With 28 years under their belt, the folks at Karl Strauss Brewing Company have done a great deal: opening San Diego proper’s first post-Prohibition Era brewery, building the county’s largest network of brewpubs, contract brewing out-of-state and later bringing fermentation operations back to America’s Finest City, building venues in Orange County and Los Angeles. They could have rested on their laurels or become stagnant at any point, but founders Chris Cramer and Matt Rattner continue to look for ways to innovate and identify new revenue streams. The latest example of that is Karl Strauss’ recent establishment of its own distribution arm.
The company has been laying the framework for a distributorship for several years, but recently launched delivery of beers from its first two distributed brands, new Oceanside-based business Black Plague Brewing Company and Grantville’s four-year-old Benchmark Brewing Company. The latter’s Orange County launch took place last week, though Karl Strauss had been in talks with Benchmark for well over a year.
“We’re expanding on our on-premise, self-distribution network in San Diego and Orange County to now include a select group of local, independent breweries,” says Mark Weslar, Karl Strauss’ vice president of marketing. “Delivering our own beers on-premise has helped us develop an expertise selling to and servicing local bars and restaurants. We look forward to helping some brewery friends build their business.”
The first San Diego County brewery to go from brewing to manufacturing and distributing not only its own beers but those of fellow local brands was Stone Brewing. Founders Greg Koch and Steve Wagner often cite that as a key moment in the company’s history, and a business move that kept Stone from going out of business. After having many doors slammed in their face by distributors unwilling to take a chance on their new, small operation, they decided to do it themselves. In opening Stone Distributing Co. in the late-nineties, they brought aboard brands such as AleSmith Brewing and Coronado Brewing, later adding brands from across the country as well as numerous international brewing companies. Today, that entity is responsible for distribution of 44 brands—that like Karl Strauss’ portfolio are all independent—throughout Southern California.
Karl Strauss has no immediate plans to bring on additional brands, but plans to be selective when they do, focusing on local and independent interests representing a partnership that would make sense for all parties involved. Says Weslar, “It’s an exciting new venture, but it’s also business as usual here at Karl Strauss with all of us maintaining our focus on making, selling and distributing great beer.”
Summer’s in full swing and so is San Diego’s beer-drinking public. Rather than beat the heat, get right out in it and combat it with local ales and lagers at any of the featured events below. Still thirsty? No problem. Check out even more beery happenings on our events page.
July 11 | Beer Dinner No. 2: North Park Beer’s first beer dinner was impressive, enough that one attendee, O’Brien’s Pub’s Tyson Blake, signed up him and his boss, Nickel Beer Co. brewmaster Tom Nickel, to participate in this month’s feast, which will feature house, guest and collab beers plus fare from on-site Mastiff Sausage that goes beyond its everyday meaty fare. | North Park Beer Company, 3038 University Avenue, North Park, 7 p.m.
July 19 | Hop-Con 5.0: Stone Brewing will celebrate a half-decade of boozy, (partially) barrel-aged beer that salutes and speaks to nerds of all walks of life when it taps five consecutive vintages of Drew Curtis / Wil Wheaton / Greg Koch Stone Farking Wheaton w00tstout and an immense list of specialty brews, serves up gourmet food and plugs in its vintage #HopCade. | Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station, 2816 Historic Decatur Road, Point Loma, 7 p.m.
July 21-23 | Craft Beer Block Party: The tenants of the North Park Brewery Igniter campus—Eppig Brewing, Pariah Brewing and San Diego Brewing—are teaming up for the first time to present a fun weekend that will feature a Friday-night progressing beer-pairing dinner featuring three courses from Biersal Food Truck, and a two-day “local maker’s market”. | CRAFT by Brewery Igniter, 3052 El Cajon Boulevard; North Park, Times Vary by Day
July 29 | Arts & Amps: Ales and art in multiple forms will be celebrated at Karl Strauss Brewing’s PB tasting room and beer garden. There’ll be live mural art by Cohort Collective, a gallery show from Creative Souls on the West, live music by The Schizophonics and Creature Canyon, and food from Tasting Room Del Mar. An event like this could be pricey, but admission is free! | Karl Strauss Brewing Company, 5985 Santa Fe Street, Pacific Beach, 4:30 p.m.
July 29 | HESSFEST 7: Mike Hess Brewing has been getting by with a little help from their friends for a whopping seven years. Breweries from here to Arizona come out to bolster this festival, which benefits Next Step Service Dogs and the YMCA, and will feature nine collaboration beers with the likes of Council Brewing, Eppig Brewing, and Second Chance Beer Company. | Mike Hess Brewing, 3812 Grim Avenue, North Park, 12 p.m.
Mere hours ago, Mitch Steele exited a plane in Germany en route to attend the industry debut of Stone Brewing Berlin, a project he had a big hand in bringing to life. The first large-scale American-owned and operated craft brewery in Europe, it has to be up there on Steele’s list of accomplishments while serving as brewmaster for the tenth-largest U.S. craft brewing company. But it will not be the last big thing he helps breathe life into. This morning, Steele provided the first tidbits of information on the new opportunity that prompted him to leave Stone in June.
