Late last year, after four years in business and a failed attempt at opening a manufacturing facility with contract-brewing capabilities, La Jolla Brewing quietly went out of business, leaving its namesake community with a vacant brewpub. That spot was snatched up by Torrance, California-based Absolution Brewing, which reopened the brewhouse-equipped eatery as Absolution by the Sea last month. With San Diego breweries (Ballast Point Brewing, Stone Brewing, Karl Strauss Brewing, Modern Times Beer) having spent the past several years establishing footholds in the City of Angels’ to benefit from the burgeoning nature of its beer scene, it might seem odd for an LA company to come south, but it makes perfect sense for co-founder Steve Farguson. His family is from here and he has called San Diego home since 1995, so he’s happy to start Absolution’s second chapter in America’s Finest City. We sat down with him to find out more about the concept Absolution has installed in The Jewel.
What inspired you to acquire this particular brewpub?
My parents live eight blocks from the facility and we used to go there (when it was La Jolla Brew House) on a nearly-weekly basis. I always liked the vibe and tried to buy it almost six years ago. When I was approached about the opportunity last year, I said “yes.” For the past four years, I have been commuting from Coronado to Torrance, where we established our production brewery. Our facility is now a well-oiled machine and Absolution by the Sea gave me the opportunity to work closer to home. My parents are also getting older, and being here in La Jolla gives me the chance to check in on them more frequently.
What renovations have you done since taking over the space?
The place was really neglected over the past few years. Reading some of the reviews was really eye-opening. We knew we were in for a significant challenge. There was no evidence that sanitation and proper cleaning had taken place anywhere in the facility. Frankly, the brewery, cold-storage and kitchen were in such neglected shape, we had to replace or rebuild nearly everything. We also installed and upgraded many things that made the space even more inviting, including refinishing the pine wood floors and cutting out the wall separating the dining room from the front patio and installing designer glass. We put in marble around the fire pits, changed the awning to blue to match our sea concept, and installed a state-of-the-art lighting and audio systems. We also tore out 90 feet of draft trunk lines and installed a new draft system.
What is the game plan for on-site beer production?
Absolution has really grown over the past year. We recently hired a new vice presidents of sales for California and Texas, respectively, and we are planning other states this year. Our Torrance facility is gearing up to exclusively produce widely-distributed core brands so we can meet wholesaler demand. In La Jolla, we plan to brew our specialty and seasonal products. We also have a SABCO pilot system for test batches. Absolution by the Sea will create beers unique to the San Diego lifestyle and ship many of them to our sister tap rooms north of here, as well.
What are some future plans for Absolution by the Sea?
In a few months, we plan to open our craft-cocktail bar in the back room and start serving barrel-aged beers, as well. That back space is also going to work nicely as a space for private parties. But mostly, I really want this place to be community-centric. We want to be stewards of not just La Jolla, but San Diego as a whole. Our vision is to really engage the community here and it’s taking place even quicker than we’d anticipated. Already, locals have been reaching out and thanking us. It’s really exciting for me and my partners.
How has it been adding a culinary side to the business?
We are a brewery first and we always will be. It is our core and what drives our whole team, however, we now serve food—real food, not pub food. We really want to be known as a place to gather where you can enjoy a hand-crafted ale with culinary experience that takes no shortcuts. It’s funny…our team has worked so hard the past four-and-a-half years, putting in seven days per week more often than not. We have all aged in the process, but it is all about our passion to deliver a unique product we believe in. As tired as it’s made us, Absolution by the Sea has put a huge spring in my step and a smile on my face. My friends tell me I have never seemed so happy. I’m working in beautiful San Diego and that really says it all for me.
Last week, I wrote about four upcoming brewing companies showing the greatest potential for success (in my personal estimation). I kept my focus on projects located in the northern half of San Diego. Today, I’ve panned to the county’s southern half, and the many new breweries and brewery-owned venues currently in the works.
Eppig Brewing Company, North Park: There’s a generational gap between the current regime heading the revival of this legacy interest, but familial pride and a brewing team hailing from billion-dollar baby Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits should make for a solid mix of beers, running the full spectrum from hoppy West-Coast ales and more outlandish, modern creations to the traditional lagers that formed the basis of the original Eppig Brewing’s portfolio and allowed the business to boom in New York from the mid-1800s to 1935. This reboot is scheduled to open the first week of November at the new Brewery Igniter complex on El Cajon Boulevard in North Park.
Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing Company, Chula Vista: What started as brew-buds and business partners renting time on Butchers Brewing’s (since re-concepted to Finest Made Ales) Santee brewhouse is being grown into a full-on business that will call a three-story building (if you count the brewery and barrel-storage base-floor in the cellar) in downtown Chula Vista home. This operation’s brews have been decently distributed and mostly well received over the past year-plus, and should only get better once the brewers have their very own machinery and all the time in the world with which to utilize it.
