Michael Jackson, “The Beer Hunter,” once said a test of a good American brewpub is that “it’s a place where people talk to each other, like the TV show Cheers, but real.” Breakwater Brewing is such a place, which is exactly how owner Shannon Sager intended.

“We’re all about quality customer service,” Sager tells us during a recent visit to the brewpub. “Customers are important to us. So important, that we even name some of our beers and pizzas after our regulars.” That statement was evident to us as we watched the friendly, personalized interactions with the lunch crowd.

Breakwater Brewing is the first craft beer brewery/brewpub in Oceanside. When Master Pizza Chef and first time restaurateur Sager joined forces with Brewmaster Lars Gilman in 2008, Oceanside did not have a brewpub. From the very beginning, the two locals wanted to create a Cheers-like restaurant where customers could drink quality beer paired with tasty food.

Shannon & Alicia Sager
Breakwater Brewing Co. - Shannon & Alicia Sager

Betting that such a place would be a hit with the locals, they put everything they had on the line to build Breakwater Brewing. Luckily, the bet paid off and people have been flocking to the brewpub ever since. Their vision helped in the revitalization of downtown Oceanside.

Occupying the northwest corner of North Coast Highway 101 and Seagaze Drive, Breakwater Brewing is in the heart of Oceanside where there is a lot going on including parades, street fairs, and special events. Typically at every such event Breakwater is there supporting it. Like other craft breweries in the county, they are a cherished member of local commerce.

The vibe at the brewpub is surfing and sports. Surfboards, sports memorabilia, team photos, and photographic artwork, along with the brewery’s many medals and ribbons, adorn the walls. Many of the items reflect the close relationship Breakwater has with the ocean, waves, family, community, and Sager’s passion for surfing.

Breakwater Taster Flight
Breakwater Brewing Co. - Taster Flight
Breakwater Tap Handles
Breakwater Brewing Co. - Tap Handles

There are bar stools, high tables, and low tables inside Breakwater- seating for all. Outside is a sunny patio where one can sit and enjoy the view. This brewpub is a place where you can bring friends, kids, and dogs, to have a good time while enjoying great beers and delicious food.

Breakwater has a beer for everyone. On any given day, there are 12 to 18 house beers and 25+ guest craft beers. They even have mead available for connoisseurs of the elixir. To keep the house taps flowing, brewers Rich Carney and Sean Quinn brew three to four times a week. Their system? A seven-barrel system rescued from a New Orleans brewery destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Lead brewer, Carney, has been brewing at Breakwater for three-and-a-half years. Before coming to Breakwater, he brewed for Pizza Port Solana Beach and with Bagby at Pizza Port Carlsbad. Quinn, the brewpub’s other brewer, is a self-taught homebrewer with years of experience creating beers. He has been brewing with Carney for two years. Gilman, co-founder of Breakwater, is the head brewer. He makes the amazing meads poured at the brewpub and cares for the brewpub’s offsite barrel aging program.

Although this Breakwater team has brewed numerous award-winning beers and meads over the years, it was their latest winner (Bronze Medals at both the 2015 Great American Beer Festival and 2015 San Diego International Beer Festival) we focused on for our visit: TEAHUPO’O (10.1% ABV).

“TEAHUPO’O is the first beer that I designed on my own,” Carney explained to us. “Although a Triple IPA doesn’t exist as a style, that’s what it is. Sean and I prepped for three days just to start making it. Then we threw the kitchen sink at the brew and did some special brewing techniques I wanted to try. It’s basically a simple recipe. It has American, Canadian, and English malts with 85 pounds of whole leaf hops.”

The IBUs for this award-winning brew? 150+! Though the high IBU was designed to punch through the sweetness of the malts, the beer is well balanced and delicious. Most impressive is the delightful texture to the mouthfeel and citrus-grove-like tang.

“Many of our beers are named after famous surf spots in the world,” he told us. “And the bigger the ABV, the bigger the break it is named for.”

“We have had an overwhelming response to the beer, it became our flagship beer in three batches. It was named for a famous surf break in Tahiti, also known as Wall of Skulls.”

– Rich Carney, Brewmaster Breakwater Brewing

Breakwater Brewers
Breakwater Brewers Co. - Rich Carney & Sean Quinn
GABF Bronze Medal
Breakwater Brewing Co. - GABF Bronze Medal

Like their quality beer, Breakwater serves well-made food that is perfect for beer-food pairing. The menu is stacked with snacks like pork rib tips, wings, savory salads, signature pizzas, paninis, and innovative sandwiches on delicious breads like focaccia.

“Everything is for today,” Sager told us as we sampled some of their mouth-watering dishes. “We use the freshest ingredients, and everything is made from scratch.” We like how Breakwater combines great craft beer with delicious beer food. The food is unpretentious, memorable, and prices are reasonable. It’s food that deserves to be enjoyed with beer.

Take their pizzas, for example. The combination of toppings is nicely put together resulting in good flavors. Breakwater’s pizza dough, made with high-grade flour and house beer, gives their pizzas a chewy base for the toppings and a deliciously charred crust. The harmony and balance achieved in pizzas we sampled at the brewpub are a testimony to Sager’s talent as a Master Pizza Chef.

Breakwater Growler
Breakwater Brewing Co. - Growler
Breakwater Server
Breakwater Brewing Co. - Service With a Smile
Breakwater Artichoke Bruschetta
Breakwater Brewing Co. - Artichoke Bruschetta

Another delicious example is one of their newest starters, “Artichoke Bruschetta”. This tasty delight is a basket of toasted Parmesan bread squares topped with avocado slices on a mixture of diced artichoke, fresh tomato, roasted tomato, and roasted garlic, sprinkled with fresh-grated Parmesan cheese.

There are many more such savory dishes on the menu at Breakwater which you should check out. All of them are designed to be enjoyed with the house and/or guest beers or mead. “We know we’re not perfect, but we are always looking for ways to get better,” Sager’s confides. “By taking care of the beer, food, customers, and my employees, I know we will get there.

The world needs more brewpubs like Breakwater Brewing. A place where people know you. A place to find your friends and take your family for lunch or dinner. Like Michael Jackson, “The Beer Hunter,” said- “Somewhere to drink a tasty pint and pair it with a hearty meal.”