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.
From the Beer Writer: Marketing really resonated with me in my youth. Living in an age of cartoon series’ built to market action figures, transforming robots, brands of candy, video games and all sorts of other things, I was not in the minority. But there aren’t many kids out there so in-tune with and fascinated by marketing that they spend hours designing their own catalogs of made-up product-lines, print-ads for their own dreamt-up magazines and even stamp-books selling subscriptions to said magazines. Clearly, I belong in the profession I ended up in. I realized what marketers were doing and marveled at their ability to captivate people to the point where they could alter their ways of thinking in meaningful ways. One thing I always thought was pretty interesting was how Coca-Cola used old Saint Nick and, later, computer-generated polar bears, to make its flagship soda a perceived mainstay of Christmas. To this day, I know tons of folks who pick up Coke in its limited-edition holiday-packaging every year and crack an old-fashioned bottle on Christmas Day. Now that there is some powerful marketing and an improbably successful outcome for Coca-Cola. Where am I going with this, you ask? Well, if you are one of the many red-blooded, marketing persuaded Americans who has memories of enjoying a cold Coke come the holidays, Santee’s Finest Made Ales has the beer for you. Finest Made Fruit Cake Brown Ale is an ambitious beer built to come across on the palate like fruitcake—not the gross kind littered with machined jelly candies, but one baked on the home-front with real fruit…and lots of it. Brewmaster Rey Knight rehydrated dried hoshigaki persimmons, dates, raisins, cranberries, pineapples and mangoes using dark rum, and added them to a brown ale along with candied ginger, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, toasted hazelnuts and house-made Maraschino cherries. To me, the resulting 6.5% alcohol-by-volume beer tastes, not like a fruitcake (though, once it warms a bit, the presence of the baking spices and dried fruit becomes much more prevalant), but oddly enough, a lot like Coca-Cola. Thanks to some Madison Avenue marketing maven, that tastes awfully Christmas-y to me; about as much as fruitcake. It’s a nostalgically welcomed taste-experience that goes well with the holiday season.
From the Brewer: “We brewed a brown ale for the holiday party we held in our tasting room, and wanted to have some fun with some things we don’t do that often. In this case, that’s fruiting and blending of beer. Our ‘iron-brewer challenge’ was to not use any of the extracts that we see so readily available, and do something with all-natural ‘real ingredients’. We settled on a fruitcake challenge, because fruitcake is a love-it-or-hate-it item at a lot of holiday gatherings. We wanted liquid fruitcake, and we used all the ingredients we would put into a fruitcake, minus the flour and eggs. We chose the brown ale with its toffee malty backbone for the base, then layered in all the macerated fruits to create a full-bodied beer with a touch of sweetness and candied-fruit notes that could capture the essence of fruitcake in a glass.”—Rey Knight, Owner & Brewmaster, Finest Made Ales
Last week, I wrote about four upcoming brewing companies showing the greatest potential for success (in my personal estimation). I kept my focus on projects located in the northern half of San Diego. Today, I’ve panned to the county’s southern half, and the many new breweries and brewery-owned venues currently in the works.
Eppig Brewing Company, North Park: There’s a generational gap between the current regime heading the revival of this legacy interest, but familial pride and a brewing team hailing from billion-dollar baby Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits should make for a solid mix of beers, running the full spectrum from hoppy West-Coast ales and more outlandish, modern creations to the traditional lagers that formed the basis of the original Eppig Brewing’s portfolio and allowed the business to boom in New York from the mid-1800s to 1935. This reboot is scheduled to open the first week of November at the new Brewery Igniter complex on El Cajon Boulevard in North Park.
Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing Company, Chula Vista: What started as brew-buds and business partners renting time on Butchers Brewing’s (since re-concepted to Finest Made Ales) Santee brewhouse is being grown into a full-on business that will call a three-story building (if you count the brewery and barrel-storage base-floor in the cellar) in downtown Chula Vista home. This operation’s brews have been decently distributed and mostly well received over the past year-plus, and should only get better once the brewers have their very own machinery and all the time in the world with which to utilize it.
Pariah Brewing Company, North Park: Local brewer Brian Mitchell spent the first years of his career toiling away executing the agendas of owners he didn’t see eye-to-eye with at (now closed) La Jolla Brew House and Helm’s Brewing Company, before becoming part of the small-batch brewing team at Stone Brewing. Now, he’s hammering out the final phases of his very own passion-project, one which will aim to churn out beers that please—and periodically challenge—drinkers’ palates. Mitchell will be neighbors with Eppig Brewing and fellow Brewery Igniter North Park tenants San Diego Brewing Company.
Barrel Rescue Brewing Company, Kearny Mesa: It’s one of the smallest and most unique “boutique” concepts being taken from fantasy to reality status currently, but it’s coming along nicely. A couple whose love of rescuing canines and penchant for beer brought them together have collected a wealth of used barrels from parts far-and-wide, for use in aging extremely small batches of various beers at their future home in Kearny Mesa. Governmental hoops are currently being leaped through, but already a lovely, contemporary outdoor patio has been erected, insuring a nice place to sample their eventual ales.
