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San Diego Beer News

Q&A: Zack Knipe

Apr 26

Owner, Kensington Brewing Company

After several years in operation, Kensington Brewing Company gained a name for itself last January when it opened its brewery and tasting room to the public. There was just one oddity—that tasting room is in Grantville versus the business’ namesake community. Owner Zack Knipe lives in Kensington and has wanted to set up shop there from the beginning, but was forced to compromise to bring his vision to fruition. But over the past year, he’s kept his eyes open for a space. One day, a sign went up in the iconic Kensington Video storefront and he pounced on it—along with a number of other suitors for that space. In the end, he won out and soon his brewery’s name will make sense. He knows he has big shoes to fill, supplanting a hometown business of nearly four decades, but thinks his goods have the goods to do right by Kensington and hopes his new venue becomes a hub for the community he harbors so much affinity for.

West Coaster: What factors made it difficult to setup shop in Kensington?
Zack Knipe: “Downtown” Kensington is an amazing place, but it just isn’t that big. Most of the businesses on the block have been operating for a very long time, so it limits the amount of real estate available for newcomers. Only a couple of opportunities to establish a tasting room on the block have come up over the past four years, and there was heavy competition for those locations. It was difficult! There were a lot of really good businesses competing for our new location, and we pushed very hard to make sure we got the opportunity this time.

WC: What’s so special about the Kensington community?
ZK: As part of my proposal to lease the Ken Video space, I wrote the owners a letter that talked about how I first found Kensington. I am from a small town in Northern California and came to San Diego to attend USD. Go Toreros! San Diego was such a big city to me that I always envisioned returning to NorCal. Part of my college coursework had me taking some cinema classes. One of the only places in the city to find foreign films or less mainstream films was Kensington Video. During my many trips out to the video store to pick up class materials, I explored the neighborhood and saw that it really has that small-town vibe in a big city. Long story short, being a part of a community like that means a lot to me. It has been where I wanted to raise my family and brow my business for a very long time. Sixteen years later, not only do we have the opportunity to be a local business, but also to setup in a space that first brought me here.

WC: How do you plan to convert this iconic space to fit your needs?
ZK: Our brewing operations will continue in our current facility in Grantville. We wanted to make sure we are able to have as much room as possible for the community to not only come in and enjoy a great beer, but host an event or community gathering. We will have a large amount of both bar and table seating, and we intend to be as kid-friendly as possible. The space also has a great audiovisual system we hope to use to show some of Ken Video’s classic collection. I don’t want to give everything away, but, aesthetically, we are aiming to have some historic Kensington elements blended with the Spanish and Craftsman-style architecture seen throughout the neighborhood.

WC: What’s the plan for the Grantville brewery?
ZK: We originally ended up in Grantville to stay as close to Kensington as possible. Being right down the hill from the neighborhood, we felt we would still serve it. In the process, we learned what great people we have in Allied Gardens, Del Cerro, Talmadge, Normal Heights and a lot of other nearby communities. Many of our regulars love he vibe that we have going in our current tasting room. In the short term, with our current staff, we will solely produce beer in Grantville while retaining the current setup for special events, using our Kensington location as our main tasting room. In the long-term, we hope to reopen the Grantville tasting room with some permanent hours.

WC: When do you expect to open the new location?
ZK: All of our paperwork is currently being reviewed with the ABC and we are awaiting our posting, which we hope to receive in the next couple of weeks. It is ambitious, but if everything goes as planned, we would like to be open in July. We want to thank everyone who has supported us over the four years it’s taken to get to this point. We look forward to more fun times to come!

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Chula Vista Brewery opening Cinco de Mayo

Apr 25

Craft beer’s “South Bay Uprising” has slowly been picking up steam over the past few years, but now things are getting real. The uprising is finally hitting the main drag in Chula Vista, the municipality where it’s most important that it make an impact—Third Avenue. That thoroughfare is already home to Third Avenue Alehouse and will soon be joined by the area’s first fully functioning brewery and tasting room, Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing Company. Much fanfare has surrounded the latter while another interest bearing the city’s name has quietly gone about the business of going into business right across the street: Chula Vista Brewery.

