In 2010, an entrepreneur from north of San Diego County delivered a brewpub concept to downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter. Dubbed The Beer Co., it was a spin-off operation that failed to generate much of a reputation among San Diego’s craft-beer enthusiasts. Not even a gold medal from the 2012 Great American Beer Festival for its barrel-aged strong ale, The Manhattan Project, measured so much as a ripple in local waters. Still, it soldiered on for more than half-a-decade before closing down. Now, the space that housed it is ready to birth a second brewery-restaurant brought to San Diego by nearby out-of-towners, The Bell Marker (602 East Broadway, Downtown).
That business will debut on January 22, complete with a veteran, native San Diegan brewer at the helm. That individual, Noah Regnery hails from vaunted locally-based business, Pizza Port, where he worked at the chain’s San Clemente brewpub from 2007 to 2011 and contributed to its award-winning reputation before departing to become head brewer at Hollister Brewing in Goleta, California, a post he held until 2014 when he departed the industry altogether. His return should be highly anticipated, but as with so many developments in the suddenly complicated local suds scene, it comes with some drama. The Bell Marker is the first location south of Los Angeles for LA-based Artisanal Brewers Collective, a company established by Golden Road Brewing co-founder Tony Yanow. That in itself is not all that significant, but the fact Yanow and Golden Road partner Meg Gill sold the business to macrobeer conglomerate AB InBev in September of 2015 muddies things a bit for fans of independent craft brewers as well as members of the local industry.
Since Golden Road’s sale, Yanow (a bar owner before and throughout his tenure with Golden Road) and his ABC partners have been busy gobbling up hospitality venues throughout LA. The Bell Marker is the first to possess a brewing component and Yanow’s original venues—Mohawk Bend and Tony’s Darts Away—were craft-centric venues which were ahead of their time. Figuratively, this is not unfamiliar territory for this seemingly insatiable entrepreneur, even if it is from a geographic standpoint. How it will be received from a local population which vehemently eschewed last year’s arrival of AB InBev’s 10 Barrel Brewing brewpub in the East Village remains to be seen.
The Bell Marker houses a copper-clad, 15-barrel brewhouse that will be utilized to produce American, English, German, and Belgian beers. The opening-day line-up will include a cream ale, hefeweizen, brown ale, pale ale and IPA augmented by guest beers selected to fill in any stylistic gaps. There will also be a full cocktail program to appeal to non-beer fans. The 8,000-square-foot venue can seat 212 at a time and will be open seven days a week from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Don’t look now, but an area as old and sleepy as the antique shops that line it is getting really cool really quick. La Mesa’s old town Village Area—mostly known for fun only when Oktoberfest rolls around—has benefited from a big influx of modern and, dare we say, trendy eateries. And soon it will welcome its first-ever brewpub, Fourpenny House. Headed by a passionate owner who recently secured the services of a former brewer from San Bernardino’s Brew Rebellion, it will not only bring hyper-local beer to the area, but a Scottish theme, making it unlike any other fermentation operation in the county. We sat down with owner Peter Soutowood to get a better idea of what to expect.
What led you to establish a Scottish thematic for the brewpub?
My background is Scottish and I fell in love with the country, people and music the first time I went with my grandparents. Over the years I have made multiple trips, learned to play the bagpipes and visited the small towns of my ancestors. As a life-long baker and, more recently, a brewer, I was spending every spare moment in the past few years in the kitchen. Combined with my architecture career and a passion for creating spaces, I began to cast a critical eye at the restaurants and brewery tastings rooms in the area and knew I could make a truly unique space combining my love of flavor, my heritage and my design sense.
Other than beer and food, how will the Scottish concept be conveyed?
The walls will be lined with photos of my ancestors along with their stories of triumph and tragedy. Beside a hand-laid stone wall in the front of our space is a place for musicians, which will include Scottish and Irish sessions. On any random night you might find me playing my Scottish smallpipes or whistles there, as well! Our tartan pillows were hand-sewn by my mother, and our space will be filled with antiques and items of mine that represent the honest craftsmanship of a Scottish farmhouse. Our cocktail list includes Scottish-inspired drinks created by our Irish general manager, and even our beer utilizes a Scottish yeast strain. While we won’t have televisions, we will bring in a projector to show Scottish soccer and rugby. The team’s also looking for other ways to convey the brand, from Scottish afternoon tea to a whiskey trolley. We are all in for Scotland!
Where did you meet your head brewer?
I met Davey Landers at a Cicerone event in North Park in 2016. Over subsequent brewing sessions I began to see his incredible sense for flavors and creativity with beer. He has truly taken to heart the concept and key flavors of three of our flagship beers, and added a fourth unique creation which dovetails in neatly with our commitment to harvest.
What do you feel are the biggest opportunities and challenges to opening in La Mesa?
I see nothing but opportunities. La Mesa has quickly become the most desirable hip new scene in San Diego because of its quaint, walkable downtown, proximity to just about everything in the metro area within 15 minutes, and sunny mornings during June gloom! The other breweries in town have been able to keep locals who want good beer close, and the exploding food and drink scene in the La Mesa Village is good for everyone–customers and businesses alike.
