Prime geography in San Diego proper nabs the rapidly expanding hospitality empires of the Consortium Holdings and Cohn Restaurant Groups of the world a lot of attention. Meanwhile, 3 Local Brothers Restaurant Group has rather quietly built itself up from a soft-spoken wine-centric neighborhood eatery in Rancho Bernardo to a half-dozen diverse concepts that includes multiple brewpubs, a coffee roaster and one of the largest restaurants in the county. And, oh yeah, they have a combination resto and tasting room launching in Carmel Valley this spring, another restaurant under construction in Baja and a newly established beer distribution company. With all that going on, we sat down with co-founder Grant Tondro to inquire about the latest and greatest in the 3LB universe.
What will the Carmel Valley project entail?
We’ve always wanted to do a second location of our first place, The Barrel Room, but have been pretty busy growing Urge and launching Mason Ale Works the last couple of years. Our new spots will be at 5550 Carmel Mountain Road. The Barrel Room will be about 5,000 square feet, which is about 50% larger than its predecessor with a nice patio that wraps around the dining room. It will have a full liquor license, unlike the first location, and a banquet room. Chef Trevor Chappell will leave his post at the original Barrel Room to helm kitchen operations at the new spot. Attached to the new space will be a Mason Tap Works and Kitchen, a tasting room for all things Mason Ale Works but with a small, streamlined kitchen for patrons. Chef Trevor will be overseeing an in-house charcuterie program inside the space, so we will have some amazing meats and cheeses as well as flatbreads, sandwiches and a few other small, shareable items that pair well with our beers. We were careful to select a location for Tap Works that was far away from accounts that are currently buying our beers. We don’t want to be competition for our supporters, but want to bring awesome craft beer to a beer desert while familiarizing more people with Mason. It will also give us an outlet for more of our small-batch beers that our head brewer Matt Webster has been working on and aging in barrels for the last year.
What will the Carmel Valley tasting room look like and when is its projected opening time frame?
A lot of the design will be inspired by the San Marcos Urge Common House location—industrial with rolled steel and rivets, Edison bulbs, some white subway tile and some of my favorites like black walnut table tops from North Carolina and these hand-hammered, distressed yellow table bases for a pop of color. There will be 20 taps of core and specialty beers as well as plenty of one-off beers to go. It’s projected to open in late March or early April.
What led 3LB to start a distribution company and open a bar across the border?
Mexico is a fascinating market and I will be the first to admit that I was skeptical. It was really my business partner, Zak Higson, who was banging the drum in the beginning of 2017 to get things going. There is a very underrepresented segment of the market down there that is thirsty for craft beer, and some great up-and-coming breweries that are responding to that demand. That being said, there are some challenges with starting a craft brewery in Mexico and quality assurance can be a challenge. We’d already had a few bars bring our beer south the old-fashioned way, so we felt like starting a distributorship was the next logical step. Once we were working on that, the conversation led to the types of things we would have liked to have seen from a distributor in the US, and a spinoff conversation started around doing a tap room to show off the brands in our portfolio. That, in true 3LB fashion, grew to what is currently under construction, which is a full restaurant with 20 taps.
Including your own distribution company’s territory, where all is Mason available now?
We are currently distributed throughout Southern California, Arizona and Mexico—predominantly Baja for now. We just launched Colorado and Northern California, and are planning on adding Idaho and Nevada distribution by the third quarter of this year. We’ve had conversations about additional states, but we are probably in a wait-and-see mode after this additional pickup.
It sounds odd to ask, but is there anything else exciting going on?
This year will be about growing our selections, both in-house and for distribution. Each month in 2018, Mason Ale Works will release one new beer into the general market and one new beer each week into our restaurants. The barrel-aged beers and sours will start to come out in April. We are working on getting our retail license in San Marcos as well so that we can do brewery releases, too.
From the Beer Writer: If there’s any gringo brewer that’s going to do right by both San Diego and Baja, it’s Ryan Brooks. He has lived a cross-cultural life, residing in Tijuana and working with brewers spanning as far east as Mexicali, soaking up the cross-border brewing culture along the way. Brooks is so enamored with the exciting things happening in his adopted region’s brewing scene that his new business, SouthNorte Beer Company (a spin-off brand of parent-operation Coronado Brewing Company), aims to celebrate the flavors and ingredients of Mexico along with the personal brewing heritage he amassed in Southern California. A key component to doing so is forging a flagship Mexican-style lager, and Brooks has done so with SouthNorte Sea Señor. Rather than rely on bells, whistles and adjuncts to add extra character, this inaugural 4.5% alcohol-by-volume offering is as true-to-form as it gets, relying on traditional ingredients to produce a crystal-clear, clean and incredibly refreshing beer. Tinged with the slightest bit of sweetness and complimentary herbal notes (think thyme and marjoram), it has what it takes to serve as an ambassador to the glories of craft beer for Latinos, who until recently, haven’t been marketed to all that well nor given much reason to give locally produced ales and lagers a shot. That changes here and now. Viva la revolución de la cerveza artesanal!
From the Brewers: “Sea Señor is the flagship beer that really kickstarted the idea of SouthNorte Beer Co. I was experimenting with the flavors and ingredients of Mexico, and brewing my take on a Mexican lager. I wanted something refreshing and easy to drink—like the beers I was enjoying in Baja—but brewed locally with quality ingredients. I use crisp pilsner malt and a classic yeast strain to get the smoothness typical of the style, but with a fuller flavor. We use European Noble hops at low hopping rates so the beer is balanced but not overly bitter. We then lager for three weeks so the beer is incredibly smooth and goes down easy, whether it’s by the pool or over a meal with friends. I’m excited for people to experience what SouthNorte is all about. Sea Señor is just the first of what’s to come—I am so inspired by our border culture and I can’t wait to brew recipes that showcase our ‘crossroads of cultures’ style.”—Ryan Brooks, Founder/Head Brewer, SouthNorte Beer Company
Many know Ryan Brooks for his work as brewmaster at Coronado Brewing Company. During his tenure, that interest has won numerous awards, including Champion Mid-Size Brewing Company at the 2014 World Beer Cup. That’s dream-come-true territory, but Brooks isn’t finished dreaming. He’s about to realize another long-held aspiration—opening his own brewery. The name of that business will be SouthNorte Beer Company, and it’s scheduled to debut this summer.
Brooks will get by with a little help from his friends, most ostensibly his family at Coronado Brewing. That company’s founders, brothers Ron and Rick Chapman, are key investors and that’s where the initial brewing of SouthNorte’s beers will be done (the search is on for a separate facility to house the business). But he’ll also garner inspiration from friends he’s made spending a great deal of time exploring the craft-brewing culture south of the border. As the name implies, SouthNorte will combine elements of Mexico’s burgeoning beer scene with the craft culture here in San Diego. A press release describes the business as “an American brewery that blends the rustic flair of Mexico with the art of San Diego craft brewing.” Brooks sees pulling from two cultures as a way to extract the best from both and end up with the finest end-result.
In the course of my reporting on the San Diego brewing industry, I have met a number of brewers from Baja locales including Tijuana, Ensenada and Mexicali. Nearly all of them have mentioned receiving assistance, tutelage or encouragement from Brooks. He is something of a cult figure down there who has forged many legitimate friendships during innumerable cross-border visits. Few would be better suited to bring this intercultural vision to life and it should be exciting to watch…and taste.