Vista-based Barrel Harbor Brewing opened in 2013 with a 10-barrel brewing system owner Tim St. Martin hoped would allow the company to produce enough beer to compete on store shelves and at hospitality venues throughout San Diego County. Over the past half-decade, he has been made all too aware that shelf, cooler and tap space, though plentiful, is finite, and that larger breweries have an easier path to entry with all three. But he still believes in his beers, rather than throw in the towel, he is seeking investment in the company via an active fundraising campaign on the Wefunder website.
St. Martin’s stated goal is between $100,000 and $250,000. According to the campaign page, those funds will be used to increase marketing efforts to raise brand awareness, establish robust canning capabilities, and build an extensive sales and distribution team. While Barrel Harbor beers are available in dozens of local bars and restaurants, the company sells most of its product through a pair of tasting rooms—one at its Vista production facility and another that shares branding with a tabletop gaming interest in Miramar. The latter opened in January of 2017 and has always operated at a loss. The former, and the company as a whole, is also operating at a loss, necessitating the pursuit of additional funding and generation of a sales-and-marketing strategy.
When listing the positives of his brewery, St. Martin is particularly bullish on his Belgian-style dark strong ale, Rungnir, which won a gold medal at the 2017 San Diego International Beer Festival. It’s one of four medals the company has won in four years, which St. Martin touts at Wefunder, though they are not of the stature of awards issued at the Great American Beer Festival or World Beer Cup, which are highly recognized and typically cited as proof of exceptional brewing prowess. Despite the success of Rungnir, St. Martin says he doesn’t want to further build the company’s reputation on the back of a single beer, but rather offer a variety of beers; something for everyone. Barrel Harbor’s total revenue for 2017 was just over $709,000. St. Martin has control over enough square-footage that he can still increase production, and hopes to do so year over year.
Last month, The Bell Marker debuted in the former home of defunct Gaslamp Quarter brewpub, The Beer Co. While little was known about the project leading up to its opening, one solitary fact created a great deal of optimism for fans of San Diego beer: Noah Regnery was helming brewing operations.
Regnery is well known locally for the many award-winning beers he crafted while a member of the Pizza Port brewpub chain. The highlight of his success with that organization was winning Small Brewpub of the Year for its San Clemente location at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival (GABF). He left the company in 2011 to become head brewer at Hollister Brewing Company in Goleta, California. Following that, he moved to Healdsburg to help run his family’s restaurant before accepting a director position with Los Angeles-based Artisanal Brewers Collective, the parent company of The Bell Marker.
Today, news broke that another key member of the Pizza Port team is joining The Bell Marker brewing team. Ignacio “Nacho” Cervantes has resigned from the company he spent the past 11 years at to assist Regnery. It’s a high-profile move for a high-profile brewer who previously oversaw Pizza Port’s Carlsbad and Ocean Beach brewpubs.
During his tenure with Pizza Port, Cervantes earned gold and bronze medals at GABF as well as a pair of awards at the bi-annual international equivalent of that competition, the World Beer Cup. Acquiring this talented brewer’s services is quite the coup and will undoubtedly draw interested beer enthusiasts to the spacious downtown brewpub.
In 2010, an entrepreneur from north of San Diego County delivered a brewpub concept to downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter. Dubbed The Beer Co., it was a spin-off operation that failed to generate much of a reputation among San Diego’s craft-beer enthusiasts. Not even a gold medal from the 2012 Great American Beer Festival for its barrel-aged strong ale, The Manhattan Project, measured so much as a ripple in local waters. Still, it soldiered on for more than half-a-decade before closing down. Now, the space that housed it is ready to birth a second brewery-restaurant brought to San Diego by nearby out-of-towners, The Bell Marker (602 East Broadway, Downtown).
That business will debut on January 22, complete with a veteran, native San Diegan brewer at the helm. That individual, Noah Regnery hails from vaunted locally-based business, Pizza Port, where he worked at the chain’s San Clemente brewpub from 2007 to 2011 and contributed to its award-winning reputation before departing to become head brewer at Hollister Brewing in Goleta, California, a post he held until 2014 when he departed the industry altogether. His return should be highly anticipated, but as with so many developments in the suddenly complicated local suds scene, it comes with some drama. The Bell Marker is the first location south of Los Angeles for LA-based Artisanal Brewers Collective, a company established by Golden Road Brewing co-founder Tony Yanow. That in itself is not all that significant, but the fact Yanow and Golden Road partner Meg Gill sold the business to macrobeer conglomerate AB InBev in September of 2015 muddies things a bit for fans of independent craft brewers as well as members of the local industry.
