In April, I named Northern Pine Brewing Company (326 North Horne Street, Oceanside) as one of the North County work-in-progress breweries I was most greatly anticipating. At the time, I had to admit that there really wasn’t much to go by, but a commitment to helping out charities via their business seemed a good reason for added faith. Recently I had the opportunity to learn more about this operation and am able to provide more detail—of which there’s quite a bit.
The owners of the business, Bobby Parsons, Aaron and Anne Ortega recently signed a lease on a 6,100-square-foot building located on the corner of Horne Street and Civic Center Drive, several blocks east of Oceanside Pier and close to Interstate 5’s Mission Avenue exit. They are currently filling out applications for permits and licenses, but still hope to be up-and-running before the end of 2016. Their newly acquired one-story digs are fairly non-descript, but will be designed to convey a “modern-farmhouse vibe” through natural elements that help to convey the trio’s love of the outdoors.
But Northern Pine won’t be the only business occupying that farmhouse. That Boy Good Southern BBQ Joint, a downtown Oceanside business fostering a downhome Southern motif, will share space with the brewery. This will be a satellite space to the original location, go by the name That Good Boy Po’ Boy Shoppe, and serve menu items that differ from the flagship eatery. Northern Pine plans on brewing beers to pair specifically with that cuisine, and the team’s interior designer will work to incorporate the themes of both businesses for a north-meets-south rusticity.
Bobby and Aaron will handle the brewing for Northern Pine. Both are former Marines, and their devotion to the Corps fueled a noteworthy endeavor in 2012 when they brewed a beer to honor seven fallen Marines. The project was supported by Mother Earth Brew Co., which allowed the duo to brew the beer on their system in Vista. At Northern Pine, they will preside over a six-barrel brewhouse that was built on the Discovery Channel program, Monster Garage featuring former Stone Brewing brewer Lee Chase (now the owner of Automatic Brewing Company and its pair of restaurants, Blind Lady Ale House and Tiger! Tiger! Tavern).
That unique apparatus will be used to produce a 30-deep catalog of beers, spanning traditional and newer American beer-styles. Some initial beers that will be brewed include a cream ale, saison, Czech-style Pilsner, a pineapple dry-hopped India pale ale (IPA) and series of SMaSH beers (single malt and single hop). A bourbon whiskey barrel-aged porter will also find its way into the mix. Currently, annual production is estimated at 600 barrels. Though all early product will be kegged, Northern Pine plans to “aggressively pursue bottling and canning.”
The name Prodigy Brewing Company has been floating through San Diego beer rumor streams since 2012. And over the past year, some of the fledgling brewery’s beers have been flowing through taps at some of San Diego’s finer craft-beer bars. Still, a great deal of fuzziness and misinformation exists where this business is concerned. So, we went straight to the source, co-founder Howell Gillogly—a homebrewer of 23 years who convinced the long-time head brewer for San Diego Brewing Company—to change course and embark on a new next chapter—to clear things up about where Prodigy is located and when its beers will be easier to find and more regularly available.
You had a brewing facility in Grantville. What happened to that spot?
In August of 2015, we started looking for a new home for the brewery, since the Grantville building was sold out from under us. We had to completely suspend brewing, tear down the brewery operations and have all hands on deck (three of us) out and about looking for a new brewery home. The move went as well as can be expected when dealing with massive 30-barrel fermenters. Prodigy left the old building on December 31.
Where are you now?
We found a new home up in San Marcos, not too far from Rip Current Brewing Company. Once we’re done with all the build-out and setting up our hardware, we can begin brewing once again. As of today, we’ve installed the electric systems, glycol lines and top-treated the floors. We are so close to moving the tanks in!
Your beers have been spotted throughout San Diego. Where all have they been served?
