Last month, Joe Lisica resigned from his post heading fermentation operations for Miramar-based Little Miss Brewing. He cited an amicable parting of ways with owners Greg and Jade Malkin, who brought him on as the company’s first-ever brewmaster and a partner (though goals that would have triggered part-ownership were not reached prior to Lisica leaving). The Malkins wanted to go one direction with the beers they produced, while Lisica favored an altogether different creative trajectory.
Lisica departed without a plan for his next step. He said he was actually looking forward to enjoying a little down-time after spending the past year-plus planning, hammering together and running a brand-new brewery. A life of rest and refueling must not have agreed with him, because he went back to work yesterday after being hired by Mikkeller Brewing San Diego to serve as its head brewer. Lisica worked at Green Flash Brewing Company in Mira Mesa before moving on to move up with Little Miss. Here, he will be responsible for the manufacture of many more styles than he tackled at his last place of employ, filling a beer-board 19 strong and crafting weekly new releases.
This will be the Miramar-based brewery’s second head brewer. Initially, the company—the brick-and-mortar overseas interest of Copenhagen, Denmark-based entrepreneur Mikkel Borg Bjergso—brought veteran brewer Bill Batten over from sister-company AleSmith Brewing Company to lead brewery operations. Batten resigned in March and has gone on to consult for several San Diego County brewing companies while waiting to take the reins at his eventual home, TapRoom Beer Company, which is currently being birthed in North Park by the owners of Pacific Beach bar SD TapRoom.
Back at Mikkeller San Diego, the company maintains a cult following, but appears to be struggling with the inherent difficulties of having an owner that spends the majority of his time away from the business while guiding brewery decisions from afar. In other Mikkeller San Diego news, the company has removed the anvil that was formerly a component of its logo meant to communicate its partnership with AleSmith. AleSmith owner Peter Zien says that, although he sold stocks in 2016 to give control of Mikkeller San Diego to Bjergso, he remains a partner from an artistic and financial perspective until Mikkeller San Diego’s lease expiration, at which time Zien will transition to a point where he is no longer a financial principal.
Author’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect facts presented following its initial posting.
The approach of All Hallow’s Eve certainly isn’t scaring local breweries away from holding a freakishly large number of events throughout San Diego County in the coming months. There are far too many to illustrate the full breadth in a short-list of four, so start with the hand-picked happenings below, then proceed to the full list on our events page.
October 8 | Oktoberfest Celebration: At this point, you’ve likely indulged in multiple O-festivities, and there’s no reason not to stop now. Hit Green Flash Brewing Company’s German-themed celebration to taste three special beers, including In der Mitte Märzenfestbier and a zwickel version of Sea to Sea Lager. | Green Flash Brewing Company, 6550 Mira Mesa Boulevard, Mira Mesa, 12 p.m.
October 13 | Blahktoberfest: Don’t pack those lederhosen up just yet. Blind Lady Ale House is having the eighth annual running of its Oktoberfest celebration with keeper pints (that you can fill with their Autobefest beer) and a unique house-made offering—bratwurst pizza. | Blind Lady Ale House, 3416 Adams Avenue, Normal Heights, 11 a.m.
October 21 | BagbyFest II: Even one of the most award-winning brewers of all times knows there’s more to the beverage world than just beer. Bagby Beer Company will section its expansive brewpub into zones celebrating wine, spirits, cocktails (and, yes, beer) from numerous regions of the world along with foods to go with them. | Bagby Beer Company, 601 South Coast Highway, Oceanside, 12 p.m.
October 21 | Anniversary Events: It seems October’s a fertile month. Three breweries are celebrating birthdays on the same day: Belching Beaver Brewing (5 years, special beers galore), Iron Fist Brewing Company (7 years, special beer and live music) and Legacy Brewing Company (4 years, Oktoberfest shindig). | Belching Beaver Brewery, 1334 Rocky Point Drive, Oceanside, 3 p.m.; Iron Fist Brewing Company, 1305 Hot Springs Way, Suite 101, Vista, 12 p.m.; Legacy Brewing Company, 363 Airport Road, Oceanside, 1 p.m.
October 21 | Ye Scallywag: Kickass beer and kickass punk rock will share space on the San Diego Bayfront when 100 beers are tapped against the backdrop of live performances from Pennywise and a motley crew of musical acts including The Vandals, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes and more). | Waterfront Park, 1 Park Boulevard, Downtown San Diego, 12 p.m.
Many are those who tour Ballast Point Brewing’s enormous Miramar headquarters with its 300-barrel and 150-barrel brewhouses and rows of sky-high fermenters feel the county’s largest brewing company must have all the room it needs, especially with additional brewing facilities in Scripps Ranch, Little Italy, Long Beach and Roanoke, Virginia. The Miramar facility comes in with greater production capability than any other in San Diego, but rapid expansion has rendered it out of space, leading parent company Constellation Brands to secure an 80,000-square-foot building directly north of the Miramar home base.
