In reading a list of most-improved breweries, one can make the assumption that in order to make that roster these interests must have been pumping out bad beer at some point. While this certainly could be true, it is not always the case with brewing companies that find themselves a part of this annually shifting assemblage. In most cases this year, the operations mentioned were already making good beer—or even great beer—but are now performing even better from a manufacturing standpoint. There is always room for improvement, proof of which is provided below.
2kids Brewing | Miramar: This nano-brewery has actually been on an upward trajectory over the past few years, but this year, the level of refinement in this Miralani OG’s beers jumped quite a bit. Hoppy beers exhibit more vibrancy in their aromas and flavors, while maltier beers seem more cohesive and balanced overall. It’s no wonder this operation’s cultish fan base continues to grow, and a pleasure to see this husband-wife venture continue its steady ascent.
Alpine Beer Co. | Alpine: Alpine makes great beer. Tell you something you didn’t already know, right? Since being acquired by Green Flash Brewing Company in 2014, many have complained about perceiving a drop-off in quality between beers brewed in Alpine and those brewed on a larger scale and packaged for distribution, but this year, numerous canned offerings tasted better, more consistent and truer to the beers that inspired the purchase of that famed East County interest.
Bear Roots Brewing | Vista: Though a tiny nano built into a homebrew shop, this family-run brewery has been churning out enjoyable beer from the get-go. As such, the grizzly interest has earned a solid reputation and following, enough that ownership considered expanding brewing capabilities. Even though it opted against getting a bigger, more sophisticated brewhouse (instead fortifying the business with an outdoor patio), it has still managed to up the brightness and flavor of its beers.
Burning Beard Brewing | El Cajon: One of the most buzzed-about new breweries to open in the past two years, El Cajon’s best (and only) fermentation facility opened with an impressive beer line-up that only keeps getting better. The key is the brewing team’s devotion to fine-tuning until they get beers where they and their fans want them. Throw in this year’s barrel-aged specialties and you have an operation that managed to increase its angle of ascension in 2017.
Council Brewing | Kearny Mesa: When this husband-wife business first opened, its little-guy charm and friendly staffers made up for occasional inconsistencies. As it grew, sour beers of varied composition expanded the business’ rep and reach while taking center stage, portfolio-wise. The deliciousness of those brews continues to increase. Ditto non-sour beers, most impressively Council’s hoppy stock, which used to be a tad hit-and-miss, but now wows on a regular basis.
Division 23 Brewing | Miramar: This lesser-known brewery has had numerous head fermentationists since debuting in 2015, leading to varying quality across the beer-board. This year saw continued vocational movement within the brewhouse, but as of now, this operation’s beers are tasting better as a whole than they have at any point, making the long, winding road one must take to get to this tucked-away industrial park venue worth the maneuvering.
Indian Joe Brewing | Vista: The beer at this native American-owned brewery was at its best right before it shuttered in 2015. After a lengthy search for an ideal, much larger base of operations, the business reopened this year with a new head brewer and a laundry list of house beers coming in at 30. Variety remains the name of the game, making it harder to keep every member of the diverse line-up in check; still, Indian Joe’s beers are the finest they’ve been during either of its iterations.
Kilowatt Brewing | Kearny Mesa & Ocean Beach: This business is in the process of expanding its brewing capabilities, but before trading up to a larger brewhouse, they took the wise step of bringing on a head brewer with experience garnered over years spent at AleSmith Brewing. He has tinkered with several beer recipes and the early results are extremely promising. This should be a fun brewery to keep an eye on over the coming year.
From the Beer Writer: Since I first got into beer, I found myself gravitating toward Belgian-style ales. Their mix of floral and spice notes just hit my palate in all the right places. Some of my favorites early on were Belgian Christmas beers; high-alcohol, typically medium-to-dark-colored ales brewed with myriad spices akin to those used in yuletide baking. I became so enamored with them that, since they are only available during late-fall and early-winter, I would stockpile them for the rest of the year. Over the past decade-plus, I’ve tasted just about every Belgian holiday ale available in the States, leaving me pining (pun intended) for undiscovered Christmas goodies. So, when I caught wind of Kearny Mesa’s Kilowatt Brewing releasing a holiday offering paying tribute to the rich brewing traditions of…Ohioans…I had to check it out. Kilowatt Christmas Ale comes in at 9.45% alcohol-by-volume and derives much of its December appeal from usual suspects cinnamon and nutmeg, plus ginger and a heaping helping of honey. That last one is lesser seen in beers of this ilk and imparts an earthiness seldom found in wintertime brews. That taste sensation fits in nicely with the traditional dark fruit, baked sweet potato and brandy-like notes representative of Belgian Noëls.
