Shortly before the ball dropped in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, a Vista-based brewery announced it was closing its doors forever. Earlier in the day, SpecHops Brewing Company (an operation reviewed by West Coaster just three weeks ago) announced via social media that December 31 would be its last day in business. That post cited the company had been active since 2010, however, it wasn’t until last spring that it opened its location at 1280 Activity Drive. Though the operation aimed to pay homage to military veterans as well as public-service professionals, the web-based platform it set up for that purpose is inactive. SpecHops opened with an impressive brewhouse that will surely be coveted by current and aspiring brewery owners.
SpecHops’ departure came less than a week after another North County fermentation interest announced its farewell. Charles Perkins posted a Facebook message communicating his decision to close his Kuracali Beer & Sake Brewery. Based in San Marcos, that business opened roughly three years ago and was San Diego County’s first-ever sake producer.
Perkins started building Kuracali in 2012. It took him two years to complete the dual brewing components and he opened his doors in 2014. He says it was an enjoyable and rewarding experience serving people and turning them on to sake, but in the end, his location was off the beaten path. This led to insufficient patronage and lack of required revenue to stay in the black. When his lease expired last month and it was time to resign or vacate, he chose the latter. Perkins says he hopes to reopen at a more strategically situated location sometime in the future, but that it will require investment from an outside party. Interested parties can reach Perkins here.
SpecHops and Kuracali both closing the final week of 2017 punctuate something of a new normal. For a decade, new breweries have opened in San Diego County in increasingly large droves, but few closed. A total of eight local breweries closed last year. While most had been open for years, such as Offbeat Brewing, On The Tracks Brewery, La Jolla Brewing, The Beer Co. (which indicated it will reopen) and Magnetic Brewing, one, Wiseguy Brewing, has something in common with SpecHops. It was open less than a year before shuttering. Additionally, several are for sale, most notably Helm’s Brewing, Intergalactic Brewing and Finest Made Ales.
Yesterday, Mission Brewery owners Dan and Sarah Selis announced the launch of a stock-purchase campaign. Sale of stock will take place over a two-month window via online applications on the WeFunder site. With the exception of an ill-fated and illegal attempt by Kearny Mesa’s defunct Magnetic Brewing, this is the first time a San Diego-based brewery has explored a venture of this kind.
In the past, Mission Brewery was limited in the types of investors it could bring aboard by Securities and Exchange Commission regulations. Previously, investors needed to be accredited and possess a certain income and net worth, but Title III of the JOBS (Jumpstart Our Business Startups) Act, which went into effect May of last year, allows the Selises to entertain applications from the general public. The Selis’ investment goal is $1 million, and the minimum investment individuals may make is $200. Beyond the minimum, WeFunder calculates the amount each investor may invest based on their income and net worth.
“Investing in Mission Brewery doesn’t just help the brewery, but it gives San Diegans the chance to become a part of the local San Diego beer scene as more than just a consumer or homebrewer,” says Dan Selis. “Most beer lovers dream of opening a brewery. I was homebrewing for about 25 years before I started Mission Brewery. Now, people can have the chance to make becoming part of a brewery a reality and own a piece of Mission Brewery.”
Mission Brewery opened in 2007 as a resuscitation of a San Diego beer-making brand originally established in 1913. That operation closed in 1920 at the onset of the Prohibition Era. For a time, its beers were produced in the historic Mission Brewery Plaza in the Five Points area of San Diego. Manufacturing now takes place in another historically significant location, the old Wonder Bread factory just east of Petco Park in downtown’s East Village area. Mission’s production for 2017 is projected to reach roughly 18,000 barrels, and its beers are currently distributed in six states: California, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
I’m always intrigued by new breweries, but one’s institution of a motif inspired by a literary masterpiece made me extra eager to check it out. That operation is Circle Nine Brewing (7292 Industrial Road, Suite C, Kearny Mesa), an interest founded by a pair of homebrewers with fondness for Dante’s elliptical nonet diagramming of the afterlife. Together, Darren Baker and Andrew Campbell have forged a humble, comfortable brewery and tasting room given additional panache by a bar that extends from the taps into a rounded service area creating a cul-de-sac effect. Table seating is available beyond that along with a rail bar that, although a bit too slim by my assessment, can get the job done on a busy night.
