Last month, Joe Lisica resigned from his post heading fermentation operations for Miramar-based Little Miss Brewing. He cited an amicable parting of ways with owners Greg and Jade Malkin, who brought him on as the company’s first-ever brewmaster and a partner (though goals that would have triggered part-ownership were not reached prior to Lisica leaving). The Malkins wanted to go one direction with the beers they produced, while Lisica favored an altogether different creative trajectory.
Lisica departed without a plan for his next step. He said he was actually looking forward to enjoying a little down-time after spending the past year-plus planning, hammering together and running a brand-new brewery. A life of rest and refueling must not have agreed with him, because he went back to work yesterday after being hired by Mikkeller Brewing San Diego to serve as its head brewer. Lisica worked at Green Flash Brewing Company in Mira Mesa before moving on to move up with Little Miss. Here, he will be responsible for the manufacture of many more styles than he tackled at his last place of employ, filling a beer-board 19 strong and crafting weekly new releases.
This will be the Miramar-based brewery’s second head brewer. Initially, the company—the brick-and-mortar overseas interest of Copenhagen, Denmark-based entrepreneur Mikkel Borg Bjergso—brought veteran brewer Bill Batten over from sister-company AleSmith Brewing Company to lead brewery operations. Batten resigned in March and has gone on to consult for several San Diego County brewing companies while waiting to take the reins at his eventual home, TapRoom Beer Company, which is currently being birthed in North Park by the owners of Pacific Beach bar SD TapRoom.
Back at Mikkeller San Diego, the company maintains a cult following, but appears to be struggling with the inherent difficulties of having an owner that spends the majority of his time away from the business while guiding brewery decisions from afar. In other Mikkeller San Diego news, the company has removed the anvil that was formerly a component of its logo meant to communicate its partnership with AleSmith. AleSmith owner Peter Zien says that, although he sold stocks in 2016 to give control of Mikkeller San Diego to Bjergso, he remains a partner from an artistic and financial perspective until Mikkeller San Diego’s lease expiration, at which time Zien will transition to a point where he is no longer a financial principal.
Author’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect facts presented following its initial posting.
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.
When Little Miss Brewing was putting its business plan, that road map was unlike those of other fermentation-based entrepreneurs in San Diego County. A brewery with a Type 23 license may apply for duplicate licenses to open additional retail venues, something numerous operations do via satellite tasting rooms. Little Miss owners Greg and Jade Malkin decided early on to make their satellites the workhorses of their business. At first, they weren’t even going to install a tasting room at their Miramar headquarters, instead saving that space exclusively for production. A number of obstacles and delays forced them to change their mind at the eleventh hour and construct a tasting room in Miramar during the week leading up to their debut last summer. But on Thursday, June 8 the first of their two work-in-progress satellites will debut at 3514 Adams Avenue in Normal Heights, transforming the company into what the Malkins envisioned when they decided to enter the San Diego brewing scene.
Little Miss’ branding revolves around fun, games…and World War II. It’s not the most natural pairing, but a visit to the Miramar tasting room is sort of like hitting up the USO; cinder blocks, munitions containers and military posters let you know where you are, but the overarching mood is one of jovial relaxation. The idea with each of the satellites is to assign them an individual thematic inspired by one of the US’ WWII Allies.
An upcoming tasting room in Ocean Beach will give a nod to France, while its Normal Heights predecessor will honor the United Kingdom. That thematic is driven home by a Union Jack flag painted on the ceiling, British wartime propaganda posters painted on the walls and an outdoor mural by local artist, Leroy Davis. Another local, Kelly Hutchison, will also have pinup paintings on display, bringing in a bit of ’40s-era Americana, while the spirit of the neighborhood will come in care of a giant picture of Winston Churchill dressed as a hipster.
The 1,000-square-foot Normal Heights space has a bar-top made from bullet casings giving way to a vintage cash register and 16 taps dispensing Little Miss beers. On the recreation front, the venue has board and card games, Jenga, dart boards and four televisions. It will be open from noon to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, Saturdays from noon to midnight and Sundays from noon to 8 p.m. Sites have not been selected for future satellite tasting rooms, but the Malkins say the next Allied country they select will likely be the former Soviet Union.
Last year, Little Miss Brewing debuted in Miramar. Though the brewery has a tasting room built into it, that wasn’t part of the original business-plan. Owners Jade and Greg Malkin, bar-owner transplants from Arizona, intended to keep that purely a production-facility and construct satellite tasting rooms with an activity-fortified bar atmosphere in which to introduce their beers to the public at-large. The couple is currently at work on the first two of those venues, which are located in Normal Heights and Ocean Beach. We recently spoke with Jade to get a better idea of what to expect when those spots open later this year. Read more »
From the Beer Writer: Having written about beer for as long as I have and during such an adventurous stretch in American brewing history, it’s rare to come across something completely new. Often, such first-of-their-kind creations incorporate exotic fruits or outlandish yeast strains, but a recent oddity was based off very traditional brewing ingredients. That creation is Little Miss Hoperation Overlord, a double India pale ale with flaked oats folded into its malt bill. Brewed by Miramar newcomer Little Miss Brewing, its an IPA that features added mouthfeel in a county known for going as light as possible where malt-body is concerned with this beer-style. Admittedly, it in no way resembles a “San Diego IPA”, but in a day and age of imitation, it’s refreshing to have something not only different, but darn good. A modern-hop bill bring delicious flavors of mango, peach and candied lemon to the party, while the malt bill gives this concoction a copper appearance, brown-sugar nose and burnt caramel undertones. The viscosity provided by the oats helps convey all of that character in a smooth and even fashion. And at 8.5% alcohol-by-volume, it comes in low for a double IPA, but that’s just fine, as this is a beer you’re likely going to want to enjoy two of, anyway. And soon it’ll be available at a pair of WIP Little Miss tasting rooms in Normal Heights and Ocean Beach, the latter of which will be the fifth such space to debut on Newport Avenue between Cable Street and Sunset Cliffs Boulevard.
From the Brewer: “We had been planning on making a double IPA and San Diego Beer Week seemed as good of a time as any to debut it. When formulating the recipe, we decided to use oatmeal, mostly because we couldn’t think of too many imperial IPAs that use it, and also because we thought the oatmeal would take a normally big, aggressive, hoppy beer and mellow it out a little bit, creating a deceptively smooth beer. For the hops, we used Citra, Mosaic and Nugget. We wanted to showcase the fruity, citrusy, floral qualities of those hops. It wasn’t necessarily a beer that we intended to have on full-time, but the reaction to it has been overwhelmingly positive and it has quickly become one of our best-sellers, so it will stay on as long as everyone wants it.”—Joe Lisica, Head Brewer, Little Miss Brewing