Two of San Diego’s most well-known homegrown restaurant chains are working to add craft-brewing capabilities. The Brigantine family of seafood restaurants and the burger all-stars at Hodad’s are both building production breweries to supply their locations throughout the county.
The Brigantine has long offered a house beer called Brig Brew. That mild golden ale has been produced by Karl Strauss Brewing, which crafts private-label offerings for other hospitality clients. Brigantine president Mike Morton, Jr. and his team want a lager for the group’s Mexican-themed Miguel’s Cocina eateries, but with Strauss’ growth (it is currently the 41st largest craft brewery in the country), the veteran beer company would be unable to accommodate that request. So, The Brigantine is installing Ketch Brewing in a vacant warehouse space at its corporate headquarters at 7889 Ostrow Street in Kearny Mesa.
The 10-barrel, direct-fire brewhouse and cellar (four 20-barrel fermenters and a pair of 20-barrel brite tanks) will share that 2,000-square-foot space, while cold storage and grain-processing will occupy other parts of the building. Morton and company are looking forward to making better use of that underutilized space, and plan to bring brewing of Brig Brew, the aforementioned Mexican-style lager and an India pale ale in-house. Those are the only set styles at present. Everything beyond that will follow the vision and imagination of Ketch’s eventual head brewer. The Brigantine is currently accepting résumés from interested applicants.
The name Ketch Brewing matches that of Ketch Grill and Taps, a new casual-seafood concept slated to go live at the La Mesa space formerly known as the Red Sails Inn. It will also be one of four concepts installed as part of a $13 million renovation of the high-profile former home of Anthony’s Fish Grotto on the San Diego Bayfront. The Brigantine currently operates 14 locations and intends to have two house taps at each. While Ketch Brewing will start out draft-only, the company may entertain canning in the future. The Brigantine will utilize a third-party distributor, and Morton says there is potential for selling Ketch beers outside of his chain’s venues.
Meanwhile, Hodad’s is installing the first-ever beer-making spot in the Serra Mesa community just north of Mission Valley. The operation, Hodad’s Brewing Company will be located at 9726 Aero Drive, Suite B, near Interstate 15. That building formerly housed a printing company. Hodad’s manager Marlow Myrmo will be in charge of brewing.
Morton projects Ketch to be operational as soon as April with beers arriving at Brigantine restaurants in May. Hodad’s Brewing’s debut is less defined, but estimated to take place before the end of the year.
The last 10 days have been busy for Curtis and Liz Chism, the owners of Kearny Mesa’s Council Brewing Company. After reading an article right here in West Coaster about Santee’s Finest Made Ales being up for bid as a turnkey brewery, they contacted the house in charge of the auction and were told there was already a good deal of interest; enough that if they were interested they would have to venture to East County to tour the space that afternoon. Having explored numerous expansion options over the years, but struggling to find one that was ideal, they headed out and were pleased with what they found.
“It was beautiful. An almost brand-new Glacier seven-barrel three-vessel brewhouse with automation, five 30-barrel tanks, a pair of 15-barrel tanks and a seven-barrel fermenter, plus everything we would need to make more Council beer. I think my favorite part was the rakes in the mash tun,” says Liz with the type of giddiness only a professional brewer can experience over automated brewing equipment.
The duo returned the next day to take one more look and place an offer. An hour later, that offer was accepted and now Council Brewing owns the aforementioned equipment and has taken over owner Rey Knight’s lease on an eight-year-old Santee brewery that, prior to Finest Made Ales (established as Butcher’s Brewing in 2011), housed Twisted Manzanita Ales (originally opened as Manzanita Brewing in 2010). They are currently working on ABC and TTB licensing so they can open the new spot. The Chisms estimate it will take 60-90 days to be cleared and operational.
This is a return to Santee for the Chisms, who sold their home in Santee and moved to San Diego proper when funding Council in 2013. The business produced roughly 1,000 barrels of beer on its three-barrel system in 2017. The new brewery should allow Council to increase its production by 2,700 barrels annually. Additionally, acquiring Finest Made Ales’ space allows the Chisms to accomplish another goal they’d fostered—opening a second tasting room. Unlike most acquisitions of this nature, the outgoing brewery was left in good condition, so all that will be necessary prior to reopening are cosmetic changes, most notably rebranding. The Chisms will address that during their licensing period while working on scaling up their recipes.