Last May, June and July we canvassed the entire 30th Street corridor with a new 7.5% IPA called CitraLicious. [Head brewer] Dean Rouleau wanted me to do a huge marketing push, but I took a different route and simply let the beer sell itself. I told Dean that his world-class beer was enough and it did just that! It completely blew up the scene with 15.5-gallon kegs blowing out in as as little as 24 hours, so I’ll take that as a win. Ian Black, the owner of Toronado, was so stoked with CitraLicious that he asked for three kegs per week. I was happy to oblige! A big kudus came when Lee Chase, the owner of Blind Lady Ale House and Tiger! Tiger! Tavern, tried a pint and said, “Simply awesome. I want more of this for my locations.” We poured CitraLicious at [these and other top spots]…CitraLicious began showing up on Untapped. It was really cool to see so many people logging in and rating this beer, so much in fact that our little brewery gained a total ranking higher than some of the more established breweries. Again, this is all the work of Dean, which led me to create a new tag line “born to do this”.
And now you’re looking for additional venues?
Our current project, outside of the build-out, is looking for external tasting rooms. We’ve decided that having two-to-four tasting rooms across San Diego County will be the best solution for getting the beer to the public and offer us the best margins. The artist’s rendering (at right) is a brand-new development on South Cedros Avenue in Solana Beach. This space hasn’t been built-out yet, but the developer is very keen on having a brewery tasting room. We’ve seen the renderings and floorplans, and it would be a beautiful 2,500-to-3,000 square-foot room. We are also looking for locations in North Park, possibly at a recently vacated coffee-shop. Dean and I would really like to be in North Park, so that’s the current focus. We also had some conversations with the City of Chula Vista, but what we were shown wasn’t the best locations for us. It was west of Interstate 5. We want to be in a main business district.
When can people expect to see Prodigy beers available in greater quantities?
I hope to have beer out in the market by the start of May via self-distribution to our very loyal accounts. Tasting room build-outs are going to take some time, and I’ll keep everyone up-to-date via Prodigy’s Facebook page.
Having seen the undeniable impact and growth of the local brewing industry, local colleges have developed craft beer curriculums covering the science and business of opening a brewery. The first to do so was the University of California, San Diego with the UCSD Extension Brewing Certificate program, and the first graduate to open his own brewery was Ed O’Sullivan with the 2014 debut of O’Sullivan Bros. Brewing Company in Scripps Ranch. A year into the business of brewing, O’Sullivan has put much of his instructors’ teachings to use and even joined the faculty fold. We dropped in on him to find out more about the program and what it—and his brewery—have to offer the beer curious masses.
How was the UCSD program helpful in founding and operating your brewery?
Ed O’Sullivan: I think we’re the ultimate experiment because we studied under the masters of the craft and implemented what was taught in the program. I mean, I was a sponge for knowledge and we were quite literal in putting things in place that they recommended. I didn’t have commercial brewing experience coming into the program, so it was extremely helpful to have the advice and counsel of experts who could assist me in the planning, construction and operational start-up phases of the brewery. As a molecular biologist, I was able to understand a lot of science behind brewing and fermentation, but I had no experience with HVAC, filtration, PLC controls, tanks and pressures, CIP, cleaning chemicals and so on. But the feedback I got was very relevant and succinct. I put everything I learned into practice from the layout of the brewery to our brewing fermentation equipment to our lab, quality control program and more. Our beer is being well received and, after just nine months of operation, we were awarded two silver medals at this summer’s San Diego International Beer Competition. I owe a lot of our success to what the instructors passed on.
Who were some of the instructors you learned from?
EOS: The cool thing is that the instructors I learned from were Mitch Steele (brewmaster, Stone Brewing Co.), Lee Chase (brewmaster, Automatic Brewing Co.), Chris White (owner, White Labs), Gwen Conley (QA director, Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey/The Hop Concept), Peter Zien (brewmaster, AleSmith Brewing Co.), Yuseff Cherney (brewmaster, Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits), Arlan Arnsten (former sales VP, Stone), Tomme Arthur (director of brewery operations, Port/Lost Abbey/Hop Concept), Patrick Rue (brewmaster, The Bruery), Matt Brynildson (brewmaster, Firestone Walker Brewing Co.) and a host of other great instructors. I remember Yuseff telling me, “It’s not fair. It took me 20 years to figure some of this stuff out and you guys are getting it all in a few months.” I bristle with pride whenever I get a visit from one of the instructors.
And now you’re one of those instructors, right?
EOS: After I got the brewery up and running, the folks at UCSD asked me if I might be interested in teaching a class based on my experiences building a new brewery. Now I teach a class called The Brewery Start Up, which is one segment of a three-part class called The Business of Craft Beer. Peter Zien and Candace Moon (the Craft Beer Attorney) teach the other two segments. It seems like the program has now gone full-circle.
