Collaborations are nothing new in the local beer scene, and they’re not limited to brewery-to-brewery interactions. With the popularity of craft-beer venues at an all-time high, non-brewing interests are partnering with ale-and-lager producers. Local examples include the tasting room-equipped gaming center in Miramar established by At Ease Games in conjunction with Vista-based Barrel Harbor Brewing. Beer pairs well with many forms of entertainment from gaming to sports, movies to music. The latter is the basis of The Echo Room, a new venture in Oceanside from Midnight Jack Brewing and Craft Sounds.
The Echo Room is a live-performance venue constructed within Midnight Jack’s tasting room, mere feet from the brewhouse. It is equipped with a 16-foot-by-16-foot stage, professional lighting and full-time sound management. Those elements were introduced by Craft Sounds owner Tim Sams, a 23-year veteran of the San Francisco and San Diego indie-music scene who, feeling there were too few music venues capable of luring quality talent, conceived The Echo Room as a solution.
Midnight Jack’s owners, John and Katherine Scheri saw it as a solution on their end as well. “With the brewery landscape expanding so rapidly, it’s important to stay ahead of the curve and offer customers a really great experience that includes not only unique, hand-crafted beer, but good food and regular live entertainment,” says Katherine. “Adding a regular schedule of specifically curated, local music is something that we really want to provide our customers, and make Midnight Jack a go-to music venue in North County San Diego.”
The Scheris appreciate that Sams brings more than just audio-visual knowhow to the table. He also has a wealth of connections within the local music scene and is at work scheduling The Echo Room’s initial wave of performers. The March calendar is as follows:
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.
It’s the final month of the year, and time to reflect on the year nearly gone-by. For me, that means assessing San Diego County’s brewery landscape. That’s what I’ll be doing in a three-part series of posts this week, starting with a look at the plethora of new brewing operations that opened in 2016. More breweries opened this year than any in history. And it’s important to note that more good breweries opened in 2016 than in the past several years. Many tout the double-digit number of rookie fermentation operations added to San Diego’s brewery-count each year, but I’ll be honest and say that the past half-decade has seen too many average-to-subpar businesses join the fold. Sure, some duds opened in 2016, but the same can be said of any food-and-beverage business. The bottom-line is, aspiring entrants into the local suds-scene seem to understand, now more than ever, that they better have good beer if they’re going to compete, and that’s leading to better breweries, from conception to birth and beyond. The following are my picks (in order) for best new breweries of the past 365 days (with the exception of some that were simply too new to be fairly evaluated).
Burning Beard Brewing Co., El Cajon: Rockin’ beers and rock-and-roll make for amenities worth an East County excursion at this small but well-run spot featuring a variety of beers ranging from Belgians to San Diego-style hop-elixirs to deep, dark stouts and, eventually, fouder-aged ales. Throw in employee exuberance that ranges from the brew-crew to the bar staff, and it’s sort of a holy-grail situation.
North Park Beer Co., North Park: One of the most anticipated new brewery project of the past four years, the brainchild of its namesake community’s proud denizen Kelsey McNair finally came to life. Its former MMA gym home has been transformed into a beautiful, two-story, wood-paneled den of communal enjoyment of beers that are largely sessionable and rely on impressive balance versus belligerent brawn.
Resident Brewing Co., Downtown: Urban bar and eatery, The Local, is a long-time supporter of the craft-beer movement, but when it added on-site fermentation to its equation, the resulting product was something special. An award-winning homebrewer-turned-pro is pumping out some of the bolder, ideally hopped West Coast-style beers of the rookie-class while bringing flavor with myriad other styles.
Pure Project Brewing, Miramar: If a wide array of easy-drinking beers—crisp to full-bodied, clear to hazy, fruited to (GABF medal-garnering) barrel-aged—weren’t enough reason to become enamored with this, the first brewery to test out the Brewery Igniter ready-to-brew model, the fact it’s a generous One Percent for the Planet business is enough to pull the wishy-washy off the fence.
Bear Roots Brewing, Vista: A small homebrew-supply store opening a three-barrel nano-brewery with a bar that takes up half its shop…sounds risky if not ill-advised, but a husband-wife duo have not only made it work, but amassed such a cult-following behind a varied beer line-up that includes a tasty cookie-inspired dessert beer that they’re looking at growing their baby to papa-bear status in 2017.
Bitter Brothers Brewing Co., Bay Ho: The first brewery to open in 2016 has done well for itself, producing a solid line-up of hoppy beers offset by a number of English-style malt-driven styles and “candy-bar” beers. Further refinement of its wares in the coming year should keep this operation on its upward trajectory, as should fun, well-done quarterly beer dinners in its tasting room.
