In May, O’Sullivan Bros. Brewing Company owner Ed O’Sullivan put his two-year-old Scripps Ranch brewery up for sale. Shortly after, Darrel Brown, the owner of Savagewood Brewing Company came to take a look. Earlier in the year he had toured defunct Escondido business Offbeat Brewing Company. He also took a look at Helm’s Brewing Company in Kearny Mesa, but passed on all three due to his desire to settle his interest in Rancho Bernardo. But as the months passed, he came to realize the best place for the community- and family-focused venue he aimed to establish was right in his backyard. He and O’Sullivan reconnected and forged a deal that makes Brown the new owner of O’Sullivan Bros.’ brewery and tasting room. And while others might wipe the slate completely clean, Brown will integrate the O’Sullivan Bros. brand into his own.
Brown’s plan—which is already underway—is to remove all O’Sullivan Bros. branding from the exterior and interior of the facility, which is located on the west side of an industrial park on Hibert Street catty-corner to a large shopping area that includes a grocery store and numerous restaurants. All branding will be changed to reflect Savagewood Brewing and his beers will take up the lion’s share of the faucets in the tasting room, but he will also keep on some of O’Sullivan Bros.’ best-selling beers, including Catholic Guilt smoked porter, Our Father’s Stout and Finn McCool’s Big Thirsty red ale. A Scripps Ranch resident who lives mere blocks away, Brown patronized the brewery he now owns and believed in the product and the people behind the brand. He was saddened that the O’Sullivan family had to exit the industry—not due to poor quality, but personal issues that couldn’t be avoided—and feels strongly that their legacy should live on.
While O’Sullivan Bros. beers largely fell on the darker side, Savagewood ales come in lighter on the SRM spectrum. Brown’s recipes are hoppy, fruity and light on malt to produce a dry finish associated with Southern California offerings. That said, he’s not afraid to dabble in the East Coast arts, and is planning to brew a West Coast-Northeast India pale ale hybrid using yeast used for hazy IPAs against a decidedly “San Diego-style” grain bill. That will join his pineapple pale ale and other beers that, up until now, have been contract brewed at Groundswell Brewing Company’s Santee headquarters. Since the total annual production capability of his new facility is just 550 barrels, he will continue to utilize his contract relationship to increase yearly barrelage to between 1,600 and 1,700 barrels.
But it’s not all about the adult beverages. Savagewood will have cold-brew coffee and house-made craft sodas on tap. It will also hold various youth-oriented events such as movie nights featuring ‘80’s movies and popcorn. Also on-tap will be at least one event raising money for local charities per month. A portion of proceeds from one of his beers, Exquisite Blonde, already go to the cancer non-profit Keep A Breast Foundation. “Scripps Ranch is my home and I want Savagewood to be the neighborhood brewery,” says Brown. “Every decision I make will center around that.”
Brown will open the revamped tasting room on November 2, just in time for San Diego Beer Week, which takes place November 3-12. He plans to hold events throughout that span, including beer-release promotions, a trivia night and a beer-brunch event. And near the end of November, Savagewood will hold its official grand-opening party. In the meantime, he’ll work on expanding the floor-plan of the tasting room and cinch up negotiations with a brewer he intends to bring on. As for the rest of his staff, he is keeping all of O’Sullivan Bros.’ existing employees, making for one of the true feel-good stories of this year in local craft beer.
From the Beer Writer: First the world wanted more hops in their India pale ales, then they wanted more alcohol in their IPAs. The brewing world happily obliged. Then the world wanted less bitterness followed by a yearning for less alcohol in their IPAs. The brewing world let out a semi-frustrated sigh, then found the pleasure in obliging. Through all of this, drinkers and brewers alike came to an unspoken understanding that seven percent alcohol-by-volume was the sweet spot for single IPAs. But at some point in the past year, imbibers, manufacturers or some combination of the two (I would venture cost-analyzing logistics professionals taking notice of current IPA fans’ crowing about “crushable” beers) decided the best ABV for an IPA is 6%. And so it has come to pass. There are a number of new IPAs hitting the market and many of them are at or hovering around this new alcohol-content standard. Of them all, the best I’ve encountered thus far comes from the hop veterans at San Marcos’ Port Brewing Company, who recently released Port Nelson the Greeter. This sixer comes in a sixer and features one of the most popular hops of present day, Nelson Sauvin. Those pelletized greens give off myriad aromas and flavors, from tropical, citrus and stone fruit to vinous taste sensations reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc grapes. All of that comes on the front end of this beer, but for me, the real beauty of Nelson the Greeter is its crisp finish and the way a clean bitterness resets one’s palate after each gulp. Translation: It is, indeed, crushable, bro.