Who are some other graduates of note from the program?
EOS: You’ll see a lot of UCSD brewing graduates at many of the larger local breweries. Ballast Point, Stone and The Lost Abbey scooped up a lot of my classmates. O’Sullivan Bros. has also been fortunate to attract a number of graduates of the program. Currently, four out of six of us either graduated or are in the process of completing their Professional Brewers Certificate at the brewery today. We’ve been hosting interns from the program as well. We are on our third at the moment. I think our brewery tends to be attractive to graduates, especially if they are technical or science-oriented (aka, beer nerds). We not only have the brewery, but the lab with a bunch of equipment for testing and experimenting. We also have seven fermenters, so we can make a lot of different beers and keep everyone’s interest piqued for new brews, so there’s something for everyone.
What’s new with O’Sullivan Bros. and what’s next for the business?
EOS: We just finished our first year. It was a heck of a year and the result was 16 new beers, two silver medals, 60-plus retailers and a bunch of great tasting room customers. We just released our first lager, a nice California common called Steady Lad, that’s about to be followed by a new Bohemian Pilsner called Tooraloo (Irish lullaby). The brewery is nearing its maximum capacity and at our current size we’re only able to supply a select few. So, we are seriously looking at ways we can expand to keep up with growing demand.
Delightfully small and understated, it’d be easy to walk right by The Homebrewer without taking notice. Unless, of course, you’re a homebrewer. In three years, George and Molly Thornton’s brew-it-yourself biz has amassed a stellar reputation as one of the most beloved retail outlets of its kind in one of the most homebrewer-centric counties in the world. There’s even more to love about the North Park spot, which now sports a tasting room for its on-site beer-making operation, Home Brewing Co. (2911 El Cajon Boulevard, North Park).
Like most undertakings of the hobbyists The Homebrewer serves, HBC is a work in progress. But even with thrown together furniture, a bar waiting for a custom-designed top and a bar-back missing its future mirror focal point, the whole thing works. The space mirrors the DIY spirit of recreational brewers, making it feel cozily appropriate versus unfinished. Guests can belly up to the tasting bar, hunker down on an Ikea couch or table with a wood palette top, or rest their elbows on numerous belly bars as they work their way through a regularly changing line-up of beers produced on a seven-barrel brewhouse directly behind the bar.
The day I visited, 13 beers were on tap. Several were split into dual offerings, as is one of Thornton’s purposeful differentiators. Because part of the mission of HBC is to showcase the ingredients available at The Homebrewer, he enjoys brewing a batch of beer, then splitting it and treating one different than the other by dry-hopping it differently, adding adjuncts, fermenting it with a different yeast strain, serving it on nitro, etc. It’s similar to how White Labs ferments base beers with a variety of diverse yeast strains to illustrate the vast flavor and aroma differences each imparts, but HBC’s approach is wider reaching.
Thornton says there is no style of beer he doesn’t appreciate, and his HBC brews prove it. While he’s currently gravitating toward iterations of American pale ales, they share beer list space with a brown ale, Belgian amber, hefeweizen, Schwarzbier, India pale ale and more. While highly varied, these beers share similarities in that they are highly drinkable and mostly very dry in the finish. Hop flavors and aromas tend to dominate without being obscured by bracing bitterness. This is particularly true of SMASH (single malt and single hop) offerings, something that’s becoming quite en vogue among craft enthusiasts. All in all, the beers are impressive and enjoyable, whether one’s aim is to taste across the board or meander over a pint or two of a single offering.
HBC is for sure one to watch among the county’s newer brewery debuts, especially considering Thornton has several barrels of blonde ale souring away in a closed-off space behind his two-in-one business. He hasn’t quite figured out the specifics of how to offer it up to prospective buyers, but wants to explore bottling. That may require the help of industry friends, but Thornton has many. His reputation among local brewers is as good as that of his store among the amateur sect.
