I would be challenged to remember the last time I saw any business receive as much support while out of business as Indian Joe Brewing (2123 Industrial Court, Vista). The family-run operation abruptly shut down when it lost its base of operations to landlord disputes in 2015. Owners Max Moran and Geri Lawson immediately got to work looking for a new spot to install their brewery, but it took a while—two years to be exact. In a county with more than 140 operating brewhouses, there’s little reason for even the most devoted of beer-drinkers to hold a candle for the return of one of the smallest of the suds scene’s sojourners, but hundreds of Indian Joe fans remained just that…fans. Not the casually interested kind, but the most engaged breed of supporters, communicating with the owners over social media and in-person when possible, following them as they sought out a new facility and, after finding it, took on the task of not only reopening, but growing the business by leaps and bounds in the process. The result is the current iteration of Indian Joe, which opened in March and is fulfilling the long-entertained dreams of Moran, Lawson and the many hopeful beer enthusiasts crowding their corner.
During the lengthy road to Indian Joe 2.0, I also stayed close to the business’ founders, visiting the project site and wondering just how much of their ambitious agenda they would actually be able to realize. Installing a 15-barrel brewing system, an extensive stainless steel cellar, tons of oak barrels for aging and a huge tasting room; taking over an abutting building for warehouse space; distributing throughout the county in kegs, bottles and cans. Keep in mind, they were coming from a business-park brewery where Moran brewed several times a day on a meager 20-gallon system simply to keep beer on-tap at the sole source of consumption, Indian Joe’s tasting room. It was nicely appointed and featured many an outlandish brew that, frankly, weren’t for everybody. It wasn’t exactly the type of operation one would figure to be ripe for financial backing and expansion, but Moran and Lawson easily secured enthusiastic financing to take things to the next level. While permitting and construction of their new spot proved much more difficult, a recent visit reveals they’ve accomplished many of their goals and are on-track to breathe life into the rest.
Indian Joe has a whopping 30 beers on-tap. That’s admirable—but only if the beers are of quality. Quantity is nothing without quality. After tasting through more than half of the offerings the day I was there, I can say that Indian Joe’s beers taste better than at any point in the company’s history. What makes that even more impressive is the range of styles and the retaining of the anything-goes approach that birthed oddities like a Margarita Gose aged in tequila barrels; blueberry, plum and ginger sour ale; and honey-oatmeal tripel with Vietnamese and Ethiopian Baraka Buna coffees. What to the beer-purist (and even some adventurous drinkers) sounds like a rundown of the tap-list at an insane asylum…wait for it…tastes rather nice. Sure, you have to be in the mood for something avant-garde, but I often am and enjoyed all three of these beers in addition to an “imperial red sour” with blackberries and black currants, “Indian Sunrise” blood orange and sweet cherry Gose and apricot-peach sour. All three are ideally suited for the hot-weather months just around the corner.
But not all of the beers are weird at Indian Joe. There’s a Belgian-style witbier (which also comes infused with lime or tangerine), a robust porter (another version of which is available spiked with chocolate and hazelnut) and a variety of IPAs, including a double, a flagship infused with white sage and, to show they can fall in line with the best of them, a Northeast-style number for the haze-crazy. The IPAs are better than the ones I remember from the original Indian Joe. The increase in overall quality isn’t just the result of purchasing new, larger, more state-of-the-art equipment. Moran and Lawson brought on a head brewer, Grant Heuer, who last brewed at Temecula’s Refuge Brewery and Relentless Brewing as well as Las Vegas’ Big Dogs Brewing. In addition to bringing experience, he has also brought brewers and brewing ingredients from Riverside County (where he still resides) to the table, resulting in collaboration beers (including that hazy IPA created with Electric Brewing) and the java from Augie’s Coffee utilized in the aforementioned out-there tripel and Indian Joe’s imperial oatmeal coffee stout.
Also upgraded is the environment in which the beers can be experienced. Indian Joe’s 4,000 square foot tasting is one of the largest in the county. Visitors can drink at the long downstairs bar, high-tables or an outdoor patio…and that’s just the ground floor. There’s an L-shaped upstairs area with windows looking out onto State Route 78, a rail bar and numerous plush leather couches. Moran and Lawson clearly made the most of all the time they spent waiting on agencies to respond and construction issues to be resolved. The immense amount of time was worth it and the faith in these entrepreneurs from their loyal fans well placed.
Native American-owned family business Indian Joe Brewing was a hit in a municipality drenched in craft-beer. Despite capacity issues, the small Vista brewery gained a cult-following while pushing the envelope beyond the limits of conventional beer. It was a sweet success story squashed by landlord issues roughly two years into the business’ existence. But owners Max Moran and Geri Lawson were determined to carry on. Come January 23, they will open the doors to Indian Joe Brewing 2.0 (2123 Industrial Court, Vista), a much larger, two-story facility with a double-decker tasting room, outdoor patio and lots more beer. We caught up with Lawson to find out what’s in store for long lost fans and newcomers alike.
What is a key difference for Indian Joe Brewing this time around?
The second coming of Indian Joe is going to be awesome; the same great people, the same great beers, but with more convenience and a lot more capacity. We were so fortunate to have so many loyal fans and followers at the old facility. We just couldn’t keep up with the demand. We regularly brewed around-the-clock, praying not to hear that dreaded burst of foamy air come through the tap-head, signaling another blown keg in our small tasting room. When the new Indian Joe opens, we will not only have the capacity to satisfy loyal patrons of our tasting room, but we will have the ability to bottle or can the customer-favorites for distribution.
