More San Diegans became familiar with Orange County’s Cismontane Brewing earlier this year when it purchased the majority of Poway interest Lightning Brewery’s equipment. Those mechanisms will be installed in Cismontane’s eventual Santa Ana brewery, which is currently under construction (the company’s original production facility is now the property of Laguna Beach Beer Co.), but there’s even more on the horizon for this eight-year-old company, including the establishment of a new brand…in Escondido.
Co-founders Evan Weinberg and Ross Stewart, who both grew up in North San Diego County and recently moved back, have secured a space at 239 East Valley Parkway, where are working to install a beer-and-coffee hybrid concept that will go by the name of Knø Beverage House.
Weinberg says the duo was drawn to Escondido by its charm and “old-school vibe,” the municipality’s business-friendly attitude and the venue’s amenities. Among the latter is a 1,200-square-foot back patio. Weinberg envisions Knø as a creative hub where artists, radicals, visionaries and aficionados can hang out, get a beverage—including specialty drinks from a full-service espresso bar—and a snack.
The term Knø, which is sure to confound those unfamiliar with Norse terms (or the Danish guitarist going by that stage name), is pronounced “new,” and refers to the concept. Although Cismontane beers will be produced at the Escondido facility, this will be a place for Weinberg and Stewart, as well as their friends and brewing-industry contemporaries, to go outside the box. They expect to produce a number of collaboration beers and more out-there recipes. It’s an homage to their current “drifter-slash-gypsy” brewer status while they wait for the Santa Ana facility to be completed.
If construction stays on its current track, Knø Beverage House will open in or around February. When asked if this is the first of several such venues for Cismontane Brewing, Weinberg says they will wait to see how well Knø does. If they are happy with its performance and the experience, he is sure they will do it again.
Shortly before the ball dropped in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, a Vista-based brewery announced it was closing its doors forever. Earlier in the day, SpecHops Brewing Company (an operation reviewed by West Coaster just three weeks ago) announced via social media that December 31 would be its last day in business. That post cited the company had been active since 2010, however, it wasn’t until last spring that it opened its location at 1280 Activity Drive. Though the operation aimed to pay homage to military veterans as well as public-service professionals, the web-based platform it set up for that purpose is inactive. SpecHops opened with an impressive brewhouse that will surely be coveted by current and aspiring brewery owners.
SpecHops’ departure came less than a week after another North County fermentation interest announced its farewell. Charles Perkins posted a Facebook message communicating his decision to close his Kuracali Beer & Sake Brewery. Based in San Marcos, that business opened roughly three years ago and was San Diego County’s first-ever sake producer.
Perkins started building Kuracali in 2012. It took him two years to complete the dual brewing components and he opened his doors in 2014. He says it was an enjoyable and rewarding experience serving people and turning them on to sake, but in the end, his location was off the beaten path. This led to insufficient patronage and lack of required revenue to stay in the black. When his lease expired last month and it was time to resign or vacate, he chose the latter. Perkins says he hopes to reopen at a more strategically situated location sometime in the future, but that it will require investment from an outside party. Interested parties can reach Perkins here.
SpecHops and Kuracali both closing the final week of 2017 punctuate something of a new normal. For a decade, new breweries have opened in San Diego County in increasingly large droves, but few closed. A total of eight local breweries closed last year. While most had been open for years, such as Offbeat Brewing, On The Tracks Brewery, La Jolla Brewing, The Beer Co. (which indicated it will reopen) and Magnetic Brewing, one, Wiseguy Brewing, has something in common with SpecHops. It was open less than a year before shuttering. Additionally, several are for sale, most notably Helm’s Brewing, Intergalactic Brewing and Finest Made Ales.