He recently collaborated on a beer with brewers from Intergalactic Brewing Co. and Kilowatt Brewing Co., seeks recipe formulation advice from Ray Astamendi at Fall Brewing Co., and has enjoyed Q&A and collaboration brew sessions with Lee Chase of Automatic Brewing Co. That beer, Tiger! Piss! (a name playing off Chase’s Tiger! Tiger! Tavern), is a 6.4% SMASH IPA brewed with Chinook hops and Golden Promise malt emitting massive citrus scents that carry through to the taste buds. Look for that to reappear in the future along with a Berliner weisse, myriad lagers and beers brewed using a hefeweizen yeast strain.
In past years, West Coaster ran a feature covering who we thought would be the movers and shakers of the upcoming year. Now, for 2014, we’ve opened up the feature to our readers by way of an online poll that isn’t about predictions; it’s about results. The 14 in ‘14 highlights 14 different categories across San Diego Beer and our readers chose their favorites in each. The result? A snapshot of the past year in this beer-soaked county.
BEST BREWERY OF 2014
Societe Brewing Co.
Born over pints at O’Brien’s, Travis Smith and Douglas Constantiner came from very different backgrounds to create Societe Brewing Co. Smith began his professional brewing career in 2004 with an apprenticeship at Russian River Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa, which developed into a full-time brewing position in 2005. In addition, he tended to the joint hopyard of Russian River & Moonlight Brewing Co. In 2009, Smith moved to The Bruery in Orange County to take on the Lead Brewer position, where he met friend and current business partner, Douglas Constantiner.
After realizing the breakneck pace of investment finance wasn’t for him, Douglas Constantiner attended the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago and promptly moved to San Diego after graduation. Starting out at Pizza Port Carlsbad, he also interned at Oggi’s and worked on the bottling line at Green Flash. Later, he moved on to The Bruery, washing kegs and bottling at first, eventually taking control of the cellar and packaging operations before starting as a brewer. In that position, he befriended Travis Smith and learned how to brew professionally.
BEST BREWER OF 2014
Travis Smith, Societe Brewing Co.
In 2010, Smith moved down to pursue a head brewer position at the now-closed La Jolla Brew House, but the two friends kept in touch by meeting up at O’Brien’s. When it became known that the Brew House was not meant to be, the friendly meetups turned into business planning sessions. Societe Brewing Co. opened in 2012 with a 16,000 square foot facility and a 20 barrel brewhouse. Their offerings include West Coast, Belgian and barrel-aged. If you haven’t already, plan a trip to the well-appointed tasting room and try the Harlot, Pupil, Butcher and any specialty they have on tap to understand why readers chose Societe & Travis as the best Brewery and Brewer of 2014.
BEST HOMEBREW SHOP OF 2014
Home Brew Mart
The store that launched a thousand beers. The eldest location in the rapidly-expanding Ballast Point empire, Home Brew Mart started as a humble brewing supply outpost in 1992. Jack White, an avid homebrewer recently graduated from college, started the shop as a hobby. At the time, only one other supply store existed in the county in El Cajon, so Home Brew Mart successfully catered to San Diego’s centrally-located homebrewers. White eventually needed some help, so he put out a newspaper ad seeking employees. Yuseff Cherney stopped in responding to the ad, and was the store’s first hire (he’s now the Chief Operating Officer & Head Brewer/Distiller). Early customers include Lee Chase (Blind Lady Ale House/Automatic Brewing Co., Panama 66, Tiger!Tiger!) and Vinnie Cilurzo (Russian River).
Perhaps the store’s greatest contribution to San Diego beer was the partnership forged between Chris White and Yuseff Cherney. White was a post-graduate student at University of California, San Diego and took a homebrewing class that Cherney was teaching. The two started homebrewing together, and noticed a need for fresh, pitchable yeast to replace the inconsistent dry packaged yeast that was the norm at the time. White eventually started selling vials of California Ale Yeast to Home Brew Mart. This marks the beginning of White Labs, which is now an international supplier of brewing yeast based out of San Diego. Yeast is a highly perishable and super critical ingredient in the brewing process, and by selling fresh yeast over the counter, Home Brew Mart became pivotal in the formation of San Diego beer as we know it. A 15 barrel brewhouse was added to Home Brew Mart in 1996, thus creating Ballast Point Brewing Co.
