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: It’s been a big couple of months for Kearny Mesa’s Common Theory Public House. After three years in business, the bar and restaurant picked up popular gastronome A.G. Warfield (formerly of San Marcos craft-beer haven Churchill’s Pub & Grille), who promptly got to work overhauling CT’s entire menu. A bevy of new dishes from that revamped bill of fare (which includes sweet and spicy pork belly with kimchi, a field-and-stream duo of fried chicken and crab cake, and a “Convoy Burger” featuring ground chuck, a duck egg, pork belly and duck gravy between ramen-noodle “buns”) debuted last week as part of the venue’s third-anniversary weekend. There was another new and special consumable available to event-goers, as well: Pure Project CT3 Triple IPA. Produced by Miramar’s Pure Project Brewing especially for Common Theory, it’s a 10.3% alcohol-by-volume, hazy IPA brewed with 600 pounds of strawberries sourced in Escondido. On paper, it’s a bruising brew from a booze perspective, but the fresh fruit and late-addition hops come together to give this beer a dose of refinement and flavors of citrus and strawberries that keeps it almost dangerously drinkable. Only one batch of this beer was produced and it’s going fast…but Common Theory is tapping a fresh keg today. Just sayin’.
From the Brewer: “The team here at Pure Project was really excited to be approached by the Common Theory crew to brew a beer for their third anniversary. Seeing as it was a very special occasion, we decided to brew a truly lavish beer. Strawberry season is one our favorite times here at Pure, so we decided to blend one of our favorite fruits with a big, murky triple IPA in order to really show off hand-picked, organic strawberries that seamlessly meld with the fruitiest designer hops. A huge, multi-dimensional dry-hopping of Mosaic and Hallertau Blanc hops bring all the fruit you could want from a juicy IPA, while still leaving room for the strawberries to shine through in their local, agricultural elegance. Grab some while it’s still around!”—Winslow Sawyer, Head Brewer, Pure Project Brewing
Winners of the San Diego International Beer Festival’s professional brewing competition were released today. A component of the San Diego County Fair’s annual festivities, the competition included entries from across the globe judged by professional beer judges and Southern California brewing professionals in late-April. A total of 68 medals were awarded to San Diego-based breweries. Of that number, 23 were gold, 21 were silver and 24 were bronze.
San Diego breweries won all three medals in eight categories: American-style Red/Amber Ale, Bitter, Bold Stout, Brett and Other Sour Beer, German-style Ale, German-style Weiss, Imperial Stout and Pilsener. Miramar-based AleSmith Brewing Company once again took home Champion Brewery honors behind three medals—a gold and silver in the same category (one of which was awarded to a Scotch ale) and a gold in the Barley Wine category.
The most local medals went to Pizza Port. That brewpub’s Carlsbad brewpub also won a gold and two silvers. Its Ocean Beach arm won two (one gold, one bronze) and Bressi Ranch production brewery earned a silver. The most medals awarded to a single brewery went to San Marcos’ Rip Current Brewing Company and less-than-a-year-old North Park interest Eppig Brewing. Both of those companies earned a gold, silver and two bronzes. San Marcos’ The Lost Abbey and South Park Brewing Company earned three medals apiece, as well. Also impressive was Rip Current winning two of three medals in the German-style Bock category.
The following is a complete list of the winners from this years SDIBF…
The three-day public beer-fest portion of the SDIBF will take place at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, Friday, June 16 through Sunday, June 18. Tickets and information can be found online.
Back when I worked Stone Brewing’s Escondido headquarters, many were the nights when me and my marketing colleagues would walk over to the much smaller brewery down the street and knock off with a pint or two. That operation, Offbeat Brewing Company, was the family-run project of an ex-Stone cellar man following his own muse, crafting mostly sessionable beers, many of which had English roots. So it’s sad to hear that today will be Offbeat’s swan song.
Yesterday, owner and brewmaster Tom Garcia announced he has made the difficult decision to close the doors to his brewery, but not before one last St. Patrick’s Day hurrah. So if you’re looking for a farewell-taste of Bear Arms Brown Ale or Girafficopter Pale Ale, this is it. Garcia says with his lease up, it made sense to close the book on Offbeat. That said, the 15-year industry veteran says he’s not against the idea of trying his hand at the brewing business again.
Offbeat opened in 2012 with a bar built from wood from old pallets and discarded furniture, plus a makeshift brewery Garcia described as “the Millennium Falcon of brewhouses.” From the get-go, the space was punched-up from an artistic aspect. The upper portion of the west wall featured a colorful mural with outlandish characters, while the bottom half and many of the other walls regularly featured art from an array of local artists. That art was for sale with 100% of proceeds going to the artist, so that outlet will surely be missed by the creative sect. And painted portraits of outlandish characters like Deer Grandpa and the aforementioned Bear Arms looked good behind the bar.
In the end, what made Offbeat’s location so great for Team Stone, likely hurt the business in the long run. Surviving in an obscure business park on a side-road a half-mile from a major destination like Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Escondido must have been challenging. Choosing between the two equates to a no-brainer of sorts for beer-tourists who’ve come any nominal distance to visit Escondido. But plenty of locals enjoyed Offbeat during its time, mostly for its polar-opposite, laidback vibe and beers.
Offbeat joins other San Diego County breweries that have closed their doors since last summer, including On-The-Tracks Brewery, Lightning Brewery, Valley Center Brewery and Pacific Brewing.
Today, the Brewers Association released its annual set of lists of Top 50 Breweries from the last calendar year. The rankings are based on beer sales volume, and broken into two lists—Top 50 U.S. Craft Brewing Companies and Top 50 Overall U.S. Brewing Companies. The latter includes the likes of Anheuser Busch and MillerCoors as well as former craft-brewing interests that no longer qualify as craft breweries under the BA’s definition, such as Lagunitas Brewing Co. and locally based concern Ballast Point Brewing.
The Top 50 U.S. Craft Brewing Companies list includes three San Diego County businesses—the same ones that have graced the list for the past several years. Escondido’s Stone Brewing is the highest ranked at #9 (they are listed at #17 on the Overall U.S. Brewing Companies list), with Green Flash Brewing Co. rising four spots from the year prior to #37 (#46 on the Overall list) and Karl Stauss Brewing Co. ascending five spots to take its place at #41.
D.G. Yeungling & Son, Inc. retained the top spot on the Craft Brewing Companies list, followed (in order) by Boston Beer Co., Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., New Belgium Brewing Co., Gambrinus, Duvel Moortgat USA, Bell’s Brewery, Deschutes Brewery, Stone and Oskar Blues. The top 10 for the Overall list was as follows: Anheuser-Busch, Inc.; MillerCoors; Pabst Brewing Co.; D.G. Yuengling & Son, Inc.; North American Breweries; Boston Beer Co.; Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.; New Belgium Brewing Co.; Lagunitas and Craft Brew Alliance. Ballast Point registered at #13.