This year saw more new-brewery openings than any in San Diego County’s history. Happily, in this reporter’s opinion, more of them were of good quality than in year’s past. Enough that whittling down a list of the top half-dozen was extremely difficult, and ranking that sextet even harder. At least three breweries were on the bubble for the last spot, so if you’re using this as any sort of guide to the good stuff, don’t feel encouraged to limit your brewery touring to these selections. These are just your best bets based on the opinion of one well-researched individual. In that spirit, feel free to leave comments about any exceptional new breweries you’ve discovered over the past 12 months in the comments section. (Author’s Note: Breweries marked with an asterisk opened in 2016, but too late to be considered for the list of best new breweries for that calendar year.)
Eppig Brewing * | North Park: Nathan Stephens and Clayton LeBlanc, the duo producing the beers at this Brewery Igniter standout have a tasting room exhibiting the variety of the Little Italy outpost of their previous employers, Ballast Point Brewing. That’s saying something, especially since brewing days there resemble a game of life-sized Tetris. Still, some of the finest, most consistent lagers, plus an array of nice hoppy and even sour ales provide glimpses of what seems a very bright future for this reincarnation of a nineteenth-century family fermentation business.
Wild Barrel Brewing | San Marcos: Beer fans everywhere couldn’t help but wonder how well infinitely popular ale-and-lager expert “Dr.” Bill Sysak would fare as a brewery owner. Commenting on beer is one thing, but manufacturing it is a different game entirely. With the help of head brewer Bill Sobieski, he’s fared extremely well, hitting the ground running this fall with quality IPAs, an effective entry-level witbier and a brilliant coffee stout. Throw in a stellar tasting room complete with a gargantuan barrel at its center, and you have something special.
Burgeon Beer Co. * | Carlsbad: After gaining experience at Stone Brewing, Rough Draft Brewing and Back Street Brewery, Anthony Tallman united with long-time friends to forge his own business, and it’s been going strong since day one. Built around a smart, modern-day business model combining outside keg sales with regular in-house can releases, this newcomer has built a solid following around an array of multi-faceted IPAs and dark beers. No trend is off limits for them. That said, they’re at their best when they stay true to tradition.
Pariah Brewing | North Park: Some say this Prince-ly purple, dungeon-esque Brewery Igniter spot is no place for beer purists, and while it’s true that Stone and Helm’s Brewing alum Brian Mitchell specializes in beers that go outside the box by incorporating an array of flavorful adjuncts as simple as coffee and orange peel to as oddball as fenugreek and uni (yes, sea urchin), there are to-style gems like Indie Or Bust IPA. But this place is geared to adventurous drinkers and provides an impressive departure from the everyday, even in a town soaked in beer.
Battlemage Brewing | Vista: Role-playing game enthusiasts got a brewery playing to their passions when yet another former Ballast Point duo, Ryan Sather and Chris Barry, teamed to open this testament to the communal power of beers and broadswords. It’s become an ideal backdrop for fans of RPG and tabletop enterprises, but you don’t have to know the difference between a Halfling and a half-orc to appreciate the beers, which flow into rarely charted territory (dark mild, old ale) and come across clean and tasty. Perfect sustenance for a lengthy campaign.
Black Plague Brewing | Oceanside: An operation that looked like it might veer off course at the onset of its journey steered its way into veteran leadership when it contracted former AleSmith Brewing and Mikkeller Brewing San Diego brewer Bill Batten to assist with its fermentation operations. The resulting line-up of beers, including multi-fruited takes on an IPA that’s best on its own, plus myriad other styles, is fun and highly drinkable. The name, plague-doctor motif and black-walled tasting room are strange, but the beer provides a guiding light.
