The collection of artisanal producers in the pair of business parks near the corner of Miralani Drive and Camino Ruiz in Miramar already interact like partners. Home to four breweries, two wineries and a sake brewery, this is the most craft-saturated ultra-micro locale in all of San Diego County. And soon it will welcome its first actual partnership—a trio of businesses sharing a 3,500-square-foot space with a collective mindset and completely unique, hand-forged consumables. Lost Cause Meadery, Serpentine Cider and The Good Seed Food Company comprise this hand-in-hand threesome, all of which are on pace to open at different points within the month of October at 8665 Miralani Drive, Suite 100.
While they were searching for a site for their meadery, Lost Cause founders Billy and Suzanna Beltz met and hit it off with Serpentine headman Sean Harris at a brewery event. The entrepreneurs stayed in touch and, two months later, Harris asked if the Beltzes would like to join him and chef Chuy De La Torre as a third tenant in the space they intended to share. The marrieds followed in the footsteps of De La Torre, formerly the chef at Rancho Bernardo’s Urge Gastropub, and signed on. To a person, the quartet believe they are in the perfect geographical situation. This pertains to their individual facility, where all of their wares will appeal to artisanal-minded locavores, as well as their immediate surroundings.
The closest similar business to the shared space is Thunderhawk Alements, and the Beltzes say its owners have been extremely helpful. It’s the “Miralani Makers District”’s tangible colleagues-versus-competitors vibe that continues to lure so many small businesses to the area. A distillery is also en route for the area. It is reminiscent of San Diego’s roots from a brewery perspective and, in some ways, evokes memories of simpler times for that industry.
The Beltzes like the prospect of leveraging cider and, to some extent, beer, wine, sake and spirits from neighbors to attract cross-drinkers who might not specifically seek out mead, but will be more than happy to try it during an expansive tasting expedition. They realize mead is not as popular or understood as other beverages and aim to do a great deal of educating rom their tasting room (Serpentine will have its own sampling bar within the space, as well).
Lost Cause’s meads will be produced in 20- and 15-barrel batches located near the entrance to their tasting room. Billy has earned more than 35 medals for his meads in the past three years alone, and the Beltz’s research and techniques have been published in the American Homebrewer’s Association‘s Zymurgy Magazine and American Mead Maker, the official journal of the American Mead Maker Association. An integral part of their production process is a technique which allows them to control a slow, steady, healthy fermentation that retains extremely delicate honey flavors and aromas as alcohol builds.
Lost Cause’s initial line-up will all come in at 11% alcohol-by-volume and include:
The aesthetic of the shared facility will pay homage to Southern California and the Southwest region as a whole care of shared plants and furniture. For more information on each of the businesses’ debuts, follow each on social media.
Judging brewing competitions can be a reassuring exercise on many levels. If one devotes themselves to the process and takes it seriously, they often gain validation of their powers of evaluation through their panelist peers. And when everyone gives it their all, taking time to thoroughly analyze each entrant and debate top contenders’ rankings, it often leads to a truly high-quality beer taking top honors. This was what played out for me last Saturday when judging homebrew entries in Green Flash Brewing Company’s Genius Lab competition.
Held in conjunction with the company’s annual Treasure Chest Fest, a beer-and-food festival raising funds for the local chapter of Susan G. Komen, this battle of recreational brewers drew 31 entries. Contestants were permitted to brew any style of India pale ale they chose be it session, fruited, imperial, Belgian, black or hazy. Even with that much guideline leniency, a popular fact was easily proven true. IPAs are the toughest style of beer to brew at home; especially to standards that merit reproducing a beer in a professional setting. That was the first-place award for this competition.
Originally, our panel, which consisted of organizer Brian Beagle of local podcast San Diego BeerTalk Radio and Green Flash representatives including brewmaster Erik Jensen, had hoped to advance 15 beers from the first round to the second. It was about a third of the way through that it became apparent that this would not be possible. From aroma to flavor, the flaws were many. Some beers reeked of butyric acid (reviled for possessing a scent evocative of vomit), while others were as vegetal as a plate of Brussels sprouts. One even tasted like—I kid you not—Cinnamon Toast Crunch. In the end, we squeezed out 12 second-rounders by allowing in some “maybes”, but it really came down to four beers that had a chance at the top spot.
