Earlier this month a for-lease sign went up beside the signage for Little Miss Brewing’s much-anticipated tasting room on Ocean Beach’s Newport Avenue. The conversion of the site’s interior into a French World War II-themed sampling space is roughly halfway complete and the company’s logo has been mounted outside, making this an unexpected turn of events for everyone, including owners Greg and Jade Malkin. The marrieds behind this Miramar-based company’s satellite project have been paying rent on the space since last December and, in the time it has taken to attempt to obtain approval from the local faction of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), have opened another tasting room in Normal Heights. But the ABC process for their would-be OB interest has been nothing short of a bureaucratic nightmare.
The Malkins submitted their ABC application for the OB tasting room a week after sending the same paperwork for the Normal Heights project. Early on, things went as expected, including receipt of protests during the 30-day period when residents are allowed to formally raise issues. The majority of the protests were rescinded once the Malkins reached out to the individuals who had initiated them. What the Malkins were unaware of, however, is that a private meeting had been held without their notification or knowledge in late-April—outside of the public-protest period—between ABC supervisors, representatives of the San Diego Police Department (SDPD), a State Assembly member and additional OB residents not in favor of the tasting room. ABC representatives claimed the meeting was not specifically about Little Miss, but rather all tasting-room licenses pending on Newport Avenue, but Little Miss’ was the only license of that type pending at the time. The negatives that came out of that meeting, where the project was scrutinized without the applicants being able to defend their business, followed the Little Miss project file through its lifespan without the Malkins even knowing. But this constitutes only a portion of the obstacles.
While the Malkins respect the job and authority of the ABC and appreciate the hard-working nature of ABC employees, they echo the opinion of most (including ABC employees) that the department and its local offices are severely understaffed during this time of unprecedented brewery openings. During the many months they spent trying to open the OB tasting room, meetings with ABC agents typically yielded little in the way of concrete answers or reliable advice. Often, one agent would contradict the other. In the cases where they agreed, other governmental factions saw things differently. Additionally, the Malkins were told to call ABC reps at different offices as well as various individuals at the City of San Diego offices and SDPD. Most calls went unanswered, as did requests for information.
The key piece of info they coveted during the process were crime logs. During a meeting with the ABC on July 20, the Malkins were shown a letter from the SDPD dated June 29 stating it would not support the issuance of Little Miss’ OB license. The reason: the neighborhoods the Western Patrol Division serves (Ocean Beach, Hillcrest, La Playa, Linda Vista, Loma Portal, Midtown, Midway District, Mission Hills, Mission Valley West, Morena, Old Town, Point Loma Heights, Roseville-Fleetridge, Sunset Cliffs, University Heights and “Wooded Area”) had experienced an overall increase in crime and could not handle another ABC license issued in the area. The ABC said they would not go against the SDPD’s recommendation because they felt it was impossible to change their opinion. Determined to give that a try on their own, the Malkins asked to see the crime reports for the aforementioned communities. The ABC had those reports, but said they were not allowed to provide them to the Malkins, and directed them to obtain the data from the City. They attempted to do so, but after more unanswered calls, ended up downloading the information they needed from the City of San Diego’s website instead.
Through this fact-finding exercise, they discovered that, although alcohol-related crime had gone up in the Western Patrol Division’s patrol area as a whole, it had gone down in OB by a whopping 40% since the November 2014 introduction of the neighborhood’s first brewery tasting room—Culture Brewing Company on Newport Avenue. Also, the number-one alcohol-related crime in OB is open-container violations, primarily on the beach. They presented this information to multiple City Councilmembers, the Mayor’s office and ABC, even going so far as to waive Little Miss’ ability to sell packaged beer or growlers to go, but never received an answer. The final straw was a call earlier this week when the Malkins say it seemed like someone at the ABC had decided they were going to deny the license long ago—possibly as far back as the meeting that they weren’t given the opportunity to attend—but nobody wanted to be the bearer of bad news. It prompted them to officially pull the plug on the OB project.
