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Posts Tagged green flash brewing

Q&A: Mikkel Borg Bjergsø

Jan 10

Owner & Brewmaster, Mikkeller Brewing San Diego

Last year, 10-year Denmark-based gypsy brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergsø hammered down stakes in Miramar, transforming AleSmith Brewing Co.’s original brewery into Mikkeller Brewing San Diego. His brewing team spent most of 2016 getting the feel of the facility. Now that group feels ready to be more aggressive in its fermentation activities. Bjergsø has vowed his brick-and-mortar will debut one new small-batch beer on a weekly basis beginning January 12 at its tasting room with a trio of new offerings: bourbon barrel-aged Beer Geek Brunch imperial oatmeal coffee stout, Fruit Face raspberry-coffee Berliner weisse and Uklar IPA. Future “San Diego Beer Release Series” debuts will take place every Saturday starting January 21. Keeping up with such a rapid rate of innovation and execution is no easy task. Curious about this and what it’s been like for this world-famous brewer to find his feet in San Diego, we sat down with him to pick his brain.

WC: What are some surprises you’ve encountered in San Diego?
Mikkel Borg Bjergsø: It’s been surprising how different the beer scene is in the U.S. compared to Europe. There are so many great players—especially in San Diego—and so many great beers. You really have to make an effort to stand out. I think with the new special-release series we will.

WC: What drove the decision to release a new beer every week?
MBB: Brewing a lot of different beers and beer-styles is in our DNA, and it was only a matter of time before we set out to launch a similar release schedule in San Diego. At this point we have an amazing crew in place, the brewing equipment is all dialed in, and our management setup is so in tune with our vision that we are confident now is the time. Most people will associate us with a hectic output of beers in all styles, shapes and formats, which is exactly what they should expect. That, and the totally unexpected, of course. Having your own brewery opens up a world of possibilities that are not usually doable when working in someone else’s brewery, whether it’s contract brewing or on a collaboration basis.

WC: What is your day-to-day involvement like regarding brewing at Mikkeller SD?

MBB: We’ve had to adjust to both the physical distance and time difference, but I am fortunate in the sense that I have to rely on the very capable hands of our head brewer Bill Batten and his team of skilled assistant brewers. It’s still my recipes and vision, which we will discuss through our daily email chains and our weekly conference-call.

WC: What other interesting or exciting developments are on the horizon for Mikkeller SD?
MBB: There are a lot of super-exciting things under development, but the sour and barrel-aged beer programs are two projects we are putting a lot of effort into. We have such a creative team over there, and it seems that no matter how crazy the idea and/or recipe I throw at them, they enthusiastically turn those into great beer. We are also working on new collaborations with other breweries, and non-brewers as well.

WC: You’ve spent more time than ever in San Diego. What are some of your favorite local breweries?
MBB:
I hate to name favorite breweries as it pushes the rest to the side. In the San Diego area there are obviously a ton of amazing brewers, from the old guys like Stone Brewing, Green Flash Brewing Co. and Ballast Point Brewing, to the young guns like Abnormal Beer Co., Toolbox Brewing Co., Modern Times Beer Co. and many others. I still have a big heart for our friends at AleSmith, so if I have to name one…

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2016 Recap: San Diego’s Best Breweries Right Now

Dec 15

What are the best breweries in San Diego? Having reported on the San Diego brewing industry for nearly 10 years and having written a guide to San Diego breweries, I get asked this question all the time. My answers vary quite a bit. Prior to 2012, that list didn’t change all that much. Heavy hitters like Ballast Point Brewing Co., Green Flash Brewing Co. and Stone Brewing were ever-present. Those interests got big making great beer that couldn’t be matched by smaller operations. These are not the times we are living in. Not only are small breweries able to keep up, because of their size, they are able to be nimble and do a lot more than large breweries. They can venture outside the box whenever they feel like it, chase any trend they like or even create their own, while the big boys find themselves locked into brewing the same core beers and a handful of seasonals to meet sales and distribution obligations. A new beer for them is a high-risk proposition that requires months (or even years) of test-batches and refinement.

Due to all of the above, my list of the best breweries in San Diego County is much different than ever before. Only one of the four San Diego interests in the Brewers Association’s list of the 50 largest craft breweries is on there, and its one that wouldn’t have been there several years ago. But there are five on the list that are less than three years old, nine that have a single brewhouse producing their wares, and seven that distribute their beers exclusively (or almost solely) in San Diego County. The following is my current (alphabetical) list of the top 12 brewing companies in San Diego County. (And please remember, there are more than 130 operating brewhouses in the county—not making this list doesn’t make a brewery below-average by any stretch.)

