There may be no entrepreneurs better-suited to bring National City its very first local brewing company than the team behind Embarcadero Brewing (340 West 26th Street, Suite D, National City). A familial quartet of Hispanic military veterans who all hail from the South Bay, they bet big on beer back in early 2014 when they opened a homebrew supply shop, SoCal Brew Shop. Now they’re ready to double-down by getting into production and opening a tasting room. They know their surroundings and the tastes of their neighbors, ditto the predilections of the many Tijuana-based homebrew patrons they regularly service. Now, all they need is a final influx of capital, something they are hoping to achieve via a crowd-funding campaign currently underway.
Much of the Embarcadero teams funds were expended in their mission to bring a brewing interest to National City. The municipality lacked an ordinance to address a brewery facility, so City government tasked the quartet—Gustavo and Jorge Molina, Arturo and Marco Pena—with completing a conditional use permit (CUP), a task they describe as “arduous” and consumptive from both a time and money standpoint. But it was worth it. The National City Planning Commission passed the CUP last May, giving the Embarcadero team the green light to begin the process to obtain its ABC license.
In addition to feeling a deep-seeded connection to National City, these aspiring brewery owners have paid attention to the burgeoning beer scene in the South Bay. They realize that the surrounding coastal cities of Coronado, Chula Vista and Imperial Beach are all home to brewery-owned venues and feel placing one in National City will provide “the necessary handshake between the South Bay and the north.”
Despite having hoops to jump through before reaching brewery status, the Embarcadero crew has already served beer to the public at last year’s Best Coast Beer Fest. Their offerings that day were Fiesta IPA, an old-school India pale ale served with lime and a touch of sea salt, and a blonde ale sporting slices of organic strawberries. And while some purists may raise an eyebrow at the untraditional nature of those beers (or at least how they’re garnished), the beers tapped out and, “normal” or not, could do a decent job of converting a municipal population mostly unfamiliar with craft beer.
Embarcadero’s portfolio will consist of IPAs of varying strengths, a Vienna lager, brown and red ales. Again, not your everyday San Diego line-up, but the Embarcadero team is confident in its knowledge of local palates and ability to appeal to them. The plan is to contract brew at Chula Vista’s Bay Bridge Brewing, initially packaging exclusively in kegs with a plan to start bottling soon after. But first, they need to open. Should they meet their crowdfunding goals, they hope to open sometime this summer.
Twice a year, I assess the work-in-progress brewing-company-owned projects throughout San Diego County and offer my thoughts on those that appear to have the most promise. This is the first post in a series of four, broken down by geography. This time around we’ll start with the southern part of the county, which for the first time since I began this bi-annual practice, is home to the most interesting trio of under-development venues anywhere.
TapRoom Beer Company | 2000 El Cajon Boulevard, North Park: The brothers behind Pacific Beach craft-beer-bar stalwart SD TapRoom will go from procuring and slinging ales and lagers to manufacturing them once their two-story North Park brewpub is constructed. That structure will have a fully visible brewhouse as well as a wealth of outdoor seating, but what gives it its best shot at instant success is the fact Bill Batten, a veteran of AleSmith Brewing Company and Mikkeller Brewing San Diego, will be in charge of beermaking operations.
Coronado Brewing Company | 535 Florence Street, Imperial Beach: As if acquiring Monkey Paw Brewing, helping its ex-head brewer launch SouthNorte Brewing and installing a kitchen at its Bay Park headquarters weren’t enough irons to have in the proverbial fire, CBC is constructing a brewpub within its half of IB’s Bikeway Village development. Proven brewing prowess and a prime location that will turn the heads of local and tourist pedestrians and bike-riders are big positives this veteran brewery operation should be able to build on.
Kairoa Brewing | 4601 Park Boulevard, University Heights: The team of New Zealanders behind Red House Pizza has taken over a neighboring building on the corner of Park and Madison Avenue and is in the process of converting it to a two-story brewpub that will serve a wide range of beer styles alongside cuisine with Kiwi appeal (think meat pies and sausage rolls) plus vegetarian and vegan fare. Though home to numerous watering holes, this will be University Heights’ first source for beer made within the neighborhood.
The craft-brewing industry is in a state of flux, forcing companies within it to reexamine their business models and, in the case of larger operations, alter them in order to thrive or, in some cases survive. Larger operations such as Stone Brewing, Green Flash Brewing and Karl Strauss Brewing have all had to adjust course as consumer preferences shift to smaller, local, independent breweries, and active consumer demographics begin to skew toward younger factions, many of which have only ever drunk craft beer. It’s to be expected of interests that are among the country’s 50 largest brewing companies. Though it is considerably smaller and, at its heart still a family-run business, Coronado Brewing Company has been quite vigilant over the past several years, keeping an eye on the rapidly changing market and making moves to weather an uncertain storm. The latest of those moves includes today’s announcement that CBC will purchase East Village-based brand Monkey Paw Brewing. Owner Scot Blair‘s other businesses, South Park Brewing and Hamiltons Tavern, are not part of the deal.
Blair has had lofty aspirations for his beer-making business since opening it in 2011, but was not satisfied with progress toward increased production and distribution. He examined a number of options for meeting those goals, including acquisition, but says he wouldn’t have sold to just anybody. A stalwart figure within the craft-beer world for more than a decade, Blair knows the industry and the individuals within it, and says it was his long-standing respect for and friendship with CBC owners Ron and Rick Chapman that distinguished this as the right move for him and his business. Another key factor is control. Blair has a vision for Monkey Paw and its beers, and will remain intimately involved with the brand, focusing solely on beer—conceptualization and growth of the entire portfolio.