Home Brew Mart completed a 2,200 square foot expansion in 2014, adding bar and table seating along with a new 40-tap draft system. Although much more polished than its original incarnation, the store continues to foster the San Diego home brewing community, which in turn drives the growth of the professional brewing industry.
BEST BEER OF 2014
Alpine Beer Company – Nelson IPA
The greatest beer of 2014 comes from the unincorporated mountain community of Alpine on the Eastern edge of San Diego county. During a 2003 vacation in New Zealand, Pat and Val McIlhenney discovered the Nelson hop growing region. After returning home, he had the hops ordered, put together a recipe involving rye and the Nelson Sauvin hop (among others), and developed the first incarnation of Nelson.
The 7% ABV Nelson gives a citrus, floral aroma that leads to a slightly creamy taste that focuses on the tropical, resiny character of the hops. A dry finish leaves you ready for the next sip. Nelson enjoys a rare 100 out of 100 rating on RateBeer.com and an equally-rare 100% rating on BeerAdvocate.com.
Up until very recently, Nelson was only available outside of the brewery at select draft accounts and through limited bottle release. In 2014, Alpine and Green Flash Brewing Co. partnered to create a 3,000-barrel release of three Alpine beers brewed at Green Flash, with Nelson being one of them. This led to the acquisition of Alpine Beer Co. by Green Flash in November 2014; expect to see much more of this fantastic beer in 2015 and beyond.
BEST BEER NEIGHBORHOOD OF 2014
Starting out as a lemon grove in 1893, the current incarnation of North Park is the product of gentrification that began in the 1990s. Then, North Park was in a state of blight, with numerous storefronts mothballed. Residents of the area, interested in the rich heritage of their historical craftsman homes and improving the neighborhood, began working together. North Park Main Street was organized to help draw businesses to the area, and to keep them there. A small newspaper, North Park News, was launched to help residents informed about local happenings.
The result is the world class pedestrian neighborhood that is North Park in 2014. Home to craft beer-heavy bars such as Toronado and Seven Grand, the neighborhood also has four breweries: Thorn Street, Mike Hess Brewing, Poor House Brewing Co., Fall Brewing Co., and two brewery tasting rooms: Belching Beaver and Modern Times. The Homebrewer serves 92104 with brewing supplies, and restaurants such as Tiger!Tiger!, Ritual Tavern, Underbelly, Waypoint Public, and URBN serve quality food with strong draft selections to boot. Each month, the DrinkAbout bus follows a route along 30th Street, ferrying beer drinkers to and from select beer spots. For the lover of beer and food, North Park has both in quantities unparalleled in the county. Its sheer variety along with its walkability were no doubt in our readers’ minds when choosing the Best Beer Neighborhood of 2014.
Fun fact: West Coaster was founded in 2010 on 28th Street, in the same bungalow that spawned North Park News in 1992.
BEST BEERTENDER OF 2014
Nate “Islander” Soroko
A chef by trade, Nate Soroko came into the local beer scene by chance. Looking for a second job after moving to San Diego, he answered a Craigslist ad calling for help at a burger joint called the Liar’s Club in 2004. The beer scene was a much different place ten years ago; there were only a handful of places where craft beer was served, including Downtown Johnny Brown’s, Churchill’s, and Liar’s Club.
“Alpine beer was always on sale. Nobody would drink it because it was from East County, and Pliny the Younger would be on tap for weeks,” Nate recalls. He got to know the regulars at the bar, which included Lee Chase (Blind Lady Ale House/Automatic), Dennis Borlek (Fathom Bistro), Scot Blair (Hamilton’s/Small Bar/Monkey Paw), Ian Black (Toronado) and Greg Koch (Stone). Nate also took up gigs cooking at Pizza Port Carlsbad and Lost Abbey festivals; at the time, food trucks in San Diego were virtually non-existent. After working at Liar’s club for a spell, he’d go out for drinks around town, meeting people and hearing, “Oh yeah, you’re the Islander from Liar’s Club,” and his nickname was born.
After Liar’s Club closed in 2007, Nate continued cooking for various beer festivals, but took on a full-time job with the Gaslamp Marriott. In 2010, he picked up more shifts at Toronado while moonlighting at Lost Abbey and Alpine. The founders of Modern Times began meeting in Toronado to discuss their then-new brewery venture, and Nate learned quickly that it would be something he wanted to be a part of. Currently, you can find him behind the bar at Modern Times or Toronado, depending on the day.
