Breweries make the best margin by far when selling their beer in their taprooms. With a county expansive as San Diego, getting customers to a single location can be a challenge, but the satellite tasting room model—one where a brewery opens a non-brewing sampling space in a geographically removed community—has proven quite successful in helping brewing companies reach new customers, move inventory and generate additional revenue. Many satellites have been sent into orbit throughout the county in recent years, and quite a few are in different states of planning at present. Here is a breakdown of such projects by the neighborhoods they may someday call home.
Bay Park: As announced earlier this week, Grantville-based Benchmark Brewing Company has signed a lease on a space. The family-run business had been exploring the prospect of opening a satellite in Oceanside, but ultimately decided to stay within the City of San Diego.
Carlsbad: A collective of artisans will someday share space with crops of produce, wine grapes and hops at the North 40 development. Numerous tenants have been reeled in over the past two years (and many have walked away), but Miramar’s AleSmith Brewing Company and Carmel Mountain’s Second Chance Beer Company are signed up, with the former hoping to sell house-made cheese with its beer.
Chula Vista: Fresh off the high of moving into Twisted Manzanita Ales’ former production brewery (and distillery) in Santee, Groundswell Brewing Company is working to open a sampling space on downtown Chula Vista’s main drag, Third Avenue…right across the street from soon-to-debut Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing Company.
Encinitas: Though a community that’s openly resisted brewery-owned venues, this beachy berg has two breweries slogging against the tide for space on Coast Highway 101: Point Loma’s Modern Times Beer Company (across from La Paloma Theatre) and Solana Beach’s Culture Brewing Company (next to Bier Garden of Encinitas).
Marina District: Developers have spent the better part of the past year curating a list of breweries to share space at The Headquarters at Seaport Village. Planned as a central courtyard surrounded by six identical yet uniquely appointed brewery tasting rooms, it has proven challenging for a variety of reasons, but would create a concept unique to San Diego.
Normal Heights: Longtime craft-beer champion Blind Lady Ale House will soon have some sudsy company in their ‘hood care of Miramar-based Little Miss Brewing, which is hard at work on two fun-and-games equipped tasting rooms within San Diego proper.
North Park: Another interest with two satellites in the works is Second Chance, who recently revealed plans to open a tasting room on 30th Street in North Park, across the street from popular beer-bar Toronado and doors down from the site of Ritual Kitchen, which announced last week that it will soon shut its doors after 10 years in business.
Ocean Beach: Little Miss Brewing’s other upcoming satellite will join the county’s most tasting room-dense community, on the same block as Belching Beaver Brewery, Culture, Helm’s Brewing Company and Kilowatt Brewing Company; and a short walk from OB Brewery and Pizza Port OB; and a quick drive from Mike Hess Brewing Company’s sampler.
Pacific Beach: Downtown’s Mission Brewery is geared to cash in on partygoers’ thirst for beer, installing a tasting room on Garnet Avenue where it intersects with Gresham Street. PB is currently without a brewery satellite after Twisted Manzanita’s closed down when the company folded last year.
Last week, I wrote about four upcoming brewing companies showing the greatest potential for success (in my personal estimation). I kept my focus on projects located in the northern half of San Diego. Today, I’ve panned to the county’s southern half, and the many new breweries and brewery-owned venues currently in the works.
Eppig Brewing Company, North Park: There’s a generational gap between the current regime heading the revival of this legacy interest, but familial pride and a brewing team hailing from billion-dollar baby Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits should make for a solid mix of beers, running the full spectrum from hoppy West-Coast ales and more outlandish, modern creations to the traditional lagers that formed the basis of the original Eppig Brewing’s portfolio and allowed the business to boom in New York from the mid-1800s to 1935. This reboot is scheduled to open the first week of November at the new Brewery Igniter complex on El Cajon Boulevard in North Park.
Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing Company, Chula Vista: What started as brew-buds and business partners renting time on Butchers Brewing’s (since re-concepted to Finest Made Ales) Santee brewhouse is being grown into a full-on business that will call a three-story building (if you count the brewery and barrel-storage base-floor in the cellar) in downtown Chula Vista home. This operation’s brews have been decently distributed and mostly well received over the past year-plus, and should only get better once the brewers have their very own machinery and all the time in the world with which to utilize it.
