Those not living in or frequenting inland North County might not be as familiar with the Booze Brothers Brewing brand, but beer enthusiasts in and around Vista are keyed in on this five-year-old company’s tremendous growth and popularity. Founded in 2013 by brothers Donny and Dave Firth, it started in a single business-park suite. Each year, the Firths took over a next-door suite until they had the entire building, which is now divided into a large, patio-equipped tasting room, with two spaces dedicated to production and the last converted into a stylish private-event space dubbed the Wood Shed. On top of that, Booze Brothers has secured a building across the street with high ceilings where it eventually hopes to move large-scale production. That may include products from an offshoot brand called Owl Farm Unique Fermentations.
Owl Farm is a project that has been in the works for the past two years. The goal of the new brand is to offer a constantly rotating line of fermented beverages that are less traditional than the beers sold under the Booze Brothers handle; concoctions that blur the lines between ales, lagers, cider, mead, wine and cocktails. Thorough explanation of just what that means is provided by Owl Farm’s initial offerings, the most straightforward of which is Peachy Monkey, a 6.4% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) peach ale fermented using Brettanomyces. It will hit shelves along with Gin Gose, a 4.5% ABV kettle sour brewed with juniper berries, coriander, lemon peel and dill that’s loosely based on a spiced German Gose ale, and built to be a refreshing, beery take on its namesake spirit. Last up is Blackberry Cruiser, a 5.6% ABV, mildly tart ale brewed with blackberries, lemon, oolong tea and honey.
Owl Farm beers will be available on-tap and in four-packs of 16-ounce cans at Booze Brothers’ tasting room and retail accounts. When asked about the decision to hit the market with niche, more outlandish beer styles when the India pale ale (IPA) is king, Booze Brothers manager Kris Anacleto speaks of a desire to reach demographics ranging from craft connoisseurs to newcomers who appreciate non-hoppy styles of beer. He also describes the challenges of calling on a new account and leading with an IPA in a county stocked with more than 130 brewing companies, the majority of which offer quality IPAs. There is only so much tap and shelf space to go around and bringing something unique to customers is attractive to the Booze Brothers crew. So, too, is the ability to continually come out with new beverages, a benefit given beer-drinkers’ growing obsession with shiny new things
To give Owl Farm its own identity, management is consulting with artist Clay Halling. Anacleto spied Halling’s work on a skateboard a few years ago and reached out to the Phoenix, Arizona-based artist to see if he would be interested in holding a show at Booze Brothers. Halling accepted the offer and stayed in touch. Though original, Owl Farm’s whimsical artwork isn’t too much of a departure from that of Ben Horton, who handles all of the branding and packaging art for the Booze Brothers brand. His bottle and can adornments have received greater visibility of late, as Booze Brothers expands its self-distributed network into Orange and Los Angeles counties with greater frequency. Owl Farm beers will find their way to market via those same channels, beginning February 9.
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.
From the Beer Writer: There are a number of fruits I have always thought to be perfectly suited as flavor-enhancers for sour beers: pineapple, apricot, Meyer lemon (a sweeter variety of this citrus fruit). But my hands-down pick for the most pucker-ready produce is passion fruit. With sometimes bracing, citric tartness, just a touch of earthy sweetness and even a bit of natural funk, the flesh of the fruit tastes like a sour ale all on its own. In fact, I find myself describing a number of sours as tasting like passion fruit. It would seem the brew-crew at Mission Brewery agrees. Their current limited-edition seasonal release is Mission Passion Fruit Gose, a salted, kettle-soured ale of Germanic descent given added fruitiness by passion fruit added during primary fermentation. The result is an intensely tropical beer that comes on strong with a burst of salinity that gives way to flavors of passion fruit with a touch of lemongrass and the aforementioned mild-funk in the finish. Logical and lacking complication, it’s a beer that tastes good and goes down easy in large quantities.
From the Brewer: “In spring of 2016 we started brewing one-off kettle sours fairly frequently for the tasting room. In doing so, we experimented with a couple different fruit purées and really enjoyed how the subtle fruit character played off the ‘sour’ flavors we were getting from the lactobacillus. After finding a limited supply of passion fruit purée, we knew it would be a winner in one of these kettle sours. Passion fruit has a certain funk to its flavor-profile, and certainly meshed well in this beer.”—John Egan, Head Brewer, Mission Brewery
From the Beer Writer: As far as names go, I’m not a fan of referring to beers as “lactic”. To those unfamiliar with the popularity of beers made tart by the presence of lactic acid per Old World beers hailing from Belgium and Germany, it just sounds odd. And even if you are a fan of Berliener weisse, gose and the like, the word doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. But flavor and composition far outweigh adjectival shortcomings in the case of Benchmark Lactic Table Beer, an acidic, tangy take on Benchmark Brewing Company’s Belgian-style singel that really hits the spot when it’s on-tap at the Grantville business’ tasting room. I have been a fan of Benchmark’s original 4% alcohol-by-volume Table Beer since first sip. In fact, I was recently asked for a recommendation on a low-alcohol, locally produced beer well suited for enjoyment over the course of several hours, and that was it. The fruity, almost passion fruit-like tartness of the lactic version makes it less of an all-day treat, but is one of the better quick-sour beers in the county, to be sure. It also makes for a nice liquid-intermezzo of sorts to drink between stronger flavored beers, as its crisp sourness resets one’s palate quite nicely.