This drama isn’t the only turbulence for the company, which last week parted ways with the only brewmaster it has known during its first year of existence. This seems a much easier hurdle to get over than ABC issues. Former Green Flash Brewing Company brewer Joe Lisica spearheaded brewery and tasting room construction and beer production for Little Miss. His desire was to create clean, clear beers, including an assortment of single-malt-and-single-hop (SMASH) beers. While quality was never an issue and ownership appreciated Lisica and his beers, their vision for Little Miss’ portfolio was vastly different, leading to an amicable parting of ways. Mike Morbitzer, a fellow Green Flash alum Lisica hired as his assistant, has been promoted to brewmaster and will be responsible for reshaping Little Miss’ offerings to match the Malkin’s desires, which includes more new-school beers such as hazy IPAs and beers brewed with fruits and other adjuncts across varying styles. Meanwhile, Lisica is taking a brief hiatus from the industry to contemplate his next move, while entertaining offers from companies in need of his services.
Little Miss’ business model from the get-go has been to open six satellite tasting rooms under their manufacturing license, focusing on unsaturated neighborhoods — besides the planned OB location. The Malkins are leery of filing through the San Diego office again. A local ABC agent advised them to apply in La Mesa, a municipality that only recently began encouraging brewing companies to lay down stakes, but they will also likely look north once they have some time to gain some distance and lick their wounds.
Over the weekend, Vista-based Mother Earth Brew Co. announced that it has begun phase-two development of its brewery in Nampa, Idaho. That 40,000-square-foot facility opened last August with equipment allowing for production of 100,000 barrels of beer. The aforementioned development includes additional infrastructure and “fermentation improvements” as well as expansion of the brewery’s packaging areas. The latter will allow for a greater variety of packaging formats in the future.
Back at home, the company has brought on Luis Lapostol to serve as lead brewer at its original Vista brewery. Lapostol spent nearly four years in the same role with SLO Brewing Company in San Luis Obispo, California. Prior to that, the Cal Poly SLO graduate worked at Central Coast wineries.
Mother Earth is also sharing news about expansion of its distribution network including key regions across the nation as well as Brazil. New states include Georgia (launching in August) and Rhode Island (October). Building on previously reached regions, Mother Earth beers will now be distributed throughout the entirety of Oregon after the company signed into the Great Artisan Beverage distribution network, and all of Utah care of an agreement with Utah Craft Beverages. According to Mother Earth vice president Kevin Hopkins, additional market announcements are forthcoming.
Master Blender & Brewer, Mikkeller Baghaven
West Coaster covers the San Diego brewing scene, which may lead one to wonder why we’re featuring an interview with an employee of globe-spanning, Denmark-based Mikkeller. It’s because Ehren Schmidt recently resigned from Vista’s Toolbox Brewing Company, requiring him not only to relocate to a country where he doesn’t even speak the language, but also bid adieu to a brewery to which he brought a great deal of prestige and, oh yeah, perhaps the finest brewing region on the planet. It’s an opportunity that came up fast, but a decision he put a lot of thought into. We sat down with him shortly before he boarded a plane for Copenhagen to find out how this came about and what awaits him across the Atlantic.
How did the prospect of employment with Mikkeller arise?
[Mikkeller owner] Mikkel [Borg Bjergsø] stopped by the brewery early one morning and I was in the middle of examining a new wild-yeast isolate under the microscope. He got to check it out and asked me a bunch of questions. We sampled through beers in barrels and sort of hit it off from there.
What does your new position entail?
I will be responsible for all of the beer production in a new oak-aging facility in Copenhagen at Mikkeller Baghaven. Baghaven is Danish for “backyard”. Nothing has previously been released from this project. It is still very new.
What at the tops of your priority list coming in?
I’m going to continue to focus on oak-aged wild ales and farmhouse-style beers with an emphasis on local microflora. I’m most excited about the Koelschip trailer—a mobile koelship/beer-transfer tank—and the chance to work and collaborate with some top European Brewers. Also, I plan on collecting wild yeast in Denmark just like I did in California. When I travel, I always try to find a way to collect local organisms (when applicable). I plan on incorporating as much local microflora into the beers as possible.
What are some of your greatest Toolbox accomplishments and what will you miss most about San Diego?
Toolbox was a time of incredible growth in my career. What we accomplished in the two years I was there is amazing. We have made some great beers and I’ve met some wonderful people. I’m grateful for the exposure I’ve gotten locally and nationally during my tenure as head brewer there. As for what I’ll miss, the Mexican food, the amazing weather and hills. There aren’t many hills in Denmark.
What are your feelings on the big move?
