The “South Bay Uprising”—an influx of banded-together breweries and beer-centric venues spanning Chula Vista to Barrio Logan—has been picking up steam for years. Last weekend, the most formidable beer-making member of that growing movement opened its doors after two years of construction on downtown Chula Vista’s main drag, Third Avenue. Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing Company (259 Third Avenue, Chula Vista) has brought its ambitious vision for a multi-story brewery and tasting room simultaneously celebrating anarchic rock and the city its founders call home. In doing so, it’s given the community the type of business it can rally behind and build upon.
When we first met the Chula Vistans behind this business, they were renting space at Santee’s Butcher’s Brewing (since renamed to Finest Made Ales) to create their first batches of mostly-hoppy beers, but their dream was to secure space to make an artisanal impact on their home turf. They were able to do so in 2015 when they secured the building that formerly housed The Highlander. A rare basement-equipped structure it was first coveted by Fall Brewing Company, but elevated enthusiasm and hometown espirit de corps inspired the landlord to opt for Thr3e Punk Ales. At last weekend’s friends-and-family pre-open party, the landlord felt vindicated in that decision and bullish on the future of Third Avenue’s business district with the debut of Thr3e Punk Ales as well as the impending arrival of a tasting room for Santee-based Groundswell Brewing Company in another of his properties across the street, and the recent opening of Chula Vista Brewery on the same block.
While Bay Bridge Brewing Company and Novo Brazil Brewing Company have been making beer in Chula Vista for years, quality has been an issue and neither are centrally located enough to make the number of impressions and aid in revitalization the way Thr3e Punk Ales can. In addition to being smack dab in the middle of downtown, Thr3e Punk Ales is an attractive space with a fully conveyed thematic. The north wall is covered from basement to ceiling in a punk rock collage intermingled with iconic imagery. Tour poster artwork from the likes of Suicidal Tendencies, Bad Religion, the Sex Pistols and Dead Kennedys share space with the logos of Thr3e Punk Ales and the City of Chula Vista and the original Highlander sign augmented by the anarchy “A” utilized in the brewery’s wordmark. The brewhouse and fermenter tanks jut up from the basement into the tasting room opposite an L-shaped bar flanked by a roll-down screen illuminated by a ceiling-mounted projector. Rail bars line the north and roll-up garage door-equipped west side of the tasting room while a large wooden table provides a second, more communal seating option.
The opening beer list consisted of five offerings. Of them, the hoppy stock—what the company made its name on in its fledgling period—was the best. Needle in the Hey double IPA has the nose of a dispensary with flavors of clementine, melon, orange zest and pine resin. While it isn’t heavy, it is purposely sweet in a nod to old-school imperial IPAs. Conversely, their 6.5% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) IPA Hole has intense mango-and-papaya-like hop-bite up front and a sharp yet tacky finish. Morning After Pilz has such vibrant hop character it almost blots out its Pilsner foundation, but as its first-pour chill wears off, a bit of honey-ish earhiness and yeast character enter into the equation. A Mexican-style lager and 9.5% ABV imperial stout with flavors evocative of bittersweet chocolate, coffee and cinnamon bark round out the menu. Both would benefit from added carbonation, but taste nice and provide increased variety.
Overall, this much-anticipated project has made good on its intentions to bring a vibrant business in line with current trends and San Diego’s craft-beer scene to downtown Chula Vista. It will be interesting to see how a community less indoctrinated and inundated on the independent beer front will react, but if any brewery in the area has a chance to change the tastes of the city’s denizens, it’s this one.
Last week, while touring the operating breweries in San Diego’s South Bay communities, my party and I took a moment to visit the future home of Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing Company. Located on Chula Vista’s downtown thoroughfare, Third Avenue, it is the first brewery located smack dab in the heart of the municipality.
Even gutted and devoid of any resemblance to what it will become—except for the pitch-black exterior, which will remain given how perfectly it fits in with the company’s anarchist, punk-rock motif—it looks darn good, as does its future. A lot of the optimism has to do with the City of Chula Vista and the lengths it is going to help out Thr3e Punk Ales’ ownership.
In addition to welcoming the business with open arms and making the early stages of setting up shop as easy as possible, they have advocated on behalf of Thr3e Punk Ales with the property owner. The landlord has also been extremely helpful, putting a good number of tenant improvements in that will ultimately lead to a better finished product.
The total utilizable square-footage of the building is 5,100-square-feet. This includes a 2,700-square-foot main floor—900 of which will be devoted to the tasting room—and 2,400-square-foot basement (additional area is available one flight above ground-level, but not immediately). The underground section will house a 10-barrel brewhouse, five 20-barrel fermenters, a 20-foot-by-25-foot cold-box, quality-control laboratory, pilot brew system, dry storage and administrative offices. There will also be additional dry-storage and cold-box space upstairs.
As far as public areas go, the front of the building (which used to house numerous businesses including a menswear store, and surf-and-skate shop) currently sports a sign reading The Highlander. The City would like to see that sign preserved and utilized in some way. Thr3e Punk Ales will hang it in an inventive spot inside the tasting room. Holes will be cut in the floor of the main floor, allowing the fermentation tanks to protrude into the side of the room opposite the bar. The Highlander sign will go directly above the tanks.
A portion of the front of the building’s façade on the first floor will be cut-away to create a roll-up entrance looking out onto Third Avenue. And out back is a 30-to-40-space parking lot owned by Thr3e Punk Ales’ landlord—quite the bonus. The plan is to provide a dedicated space for a food-truck in the lot to keep food part of the equation for patrons.
Thr3e Punk Ales is estimating a fall target of September or October for its debut. Currently, its beer is on tap around town, including numerous locations in the South Bay, thanks to an alternating-proprietorship relationship with Santee’s Butcher’s Brewing.