Late last year, after four years in business and a failed attempt at opening a manufacturing facility with contract-brewing capabilities, La Jolla Brewing quietly went out of business, leaving its namesake community with a vacant brewpub. That spot was snatched up by Torrance, California-based Absolution Brewing, which reopened the brewhouse-equipped eatery as Absolution by the Sea last month. With San Diego breweries (Ballast Point Brewing, Stone Brewing, Karl Strauss Brewing, Modern Times Beer) having spent the past several years establishing footholds in the City of Angels’ to benefit from the burgeoning nature of its beer scene, it might seem odd for an LA company to come south, but it makes perfect sense for co-founder Steve Farguson. His family is from here and he has called San Diego home since 1995, so he’s happy to start Absolution’s second chapter in America’s Finest City. We sat down with him to find out more about the concept Absolution has installed in The Jewel.
What inspired you to acquire this particular brewpub?
My parents live eight blocks from the facility and we used to go there (when it was La Jolla Brew House) on a nearly-weekly basis. I always liked the vibe and tried to buy it almost six years ago. When I was approached about the opportunity last year, I said “yes.” For the past four years, I have been commuting from Coronado to Torrance, where we established our production brewery. Our facility is now a well-oiled machine and Absolution by the Sea gave me the opportunity to work closer to home. My parents are also getting older, and being here in La Jolla gives me the chance to check in on them more frequently.
What renovations have you done since taking over the space?
The place was really neglected over the past few years. Reading some of the reviews was really eye-opening. We knew we were in for a significant challenge. There was no evidence that sanitation and proper cleaning had taken place anywhere in the facility. Frankly, the brewery, cold-storage and kitchen were in such neglected shape, we had to replace or rebuild nearly everything. We also installed and upgraded many things that made the space even more inviting, including refinishing the pine wood floors and cutting out the wall separating the dining room from the front patio and installing designer glass. We put in marble around the fire pits, changed the awning to blue to match our sea concept, and installed a state-of-the-art lighting and audio systems. We also tore out 90 feet of draft trunk lines and installed a new draft system.
What is the game plan for on-site beer production?
Absolution has really grown over the past year. We recently hired a new vice presidents of sales for California and Texas, respectively, and we are planning other states this year. Our Torrance facility is gearing up to exclusively produce widely-distributed core brands so we can meet wholesaler demand. In La Jolla, we plan to brew our specialty and seasonal products. We also have a SABCO pilot system for test batches. Absolution by the Sea will create beers unique to the San Diego lifestyle and ship many of them to our sister tap rooms north of here, as well.
What are some future plans for Absolution by the Sea?
In a few months, we plan to open our craft-cocktail bar in the back room and start serving barrel-aged beers, as well. That back space is also going to work nicely as a space for private parties. But mostly, I really want this place to be community-centric. We want to be stewards of not just La Jolla, but San Diego as a whole. Our vision is to really engage the community here and it’s taking place even quicker than we’d anticipated. Already, locals have been reaching out and thanking us. It’s really exciting for me and my partners.
How has it been adding a culinary side to the business?
We are a brewery first and we always will be. It is our core and what drives our whole team, however, we now serve food—real food, not pub food. We really want to be known as a place to gather where you can enjoy a hand-crafted ale with culinary experience that takes no shortcuts. It’s funny…our team has worked so hard the past four-and-a-half years, putting in seven days per week more often than not. We have all aged in the process, but it is all about our passion to deliver a unique product we believe in. As tired as it’s made us, Absolution by the Sea has put a huge spring in my step and a smile on my face. My friends tell me I have never seemed so happy. I’m working in beautiful San Diego and that really says it all for me.
Last year, beer fans started noticing vehicle signage and a “golden IPA” from an unknown entity throughout San Diego County. They inquired to me directly and questioned the masses via social media: “Anybody know anything about this Beach Grease Beer Co. I’ve been seeing around?”
This went on for most of 2018 until last November when I was able to get the background on what turned out to be a local operation from owner James Banuelos. A fan of beach culture and classic automobiles, he had a spot on Scott Street in Vista that served as his headquarters. The only problem—it lacks brewing equipment.
Until now, Banuelos has gotten around that by having his beer contract brewed by Mission Brewery. Additionally, Banuelos has assisted that East Village interest by helping out with marketing duties. All the while, he maintained a search for a facility of his own, and he found it in the brewery-equipped space recently shut down by the owners of Vista’s SpecHops Brewing.
Located at 1280 Activity Drive, the 6,500-square-foot industrial-park suite is part of a cluster of Vista ale-and-lager interests that includes Latitude 33 Brewing, Toolbox Brewing, Belching Beaver Brewery’s Pub980, Barrel Harbor Brewing and Booze Brothers Brewing. Its 15-barrel brewing system was lightly used in the 10 or so months SpecHops was open to the public before shutting down at the end of the year.
Banuelos is pleased to now have a base of operations that will allow him to get his beers to market. Those will include various IPAs as well as a hoppy pilsner called Piston Palm. He is currently in search of a brewer and reports a great deal of interest on that front.
In addition to brewing capabilities, Beach Grease’s new home offers a tasting room with an L-shaped bar and a spacious interior area on the building’s south side that was previously furnished with sofas and picnic tables. The manufacturing area is completely visible and separated from public space by a rail bar. There is no immediate timetable for its debut under the Beach Grease flag.
