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 The majority of the protests were rescinded once the Malkins reached out to the individuals who had initiated them.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.
This weekend, West Coaster obtained official communications from representatives of Helm’s Brewing Company (5640 Kearny Mesa Road, Suites C & N, Kearny Mesa) stating that the five-year-old business is accepting offers from interested parties. Ownership will entertain offers of $500,000 and above.
Helm’s Brewing opened its doors in 2012. Founded by a homebrewer and associates from his primary career, the company’s first head brewer was Brian Mitchell, who went on to work as a small-batch brewer for Stone Brewing before opening his own project, Pariah Brewing Company, at North Park’s Brewery Igniter complex on El Cajon Boulevard earlier this year. Under Mitchell and subsequent brewing personnel, Helm’s’ beer quality has fluctuated, leading to something of a hit-or-miss reputation among consumers. Still, the company was able to add a satellite tasting room in 2016, becoming the third to open in now satellite-saturated Ocean Beach.
The OB tasting room, which is located at the corner of Newport Avenue and Cable Street (the same block as tasting rooms for Belching Beaver Brewery, Culture Brewing Company and Kilowatt Brewing Company) will be included as an acquired asset should Helm’s sell. Among attributes listed for that venue in the company’s solicitation communique are the fact it faces the neighborhood’s Wednesday farmer’s market and “has posted strong revenue numbers through its first year-and-a-half in existence.”
The City of Encinitas has a history of staunch resistance toward beer manufacturers looking to set up shop within its boundaries. It’s where prestigious brewer Jeff Bagby (who has roots in Encinitas) and his wife initially sought to set up his acclaimed brewpub, Bagby Beer Company before a property that was much more attractive than the idea of embarking on Encinitas’ difficult permitting process led them to select Oceanside instead. The move has paid off as Bagby Beer’s opening fell in line with an overall food-and-beverage renaissance in Oceanside that has included establishment of several other brewing interests in the years since. Meanwhile, Encinitas is one of only four municipalities (out of 18 in San Diego County) without a single brewery in a county awash with local beer. (There was brewpub called The Red Kettle that operated along then First Street in the early-nineties, but it was very short-lived.) That will change to an extent, however, as the city is on track to welcome multiple brewery-owned tasting rooms.
Culture Brewing Company has a 1,048-square-foot tasting room in the works. That spot is scheduled to open at 629 South Coast Highway on August 12. The smallish nature of that venue seems to have been key in getting approval from the City’s Planning Commission, which granted the Solana Beach-based business permit approval in January.
When approached by Point Loma-based Modern Times Beer about a vastly larger satellite project—a space capable of holding approximately 150 people at a time—the commission stiffened once more. So much so that Modern Times put out an email blast to its consumers asking them to come to a City meeting held last week to voice their support for the project and help sway the Planning Commission’s vote. A substantial number of fans attended, vocally going toe-to-toe with Encinitas residents opposing the project. In the end, it would seem that maneuver resulted in Modern Times gaining the razor-thin voting edge that will lead to the permit approval they so desperately coveted. Located at 470 South Coast Highway across from the iconic La Paloma Theatre, that venue is estimated to open next year.
Further north in Leucadia (which is within and under the jurisdiction of the City of Encinitas), Miramar-based Saint Archer Brewery aims to install a tasting room in a space between beer bar The Regal Seagull and Surfy Surfy surf shop. If approved, it will be the first satellite venue from the macro-beer interest, which was purchased by MillerCoors in 2015 after just over two years in business. The newest of the proposed brewery-owned ventures in Encinitas, it has yet to inspire as much concern from the City or its residents as Culture and Modern Times. Instead, the main opponents are from craft beer fans who eschew Big Beer and the recent string of craft acquisitions.
It would seem City officials take cues from their constituents when attempting to defend their community from beer manufacturers. There is a vocal percentage of Encinitas citizens who are concerned that their city, particularly the commercial stretch of Coast Highway in the downtown core, is over-saturated with alcohol-centric hospitality venues. That is a matter of opinion, but even if one shares that point of view, City government permitted those booze businesses in the first place, including a wine-making facility, Solterra Winery and Kitchen, not far from Saint Archer’s proposed location in Leucadia. If Encinitas’ portion of the 101 resembles Pacific Beach’s Garnett Avenue as the City and its people fear, it would seem that municipal government has no one but themselves to blame.
From the Beer Writer: While I understand their purpose and appreciate their existence, higher-alcohol beer-styles crafted at “session” strengths (generally regarded as lower than 5% alcohol-by-volume) don’t usually do much for me. I tend to prefer styles brewed to their traditional ABVs, especially when it comes to India pale ales. Many session IPAs lack the body to complement the big hops San Diego brewers pack into such creations. It’s a tall order, delivering our region’s hallmark hoppiness in a low-ABV package, and I’d say the success-rate of local breweries is like that of a great baseball player…somewhere in the high-20 to low-30 percentile. But stellar session IPAs are out there, and that contingent includes Culture Amarillo SIPA. One of the session IPAs focused on high-profile hops by Solana Beach-based Culture Brewing Company, this centers on its namesake component, delivering assertive pine-cone and resin notes. Recently, I had the opportunity to try this beer alongside its El Dorado counterpart and, despite not being as fresh, Amarillo won out. Not only was it richer in flavor, but it felt more like a balanced, standard-ABV IPA. It had all the hop-punch I wanted at just 4.8% ABV with zero trace of dilution. A fresh batch of this beer will be on-tap with a whopping 30-plus others brewed for Culture’s fourth anniversary celebration, taking place on Saturday, February 18 from 12 to 6 p.m. at its Solana Beach headquarters. Read more »