Beers fall into different “circles” based on their robustness. The chief occupant of circle one—Dante’s ground level—is Limbo Lager, a light beer built to appeal to the masses, particularly guests with less pronounced craft-beverage affinity. Knowing the intentions behind it, it comes across nice with lemony citrus appeal, though the beer-fan in me craved a little more body. Following that introductory quaff is a trio of diverse India pale ales (IPAs), the best of which is River of Acheron, a session IPA with flavors of tropical and stone fruit that has a crisp, dry finish. My only beef with it was its 5.8% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) status, which comes in well above the generally accepted five-percent-or-under requirement to be dubbed “session” in nature. An English-inspired IPA called Argent was all orange with considerable malt presence, while a double IPA designed to be “in your face” certainly was; perhaps too much for my taste. Its flavors—caramel, grapefruit pith, cut-grass—seemed to compete versus coalesce and there was an unrefined graininess that was a tad unpleasant. Of all the beers, it needs the most work.
The ninth circle of Hell has the greatest population density, with three versions of Circle Nine’s 9.2% imperial stout, The Relic, currently on the beer-board. The base version is luxurious with big chocolate notes, a touch of juniper and roasted coffee notes in the finish. It was my favorite of this new brewery’s offerings. Served on nitro dulls its aromatic appeal and some of its finer flavor notes. Skip that iteration and go for one aged in Bourbon whiskey barrels for just under three months. It’s rich with vanilla-tinged booziness and an increased ABV of 10%.
All of the beers I tasted were from Circle Nine’s first runs through their three-and-a-half-barrel brewhouse, so the need for some fine-tuning is both understandable and acceptable. It’s a nice little newcomer to the Kearny Mesa brewery scene (which is currently six strong after the recent shame-ridden exodus of Magnetic Brewing). It’s not to die for just yet, but it’s a great deal more hospitable than the locale for which it’s named.
Each year, San Diego Beer Week arrives and rains down a myriad of events. Like a Vegas buffet, planning and strategy are key. Otherwise, you’ll end up asleep somewhere and missing out on the fun.
This list is subjective. I focused on events that have uncommon beers and especially beers from out of San Diego. I also really want to check out some of the newest beers/breweries/spots in town. In other words, I’m fixing to learn what’s up on the cutting edge of San Diego beer and tasting the best that America’s Finest Beer City/County can produce. I’m also trying to not die in the process, so this list is biased towards central-San Diego as that’s where my bed is. My sources: our WC online beer event calendar at westcoastersd.com, Beer Week’s official website SDBW.org and our generous advertisers (make sure to check out the ads in this issue, for there are plenty of amazing happenings in there).
San Diego’s finest are also avid local beer fans and well aware of San Diego Beer Week. Don’t be a drunk driving dickhead, use your phone to talk to space and summon a Lyft or Uber. Uber lets you split fares now so you can break up the fare with the squad.
I only regret that I have but one liver to lose for my county
Friday, November 6th
Verily, this event’s grown a bit since it’s cozy inception in 2013. That said, I’m expecting a state-of-the-union for how SD beer is tasting while enjoying a sunset on the water. Details are slim as to who is pouring what exactly, but there will be unlimited food, beer and access to local brewing community folks.
If you’re attending both days, I recommend hunting the whales during the VIP. See below for my tip on the 2nd day.
Amplified Ale Works 3-Year Anniversary
There’s a growing number of adults in Pacific Beach who choose local beer over vodka slushies and our resident brewery is Amplified. Cy Henley makes amazing beers out of his seaside brewhouse, the biergarten patio overlooks the ocean and the food is amazing. When people ask me why I moved from North/South Park to PB, I take them here (then Crushed, TapRoom and Iron Pig afterwards if it’s one of those nights).