The first time I met Gunnar Planter, he was tableside, dressed in chef’s whites and describing a cavalcade of beautifully-plated dishes at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe’s fine-dining restaurant, Morada. I was there on a fact-finding mission as part of my food writing and, in preparation for my visit, Planter had conducted a thorough Internet search to find out what I’m all about — beer. He brought up that bailiwick along with the fact a chef-friend and former colleague from nearby gourmet gem Mille Fleurs was opening a brewery in Del Mar. I asked him if it was Viewpoint Brewing Company, he confirmed, and soon we were gabbing over the topic like a couple of beer nerds. It was a welcomed surprise, as was his announcement to me via a follow-up email that he was moving on from Morada to become executive chef at Viewpoint.
Being deep into beer and food, I was eager to learn more about Planter and Viewpoint founder Charles Koll’s vision for the business, especially when I discovered they were bringing on a third culinary professional, former pastry chef and Bear Roots Brewing brewer Moe Katomski, to serve as head brewer. That’s a great deal of gastronomic firepower, and they intended to put it all to use from the get-go at their high-profile brewpub on the banks of San Dieguito Lagoon directly across from the Del Mar Fairgrounds. That spot opened in July and has impressed behind a menu stocked with dishes that are a cut above more common brewpub offerings without coming across as stuffy or pretentious.
Pork belly “bites” are dressed with a molasses gastrique while a honeyed balsamic reduction adds sweet-and-sour zing to a salad of watermelon and feta cheese. Jidori chicken receives added savoriness from a jus infused with a house porter and hanger steak is bolstered by both pink peppercorns and a fresh chimichurri sauce. Even chicken wings are more exotic, coated in a dry-rub flavored with black limes or coated in a “Buffalo” sauce made with mild Calabrian chilies.
In my opinion, the most impressive differentiator at Viewpoint is implementation of a first for San Diego brewpubs—a food-and-beer tasting flight. Three beers served with three small-bite offerings designed specifically to pair with each ale. It’s the sort of idea so simple and smart one wonders how it doesn’t already exist. And now it does. Planter’s mode of conveyance for interchangeable flavors and ingredients is a brilliant pretzel bao bun. Viewpoint’s initial tasting flight paired a Mandarina Bavaria pale ale with salt-and-pepper shrimp, bacon jam and daikon relish; a red-rye India pale ale with pork belly, apples and kimchi; and a single-malt-and-single-hop (SMASH) saison with oxtail, pickled peppers and coconut hoisin sauce. It’s thoughtful, high-level pairing made better by a trio of chef minds.
The recipe for the house bao buns is rightfully well-guarded, but Planter did divulge a couple recipes for those looking to see things from his culinary point of view: mussels that includes nduja, a spreadable Italian-style pork sausage (which can be substituted with easier-to-find Mexican-style chorizo in a pinch) and shishito peppers in a German wheat ale broth. That’s followed by a popular vegetarian entrée from Viewpoint’s menu, roasted Romanesco cauliflower served over quinoa with roasted baby vegetables and heirloom tomato gazpacho. Get cooking… or simply make a visit to Viewpoint.
He hasn’t brewed a beer on a professional level since 2002, but Skip Virgilio has never strayed far from the San Diego brewing scene he was a major part of in its early days. Best known for founding Miramar’s AleSmith Brewing Company in 1995 (in the original brewery now occupied by Mikkeller Brewing San Diego), he sold that business in 2002, but not before developing many award-winning recipes. As he puts it, AleSmith was ahead of its time. There wasn’t enough of a market for craft beer on the shoestring budget he was operating with. He admits it was “bittersweet” watching the industry boom after his departure, but he’s stayed close and supportive of his many friends throughout the suds subculture while working in real estate finance via his small business, Park Village Financial. All the while, he’s kept homebrewing and, of course, imbibing, and now he’s ready to get back into a commercial brewhouse as the brewmaster for Gravity Heights, a work-in-progress brewpub being brought to Pacific Heights Boulevard in Sorrento Mesa by Whisknladle Hospitality (WNLH). We sat down with him to touch on the past and, more importantly, the future.
Did you explore any other brewery-related ventures after AleSmith?
Naturally, there’s been a lot of interest on my part to get back into brewing commercially and there have been several potential projects and partnerships over the years that never fully materialized. That was until I got to better know my now business partner Ryan Trim—a member of homebrew club QUAFF and BJCP-certified beer judge—and, eventually, his neighbor Arturo Kassel, the founder of WNLH. [That happened] at beer shares hosted by Ryan in his garage. At some point, Arturo suggested, “You’re really good at the whole brewing thing, we know what we’re doing with restaurants, and we should do something together.” We decided to meet for beers at Pizza Port to explore a potential collaboration that eventually developed into the plan for what was to become Gravity Heights.
What can you tell us about the project?
