: $2 off draught beer, growlers, flights, wine and $2 pizza slices.
Hillcrest Brewing does it right, offering good food and good beer in a pleasant, chill atmosphere.
1458 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92103
Don’t Just Take My Word For It (Links to Related Beer Writing)
San Diego Magazine’s Brewery Guide entry for Hillcrest Brewing Company.
San Diego Brew Review’s brief note on Hillcrest Brewing.
Papermag.com ran an article on Hillcrest Brewing, too.