In 2010, an entrepreneur from north of San Diego County delivered a brewpub concept to downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter. Dubbed The Beer Co., it was a spin-off operation that failed to generate much of a reputation among San Diego’s craft-beer enthusiasts. Not even a gold medal from the 2012 Great American Beer Festival for its barrel-aged strong ale, The Manhattan Project, measured so much as a ripple in local waters. Still, it soldiered on for more than half-a-decade before closing down. Now, the space that housed it is ready to birth a second brewery-restaurant brought to San Diego by nearby out-of-towners, The Bell Marker (602 East Broadway, Downtown).
That business will debut on January 22, complete with a veteran, native San Diegan brewer at the helm. That individual, Noah Regnery hails from vaunted locally-based business, Pizza Port, where he worked at the chain’s San Clemente brewpub from 2007 to 2011 and contributed to its award-winning reputation before departing to become head brewer at Hollister Brewing in Goleta, California, a post he held until 2014 when he departed the industry altogether. His return should be highly anticipated, but as with so many developments in the suddenly complicated local suds scene, it comes with some drama. The Bell Marker is the first location south of Los Angeles for LA-based Artisanal Brewers Collective, a company established by Golden Road Brewing co-founder Tony Yanow. That in itself is not all that significant, but the fact Yanow and Golden Road partner Meg Gill sold the business to macrobeer conglomerate AB InBev in September of 2015 muddies things a bit for fans of independent craft brewers as well as members of the local industry.
Since Golden Road’s sale, Yanow (a bar owner before and throughout his tenure with Golden Road) and his ABC partners have been busy gobbling up hospitality venues throughout LA. The Bell Marker is the first to possess a brewing component and Yanow’s original venues—Mohawk Bend and Tony’s Darts Away—were craft-centric venues which were ahead of their time. Figuratively, this is not unfamiliar territory for this seemingly insatiable entrepreneur, even if it is from a geographic standpoint. How it will be received from a local population which vehemently eschewed last year’s arrival of AB InBev’s 10 Barrel Brewing brewpub in the East Village remains to be seen.
The Bell Marker houses a copper-clad, 15-barrel brewhouse that will be utilized to produce American, English, German, and Belgian beers. The opening-day line-up will include a cream ale, hefeweizen, brown ale, pale ale and IPA augmented by guest beers selected to fill in any stylistic gaps. There will also be a full cocktail program to appeal to non-beer fans. The 8,000-square-foot venue can seat 212 at a time and will be open seven days a week from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Jeff Silver has many fond memories of his time attending the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Though he’s 23 years removed from graduation day, he’s maintained ties with his alma mater via its alumni organization and work with the Graduate Student Association. His involvement with the latter formed the connection for a project involving his Mira Mesa-based business that came to fruition last month when the Rough Draft Brewing Company Pub debuted at UCSD’s new Mesa Nueva student-housing complex.
Silver remembers the intense hours of study he put in as a college student and how vital having a place to socialize and blow off steam was. His favorite haunt at the time was the Round Table Pizza at the centrally located Price Center. Mesa Nueva residents won’t even need to venture that far. Rough Draft’s bar is equipped with 12 taps and a small bar with indoor seating. A roll-up door gives way to an outdoor patio that includes a pool with two Jacuzzis. The latter are available for use by residents and beer may be consumed within them, however no glassware is allowed in the area.
Silver utilized one of Rough Draft’s duplicate Type 23 licenses, which required the blessing of regulatory agencies such as the local office of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). As one might expect, there were those who were skeptical about installing a venue serving alcoholic beverages on campus, but in the end UCSD elected to trust in the responsibility of its student body. But Rough Draft’s is not the only project of its kind happening on campus. Consortium Holdings is also in the process of renovating the former site of Porter’s Pub into an additional iteration of its popular bar-and-restaurant concept, Soda and Swine.
Earlier this month a for-lease sign went up beside the signage for Little Miss Brewing’s much-anticipated tasting room on Ocean Beach’s Newport Avenue. The conversion of the site’s interior into a French World War II-themed sampling space is roughly halfway complete and the company’s logo has been mounted outside, making this an unexpected turn of events for everyone, including owners Greg and Jade Malkin. The marrieds behind this Miramar-based company’s satellite project have been paying rent on the space since last December and, in the time it has taken to attempt to obtain approval from the local faction of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), have opened another tasting room in Normal Heights. But the ABC process for their would-be OB interest has been nothing short of a bureaucratic nightmare.