From the Brewer: “Paying homage to a rather (in)famous surf spot/clothing optional beach in San Diego, Nelson the Greeter is the newest hoppy offering from Port Brewing. Using the brash flavors of Nelson hops to lead the charge, the Greeter has a strong hop supporting cast using Denali, Lemon Drop and Mosaic varietals to round out this pale ale. Notes of gooseberry and passionfruit dominate the nose with a clean tangerine and freshly cut stone fruit notes leading to a smooth, bitter, citrus finish. The pale ale will be quite the experience…kind of like a naked Nelson greeting you at the trail head.”—Tomme Arthur, Director of Brewery Operations, Port Brewing Company
From the Beer Writer: In the world of sour ales, there are two types of beers: balanced brews exhibiting nuances of fruit and acidity, and brazenly tart, tangy juggernauts that force one’s palate to take notice. Since he got into the local fermentation game with Toolbox Brewing Company in 2014, Peter Perrecone has exclusively produced the latter. That preference didn’t change a bit when he got on board with fellow North County operation Belching Beaver Brewery, where he serves as barrel master. His sours are still fruited to the hilt, sporting puckering pH levels. Enter Belching Beaver Smoldering Pirates, a recently released creation packed with myriad tropical fruits. Its passion fruit and mango nose transports one to a pool-side folding chair at some island resort, with matching flavors bringing scores of vivacious zing to the party. Despite its acidic vibrancy, this 6.5% alcohol-by-volume sipper is light in body and finishes relatively crisp. This will be one of the special beers served up at Belching Beavers’ five-year anniversary shindig along with Hoppy, Hoppy Night IPA and Perrecone’s newest oak-aged release, Batch 5 Sour with Blackberries. That celebration will take place on Saturday, October 21 at the company’s headquarters in Oceanside. Tickets are currently available online.
From the Brewer: “Smoldering Pirates is an American sour barrel-aged in French red wine oak barrels. A few of the barrels date back to 2015, some of our oldest barrels, and the other barrels are about six months old. The older barrels added tons of funk and complexity to this sour while the younger barrels added balance to the beer. After we blended the base beer, it screamed for the use of tropical fruit. Passion fruit was the bulk of the fruit that was added…over 400 pounds. Mango, pineapple and guava were also added as supporting flavors. We hope you enjoy this tropical fruit bomb as much as our crew.”—Peter Perrecone, Barrel Master, Belching Beaver Brewery
After 20 years of assisting breweries through consultation and serving as a high-profile beer expert via a number of platforms—most notably his work as craft beer ambassador for Stone Brewing—Bill Sysak knows there’s a big magnifying glass on him as he prepares to open his own beer-manufacturing operation. That interest, Wild Barrel Brewing Company (692 Rancheros Drive, San Marcos), will soft-open, tomorrow, Saturday, September 30, and Sysak says he’s ready to put his money where his mouth is. From the looks of the soon-to-debut business, he’s done just that.
Wild Barrel is installed in a 10,000-square-foot building sharing space and a lobby with a batting-cage facility. That structure is across the street from the San Marcos DMV, one of the busiest offices of its type in the county. Wild Barrel’s tasting room takes up roughly half of the total square footage, accommodating up to 228 patrons. Wood-topped-barrel belly bars make up the majority of the seating, with stools at the main bar and rail bars, but the focal point of the room is a giant faux barrel near the center of the room. Visitors can enter that cylinder, which contains its own belly bars and will eventually house a fountain fashioned from three used barrels, plus rotating art-for-purchase from local artisans. It’s not the only visual media at Wild Barrel. San Marcos resident Maddie Thomas recently painted a colorful mural depicting a glass emblazoned with the company’s logo on the east wall, adding a punch of vibrancy to the mostly oaken interiors.
