When Little Miss Brewing was putting its business plan, that road map was unlike those of other fermentation-based entrepreneurs in San Diego County. A brewery with a Type 23 license may apply for duplicate licenses to open additional retail venues, something numerous operations do via satellite tasting rooms. Little Miss owners Greg and Jade Malkin decided early on to make their satellites the workhorses of their business. At first, they weren’t even going to install a tasting room at their Miramar headquarters, instead saving that space exclusively for production. A number of obstacles and delays forced them to change their mind at the eleventh hour and construct a tasting room in Miramar during the week leading up to their debut last summer. But on Thursday, June 8 the first of their two work-in-progress satellites will debut at 3514 Adams Avenue in Normal Heights, transforming the company into what the Malkins envisioned when they decided to enter the San Diego brewing scene.
Little Miss’ branding revolves around fun, games…and World War II. It’s not the most natural pairing, but a visit to the Miramar tasting room is sort of like hitting up the USO; cinder blocks, munitions containers and military posters let you know where you are, but the overarching mood is one of jovial relaxation. The idea with each of the satellites is to assign them an individual thematic inspired by one of the US’ WWII Allies.
An upcoming tasting room in Ocean Beach will give a nod to France, while its Normal Heights predecessor will honor the United Kingdom. That thematic is driven home by a Union Jack flag painted on the ceiling, British wartime propaganda posters painted on the walls and an outdoor mural by local artist, Leroy Davis. Another local, Kelly Hutchison, will also have pinup paintings on display, bringing in a bit of ’40s-era Americana, while the spirit of the neighborhood will come in care of a giant picture of Winston Churchill dressed as a hipster.
The 1,000-square-foot Normal Heights space has a bar-top made from bullet casings giving way to a vintage cash register and 16 taps dispensing Little Miss beers. On the recreation front, the venue has board and card games, Jenga, dart boards and four televisions. It will be open from noon to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, Saturdays from noon to midnight and Sundays from noon to 8 p.m. Sites have not been selected for future satellite tasting rooms, but the Malkins say the next Allied country they select will likely be the former Soviet Union.
Breweries make the best margin by far when selling their beer in their taprooms. With a county expansive as San Diego, getting customers to a single location can be a challenge, but the satellite tasting room model—one where a brewery opens a non-brewing sampling space in a geographically removed community—has proven quite successful in helping brewing companies reach new customers, move inventory and generate additional revenue. Many satellites have been sent into orbit throughout the county in recent years, and quite a few are in different states of planning at present. Here is a breakdown of such projects by the neighborhoods they may someday call home.
Bay Park: As announced earlier this week, Grantville-based Benchmark Brewing Company has signed a lease on a space. The family-run business had been exploring the prospect of opening a satellite in Oceanside, but ultimately decided to stay within the City of San Diego.
Carlsbad: A collective of artisans will someday share space with crops of produce, wine grapes and hops at the North 40 development. Numerous tenants have been reeled in over the past two years (and many have walked away), but Miramar’s AleSmith Brewing Company and Carmel Mountain’s Second Chance Beer Company are signed up, with the former hoping to sell house-made cheese with its beer.
Chula Vista: Fresh off the high of moving into Twisted Manzanita Ales’ former production brewery (and distillery) in Santee, Groundswell Brewing Company is working to open a sampling space on downtown Chula Vista’s main drag, Third Avenue…right across the street from soon-to-debut Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing Company.
Encinitas: Though a community that’s openly resisted brewery-owned venues, this beachy berg has two breweries slogging against the tide for space on Coast Highway 101: Point Loma’s Modern Times Beer Company (across from La Paloma Theatre) and Solana Beach’s Culture Brewing Company (next to Bier Garden of Encinitas).
Marina District: Developers have spent the better part of the past year curating a list of breweries to share space at The Headquarters at Seaport Village. Planned as a central courtyard surrounded by six identical yet uniquely appointed brewery tasting rooms, it has proven challenging for a variety of reasons, but would create a concept unique to San Diego.
Normal Heights: Longtime craft-beer champion Blind Lady Ale House will soon have some sudsy company in their ‘hood care of Miramar-based Little Miss Brewing, which is hard at work on two fun-and-games equipped tasting rooms within San Diego proper.
North Park: Another interest with two satellites in the works is Second Chance, who recently revealed plans to open a tasting room on 30th Street in North Park, across the street from popular beer-bar Toronado and doors down from the site of Ritual Kitchen, which announced last week that it will soon shut its doors after 10 years in business.
Ocean Beach: Little Miss Brewing’s other upcoming satellite will join the county’s most tasting room-dense community, on the same block as Belching Beaver Brewery, Culture, Helm’s Brewing Company and Kilowatt Brewing Company; and a short walk from OB Brewery and Pizza Port OB; and a quick drive from Mike Hess Brewing Company’s sampler.
Pacific Beach: Downtown’s Mission Brewery is geared to cash in on partygoers’ thirst for beer, installing a tasting room on Garnet Avenue where it intersects with Gresham Street. PB is currently without a brewery satellite after Twisted Manzanita’s closed down when the company folded last year.
In April, I named Northern Pine Brewing Company (326 North Horne Street, Oceanside) as one of the North County work-in-progress breweries I was most greatly anticipating. At the time, I had to admit that there really wasn’t much to go by, but a commitment to helping out charities via their business seemed a good reason for added faith. Recently I had the opportunity to learn more about this operation and am able to provide more detail—of which there’s quite a bit.
