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.
Last October, Finest Made Ales announced a shift in its business model, telling fans via social media that the Santee-based interest would no longer operate a tasting room at its brewery. Owner Rey Knight added that Finest Made Ales would continue to produce beer to serve his interest’s distribution channels. Meanwhile, word on the street was that he was in search of a buyer. It would appear that pursuit was fruitless, as Fischer Auction Company is currently shopping the company’s assets via auction.
The auction is taking place online through March 13, with bidding closing at 10 a.m. local time. Items up for bid include everything from Finest Made’s seven-barrel brewhouse and pair of 15-barrel fermenters to numerous Premier Stainless Systems products, including 30-barrel hot- and cold-liquor tanks, fermenters, a whirlpool, auger, mill and grist case. Cold boxes, pallet racking, chillers, valves, hoses, sinks and a deli case round things out and display the wide-ranging breadth and full-sale nature of the auction.
Fischer is including a bulk-sale option that would include additional options, such as acquisition of the company’s brand, recipes and a distribution agreement. The bulk-sale price for the business is $250,000 (or best offer). Finest Made’s 5,000-square-foot facility at 9962 Prospect Avenue, Suite E is also up for lease at a price of $4,500 per month. Those interested can participate in the auction by clicking here.
Finest Made Ales started out as Butcher’s Brewing in 2011 when Knight opened the business, contract brewing his recipes and building a client base large enough to validate taking over the brewery vacated by Manzanita Brewing Company (which went on to rebrand as Twisted Manzanita Ales before going out of business in 2016) in 2013. In 2016, Knight rebranded the business as Finest Made Ales, with the plan to expand into other beverage lines that would also operate under the “Finest Made” handle.
Chula Vista is experiencing a bona fide craft-beer boom. Not only have two breweries opened on downtown’s main drag over the past year—Chula Vista Brewery and Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing—but an existing San Diego County brewing company has opened a tasting room directly across the street from the latter. That newly opened sampling space comes courtesy of Groundswell Brewing, a business that started small in Grantville before acquiring a much larger brewing facility in Santee from defunct Twisted Manzanita Ales and Spirits.
Satellite venues are nothing new for local breweries. Currently there are 27 throughout the county, but this while most have been established in North Park, Ocean Beach and, most recently, Encinitas, this is the first to be placed in Chula Vista. Groundswell owners Kevin Rhodes and Christianne Penunuri have lived in Chula Vista for 17 years and say a location in their hometown has been in the business plan since they first opened their doors in Grantville. At the same time they were ready to pull the trigger on the project, a building adorned with front and back patios became available. They snapped it up and have spent several months renovating it.
The tasting room comes in at 1,500 interior square feet with an additional 900 square feet of outdoor space. The bar is equipped with 21 taps as well as large, cushioned stools like those at Groundswell’s original location. The front window retracts revealing seating overlooking the sidewalk. The back patio includes seating as well as a play area with activities such as corn hole. Inside, vintage pinball and video games make up the non-liquid entertainment options. Televisions and artwork, including photographs of iconic South Bay landmarks are on the way, as well. Also en route is a kitchen in a space adjacent to the Chula Vista tasting room, which will prepare a menu of light fare that can be served at all three Groundswell locations.
The Chula Vista tasting room is located at 258 Third Avenue. An official grand opening is planned for Sunday, December 17, from 12 to 9 p.m. It will consist of three sessions and include branded glassware and a raffle. The day before, Groundswell will have its first can release for Oathkeeper, an imperial stout, and Oathbreaker, that same stout aged in Four Roses bourbon whiskey barrels. The cans will be available in four-packs at all of Groundswell’s tasting rooms.
Yesterday, I laid out what I believe are the best new breweries to have opened in 2016. Today, in part two of my three-part retrospective series on breweries in San Diego County, I’m listing the half-dozen operations I think most significantly upped their games over the past 12 months. It’s important to note up-front that being on this list in no way implies that these brewing companies were doing a bad job or making subpar beer until this year. It just means that, even if they were already good, they are doing even better now.
Karl Strauss Brewing Co., Pacific Beach: Uncle Karl’s crew has been churning out quality beer for decades, but in recent years they have put the pieces in place to reach all-time highs. Hoppy offerings like Mosaic Session IPA and Aurora Hoppyalis IPA are legitimately among the best of San Diego’s hoppy stock, and the brewery-restaurant chain’s portfolio is so stout with good beer, Karl Strauss was named Best Mid-Size Brewery at this year’s Great American Beer Festival.