Another unique tasting-room feature is a pole with directional-arrow signs tacked to it pointing in the direction of other local breweries. Stone, Mason Ale Works, Rip Current Brewing and The Lost Abbey—which is located on the opposite side of the DMV—are represented along with one outlier (and one of Sysak’s favorite breweries), Belgium’s Cantillon. Sysak says this is a small show of appreciation to the operations who’ve been helpful to him throughout his career, in particular since he started work on Wild Barrel roughly a year ago. Stone and Rip Current have sold him hops, Mason has lent him several items and The Lost Abbey’s Tomme Arthur has offered both assistance and advice.
During his decades of consulting, Sysak always stressed the importance of being hyper-focused and selecting the right beer styles; ales and lagers capable of generating enough sales to keep a business afloat without competing with each other. In assessing the current marketplace, Sysak is going heavy with India pale ales (IPAs) and fruited kettle sours, plus barrel-aged wild ales and imperial stouts (the base recipe for the latter was developed in consultation with Todd Ashman of Bourbon County Stout and FiftyFifty Eclipse fame). The opening-day beer-list will include two IPAs—the 7% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) Indie IPA, and an 8.4% imperial model double dry-hopped with Nelson Sauvin and Motueka called Prince of Dankness. A pair of 5.6% Berliner weisses dubbed San Diego Vice (playing off the proper pronunciation for weiss) will also be on tap. One is flavored with Montmorency cherries, the other with pink guava from head brewer (and fellow Stone expat) Bill Sobieski’s backyard tree.
Sysak and Sobieski will also capitalize off the popularity of coffee beers with Hipster Latté, a 5.5% ABV milk stout brewed with coconut palm sugar, lactose and a proprietary blend of beans from Rancho Bernardo-based Mostra Coffee. The blend that will be served at tomorrow’s opening will be the first of four, all of which will incorporate different types of coffee. The plan is to eventually serve them side-by-side (and can all four in a single four-pack) so customers can examine the subtle taste differences. And rounding out the board is a 5.5% Belgian-style witbier called White Rabbit (the character that lures people down its proverbial hole) brewed with traditional ingredients plus a “Valencia orange zest kicker” to give it extra citrus appeal. Rather than having several “gateway beers” such as a Pilsner, hefeweizen, Kolsch and blonde, which might compete and cannibalize off of each other, he wanted to brew one that can thrive on its own.
A recent shipment of ready-to-go Woodford Reserve bourbon whiskey barrels will make up the aging program’s initial stock. All that oak will be stored on the south side of the facility in plain view of the tasting room, with glycol-equipped lines plumbed over the public space to pump beer over from the brewery to help avoid contamination. Eventually, Sysak hopes to take over a space next-door and convert it to a barrel-aging warehouse. Once matured, barrel-aged beers will be packaged in 500-millileter bottles and released at the tasting room and as part of Wild Barrel’s beer club, which went live on the company’s website earlier this week. Sysak will also call on his many friends within the national brewing community to work on collaboration beers, the majority of which will be hazy IPAs and kettle sours. His initial trio of conspirators hail from as close by as Carlsbad and as far away as Florida: Burgeon Beer Company, Bottle Logic Brewing and J. Wakefield Brewing.
The tasting-room bar is equipped with 15 taps, plus a nitro-tap that will dispense coffee. But Sysak hopes to go further with java, installing a barista area in the tasting room that will operate from 7 to 11 a.m. weekday mornings to capture business from DMV visitors and establish an additional revenue stream. Also en route is a crowler-filling machine, which should arrive within a week. The food program will be all about mobile vendors and pre-packaged items. The latter will consist of cheese and charcuterie boards as well as confections from North County’s So Rich Chocolates.