Ballast Point currently has control of 60,000 square feet of that structure for what it calls its Trade Street Facility. It has been divided into three equal-sized sections serving completely different purposes. One third is simply storage, while the middle third houses an abundant and growing stock of beer-filled oak barrels procured from various wineries and distilleries. The current barrel count comes in at approximately 1,400, with an additional 900 barrels in another facility less than a mile west on Crestmar Point. There are three full-time employees manning this section, and it will soon have tanks added to handle production of beers destined for those oak receptacles, which include about every type of liquor and wine imaginable with more on the way.
Ballast Point intends to up its number of barrel-aged beer releases which are currently held quarterly and locally. Those specialties will be distributed nationally, including four-pack releases of popular beers such as aged versions of its vanilla- and coffee-infused imperial porter, Victory at Sea. Other beers the team is looking forward to debuting include Sea Monster imperial stout and Piper Down Scottish ale in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels, Navigator Doppelbock in brandy barrels, Barmy apricot and honey golden strong ale in neutral oak, plus various Belgian-style farmhouse, tripel and quadruple ales. In addition to its own needs, Ballast Point regularly fulfills requests from other breweries for barrels from its stock, including nearby Green Flash Brewing Company and 32 North Brewing Company.
The remaining third of the Trade Street facility is for “dirty beer”, referring to sours and bacteria-laden wild ales that, if not sectioned off, would stand a significant chance of infecting the clean beer as well as their production and storage mechanisms. This area has its own 40-barrel brewhouse feeding into more than 30 fermenters. It can produce up to 20,000 barrels of beer annually, some of which will make its way into six new 40-barrel, glycol-equipped, temperature-controlled fouders. The dirty area also has its own devoted bottling line, which recently packaged a national release’s worth of six-packs of Sour Wench blackberry ale.
Key to the new dirty beer operations is a state-of-the-art laboratory capable of providing as many quality assurance touch-points as the large lab at Ballast Point’s HQ. Prior to brewing Sour Wench for the most recent release, technicians conducted numerous tests, including analysis of myriad brands of blackberry puree and Lactobacillus strains, in search of the most ideal types for the beer. What they found was that the puree and strain the company was already using worked best, meaning the current batch of Sour Wench is very similar to the first batch ever homebrewed in 1998 (back when it went by the name Marion Berry’s Better-Than-A-Crack-Whore). While primary wild ale operations will now take place on Trade Street, Ballast Point hopes the aforementioned Long Beach facility will become the research-and-development feeder for the new facility.
Earlier this month a for-lease sign went up beside the signage for Little Miss Brewing’s much-anticipated tasting room on Ocean Beach’s Newport Avenue. The conversion of the site’s interior into a French World War II-themed sampling space is roughly halfway complete and the company’s logo has been mounted outside, making this an unexpected turn of events for everyone, including owners Greg and Jade Malkin. The marrieds behind this Miramar-based company’s satellite project have been paying rent on the space since last December and, in the time it has taken to attempt to obtain approval from the local faction of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), have opened another tasting room in Normal Heights. But the ABC process for their would-be OB interest has been nothing short of a bureaucratic nightmare.
The Malkins submitted their ABC application for the OB tasting room a week after sending the same paperwork for the Normal Heights project. Early on, things went as expected, including receipt of protests during the 30-day period when residents are allowed to formally raise issues. The majority of the protests were rescinded once the Malkins reached out to the individuals who had initiated them. What the Malkins were unaware of, however, is that a private meeting had been held without their notification or knowledge in late-April—outside of the public-protest period—between ABC supervisors, representatives of the San Diego Police Department (SDPD), a State Assembly member and additional OB residents not in favor of the tasting room. ABC representatives claimed the meeting was not specifically about Little Miss, but rather all tasting-room licenses pending on Newport Avenue, but Little Miss’ was the only license of that type pending at the time. The negatives that came out of that meeting, where the project was scrutinized without the applicants being able to defend their business, followed the Little Miss project file through its lifespan without the Malkins even knowing. But this constitutes only a portion of the obstacles.
While the Malkins respect the job and authority of the ABC and appreciate the hard-working nature of ABC employees, they echo the opinion of most (including ABC employees) that the department and its local offices are severely understaffed during this time of unprecedented brewery openings. During the many months they spent trying to open the OB tasting room, meetings with ABC agents typically yielded little in the way of concrete answers or reliable advice. Often, one agent would contradict the other. In the cases where they agreed, other governmental factions saw things differently. Additionally, the Malkins were told to call ABC reps at different offices as well as various individuals at the City of San Diego offices and SDPD. Most calls went unanswered, as did requests for information.
The key piece of info they coveted during the process were crime logs. During a meeting with the ABC on July 20, the Malkins were shown a letter from the SDPD dated June 29 stating it would not support the issuance of Little Miss’ OB license. The reason: the neighborhoods the Western Patrol Division serves (Ocean Beach, Hillcrest, La Playa, Linda Vista, Loma Portal, Midtown, Midway District, Mission Hills, Mission Valley West, Morena, Old Town, Point Loma Heights, Roseville-Fleetridge, Sunset Cliffs, University Heights and “Wooded Area”) had experienced an overall increase in crime and could not handle another ABC license issued in the area. The ABC said they would not go against the SDPD’s recommendation because they felt it was impossible to change their opinion. Determined to give that a try on their own, the Malkins asked to see the crime reports for the aforementioned communities. The ABC had those reports, but said they were not allowed to provide them to the Malkins, and directed them to obtain the data from the City. They attempted to do so, but after more unanswered calls, ended up downloading the information they needed from the City of San Diego’s website instead.