Pariah Brewing Company, North Park: Local brewer Brian Mitchell spent the first years of his career toiling away executing the agendas of owners he didn’t see eye-to-eye with at (now closed) La Jolla Brew House and Helm’s Brewing Company, before becoming part of the small-batch brewing team at Stone Brewing. Now, he’s hammering out the final phases of his very own passion-project, one which will aim to churn out beers that please—and periodically challenge—drinkers’ palates. Mitchell will be neighbors with Eppig Brewing and fellow Brewery Igniter North Park tenants San Diego Brewing Company.
Barrel Rescue Brewing Company, Kearny Mesa: It’s one of the smallest and most unique “boutique” concepts being taken from fantasy to reality status currently, but it’s coming along nicely. A couple whose love of rescuing canines and penchant for beer brought them together have collected a wealth of used barrels from parts far-and-wide, for use in aging extremely small batches of various beers at their future home in Kearny Mesa. Governmental hoops are currently being leaped through, but already a lovely, contemporary outdoor patio has been erected, insuring a nice place to sample their eventual ales.
Known as much for its clever lighting design as its avant-garde beers, Kearny Mesa-based Kilowatt Beer is looking to bring both to the popular seaside community of Ocean Beach with a satellite tasting room being constructed under the internal project-name, Kilowatt West (1875 Cable Street, Ocean Beach). Intended to be inviting to all, including children and pets, the space is scheduled to open in early-2017.
The 1,800-square-foot building was built in the 1950s and previously occupied by a motorcycle repair shop. Two glass roll-up doors will be installed in the front of the building, but that’s where Kilowatt West’s adherence to the common tasting-room model will cut off. The back area, where repair bays were once located, will be converted into a lounge area with both permanent and rotating black-light installments. Co-owner Steve Kozyk envisions it as “black-light basement meets psychedelic art gallery.” The lounge area will be curated by a trio from The Ancient Gallery art-collective. Kozyk, a veteran of the illumination trade, will install the black-lights and some of his own kinetic art.
As far as design goes, the Kilowatt team will stay true to the original architecture and feel of the building to avoid being too much like the rapidly growing number of tasting-only brewery venues in the county. While the back-end will be purposely dark to allow the art to shine, the front area will be made bright thanks to natural light. That said, it will feature a number of interesting light fixtures courtesy of Kozyk. The tasting room will be outfitted with 20 taps, with the ability to add more should demand dictate a line expansion.
Located near the intersection of Newport Avenue and Cable Street, it will be very near existing offshoot sampling spaces for Culture Brewing Company and Helm’s Brewing Company. And just down the street is the newly opened OB Brewery and Pizza Port’s six-year-old OB brewpub. Kozyk is aware of the recent tasting-room boom in OB (which includes an existing venue from Mike Hess Brewing and a soon-to-debut spot from Belching Beaver Brewery), but says he actually chose this quirky community because it suits Kilowatt’s personality. It would seem black-lights and kinetic art will go well with neighbors like Stuff 2 Puff, tattoo parlors and certain “medicinal” outlets.
I recently had the perfect opportunity to revisit a brewery’s beers when Helm’s Brewing Company opened a new tasting room in Ocean Beach. Located on the corner of Newport Avenue and Cable Street, it’s the community’s third brewing company satellite to enter the coastal community’s orbit (with at least one more on the way from Belching Beaver Brewery), and is on the same block as OB OG, Culture Brewing Company. Yet, it’s enjoyed solid patronage in its first three weeks of business, engaging the eclectic mix of locals and tourists ownership hoped to reach in opening a venue far-removed from its Kearny Mesa industrial-park headquarters.
Outfitted with a main bar, several communal-style high-tables and seating at a rail-bar giving way to views of street (and some seriously juicy people-watching) care of roll-up garage doors, it’s smartly designed for the town it inhabits. When I was there, the east wall was pale-gray and unpopulated, but iconic San Diego photography, maps and a sailor’s helm were days from being hung to further punch up the interior. Even without it, the place looked good, especially with plenty of happy people of all ages (plus families and pets) populating it.
In the past, I have been mostly unimpressed by Helm’s beers. There are some gems such as flagship coffee stout, Beeruccino, and fellow dark standout Chocolate Night. But ales coming in on the lighter side have shown defects, enough that it had been years since I checked back in on some of them. One of those former offenders was Hop the RIPA, a red India pale ale that just never came together for me. I made a point of trying it when visiting the OB tasting room and found it to be significantly better. The flavor was much cleaner, there was more hop-presence and the beer was drier overall. It was a promising experience.