My comments above may make it seem like beer judges’ senses lead to instant consensus in most cases, but that hasn’t been my experience. Often, second- and third-round judging involves a great deal of discussion and debate. It’s a key part of the process, as it was in this instance. In the end, we selected an IPA called Searching For Clarity that, post-judging, we learned was entered by Nick Corona. If that name sounds familiar it’s because he won Homebrewer of the Year honors at last year’s Homebrew Con, the country’s largest recreational brewing competition, held annually by the American Homebrewers Association. A member of local club QUAFF, Corona is also the reigning homebrewer of the year for his winning entries at the 2017 edition of the San Diego County Fair‘s annual homebrew competition.
Corona’s win was announced the following day at Treasure Chest Fest, along with the second-place winner, a Northeast-style IPA from Solomon Cantwell, and the second-runner-up, Summer of Hops from Caden Houson (who is Corona’s co-brewer). Look for the winning beer to debut at Green Flash’s Mira Mesa tasting room as part of its small-batch Genius Lab program during San Diego Beer Week in early November.
Evan Smith enjoys creating things and pushing the envelope in the process. That’s the approach he took with his family business, Escondido Feed and Pet Supply, which has been in operation for decades but gained a reputation as one of the nation’s best stores of its kind only after Evan took the reins. When looking to take on a new entrepreneurial enterprise, he set his sights on craft brewing. A friend of Jordan Hoffart, he had discussions about investing in the pro-skateboarder’s Black Plague Brewing, which recently opened in Oceanside with a 20-barrel system, and grand-scale sales and distribution ambitions. In the end, the big-time wasn’t for Evan. So he went the exact opposite route, building San Diego County’s smallest fermentation interest, Escondido Brewing Company (649 Rock Springs Road, Escondido), which opened last weekend.
In doing so, Evan enlisted the services of an Escondidian homebrewer with scads of beer-competition wins under his medal-clad belt, Ketchen Smith. Together, they went to work building their brewery “like a tiny home.” With only 300 square feet at their disposal, even the most common construction tasks had to be analyzed and strategically managed. They had to cut a vertical foot off the cold-box and reverse the door. They had to install a sink small enough that it would allow them to open doors to that cold-box and the dishwasher on either side of it. And they had to install a bar-top that can be removed to allow a roll-up garage door to fully close. But they relished these challenges and maximized their space in the process. That removable bar-top can also be shifted to a lower rung to allow for service to patrons in wheelchairs, and visible fermenters stored in a converted liquor-store refrigeration unit are lit in a way they lend ambience to the place.
Having seen many a brewery in my day, Escondido Brewing is a testament to thoughtfulness, elbow grease and sheer will to make something happen. The Smiths smithed most of this big little project on their own, and what they didn’t do themselves, they got help from courtesy of friends and relatives. The business is a sterling example of what a hometown brewery should be, right down to founders whose aspirations are entirely confined to the city they love and live in. With shaded bar-seating and a trio of picnic tables making up the entirety of Escondido Brewing’s seating options, the business is a far cry from the sprawling gardens and critically acclaimed two-story restaurant at nearby Stone Brewing, the county’s largest independent craft-beer producer. And that’s the point. It’s a nice departure, especially for locals looking to avoid out-of-town beer geeks and tourists; a polar-opposite option that larger, regional breweries needn’t worry about competing with.
Amore for Escondido is further communicated through the names of the brewery’s beers—Hidden City Pale, Rock Springs Red, Hopcondido IPA—and most are based off homebrew recipes Ketchen has won multiple awards for. The most pertinent of those is the first release in a rotating Hop Animal series of ever-changing India pale ales called Marshall Nose IPA, the recipe for which took second overall at last month’s Homebrew Con, the country’s foremost amateur-brewing competition. Pale gold in color and hopped with massive amounts of Citra and Mosaic, it features big aromas of lemon balm, hay and loam accented by flavors of melon, mango, lemon and orange. Smith says it’s inspired by West Coast breweries that have pushed for so long to develop hop-forward beers devoid of caramel color and heavy malt presence. Smith’s other IPA, Hopcondido, comes across like lemon meringue pie on the nose and fresh-cut grass on the tongue, while his pale (which was previously brewed at Coachella Valley Brewing Company following a win at the Hops and Crops homebrew competition) goes from delicate in the front to assertive, late-90’s bitterness on the back end. A milk stout referencing Escondido’s year of incorporation (1888) is all chocolate and cola, while a whiskey barrel-aged version brings vanilla and caramel into the equation without lending over-the-top booziness. All in all, it’s a fun and enjoyable opening line-up, especially given the intimate environs in which these ales were birthed.
