If you miss the good old days, when classic C hops ruled the day, pale ales registered mid-range on the SRM meter and beer menus went from blonde to stout, Brett Stampf can relate. A veteran brewer who worked at Stone Brewing and Green Flash Brewing, he can appreciate the IBU-rich beers that played a big part in those operations’ successes. He says he left each as said success led to each growing into larger entities, stating that just wasn’t for him. He prefers a smaller stage and the freedom that provides, and has spent the past two years constructing his own passion project with partners John Bull and Josh Gilko. That spot, Alta Brewing Company (1983 Julian Avenue, Barrio Logan) is on track to open in early August (ABC willing).
When San Diegans last tasted Stampf’s beers, he was the opening brewmaster at La Jolla Brewing. While there is little he cared to bring with him from that venture, his current beer list includes a number of offerings from his time there. When the doors open, he will have a quintet of ales available. The first is a golden ale with a surprisingly biting finish that will be served on CO2 and nitrogen. Ditto the house IPA, which is hopped with big-money hops, Citra and Simcoe, and comes in at 7% alcohol-by-volume. A 6% ABV pale ale is a throwback that comes across like a tamer version of Sierra Nevada’s copper-colored flagship, with a bitter finish that resembles that of Stampf’s Chinook- and Centennial-stoked brown ale. A dry Irish-style stout rounds things out. Belgian-style ales and an IPA hopped exclusively with Azacca are in the works.
Those beers will be available solely in Alta’s tasting room, which was pounded into shape by the company’s founders—all of which have contracting backgrounds—in a 2,000-square-foot space at the base of the Bread and Salt building. That 40,000-square-foot facility is being reborn and reconfigured with an eye toward art and artisan manufacturing. Alta’s corner of it includes an indoor bar nicely appointed with a large bull-head mural featuring beer’s four main ingredients, plus a lacquered wood-topped bar with rebar forged into a playful design based on the letters A, L and T. Rail bars line two walls, giving way to views of Barrio Logan and an outdoor patio that will someday border a beer garden.
Alta’s brewery comprises a five-barrel brewhouse feeding into 10-barrel fermentation tanks. Stampf says he will aim to produce around 500 barrels in year one, but has the ability to max out annual production at 1,100 barrels. Stampf says the name Alta translates to over and above, and describes the way he is looking to brew; remaining true to tradition, but keeping up quality while infusing a bit of himself and his personal preferences. The skeletal bull-head logo is a nod to his business partner of the same name and is affectionately named “Juan Toro”. A “recovering contractor”, Bull has worked on numerous local restaurant projects, including Tribute Pizza, Union Kitchen and Tap, One Door North, PB Shore Club and Pacific Beach AleHouse. Once Alta is up and running, the team will identify sites for one or two satellite tasting rooms. So far they have evaluated two, Chula Vista and Ocean Beach.
Evan Smith enjoys creating things and pushing the envelope in the process. That’s the approach he took with his family business, Escondido Feed and Pet Supply, which has been in operation for decades but gained a reputation as one of the nation’s best stores of its kind only after Evan took the reins. When looking to take on a new entrepreneurial enterprise, he set his sights on craft brewing. A friend of Jordan Hoffart, he had discussions about investing in the pro-skateboarder’s Black Plague Brewing, which recently opened in Oceanside with a 20-barrel system, and grand-scale sales and distribution ambitions. In the end, the big-time wasn’t for Evan. So he went the exact opposite route, building San Diego County’s smallest fermentation interest, Escondido Brewing Company (649 Rock Springs Road, Escondido), which opened last weekend.
In doing so, Evan enlisted the services of an Escondidian homebrewer with scads of beer-competition wins under his medal-clad belt, Ketchen Smith. Together, they went to work building their brewery “like a tiny home.” With only 300 square feet at their disposal, even the most common construction tasks had to be analyzed and strategically managed. They had to cut a vertical foot off the cold-box and reverse the door. They had to install a sink small enough that it would allow them to open doors to that cold-box and the dishwasher on either side of it. And they had to install a bar-top that can be removed to allow a roll-up garage door to fully close. But they relished these challenges and maximized their space in the process. That removable bar-top can also be shifted to a lower rung to allow for service to patrons in wheelchairs, and visible fermenters stored in a converted liquor-store refrigeration unit are lit in a way they lend ambience to the place.