Other beers I enjoyed include En Garde, a Belgian-style biere de garde that I internally branded “bubbly dubbely” for its resemblance to a caramely Belgian dubbel and notes of yeast-born bubble-gum notes. Giving the beer more depth was a slight, enjoyable tartness that lifted the drinkability. A Belgian-style dark strong ale called Dark Waters tasted rather similar to En Garde, but its sweetness came through more like molasses than caramel. My favorite beer of the day was also of the Belgo ilk—Compass Rose. A Belgian-style IPA—one of my all-time least favorite styles, it should be noted—it was crisp with a bitter bite, a touch of that bubble-gum plus a touch of rosemary-like herbal quality. At 5.6%, it was the kind of beer I could drink several of, and likely would.
A double IPA dubbed Imperial Walker had big hops that mostly expressed themselves via back-end bitterness. A golden stout called Hispaniola had delicious coffee notes and perfectly coating mouthfeel care of oats and nitro-tap delivery, but was very sweet. Considering the “dessert” nature of this beer-style, the sugariness was acceptable, but if ever a beer was crying out for the earthy, drying nature of a touch of cinnamon, this is it. Sadly, Queenstown Kiwi, a session-beer nod to a friend working at the OB restaurant of the same name, smelled and tasted mostly of butter to me. Still, notable improvement in beer-quality paired well with a nice, inviting space even the most devout Ocean Beach locavores should be able to get behind.
RB and OB—what a difference one letter can make, both culturally and geographically. Much as I’d like to spend much more time in Ocean Beach more often, living in the inland North County Rancho Bernardo neighborhood makes my visits there far too infrequent. So, when a party for a friend bidding adieu to his OB residence came about, I used that as an excuse to check out a tasting room operated by Solana Beach-based Culture Brewing Company (4845 Newport Avenue, Ocean Beach). In doing so, I realized I wasn’t discovering something brand-new. Culture’s satellite space has been operational since November 2014, but it was new to me and my arrival there was long overdue.
A storefront hollowed out to provide unimpeded sights and sounds from inside the tasting room makes one want to be a part of the action. Inside, the square echo-y space is a tad dull, but livened up to some extent by colorful art lining one of the walls. With a good number of customers filling the place out, it is just fine, but were one to show up during a slow-period, it might seem stark. Most of the folks who were in the night I visited were standing, mostly because the seating options are extremely scarce. This seems like a bit of a miss, as does the configuration of the beer-board, which takes a bit of time to decipher—particularly if you’ve had a few. But the staff is nice and food delivery from nearby Newport Pizza and Ale House as well as next-door neighbor OB Warehouse is a fantastic bonus amenity.
I’ve historically enjoyed Culture beers, so for this visit I went with a spot-check, selecting one of my favorite of their beers, a style in keeping with current trends and San Diegans’ preferred tastes, and a beer that had just been put on the board and was being advertised at the counter. The latter was a Tart Cherry Wit that brought back a distinct flavor-memory from elementary school—cherry-flavored Now and Laters. The nose matched the candy exactly. The flavor was similar, but not as sweet. This was a good thing as it allowed the beer to remain refreshing. I’d imagine it’s quite the crowd-pleaser since this isn’t the first time they’ve offered the beer.
I was pleased that I enjoyed Sour Grape, a 3.8% alcohol-by-volume barrel-aged Berliner weisse of sorts with its fair share of funk. Big cherry and raspberry sweetness came through and lasted in the finish, and the body was just right for conveying all of that plus some nice, very faint grape mustiness.
Last up was Culture’s Mosaic IPA. Based off a very popular hop offering a great deal of tropicality, it’s a beer best judged directly against Karl Strauss Brewing Company’s Mosaic Session Ale. That beer is a hoppy standard-bearer that is arguably the best of Uncle Karl’s current portfolio. Culture’s is higher in ABV by about a point at 6.6%, which gives it a slightly thicker mouthfeel. It’s also much danker and down-and-dirty, but a bit muddled. The Mosaic doesn’t stand out for its individual merits, but the beer has a nice bitterness and will surely elicit smiles among the hop-head sect. All in all, the spot-check was a successful one. Culture’s quality is intact at its offshoot.
OB is also home to Pizza Port’s most southerly brewpub and a tasting room operated by North Park’s Mike Hess Brewing Company. And currently, at least three other brewing companies—Belching Beaver Brewery, Helm’s Brewing Company and an off-the-record nano—are closing on or searching for spots to install tasting rooms. And the long-awaited OB Brewery (a Newport Pizza off-shoot that’s been in the works for more than three years) looks to finally be close to opening (though ownership has neglected to answer press inquiries…for more than three years). Looks like I’m going to have to get down to this cool, quirky, coastal burg more often.