Brewer Recognition Abounds
Recognition swept through San Diego’s brewing community during the early days of autumn, beginning with 14 medals earned at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colo. The largest annual professional brewing competition in the country, the GABF saw nearly 8,000 beers this year from more than 2,000 American breweries entered in 98 style categories, with 293 winning gold, silver or bronze medals. San Diego breweries have historically fared very well, often bringing home more awards than many states, and this year was no different despite a dramatic uptick in total entries and the limiting of entries per brewery to just four.
Gold medals were awarded to Ballast Point Brewing’s Miramar brewery (Imperial India Pale Ale), Karl Strauss Brewing’s Carlsbad brewpub (Honey Beer), Pizza Port’s Ocean Beach brewpub (Session Beer), Second Chance Beer (Robust Porter) and Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station (Other Belgian-Style Ale).
Three of the aforementioned winners also garnered silver medals: Ballast Point’s Home Brew Mart brewery (Fruited American-Style Sour Ale), Pizza Port’s Carlsbad brewpub (Export Stout) and Second Chance (American-Style Amber or Red Ale). Second Chance was the only brewhouse to produce more than one award. Bagby Beer (Baltic-Style Porter), (Coronado Brewing Company–owned) Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery (English-Style Summer Ale) and OB Brewery (German-Style Wheat Ale) also took silver.
Bronze medals went to AleSmith Brewing (Scotch Ale), Culture Brewing (Golden or Blonde Ale) and the newly launched SouthNorte Beer (Specialty Beer).
San Diego County breweries also made their marks beyond official GABF accolades. Belching Beaver Brewery won the high-profile Alpha King Challenge with its Citra double India pale ale (IPA) called Thizz Is What It Is. It was the second time in three years the Oceanside-based business took top honors in this battle for hoppy-beer supremacy. On top of that, Timothy and Dalia Parker, owners of the recently opened Chula Vista Brewery, were awarded a “Brewing and Business Experienceship” by The Boston Beer Company as part of the Samuel Adams American Dream competition, following in the footsteps of fellow San Diego–based company ChuckAlek Independent Brewers, the owners of which received the same beneficial tutelage in 2014.
High on precious metal, San Diego brewers returned home ready to celebrate the ninth annual San Diego Beer Week. This year’s celebration of local ales and lagers took place November 3–12 and featured hundreds of varied beer events and promotions. It also included two firsts. With the San Diego Brewers Guild reaching 20 years of age, the City of San Diego issued a proclamation to the local industry nonprofit, naming November 7 “20th Anniversary of the Brewers Guild in San Diego Day.” The proclamation was pushed for by District 6 City Councilmember Chris Cate (whose district includes such brewery-rich areas as Miramar and Kearny Mesa) and signed by the mayor and the entirety of the City Council.
But the guild wasn’t done celebrating. In preparation for Beer Week, it assembled the local independent interests that had been in business for 20 or more years — AleSmith, Coronado, Karl Strauss, Oggi’s, San Marcos Brewery and Stone Brewing — to develop a recipe for a special beer that would go on to be named (through a vote among all guild member breweries) Capital of Craft IPA. The beer debuted at the official opening festival of Beer Week and was distributed to numerous other events and accounts, with a portion of the proceeds being donated to the guild to help fund its efforts to promote its members and the importance of supporting local, independent brewing companies.
Openings, Closings and Breweries For Sale
The guild’s membership grew by unprecedented leaps and bounds in the last quarter of the year, with the addition of many of the 20-plus breweries that opened in 2018. As of press time, the latest to do so was Oceanside’s Northern Pine Brewing (326 N. Horne Street; northernpinebrewing.com), a joint venture brewpub from a team of homebrewing outdoor enthusiasts and the owners of popular southern Louisianan barbecue restaurant That Boy Good. The six-barrel brewery includes elements developed by the team on the popular Discovery Channel television series Monster Garage. To date, that apparatus has produced a cream ale, an amber ale, a SMASH (single-malt and single-hop) pale ale, a porter, a California common, a stout and a pair of IPAs. Those beers are available in an earth-toned combo bar and dining room featuring taps carved into a backsplash fashioned from hand-chopped wooden logs. The beer list is featured against a painted mountain range scene, and one of the hike-savvy owners’ favorite mottos, “Let’s get lost,” can be found on the south wall. It’s an airy, communally driven space that’s a pleasant addition to a somewhat underserviced portion of a thriving municipality.
