Many were those who felt for Tom Garcia when he announced he was closing his business, Offbeat Brewing Company, last March. The Escondido shuttered following one last hurrah on St. Patrick’s Day after five years of presenting mostly English-inspired ales along with art from local creators. A former employee at nearby Stone Brewing before going out on his own, Garcia has been absent from the brewing scene since closing Offbeat, but he is making his return. Today, Iron Fist Brewing announced they have hired Garcia to serve as brewing production manager at its Vista headquarters.
“I’m very excited to have been given the opportunity to work with Iron Fist,” said Garcia in a press release. “We have great beer with a high potential for growth and innovation. I’m looking forward to helping push the boundaries of deliciousness with [the company].”
This addition comes nine months after Iron Fist brought on a new investor with ties to San Diego Padres ownership. This infusion of capital has allowed the company to look forward rather than tread water. It has also provided added visibility in the marketplace, most notably at Petco Park, where Iron Fist’s beers are readily available via multiple venues and dedicated, branded carts.
The “South Bay Uprising”—an influx of banded-together breweries and beer-centric venues spanning Chula Vista to Barrio Logan—has been picking up steam for years. Last weekend, the most formidable beer-making member of that growing movement opened its doors after two years of construction on downtown Chula Vista’s main drag, Third Avenue. Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing Company (259 Third Avenue, Chula Vista) has brought its ambitious vision for a multi-story brewery and tasting room simultaneously celebrating anarchic rock and the city its founders call home. In doing so, it’s given the community the type of business it can rally behind and build upon.
When we first met the Chula Vistans behind this business, they were renting space at Santee’s Butcher’s Brewing (since renamed to Finest Made Ales) to create their first batches of mostly-hoppy beers, but their dream was to secure space to make an artisanal impact on their home turf. They were able to do so in 2015 when they secured the building that formerly housed The Highlander. A rare basement-equipped structure it was first coveted by Fall Brewing Company, but elevated enthusiasm and hometown espirit de corps inspired the landlord to opt for Thr3e Punk Ales. At last weekend’s friends-and-family pre-open party, the landlord felt vindicated in that decision and bullish on the future of Third Avenue’s business district with the debut of Thr3e Punk Ales as well as the impending arrival of a tasting room for Santee-based Groundswell Brewing Company in another of his properties across the street, and the recent opening of Chula Vista Brewery on the same block.
While Bay Bridge Brewing Company and Novo Brazil Brewing Company have been making beer in Chula Vista for years, quality has been an issue and neither are centrally located enough to make the number of impressions and aid in revitalization the way Thr3e Punk Ales can. In addition to being smack dab in the middle of downtown, Thr3e Punk Ales is an attractive space with a fully conveyed thematic. The north wall is covered from basement to ceiling in a punk rock collage intermingled with iconic imagery. Tour poster artwork from the likes of Suicidal Tendencies, Bad Religion, the Sex Pistols and Dead Kennedys share space with the logos of Thr3e Punk Ales and the City of Chula Vista and the original Highlander sign augmented by the anarchy “A” utilized in the brewery’s wordmark. The brewhouse and fermenter tanks jut up from the basement into the tasting room opposite an L-shaped bar flanked by a roll-down screen illuminated by a ceiling-mounted projector. Rail bars line the north and roll-up garage door-equipped west side of the tasting room while a large wooden table provides a second, more communal seating option.
The opening beer list consisted of five offerings. Of them, the hoppy stock—what the company made its name on in its fledgling period—was the best. Needle in the Hey double IPA has the nose of a dispensary with flavors of clementine, melon, orange zest and pine resin. While it isn’t heavy, it is purposely sweet in a nod to old-school imperial IPAs. Conversely, their 6.5% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) IPA Hole has intense mango-and-papaya-like hop-bite up front and a sharp yet tacky finish. Morning After Pilz has such vibrant hop character it almost blots out its Pilsner foundation, but as its first-pour chill wears off, a bit of honey-ish earhiness and yeast character enter into the equation. A Mexican-style lager and 9.5% ABV imperial stout with flavors evocative of bittersweet chocolate, coffee and cinnamon bark round out the menu. Both would benefit from added carbonation, but taste nice and provide increased variety.
Overall, this much-anticipated project has made good on its intentions to bring a vibrant business in line with current trends and San Diego’s craft-beer scene to downtown Chula Vista. It will be interesting to see how a community less indoctrinated and inundated on the independent beer front will react, but if any brewery in the area has a chance to change the tastes of the city’s denizens, it’s this one.
If you miss the good old days, when classic C hops ruled the day, pale ales registered mid-range on the SRM meter and beer menus went from blonde to stout, Brett Stampf can relate. A veteran brewer who worked at Stone Brewing and Green Flash Brewing, he can appreciate the IBU-rich beers that played a big part in those operations’ successes. He says he left each as said success led to each growing into larger entities, stating that just wasn’t for him. He prefers a smaller stage and the freedom that provides, and has spent the past two years constructing his own passion project with partners John Bull and Josh Gilko. That spot, Alta Brewing Company (1983 Julian Avenue, Barrio Logan) is on track to open in early August (ABC willing).
