San Diego’s craft beer scene has come full circle before Arsalun Tafazoli’s eyes.
When Tafazoli opened Neighborhood Ale House in 2006, he didn’t want it to be another bar in Downtown where shiny-shirts came to get hammered. Instead, the 25-year-old San Diego native wanted a place where beer would be appreciated for having substance.
“When we were starting out, young brewers would come in and tell stories about how they mortgaged their houses—put everything on the line to get their product out there,” says Tafazoli. “There was so much passion behind it. It was incredible to me that it didn’t have the same credibility as wine.”
Tafazoli made moves. His staff of mostly women were pros on the ins and outs of beer styles and food pairings. He regularly hosted meet-the-brewer nights―with out of towners like the venerable Dogfish Head and Allagash. Lee Chase (Blind Lady Ale House, Automatic Brewing Co., Tiger! Tiger!) was hired as Neighborhood’s first beverage manager.
“If Lee’s behind the bar pouring you a beer—to this day—he’ll get you behind it. It’s amazing to watch,” says Tafazoli of Chase, a mad beer scientist of sorts who worked as head brewer at Stone for nearly 10 years until 2006. “That got really hip; people would come in to taste more stuff. We’d get letters saying ‘I didn’t know what good beer was before.’ We really built a community one person at a time.”
Around the time of the housing market crash, there was a boom of creativity among brewers, says Tafazoli. And newly-broke winos took note. This is when Neighborhood took off, and gave rise to a new order of local establishments.
“San Diego is littered with gastro pubs now,” Tafazoli says. “Nowadays, the word “craft,” the term “farm to table”—it’s all been commodified. It’s a trend that people exploit. You see these banners hanging in front of places everywhere say “craft beer.” It’s more than getting a tap system installed; that’s just one component in the context of this bigger picture. You have to make sure the whole story makes sense or else it doesn’t work.”
Having grown from 33 breweries in 2007 to 88 at time of print, some of the craft beer scene’s original players are wary of its sustainability.
“It used to be that there was this young guy starting a brewery, and you’d want to support it. And now every day it’s someone else. It’s great for the proliferation of the culture, but I think some people are getting into the business for the wrong reasons.”
Tafazoli’s approach to success has launched what is today one of San Diego’s most ambitious and talked about hospitality brands, Consortium Holdings (CH). In 2008 he joined forces with Nate Stanton (El Dorado), when both of their businesses were gaining momentum in the up and coming East Village. Since, the two have undeniably elevated drinking and dining culture in San Diego with eight successful concepts and counting.
It doesn’t hurt to have a dream team behind their backs, with two-star Michelin Chef, Jason McLeod, helming kitchen operations for all the projects, and highly reputed bartenders like Erick Castro (Polite Provisions) and Anthony Schmidt (formerly of Noble Experiment, now headed to new project Rare Form). Then there’s local designer Paul Basile, whose past projects include Bankers Hill Restaurant + Bar and Acme Southern Kitchen.
Just last year, CH won national praise for two of its projects. The speakeasy Noble Experiment (designed by Mauricio Couturier) made Esquire Magazine’s top 100 bars list and Polite Provisions won Imbibe Magazine’s Cocktail Bar of the Year. The James Beard Foundation also loved Erick Castro’s Mayan Concubine cocktail at Polite, naming it one of their favorites of 2013, from a spot that opened the same year, no less.
“We want our spaces to promote our core values. It’s why we don’t do vodka or shit beer, and think about every aspect of a space—because it’s a reflection of who we are and what we want to perpetuate to our community,” says Tafazoli. “It was the Greg Kochs [Stone CEO] and the Lee Chases who reaffirmed what I thought. At first, people were coming in to Neighborhood and not getting it, and sticking to our identity and not watering it down—back when everything was on the line—that’s what made us.”
CH’s first all-out culinary endeavor, Ironside Oyster, has been packed since opening in early May. In the works are North Park’s Underbelly, an East Village juice bar, and Rare Form, a Jewish Deli that will share space with a Stone tasting room in the historic Simon Levi building next to Petco Park.
Tafazoli says of the perceived “seasonal” neighborhood, “The stadium has shaped the cultural geography of East Village, and not in a good way. Too many businesses cater to the stadium crowd. It’s not about walk-by traffic for us, it’s about the great community of people who live there,” he says. “We’ll create a synergy there with the two different businesses. The idea is that our core values are very much alike. Stone knows who they are, they stuck to it, and it’s been effective. They paved the way for a lot of people. You have to respect it.”
No one could have predicted the force that craft beer would play in the trajectory of Tafazoli’s businesses, let alone its tremendous impact on the local economy. Tafazoli points out that the proof lies in a craft beer newspaper like West Coaster—something most people wouldn’t have looked twice at a decade ago.
Still, Tafazoli remains cautiously optimistic about San Diego’s brewing future.
“A lot of brewing companies have popped up without understanding the soul and economics of the business. Unfortunately, I don’t think a lot of these guys will be able to sustain,” he says. “In the end, I want everyone in the community to be successful, but unfortunately capitalism is harsh. I think there is a lot of local talent sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see how things play out. I see them stepping up as other people phase out. Then, we’re going to experience a stronger renaissance.”
The Brewing Network’s Sunday Session internet radio podcast has featured many local industry members including Jeff Bagby (while at Pizza Port), the White Labs Beer for Boobs team as well as Chris & Mike White, Yuseff Cherney from Ballast Point, Mitch Steele from Stone Brewing Co. and Peter Zien from AleSmith.