Pariah Brewing Company, North Park: Local brewer Brian Mitchell spent the first years of his career toiling away executing the agendas of owners he didn’t see eye-to-eye with at (now closed) La Jolla Brew House and Helm’s Brewing Company, before becoming part of the small-batch brewing team at Stone Brewing. Now, he’s hammering out the final phases of his very own passion-project, one which will aim to churn out beers that please—and periodically challenge—drinkers’ palates. Mitchell will be neighbors with Eppig Brewing and fellow Brewery Igniter North Park tenants San Diego Brewing Company.
Barrel Rescue Brewing Company, Kearny Mesa: It’s one of the smallest and most unique “boutique” concepts being taken from fantasy to reality status currently, but it’s coming along nicely. A couple whose love of rescuing canines and penchant for beer brought them together have collected a wealth of used barrels from parts far-and-wide, for use in aging extremely small batches of various beers at their future home in Kearny Mesa. Governmental hoops are currently being leaped through, but already a lovely, contemporary outdoor patio has been erected, insuring a nice place to sample their eventual ales.
I recently wrote about the shuttering of La Jolla Brew House in our May 2013 issue (page 9 in our Brews in the News section). Yesterday, La Jolla Patch got the scoop on what’s happening at the brewpub’s location. In summary, La Jolla Brew House has been sold and is now under new ownership as La Jolla Brewing Co. The brewpub is currently undergoing extensive renovation with a tentative opening date of August 2013.
Today, I spoke with brewmaster Brett Stampf. There will be 24 tap handles with six to eight house beers and the remaining tap handles will have a local emphasis. Working directly with the general contractor, Stampf is cleaning up and upgrading the brewhouse. Right now, a new glycol system is on order as well as a new control panel. “We have a budget to fix anything that needs fixing,” he added.
In the opinion of this writer, La Jolla Brew House had great potential that was never realized. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, La Jolla Brewing Co. seems poised to deliver a quality brewpub in a great location.
There is much to do if you are thirsty. Here’s what we have via the West Coaster Event Calendar.
5P-Close Small Bar is doing a keep the pint night with Big Sky Brewing out of Missoula, Montana. Pints will be $5.00 and refills $3.50. On Draught: Trout slayer, Moose Drool, IPA, IIPA and Dry Stout.
6P-10P A Sierra Nevada Beer Pairing Dinner is going on at Urge Gastropub. We like Urge, not just because they advertise with us, but also because they serve burgers as big as your face for a fair price. Seriously, their food is amazing, so we have high hopes for how this pairing will turn out. We also hope that Sculpin mustard will make an appearance….More info, click here
2P-7P AleSmith has started a weekly event titled Firkin Thursday. The inagural Firkin Thursday will take place this week, and will serve a cask of Anvil ESB brewed with English Yeast for $3 per 12 oz. glass.
6P-10P La Jolla Brew House is hosting a pint night with Sam Adams’ Rustic Saison. $6 a pint w/ the glass, and $4 refills afterwards.
6P-10P Press Box Sports Lounge is holding a Beer Pairing w/ Firestone Walker. Their head chef Jesus worked for years at the La Valencia in La Jolla, and thus the fare will be exceptional. $25 for unlimited food and plentiful beer combined to live music in a classy joint translates to “best deal in town” for Thursday night.
6:30P-11P O’Brien’s is holding a Real Ale Festival Pre-Party. Full kegs of Black Ops Black IPA, Idiot IPA, Czech Pils, and Hoppy Daze Belgo-IPA from Coronado Brewing Company will be on tap all weekend long.
1130A – 2P Blind Lady Ale House is doing a W-$2 Beer special in celebration of the passing of another tax day. Straight from Lee Chase: “We’re doing Cask Stone Black IPA (SSRA) for just $2 until 2pm.” Start this weekend early.
4P-8P Friday Afternoon Club (F.A.C.) @ Hess. This is Hess’ new monthly meetup that serves up music, food and tasty beer. For a nano-brewery, these guys party big.
5P-10P Downtown Johnny Brown’s 3rd Annual Bitter & Sour Night. If you’re into sour beers or IPAs this is the event you won’t want to miss this night. For a full listing of what’s being offered, click here.
7P-8P Tune in to channel 94.9 on Friday nights for Stone’s Rock & Roll Happy Hour. Head Brewer Mitch Steele and President & Brewmaster Steve Wagner talk beer and pick out beer drinkin’ music for an hour. As a news outlet, we atWest Coaster are super impressed (slightly jealous) of the Stone media machine.