Last month, I shared that the business formerly known as Butcher’s Brewing would be reconcepting and coming out the other side of the branding machine as Finest Made Ales (9962 Prospect Avenue, Santee). Earlier today, I was afforded a sneak-peek at the business, and the difference from its former identity is day-and-Knight. Forgive the pun, but the business-founder and brewmaster’s name is Rey Knight. Before going into brewing, he was a chef with a very specific set of skills where charcuterie and butchery are concerned. It was his yen to get back into the culinary world and do more with food, plus the installation of improved brewing-equipment and a soon-to-be-expanded cellar operation, which led him to shift gears toward the Finest Made model.
Knight now brews his beers on a 15-barrel pro-style brewhouse that feeds a pair of 15-barrel fermenters. In two weeks, those tanks will be joined by five 30-barrel models. This should result in Finest Made producing roughly 4,000 barrels of beer, annually. Knight says that as he upped the quality of his tools—which includes a U/V water stabilizer and what he believes is the first HEPA filter clean-lab in a local brewery of his’ size—he aimed to make the best quality beers possible, hence the name Finest Made Ales.
The quality of the visitor experience has also been upgraded. Though he always owned two adjoining suites in his business-park home, the front-facing side of one of those units was utilized as office-space. Now, the wall separating the former administrative component from the tasting-room is gone, expanding the latter to double its previous size. The main reason Knight did this was to have room for a long, communal table capable of seating up to a dozen people. Growing up, Knight remembers the dinner table being a daily sanctuary come meal-time; a place where life’s biggest decisions were made. Now, he wants Finest Made’s 12-seater to serve the same purpose during regular beer-and-food-pairing dinners, which he hopes to hold on a monthly basis following the brewery’s August 19 grand opening shindig.
In addition to the doubling in square-footage, the tasting-room looks completely different. The walls have been painted white and will soon sport local artwork. There is an expanded bar on the north wall of the building plus a beer-board that will display up to 22 house-beers once a new tap-system is put in. Knight says he has designed those beers with food pairability in mind. The aforementioned dinners will showcase those attributes using dishes comprised of ingredients from local growers and purveyors. A pre-open dinner is taking place this week as a dry-run of sorts, so I asked Knight to explain his pairing logic on each of that event’s four courses.
Watermelon, Heirloom Tomato and Arugula Salad with Feta Cheese and Red Wine Vinaigrette paired with Hefeweizen: The Hefeweizen has a lot of clove, allspice and coriander notes, plus good effervescence and carbonation to break up the salad’s sweet-and-sour combo. The cheese brings a creaminess and some salt, which I believes makes the beer’s flavor pop.
Bratwurst, German-style Potato Salad and Horseradish-Whole Grain Mustard Sauce paired with Brown Ale: The Brown Ale has bread crustiness that goes well with the Maillard reaction (caramelization of an ingredient’s sugars during heating) from grilling the bratwurst, which prior to that step is braised in the beer. And the bacon-fat used in the potato salad dressing is balanced by the Brown Ale’s bitterness.
Braised Pork Belly, Sorrel and Golden Beets paired with Rye India Pale Ale: This dish is designed as a take on sweet-and-sour pork, with the sweetness coming from the beets and the sourness from the sorrel. The pork belly is marinated with salt, pepper, garlic and thyme, then sous vide for 12 hours. The rye spice of the IPA compliments the dish while the character from Citra hops melds with the other ingredients to create a third flavor that’s like some sort of fruit ganache.
Vanilla-Bean Panna Cotta with Raspberries and Rhubarb paired with Stout: Our Stout, which is a hybrid of a milk and oatmeal stout, has big coffee phenols. I wanted to create a deconstructed pairing of sorts that comes across as a perfect cup of coffee. The panna cotta—which is made using vanilla beans I aged in a nitrogen bag in our cold-box for two years—is like the cream while rhubarb pickled in ginger-spiked simple-syrup is like flavored sweetener.
Once open, Finest Made Ales’ hours will be 2 to 8 p.m., Monday through Thursday and 12 to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays.
He went from his own butchery to his own brewery, and now Rey Knight is shining up his stainless steel armor with a revised operation that fuses his culinary and fermentation passions. That business will go by the name Finest Made Ales (9962 Prospect Ave., Suite E, Santee), and aim to produce beers that are ideally suited for beer-and-food pairing.
Work is currently underway to revamp the tasting room of Knight’s former interest, Butchers Brewing Company, to a state befitting its new identity. That space will debut to the public next month during a grand opening launch party. Eventually, charcuterie plates featuring Knight’s handiwork will be available in that sampling space. Prior to delving into brewing, he founded Knight’s Salumi. It was a cult favorite among local foodies that fizzled out far before its time.
Finest Made Ales’ launch party will take place on Friday, August 19 from 4 p.m. until closing. Ten taps’ worth of beer will be available along with food (that’s pairable, one would presume) from a variety of food trucks.