Since Golden Road’s sale, Yanow (a bar owner before and throughout his tenure with Golden Road) and his ABC partners have been busy gobbling up hospitality venues throughout LA. The Bell Marker is the first to possess a brewing component and Yanow’s original venues—Mohawk Bend and Tony’s Darts Away—were craft-centric venues which were ahead of their time. Figuratively, this is not unfamiliar territory for this seemingly insatiable entrepreneur, even if it is from a geographic standpoint. How it will be received from a local population which vehemently eschewed last year’s arrival of AB InBev’s 10 Barrel Brewing brewpub in the East Village remains to be seen.
The Bell Marker houses a copper-clad, 15-barrel brewhouse that will be utilized to produce American, English, German, and Belgian beers. The opening-day line-up will include a cream ale, hefeweizen, brown ale, pale ale and IPA augmented by guest beers selected to fill in any stylistic gaps. There will also be a full cocktail program to appeal to non-beer fans. The 8,000-square-foot venue can seat 212 at a time and will be open seven days a week from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
From the Beer Writer: Once upon a time, the term “hoppy” simply meant “bitter,” and all craft-beer fans seemed to want was hoppy IPAs. These days, imbibers still crave hoppy IPAs, but the term has come to mean so much more, referring to the more nuanced aromatic and flavor features that hops bring to the table. Craft enthusiasts want to dissect hop bills and get the most vibrant tropical, citrus, herbal, floral and spice characteristics from each varietal. But the bitterness…not so much. This shift in tastes really picked up steam when hazy, Northeast-style IPAs bringing on oodles of the aforementioned hop attributes with nary any bitterness burst onto the scene. Recently a company specializing in haze-craze-appropriate ales, Offshoot Beer Co. (an offshoot of Orange County’s The Bruery) collaborated with North San Diego County’s Mason Ale Works to create an IPA so low in bitterness they call it “zero IBU.” The acronym stands for international bittering units, the measurement by which beers’ bitterness is calculated. In doing so, the brewers added zero hops during the brewing process. Ditto flaked oats, wheat and other haze-inducing ingredients, so the finished product, Mason / Offshoot Zero Moustafa IPA, is a traditional, clear IPA. The experiment makes good on its promise to present myriad hop flavors undeterred by even a hint of bitterness. It really is a mind-blowing experience; enough so that anybody who is into hops should try it, even if as an everyday beer (which it definitely is not) it comes up a bit short. There isn’t enough body for IPA lovers, but this beer will do its best work as a “gateway” beer for those who are scared off by the aggressive nature of IBU-laden IPAs or think of hops solely as bite-you-back botanicals. I can easily envision lupulin-averse blonde and wheat ale drinkers having a-ha moments care of this creation.
From the Brewery: “I’ve got to give a ton of credit to Eagle Rock Brewery co-owner Ting Su, who came to [Mason Ale Works head brewer] Matt Webster with the idea for this beer up at the Craft Beer Summit in Sacramento last year. Matt and I were both very intrigued. It sounded like a challenge: a beer that can be just as juicy as a hazy IPA, but without all the yeast particulate. We did a pale ale first as a collab with Eagle Rock and were intrigued by the results, but we wanted to turn things up a notch. So Zero Moustafa was formulated at the Great American Beer Festival with Andrew Bell and Patrick Rue from Offshoot Beer Co. over some drinks. We talked as much about brewing theory as anything else; there’s a lot about timing and temperature that make this beer what it is. Patrick mentioned that they were running some in-house experiments with terpenes to accentuate certain flavors and aromas. So we messed around with some grapefruit and citrus terpenes in this beer until we got it just right. The finished product is a trip. The nose is huge (especially as it warms) with big orange, grapefruit and lemon as well as a touch of pine. The body is on the lighter side of the spectrum which makes it super crushable at 7% alcohol-by-volume. I think brewers will appreciate the challenge of making a beer like this while craft fans will like the ‘juice.'”—Grant Tondro, Co-owner, Mason Ale Works