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Northbound: Raising a pint to Vista’s Rhythm & Brews event

Here’s a toast to North County’s craft brewing community.

This past weekend, I attended the fifth annual Rhythm & Brews music and craft beer festival in downtown Vista. Hosted by the San Diego Brewers Guild, the event drew more than 2,000 people to sample unlimited tastings from 55 breweries, nearly all of which are local.

I’ve been to my share of beer festivals. This was my first time attending Rhythm & Brews, and I think it may be one of my new favorites.

First, the beer selection. There were some outstanding beers on tap, which were all listed on the event website. Hop heads and San Diego-style IPA fans, such as myself, were well covered. Most breweries also showcased unique varietals instead of just the one or two most popular beers they’re known for. This encouraged exploration and curiosity among event goers.

Many beer festivals are run by volunteers who don’t work for the breweries they’re pouring for, which is a big missed opportunity to share more about the beer and the breweries themselves. Not at Rhythm & Brews. Every brewery tent I visited was hosted by either the brewery owners, brewmasters, or other employees. If you wanted to know more about the beer you were going to taste, you could ask the experts.

Kudos also to the event location — it was right in the heart of the Vista Village area, which has been undergoing a craft beer renaissance of late. If you wanted to continue sampling North County beer after the event ended, no problem — four Vista breweries were within easy walking distance from the exit, as well as craft beer gastropubs and restaurants.

Still, there’s some room for improvement. My friends and I saw a definite need for more food vendors, particularly those who specialize in entrees that can be made quickly. The food lines and wait times were excessive, particularly for a three-hour event. I would also add more than one area to place portable toilets. But these are fairly easy fixes for next year.

I left the event with the sense that Rhythm & Brews did a great job showcasing the local industry. Overall, about one-third of San Diego County’s 126 craft breweries and brewpubs are located in North County.

While we are home to some of the heavy hitters (Stone, Mother Earth, Belching Beaver), we also have nano-breweries whose beers can’t be found on tap lists or shelves outside North County cities.

With so many new breweries and brewpubs opening throughout the county, I would suspect there are less people traveling long distances to discover great local beer. Long term, events like Rhythm & Brews will be key to drawing craft beer enthusiasts to North County.

I’m looking forward to attending next year’s Rhythm & Brews Festival. I hope to see you there!

Vince Vasquez is a think tank analyst based in Torrey Pines. He is a Carlsbad resident.