When asked about the state of beer then versus now, he responds, “I wish people weren’t so jaded, but at the same time I’m happy to see so many beers like Sculpin on tap that were so hard to find. It’s a yin-and-yang situation that comes with the growth.” Nate continues: “The diversity has also opened up a lot. Before, it was just 40 year old white dudes and now you’re seeing all different kinds of people drinking better beer. I think it’s reflective of an industry that’s really open and accepting.”
Pizza Port Brewing Co.
Pizza Port is a collection of brewpubs that span the coastline of Southern California from San Clemente to Ocean Beach. Gina Marsaglia purchased the original Pizza Port in Solana Beach in 1987. Her brother, Vince, came out to sling pizza and surf, eventually opting to stay in Southern California working at Pizza Port instead of returning to college to pursue electrical engineering. Gina moonlighted at the original Karl Strauss location in downtown to better understand the brewpub model, and Vince started speaking with homebrewers that were regulars at Solana Beach. In 1992, after receiving an expansion loan, a brewhouse was built, and the first beer, Shark Bite Red, was created under the auspice of Solana Beach Brewing Co.
Solana Beach led way to the opening of the Carlsbad Pizza Port in 1997, and then a location in San Clemente shortly after. A bottleshop was added next to the Carlsbad location in 2008. Pizza Port Ocean Beach opened in 2010, and finally, a large, more production-oriented brewpub opened in Bressi Ranch in 2012 complete with a massive canning line. All Pizza Ports are family friendly brewery restaurants, complete with on-site brewed beer as well as beer from other ‘Ports, plus guest taps from around the world.
Their brewing team has earned prestige many times over at the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup. Former brewers such as Tomme Arthur (The Lost Abbey), Jeff Bagby (Bagby Beer Co.) and Yiga Miyashiro (Saint Archer) have moved on from Pizza Port to other successful ventures, and current head brewers Nacho Cervantes (Carlsbad), Devon Randall (Solana Beach), Sean Farrell (Bressi Ranch), Trevor Walls (San Clemente) and Mike Aubuchon (Carlsbad) presently lead brewing operations at their respective locations.
Each Pizza Port location is worthy of the Best Brewpub title on their own, and are considered by many to be the gold standard for a no-nonsense brewery restaurant. Combined they create a formidable family of flavor that serves San Diego-style craft to thirsty folks countywide (and beyond). Bressi Ranch produces competitively-priced six-packs of 16-ounce cans, effectively bringing Pizza Port into the hands of even more beer drinkers.
BEST TASTING ROOM
Bursting out of the mind of Jacob McKean, formerly charged with navigating Stone Brewing Company’s marketing arm, came an idea for a brewery named after a utopian colony in Long Island in 1850. After a wildly successful KickStarter campaign featuring slick branding with off-the-wall quirks, the first batch of beer was brewed mid-2013 and the world was introduced to beers such as Fortunate Islands and Lomaland in cans and on draft.
Indeed, it is Modern Times’ personality that won over our readers when selecting the Best Tasting Room of 2014. The tasting room at the “Lomaland Fermatorium” is an experience in itself; a wall of comic books stands across from a post-it note mural of late performer Michael Jackson and his pet monkey, Bubbles. Modern Times was among the first to allow for blank, non-branded growler fills, also.
In 2014, a North Park satellite tasting room (or Flavordome, in MT’s parlance) was opened on 30th Street in North Park, and created another space that was equally as whimsical (without being campy) and unique (without trying too hard). Floppy disks serve as coasters and create a mural of Yoda, while lamp shades and VHS tapes adorn the ceiling and bar, respectively.
We’ve never seen anything like Modern Times. Unique, bold, and pleasantly strange, a visit to either location is a full sensory experience that’s dripping in creative soul. The beers match the ambiance, bending and blending styles to create something special for San Diego beer drinkers.