This deal is reminiscent of Green Flash’s 2014 acquisition of Alpine Beer Company. That move allowed for increased production of Alpine beers at Green Flash’s much-larger brewing facilities. Likewise, Monkey Paw, which produced less than 700 barrels last year, will now have the majority of its beers produced at CBC’s Bay Park headquarters, while still making beer on the 15-barrel system at its East Village pub. CBC began brewing its beers at that site—affectionately referred to as “Knoxville” for the street it occupies—in 2013, a year after taking over the 14,000-square-foot property. Since then, it has taken over several other buildings bordering the brewery, creating a rather impressive cul-de-sac campus. CBC is also in the process of installing a kitchen at Knoxville to increase the draw of its tasting room. This is particularly important with the impending arrival of a satellite tasting room from Benchmark Brewing Company and a new brewery, Deft Brewing Company, slated for arrival in Bay Park this year.
CBC is also changing up its game in the southerly municipality of Imperial Beach. The company opened a bar and restaurant there in 2014, and recently signed on to construct a 7,500-square-foot brewpub at the upcoming Bikeway Village on Florence Street. This will increase brewing capacity in a more high-profile location not far from CBC’s original brewpub on its namesake island. Meanwhile, CBC has ceased distribution to certain states, strategically tightening things up to better compete in the marketplace and maximize profits and expenditures.
And two months ago, the company announced the Chapmans’ investment in SouthNorte Brewing Company, a new venture headed by CBC head brewer Ryan Brooks. That operation, basically a CBC offshoot or sub-brand, will meld the brewing cultures of Baja California and Southern California, but there’s more to that fermentation fusion than mere ingenuity. An MO like that figures to appeal to demographics CBC does not currently reach in as great a quantity as they would like. Ditto Monkey Paw’s liquid wares, which skew to a younger demographic more interested in locavorianism, that likely wishes to support an edgier brand versus a company that recently celebrated its 21st anniversary. While this acquisition (which is set to be completed by September) may seem odd to those not paying attention, a look at CBC’s recent body of work where business-model adjustment is concerned shows the logic behind it and how it fits into a large and intricate puzzle.
Two weeks ago, I wrote an article detailing a future tasting room for Temecula-based Ironfire Brewing Company in that community’s commercial Old Town area. I also included a note about another project Ironfire’s ownership believed themselves to be involved with in Imperial Beach, a collaborative venue conceived for installation at 805 Ocean Lane. At the time, I was aware that San Diego’s Mike Hess Brewing was working on a project in IB, but unbeknownst to both myself and the owners of Ironfire, that venture will be located at the very same spot, thus nullifying a taste of Temecula in San Diego County. Today, MHB owner Mike Hess sent an official press release this afternoon outlining a future shared satellite for he and partner Gerry Torres of City Tacos.
Designed by OBR Architecture and projected to open in 2018, the Imperial Beach venue will encompass a two-story indoor bar with seating for 75 visitors, plus a communal outdoor patio capable of accommodating an additional 110 patrons, outfitted with fire pits and an assortment of common brewery-venue games such as cornhole and giant Jenga. Like the projects discussed by Ironfire, the 4,300-square-foot venue will be constructed out of repurposed and reconfigured shipping containers.
This will be MHB’s fourth location—it currently operates a full-scale brewery in North Park, smaller production facility in Miramar and satellite tasting room in Ocean Beach—and the first to include an on-site food component. City Tacos plans to roll out a menu that will include tacos, tostadas and “reimagined small plates found on rich culinary history”. The venue is expected to be open seven days a week.
In San Diego County, brewery-touring is such a popular activity that even businesses that are off the beaten path garner a good deal of traffic from fans who seek them out. While our neighbors to the north in Temecula enjoy a burgeoning beer scene as well, it has yet to progress to the point where citizens and visitors chart courses for far-off business parks. Though one of the municipality’s most popular fermentation operations, Ironfire Brewing Company receives zero walk- or drive-by patronage, but it has multiple plans to fix that, and they involve projects in both Riverside and San Diego Counties.
The first—a satellite tasting room in Temecula’s well-traversed Old Town area—is more fleshed out at present. Located at 42081 Third Street, the site is adjacent to the cul-de-sac on the west end of the street backing up to Murrieta Creek, and in immediate proximity to City Hall’s free parking garage. The tasting room will be installed in a brand-new, 2,000-square-foot space that will be outfitted in an old-west motif mimicking that of Ironfire’s original tasting room. The facility will be equipped with two-dozen taps, two of which will be nitro in nature with another devoted to sour, funky beers.
This will be Old Town Temecula’s first brewery tasting room. The brewery will look to team with nearby restaurants to provide multiple food options to patrons. While Ironfire vice president and lead brewer Greg Webb would like to install a pilot system, the site is not zoned for manufacturing. With any luck, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) will approve plans for an outdoor patio looking out onto Third Street and the hills west of Old Town.
Meanwhile, down in San Diego County’s southernmost city, Imperial Beach, Ironfire has partnered with chef-entrepreneur Steve Brown, who aims to install a large restaurant project called The Shipping Yard on the corner of Date Avenue and Seacoast Drive. Planned as a campus constructed out of repurposed shipping containers, it has yet to take shape. According to Webb, his and Brown’s teams continue to discuss details about the project, but have yet to come to a final determination. The only thing they know at present is that it will be “like nowhere else and all-out epic.”