AleSmith Brewing Co., Miramar: This maker of BJCP-geared Old World beers has been around so long it’s now of legal drinking age. It has grown from a single suite to a sprawling manufacturing plant with an expansive, multi-faceted tasting-room component. Through that transition, the beer has remained solid. If anything, it would be nice to see some new beers. Disclosure: I used to work at AleSmith.

Alpine Beer Co., Alpine: Break out the asterisk. This back-country operation, which was purchased by Green Flash in 2014, makes this list for the beers it produces at its original brewery in its namesake town. There’s just something magical about that brewhouse and the pros who man it; they are the folks who built Alpine’s stellar rep and are maintaining it on a local level.

Bagby Beer Co., Oceanside: It’s no surprise that Pizza Port product and GABF master Jeff Bagby was able to transfer his brewpub prowess to his own project, but not only does he keep tons of quality beer on-tap, those taps are installed in an inviting two-story, indoor-outdoor coastal spot built by he and his wife’s true passion for craft-beer and the people who enjoy it.

Benchmark Brewing Co., Grantville: Beer-flavored beer sums up this entire operation. AleSmith alum Matt Akin keeps it simple; something that’s surprisingly challenging. Don’t believe it, see if you can find someplace that can sustain as good a reputation as Benchmark does armed primarily with a pale ale, IPA, brown ale and oatmeal stout while leading with a table beer.

Fall Brewing Co., North Park: Journeyman brewer Ray Astamendi isn’t looking to make the best beer you’ve had in your entire life. He’s more interested in giving imbibers a bunch of great beers to enjoy on any given night, and he does just that care of an impressive portfolio that includes ales and lagers alike, ranging from the hoppiest end of the spectrum to the maltiest.

Karl Strauss Brewing Co., Multiple Locations: San Diego’s longest-running post-Prohibition era brewing operation has taken recent steps to modernize its beers, introducing dry, hoppy ales, drawing attention to a constantly evolving line of beers that also show great technique. Recently constructed brewpubs in LA and the OC should keep Karl’s crew on their upward trajectory.

The Lost Abbey / Port Brewing Co. / The Hop Concept, San Marcos: Whether it’s Port’s SoCal-centric family of largely hoppy beers, The Hop Concept’s (THC, get it?) exploratory line of lupulin-laced imperial IPAs or The Lost Abbey’s unique array of Belgian-inspired, floral, bready, woody, tart and/or boozy ales, quality and innovation await at Pizza Port’s triple-threat packaged-beer cousin op.

New English Brewing Co., Sorrento Valley: One would be challenged to find a brewery in San Diego with as great a degree of quality and consistency as this interest. The only thing keeping it in unjust obscurity is its devotion to less-popular English styles, but the introduction of expertly crafted IPAs has opened some eyes and helped grow a following and, in turn, brewing capacity.

Pizza Port, Multiple Locations: Perhaps no other local brewing biz more succinctly embodies San Diego’s style, brewing and otherwise. Expertise across all styles with flashes of ingenuity and inventiveness, tons of awards but none of the pomp and ego that comes with shiny medals, a laid-back surf-vibe inviting tanks and flip-flops—Pizza Port is America’s Finest on many levels.

Rip Current Brewing Co., San Marcos: The founders of this business deserve big-time credit for sticking to their guns. They could make more money focusing on their excellent hoppy beers, but are so devoted to keeping the homebrew spirit alive, they toil away on dozens of other lesser-selling styles, many of which win awards but still get ignored. It’s a shame.

Second Chance Beer Co., Carmel Mountain: During his decade-plus brewing at La Jolla’s Rock Bottom, Marty Mendiola was well-respected in the industry, but fairly unknown among San Diego beer-drinkers. Since opening his own spot in 2015, he’s finally gained the recognition from the public that he always deserved behind long-time and newly built recipes alike.

Societe Brewing Co., Kearny Mesa: I work here, so I am biased, but this list would be incomplete were Societe not on it. Fans flock here for a rotating family of IPAs as well as Belgian-style ales, dark beers and oak-aged sours that, after many years of maturation, are starting to trickle out of the barrel-room at a steady clip. Versatility and consistency are the keys to this operation’s success.