1P-11P Pizza Ports Real Ale Festival rolls into it’s 2nd day. If you’re insane you can try to attend both days.
5P-7P The Tipsy Crow has bamboozled 1/6th barrel of the formidable Oskar Blues ‘Ol Double Bagger Barleywine. The only time this beer has appeared in San Diego. Big beer fans take heed.
6P-10P CityBeat’s Beer Club is going scandalous at Buskers After Dark at Seaport Village. The email from CityBeat said that it was going to get “risqué,” with “adult content.” You can always just claim you went because of the $1 beers. As always, you must be on the list to get the sweet deal, so sign up by going here.
10A-6P Stone Brewing Co. is holding their Oakquinox event. “An outrageous celebration of barrel-aged brews” held in the gorgeous Stone World Gardens under the mild Escondido sky sounds good to us. Unfortunately, the event sold out.
11A-10P Back Street Brewery is celebrating their 7th Anniversary in Vista! There will be a special birthday brew on tap at $2 a pint, as well as Mother Earth’s Vanilla Cream Ale and Lost Abbey’s Brandy Barrel Aged Angel’s Share. Food specials will be offered via Lamppost Pizza.
We now distribute to over 90 locations in San Diego County. No matter what part of town you are in, there’s San Diego beer there. Newest distribution spots? Hoffer’s Cigar Bar in La Mesa, Press Box Sports Lounge near Jamul, Stadium Sports Lounge, Lumberyard Tavern & Grill in Encinitas, and Picadilly Market in Poway. Got suggestions on great craft beer spots? Call our hotline at 619.796.5719
We’ve been quiet because we have been busy interviewing and training our recent new hires. We’re positively delighted to have Brandon Hernández on board as the newest WC Staff Writer. Look for Brandon to raise our level of editorial quality as he draws on experience working for Celebrator, Pacific San Diego Magazine & the Food Network, amongst others. Brandon’s work will appear in March’s West Coaster.
Also on board is Austin Gage, who is our new Advertising Executive. Austin is an old friend who has the gift of gab and experience as a salesman for Time Warner. If you own a business related to craft beer in the San Diego area, expect a phone call from Austin. If you think we can help your business, please advertise.
Matt Akin moves to La Jolla Brew House
One of the AleSmith greats is now head brewer for the storied La Jolla Brew House. We’re going to give him some time to brew something before we grill him with questions. Another talented brewer arrives at LJBH, and we are hopeful that good beer will ensue. Any restaurant that serves pretzels as big as your head, has a dog friendly patio with sweet couches, and brews decent (and improving) beer is cool with us. While opinions of LJBH are varied, we at West Coaster maintain that LJBH has the potential to be a fantastic craft beer location. (You can get what’s left of Travis Smith’s beer for $2 a pint until it runs out)
White Labs expanding
We ran into Chris White of White Labs last week while distributing. Breaking ground in ~2 weeks, the new White Labs expansion off Kerney Villa will allow for 5 times more yeast production and should be open by June. There will be a public tasting space, and on-site workshops and homebrewing classes will be open to the public. Look for WC Staff Writer Sam Tierney to tell you more in the March issue.
Coaster Saloon adds taps
Already boasting a decent local craft beer selection, West Coaster learned that the iconic Coaster Saloon will be adding 12 (mostly local) taps. After a few (dozen) rides on the rickety Dipper, nothing goes down smoother than some cold San Diego flavor. Alongside Luigi’s & Sandbar, Mission Beach now enjoys a budding little craft brew scene along with its blissfully sterotypical West Coast lifestyle.
On Friday we traveled to the most Eastern outpost of local craft beer, Alpine Brewing Company. The ~30 minute trip requires a pulled pork sandwich and a glass of one of the finest IPAs this county can produce. Last Friday’s distribution run was planned, however. The big, mean Exponential Hoppiness was being released. While dining, Alpine brewer and fellow North Parker Cy Henley came and said hello. I asked him what made this run of Expo different, and he replied that this batch was less heavy on the oak with more hop flavor. He also said it was his favorite batch of Expo in recent memory, and we’re in accord. Did you know it’s also available in bombers? We didn’t.
We wrote about the new PubCakes/Treehouse Coffee Co. storefront in our February issue, and the Grand Opening party on Saturday did not disappoint. Around 3pm, about 50 people were walking in and out of the beer garden stationed next door, with more having arrived earlier. As we reached the cash register, owner Misty Birchall told me, “I ran out! And I made 600!” Misty even had to limit customers to 1 PubCake per person. If you’re looking for that perfect beer-related Valentine’s Day gift, the 7229 El Cajon Blvd. storefront right off the 8 highway (70th Street exit) will be open from 7am-4pm Tuesday-Saturday.