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.
10 Barrel Brewing has sent an application to the City of San Diego to expand an existing structure in the East Village into a brewpub. And I say, that’s a great idea…in 2014 before that Bend, Oregon-based business sold out to AB-InBev. As it stands now—with 10 Barrel a crucial link in the chain of acquired craft brands stretching from Elysian Brewing in Seattle, Washington to Golden Road Brewing in Los Angeles and east to Arizona’s Four Peaks Craft Brewery, Colorado’s Breckenridge Brewery and anchor 2011 acquisition, Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Company—it’s simply the latest bit of negative news I have to report to a legion of artisanal beer fans growing increasingly tired of Big Beer’s recent rash of tactics to diminish the market-share owned by real, independent craft breweries.
Many will simply say, “Who cares?” Those of that sentiment understand that 10 Barrel, a brewery that made good and interesting beers (and likely still does, though I won’t be drinking any of them), is not what it once was. The interest has devolved from a member of the craft brewing community into a pawn to be positioned against it, and AB-InBev is attempting to advance that pawn right into the heart of the urban action in what is arguably the country’s craft-beer capital. Into a 10,450-square-foot structure at 1501 E Street, to be exact. That’s a block north of Makers Quarter. Looking for an even more familiar landmark with which to orient? Try this one. It’s a block west of Monkey Paw Pub and Brewery, one of the most fiercely independent and vocally anti-Big Beer establishments in San Diego County. That should make for good drama, but after sellouts by local companies Saint Archer Brewery and Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits in 2015, Big Beer-inspired drama is the last thing San Diego imbibers need…or want right now.
Downtown San Diego—an area where as much if not more money comes in via tourists as locals—certainly makes for an attractive project site. Should 10 Barrel’s brewpub go in, most who visit it will simply assume it’s a local business. In all honesty, the majority of its patrons won’t concern themselves with something so trivial and inconsequential. With plenty of financial wherewithal behind it, the place will surely look fantastic and be highly marketed. And beyond the East Village, the beers brewed at 10 Barrel’s brewpub will almost surely find their way into distribution to the network of bars and restaurants where AB-InBev products are served, further chipping away at that oh-so-precious market-share Big Beer so doggedly covets.
At the end of 2015, I expressed the sincere hope that I’d spend more time writing about craft beer and less time discussing the business of beer, yet less than a month into the New Year, here we are. But such is the nature of business and, like it or not, craft beer is officially big business.
Tonight: Los Angeles’ Golden Road’s co-founder Meg Gill and Brewmaster Jesse Houck will grace Hamilton’s Tavern in South Park until 7 p.m. with seven beers and a specialty cask. Wolf Among Weeds IPA, It’s Not Always Sunny in LA, The Big Le ‘Brah’ Ski, Berliner Weisse, Point the Way IPA, Trouble Ahead Red, Kolsch, and Get Up Off That Brown w/ Handsome Coffee on cask will be served.
Tomorrow: San Francisco’s Speakeasy Ales & Lagers will appear on fourteen of Toronado North Park’s taps. Owner Ian Black is a former employee, so he got some good stuff: Big Daddy, Double Daddy, Vendetta IPA, The Witness, Prohibition Ale, Payback Porter, Payback Smoked Porter, Scarface Imperial Stout, 2012 Vintage Scarface Imperial Stout, Barrel-aged Scarface, The Black Hand Chocolate Milk Stout, Tallulah XPA, Betrayal Imperial Red Ale, and Old Godfather Barleywine.