What are the advantages of your new brewing system?
The new brewhouse includes the best industry tools and equipment, which are capable of producing 60 times the beer that our old system could. This includes a state-of-the-art water treatment and analytics system so that precise water profiles can be used on each and every batch. Not only do we have the additional capacity we so desperately needed to produce our great beers, but we also have the additional space required to hold our fruit-beers and sours isolated from our standard IPAs, stouts, porters and our other ales to ensure customers get served the highest quality product available.
Please tell us about the new brewer you hired.
Max is teaming up with Grant Heuer, who developed his expertise in brewing at Big Dogs Brewing Company in Las Vegas, and closer to home at Refuge Brewery and Relentless Brewing, both of which are in Temecula. He’s a native Texan, but went to college in Holland, which helped him achieve a very broad palate and earn his Cicerone certification. We chose Grant because, not only does he have a fun-loving, outgoing personality (similar to us), but he’s very knowledgeable on a variety of beer styles. Grant’s passion is IPAs, and he loves a variety of hop, so expect to see lots of IPA offerings. But he also loves wild sours as much as we do, so expect to see plenty of those. If you have a chance to meet Grant, you’ll see why we love him.
What will the public component of the new facility be like?
We are as excited about the added capacity and technology that the new campus brings as we are about the new tasting room. It was important that we not lose that close-knit, comfortable “speakeasy” feel of the old tasting room, so it was considered with every decision on the new tasting room. Amenities will accommodate all types of consumers, and include a private-event space, huge-screen TVs, high-fidelity digital audio, heated outdoor patio, high-capacity restrooms, pub tables and loungers, all of which are ADA accessible. For those of you that came to our old location and loved our beers, you can expect our Joe Rita, White Sage IPA, our award-winning Apricot/Peach Hefeweizen, as well as our award-winning Mango Sour to be ready and waiting to tantalize your taste buds.
The rumors of Indian Joe’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Such is the case in a realm as prone to rumors as San Diego’s craft beer industry. Despite asserting Indian Joe Brewing Company would be back even before they closed the doors to their Vista brewery and tasting room this February, owners Max Moran and Geri Lawson heard many first- and second-hand misinformation that their business was dead. But like the ringing of a bell by a mistakenly buried but plenty lively individual, the couple has proof of life in the form of a banner proclaiming Indian Joe’s return on the façade of its new building at Vista’s Industrial Court business park.
Two stories and coming in at 18,000 square feet, Moran’s and Lawson’s new spot is far larger than its predecessor. This will allow for the installation of a 15-barrel brewing system from Premier Stainless, another component that’s much bigger than what came before. Back at Indian Joe’s old spot on La Mirada Drive, Moran was brewing several times a day, seven days a week on a meager 20-gallon system. When opening the business he thought it would be sufficient, remembering a similar setup he saw at Mother Earth Brew Co., but soon discovered it wasn’t sustainable. The problem was, the La Mirada facility wasn’t big enough to house a system and cellar of significant size. In spite of that, they were determined to stay in their building until they found a new home, but a series of contentious dealings with their landlord led to them having to vacate quickly and unexpectedly, leading to the rumors that Indian Joe had gone out of business despite having a strong following of loyalists and interest from outside investors wanting to take the brand to the next level.
To their former regulars, Moran and Lawson emphatically promise to recreate the very same fun, relaxed, inviting and entertaining experience they were able to establish at their old digs. Best of all, they’ll have a lot more room in which to provide that type of ambiance. Upon entering the building, visitors will find themselves on the bottom floor of a two-story tasting room measuring around 4,000 total square feet. Two-thirds of that area is downstairs where a long bar running the length of the south wall is being constructed to include more than 20 taps. A gift shop is being built to the left of that, and a 190-inch (not a typo) Samsung big-screen will be mounted on the wall between the retail and bar areas. Two staircases (and eventually a lift for handicapped patrons) lead upstairs to an area that will have a separate bar and get outfitted in cushy furniture providing a homey feel.
The entire north side of the upstairs level is outfitted with windows looking out onto State Route 78. The best part of that, for Moran and Lawson, is that just as that east-west thoroughfare is visible to them, Indian Joe will be easy to see off the freeway. That was a big part of the appeal of the building. Moran reports that a total of 480,000 vehicles pass by their new home per day. Other positives include the fact that the entire building is air-conditioned, solar equipment is installed to assist with utility efficiency, there is a large upstairs room they will be able to convert to private event space, there is plenty of parking and the City of Vista will allow them to construct outdoor seating just beyond the front entrance which will be serviceable by mobile food vendors.
On the industrial side, Moran intends to hire a head brewer to help fill 60- and 30-barrel fermenters. With the ability to brew much more beer, Moran will work to secure distribution, and bottle and can Indian Joe beers for the first time. Having more beer will also allow for a simple but important first—filling growlers. Back when he was producing a single keg at a time, Moran was unable to sell beer-to-go for fear of running out too quickly and leaving his tasting room taps dry. Beers that will be produced when Indian Joe reopens will be a mixture of to-style brews and more outlandish creations. So it’ll be same as it ever was come Indian Joe’s second coming.