Saturday, November 7th
San Diego Brewers Guild Festival
I will most likely be slightly woozy from the previous evening, but nothing will keep me from this festival. This is because this festival is awesome. While there won’t be unlimited food, there will be even more beer and friends present, and I can get a better view of the boats floating around the bay during the day.
The general Saturday Guildfest session is a great time to check out just-opened breweries, as this is their first ever Guild Fest and they’re going to want to impress. As of late October, brand new breweries that opened this year are: Abnormal, Bay Bridge, Bay City, Division 23, Duck Foot, Guadalupe, Half Door, Helix, Home, Kilowatt, Magnetic, Novo Brazil, Pacific Islander, Prodigy, Second Chance and South Park. Be gentle with your Untappd ratings; remember all breweries were once baby breweries 🙂
Sunday, November 8th
Baja Beers @ Bottlecraft Little Italy
I was going to type some remark bemoaning the old Bottlecraft, but then I remembered the old location sucked compared to the new one. This will be the first Beer Week for Bottlecraft Little Italy 2.0, and Baja breweries are ON FIRE right now. While I couldn’t get a hold of the tap list for this event, based on the above facts I know Bottlecraft will put on a good event. Ballast Point Little Italy is a catty-corner away, and they have beer, too.
Epicurean Beer Geek Tours @ White Labs, Brothers Provisions, Stone Farms and Societe
A new face launching for SDBW, Epicurean San Diego is an outfit that promises beer, food and education while ferrying you to White Labs, Brothers Provisions, Stone Farms and Societe. I don’t get to visit White Labs, Brothers and Societe enough, and I’ve never actually had a beer at Stone Farms. The cost is $115, and if there’s food and beer involved that’s a pretty good price especially since it includes transportation and a meal. Great event for out-of-towners and if Sunday doesn’t work the same tour runs daily November 5th-8th & 12th-15th from 10:30AM-3:45PM
Monday, November 9th
Brews, Views & Chews @ Tom Ham’s Lighthouse
It’s not just about beer, folks. Beer Week brings a lot of stellar foodie events, and this is one of them. Tom Ham’s Lighthouse is an iconic San Diego landmark that underwent a significant remodel and has stepped up their beer program in 2015. This event features six breweries such as Ballast Point, New English and Belching Beaver paired with six plates from the chefs of Soda & Swine, Carnitas Snack Shack and The Little Lion Cafe. Live music and a killer view of my lovely hometown’s downtown seal the deal for me.
Abnormal Beer Co. / Cork & Craft Beer Pairing Dinner featuring Modern Times & Almanac
Another equally killer option is up north at Abnormal Beer Company / Cork & Craft. A proper sit-down beer dinner, this multi-course meal will have beers paired from Modern Times, Almanac and Abnormal paired with the skilled Cork & Craft Kitchen. While I don’t know the particulars of this event, I was lucky enough to attend an outstanding AleSmith beer dinner early in 2015. It’s a safe bet that with months worth of practice this will be worth every penny.
Tuesday, November 10th
The Full Table @ Benchmark Beer
Like any San Diegan, I dig my badass hoppy Single/Double/Triple/Quadruple IPAs. That said, as my palate evolves (and my liver ages), I find myself appreciating gentler, more subtle beers. Benchmark Brewing Company’s Table Beer is a fine example of what I’m talking about, and this night will feature 12 different variations of the slightly roasty belgian style ale. This event is a great way to tune your tastebuds. Grab a pint of regular Table for a control beer, and then taste the versions that have been barrel-aged and brettanomyces-brewed. Check out how slight changes in ingredients can create such dramatic differences. Within walking distance is the rest of the developing Grantville neighborhood beer cluster which includes Groundswell and San Diego Brewing Co.
Wednesday, November 11th
Sour Tap Takeover @ Rip Current North Park
Unlike most non-brewing satellite tasting rooms, 2015 Great American Beer Festival Very Small Brewery of the Year Rip Current’s North Park location serves guest taps in addition to the beer brewed in the San Marcos production facility. Rip Current has deep connections with local homebrewing club QUAFF (Quality Ale and Fermentation Fraternity). Thus, the staff is pretty enthusiastic about quality brews – even if they don’t brew it themselves. Guest taps will be pouring a tart selection from Almanac, Toolbox, Council, DogFish Head & more starting at 3PM.