Tonight at 6 p.m., even though it’s not Sunday, Lee Chase from Automatic Brewing Co. goes on air to discuss his Will Powered IPA and this Saturday’s Holiday Craft Beer Bus and Jumpsuit Jubilee, hosted by Will Ferrell and benefitting Cancer for College. Can’t tune in live? The ‘on air’ link above will have a downloadable MP3 file after the show.
Photo via AutomaticBrewingCo Facebook page.
We’re stoked to once again be a part of the Craft Beer Block located within this year’s North Park Festival of Arts. A festival within a festival, the Craft Beer Block made its debut last year to the delight of all who attended (take a look at our photos from last year if you don’t believe me). For 2012, 25 breweries will be pouring their beers and five restaurants will be serving food – click here for a complete listing of who’s coming.
Tickets are $30 in advance or $35 at the door for the 11a.m. – 6p.m. festival. With a ticket comes 12 tasters of beer; food is available for purchase. For an additional $1 donation to the About the Music Fund, you’ll get a taste of an Automatic Brewing Co. beer created specifically for this event. Click here to buy tickets.
It is awesome to see new faces become fixtures in the festival circuit. Relative newcomers Rough Draft and Latitude 33 will be serving beers along with the brand-new Fezziwig’s Brewing (not open to the public, yet, but you can read about them on page 20 of our May 2012 issue).
(Psssst! … The first ten individuals to comment on this post get a free ticket to the Craft Beer Block.)
Limit one per person – must include e-mail address, first name and last name in your comment. You’ll need to show ID to pick up tickets from Will Call. Tickets are all gone!
In each issue we publish a news-y section called “Brews in the News” where we talk about beer releases, event highlights and more. For the Dec/Jan issue (which hit the streets Dec. 1st), we discuss more tasting room space at two popular Miramar spots, Jeff Bagby leaving Pizza Port (+ updates), 11 businesses that made headlines in 2011, and some SDBW fallout. Enjoy:
MORE BAR IN MIRAMAR —
Who doesn’t like more bar space? Both AleSmith and Ballast Point are renovating their tasting rooms for your beer-drinking enjoyment. The AleSmith tasting room will begin its transformation in January, and will include a new, larger bar with a built-in beer engine, additional restroom, and a display area for both AleSmith awards and its growing barrel program. Stay tuned to their newsletter or West Coaster’s website for information regarding temporary tasting room closure, and look forward to the grand re-opening party in the first quarter of 2012. Some of the tasting room changes at Ballast Point are already underway, and upon completion will include more floor space, a new look, and more taps. The tasting room will tentatively be closed right after the New Year, giving you a bit of time to get over that hangover before jumping back in the saddle.
AND IN PIZZA PORT NEWS —
Jeff Bagby, Director of Brewpub Operations for Pizza Port and head brewer at Pizza Port Carlsbad, who led the Pizza Port family to thirteen medals at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival, will be leaving the company at the end of the year to pursue his own venture. Stay tuned for more information as it comes via our website and future issues. Updates 12/7: follow-up coverage of this story is available on San Diego Beer Blog, TheFullPint.com, Brewery Rowe and BeerNews.org. According to a post by Jeff Hammett at San Diego Beer Blog, Bagby’s assistant at Pizza Port Carlsbad, Ignacio “Nacho” Cervantes will be continuing to brew as he and other members of the team fill most of Bagby’s duties. TheFullPint.com reports that the ideal location for Bagby’s new brewery will be in North County San Diego, but that nothing is set yet. A bit more commentary and quotes available at Brewery Rowe, too. Also, it looks like San Clemente head brewer Noah Regnery is on his way out as well. In other Pizza Port news, Barbara Henry at the North County Times then reported that Pizza Port has plans to build a new two-story, 37,050-square-foot facility in Carlsbad at Palomar Airport Rd and Gateway Rd that would serve as a production and distribution facility as well as Pizza Port’s fifth brewery restaurant location. Henry also reports that it will also house a canning facility. Pizza Port’s proposal goes before the Carlsbad’s Planning Commission tonight at 6 p.m. and a copy of the report to the Planning Commission can be seen here.
This upcoming Monday, April 25th, at 6PM Blind Lady Ale House will be doing a benefit tasting with all of the proceeds going towards the International Relief Commitee’s fund for Japan. $35 dollars gets you two flights or four beers and food. Lee Chase’s Automatic Brewing Co. will be releasing Quartz Japan IPA – a collaboration brew with Cy Henley of Alpine made specially for the event. There’s also a great raffle with tons of cool prizes. Here’s a list of the beers that have been donated for the event.
Alpine Nelson and Captain Stout
Pizza Port Carlsbad Chronic and Jetty IPA
New English Why Not Wheat and Brewers Special Brown and Troopers Tipple IPA
AleSmith Lil Devil and Old Numbskull
Green Flash 30th st and Double Stout
Lost Abbey Devotion and Red Barn
Coronado Orange Ave Wit and India IPA
Mission Blond and Hefe
Ballast Point Double Dorado and Sea Monster Stout
Craftsman 4 Cylinder and Cabernale
Automatic Quartz Japan IPA
Raffle prizes include $50 gift certificate for Neighborhood, $50 gift certificate to Craft & Commerce, 3 pairs of Spy sunglasses, $50 gift certificate to Pizza Port, 5 AleSmith bombers, and much more. For a full listing of prizes, more info, and how to get tickets, visit this website.