Located at 294 Third Avenue, Chula Vista Brewery is the product of Timothy and Dali Parker, a couple who live in the area. As the company’s name suggests, the Parkers aim to be ultra-local, which will include teaming with other Chula Vista businesses. They feel there is a misconception that Chula Vista lacks craft-beer drinkers, which has led to the community’s underserviced status from a brewing perspective. So, they’re taking it upon themselves to give their community the ales they feel it deserves.

Russell Clements, a veteran brewer who worked at Rock Bottom‘s La Jolla brewpub under (current Second Chance Beer Company brewmaster) Marty Mendiola before moving on to Ballast Point Brewing, will be the one manning the brewhouse. He will be assisted by Timothy, whose brewing background has all been gained on the home-front. Together, the duo will craft enough beers to stock CVB’s dozen taps. They are currently developing a blonde, red ale, American pale ale, IPA and stout on their five-barrel Premier Stainless system. A double IPA, porter, imperial stout and hoppy lager will come later.

While the business may open as soon as this weekend (the Parkers advise that they will post information about any soft-opening on their website), the official grand opening will take place on Friday, May 5. CVB will have Third Avenue to themselves for a little while. Their cross-street colleagues at Thr3e Punk Ales are currently scheduled to open to the public by the end of June.

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Beer of the Week: Nickel Grapefruit Bighorn IPA

Apr 21

Grapefruit Bighorn IPA from Nickel Beer Co. in Julian

From the Beer Writer: Every time I find myself strolling the beer aisle of a local grocery store, I marvel at the amount of fruit-flavored beers in the mainstream market, many of which are manufactured using extracts. It’s obvious the demand is there, but it can be tough to find all-natural options, partly because brewing with real fruit is more costly, more complicated, and more labor-intensive. Because of that, the process is far better suited to small breweries like Nickel Beer Company, an operation carved into an old jailhouse in Julian. Every week you can find owner and brewmaster Tom Nickel hunched over buckets of local grapefruit, zesting and juicing one after another to get enough flavorful raw ingredient for Nickel Grapefruit Bighorn IPA. He’s not even a fan of fruit beers, but he knows his customers are, even folks like me who generally dislike grapefruit. The manner in which the bitter citrus comingles with the fruity bitterness of the beer’s hop bill really works, particularly when consuming this beer on Nickel’s outdoor patio on a sunny day in Julian.

From the Brewers: “I would consider myself more of a traditional brewer and not prone to adding extra flavors to beer, my one exception being an obsession with all things spicy, so I do love my pepper beers. But when I saw locally-grown grapefruit from Borrego Springs at our produce stand in Julian, I thought it seemed like a good fit to try with one of our IPAs. The intensity of the fresh grapefruit in the beer struck me immediately, and while I certainly thought it was good, I had no idea how folks—especially our local regulars—would react to it. For the time that we have had it on, it has been our most popular beer. I have now used three different IPAs as a base to blend with the Borrego grapefruit, but the Bighorn IPA is a perfect match. The beer was brewed for the Anza-Borrego Foundation‘s 50th Anniversary in April. It was made with 100% German hops, including Hallertau Blanc for finishing and dry hopping to give the beer a substantial citrus profile. It is very light in color and clocks in at a very drinkable 6.4% (alcohol-by-volume). The grapefruit is commanding in the aroma and finish but the overall impression of the IPA remains. I think my favorite comment about the beer so far comes from my mother-in-law, who said it would be an excellent breakfast beer. I wholeheartedly agree.”—Tom Nickel, Founder & Brewmaster, Nickel Beer Company

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San Diego’s satellite tasting room projects

Apr 19

The future home of Little Miss Brewing’s tasting room in OB (three doors down from Culture Brewing’s satellite)

Breweries make the best margin by far when selling their beer in their taprooms. With a county expansive as San Diego, getting customers to a single location can be a challenge, but the satellite tasting room model—one where a brewery opens a non-brewing sampling space in a geographically removed community—has proven quite successful in helping brewing companies reach new customers, move inventory and generate additional revenue. Many satellites have been sent into orbit throughout the county in recent years, and quite a few are in different states of planning at present. Here is a breakdown of such projects by the neighborhoods they may someday call home.