The Malkins submitted their ABC application for the OB tasting room a week after sending the same paperwork for the Normal Heights project. Early on, things went as expected, including receipt of protests during the 30-day period when residents are allowed to formally raise issues. The majority of the protests were rescinded once the Malkins reached out to the individuals who had initiated them. What the Malkins were unaware of, however, is that a private meeting had been held without their notification or knowledge in late-April—outside of the public-protest period—between ABC supervisors, representatives of the San Diego Police Department (SDPD), a State Assembly member and additional OB residents not in favor of the tasting room. ABC representatives claimed the meeting was not specifically about Little Miss, but rather all tasting-room licenses pending on Newport Avenue, but Little Miss’ was the only license of that type pending at the time. The negatives that came out of that meeting, where the project was scrutinized without the applicants being able to defend their business, followed the Little Miss project file through its lifespan without the Malkins even knowing. But this constitutes only a portion of the obstacles.
While the Malkins respect the job and authority of the ABC and appreciate the hard-working nature of ABC employees, they echo the opinion of most (including ABC employees) that the department and its local offices are severely understaffed during this time of unprecedented brewery openings. During the many months they spent trying to open the OB tasting room, meetings with ABC agents typically yielded little in the way of concrete answers or reliable advice. Often, one agent would contradict the other. In the cases where they agreed, other governmental factions saw things differently. Additionally, the Malkins were told to call ABC reps at different offices as well as various individuals at the City of San Diego offices and SDPD. Most calls went unanswered, as did requests for information.
The key piece of info they coveted during the process were crime logs. During a meeting with the ABC on July 20, the Malkins were shown a letter from the SDPD dated June 29 stating it would not support the issuance of Little Miss’ OB license. The reason: the neighborhoods the Western Patrol Division serves (Ocean Beach, Hillcrest, La Playa, Linda Vista, Loma Portal, Midtown, Midway District, Mission Hills, Mission Valley West, Morena, Old Town, Point Loma Heights, Roseville-Fleetridge, Sunset Cliffs, University Heights and “Wooded Area”) had experienced an overall increase in crime and could not handle another ABC license issued in the area. The ABC said they would not go against the SDPD’s recommendation because they felt it was impossible to change their opinion. Determined to give that a try on their own, the Malkins asked to see the crime reports for the aforementioned communities. The ABC had those reports, but said they were not allowed to provide them to the Malkins, and directed them to obtain the data from the City. They attempted to do so, but after more unanswered calls, ended up downloading the information they needed from the City of San Diego’s website instead.
Through this fact-finding exercise, they discovered that, although alcohol-related crime had gone up in the Western Patrol Division’s patrol area as a whole, it had gone down in OB by a whopping 40% since the November 2014 introduction of the neighborhood’s first brewery tasting room—Culture Brewing Company on Newport Avenue. Also, the number-one alcohol-related crime in OB is open-container violations, primarily on the beach. They presented this information to multiple City Councilmembers, the Mayor’s office and ABC, even going so far as to waive Little Miss’ ability to sell packaged beer or growlers to go, but never received an answer. The final straw was a call earlier this week when the Malkins say it seemed like someone at the ABC had decided they were going to deny the license long ago—possibly as far back as the meeting that they weren’t given the opportunity to attend—but nobody wanted to be the bearer of bad news. It prompted them to officially pull the plug on the OB project.
This drama isn’t the only turbulence for the company, which last week parted ways with the only brewmaster it has known during its first year of existence. This seems a much easier hurdle to get over than ABC issues. Former Green Flash Brewing Company brewer Joe Lisica spearheaded brewery and tasting room construction and beer production for Little Miss. His desire was to create clean, clear beers, including an assortment of single-malt-and-single-hop (SMASH) beers. While quality was never an issue and ownership appreciated Lisica and his beers, their vision for Little Miss’ portfolio was vastly different, leading to an amicable parting of ways. Mike Morbitzer, a fellow Green Flash alum Lisica hired as his assistant, has been promoted to brewmaster and will be responsible for reshaping Little Miss’ offerings to match the Malkin’s desires, which includes more new-school beers such as hazy IPAs and beers brewed with fruits and other adjuncts across varying styles. Meanwhile, Lisica is taking a brief hiatus from the industry to contemplate his next move, while entertaining offers from companies in need of his services.