Last month, The Bell Marker debuted in the former home of defunct Gaslamp Quarter brewpub, The Beer Co. While little was known about the project leading up to its opening, one solitary fact created a great deal of optimism for fans of San Diego beer: Noah Regnery was helming brewing operations.
Regnery is well known locally for the many award-winning beers he crafted while a member of the Pizza Port brewpub chain. The highlight of his success with that organization was winning Small Brewpub of the Year for its San Clemente location at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival (GABF). He left the company in 2011 to become head brewer at Hollister Brewing Company in Goleta, California. Following that, he moved to Healdsburg to help run his family’s restaurant before accepting a director position with Los Angeles-based Artisanal Brewers Collective, the parent company of The Bell Marker.
Today, news broke that another key member of the Pizza Port team is joining The Bell Marker brewing team. Ignacio “Nacho” Cervantes has resigned from the company he spent the past 11 years at to assist Regnery. It’s a high-profile move for a high-profile brewer who previously oversaw Pizza Port’s Carlsbad and Ocean Beach brewpubs.
During his tenure with Pizza Port, Cervantes earned gold and bronze medals at GABF as well as a pair of awards at the bi-annual international equivalent of that competition, the World Beer Cup. Acquiring this talented brewer’s services is quite the coup and will undoubtedly draw interested beer enthusiasts to the spacious downtown brewpub.
When Mother Earth Brewing Co. opened a satellite tap room in Vista’s downtown Village area in 2012, it installed a homebrew shop on the corner of Main Street and Indiana Avenue. It was fitting, as Mother Earth’s original brewery started as a combination nano-production operation and recreational beer-making supply outlet. The taproom-adjacent version didn’t quite meet business expectations, so ownership decided to go another direction, gutting and remodeling the space into a hospitality venue offering food and beverages for members of the Finer Things Club, Mother’s Provisions (204 Main Street, Vista).
After roughly a year of construction, a great deal of which was done by the family behind this eight-year-old business (which has grown to include a full-scale brewery in Nampa, Idaho in addition to its Vista brewery campus on Thibodo Road), Mother’s Provisions debuted to the public last weekend. The 2,500-square-foot space is simple and homey, with green checkerboard-tiled floors, exposed brick on one wall, mounted planters on the other with deep-purple grapes here and there. Those oenophilean elements might not work elsewhere but feel at home in Vista’s old-town core where exterior walls feature a plethora of hand-painted artwork.
Mother’s Provisions offers a menu composed mostly of wine-friendly items, including charcuterie, assorted cheeses, panini sandwiches, salads and desserts. Those edible offerings can be paired with any of 15 taps’ worth of beers (13 of which are non-Mother Earth guest ales and lagers), three draft wines or up to 20 wines by the glass, 80% of which are regularly rotated. Additionally, roughly 60 wines are available in a temperature-controlled, stave-roofed room in the venue’s northwest corner featuring a largely California selection interspersed with worldly vintages. Bottles can be opened free-of-charge and consumed on-site or taken home. California law also allows partially-consumed bottles to be recorked and taken off-site for later enjoyment.
In addition to bar, table and cushy chair seating, patrons can go al fresco on a 700-square-foot patio sidling the building’s exterior. Future Mother’s Provisions promotions will include meet-the-brewer nights, vintner evenings, salumi carving and a confectionery event with two-time Food Network “Cupcake Wars” winner Don Hein. Those promotions are scheduled to begin in March and take place monthly. Mother’s Provisions is open Tuesday through Thursday and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
In 2015, Ballast Point Brewing was acquired by Constellation Brands, a multi-national corporation with financial fortitude far exceeding that of the San Diego-born company’s previous ownership (as well as pretty much every craft brewery in the country). The backing of Constellation Brands instantly made formerly cost-prohibitive ventures feasible, opening up a wealth of opportunities for Ballast Point to go places their contemporaries couldn’t even fathom. Case in point, the combination brewery, tasting room and kitchen the company today announced it is constructing in the heart of the Downtown Disney District in Anaheim.
This will be Ballast Point’s seventh Southern California location and first erected in Orange County. Scheduled to open in late 2018, it will come in at 7,300 square feet and include a three-barrel research-and-development brewery as well as a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. The brewery will offer mainstays from Ballast Point’s beer portfolio, and also produce ales and lagers unique to that location (under the direction of a yet-to-be-determined member of the company’s brewing team), shipping some of those offerings to its sister venues. The food menu will consist of beer-friendly SoCal dishes, some of which will be plucked from the menus of BP’s brewpubs in Little Italy, Miramar and Long Beach.
Ballast Point currently operates a sextet of California tasting rooms plus a public-serving venue at its brewery in Daleville, Virginia. In addition to the Downtown Disney location, the company is also at work constructing a brewery-equipped kitchen operation in Chicago, Illinois. While Disney California Adventure Park has long included beery offerings from numerous brewing companies, Ballast Point’s new venue will provide Disneyland Resort with its first ever onsite brewing facility. Its addition further signals the advancing reputation and perceived importance of craft beer in America, especially among larger corporations who see the value it can add to their operations.