Last Thursday, I shared the news that Oceanside Ale Works would hold its last service two days later before closing its doors for good. That was the truth—but not the whole truth. That day, I reached out to co-owner Mark Purciel, who later in the day said there was more to the story, but he couldn’t share details until after January 8 due to a “court date.” That date has come and passed, providing Purciel the opportunity to legally disclose his side of the story, as well as the news that, while OAW may be finished, his tenure in the brewing industry is far from over.
To adequately tell this tale, we’ll need to go back to 2013 when an OAW double IPA, Dude, won gold in the Imperial India Pale Ale category at the San Diego International Beer Festival. This created a great deal of buzz, to the point where distributors and retail establishments were requesting the beer. The problem was, it had never been packaged. So, Purciel and company went to work getting the beer brewed and bottled stat. This included designing bottle art and getting it approved as rapidly as possible. The artwork ended up being a depiction of Purciel posing as The Dude from the film The Big Lebowski presented a la Barack Obama in the “hope posters” from his days as a presidential candidate.
It was a quick fix, and one that did not sit well with OAW’s other owner, Scott Thomas. It wasn’t the first time Thomas expressed dislike for a design decision. Purciel has taken the lead on the business’ marketing from the get-go, seldom developing concepts that worked for Thomas. But the Dude IPA label struck enough of a nerve that Thomas backed away from the business completely (despite the fact that, according to Purciel, Line 64 of their partnership agreement says there will be a beer with his likeness on it). It wasn’t until February of 2015 that he came back in the picture, virtually at least, sending an email from him and his wife to Purciel. According to its addressee, it stated the following:
“We (Scott Thomas and Dawn Thomas) believe in OAW but we do not have the passion. Our energies need to be focused on our children. We truly feel that stepping out of the business completely will give you the autonomy to do things.”
Upon receipt of this email, Purciel says he offered to buy the Thomases out at a sum that was more than three times their initial investment. Thomas called it insulting and proceeded to file a lawsuit against Purciel in December of that year. In the two years that have followed, Purciel says no buyout negotiations have been initiated by the Thomases or their lawyer, though that is what he’s wanted to focus on from the start. It came to the point where he felt his only choice was to close down the business, dissolve the partnership and move on to the next chapter. Given that Purciel owns the building in which OAW was housed, as well as a portion of the brewery equipment, he feels it will be relatively simple to let some necessary time pass then reopen, most likely under an entirely new name. That moniker may turn out to be Irrational Ales, as Purciel (a former math teacher of 17 years) already holds a trademark on it. He is currently in the process of selling assets, and has already selected a IDD Process & Packaging HEBS (high efficiency brewing system) brewhouse to usher him into the next chapter of his brewing career.
Two days ago I recapped last year’s brewery closures, citing eight that had shut their doors, including two that did so the final week of 2017. Just four days into 2018, it’s already time to cover the New Year’s first impending closure. This time it’s Oceanside Ale Works (1800 Ord Way, Oceanside), which announced yesterday via social media that it will be shutting down, but not before a final service on Saturday, January 6. OAW holds the dubious distinction of being the longest tenured local brewery to go out of business in the modern brewery era.
Inquiries to ownership were not immediately answered.
Established in 2006, OAW rose to popularity as an after-hours industrial-suite hangout, gaining enough of a mostly-local following to substantiate a move to a second location roughly a half-decade later. At that point, ownership upped its available square-footage and brewing capacity while adding a barrel-aging program that went on to earn critical acclaim. After the move, OAW’s traditionally low prices remained below the industry average, but heavy patronage made the math work.
When OAW opened, Breakwater Brewing was its only competition in the City of Oceanside. Now, fermentation operations of all sizes dot the landscape from the renowned Bagby Beer Co. to large-scale operations like Belching Beaver Brewery and Mason Ale Works to Camp Pendleton-adjacent Legacy Brewing to more recent additions such as Black Plague Brewing, Midnight Jack Brewing and Northern Pine Brewing to rival for municipality-namesake status Oceanside Brewing. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the 20-plus breweries in the neighboring Vista and Carlsbad communities.
On a personal note, OAW was one of the very first breweries I visited when I really began getting into locally-produced craft beer; venturing to production facilities to find out who made my beer and experience the full breadth of their creations versus simply drinking whatever I encountered on tap at retail establishments. From the moment I walked into OAW, owner Mark Purciel and his staff made me feel right at home and excited about beer. Keep in mind that I was not yet a journalist, simply an eager enthusiast, so the treatment I received was the type afforded every customer.
Having shared conversations with many OAW patrons, including professional brewers such as Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station brewing manager Kris Ketcham, who participated in his first professional brew with Purciel at the company’s original location on Oceanic Drive, Purciel was a positive driving force that reeled them in and kept them coming back. A former school teacher with a fun brand of mentorship at the core of his being, he was the face of the business, and he will surely be missed in the San Diego brewing scene.