Thursday, November 12th
7th Fling w/ Green Flash @ Hamilton’s
Like the Hajj, all San Diego beer faithful should attend this event once in their lifetime. The morning starts at Morley Field with a brunch. While you munch, Hamilton’s proprietor Scot Blair and his staff are busy matching up players to create even teams of four. After a brief talk regarding rules, the shotgun disk golf tournament starts. Disk golf is the de-facto sport of San Diego Beer, and expect several brewers to be in attendance. While all skill levels are welcome and the fun level is high, there is stiff competition. Comradery and silliness are expected by all attending. Winners get to tap the cask at the afterparty which takes place at Hamilton’s. The afterparty is closed to non-Flingers, boasts lunch and a hosted bar until 3PM (when Hamilton’s normally opens).
Craft Beer + Bites @ SILO
Maker’s Quarter is a slick venue located right off where the 94 freeway ends. $35-$40 ticket gets you unlimited tastings of beer from 15 breweries, with food, craft cocktails and wine available for purchase. Proceeds benefit the San Diego Brewers Guild, and this event is also a graduation celebration for the recent batch of students from the San Diego State Business of Craft Beer Program. Across the street is Monkey Paw and both Half Door and Mission are within walking distance (along with the rest of downtown).
Friday, November 13th
Beer Without Borders @ Machete Beer House
As I mentioned, the Mexican craft brewers are doing some great stuff. It’s much easier to get to National City than Tijuana, and Machete is one of the bright stars of the growing South Bay beer scene. All 30 taps will be taken over by breweries such as Insurgente, Agua Mala, Border Psycho and Wendlandt. For those lucky enough to have a designated driver, don’t forget to check out La Bella Pizza, Manhattan Bar and Third Street Ale House while you’re in the area to understand #SouthBayUprising.
Battle of the Guilds @ Toronado
This event ruled last year. Try beer from the greater Los Angeles and San Francisco first. Breweries that will be included from LA: Three Weavers, Beachwood, Ladyface, Monkish, Phantom Carriage + more. From the Bay Area: Magnolia, Cellarmaker, Thirsty Bear + more. Last year had lots of brewers in attendance from San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco; this is a good event to mingle! Stop in early if you’re looking for the rarer beers, or pop in while roaming 30th. Don’t forget to cast your vote for San Diego!
Saturday, November 14th
Three Amigos @ O’Brien’s Pub
Former Pizza Port brewers Tom Nickel, Jeff Bagby and Tomme Arthur have each staked their own claims at Nickel Brewing Co., Bagby Beer Co., and Lost Abbey, respectively. An event with these three dudes present is a treat. If you wanted a chance to hang out with the best of the business while tasting some insane beer, this is it. Early afternoon is probably the best time to hit this event up. O’Brien’s is within the Kearny Mesa brewery cluster, which means Societe, Council, Kilowatt and Helm’s are all within striking distance. For food, across the street are two cool new beer pubs Common Theory and Dumpling Inn.
Sunday, November 15th
The Beer Garden at the Lodge at Torrey Pines
Located on the grounds of the 5-star Lodge at Torrey Pines, the endpiece event of San Diego Beer Week is not to be missed. Gaze upon the majesty of the Torrey Pines golf course and the Pacific Ocean while stuffing your unmajestic, Beer-Week weary maw with unlimited, expertly matched food & beer pairings. This last official San Diego Brewers Guild event of the year explains to all senses why San Diego is awesome.
As this article was written late October for our November 2015 issue, numerous events have surfaced. West Coaster Editor Ryan Lamb has worked very hard to compile the best list of events in existence, so check that out along with SDBW.org and choose your own adventure!
San Diego Beer Week 2010 was when our first edition of West Coaster was published. It’s our fifth anniversary month this November. From all of us at WC: Thank you for reading!