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”.
Though they’re not related by blood, Ketchen Smith and Evan Smith are bound by their love of craft-beer and their shared project for getting into the business of producing it, Escondido Brewing Company (649 Rock Springs Road, Suite B, Escondido). Longtime Escondido residents, Evan owns and operates his 38-year-old family-business, Escondido Feed and Pet Supply. That is where the new business will be sited, with the 1.5-barrel brewing system installed in a small space in front of the store. Escondido Brewing will epitomize the term nano-brewery…and that’s just the way the non-fraternal Smiths like it.
“We will be one of, if not the smallest brewery in San Diego. This will be both in physical size as well as production quantity,” says Ketchen, who will serve as president and head brewer. (Evan will manage business operations). “The interior space will be almost completely occupied by the brewery and seating will be on an outside patio.”
Ketchen is an engineering manager for a company specializing in spinal-implants. He has been homebrewering for a dozen years, racking up awards at the San Diego County Fair, Southern California Fair and National Homebrewers Conference. His most notable achievement, and one that bled into the realm of professional brewing, was having an American ale he brewed 40 barrels of with Coachella Valley Brewing Company entered into the pro-am competition at Denver’s Great American Beer Festival.
The majority of Ketchen’s awards were garnered by hop-driven beers, but he hopes to have variety that goes beyond lupulin-rich ales. In addition to multiple IPAs, he will brew blondes, ambers and stouts, with a wheat or Belgian-style beer mixed in every now and then. Each offering’s name will bear some form of tie to the community (e.g., Hopcondido IPA, 1888 Stout). Escondido’s tagline illustrates the company’s intended approach—small batch beers from the heart of the Hidden City. The “Hidden City” (which is already home to Stone Brewing, Offbeat Brewing Company and Plan 9 Alehouse) can expect its newest resident to open to the public in early-2017.