Moving is always difficult, especially to a new country, and with dogs and a girlfriend. I am incredibly excited and stressed out. Denmark isn’t the easiest country to get a work visa in, but luckily I got one. I’m grateful for everyone who has supported Toolbox and myself through thick and thin. We’ve been through a lot in a short amount of time and without the loyalists I don’t think I would be where I am today. It truly is an amazing feeling. I want thank each and every supporter from the bottom of my heart. There will be more beers!
Many know Ryan Brooks for his work as brewmaster at Coronado Brewing Company. During his tenure, that interest has won numerous awards, including Champion Mid-Size Brewing Company at the 2014 World Beer Cup. That’s dream-come-true territory, but Brooks isn’t finished dreaming. He’s about to realize another long-held aspiration—opening his own brewery. The name of that business will be SouthNorte Beer Company, and it’s scheduled to debut this summer.
Brooks will get by with a little help from his friends, most ostensibly his family at Coronado Brewing. That company’s founders, brothers Ron and Rick Chapman, are key investors and that’s where the initial brewing of SouthNorte’s beers will be done (the search is on for a separate facility to house the business). But he’ll also garner inspiration from friends he’s made spending a great deal of time exploring the craft-brewing culture south of the border. As the name implies, SouthNorte will combine elements of Mexico’s burgeoning beer scene with the craft culture here in San Diego. A press release describes the business as “an American brewery that blends the rustic flair of Mexico with the art of San Diego craft brewing.” Brooks sees pulling from two cultures as a way to extract the best from both and end up with the finest end-result.
In the course of my reporting on the San Diego brewing industry, I have met a number of brewers from Baja locales including Tijuana, Ensenada and Mexicali. Nearly all of them have mentioned receiving assistance, tutelage or encouragement from Brooks. He is something of a cult figure down there who has forged many legitimate friendships during innumerable cross-border visits. Few would be better suited to bring this intercultural vision to life and it should be exciting to watch…and taste.
Since the moment Green Flash Brewing Company acquired Alpine Beer Company back in 2014, there has been concern among protective fans of the latter about that brand’s future. Over the past two-plus years, numerous rumors have popped up, but never in such abundance and covering so many topics as in the weeks following Green Flash’s recent round of layoffs. The company dismissed approximately 25 employees over the span of a few days. Since then, numerous sources have signaled the beginning of the end in talks with industry colleagues. Enough so, that we recently went to Green Flash owner Mike Hinkley and other company representatives for direct responses to each of them.
Rumor: It’s been reported that Hinkley has stepped down from the CEO position.
Response (from Green Flash): Hinkley is still the CEO and his title has not changed. Chris Ross was recently promoted from chief operating officer to president, and is reporting to Hinkley. This promotion recognizes the great knowledge and vast experience that Ross brings to the Green Flash organization. Over the past year-and-a-half, Ross has built a solid operations department. In his expanded role as president, every department at Green Flash will benefit from his insight and business acumen.
Rumor: Hinkley has moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Response (from Green Flash): Hinkley is dividing his time between both coasts to be close to the Virginia Beach brewery, the San Diego brewery and Florida. He plans to spend less time in the brewery and more time on the road with his beloved sales team, the Road Warriors.
Rumor: Alpine’s founding family—Pat, Val and Shawn McIlhenney—will soon have no affiliation with the company.
Response (from Hinkley): The Hinkleys and the McIlhenney’s continue to own Alpine Beer and Green Flash. McIlhenneys forever is the retention plan. If Shawn has children someday, we will send them all to brew-school and hope for the best. Pat is an awesome brewer. Shawn is an awesome brewer. Hoping it’s in the genes. None of us will live forever, but Alpine Beer will.
Rumor: Brewing operations will cease permanently at Alpine Beer’s brewery in Alpine.
Response (from Hinkley): We plan to brew Alpine Beer in Alpine forever. We are currently working with the landlord on site-development and hope to build a new brewery in Alpine as soon as possible.
Rumor: Green Flash is working on constructing a facility in Texas.
Response (from Hinkley): Green Flash will eventually build a brewery in the middle of the country. The motivation? We are in the business of making and selling beer. It makes great business-sense to bring fresh beer to market and connect with customers close to the point-of-sale. We love Texas, but there are no specific plans to build there, or anywhere else, yet. We are just getting comfortable in our Virginia digs.