Gravity Heights is a 13,000-square-foot, multi-level indoor/outdoor brewpub and beer garden located in the heart of Sorrento Mesa. It’s San Diego, so there’s no shortage of great beer or great brewers, so the thought of being just another alternative or another beer on the shelf wasn’t appealing to me. However, the prospects of partnering with someone that could pair my beer with what WNLH refers to as “delicious food, exceptional service and genuine hospitality” and help create a unique environment where people would want to come spend time with friends and loved ones was something else altogether. We certainly won’t be the only brewpub in San Diego, but I know that WNLH will put as much love and detail into the dining experience as I will into our beer so that our guests won’t have to make compromises with food, service or ambiance to get outstanding local craft beer.
What will your title be and your role entail with Gravity Heights?
I will be the Gravity Heights brewmaster which means I’m where the buck stops when it comes to beer quality and recipe development. In the past year, we have been focused on planning the brewery-specific aspects of the operation including designing the physical layout (with fellow QUAFFer and local architect Dustin T. Hauck), and evaluating brewery configurations and options with various manufacturers. We have just contracted with Alpha Brewing Operations in Nebraska to build our 15-barrel direct-fire brewhouse and we will have six fermentation vessels and 10 serving tanks. Ryan and I have also been focused on developing, reviewing, and refining my recipes so that we will have a comprehensive and exciting beer program when we open our doors in the fall of 2018.
What will the brewing MO be at Gravity Heights (any thematic, types of styles, barrel-aging, etc.)?
It’s a work in progress, but the direct-to-consumer brewpub model gives us the freedom to offer a broad variety of beers on an ongoing basis. There will be a strong West-Coast influence with plenty of hop-forward beers, but I love beer styles from all over the world so there will be a little of everything. I expect we will have beer styles from Belgian, Germany and the U.K., including cask beers. We will also have a barrel-aging program which we hope to jumpstart with some collaborations prior to opening, and we are considering options for developing a sour-beer program down the road as well
Will we see traces of your AleSmith work at Gravity Heights?
Like anyone in this industry, I can’t help but be influenced by my past brewing experiences, including the beers and styles I developed at the PB Brewhouse and AleSmith, and my extensive homebrew recipes. Some of these recipes may serve as inspirations or starting points, but every Gravity Heights beer will naturally evolve through an iterative process of brewing, sensory evaluation and feedback, followed by re-brewing with our brewery staff.
How does it feel to be back in the saddle?
It’s exciting and terrifying at the same time. I’ve always pushed myself to produce beer that people are excited about and enjoy, so there’s a self-imposed pressure to clear a high bar. As someone who was has been immersed in San Diego’s craft beer culture since the early days, I think it’s also important to strive to make products that affirm the reputation our city has garnered as one of the top craft beer centers in the world.
The journey to the debut of Northern Pine Brewing Company may have taken longer than its owners would have expected or preferred, but after more than a year of hard work, the Oceanside brewpub is set to open its doors to the public this Friday, October 27. Built around a thematic celebrating community, the outdoors and beer, the business has been delayed by permitting and other items outside ownership’s control, but the team made good use of that time, putting finishing touches on a stylish eatery and brewing beers that will be tapped this weekend.
Located on the corner of Horne Street and Civic Center Drive, the brewpub is a joint venture of Northern Pine and the restaurateurs behind popular downtown Oceanside barbecue spot, That Boy Good. The latter specializes in Southern Louisiana-style BBQ and will have a limited menu available during the opening weekend, however, a large kitchen will eventually allow the business to offer its entire menu along with a full suite of catering services. TBG’s original eatery on Coast Highway will soon be converted to a new concept called Miss Kim’s which will serve po’ boy sandwiches, gumbo and some of the classic ‘cue recipes.
Similar to the food plan, the initial menu of Northern Pine beers will be smaller than the eventual ten taps’ worth. A total of six will be available, most of which represent styles that will appeal to a broad variety of palates. The line-up of balanced ales will include Turning Point cream ale, Midnight Walker amber ale (which tastes a bit like a brown ale due to a one-time use of alternative, more roasty grains), a SMASH (single-malt and single-hop) ale brewed with Maris Otter and Northern Brewer hops, Golden Horizon India pale ale (IPA) and Dark Traditions porter. A California common, stout and another IPA are also on-deck.
Northern Pine’s black exterior belies inviting interiors with rows of communal tables flanked on one side by an open brewhouse (that includes components created by the team at Monster Garage, and is setup for near-term expansion), a shanty-like ordering counter for That Boy Good, and a main bar with taps and a metal rendition of the company’s logo built into a wall of logs hand-chopped by the owners. A local artist painted a pastoral mountain range onto the wall. That scene will be used as a backdrop for the bar’s tap list. Additional art, including diagrams explaining the brewing process, can be found in the restrooms, while one of the owners’ shared mottos—let’s get lost—is inscribed on the dining room’s south wall. An outdoor patio will be added to the front of the restaurant at a later date.
Northern Pine’s located at 326 North Horne Street. A date has yet to be set, but ownership is planning an official grand-opening event that will include live music, photo booths, giveaways and more.