From the Brewer: “Lactic Table Beer is inspired by the amazing sours of Belgium. We take our standard Table Beer and dose it with a blend of acids that mimics the acid-content of classic Belgian gueuzes. This gives it a tartness that works well with the bready notes found in the base beer. The first time we put this together was for our inaugural Full Table event during San Diego Beer Week in 2014. It has since become a frequent offering at the tasting room. It is available in very small batches here at the brewery, and is made up for a handful of special events each year. Although not a part of our flights this year we will be offering tasters, pours and, for the first time ever, growler fills at this year’s Full Table on Tuesday November 8th. Details about the event can be found by clicking here.”—Matt Akin, Brewmaster, Benchmark Brewing Company
Perpetually dressed in black and looking like a tad like a lord of the gothic underworld, Brian Mitchell cuts an imposing figure. Back that up with the fact he isn’t scared to speak his mind about his beer or anybody else’s and one might expect him to be a bit of an outsider among local brewers. Quite the contrary. He’s made a great many friends in the industry who admire his frankness, because its rooted in a love for the craft of brewing and desire to see the industry remain innovative and artistic versus revenue-focused and cookie-cutter. Those in his inner-circle get him, but as one might expect, companies chasing trends (e.g., fruit-extract beers, session-for-the-sake-of-being-session beers) simply peg him a curmudgeon. So, it’s fitting that, in staking out to build his own business, he’s gone with the name Pariah Brewing Company (3052 El Cajon Boulevard, North Park).
Mitchell’s interest is the first of three brewing companies that will lease space at Brewery Igniter’s upcoming North Park, ready-to-brew facility. Developed by H.G. Fenton, Pariah’s 2,000-square-foot combined brewery and tasting room suite will be outfitted with a 10-barrel Premier Stainless System. Completely customizable, it will be up to the Pariah team to breathe life and personality into. Mitchell says they’re going for a place where Jack the Ripper and Louis Carroll can both feel comfortable enjoying a pint. Not exactly conventional, but that’s the point…and that’s Mitchell.
“Pariah really speaks to how I’ve gone about my life. I’ve never made decisions based solely on what others believed to be correct and that’s something I feel strongly about…even if it does get me in trouble from time to time,” says Mitchell. “Being called crazy or a moron never really bothers me because I’m just doing what I believe to be best at that moment. It will translate to the business ethos as our team is both comprised and surrounded by ‘morons’ who are equally individualistic.”
Mitchell recalls being called a moron, literally, when he brewed 10 barrels of Gose in 2010 when a previous employer asked him to brew a “German wheat beer.” At the time, no local breweries were producing the kettle-soured, salt-infused Gose beer style. Now, kettle-sours are one of the fastest growing styles in the brewing industry with Gose and Berliner Weiss (both Germanic wheat-based beers) leading the charge. Recently, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company released its own mass-distributed take on Gose to rave reviews. This puts Mitchell a half-decade or so ahead of the country’s second-largest independent craft brewing company. Not too shabby.
Mitchell, who previously brewed at La Jolla Brew House, Helm’s Brewing Company and, most recently, Stone Brewing Co., plans to be similarly unconventional at Pariah, where he says he intends to push buttons and attempt to break new ground. Like most local beer enthusiasts, Mitchell loves a good India pale ale. He intends to brew several spins on the style, but he and his team are looking forward to exploring different ingredients and processes to make special beers that aren’t so much like those already available throughout the county. One he is particularly excited about is a beer exclusively fermented using a yeast culture captured from a flowering tree in his own backyard. Not “backyard” as in North Park or San Diego…his actual backyard. Bone-dry, hoppy and “funky fresh,” it’s like nothing he or the veterans he’s shared it with have ever experienced.
The aforementioned beer is bound to elicit interest from beer fanatics, but they’ll need to wait until the third quarter of 2016. That is the current debut estimate for Pariah, which will aim to produce 1,700 barrels per year once up and running. And if your interest is particularly high, as in you might be interested in taking part in the business, Mitchell and partner, Dennis Schoenwald are actively seeking strategic partners and can be reached via email.