Many are the local entrepreneurs who have fallen in love with the idea of brewing at the historic Mission Brewery Plaza. Located in the City of San Diego’s Five Points neighborhood, it is easily accessible from Little Italy, Old Town, Mission Hills, Hillcrest and Point Loma, and a stone’s throw from San Diego International Airport. Numerous interests have called it home: Mission Brewery, Five Points Brewing Company, New English Brewing Company, Coronado Brewing Company and its current resident, Acoustic Ales Brewing Experiment. The latter is on its way out, opting to move north to build a larger facility in Carlsbad, making way for a new business to make a home at this historic site, Latchkey Brewing Company.
Founded by brothers in law with a dream, and now a brewery, Latchkey is in a holding pattern while Acoustic completes work on its future North County facility, but is hoping to debut to the public in spring of 2018. They figure taking over the brewery should be relatively simple given the turnkey nature of things. There is a chance the two businesses may actually share the production component depending on how everything shakes out, which is important because Latchkey intends to brew and distribute out of the gate.
As far as the 3,000-square-foot tasting room, ownership wants to overhaul it so the venue is 100% Latchkey from a branding standpoint. This is likely to take a significant amount of time, especially considering the amount of updating the owners have planned. While they appreciate the classic industrial brick-and-timber architecture, they want to add a variety of modern, clean finishes. Aware of the hundreds of workers occupying the 50,000 square feet of office space making up the remainder of Mission Brewery Plaza, plus an attached apartment complex, they will also construct a full-scale kitchen so Latchkey can offer light breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack options as added enticements. Private event space will be offered as well.
Latchkey’s brewing team will be headed by a veteran who has worked at numerous established breweries. He and his brother-in-law plan to explore the lighter side of the beer spectrum, while also satiating San Diegans’ thirst for hop-forward beers. Their portfolio of American and international styles will lead with American “banquet beer”, Japanese-, Mexican- and German-style lagers, plus session English-style ales, augmented by hoppy lagers and, of course, India pale ales. Those beers will be produced on a 15-barrel system feeding into 15- and 30-barrel fermenters and a mixed array of bright tanks.
When asked about the inspiration behind the company’s names, the owners say that they were latchkey kids in the ‘70s, but there’s more to it than that. While a typical latchkey kid comes home to an empty residence, these brewery owners to be say they are stepping outside the comfort zone of their careers to enter a new industry, unsupervised and left to their own devices. As they put it, that’s what makes the whole thing fun.
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.
From the Beer Writer: I’m going to be frank. I am sickened by the rise of senseless violence plaguing our country. Gays, blacks, Muslims, cops and the homeless have all been recent targets for the world’s most pathetic type of people—those who lack regard for human-life. Whether bigots drunk with power, zealots driven by warped piousness or scrambled-brain lunatics, perpetrators of the recent murders filling our news-feeds are making it hard to see all the good that exists in our world. That’s why this week’s featured beer, Hillcrest / Karl Strauss All You Need Is Love is so important. Conceived by members of LGBTQ-run entity Hillcrest Brewing Company and brewed with Karl Strauss Brewing Company brewmaster Paul Segura, this hoppy session red ale shows support for victims of the Pulse Nightclub shootings that took place in Orlando, Florida last month, raising money for survivors and the families of the lost. When news of this collaboration came out, a large number of other San Diego County breweries joined in this project, brewing up beers under the same name to start a full-fledged movement to raise more money and counteract the hatred behind that massacre (a full list of participating operations is included below). The beers are available at each brewery’s tasting room, but will be showcased en masse Thursday, July 21 at Monkey Paw Pub and Brewery in the East Village during a special keep-the-pint-night featuring a commemorative glass decorated with the All You Need Is Love logo. It is efforts like these that help us to remember the immense love, understanding and goodness that is not only present in our society, but rules it. Yes, racism, hate and stupid people will always exist, but it’s important to remember that the majority of us accept everyone, regardless of their gender, race, social-status, political affiliation or sexual orientation. That’s something that can’t be silenced no matter how many gun-toting hatemongers channel their frustration into homicidal endeavors. As evidenced by All You Need Is Love, such hideous acts only serve to galvanize the populace in support of our brothers and sisters of all walks of life, and remind us of how precious life—every life—is. And how precious love—all love—is. That’s something I will toast with every sip of this very special, rainbow-colored family of beers.