Also open is the highly anticipated brewery from popular beer expert Bill Sysak. Known the country over as “Dr. Bill,” the former Stone craft beer ambassador teamed with another former member of Team Stone, head brewer Bill Sobieski, to install a brewery sharing space with a batting cage facility in San Marcos. Going by the moniker Wild Barrel Brewing Company (692 Rancheros Drive; wildbarrelbrewing.com), the business is located a block from Stone’s original brewery, a spot now operated by triple-threat Pizza Port offshoots Port Brewing, The Lost Abbey and The Hop Concept, which Sysak says were very helpful as he worked to get open (along with Stone and other local breweries).
Built around production of both fresh and, eventually, barrel-aged product, Wild Barrel’s early offerings have included a trio of fruited Berliner weisses, a witbier, multiple IPAs (both clear and hazy) and a stout brewed with java from Rancho Bernardo–based roaster Mostra Coffee. Product from Mostra Coffee will be sold at an upcoming coffee bar designed to provide an additional revenue source servicing the many visitors to the San Marcos Department of Motor Vehicles office located directly across the street. That is more of a to-go business, but those looking to hunker down with a beer will enjoy a plethora of seating, including belly bars situated within a giant barrel structure near the center of the tasting room, which will include rotating artwork from local artists as well as a water feature.
A short distance west, Vista’s Ebullition Brew Works (2449-D Cades Way; ebullitionbrew.com) celebrated its official grand opening over two weekends in October. Built around the theme of finding one’s ebullition — a vibrant, sudden burst of enthusiasm provoked by passion for a pursuit — the business was founded by a former homebrewer who convinced friends established in other industries to leave their careers to go into the beer biz. This group includes a much-awarded homebrewer who helms the company’s 10-barrel system, producing a combination of traditional and out-there creations. The former include a wheat ale, an amber ale, a brown ale, a Scottish ale and a West Coast IPA, while the avant-garde class includes a rye pilsner, a juniper berry–infused saison and a coffee stout brewed with piñon nuts. The tasting room features collages of hobbies and interests meant to spark patrons’ ebullition. There is also a broad assortment of tabletop games, many of which go far beyond the ubiquitous types found at tasting rooms these days.
Farther south, in Bay Park, the owners of Deft Brewing (5328 Banks Street; deftbrewing.com) threw caution to the wind when an unexpected agency approval allowed them to open their doors on Friday the thirteenth. Founded by a recreational fermentationist gone pro, Deft is located within a gable-roofed foarmer boatmaking shop outfitted with a two-barrel system (which will soon be replaced by a 10-barrel setup) producing styles rarely seen in San Diego these days: an English-style IPA, an Irish-style red ale and a rare sticke altbier. A kölsch, a wit, a tripel, a red IPA and a stout make up the rest of Deft’s initial offerings. Just under half of the boat shop is devoted to a tasting room with an outdoor glass-friendly garden with hanging hop bines.