Author’s Note: This is the third post in a three-part series of pieces which previously examined San Diego’s Best New Breweries and San Diego’s Most Improved Breweries over the past year.

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Poway’s Lightning Brewery up for sale

Dec 12

logo_lightningIn 2006, when Jim Crute transitioned from a long career as a biochemist to become a brewery owner, the landscape in San Diego County was very different. For one thing, the story of a starry-eyed homebrewing enthusiast turning his back on a lucrative career to follow his fermentation passions was not an old and much-duplicated tale.

There were only around 20 operating brewhouses in San Diego County when Crute opened the doors to Lightning Brewery in the north-inland community of Poway. Most prominent among them were Stone, Karl Strauss, Ballast Point, AleSmith, and the family of Pizza Port businesses that included Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey. That last dual-personality operation also opened in 2006 as a production-brewery venture for Pizza Port. Looking at the much smaller sudscape in the county at the time, it made sense that Pizza Port, a highly successful brewpub chain with three locations would want to start producing and distributing beer in larger quantities, in both kegs and bottles. After all, that’s how the biggest brewing companies in the county were doing it. It was the only way to gain visibility, as tasting rooms were hardly the lucrative revenue-centers they are now. Few were the folks who spent weekends shuttling from one brewery to the next like so many do now.

About the only chance a brewery had of getting their logo and brand-identity to the consumer in a meaningful way and look like a legitimate business versus some fly-by-night, oh-isn’t-that-cute “microbrewery” was to get bottles out to grocery stores. That’s where most people first saw the likes of Stone, Ballast Point, AleSmith and even the young Green Flash, which at that point had just bounced back from a shaky start that nearly saw it close. So Crute opened with the notion that 10-20% of his beer would be sold out of his tasting room—which was then just a small pad in front of the cold-box right on the brewery floor—while the rest would be wholesale. So, he started bottling nearly from the start, and self-distributing before catching on with Stone Distributing several years ago.

By his own admission, his perception, method and timing were off, and, as a result, the business suffered from a financial standpoint. As today’s brewery owners will tell you, brewing companies make the best margins on their beer by selling it in their tasting rooms where they can charge more, avoid the cost of doing business with distributors and take all of the profit for themselves. Fittingly, brewery owners make a point of constructing tasting rooms that will at very least get people in the door and, in the best cases, lure drinkers from appealing bars and restaurants, not to mention their own homes, to drink their beer at the source.

Crute recalls a conversation with Ballast Point’s Jack White around 2009, wherein the founder of the brewery that eventually grew itself into a behemoth that sold for a whopping $1 billion told his Lightning contemporary that, to his amazement, the only thing making BP any money was the tasting room at its Scripps Ranch brewery. White went on to expand that space multiple times until there was nowhere left to expand. He eventually did the same with the company’s original Home Brew Mart location, while simultaneously constructing new facilities in Little Italy and Miramar that both included not tasting rooms, but full-on restaurants with attached bars.

Meanwhile, it wasn’t until 2014 that Crute, who by then was no longer with Stone Distribution, constructed a tasting room and an outdoor beer-garden. But by then, it was too late. Were he opening Lightning today, he says he would adhere to a reversed business plan where he’d look to sell 80% of his beer out of his brewery, and distribute the remainder. But in the real-life present, Crute has made the decision to sell his business. He put up a craigslist ad titled “Turnkey Brewery and Tasting Room for Sale” on December 7, and hopes to be able to hand his decade-old labor of love to someone who is looking to get into the industry, just as he did. Purchasing Lightning would be advantageous in that it is currently in operation and would be ready for someone to take over and get straight to work. The 5,500-square-foot facility has a 30-barrel brewhouse, a combined cellar capacity of 490 barrels (350-barrels’ worth of fermenters with 140-barrels’ of brite tanks), a bottling line capable of filling 12- and 22-ounce glass, and the aforementioned tasting room and beer garden.

Crute says he is also open to existing companies purchasing Lightning for use as a secondary brand, wherein the company name and, possibly its beer-brands would remain active, but under a new owner. But the bottom-line is that he says he has enjoyed pursuing his dream and feels he gave it his all for 10 years. He feels it’s important to be reasonable and turn the page, but in doing so, hopes another entrepreneur can realize their aspirations in the place where he realized a good many of his.