Sysak, Sobieski and fellow co-founder Chris White (not to be confused with the founder of Miramar business White Labs) were able to complete the construction of their shared vision in less than a year and, though there are some small touches left to attend to, it’s already an impressive addition to the local brewing scene. Wild Barrel will be open seven-days-a-week, and its hours will be 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Earlier this year, Bear Roots Brewing owner Terry Little enthusiastically shared his plans to graduate from the nano-brewing ranks by installing a six-barrel system at his Vista combo brewery and homebrew shop in order to increase production and begin self-distributing beers around San Diego County. He also filled me in on his other job as chief operating officer and head brewer for Oceanside’s Black Plague Brewing Company. When reconnecting with Little last week, he shared that he had stepped down from his second job and since decided to keep Bear Roots small, investing would-be expansion dollars on different aspects of his business. When asked about his change of heart, he cited the state of the industry and where it appears to be going.
What made you decide to stay small?
Looking at the business model we have and lessons learned over the last 12 months, I thought instead of working on exterior market expansion it was smarter to focus resources internally and put capital into leaner, more efficient systems to maximize production with lower overhead on the same slightly-upgraded equipment, with a few major cellar upgrades. We are still looking at expanding our cold storage and dry storage with heavy future focus on specialty small batch, while maintaining our core line-up of 16 beers. Personally, we have always focused our brewery on giving back to the local community and relied on a heavy tasting-room model for gross sales. That being said, even being small with minimum overhead and, in essence, two business models with our homebrew store, we have had modest revenue and seen slower growth. This is a new industry to me, personally, and I got into the business because of my passion and perseverance. It was never easy and yet always rewarding. We have just worked too hard to get where we are today. I felt it too risky with the number of breweries opening—at a rate of 2.25-per-month since we opened our doors in December 2015—with a plan similar to the one we had for expansion last summer. Maybe I’m preparing for a storm that won’t hit, but we have decided to hunker down for the next 12 months and keep investing in our current model, continuing to run our business on a givers gain philosophy.
What improvements did you re-appropriate funds toward?
We were able to upgrade our branding and define our marketing strategy, which I’m very happy with. We designed and built the Bear Roots van with an A-Team vibe, again with a lean concept for easy break-down and set-up, with the ability to pour right out the side of the van. I think the best upgrade was focusing on our tasting room layout and maximizing the space, by learning what we didn’t need and implementing new things. We have added multiple TVs, a pool table, and have focused events on what the community would like. Two major improvements are the taco truck we have contracted with for service seven-days-a-week, and the new patio space, which will be open to the public this fall.
What happened to your involvement with Black Plague?
I stepped down in July. It was a great opportunity to be part of an exciting team and be involved with a complete build-out of the 20-barrel brewery from the ground up. It was also nice to put my capital-expansion hat on again and help facilitate the opening. Opportunities like that don’t happen often and I’m glad I was able to take advantage of it. I have a strong belief in what craft beer is and what it can do for a community, and I feel Bear Roots is the best way forward for me to stay focused on my core and why I originally got into craft. I was taxed for time and Black Plague is just starting up. That requires a lot of work. It’s nice to focus my energy with my family and Roots. Fortunately, Black Plague has a great leadership team and (ex-AleSmith Brewing Company and Mikkeller Brewing San Diego brewer) Bill Batten is brewing for them. I wish them huge success and am still here for them when needed as a partner.
Where do you see the industry going and what businesses are best insulated from obstacles?
The industry is still growing at a remarkable rate and I’m not sure the market share can sustain. I feel any organic-growth business model is always a little protected, but with that said, uncertainty is in the air. I think focusing on quality and camaraderie is a good business practice for quarter four and moving forward into next year. From my personal experience, no business is ever protected from failure, but perseverance, good leadership and a strong staff who believes in the company is key.
What are some exciting things on the horizon for Bear Roots?
We are excited to keep adding to our barrel-aging program, and we’ll be releasing a barrel-aged double IPA called Deeply Rooted during San Diego Beer Week. We will start bottling in October and plan to have our chocolate peanut butter stout Bear Cookie be our first — available exclusively in our tasting room. We also have our monthly charity event the first Friday of every month. The next one will focus on Operation Hope, a women and family homeless shelter that is doing great work here in North County.