BEST BEER RESTAURANT
Having opened a little over a year ago, beer-heavy restaurant Waypoint Public occupies a prominent location on 30th Street. Executive Chef, homebrewer, and former Top Chef contestant Amanda Baumgarten (pictured) brings a blend of classical culinary experience and a homebrewer’s eye for creativity to the kitchen. In our March 2014 issue of West Coaster, Brandon Hernández sat down with Amanda: “I’ve always brewed in restaurant kitchens. I find the close proximity to an industrial ice machine a great help,” says Baumgarten. “I love that beer is a blank canvas. The possibilities are endless when it comes to developing nuances in flavor and texture.”
Offering dishes such as cassoulet, veal osso bucco and fried green tomatoes, the menu is meant to represent the eclectic nature of California, borrowing freely from different cultures. When teamed up with partner Brian Jensen, who curates the draft and bottle selection at Waypoint (and who also owns both Bottlecraft locations), eaters are treated to world-class food and drink in the heart of North Park.
BEST BEER FESTIVAL
SD Brewers Guild Fest
The two day festival that officially launches the ten day San Diego Beer Week festivities is one of only a few official events thrown by the San Diego Brewers Guild. Taking place at the Port Pavilion on Broadway Pier, the location serves for overflow cruise ship parking when the other two piers are being used, and is open to host public events when not.
The Guild Fest is broken up into a VIP Brewer Takeover on the first Friday evening of Beer Week, and a larger San Diego Brewers Guild Festival on the following Saturday. This year, the Friday session hosted 50 breweries, while the Saturday session featured 55. Each festival allows for unlimited tasters of beers from only San Diego County. The VIP Takeover hosts various restaurants that provide unlimited small plates of food, and the Guild Festival has food available for purchase on the large outdoor space at the western end of the pier. Prices for 2014 were $75 and $35 respectively, with an option to buy a 2 day pass for $100.
Proceeds from the two-day event directly benefit the San Diego Brewers Guild, and beer drinkers from all over the world attend. In the land of seemingly perpetual beer festivals, this one stands out above the rest because of its organization, SD-only focus, and unique atmosphere.
BEST BEER BAR
Not surprisingly, this was one of our most contested categories that saw the most variety of votes. Out of all the beer bars in the “Capital of Craft,” Hamilton’s earned the most votes and here’s why: this bar has it all. An outstanding, well curated and maintained draft lineup that spans the gamut of styles alongside solid pub fare and bolstered by an insane schedule of regular & special events in a non-pretentious atmosphere. Whether you’re showing up after work for chicken wings and a pint, or talking loudly with a group of friends over a shuffleboard game on Saturday night, Hamilton’s delivers.
And this is not by mistake. Scot Blair and his wife Karen have poured their collective souls into creating this masterpiece of beer culture on what was once a quiet corner on the southern end of 30th Street. Tap lines are meticulously maintained, cleaned or replaced following the rotation of craft beers from all over. Weekly and monthly events include Firkin Friday, a weekly guest cask beer special, and Second Saturday, a monthly special showcasing established as well as up-and-coming breweries complete with complimentary food. Special events like a Padre’s excursion on a double deckered bus or Disk Golf Tournament (The Fling) are guaranteed to be a blast, as well.
From the minds behind Hamilton’s came Small Bar, then Eleven, then Monkey Paw, and soon, South Park Brewing Company. Each bar has a distinct personality and is worthy of the title, but Hammie’s was where it all started, named in honor of Herman Hamilton, a Montford Point Marine who lived next door to the bar. Although he didn’t drink, he was a frequent patron of the bar and a three decade-plus resident of South Park until his death at the age of 84 in April of 2011. A photo of Herman rests inside, above the entrance.
“I don’t care if you’re gay, straight, black, white, hipster, biker, whatever — you are welcome at our bars. Leave your social group at the door and come be a human being.” — Scot Blair, West Coaster February 2011
BEST TAP ROTATION
With 56 tap handles and more than 35-40 kegs rotating per week, it’s a full time job keeping Toronado’s beer offerings tasting fresh. “If we have a keg and it’s replacing the same style that just blew, we’ll clean the line. If there’s a new style coming on, we’ll replace the line,” says Toronado’s Eric Shelley. Both Eric and owner Ian Black are responsible for tending to the nearly 150 kegs Toronado has in both cold boxes at any given time.