From the Brewers: “The beer is a hoppy session red ale, one that we were fortunate enough to brew with a few different breweries. We immediately reached out to Paul at Karl Strauss. He’s an incredible brewer and an even better guy. His input, ideas on how to proceed and reputation brought this project to a whole new level. Adding our friends at Gordon Biersch was another huge honor, as brewmaster Doug Hasker is a legend in his own right. As someone who is relatively new to the San Diego beer scene, it was a great experience to be able to sit down for a pint with those two guys at the same table and hear them talk about beer. The more we reached out to people, the more we realized that this entire community was stoked on the idea. Initially, we wanted to be physically involved with each beer, but it grew to a point where we just didn’t have enough hours in a week to be able to directly brew these beers with everyone. One day, I helped mash out at three different breweries. It’s been a humbling experience and during a time where my faith in humanity has been severely shaken, it’s truly been a large breath of fresh air.”—Clinton Shaver, Assistant Brewer, Hillcrest Brewing Company
Participating Breweries: 2Kids Brewing Company, AleSmith Brewing Company, Amplified Ale Works, Bagby Beer Company, Belching Beaver Brewery, Border X Brewing Company, ChuckAlek Independent Brewers, Duck Foot Brewing Company, Gordon Biersch, Hillcrest Brewing Company, Intergalactic Brewing Company, Karl Strauss Brewing Company, Mission Brewery, Second Chance Beer Company, South Park Brewing Company, Wavelength Brewing Company
I am as guilty as anybody who truly loves to write. Being fans of language and constantly in search of the most interesting way to communicate something (regardless of how verbose…sorry faithful reader), I’ve been known to go on and on about the aesthetics of a venue, subjecting those who consume my prose to paragraph upon paragraph of adjectives, quips and word-play that, in my case, usually comes in the form of puns and alliteration. All of this eventually leads to the all-important question: But how does it taste? It’s true, I can talk about how a brewery or restaurant looks and feels until I’m blue in the tips of my keyboard-striking fingers, but what you’re mostly here for is to find out how good (or otherwise) the beer and food being served at these places is. The last time I was at recently opened The Brew Project (3683 Fifth Avenue, Hillcrest), all I talked about was the suped-up house structure the business occupies. This time around, we’ll focus on the bar-and-restaurant’s food, drink and promise to provide “a San Diego brewery tour under one roof.”
Let’s tackle that last one first. In all my time writing about San Diego beer, something that means far more to me than it probably should (it’s a legitimate obsession), I doubt I’ve come across anyone who is not in the beer industry but cares as much about every brewery in our county as much as Beau Schmitt. Two years ago, Schmitt founded The SD Beer Project, a bar offering 31 taps, all outfitted with beers from different San Diego breweries. And we’re not talking the ubiquitous Sculpin, Arrogant Bastard, Speedway Stout and West Coast IPA. Far from it. Schmitt reveled in showcasing one-offs, rare styles and hybrids from the tiniest of nanobreweries and furthest flung of the no-namers. He was such a champion for these operations that he would often email me to tell me when a brewery I’d panned in my reviews seemed to have improve so I could come check them out at his place or pay that business another visit. Now that’s devotion unlike any I’ve seen from anyone trying to make money in the bar business.
That business has since closed, but Schmitt has moved on to create the beer program for the Gaslamp Quarter’s Quad Ale House and, now, this full-on eatery version of his previous concept, where he is once again spotlighting as many local breweries as possible. But is drinking there really like taking a tour of the county’s ale- and lager-makers? That’s a tall order. The answer is yes. I showed up on a random night and there were beers from all four corners of the county—Kali Kush sagebrush pale ale from Oceanside’s Breakwater Brewing, Archives 1933 Milk Stout (nitro) from ChuckAlek Independent Brewers in Ramona, a pair of lagers from Coronado Brewing Company and a coffee-studded version of East Coast brewpub URBN St. Brewing’s Mazagran Triple Brown. Plenty of other breweries, most small- and medium-sized interests, provided infill covering San Marcos, Vista, Poway, Scripps Ranch, Miramar, Kearny Mesa, Grantville, North Park and more. What was missing were beers from Stone Brewing Co., Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits and Saint Archer Brewery that one can order nearly anywhere. The Brew Project sums up what a brewery tour in San Diego is really all about these days—finding something new to love, not going back to the same old thing (though there’s nothing wrong with that).
And it would seem that Schmitt’s brewery-touring adventures end much like mine do…with food that is decadent, filling and leans toward the realms of slow-cooked meat and SoCal-style Mexican influence. Read: carne asada fries. I’m more of a nachos-with-everything guy, but crispy potatoes are more than fine. The Brew Project’s iteration of this classic, sinful San Diego dish is gussied up visually, but my favorite part about it was the quickly browning guacamole. That seems an odd compliment, but I knew that creamy and delicious condiment was real and free of preservatives, something you can’t always count on, especially when you opt to get your guac’ outside of a taco shop. TBP’s carne asada is cut small but potent in its saltiness and a salsa made from grilled tomatoes adds nice zest. Mac’ and cheese, a staple of any hip resto these days, is not only nice, but thanks to a four-dollar addition of chorizo and roasted pasilla chilies, different from the versions being served all over town. My only knock was that it could use some salt. And if you’re looking for the imperial stout version of a sandwich, look no further than the Havana, which is packed with tender, shredded, slow-roasted pork, Applewood-smoked bacon and Swiss. This take on a Cuban sandwich trades in the classic pickled cucumbers for pickled zucchini. I was skeptic, but they are tangy and more substantial than cukes. I think I might even prefer them.
So, plenty of local beer—better yet, local beers that are more obscure—an abundance of food that is of good quality and plentitude, and a cozy, domesticated spot to enjoy them both. This project is a success in this writer’s book.