Through this fact-finding exercise, they discovered that, although alcohol-related crime had gone up in the Western Patrol Division’s patrol area as a whole, it had gone down in OB by a whopping 40% since the November 2014 introduction of the neighborhood’s first brewery tasting room—Culture Brewing Company on Newport Avenue. Also, the number-one alcohol-related crime in OB is open-container violations, primarily on the beach. They presented this information to multiple City Councilmembers, the Mayor’s office and ABC, even going so far as to waive Little Miss’ ability to sell packaged beer or growlers to go, but never received an answer. The final straw was a call earlier this week when the Malkins say it seemed like someone at the ABC had decided they were going to deny the license long ago—possibly as far back as the meeting that they weren’t given the opportunity to attend—but nobody wanted to be the bearer of bad news. It prompted them to officially pull the plug on the OB project.
This drama isn’t the only turbulence for the company, which last week parted ways with the only brewmaster it has known during its first year of existence. This seems a much easier hurdle to get over than ABC issues. Former Green Flash Brewing Company brewer Joe Lisica spearheaded brewery and tasting room construction and beer production for Little Miss. His desire was to create clean, clear beers, including an assortment of single-malt-and-single-hop (SMASH) beers. While quality was never an issue and ownership appreciated Lisica and his beers, their vision for Little Miss’ portfolio was vastly different, leading to an amicable parting of ways. Mike Morbitzer, a fellow Green Flash alum Lisica hired as his assistant, has been promoted to brewmaster and will be responsible for reshaping Little Miss’ offerings to match the Malkin’s desires, which includes more new-school beers such as hazy IPAs and beers brewed with fruits and other adjuncts across varying styles. Meanwhile, Lisica is taking a brief hiatus from the industry to contemplate his next move, while entertaining offers from companies in need of his services.
Little Miss’ business model from the get-go has been to open six satellite tasting rooms under their manufacturing license, focusing on unsaturated neighborhoods — besides the planned OB location. The Malkins are leery of filing through the San Diego office again. A local ABC agent advised them to apply in La Mesa, a municipality that only recently began encouraging brewing companies to lay down stakes, but they will also likely look north once they have some time to gain some distance and lick their wounds.
Judging brewing competitions can be a reassuring exercise on many levels. If one devotes themselves to the process and takes it seriously, they often gain validation of their powers of evaluation through their panelist peers. And when everyone gives it their all, taking time to thoroughly analyze each entrant and debate top contenders’ rankings, it often leads to a truly high-quality beer taking top honors. This was what played out for me last Saturday when judging homebrew entries in Green Flash Brewing Company’s Genius Lab competition.
Held in conjunction with the company’s annual Treasure Chest Fest, a beer-and-food festival raising funds for the local chapter of Susan G. Komen, this battle of recreational brewers drew 31 entries. Contestants were permitted to brew any style of India pale ale they chose be it session, fruited, imperial, Belgian, black or hazy. Even with that much guideline leniency, a popular fact was easily proven true. IPAs are the toughest style of beer to brew at home; especially to standards that merit reproducing a beer in a professional setting. That was the first-place award for this competition.
Originally, our panel, which consisted of organizer Brian Beagle of local podcast San Diego BeerTalk Radio and Green Flash representatives including brewmaster Erik Jensen, had hoped to advance 15 beers from the first round to the second. It was about a third of the way through that it became apparent that this would not be possible. From aroma to flavor, the flaws were many. Some beers reeked of butyric acid (reviled for possessing a scent evocative of vomit), while others were as vegetal as a plate of Brussels sprouts. One even tasted like—I kid you not—Cinnamon Toast Crunch. In the end, we squeezed out 12 second-rounders by allowing in some “maybes”, but it really came down to four beers that had a chance at the top spot.
My comments above may make it seem like beer judges’ senses lead to instant consensus in most cases, but that hasn’t been my experience. Often, second- and third-round judging involves a great deal of discussion and debate. It’s a key part of the process, as it was in this instance. In the end, we selected an IPA called Searching For Clarity that, post-judging, we learned was entered by Nick Corona. If that name sounds familiar it’s because he won Homebrewer of the Year honors at last year’s Homebrew Con, the country’s largest recreational brewing competition, held annually by the American Homebrewers Association. A member of local club QUAFF, Corona is also the reigning homebrewer of the year for his winning entries at the 2017 edition of the San Diego County Fair‘s annual homebrew competition.
Corona’s win was announced the following day at Treasure Chest Fest, along with the second-place winner, a Northeast-style IPA from Solomon Cantwell, and the second-runner-up, Summer of Hops from Caden Houson (who is Corona’s co-brewer). Look for the winning beer to debut at Green Flash’s Mira Mesa tasting room as part of its small-batch Genius Lab program during San Diego Beer Week in early November.