From the Brewers: “Our Cleveland-style Christmas Ale is handcrafted in small batches with 20 pounds of honey, fresh ginger root, cinnamon bark and nutmeg. This high-gravity, amber-hued, Belgian-style ale is brewed with red wheat malt, toasted malt, caramel malt and a pinch of special roast and roasted barley. We call it ‘Cleveland-style,’ since almost all of Kilowatt’s owners are from Ohio and the Midwest, where Christmas ales are extremely popular and typically sell out. Every year in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio near the shores of the Great Lake’s Erie, there is an unwritten friendly competition among local craft brewers for the best-brewed Christmas ale in the land. Each and every year, the brewers bestow upon their tasty brews delightful holiday flavors such as you’ll find in this beer. We West Coasters of San Diego, California—the IPA capital of the planet—tip our hat to Clevelanders and recognize that locale as the Christmas Ale Center of the Universe. Cleveland Style is our tribute!”—Rachel Fischer, Co-owner & Brewer, Kilowatt Brewing Company
For the past three years, Kearny Mesa-based Kilowatt Brewing Company has been the little brewery that could. Bolstered by flamboyantly outlandish beers and striking interior lighting design, the nano-brewery has earned a cult following, patronage from which allowed owners Steve Kozyk and Rachel Fischer to open a flashy satellite tasting room in Ocean Beach that has been quite the hit. Yet, the company has never had a brewer with previous professional fermentation experience. Until now. A recent search for a new head brewer that can take Kilowatt to the next level ended with the hiring of Brian Crecely, who came over from Miramar’s AleSmith Brewing Company last month to fill a crucial role at a critical time for the soon-to-expand business.
What road led you to your current position with Kilowatt?
I was a homebrewer and member of QUAFF (Quality Ale and Fermentation Fraternity) before beginning my professional career at AleSmith in 2011. I started on the packaging line, much like a lot of people do when they first get into the industry. The company saw a tremendous amount of growth during my time there and I was able to grow a lot with them. I managed to work my way up to become a cellarman and, eventually, a brewer. After gaining experience as a brewer, they gave me the opportunity to complete the American Brewers Guild: Brewing Science and Engineering Program, which really helped me add to my brewing knowledge. During this time and until I left AleSmith, I assisted the company with developing (then managing) its barrel-aged sour beer program and took on the role of specialty brewer working with one-off and pilot batches.
What inspired you to leave AleSmith?
Being AleSmith’s specialty brewer gave me the chance to be creative and experiment with lots of different ingredients and ideas. When I heard Kilowatt was hiring a head brewer, I saw a great opportunity for me to continue exploring new beers and styles, and the chance to learn more about brewery management. I also really liked the small, close-knit vibe at Kilowatt, and it was very appealing to have the chance to work closely with the owners on their vision of the brewery and have an impact on making that a reality.
Will Kilowatt’s brewing direction change at all now that you’re on-board?
The focus at Kilowatt has always been to offer a wide range of styles and flavors. I am hoping to continue doing that, but also fine-tune our lineup of beers and try to constantly find ways to innovate and improve each batch that we brew. One of the best parts of being a small brewery is that we have the chance to experiment with new ideas. I am very much looking forward to brewing some mixed-fermentation and barrel-aged sour beers while expanding Kilowatt’s barrel-aging program and IPA (India pale ale) varieties, and adding more classic and session styles to our lineup.
What are you most excited about?
I am excited about our upcoming brewhouse expansion and the new possibilities that are going to come along with it. During the first quarter of next year, we will upgrade from our three-barrel brewhouse to a seven-barrel brewhouse. We will also install a new glycol system, three 15-barrel fermenters and a seven-barrel fermenter, while keeping a few of our existing three-barrel fermenters for experimental and specialty batches. The new system is really going to allow us to bring in more consistency to our beers, and more accurately monitor and control each batch. I saw AleSmith go through some major changes over the years and I feel like I really learned a lot from it, however, back then I was mostly on the sideliens. This time around I’ll be able to be much more hands-on and have the ability to shape the company’s success and how the brewery will operate.
What are the greatest opportunities you see for Kilowatt?
Currently, we sell the vast majority of our beer in our two tasting rooms, and have a limited number of off-site accounts that carry our beer due to our small production. With the expansion, we will be able to reach a lot more people than before. It’s going to be a lot of fun to be a part of that and try to contribute to building the Kilowatt brand.
This weekend, West Coaster obtained official communications from representatives of Helm’s Brewing Company (5640 Kearny Mesa Road, Suites C & N, Kearny Mesa) stating that the five-year-old business is accepting offers from interested parties. Ownership will entertain offers of $500,000 and above.
Helm’s Brewing opened its doors in 2012. Founded by a homebrewer and associates from his primary career, the company’s first head brewer was Brian Mitchell, who went on to work as a small-batch brewer for Stone Brewing before opening his own project, Pariah Brewing Company, at North Park’s Brewery Igniter complex on El Cajon Boulevard earlier this year. Under Mitchell and subsequent brewing personnel, Helm’s’ beer quality has fluctuated, leading to something of a hit-or-miss reputation among consumers. Still, the company was able to add a satellite tasting room in 2016, becoming the third to open in now satellite-saturated Ocean Beach.
The OB tasting room, which is located at the corner of Newport Avenue and Cable Street (the same block as tasting rooms for Belching Beaver Brewery, Culture Brewing Company and Kilowatt Brewing Company) will be included as an acquired asset should Helm’s sell. Among attributes listed for that venue in the company’s solicitation communique are the fact it faces the neighborhood’s Wednesday farmer’s market and “has posted strong revenue numbers through its first year-and-a-half in existence.”