Having seen many a brewery in my day, Escondido Brewing is a testament to thoughtfulness, elbow grease and sheer will to make something happen. The Smiths smithed most of this big little project on their own, and what they didn’t do themselves, they got help from courtesy of friends and relatives. The business is a sterling example of what a hometown brewery should be, right down to founders whose aspirations are entirely confined to the city they love and live in. With shaded bar-seating and a trio of picnic tables making up the entirety of Escondido Brewing’s seating options, the business is a far cry from the sprawling gardens and critically acclaimed two-story restaurant at nearby Stone Brewing, the county’s largest independent craft-beer producer. And that’s the point. It’s a nice departure, especially for locals looking to avoid out-of-town beer geeks and tourists; a polar-opposite option that larger, regional breweries needn’t worry about competing with.
Amore for Escondido is further communicated through the names of the brewery’s beers—Hidden City Pale, Rock Springs Red, Hopcondido IPA—and most are based off homebrew recipes Ketchen has won multiple awards for. The most pertinent of those is the first release in a rotating Hop Animal series of ever-changing India pale ales called Marshall Nose IPA, the recipe for which took second overall at last month’s Homebrew Con, the country’s foremost amateur-brewing competition. Pale gold in color and hopped with massive amounts of Citra and Mosaic, it features big aromas of lemon balm, hay and loam accented by flavors of melon, mango, lemon and orange. Smith says it’s inspired by West Coast breweries that have pushed for so long to develop hop-forward beers devoid of caramel color and heavy malt presence. Smith’s other IPA, Hopcondido, comes across like lemon meringue pie on the nose and fresh-cut grass on the tongue, while his pale (which was previously brewed at Coachella Valley Brewing Company following a win at the Hops and Crops homebrew competition) goes from delicate in the front to assertive, late-90’s bitterness on the back end. A milk stout referencing Escondido’s year of incorporation (1888) is all chocolate and cola, while a whiskey barrel-aged version brings vanilla and caramel into the equation without lending over-the-top booziness. All in all, it’s a fun and enjoyable opening line-up, especially given the intimate environs in which these ales were birthed.
Being so small and brewing beer one-and-a-half barrels at a time makes for the real and constant possibility that the Smiths will run out of beer. To combat that, they have trimmed their hours of operation to Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 2 to 8 p.m. However, they do plan to play off a description lauded on them by several of their customers deeming them the brewery equivalent of a food-truck, by having spontaneous pop-up openings when beer inventory allows for it. Another fun twist that couldn’t exist at a brewery registering as any more than “tiny”.
From the Beer Writer: The first year of Beer to the Rescue (the charity campaign established to raise money for the Lupus Foundation of Southern California) numerous local breweries crafted specialty beers to tap in the name of humanitarianism. The majority of them were kind enough to ask me what I’d like them to brew or for input on what they wanted to brew. I took this as an opportunity to try to hit all beer styles and take many of them in interesting directions. They all turned out nice, but their esoteric nature hurt their sales. So, this year, when kindly brewers asked what I’d like, I consistently responded with one word: HOPS! As a result IPAs and other hoppy brews make up the majority of the beers that are riding in to the rescue. One that’s on tap at all three of Urge Gastropub‘s locations in Rancho Bernardo, San Marcos and Oceanside is Mason Ale Works Vera Lynn Double IPA. I can’t take any credit for the hop-bill, because it was made without any of my influence other than the “hops” mandate, but in using Citra, Mosaic and Nelson Sauvin hops, they pretty much read my mind. These are some of my favorite, big-flavor varietals and they did a brilliant job with this imperial, massively flavorful and aromatic charity beer!
