Winners from the 2017 edition of the Great American Beer Festival were announced earlier this morning. Held annually by brewing-industry trade organization, the Brewers Association, in Denver, Colorado, this year’s GABF saw nearly 8,000 beers entered by more than 2,000 breweries in 98 style categories. 293 were awarded gold, silver and bronze medals after being evaluated by 276 judges. GABF is the country’s largest and most prestigious professional brewing competition. San Diego County breweries have historically fared incredibly well. This year saw another strong showing with the region’s brewers racking up double-digit awards.
Eleven local brewing companies brought home 14 medals this time around, including five golds in the Robust Porter (Second Chance Beer Co.) Honey Beer (Karl Strauss Brewing Company‘s Carlsbad brewpub), Imperial India Pale Ale (Ballast Point Brewing) Other Specialty Belgian Ale (Stone Brewing World Brewing & Gardens – Liberty Station) and Session Beer (Pizza Port‘s Ocean Beach brewpub) categories. That went along with six silver medals and three bronzes.
Notable is the fact only one individual brewing facility in the county won more than one medal, Carmel Mountain Ranch’s Second Chance with a gold and a silver. Newly launched SouthNorte Brewing Company garnered a bronze medal in the Specialty Beer category for a beer called AgaveMente that hasn’t even been released to the public yet. And Monkey Paw Brewing, which Coronado acquired earlier this year, earned a silver medal in the English-style Summer Ale category. Also, Vista-based Mother Earth Brew Co. medaled in the Fresh or Wet Hop Ale category for Fresh As It Gets, a beer brewed at its Nampa, Idaho production facility.
Adding to the unofficial medal count was Belching Beaver Brewery, which for the second time in its history won top honors at the Alpha King Competition. Held in conjunction with GABF each year, this friendly competition crowns the brewing company that submits the hoppiest offering amid a stacked field of IPAs. Belching Beaver previously won Alpha King in 2014. On top of that, Chula Vista Brewery owners Timothy and Dalia Parker received the Samuel Adams Brewing and Business Experienceship, following in the footsteps of Ramona-based ChuckAlek Independent Brewers, who earned the same opportunity in 2014.
The following is a complete list of the winners from brewing facilities located within San Diego County…
In early April of this year, Tom and Brett Gent realized a dream, opening the doors to Wiseguy Brewing in Carlsbad. The father-son duo signed a lease to install their business in one of the ready-to-brew units at developer H.G. Fenton’s North County Brewery Igniter campus. The pair of suites in that facility house identical brewhouses, cellar setups and tasting-room footprints, and are blank slates for tenants to personalize as they please. As one would expect, the Gents were excited at the prospect and approached the project with gusto, but unfortunately, less than six months after its debut, an A-frame sign stands outside of Wiseguy’s tasting room proclaiming that this Saturday, September 30 will be its last day of operation.
The Gents set out to craft traditional beers using the 10-barrel system that came as part of their lease with H.G. Fenton. Early on, they were able to cultivate a following, literally working side-by-side with Brewery Igniter neighbors at Rouleur Brewing Company. The breweries even held a dual grand-opening event using their shared front lawn. While Rouleur has begun to distribute its beers in North County San Diego and begun the process of regular can-release events, Wiseguy has made the decision to exit the industry.
When reached for comment, Brett Gent cited difficulties with the overhead for his facility, a lack of steady business in Carlsbad, and the inability to put up street-facing signage as reasons for pulling out. Online, he expressed that he is “super-bummed,” adding he “will take another crack at this one day” and stating he “learned a lot.” Other Brewery Igniter tenants attest that the model is expensive and unsustainable over a prolonged period. For most, it is a means of achieving proof of concept before garnering additional financial backing and moving on to open a permanent brick-and-mortar elsewhere. One Brewery Igniter tenant, speaking on condition of anonymity, shared that H.G. Fenton has exhibited a tendency to be strict even with struggling tenants, stating they tend to compare them all to Pure Project Brewing. That business is easily the most successful of the septet of companies leasing space between the three Brewery Igniter sites.
Pure Project and Amplified Ale Works were the first to experiment with the model at H.G. Fenton’s initial rentable brewing campus in Miramar. The former has been a runaway success behind frequent can-release events and barrel-aged bottle releases, but appears to be an anomaly. Arguably the next most successful Brewery Igniter tenant is Eppig Brewing Company, which is nearing its one-year anniversary as the first business to open at H.G. Fenton’s second beer-making site, a three-suite facility in North Park. Eppig has earned acclaim for its beers, primarily its lagers, prompting its owners’ recent securing of a satellite tasting room in Point Loma, but even with solid returns out of the gate, that business will inevitably reach a point—sooner than later—where it must move to a larger facility with greater production capabilities, more space for customers and lower monthly expenses.