The owners of the business, Bobby Parsons, Aaron and Anne Ortega recently signed a lease on a 6,100-square-foot building located on the corner of Horne Street and Civic Center Drive, several blocks east of Oceanside Pier and close to Interstate 5’s Mission Avenue exit. They are currently filling out applications for permits and licenses, but still hope to be up-and-running before the end of 2016. Their newly acquired one-story digs are fairly non-descript, but will be designed to convey a “modern-farmhouse vibe” through natural elements that help to convey the trio’s love of the outdoors.
But Northern Pine won’t be the only business occupying that farmhouse. That Boy Good Southern BBQ Joint, a downtown Oceanside business fostering a downhome Southern motif, will share space with the brewery. This will be a satellite space to the original location, go by the name That Good Boy Po’ Boy Shoppe, and serve menu items that differ from the flagship eatery. Northern Pine plans on brewing beers to pair specifically with that cuisine, and the team’s interior designer will work to incorporate the themes of both businesses for a north-meets-south rusticity.
Bobby and Aaron will handle the brewing for Northern Pine. Both are former Marines, and their devotion to the Corps fueled a noteworthy endeavor in 2012 when they brewed a beer to honor seven fallen Marines. The project was supported by Mother Earth Brew Co., which allowed the duo to brew the beer on their system in Vista. At Northern Pine, they will preside over a six-barrel brewhouse that was built on the Discovery Channel program, Monster Garage featuring former Stone Brewing brewer Lee Chase (now the owner of Automatic Brewing Company and its pair of restaurants, Blind Lady Ale House and Tiger! Tiger! Tavern).
That unique apparatus will be used to produce a 30-deep catalog of beers, spanning traditional and newer American beer-styles. Some initial beers that will be brewed include a cream ale, saison, Czech-style Pilsner, a pineapple dry-hopped India pale ale (IPA) and series of SMaSH beers (single malt and single hop). A bourbon whiskey barrel-aged porter will also find its way into the mix. Currently, annual production is estimated at 600 barrels. Though all early product will be kegged, Northern Pine plans to “aggressively pursue bottling and canning.”
“We’re getting the band back together,” says Ray Astamendi, owner and brewmaster of Fall Brewing Co. Ray and his team of merry misfits fell on the northern end of 30th Street on the northern edge of North Park, opening the brewery late 2014. During his time at Mission Brewery, Ray won two GABF medals in 2007 for El Camino IPA (Bronze: Category 44, India Style Pale Ale) and El Amigo Light (Gold: Category 23 Münchner (Munich) Style Helles). Ray has worked for several other breweries in town, including Saint Archer. After leaving St. Archer, Ray scoured SD looking for a location to start his own brewery. His departures from previous breweries has not always been smooth. “In life, we fall from grace many times. No matter how many times we fall, we must get back up.” Fall Brewing is the first time Ray is completely in control. “I’ve never had the ability to play and experiment. We’re answering to no-one nor any conventional wisdom. We’re into beer, and we’re making what we like.” Ray is working to impress the discerning beer drinker.
He’s not alone. The other bandmates? Dave Lively and Mike Mellow.
Dave Lively, a talented graphic designer, has created album covers for local bands The Heartaches + Rocket From the Crypt to National acts such as Jack Johnson + G. Love and Special Sauce. In the local beer world, he’s responsible for the cool visual stylings of Livewire, The Casbah, The Station and Starlight – and has designed for both with Mission Brewery + Saint Archer. He’s now the “Creative Bad Ass” at Fall.
Mike Mellow is a skilled beer salesman that has worked for Ballast Point, Mission Brewery, Saint Archer and Mike Hess. Armed with years of beer slinging experience for some of the best in the local beer business, Mike’s excited to be part of the small, 7-human strong Fall.
As a trio, Astamendi, Lively and Mellow worked together at both Mission and Saint Archer. Hence, “getting the band back together.”
After signing the lease in January 2013, build out commenced that May and lasted until 15 minutes after the City of San Diego code inspector left the building in just before November 2014’s Beer Week. “We took the tape off the windows and people started trickling in,” Ray recalls. Their first beers have been well received, with standouts including Plenty for All Pilsner, 2AM Bike Ride Stout and Spirit of ‘77 IPA. Making good beer right out of the gate is tough for a new brewery, and Fall’s beers have started out great. They’re also improving.
The aesthetics are cool, too. The bar area is being slowly taken over by SoCal punk band posters, including many from Dave Lively’s stash. “We created a space we wanted to exist in,” he explains. “In creating the brand, I wanted a classic, positive theme: the harder you fall, the better you get.”
Plans are in the works to begin packaging in the future. For now, the focus is on developing the beer while modestly earning tap handles at bars. “We have over 52 draft accounts,” says Mellow. “We want to keep the level low and manageable at first, so we’re being picky.” Fall has enjoyed huge support from the Uptown beer community, with handles at Small Bar, Tiger!Tiger!, Blind Lady, Live Wire, Hamilton’s and Monkey Paw.
Events are going to be a focus as well for the new brewery. Already, a hot-dog competition was held between Fathom Bistro and Carnitas Snack Shack. Keep an eye on their events page for more info.
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.”