Little Miss’ business model from the get-go has been to open six satellite tasting rooms under their manufacturing license, focusing on unsaturated neighborhoods — besides the planned OB location. The Malkins are leery of filing through the San Diego office again. A local ABC agent advised them to apply in La Mesa, a municipality that only recently began encouraging brewing companies to lay down stakes, but they will also likely look north once they have some time to gain some distance and lick their wounds.
In San Diego County, brewery-touring is such a popular activity that even businesses that are off the beaten path garner a good deal of traffic from fans who seek them out. While our neighbors to the north in Temecula enjoy a burgeoning beer scene as well, it has yet to progress to the point where citizens and visitors chart courses for far-off business parks. Though one of the municipality’s most popular fermentation operations, Ironfire Brewing Company receives zero walk- or drive-by patronage, but it has multiple plans to fix that, and they involve projects in both Riverside and San Diego Counties.
The first—a satellite tasting room in Temecula’s well-traversed Old Town area—is more fleshed out at present. Located at 42081 Third Street, the site is adjacent to the cul-de-sac on the west end of the street backing up to Murrieta Creek, and in immediate proximity to City Hall’s free parking garage. The tasting room will be installed in a brand-new, 2,000-square-foot space that will be outfitted in an old-west motif mimicking that of Ironfire’s original tasting room. The facility will be equipped with two-dozen taps, two of which will be nitro in nature with another devoted to sour, funky beers.
This will be Old Town Temecula’s first brewery tasting room. The brewery will look to team with nearby restaurants to provide multiple food options to patrons. While Ironfire vice president and lead brewer Greg Webb would like to install a pilot system, the site is not zoned for manufacturing. With any luck, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) will approve plans for an outdoor patio looking out onto Third Street and the hills west of Old Town.
Meanwhile, down in San Diego County’s southernmost city, Imperial Beach, Ironfire has partnered with chef-entrepreneur Steve Brown, who aims to install a large restaurant project called The Shipping Yard on the corner of Date Avenue and Seacoast Drive. Planned as a campus constructed out of repurposed shipping containers, it has yet to take shape. According to Webb, his and Brown’s teams continue to discuss details about the project, but have yet to come to a final determination. The only thing they know at present is that it will be “like nowhere else and all-out epic.”
The California Craft Brewers Association (CCBA) will be holding an ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) workshop in San Diego on Tuesday, February 12. This is your chance to get answers to frequently asked questions straight from ABC. The workshop will be conducted by Jacob Appelsmith, Director of the ABC, and staff.
This workshop is designed for all levels. We recommend session one (1–2:30 p.m.) for anyone thinking of starting a brewery or any brewery-in-planning. This session will cover licensing and ABC regulatory basics. This is also a good “tune-up” for any operating brewery staff.
Session two (3–5 p.m.) is designed for owners, key employees and sales, distribution and marketing staff. It will cover in detail such areas as trade practice laws, growler fills and requirements, social media restrictions and many other topics. This session is also highly recommended for anyone taking session one.
There will also be a Q & A opportunity.
As a craft brewer doing business in California, you are responsible to know and abide by all regulation in the California Alcohol Beverage Act. These regulations and laws are numerous and often confusing. This is a great opportunity to get clarification on what your license does – and does not – allow you to do.
This workshop is open to California craft breweries, out of state craft breweries doing business in California and CCBA Allied Trade Associate Members.
CCBA brewery members can attend without cost for up to five brewery employees as a benefit of their membership. Each additional employee is $25 per person.
The cost for non-members is $45 per person and includes both start-up and advanced sessions.
Registration and advanced payment is required for Members and Non-Members:
Please send a check directly to the CCBA: POB 1202, Nevada City, CA 95959 or pay through our PayPal account by clicking here. Please register by email to firstname.lastname@example.org and provide your name, brewery name, email address and the names of those attending the workshop.
Workshop date and location details
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
International House Great Hall, UCSD
9500 Gillman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093
Registration begins @ 12:15 p.m.
Meeting 1– 2:30 p.m. Start-ups
Meeting 3 – 5 p.m. Advanced
Beer Social 5 – 6 p.m.
For more information, including directions and parking instructions, plus hotel recommendations, visit the CCBA website (where we obtained the material in this post).