Shortly before the ball dropped in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, a Vista-based brewery announced it was closing its doors forever. Earlier in the day, SpecHops Brewing Company (an operation reviewed by West Coaster just three weeks ago) announced via social media that December 31 would be its last day in business. That post cited the company had been active since 2010, however, it wasn’t until last spring that it opened its location at 1280 Activity Drive. Though the operation aimed to pay homage to military veterans as well as public-service professionals, the web-based platform it set up for that purpose is inactive. SpecHops opened with an impressive brewhouse that will surely be coveted by current and aspiring brewery owners.
SpecHops’ departure came less than a week after another North County fermentation interest announced its farewell. Charles Perkins posted a Facebook message communicating his decision to close his Kuracali Beer & Sake Brewery. Based in San Marcos, that business opened roughly three years ago and was San Diego County’s first-ever sake producer.
Perkins started building Kuracali in 2012. It took him two years to complete the dual brewing components and he opened his doors in 2014. He says it was an enjoyable and rewarding experience serving people and turning them on to sake, but in the end, his location was off the beaten path. This led to insufficient patronage and lack of required revenue to stay in the black. When his lease expired last month and it was time to resign or vacate, he chose the latter. Perkins says he hopes to reopen at a more strategically situated location sometime in the future, but that it will require investment from an outside party. Interested parties can reach Perkins here.
SpecHops and Kuracali both closing the final week of 2017 punctuate something of a new normal. For a decade, new breweries have opened in San Diego County in increasingly large droves, but few closed. A total of eight local breweries closed last year. While most had been open for years, such as Offbeat Brewing, On The Tracks Brewery, La Jolla Brewing, The Beer Co. (which indicated it will reopen) and Magnetic Brewing, one, Wiseguy Brewing, has something in common with SpecHops. It was open less than a year before shuttering. Additionally, several are for sale, most notably Helm’s Brewing, Intergalactic Brewing and Finest Made Ales.
The status of Intergalactic Brewing Company remains uncertain at present, but one fact about its future is clear: its tasting room will soon pour beers of a new brand, Oeuvre Artisan Ales. Intergalactic owner Alex Van Horne has entered into a licensing agreement with local tech professional, musician and amateur producer of beers, ciders and meads, Ted Apollo, which will allow the latter to realize his vision for a line of beers fermented with Brettanomyces at the Miramar brewery.
Apollo has been mulling the notion of brewing professionally for years, but felt it was important not to rush into anything. He has spent that contemplative period getting to know members of the brewing community, chief among them Van Horne, and owner of The Homebrewer and Home Brewing Company, George Thornton, both of whom have been generous with their time and advisement. Apollo signed on to contract-brew at Van Horne’s brewery before he announced he was putting his business up for sale.
Eventually, Apollo would like to become a full-time brewer, but has no interest in becoming the next big thing from a production standpoint. Through conversations with Thornton (who also teaches the Beer Styles I and Basics of Brewing courses as part of San Diego State University’s Business of Craft Beer program), he believes breweries producing 1,000-barrels-per-year or less are in an ideal position for stability and success. His annual production goals contract brewing at Intergalactic sit at 100-to-200 barrels, but that barrelage will increase if he opens his own spot.
Should Apollo and his wife-and-partner Franchesca take that next step, they are not interested in sufficiently serviced communities such as North Park. They would rather explore options on Chula Vista’s suddenly sudsy Third Avenue or only-recently brewery-adorned Rancho Bernardo or Carmel Mountain Ranch.
“I just want to keep things manageable and do what I do well; focus on certain beers and build some accounts early instead of making 16-plus beers to sustain my tasting room,” says Apollo. He feels it’s important not to overreach, and prefers to specialize in one area that he can build customers around and cater to on an intimate level. “I want to get a loyal fan base and then never do anything to disenfranchise them.”
If Intergalactic sells, all steps will be taken to ensure Apollo is still able to brew his beers at the Miramar facility, but in the immediate future, Oeuvre’s first 100% Brett beer, Batch One, is set to debut in the next few weeks. It will be on-sale in four-packs and on-tap at Intergalactic’s tasting room with limited distribution at off-site accounts.
When I first met Alex Van Horne he was looking to install a sci-fi-themed brewery in Poway. The plot reminded me of that of Jim Crute, who installed his science-themed Lightning Brewery in Poway a half-decade or so before. Crute sold his manufacturing assets to Orange County-based Cismontane Brewing Company earlier this month after failing to find a buyer for his struggling operation. Though Van Horne eventually opened his Intergalactic Brewing Company in the Miramar community, his plot-line remains similar to Crute’s. Today, the business-owner and brewmaster announced that he is beginning the process of “exploring all options” for the future of his brewery, “including, but not limited to, putting the business assets up for sale.”
Van Horne says he opened his business with insufficient capital; a mere $25,000. In spite of this, Intergalactic earned a strong cult following, enough that the award-winning brewery was able to take over a larger suite in Intergalactic’s business-park home and convert it to a tasting room, in turn expanding brewing operations at the original location. Still, Van Horne says that over the past year “it has become increasingly obvious that the brewery in its current formulation is not able to provide a stable economic foundation [for him and his wife] to begin the next chapters of [their] lives.”
Van Horne has sought out investors, but did not secure enough money to sufficiently modernize his brewery. So the boot-strapping continued, and it went rather well, but this may be the end for Intergalactic in its current form. He will be fielding inquiries from interested parties and, with any luck, the brand will survive, but Intergalactic may go the way of Lightning, and Van Horne may bow out of the brewing industry altogether. But for now, the business remains open. Van Horne hopes to see long-time fans in the coming months, so they—and he—can enjoy the brewery in its current form. Van Horne says he is “infinitely grateful” for the help and support he has received from his contemporaries in the craft-beer industry. He is keen to stay aboard for his brewery’s next chapter, but will be alright even if that’s not in the cards. “At the end of the day, it’s a business,” he says. “I’ll still have my friends, colleagues and many customers supporting me wherever I go or whatever I do. That’s the most rewarding part.”
Winners of the San Diego International Beer Festival’s professional brewing competition were released today. A component of the San Diego County Fair’s annual festivities, the competition included entries from across the globe judged by professional beer judges and Southern California brewing professionals in late-April. A total of 68 medals were awarded to San Diego-based breweries. Of that number, 23 were gold, 21 were silver and 24 were bronze.
San Diego breweries won all three medals in eight categories: American-style Red/Amber Ale, Bitter, Bold Stout, Brett and Other Sour Beer, German-style Ale, German-style Weiss, Imperial Stout and Pilsener. Miramar-based AleSmith Brewing Company once again took home Champion Brewery honors behind three medals—a gold and silver in the same category (one of which was awarded to a Scotch ale) and a gold in the Barley Wine category.
The most local medals went to Pizza Port. That brewpub’s Carlsbad brewpub also won a gold and two silvers. Its Ocean Beach arm won two (one gold, one bronze) and Bressi Ranch production brewery earned a silver. The most medals awarded to a single brewery went to San Marcos’ Rip Current Brewing Company and less-than-a-year-old North Park interest Eppig Brewing. Both of those companies earned a gold, silver and two bronzes. San Marcos’ The Lost Abbey and South Park Brewing Company earned three medals apiece, as well. Also impressive was Rip Current winning two of three medals in the German-style Bock category.
The following is a complete list of the winners from this years SDIBF…
The three-day public beer-fest portion of the SDIBF will take place at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, Friday, June 16 through Sunday, June 18. Tickets and information can be found online.