In a case of symbiosis, an aspiring brewery owner was recently able to help a struggling brewery owner depart the industry with his head held high and his brand intact. The owner of Savagewood Brewing (9879 Hibert Street; savagewoodbrewing.com) purchased the brewery formerly operated as O’Sullivan Bros. Brewing in San Diego’s Scripps Ranch neighborhood. The owner of the latter was forced to put his business up for sale due to health issues. While the brewery and tasting room will be converted to feature the branding and beers of Savagewood, the new owner is retaining all of O’Sullivan Bros.’s staff while keeping the brand active and continuing to produce several of its most popular beers for sale in the tasting room and via self-distribution. Naturally, Savagewood beers will be produced at the Scripps Ranch brewery, but its owner will continue to utilize contract-brewing conducted at Santee’s Groundswell Brewing to produce enough beer to meet his business plan goals. The new concept debuted during Beer Week with introductory beers that included a hazy IPA and a pineapple pale ale.
At present, two breweries are openly for sale. The first, Intergalactic Brewing (9715 Carroll Centre Road, San Diego; intergalacticbrew.com), has been on the market since June. Most of its employees have found new jobs, as directed by ownership, but the business continues to chug along. Meanwhile, Kearny Mesa–based Helm’s Brewing (5640 Kearny Mesa Road; helmsbrewingco.com) began accepting offers in September. That business, which is valuing itself above the half-million mark, includes a satellite tasting room in San Diego’s Ocean Beach community.
Six-month-young business Wiseguy Brewing opted to pull the plug and merely shut its doors in October. It was one of two leased tenants at Carlsbad’s ready-to-brew Brewery Igniter campus. Owners cited the unfeasible nature of the Brewery Igniter model — a concept introduced by local developer H. G. Fenton in 2015 that has three campuses situated throughout the county — echoing unspoken sentiments of at least half the current brewery tenants. While lessees avoid the start-up costs associated with acquiring brewing equipment, rent is high and space is limited for servicing customers. Brewery Igniter is seen by most as a means to accomplish proof of concept, though it has been utilized by the likes of existing companies such as Amplified Ale Works and San Diego Brewing to increase production while reaching new customers.
On the expansion front, numerous satellite tasting rooms went into orbit of late. Kensington Brewing, which, despite its name, is actually based in Grantville, opened a sampling space on Kensington’s main drag, an aspiration of its owner (a resident of the neighborhood) that took four years for him to realize. That venue took over the space occupied by popular longtime tenant Kensington Video.
In late October, Second Chance Beer opened a tasting room on the most high-traffic thoroughfare (30th Street) of San Diego’s most lively community (North Park). Located across the street from popular beer haunt Toronado San Diego, Second Chance Beer Lounge offers award-winning ales from the Carmel Mountain–based business.
At press time, Eppig Brewing, a one-year-old upstart based in the North Park Brewery Igniter facility, was putting the finishing touches on a waterfront venue in Point Loma with a wealth of patio space and brilliant views of yachts and the downtown skyline.
Then there’s the most unique satellite of them all, a bar belonging to Mira Mesa’s Rough Draft Brewing, situated in the new Mesa Nueva graduate student housing complex at the University of California at San Diego. Rough Draft’s owner graduated from UCSD and is happy to see his beer help expand craft beer options at his alma mater.
But not all tasting rooms are being approved. In fact, earlier this year, the San Diego Police Department began issuing blanket protests of ABC licenses in numerous communities with high crime statistics. The first victim of this tactic for increased budget to hire more officers was Miramar-based Little Miss Brewing, which is now stuck in a lease after paying rent for nine months on a space that was never going to be granted a license, even though Little Miss’s nearly identical tasting room in Normal Heights was licensed and has been in operation for months. Adding to Little Miss’s woes is the recent departure of its head brewer, who went on to assume that same role at Mikkeller Brewing San Diego in October.
Mission Brewery announced it would begin selling stock to the general public as part of a two-month WeFunder campaign devised to amass a goal of $1 million for the East Village–based business. At press time, just under $200,000 had been raised.
This is all the news that will fit in print. Check back next issue for news on Acoustic Ales Brewing Experiment moving to North County, making way for a new operation, Latchkey Brewing, plus details on Cismontane Brewing opening a spot in Escondido and multiple new breweries, including the first ever for the city of Lemon Grove.