The majority of the beer produced at the Santee facility will be India pale ales, though the tasting room will feature a broad variety of the company’s offerings, including sour beers (all of which will be produced in Kearny Mesa) and house-made kombucha. The Chisms are also purchasing a canning line to allow them to expand their packaged product line. Like Council’s other satellite location, a sour-beer production facility called “The Magic Factory,” the Santee space figures to get a fun nickname. Nothing is set in stone, but so far “The Lupulin Lounge” is the front-runner. Council’s Santee brewery is located at 9962 Prospect Avenue, Suite E.
In June 2015, I reported that partners in business and in life, Greg Littrell and Katie Earle, had closed on a location for their shared passion project, Barrel Rescue Brewing. They have spent nearly three years shaping that 2,000-square-foot Kearny Mesa spot into a hospitable spot for future patrons, installing a brewery, restrooms, cold box, draught system, L-shaped bar, Big Ass Fan, vintage warehouse lighting, tasting-room walls, a garage-style roll-up door and covered outdoor patio. But just as they had completed construction and were poised to open their doors, their landlord put the building they occupy at 8125 Ronson Road up for sale, splitting it into a trio of “business condos.” Despite the fact their lease is up in June, Littrell and Earle have decided to open Barrel Rescue at its current location…then close the business in June and move out.
Many factors contributed to their decision. They had considered investing more money on their location to operate there beyond their initial three-year lease, but the asking price per square foot is significantly higher than the rent they have been paying since 2015. And even with less than four months to go, they remain uncertain as to whether their landlord—or whoever ends up purchasing their part of the building—will offer them another long-term lease, and month-to-month is not an option they are willing to entertain. The couple are disappointed at the turn of events after having put so much into the space, but are encouraged by the fact they have the equipment and barrels to start fresh at a new location as “Barrel Rescue 2.0.” They are already in search of a new facility, but in the meantime, they’ll let version one of their interest provide a preview of what’s to come.
Littrell and Earle hope to open their doors in March. They are titling it a simultaneous “grand opening and temporary last hurrah,” build mainly to give friends and family an opportunity to taste what they’ve been up to. Over the past year, they have brewed beers and funneled some into barrels “rescued” and given second lives as sour-ale maturation vessels. They have also brewed some straight-to-tap beers, including an all-Fuggles hops Belgian-style table beer that will be available when they open. Some Barrel Rescue beers may also be bottled as part of the opening-closing ceremonies. And though they didn’t have the opportunity to incorporate another of their shared passions—canine rescue—into the business at its current locale, that will definitely be a prominent part of Barrel Rescue once it reemerges at a new location.
From the Beer Writer: Beer dinners take place all the time in San Diego. Not to sound completely jaded, but after going to dozens of them, it’s easy to take some for granted, even when the food and beer taste great. Typically, the fermentation-based feasts that stand out are the ones held by businesses that go the extra mile. Case in point, O’Brien’s Pub. Not only does owner Tom Nickel and his crew form real relationships with local brewers and cull some of the most interesting ales and lagers from their stock, he also brews collaboration beers that take his venerable establishment’s multi-course affairs to the next level. Last weekend, O’Brien’s teamed up with Bay Ho’s Bitter Brothers Brewing, debuting O Brother, Where Tart Thou?, a collaboratively-created wine-barrel-aged golden sour ale. Three versions of the beer were presented to diners, each of which documented a different stage in its evolution to the final product, which goes on sales in bottles at Bitter Brothers’ tasting room today.