Bay Park: As announced earlier this week, Grantville-based Benchmark Brewing Company has signed a lease on a space. The family-run business had been exploring the prospect of opening a satellite in Oceanside, but ultimately decided to stay within the City of San Diego.

Carlsbad: A collective of artisans will someday share space with crops of produce, wine grapes and hops at the North 40 development. Numerous tenants have been reeled in over the past two years (and many have walked away), but Miramar’s AleSmith Brewing Company and Carmel Mountain’s Second Chance Beer Company are signed up, with the former hoping to sell house-made cheese with its beer.

Chula Vista: Fresh off the high of moving into Twisted Manzanita Ales’ former production brewery (and distillery) in Santee, Groundswell Brewing Company is working to open a sampling space on downtown Chula Vista’s main drag, Third Avenue…right across the street from soon-to-debut Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing Company.

Encinitas: Though a community that’s openly resisted brewery-owned venues, this beachy berg has two breweries slogging against the tide for space on Coast Highway 101: Point Loma’s Modern Times Beer Company (across from La Paloma Theatre) and Solana Beach’s Culture Brewing Company (next to Bier Garden of Encinitas).

Marina District: Developers have spent the better part of the past year curating a list of breweries to share space at The Headquarters at Seaport Village. Planned as a central courtyard surrounded by six identical yet uniquely appointed brewery tasting rooms, it has proven challenging for a variety of reasons, but would create a concept unique to San Diego.

Normal Heights: Longtime craft-beer champion Blind Lady Ale House will soon have some sudsy company in their ‘hood care of Miramar-based Little Miss Brewing, which is hard at work on two fun-and-games equipped tasting rooms within San Diego proper.

North Park: Another interest with two satellites in the works is Second Chance, who recently revealed plans to open a tasting room on 30th Street in North Park, across the street from popular beer-bar Toronado and doors down from the site of Ritual Kitchen, which announced last week that it will soon shut its doors after 10 years in business.

Ocean Beach: Little Miss Brewing’s other upcoming satellite will join the county’s most tasting room-dense community, on the same block as Belching Beaver Brewery, Culture, Helm’s Brewing Company and Kilowatt Brewing Company; and a short walk from OB Brewery and Pizza Port OB; and a quick drive from Mike Hess Brewing Company’s sampler.

Pacific Beach: Downtown’s Mission Brewery is geared to cash in on partygoers’ thirst for beer, installing a tasting room on Garnet Avenue where it intersects with Gresham Street. PB is currently without a brewery satellite after Twisted Manzanita’s closed down when the company folded last year.

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Home Brewing Company expanding tasting room

Apr 18

Those who’ve sampled beer within its friendly confines know that Home Brewing Company (2911 El Cajon Boulevard, North Park) has a lot going for it. Simple in its construct and easygoing in mood, it effectively accomplishes its mission—exposing Home’s clientele to a plethora of exploratory beer styles and, in the best of cases, sparking an interest in taking up brewing. The latter is a bonus and, while converting imbibers to recreational fermentationists certainly benefits owner George Thornton—Home Brewing is connected to next-door parent business, The Homebrewer—the brewery and tasting room are a product of passion versus capitalist aspirations. And the space feels that way, but Thornton has wanted to change it for some time and that day is drawing nigh.

Come June, construction is scheduled to start on an expansion of the tasting room that’s been in the works for three years. (A lack of funds kept it from happening sooner (so maybe Thornton would benefit from employing a little more capitalism.) The goal of the project is to make Home even more homey, opening up the space and make it evocative of a living room or reading room. Bookshelves stocked with accessible written materials and framed photos will be installed to convey that, but rather than make things too domestic, Thornton will balance out those design elements with the bar and what’s positioned behind it.

Jet-black quartz counter-tops will be installed over the existing bar, and give way to a “shrine-like” tap-wall with a bronze, tinted mirror behind it. The goal is to create a sense of transition between production space, a shrine to process and a living area, all within Home Brewing’s humble, 500-square-foot space. Adding a patio area with a fold-up door opening onto El Cajon Boulevard will expand the space by 150 square feet and free up interior space. With any luck, the project will be completed before summer is up.

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