When San Diegans last tasted Stampf’s beers, he was the opening brewmaster at La Jolla Brewing. While there is little he cared to bring with him from that venture, his current beer list includes a number of offerings from his time there. When the doors open, he will have a quintet of ales available. The first is a golden ale with a surprisingly biting finish that will be served on CO2 and nitrogen. Ditto the house IPA, which is hopped with big-money hops, Citra and Simcoe, and comes in at 7% alcohol-by-volume. A 6% ABV pale ale is a throwback that comes across like a tamer version of Sierra Nevada’s copper-colored flagship, with a bitter finish that resembles that of Stampf’s Chinook- and Centennial-stoked brown ale. A dry Irish-style stout rounds things out. Belgian-style ales and an IPA hopped exclusively with Azacca are in the works.
Those beers will be available solely in Alta’s tasting room, which was pounded into shape by the company’s founders—all of which have contracting backgrounds—in a 2,000-square-foot space at the base of the Bread and Salt building. That 40,000-square-foot facility is being reborn and reconfigured with an eye toward art and artisan manufacturing. Alta’s corner of it includes an indoor bar nicely appointed with a large bull-head mural by local artist Gloria Muriel featuring beer’s four main ingredients, plus a lacquered wood-topped bar with rebar forged into a playful design based on the letters A, L and T. Rail bars line two walls, giving way to views of Barrio Logan and an outdoor patio that will someday border a beer garden.
Alta’s brewery comprises a five-barrel brewhouse feeding into 10-barrel fermentation tanks. Stampf says he will aim to produce around 500 barrels in year one, but has the ability to max out annual production at 1,100 barrels. Stampf says the name Alta translates to over and above, and describes the way he is looking to brew; remaining true to tradition, but keeping up quality while infusing a bit of himself and his personal preferences. The skeletal bull-head logo is a nod to his business partner of the same name and is affectionately named “Juan Toro”. A “recovering contractor”, Bull has worked on numerous local restaurant projects, including Tribute Pizza, Union Kitchen and Tap, One Door North, PB Shore Club and Pacific Beach AleHouse. Once Alta is up and running, the team will identify sites for one or two satellite tasting rooms. So far they have evaluated two, Chula Vista and Ocean Beach.
Last week, we examined some of the most promising work-in-progress beer projects in the eastern portions of San Diego County. Today, as part of this bi-annual four-part series, I am offering up information on the most intriguing brewery-owned venues coming to the western communities.
Thorn St. Brewery, Barrio Logan: In building a facility to up production and meet demand, one of North Park’s most popular breweries is taking over two identical former factory spaces on National Avenue, stocking one with tons of stainless and an intimate tasting room, and the other with a distillery, restaurant, retail space and a large patio area. It’s the type of grand project that figures to keep Barrio Logan’s artisanal renaissance chugging right along.
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Protector Brewery, Miramar: Beeramar’s most brewery-saturated area (and that’s saying a lot), the Miralani Drive industrial park just west of Camino Ruiz, is getting its fourth fermentation operation (joining 2kids Brewing, Align Brewing and Setting Sun Sake Brewing) care of former Navy SEALs who are installing San Diego’s first all-organic brewery in an effort to produce quality beer while helping American farm workers and preserving the environment.
Viewpoint Brewing Co., Del Mar: While San Diego has breweries owned by chefs, this brewpub will be the county’s first purely chef-driven interest. Years in the making, it will give purpose and life to a rundown building along the banks of the San Dieguito Lagoon while providing Del Mar its first ever brewery. Culinary innovations and beers built to pair with cuisine is what this place is all about. At last check, owner Charles Koll was planning to soft-open this Friday.
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It’s been a work in progress for more than a year, and they already celebrate their future digs care of a Mexican-style brew called Barrio Lager, but now Thorn Street Brewery’s brewing and cellaring equipment has arrived at its satellite facility in Barrio Logan. While the brewhouse is a month or so from being put to use, this is a significant milestone and the current estimate for public-debut of the venue’s tasting room is June.
Located at 1735 National Avenue, the 10,500-square-foot brewery is equipped with a 30-barrel brew system with a mix of 30-, 60- and 120-barrel fermenters. This will significantly increase Thorn Street’s production capacity to the tune of 30,000 barrels annually, allowing the formerly small operation ensconced in the quaint, two-story shell of a former North Park homebrew-supply store to grow beyond its humble, well-received beginnings. Thorn Street has signed on with Stone Brewing’s distribution company. The plan is to focus on San Diego County before considering new territories to go after.
But the brewery is only half the story here. Thorn Street also took over an identical warehouse next-door and has big plans for it that include the potential installation of a distillery, restaurant and retail collective. That’s a lot to fit into 10,500 square feet, but installation of a 6,000-square-foot outdoor patio is planned to help make room for the aforementioned concepts that are brought to fruition.
As for the brewery and its 750-square-foot tasting room, exact plans for opening festivities have yet to be finalized, but Thorn Street hopes to do something that really celebrates the community as well as the people and businesses who call it home. Something taking place in or for Chicano Park is something they would welcome. For now, it’s all about getting through the home-stretch; producing beer, finishing interiors and joining Border X Brewing and Iron Fist Brewing (who operate tasting rooms in the neighborhood) as Barrio Logan’s local-beer representatives by bringing the community its first brewery.