Earlier today, the City of San Diego invited local brewers to take part in a ceremony honoring them and their organizational backbone, the San Diego Brewers Guild, when District 6 Councilmember Chris Cate officially declared November 7, 2017 as “20th Anniversary of the Brewers Guild Day” in San Diego. Receiving a City of San Diego proclamation is a celebratory event; a moment where the City pauses to recognize the positive work of influential organizations like the San Diego Brewers Guild.
“In its 20-year history, the San Diego Brewers Guild has played a crucial role in elevating and promoting San Diego’s craft-beer industry to become America’s capital of craft,” says Ian Clampett, deputy chief of staff and policy director for councilmember Cate. “By creating a platform to bring awareness and attention to all local craft breweries, the Guild has helped the industry expand to new heights with now 130 breweries operating county-wide and generating nearly one billion dollars in economic impact in 2016. The Guild has also been effective in advocating for legislation that protects this local manufacturing industry and ensures its ability to continue creating good-paying jobs for San Diegans.”
Cate and his staff have been a long-time supporter of local brewing companies. Though the majority of his work with local breweries is with those within his district, which includes Kearny Mesa, Miramar, Mira Mesa and Sorrento Valley, he is aware of the positive economic and job-creation impact breweries throughout the city and the rest of the county.
“Local breweries have created places of gathering and community throughout District 6, revitalizing areas traditionally seen as solely commercial or industrial,” says Clampett. “The Miramar neighborhood has been nicknamed ‘Beeramar’ and is now a regional and global attraction given [its] large number of world-class, award-winning breweries. With more than 30 breweries located in District 6—the highest concentration in the City of San Diego—craft beer has become an intrinsic part of the community fabric that makes this area of San Diego truly special.”
The timing of the proclamation was planned to coincide with San Diego Beer Week, a ten-day span during which hundreds of beer-related events and promotions take place throughout the county. Beer Week runs throughout Sunday, November 12.
“The Guild’s Beer Week is the largest annual event and attracts thousands of visitors from across the globe to sample San Diego’s thriving craft-beer scene. Through this event, local brewers are provided the unique opportunity to expand their reach and showcase their products to San Diegans and visitors alike,” says Clampett. “Furthermore, the Guild is fulfilling its mission to be a community partner by currently working with Councilmember Cate and the University of California, San Diego to explore opportunities to repurpose spent grain as a renewable energy source that can help the City of San Diego reach its climate action goals and eliminate landfill waste.”
Says the councilmember’s communications manager Rebecca Kelley, “The proclamation is an official City document signed by the Mayor and full City Council. It means that the Brewers Guild is part of San Diego’s history.”
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.
It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time when craft-beer had not yet been embraced by the majority of San Diego restaurants. But there were early-adopters who got it and got with the program. They essentially helped build the program to what it is today. Some folded; too early to the party and unable to make ends meet. But there are a handful of those visionary spots still around, and they are to be cherished. Sadly, San Diego is about to lose one of its longest supporters of the artisanal beer movement. Downtown Johnny Brown’s (1220 Third Avenue, Downtown) will officially close its doors after tomorrow’s service.
A longtime fixture within the Civic Center Plaza, this one-story oasis among skyscraper City admin buildings, the San Diego Concourse and Civic Theater, Downtown Johnny Brown’s has been in operation since 1987. Just under three years ago, it was taken over by Sean Cole, who was kind enough to shed light on the reasons for this unfortunate turn of events. The lease on the restaurant space is up for renewal. As part of that process, the City of San Diego (the owner and landlord) utilized a request-for-proposal (RFP) process in its search for interested tenants.
Typically, existing tenants have the advantage in these situations so long as they are in good standing with the City, which Cole attests he is. That leg-up coincides with the landlord’s expectation that tenant improvements be made to meet standards and requirements. In preparation to submit a proposal in response to the RFP, Cole did his due diligence, analyzing the many modernizations that would need to be made to get the venue up-to-code in conjunction with an updated remodel. It was something that was already at the forefront of his concerns after being served with an ADA lawsuit for an improvement. Downtown Johnny Brown’s was actually exempt from the code-violation due to its pre-1992 structure status, but Cole’s attorneys determined it would be cheaper to settle out of court.
Without the many updates needed to comply with current ADA standards, Cole decided he would essentially be a sitting-duck for future, similar lawsuits. An example of how extensive the improvements that need to be made is the hallway leading to the restrooms, which would need to be widened a few inches. That would require Cole to move a main wall as well as the electrical, plumbing and ventilation within the wall. And because the updates were so costly, he voluntarily backed away, choosing to shutter the business.
Cole is disappointed to be the last overseer of Downtown Johnny Brown’s, but wants to “stay classy to the end as we San Diegans do.” To that end, he’s working to line up a band for tomorrow’s finale and empty out the many kegs of top-tier beer he has stockpiled for the many epic events the bar-and-resto have held over the years. It was a good run and one veterans of the local craft-beer scene surely won’t forget.
From the Beer Writer: The impact of the local brewing industry is resonating at City Hall, where visionary public servants are seeing the job creation and fiscal boost craft beer brings to America’s Finest City. Particularly bullish on local brewers and working to do all he can to advocate on behalf of the craftspeople within his constituency is Chris Cate, City councilmember for District 6. Encompassing Miramar, Mira Mesa, Sorrento Mesa and Kearny Mesa, D6 is home to more breweries than any other district—or any municipality in San Diego County—with 21 (and more on the way in the form of Amplified Ale Works, Pure Project Brewing and Mikkeller San Diego). In celebration of San Diego Beer Week, Cate wanted a local brewery to craft a specialty beer to represent the region, and reached out to AleSmith Brewing Company CEO and brewmaster Peter Zien to do the honors. The result is this 4.2% alcohol-by-volume (ABV), session-strength Belgian-style saison. It’s the only farmhouse ale AleSmith has brewed in its 20 years of operation, making this a first for the company, the District and the City.
From the Brewer: “After 20 happy years of calling San Diego home, the brewers at AleSmith decided to conjure something special for one of the biggest champions of the local beer scene to come out of City Hall, District 6 councilmember Chris Cates. A unique ale style from the farmlands of Belgium known as “saison” was our choice to honor San Diego’s brewery-rich Sixth District. District 6 Session Saison is a light copper-colored ale with a relatively low ABV. Mildly hoppy with a tantalizing combination of spices, the aroma and flavor contain hints of lemon, citrus fruit and mild pepper. Designed for easy drinking with a complexity generated from European hops, spices and a Belgian yeast strain procured from our District 6 neighbors at White Labs, this saison pays tribute to our councilmember, our district and all of our fellow brewers within it.”—Peter Zien, CEO & Brewmaster, AleSmith Brewing Co.
NOTE: In addition to his work as Editor-at-Large for West Coaster, Brandon Hernández is also the Marketing Manager for AleSmith Brewing Co.