Steele is teaming with beer-industry professionals Carey Falcone and Bob Powers (the chief executive officer and chief sales and marketing officer, respectively, for American Beerworks) to construct a brewpub at 820 Ralph McGill Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia. Located in the Beltline area, a former railway corridor that is rapidly taking on a second mixed-use life, the facility is scheduled to open in 2017.
Said Steele via a press-release, “I’ve enjoyed a wonderful career in craft brewing and I am excited for this next chapter in Atlanta. I had an amazing time at Stone and I am very thankful for my experience there. Now, I am looking forward to the opportunity to become part of the growing craft beer movement in Atlanta and the Southeast.”
The team foretells of a “unique brewpub concept”, promising more details down the line. Multiple sources have shared that the brewery within the Atlanta brewpub will be rather large, and capable of producing enough beer to supply multiple offshoots of this yet-to-be-named concept. According to those sources, those satellite locations will be strategically located along the East Coast. Confirmed details about the flagship Atlanta brewpub are that it will have a rooftop bar and outdoor beer-garden. Brewery tours and home-brewing classes will be offered to the public, as well.
Last year, Stone Brewing CEO Greg Koch, the more outspoken of the two founders of the country’s tenth largest craft-brewery, announced the company was embarking on a search for a new chief executive officer. At the time, he cited the need to find a CEO with qualifications greater than his and experience to help grow a company that is worlds larger than when he and president (and original brewmaster) Steve Wagner went into business in 1996. After nearly a year of interviewing candidates, Stone has selected Dominic Engels as its new CEO.
Engels’s most recent experience includes more than 11 years with The Wonderful Company, culminating in his role as president of POM Wonderful. While with that organization, he held several leadership positions, which included time spent living and working abroad in Waterloo, Belgium, while running European and Middle East operations for POM and Wonderful Pistachios. Before that, he was global head of marketing for Wonderful Pistachios and Almonds and, prior to Wonderful, Engel worked in the golf industry, management consulting and retail. He has no beer-industry experience.
Once Engels is on-board (his first day will be September 6), Koch says he will be “heading upstairs”. Translation: he is being promoted to the role of “executive chairman”. The specifics about this newly established box on Stone’s organizational chart have yet to be disclosed, however, Koch has stated on numerous occasions that he plans to be more removed from operations, particularly the business’ day-to-day. This would seem consistent with a slow distancing that has taken place over the past year-plus as the company nears completion of its Berlin brewery and restaurant. Koch has spent a great deal of time fostering that project in Europe while also making periodic visits to Stone’s new Richmond, Va.-based East Coast brewery.
From the Beer Writer: The writer in me who loves the intricacies of our language, gets an almost unrivaled kick out of wordplay. Applying it in the brewing industry, where hop puns and such run rampant, is a lot of fun. Often, it’s marketing personnel who come up with these clever gems (or poxes on liquor-store shelves depending on one’s opinions on such things), but back during my days at Stone, former brewmaster Mitch Steele employed a beer-name that not only referenced the company, but yielded an inventive recipe as well. Steele suggested combining Citra hops and local avocado honey in a double India pale ale, then calling that beer “Citracado” IPA as a nod to the street that’s home to Stone’s Escondido brewery and packaging hall. We all loved the idea immediately and there were plans for it to serve as Stone’s anniversary ale at least once, but it took nearly three years to come to fruition. In the end, it’s rather fitting that this beer serve as liquid commemoration of two decades in the brewing business. Stone 20th Anniversary Citracado IPA embodies the brewery’s hop-forward, often high-alcohol (9% alcohol-by-volume, in this case) style while incorporating an authentically “Escondidian” ingredient. Citrus flavors come on strong but are balanced nicely by a sturdy malt backbone that tastes more and more of that sweet, earthy bee nectar the more the beer warms up.
From the Brewer: “The recipe for Stone 20th Anniversary Citracado IPA has been alive for about three years. I came up with the idea as we were brewing the Suede Imperial Porter with Tonya Cornett from 10 Barrel Brewing and Megan Parisi, who at the time was with Bluejacket in Washington, DC (she is now a research brewer for The Boston Beer Company). In that collaboration beer, we used jasmine and calendula flowers as well as avocado honey. I had bought some avocado honey a few months earlier at a farmer’s market, and found that it was so delicious, rich and fully flavored that I thought it would be perfect in a beer. Plus, I thought it would pair really well with jasmine flowers. During the brew day for Suede, we tasted the honey and I immediately realized it would be great to also use it for an IPA recipe. That’s when I had the ‘a-ha’ moment: If we used Citra as the primary hop, we could then call it Citracado IPA and really have something cool that provided a nice tie-in to the address of Stone’s Escondido brewery–1999 Citracado Parkway. Unfortunately, we never had enough Citra hops contracted to use it for a Stone Anniversary Ale, as the success of Stone Go To IPA and Stone Enjoy By IPA set us back a few years. This year, we finally had enough Citra hops to pull it off. It also turned out to be one of the last beers I formulated at Stone, and I am really excited about it!”–Mitch Steele, former Brewmaster, Stone Brewing