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Q&A: Mike Hinkley

Nov 17

hinkley_mOwner, Green Flash Brewing Company

Last weekend, Green Flash Brewing Company turned open the doors of its new East Coast brewery and tasting room in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The project took more than three years to get to the point where it was ready for sharing with the public, but now that 58,000-square-foot center of fermentation is producing and dispensing beer. We reached out to founder and owner Mike Hinkley to see how things went and how Green Flash’s home-away-from-home compares to America’s Finest City.

West Coaster: How were the weekend’s opening festivities?
Mike Hinkley: Amazing!  The building is beautiful and the beer garden is essentially a City park attached to the brewery. Thousands and thousands of people showed up to welcome and support us at Treasure Chest Fest and the grand opening. Because it is the off-season for tourism there, it was all locals. It felt so good to finally get together with them and share the excitement.

gfva_02WC: What is the Virginia Beach beer-scene like?
MH: Virginia Beach’s culture is very much like San Diego’s, a beach city with big tourism, big military and strong local community culture. But the craft culture and beer scene are really just a few years—rather than decades—old, so it is very different in that regard. The fun part is that the excitement and interest are so high. People are so interested to learn about all of the unconventional beer that we make and are excited for all of the a-ha moments that come along with drinking San Diego beer.

WC: What new goals and opportunities are you looking to realize with the East Coast facility?
MH: We sell about one-third of our beer on the East Coast. We expect it to grow even faster now that we offer regional pricing and have an amazing regional connection point for East Coast customers at Virginia Beach. I think we might do as much as 40,000 barrels from Virginia Beach in 2017, and then grow from there. More important than the numbers is becoming part of the craft-beer community, and sharing in the good times that come through connecting with people.

gfva_01WC: In opening the new facility, what sort of on-site customer-experience were you looking to provide, and did lessons learned from your San Diego tasting rooms prove helpful?
MH: Our San Diego tasting room is a great meeting place. We care so much about the customer experience and we think every customer feels it. We bring that same over-arching approach to Virginia Beach. In Virginia Beach, we have more space, so we are able to have a separate events area, and a much, much bigger beer garden. Those are great advantages, but only important if we have the same dedication to making every customer experience awesome.

WC: What is on the horizon for Green Flash?
MH: We will take the rest of the year to put the finishing touches on Virginia Beach. Then we will continue to be Green Flash—ignore the beaten path, and wander off into the adventurous and unknown. I have no doubt there will lots of opportunity for excitement.

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Meet Alta Brewing Company

Nov 9

alta-logoA quartet that seems well-fitted for erecting and operating a successful brewery is looking to do just that in Barrio Logan. Currently in planning, that business will go by the name Alta Brewing Company and be located in the Bread and Salt building on Julian Avenue just east of the Interstate 5 freeway. That venue is being converted into an art-centric hub for the fast-gentrifying neighborhood. Three of the aforementioned founders will be putting their skills to use on this project—John Bull, owner of general contractor Blueprint Contracting, Josh Gliko of structural engineering firm Shop Engineering, and Branded Woodworks co-owner and operator Mike Franck. But who will do the brewing? Answer: Brett Stampf.

brettstampfStampf started his brewing career 20 years ago and has the likes of Stone Brewing, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and Green Flash Brewing Company on his résumé, as well as a stint as the opening head-brewer for La Jolla Brewing Company. Since departing the latter, Stampf has focused his attention on the Alta project. As such, the game-plan for that brewery, which aims to be open by spring of 2017, is more developed than most in-progress brewing interests.

Stampf expects to brew five core-beers capable of satisfying a wide-ranging array of palates—a golden ale brewed with English yeast, a dry-hopped brown ale, San Diego-style pale ale with “old-school” hops, an India pale ale and a dry Irish-style stout. Armed with a five-barrel system, the goal will not be to flood the market with these beers via distribution, but rather supply the on-site tasting room while ramping up to service future satellite, sampling-only venues. Stampf estimates he can keep up to two such spots in beer with his system, and his team has identified North Park and Chula Vista as particularly attractive communities.

Originally, the founders considered pursuing the traditional craft-brewery model—a 15-barrel brewhouse with 30- and 60-barrel fermenters and distribution as a primary revenue-source. In the end, following the footsteps of Stampf’s previous employers (including La Jolla Brewing, which is attempting to graduate to greater distribution) wasn’t what they wanted. So they are opting to stay ultra-local. The financial risk is lower, as is the stress-level for Stampf.

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