Delightfully small and understated, it’d be easy to walk right by The Homebrewer without taking notice. Unless, of course, you’re a homebrewer. In three years, George and Molly Thornton’s brew-it-yourself biz has amassed a stellar reputation as one of the most beloved retail outlets of its kind in one of the most homebrewer-centric counties in the world. There’s even more to love about the North Park spot, which now sports a tasting room for its on-site beer-making operation, Home Brewing Co. (2911 El Cajon Boulevard, North Park).
Like most undertakings of the hobbyists The Homebrewer serves, HBC is a work in progress. But even with thrown together furniture, a bar waiting for a custom-designed top and a bar-back missing its future mirror focal point, the whole thing works. The space mirrors the DIY spirit of recreational brewers, making it feel cozily appropriate versus unfinished. Guests can belly up to the tasting bar, hunker down on an Ikea couch or table with a wood palette top, or rest their elbows on numerous belly bars as they work their way through a regularly changing line-up of beers produced on a seven-barrel brewhouse directly behind the bar.
The day I visited, 13 beers were on tap. Several were split into dual offerings, as is one of Thornton’s purposeful differentiators. Because part of the mission of HBC is to showcase the ingredients available at The Homebrewer, he enjoys brewing a batch of beer, then splitting it and treating one different than the other by dry-hopping it differently, adding adjuncts, fermenting it with a different yeast strain, serving it on nitro, etc. It’s similar to how White Labs ferments base beers with a variety of diverse yeast strains to illustrate the vast flavor and aroma differences each imparts, but HBC’s approach is wider reaching.
Thornton says there is no style of beer he doesn’t appreciate, and his HBC brews prove it. While he’s currently gravitating toward iterations of American pale ales, they share beer list space with a brown ale, Belgian amber, hefeweizen, Schwarzbier, India pale ale and more. While highly varied, these beers share similarities in that they are highly drinkable and mostly very dry in the finish. Hop flavors and aromas tend to dominate without being obscured by bracing bitterness. This is particularly true of SMASH (single malt and single hop) offerings, something that’s becoming quite en vogue among craft enthusiasts. All in all, the beers are impressive and enjoyable, whether one’s aim is to taste across the board or meander over a pint or two of a single offering.
HBC is for sure one to watch among the county’s newer brewery debuts, especially considering Thornton has several barrels of blonde ale souring away in a closed-off space behind his two-in-one business. He hasn’t quite figured out the specifics of how to offer it up to prospective buyers, but wants to explore bottling. That may require the help of industry friends, but Thornton has many. His reputation among local brewers is as good as that of his store among the amateur sect.
He recently collaborated on a beer with brewers from Intergalactic Brewing Co. and Kilowatt Brewing Co., seeks recipe formulation advice from Ray Astamendi at Fall Brewing Co., and has enjoyed Q&A and collaboration brew sessions with Lee Chase of Automatic Brewing Co. That beer, Tiger! Piss! (a name playing off Chase’s Tiger! Tiger! Tavern), is a 6.4% SMASH IPA brewed with Chinook hops and Golden Promise malt emitting massive citrus scents that carry through to the taste buds. Look for that to reappear in the future along with a Berliner weisse, myriad lagers and beers brewed using a hefeweizen yeast strain.
From the Beer Writer: It’s been an honor and a privilege to work with local breweries to develop charity beers as part of the Beer to the Rescue campaign supporting the Lupus Foundation of Southern California. One of the first brewers to get involved was Alex Van Horne from Intergalactic Brewing Company. A cousin of his suffers from lupus, so he was excited to have the chance to make a difference. Like many participating brewers, his first idea was to craft something hoppy in order to do some wordplay with lupus and lupulin, the resinous substance in hops that gives them their bitterness and aromatic character. In the end, we went a completely different direction. My favorite Intergalactic beer has always been Astro, a Scottish ale that’s all about malt. Van Horne was toying with the idea of creating a version that would be higher in alcohol and more complex on the palate, which sounded pretty incredible to me. That beer is now on tap at Intergalactic’s tasting room (9835 Carroll Centre Road, #108, Miramar), with a portion of proceeds from its sale flowing directly to the LFSC.
From the Brewer: “Astral Scottish Export Ale is a heavier and maltier take on our award-winning Scottish amber ale, Astro. We use six different malts and East Kent Golding hops to create a complex malt profile with enough English hop character to balance its sweetness. We then add molasses and vanilla during fermentation to provide sugar complexity, depth and a dessert-like quality to this 7.8% alcohol-by-volume ale. The result is a smooth-drinking, malt-forward and unique interpretation on a classic Scottish-style ale that’s full of toffee, biscuit, caramel, molasses and vanilla flavors with some nutty, smoky notes.” —Alex Van Horne, Owner & Brewmaster, Intergalactic Brewing Company
More than 20 of our local craft breweries plan to brew a beer in support of lupus research and awareness in 2015, thanks to an initiative established by journalist Brandon Hernández.
On January 31, the Beer to the Rescue campaign kicks off at Benchmark Brewing with the release of Hildegard, a triple IPA.
“Most people have heard of lupus or know someone suffering from it, but few know anything beyond the name of this autoimmune disease — what it is, its effect on those who have it or the fact that it is severely under-researched. This needs to change,” says Hernández, who was diagnosed with lupus in 2014 after years of suffering. Proceeds from Beer to the Rescue benefit the Lupus Foundation of Southern California (LFSC).
In a press release, Hernández noted that in San Diego, Imperial and Riverside Counties alone, more than 20,000 people are suffering from lupus. That number is even considered a low estimate, because most people with lupus are never diagnosed with this autoimmune disease, which negatively impacts victims via myriad painful symptoms, causes irreparable damage to vital organs and can be fatal.
“The LFSC has been in operation for 20 years, and because no one really talks about lupus — even people who have lupus — it’s hard to get people involved with our organization,” says LFSC Executive Director Hollaine Hopkins. “The Beer to the Rescue campaign will tap into the very large and passionate craft beer fan base that already exists in San Diego and help raise awareness for lupus and our organization.”
In addition to the Benchmark beer mentioned above, other Beer to the Rescue brews include a Belgian-style quadrupel from Nickel Beer Co., a dry-hopped Belgian- style single brewed with rhubarb from Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery, an imperial milk stout infused with chocolate, orange and spicy chilies from Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits, a sour ale brewed with blueberries and fermented using wild yeast from Toolbox Brewing Company, a black saison brewed with dried currants and orange peel from Lightning Brewery, and an experimentally dry-hopped wheat and passion fruit-infused Brett IPA from Green Flash Brewing Company.
More San Diego breweries plan to participate, although not all of them will be creating beers for the campaign. Some, due to brewing capacity restraints, will instead donate to the cause, host special events, and/or make LFSC a featured charity at their venues. Those breweries include 32 North, AleSmith, Amplified Ale Works, Aztec, Bagby Beer, Bolt, Coronado, Council, Intergalactic, Iron Fist, Mike Hess, Mother Earth, New English, Pizza Port Solana Beach, Port/The Lost Abbey/The Hop Concept, Rip Current, Societe, Stone (Escondido), Stone (Liberty Station), Toolbox, and URBN St.