Being so small and brewing beer one-and-a-half barrels at a time makes for the real and constant possibility that the Smiths will run out of beer. To combat that, they have trimmed their hours of operation to Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 2 to 8 p.m. However, they do plan to play off a description lauded on them by several of their customers deeming them the brewery equivalent of a food-truck, by having spontaneous pop-up openings when beer inventory allows for it. Another fun twist that couldn’t exist at a brewery registering as any more than “tiny”.
From the Beer Writer: It took me a while to get up to Belching Beaver Brewery Tavern & Grill, but the delay served me well in that, by the time I came in, a good number of beers from Thomas Peters (BB’s director of quality assurance and master of the brewpub’s 10-barrel system) were up for grabs. Peters’ goal is to brew one-offs that are both traditional and unique. On the to-style front, a Helles is everything one would want from that refreshing Germanic lager. But I was most taken with Belching Beaver Peaches Be Crazy, a 5.2% alcohol-by-volume pale ale brewed with copious amounts of peach purée and Galaxy hops. After coming in from our current heat-wave, this beer welcomed me and downed my core-temp in the most refreshing and delicious manner possible. It also did a nice job washing down the Tavern’s fair-like fried squash and andouille corn-dog appetizers. Next up on Peters’ brew schedule are an Ameican IPA brewed for the Deftones, a sour Belgian-style wit with hibiscus, rose-hips and chamomile, and the Pilsner recipe from West Coaster columnist Ryan Reschan that just took gold at this year’s National Homebrew Competition.
From the Brewer: “Peaches Be Crazy is an easy-drinking pale ale brewed for the hot summer months. The goal was to complement the big stone fruit qualities of Australian Galaxy hops with the bright flavors of puréed peaches. I used a very soft water profile to keep the beer clean with a crisp finish. The peach flavor is enough to balance the flavor of the hops and does not overwhelm, making this beer very drinkable and a perfect sipper for our outdoor patio at the Tavern.”—Thomas Peters, Director of Quality Assurance, Belching Beaver Brewery
Why is San Diego such a hotbed of quality brewing? It’s a popular question with many answers. Most brewing professionals agree that a major key to the permeation of the suds subculture into the board-short fabric of San Diego is the prominence of homebrewing throughout the county. Many of San Diego’s commercial brewers and brewery owners spent years honing their craft on a recreational level before going into business. As hobbyists, homebrewers collaborate, learning from each other as well as the numerous pro-brewers who revel in maintaining their connection to the amateur-fermentation ranks. For many in San Diego, homebrewing is as big a deal as what goes on at Stone, Ballast Point or Green Flash. And once a year, the county’s homebrewers pit their best beers against those of homebrew clubs throughout the world at the American Homebrewers Association’s National Homebrew Competition (NHC), winners of which were announced over the weekend from Homebrew Con in Baltimore, Maryland.
San Diego’s largest homebrew-club, QUAFF (Quality Ale and Fermentation Fraternity), was named the NHC Homebrew Club of the Year—the most prestigious honor of the entire competition. The 2016 NHC featured 7,692 entries from 3,396 homebrewers hailing from every U.S. state as well as 13 other countries. Numbers like that equate to big-time bragging rights for the hundreds of members of Carlsbad-based QUAFF. But the QUAFF member who gets to do the most bragging is San Marcos’ own Nick Corona, who earned Homebrewer of the Year honors after beating out 175 other entrants in the German Wheat and Rye Beer category with his homespun weissbier.
Other local winners include West Coaster staffer Ryan Reschan, who took first-place in the heavily contested Pilsner category (215 total entries). The runner-up to Reschan was also a local, Jeremy Castellano, who entered without affiliation to any particular homebrew club. Other successful QUAFFers included Curt Wittenburg (first-place in the Other American Ale category), Mike Habrat (second-place in Traditional Mead) and Tim Wang (third-place in Light Hybrid Beer). This isn’t the first time QUAFF has experienced success at the NHC. Quite the contrary. From 2001 to 2006, the organization won Homebrew Club of the Year a record six consecutive times. In 2011, Paul Sangster—co-owner of San Marcos’ Rip Current Brewing Company earned the Ninkasi Award for most wins at that year’s competition. These are just some of the major accomplishments this standout organization has amassed at the country’s premier homebrewing competition.