Council Brewing Co., Kearny Mesa: I named this husband-and-wife aspiration one of the best new breweries to open in 2014. Back then, the business’ line-up was pretty solid, but nowadays the hoppy beers are dialed in, and its eclectic barrel-aged, bottled offerings are interesting and reliably delicious. They strive to do lots of things and are finding ways to successfully juggle all of it while providing an inviting atmosphere.
Toolbox Brewing Co., Vista: Many thought this business was done for after it parted with its original head brewer, but since picking up a hippy fermentationist with a scientific bent, this operation is not only making its 100% wild operation work, but rocking things out with intriguing, outstanding beers that are more cohesive than what came before. It’s an unlikely, but very welcomed outcome.
32 North Brewing Co., Miramar: In three years, this operation has had just as many head brewers. After having brought on the majority of Fall Brewing Co.’s brewing and sales personnel this year, the beer-quality is at an all-time high. That’s good timing, as 2017 finds 32 North making a big push to become better known and more successful via increased distribution of cans and kegs.
Groundswell Brewing Co., Grantville: A small system and lack of experience kept this business from realizing its potential, but after landing now-closed URBN St. Brewing Co.’s former head brewer, the beer has improved to the point where Groundswell’s ownership felt confident purchasing the large Santee brewery and distillery abandoned by defunct Twisted Manzanita Ales & Spirits.
For years, I’ve named the most promising work-in-progress brewing companies on a bi-annual basis. The scene is always changing and new projects are always coming onboard, requiring a twice-per-year check-in. Earlier this month, I examined the most intriguing new breweries being chiseled into reality in the north and south regions of San Diego County. In this third of a three-part series, I’m taking a look at new venues being opened by existing local brewing operations.
Karl Strauss Brewing Company, Santee: Karl Strauss is San Diego’s longest-running post-Prohibition brewing interest and the reigning Champion Medium-Sized Brewing Company after big wins at this year’s Great American Beer Festival. Those wins came courtesy this 27-year-old stalwart exhibiting greater innovation than at any time in its history, extending to the magnificent design of its recently opened Anaheim brewpub. It figures this train of high-quality will keep chugging along when Karl’s crew comes to Santee to build its biggest project to-date, an expansive facility at Town Center Parkway and Cuyamaca Street that will serve as its new headquarters. Like many East County brewery-owned projects, it’s faced more than its fair share of governmental and public scrutiny, but is still high on Karl Strauss’ project list if not a bit far off, time-wise.
Mason Ale Works, San Marcos: The Urge Gastropub chain will add another link next year when Urge Common House opens as one of the anchor businesses of San Marcos’ upcoming North City development. Designed to appeal to nearly every demographic with a full-scale restaurant, multiple bars, bowling lanes and bocce ball courts, it will also include a second brewery for the business’ brewing arm, Mason Ale Works. That brand has done well since debuting its beers early this year, creating the need for increased brewing capacity to support distribution demand.
San Diego Brewing Company, North Park: It only took this business 23 years to grow out of its Grantville brewpub. The vehicle for them to do so is H.G. Fenton‘s Brewery Igniter model, wherein business owners takeover ready-to-brew combo breweries and tasting rooms, installing their own concept. It will be interesting to see what the SDBC team does with increased production from an independent 10-barrel system and extra cellar capacity and how their beers fare on the open market, now that they will be distributed versus exclusively available at the original location.
Groundswell Brewing Company, Santee: Due to the small size of the brewing system and cellar at its Grantville brewery, Groundswell explored contract-brewing options, having some of its beers brewed for them by Twisted Manzanita Ales. The latter business folded in March, putting its combo brewery, distillery and tasting room up for sale. Bolstered by increased beer-quality from a new brewmaster, Groundswell’s going all-in, snatching up that East County real-estate for its own use…and even making plans to begin distilling in the not-too-distant future.
Thorn St. Brewery, Barrio Logan: Many have touted the rebirth of Barrio Logan for years, and it has far more to offer than it did when it was less hospitable and, in many peoples’ eyes, a dangerous place to found one’s self after dark. With each new business that takes a chance on the neighborhood, the better it gets. Two breweries (Border X Brewing and Iron Fist Brewing) have done that, but Thorn St. will be the first to bring in brewing equipment with a small system that will service its tasting room and retail operation.
Other Exciting Projects
Barrel Harbor Brewing Company, Miramar: The owner of this Vista-based brewery is teaming with a Miramar gaming spot to open the first-ever brewery tasting room with table-top/role-playing amenities.
Bear Roots Brewing Company, TBA: It remains to be seen how this breakaway hit nano-brewery will expand, but with quality beers and two viable plans, it will be a storyline worth following.
Kilowatt Beer Co., Ocean Beach: OB has two brewpubs and four tasting-rooms, but there’s room for this Kearny Mesa’s western satellite, which will be black-lit, artistic and wholly original.