Brewery Igniter was developed as a stepping stone for aspiring brewers as well as an option for existing companies seeking a secondary brewing facility as a means to increase production. Amplified Ale Works and San Diego Brewing Company, a 20-plus-year stalwart of the local industry that leased space at the North Park campus to brew enough beer to start distributing beyond its namesake pub, fit into the latter, less common category, while Pure Project, Eppig, Rouleur and Pariah Brewing Company (also in North Park) fit the bill of entrepreneurs looking to realize fermentation aspirations, a faction Wiseguy was part of for a sadly far-too-short period of time.
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.
When Rawley Macias spoke with me about what he planned to produce at his work-in-progress brewery, he said he’d be going for a style-defying portfolio of beers. After visiting his now soft-opened Rouleur Brewing (5840 El Camino Real, Suite #101, Carlsbad) last week, it would appear he’s backed off of that a bit in favor of proving the versatility of Belgian yeast. Personally, I consider this a concept upgrade. While Belgian beer-styles have risen in popularity over the past decade, few are the operations that specialize in them in San Diego County. And no other company is trying to do as much with Belgian yeast strains as Macias.
Rouleur’s opening septet of beers all utilize Bastogne strain with the exception of a golden strong ale, and all will be available at the business’ official grand opening, an indoor-outdoor affair that will take place starting at noon on Saturday, April 8 (the same day as next-door neighbors, Wiseguy Brewing) and include live music and food trucks. That beer features big flavors candied lemon peel and peach commonly found in imperial IPAs, plus added fruit notes from the Belgian-yeast esters. Aside from being slightly sweet—which is pretty common in double IPAs—it really works.
Rouleur’s single IPA, The Clydesdale, isn’t as successful a foray into the merging of the Old and New Worlds. The beer is brewed with Centennial, Cascade and Amarillo hops, yet the beer is seriously lacking in aroma. Still, the beer is grassy and earthy, showing potential that may be realized soon. Macias’ Carlsbad contemporaries from Burgeon Beer Company have offered up some friendly advice about dry-hopping techniques. Rouleur’s owner happily accepted it. While he’s homebrewed prolifically for a dozen years, the seven beers available at Rouleur represent the first seven times he’s brewed on a professional system, a fact that makes the quality of his other beers that much more impressive.
The Domestique, a 5.6% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) blonde is nice and light, allowing the floral and citrus character of the yeast to shine through. It was my favorite beer of the bunch. A Belgian pale ale called The Puncheur is balanced, as is Macias’ golden-child, a golden strong ale dubbed The Soloist (because it utilizes one grain and one hop) that comes in at 8.8% ABV but doesn’t taste overly alcoholic and has an almost champagne-like effervescence and dryness. All three of these beers feature varying degrees of an orange-like flavor from the yeast, which works with all three. On the darker side, a red ale came across dry with a touch of spice, but a tad flat on the palate, while a 6.7% dark ale had a big roasty nose followed by prune, plum and anise character on the taste buds.
Aside from offering a respectable lineup of beers out of the gate, Rouleur has a lot of good things going on from an interior design prospective. Macias’ other passion, biking, is on full display care of a collage of vibrant modern and vintage photos (some dating back to the 1930s)—including some on the west wall that can be purchased if they catch your fancy—plus shots of Rouleur’s beers in yet-to-be-manufactured bottles leading to the brewery. an impressive bike-wheel sculpture of sorts Macias engineered on his own, and a rare 100% steel Masi Gran Criterium bicycle with Rouleur’s logo hand-painted on by legendary frame-painter Jim Allen. Rouleur’s space came as a blank white canvas in the third of developer H.G. Fenton’s Brewery Igniter complexes and Macias has gone to a great deal of work to deliver a complete concept from the get-go. That should help him pull ahead of the pack.
Additional reporting by Katie Conner
In celebration of 30 years in business, the Pizza Port chain of Southern California brewpubs will be canning and releasing some of the most popular creations from its quintet of pubs throughout 2017. The first offering from the “Pub Release Series” was the award-winning imperial coffee porter, Bacon and Eggs, which debuted on March 4 at its brewpub of origin in Ocean Beach.
Nine more beers are slated for release as part of this series. The schedule as it stands at present is as follows. Brewpubs or origin for each beer are listed in parentheses.
Each of the beers listed above will be put up for sale at all of the brewpubs on their corresponding release dates. The next four beers will be released on their respective brewpub’s specific anniversary date, starting with Solana Beach, which will celebrate 30 years in operation with two days of festivities this Saturday and Sunday, March 25 and 26.