This Year’s Other Contenders: Align Brewing (Miramar), Alta Brewing (Barrio Logan), Chula Vista Brewery (Chula Vista), Circle 9 Brewing (Kearny Mesa), Ebullition Brew Works (Vista), Escondido Brewing (Escondido), Jacked Up Brewing (Escondido), Knotty Brewing * (East Village), OB Brewery * (Ocean Beach), Protector Brewery (Miramar), Rouleur Brewing (Carlsbad), Smoking Cannon Brewery (Ramona), SpecHops Brewing (Vista), SR76 Beerworks (Valley Center), Thunderhawk Alements * (Miramar), Viewpoint Brewing (Del Mar)
Maybe Next Year (Late Additions): California Wild Ales (Sorrento Valley), Deft Brewing (Bay Park), Horus Aged Ales (Oceanside), Northern Pine Brewing (Oceanside), Oeuvre Artisan Ales (Miramar), Savagewood Brewing (Scripps Ranch)
Previous Top-Ranked New Breweries
2016: Burning Beard Brewing (El Cajon), North Park Beer Co. (North Park), Resident Brewing (Downtown), Pure Project Brewing (Miramar), Bear Roots Brewing (Vista), Bitter Brothers Brewing (Bay Ho)
2015: Fall Brewing (North Park), Second Chance Beer Co. (Carmel Mountain), South Park Brewing (South Park), Abnormal Beer Co. (Rancho Bernardo), Duck Foot Brewing (Miramar)
2014: Bagby Beer Co. (Oceanside), Nickel Beer Co. (Julian), Council Brewing (Kearny Mesa), URBN St. Brewing (El Cajon), Toolbox Brewing (Vista)
2013: Rip Current Brewing (San Marcos), Benchmark Brewing (Grantville), Amplified Ale Works (Pacific Beach), Belching Beaver Brewery (Vista), Modern Times Beer (Point Loma)
2012: Societe Brewing (Kearny Mesa), Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery (East Village), Latitude 33 Brewing (Vista)
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas—well, as wintry and holiday-like as we get in sunny San Diego, but that warm weather is perfect for enjoying beer, so it’s OK if Saint Nick keeps ignoring our dreams of a white yuletide. There’ll be plenty of fun events happening, holiday-themed and otherwise. We’ve hand-selected a few, but be sure to check out our events page for even more.
December 1 & 2 | Strong Ale Fest: Few experiences are as nostalgic for local beer-scene veterans as huddling together in the crowded back-lot of the Pizza Port bottle shop and repetitiously making one’s way to an outside bar many taps strong. The term “strong” is apt, because everything on tap at this annual fest is high in ABV yet innovative and diverse. Merry Christmas, Uber! | Pizza Port, 571 Carlsbad Village Drive, Carlsbad, Times Vary
December 2 | Three-Year Anniversary: Celebrate the three-year anniversary of La Mesans getting beers brewed in their hometown. If it’s anything like the past two years, live music and a plethora of beers will make a very fun party pad out Bolt Brewery’s sprawling, tiered outdoor tasting area. If you’ve never been to this East County spot, this is the perfect opportunity to do so. | Bolt Brewery, 8179 Center Street, La Mesa, 1 p.m.
December 10 | Belated One-Year Anniversary: December 10 is National Lager Day, and an apt day for one of the best lager producers in the county, Eppig Brewing, to celebrate its first year in business. This interest is looking to reward the beer connoisseurs who’ve made it one of the most revered new operations in town with a fun and easy event stocked with beers worth coming out for. | Eppig Brewing, 3052 El Cajon Boulevard, Suite C, North Park, 1 p.m.
December 17 | Santa at the SouthNorte Pole: It can be challenging to find beer-related holiday happenings that are family friendly, but thanks to Santa’s decision to visit Small Bar—with gifts for believers of all ages in his sleigh, no less—along with the team from newly established SouthNorte Brewing and their beers, a rare all-ages beer-brunch experience can be yours! | Small Bar, 4628 Park Boulevard, University Heights, 10 a.m.
December 31 | Craft Beer New Year: Whether you in North County or San Diego proper, Stone Brewing has a NYE bash of epic proportions for you. Join them at either of their restaurants and enjoy a smorgasbord of farm-to-table food along with various musical offerings, games, a photo booth, midnight toast and, of course, lots and lots of craft beer and commemorative glassware. | Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, 1999 Citracado Parkway, Escondido; Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station, 2816 Historic Decatur Road, #116, Point Loma; 8:30 p.m.