From the Brewers: “O Brother, Where Tart Thou started out as a golden sour ale dry-hopped with Mosaic hops. It was then moved and spent time in white-wine barrels. At the eight-month mark we added apricot and let it mature for another two-and-a-half months. The beer is slightly orange in color with a sturdy white head and nice acidity. It was really cool to try all three iterations of this beer—dry-hopped and both the fruited and non-fruited barrel-aged versions—at the O’Brien’s dinner. It was nice to enjoy and compare them side-by-side, and we’re happy we’ll have all three of them at our tasting room, plus bottles for sale, starting today.”—Tyler Tucker, Head Brewer, Bitter Brothers Brewing Company
“When the idea came up to do a collaboration with Bitter Brothers, it immediately struck me that we should do a kettle sour with them based on how good their seasonal Family Tart series was right from the start. We talked about making a beer a bit stronger and, since it was for O’Brien’s, a bit hoppier, of course. The original version of the beer was a 6% golden kettle sour dry-hopped with Mosaic hops. It was a fantastic beer, but it was just stage one. The beer was aged in Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc barrels for several months. After tasting it, we decided to add apricot purée. The result is a fruited sour beer that I am so proud to have been a part of. The overall impression is myriad fruit and sour flavors with subtle barrel notes. My favorite thing about it right now is that next year’s batch has already been brewed. Cheers to the entire Bitter Brothres crew for creating a wonderful libation…and O’Brien’s’ own Tyson Blake for the amazing name.”—Tom Nickel, Owner, O’Brien’s Pub & Nickel Beer Co.
We stand on the threshold of another month chock-full of exceptional reasons to crack a cold one in the presence of others. Yes, it’s a great time to be alive, but to do things up right requires some planning. We’ve started you off with some standout San Diego beer events for March, but don’t limit yourself. Click here to check out our full local calendar.
March | Beer to the Rescue Fundraisers: As part of a year-long campaign benefiting locals living with lupus, Gordon Biersch will hold a release party for a Mexican lager brewed with Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing, complete with a taco bar, live band and piñatas on June 1. On March 13, Pure Project Brewing is holding Beer to the Rescue Day at its Miramar tasting room. On March 28, Pariah Brewing will release This Is New IPA, and on March 29, North Park Beer Co. will tap a specialty cask, with portions of proceeds from both beers going to the Lupus Foundation of Southern California. | Various Locations, All Events Start at 5 p.m.
March 2 | Crowler Awareness Day: Gone are the days when the only conveyance vessel for draft beer was a glass jug requiring constant sterilization. Compact, disposable and often quite attractive, crowlers have changed the industry and, for the first edition of this made-up annual holiday, brewery tasting rooms offering these modern marvels will offer them at discounted rates. | Participating Breweries: Amplified Ale Works (Pacific Beach, Miramar), Bay City Brewing (Point Loma), Coronado Brewing (Bay Park), Council Brewing (Kearny Mesa), Eppig Brewing (North Park, Point Loma), Intergalactic Brewing (Miramar), Mikkeller Brewing San Diego (Miramar), North Park Beer Co. (North Park), Resident Brewing (Downtown), Thunderhawk Alements (Miramar)
March 4 | Renaissance: Epic tap lists and next-level ale-and-lager free-for-alls are nothing new for Churchill’s Pub, but this venerable North County beer bastion sets aside one day each year to really go all out. Tons of rare beers, including some brewed just for the occasion, will be on tap, and bottles of whale pod leader Churchill’s Finest Hour imperial stout will be for sale. | Churchill’s Pub & Grille, 887 W. San Marcos Boulevard, San Marcos, 11 a.m
March 10 | SD Homebrew Festival & Competition: The richness of San Diego’s commercial beer and brewing scene is a result of the county’s vibrant, thriving and always-evolving homebrew culture, something celebrated via more than 35 homebrewed beers at this festival devoted to the recreational—yet very serious—pursuit of the beer-making sciences. | The Observatory, 2891 University Avenue, North Park, 12 p.m
March 31 | Second Anniversary: El Cajon’s Burning Beard Brewing opened its back lot and a can of celebratory whoop-ass for its first anniversary last year, and this year they’re aiming to outdo themselves. Expect multiple beer stations stocked with a wide variety of liquid stein fodder, a raffle, take-home stein and three bands (including The Creepy Creeps) rocking out live. | Burning Beard Brewing, 785 Vernon Way, El Cajon, 1 p.m