From the Brewer: “Vera Lynn is the latest release from Mason Ale Works. It gets its name from the Pink Floyd song ‘Vera’ and serves as a reminder that, over time, all vanishes. The song references Vera Lynn, who turned 100 this year, and has dedicated her life to supporting charitable causes. Her relentless efforts to better this world should be an inspiration to all. Vera Lynn IPA is a collaboration to promote Lupus awareness and support Lupus research so that one day we quote the lyrics in regards to Lupus and ask, ‘What has become of you?’ This bright and juicy imperial IPA has been dry-hopped with two-pounds-per-barrel of Citra, Nelson and Mosaic hops, bringing some serious tropical fruit and pine to your nostrils. At 9.2% alcohol-by-volume, this sneaky little lady will have you sipping till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away. As hazy as these times seem, I know we’ll meet again some sunny day…”—Jason De La Torre, Research & Development Brewer, Mason Ale Works
From the Beer Writer: I have been fortunate enough to participate in a number of collaboration brews with San Diego breweries. My participation has ranged from lending elbow-grease on brew-days to conceptualizing beer styles. It doesn’t get much better for a beer-nerd like me and each has been an honor to take part in, not to mention a learning experience. But it was an extra-special privilege coming up with a fun idea with Green Flash Brewing Company barrelmaster Pat Korn earlier this year. That brewery’s flagship beer, West Coast IPA, has been a long-time icon that helped define and communicate the hop-centric nature of San Diego beer. Many are the beer enthusiast who have memorized its dank, tropical, citrus-like flavors and aromas, myself included. Which made me all the more eager to find out what this beer would taste like fermented exclusively with Brettanomyces. Green Flash Brett Coast IPA answered that question when it debuted earlier this week at an event for Beer to the Rescue, the anti-lupus campaign it was brewed to raise funds for. For an in-depth description of this lovely beer’s characteristics, I will turn things over to the man who coaxed it into reality.
From the Brewer: “When Brandon approached me about being involved in Beer to the Rescue, I immediately said ‘yes.’ You see, my mother Barbara has Lupus, and I have never lived a day of my life without it being a part of my life. My mom is a tough lady, someone you don’t mess with, but I have spent many days watching her deal with the horrible effects of the disease. So for me, being involved in this great fundraising endeavor was a no-brainer. For this beer, we decided to harken back to our roots and re-brew a classic IPA that has a long history with Green Flash. But instead of using boring old Cal Ale yeast, we fermented the beer with our house strain of Brettanomyces. Two-row and C30/37 Crystal are the malt base and the beer is hopped with Simcoe, CTZ and Cascade, then dry-hopped with Simcoe, Citra, Centennial and Cascade. And just to enhance that good old Vista flavor, the beer was then racked onto two-pounds-per-barrel of whole-leaf Simcoe. It clocks in at 7.1% alcohol-by-volume and is a classic West Coast IPA, but the use of our house Brett adds flavors not usually associated with those beers. Dark gold in color with a full, crisp head, the beer has aromas of pine and grapefruit from the dry-hopping with verbena and horse blanket from the Brett. The flavors are an alluring mixture of pine, lemon, verbena and grapefruit; with a strong Brett character of phenol austerity and a seashell mineral-ity that adds a slight brininess to the beer.”—Pat Korn, Barrelmaster, Green Flash Brewing Company
From the Beer Writer: If you ask the team at Booze Brothers Brewing Company what their most popular beer is, the clear-cut front-runner is their Ol’ Grandaddy’s double IPA. Given its popularity, one might wonder why the family-forged Vista interest would sink time into developing another India pale ale, and a single at that. But one whiff of citrusy new addition, Buena Vista IPA, brilliantly communicates its raison d’être. Big tangerine aromas—the product of generous dry-hopping with New World hops—bombard one’s olfactory senses. That’s followed by matching citrusiness on the taste-buds plus a touch of pineapple-like tang that’s in no way impeded by overbearing bitterness or belligerent booze (the beer registers 6.8% alcohol-by-volume). Brand new and pouring super-fresh at present, it’s a welcomed addition to the Brothers’ portfolio that will be packaged in the near future.
From the Brewer: “To those who know us over at Booze Brothers, they know that we like to drink beer. We don’t sip and taste, then spit out our beer. We sit at the bar with our friends, co-workers and customers, and drink pints. But once in awhile, we feel like drinking something different than our typical line-up. Buena Vista is one of those brews, a strongly aromatic IPA with loads of tropical, citrus, pear and pine, exactly what we felt like drinking. We named it Buena Vista, which means ‘good view’, not only because it’s a beautiful beer to look at, but also after the beautiful city we call home…Vista, California. Buena Vista IPA has a low-medium body, and is lightly golden in color, with a grain-bill built specifically to allow the hops to shine. We dry-hop each batch with a generous amount of Eureka, Citra and El Dorado hops. In fact, it is our hoppiest beer to-date.”—Donny Firth, Co-owner & Brewmaster, Booze Brothers Brewing Company