They wouldn’t have it any other way. “It makes a world of difference,” says Ian. “I’d rather be in the cold box than at the bar.” Toronado uses a direct draw draft system, meaning the giant refrigerated room, known as a cold box or walk in, is located only a few feet from the tap handles. “Our lines are anywhere from two to eight feet long,” Eric states. The short draw of beer from keg to tap is important because tap lines are susceptible to contamination. Dirty lines can become gardens for bacteria, yeast and even mold. The longer the line, the greater the chance of contamination and harder the chore of cleaning or replacing. Good beer bars regularly clean their lines, while superior beer bars replace draft lines frequently.
While they are not the only beer bar in town adamant about clean, fresh beer, Toronado makes sure the selection served is appropriate. “Not all beer should be on keg. I’d prefer to have a Belgian style in a bottle than on tap,” says Ian. Toronado’s tap lineup is frequently hop-heavy, as hop aromas and flavors are the most perishable. Similar to having fresh vegetables in your fridge, hoppy beer is best enjoyed quickly and on tap. Between draft and bottle offerings, any beer enjoyed beer at Toro tastes as the brewer intended.
Born and raised in Colorado Springs, Ken Schmidt’s first batch of homebrew was in 1966 using a can of malt extract to create a Pale Ale. “Blue Ribbon Malt Extract with hop flavor was the only ingredient you could get at a grocery store,” Ken recalls. At the time, homebrewing was illegal and would remain so for another 12 years; there were no books, homebrew supply stores, or groups. “It turned out to be such a terrible beer. I didn’t try again for several years.”
An avid fisher and diver, Ken came to San Diego in 1970 to pursue a career in marine biology. “I love liquid and bubbles, so homebrewing makes sense.” Combine that with a passion for the Hawaiian Islands, and the Aloha Plenty series was born. Beers include Pele’s Breath, a spicy German wheat, and Aloha Plenty, which was the winner of Stone’s annual homebrewing competition in 2009. Winners of the competition get to team up with a professional brewer of their choice to brew along with Stone’s Mitch Steele and crew. The resulting beer is entered in the ProAm competition at the Great American Beer Festival. For Aloha Plenty, Ken chose Garrett Marrero of Maui Brewing Co. and the trio completed the Kona coffee and macadamia nut porter.
Ken won Stone’s competition again in 2012 with his Pillow Mint at the Ritz Chocolate Imperial Stout. This time, he chose Brandon Sieminski of Vista’s Iron Fist Brewing Co. as the guest professional brewer. “The Iron Fist family does a great job of getting fine beers out,” he said. Fast forward to 2014, and Ken collaborated with Brandon again, recreating Aloha Plenty and Pillow Mint at Iron Fist. Those two beers, along with a few others from his series, saw a limited bottle and draft release at a Hawaiian-themed party at Iron Fist in late September.
Bottlecraft Little Italy
Since 2010, Bottlecraft has been operating as an embassy of craft beer in Little Italy. A selection that’s 700+ beers strong is impressive, but what makes Bottlecraft stand apart is its unique liquor license which allows beers to be consumed on-site. Combine that with the clean, no-nonsense aesthetics that permeate the brand and store philosophy, and you have a space that sponsors the best elements of beer drinking.
“The best part is seeing strangers become friends over a bottle of beer. Random people will sit next to each other with their own bottles and then spark up conversations,” says Brian Jensen, the French Culinary Institute & Point Loma Nazarene graduate and owner of Bottlecraft. The hybrid tasting room / beer shop creates the perfect environment for impromptu bottle shares. Taster flights are offered daily and organized by various themes (Belgians, IPAs, East Coast vs. West Coast, etc.), and homebrew tasting and brewery-specific tastings led by members of the beer community are frequent.
In early December 2014, Bottlecraft moved from its original location to a new one, a block North. “A new landlord took over our old building and I wanted to make sure we could operate here in Little Italy indefinitely,” Jensen tells West Coaster. “This neighborhood keeps getting better,” he says, eyeing Ballast Point’s Little Italy brewpub, located catty-corner. Better indeed, as the new Bottlecraft now has a patio and 24-tap draft system to accompany the bottle sales and merchandise. “What we have now is a more custom fit space for Bottlecraft.” The Best Bottleshop of 2014 just got better.
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