It’s important to note that, in previous years, a half-dozen picks for best new brewery would have been excessive. This year, I could have added another two or three rather easily. The following are those that missed the cut, but never before has the division between the best and the rest been so slim. Cheers to that!
This Year’s Contenders: Culver Beer Co. (Carlsbad), Guadalupe Brewery (Carlsbad), Kensington Brewing Co. (Mission Valley), Little Miss Brewing Co. (Miramar), Longship Brewery (Mira Mesa), Mason Ale Works (Oceanside), Midnight Jack Brewing Co. (Oceanside), Mikkeller Brewing San Diego (Miramar), Oceanside Brewing Co. (Oceanside),
Maybe Next Year: Burgeon Beer Co. (Carlsbad), Eppig Brewing Co. (North Park), Knotty Brewing (East Village), OB Brewery (Ocean Beach), Thunderhawk Alements (Miramar)
Previous Top-Ranked Breweries
2015: Fall Brewing Co. (North Park), Second Chance Beer Co. (Carmel Mountain), South Park Brewing Co. (South Park), Bay City Brewing Co. (Point Loma), Abnormal Beer Co. (Rancho Bernardo), Duck Foot Brewing Co. (Miramar)
2014: Bagby Beer Co. (Oceanside), Nickel Beer Co. (Julian), Council Brewing Co. (Kearny Mesa), URBN St. Brewing Co. (El Cajon), Toolbox Brewing Co. (Vista)
2013: Rip Current Brewing Co. (San Marcos), Benchmark Brewing Co. (Grantville), Amplified Ale Works (Pacific Beach), Belching Beaver Brewery (Vista), Modern Times Beer (Point Loma)
2012: Societe Brewing Co. (Kearny Mesa), Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery (East Village), Latitude 33 Brewing Co. (Vista)
There’s no shortage of fermentable fun to be had during the month bridging Oktoberfest and All Hallow’s Eve, and we’ve culled through the plethora of beery affairs to highlight a few standouts. But there’s a lot more taking place in October, so be sure to peruse (and bookmark) our Events Page for even more good-time options.
October 1 | Oktoberfest Celebrations: It lasts around two weeks, but most places choose to honor Oktoberfest on October 1. Hit up Germanic-driven Lightning Brewery, celebrate the grand opening of North Park Beer Co.’s aptly sausage-centric Mastiff Kitchen, enjoy JacktoberFest at Midnight Jack Brewing, lift a stein of lager at Societe Brewing’s beer hall or head to Santee for its oktOVERfest over-the-line tournament. | Various Locations, Times Vary
October 1-10 | CRAFToberfest: Have plans October 1st? Not to worry—Liberty Public Market is stretching its festing over a ten-day span, and its tenants are pooling their resources. Bottlecraft will hold a German tap takeover while market purveyors will offer $5 bites such as pork schnitzel, cheese, sausages and ice cream to pair with those ales and lagers. A variety of activities will be offered on the market’s patio and the celebration will close out with an October 10 beer dinner at Mess Hall featuring the beers of Germany’s Mahrs-Bräu. | Liberty Public Market, 2820 Historic Decatur Road, Point Loma, Times Vary
October 16 | Pour It Black: Rare are the opportunities to indulge in a gallery of incredible dark beers in warm, sunny San Diego. So Stone Brewing waits until the temperature reaches a chilly 80-degrees to hold a festival focused on the browner, blacker side of beer. But it’s not all brawny stouts; black IPAs and sours are also on the menu at this indulgent grand-scale annual event! | Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, 1999 Citracado Parkway, Escondido, 10 a.m.
October 28 | Allagash Night: Maine is known for its beer scene, but before its recent popularity, brewmaster Rob Todd made a name for The Pine Tree State’s Allagash Brewing, which specializes in Belgian ales and now includes a coolship-equipped center of funk and barrel-aging. Meet the man and his rarities as he helps Hamilton’s Tavern celebrate its 10th anniversary. | Hamilton’s Tavern, 1521 30th Street, South Park, 3 p.m.
October 30 | Celebrate the Craft: The Lodge at Torrey Pines was one of the first high-end spots in San Diego to back local craft-beer in a big way, and it started here, with executive chef Jeff Jackson inviting SD brewers to be part of this farm-to-table celebration of local crafters of food and beverage. Get to know your local purveyors over tasters of homegrown ales and lagers. | The Lodge at Torrey Pines, 11480 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, 11:30 a.m.
This place looks familiar, I thought as we turned into a business park I’d been to numerous times. It’s how I started my last beer-touring piece and it was just as apt with stop three of four—Midnight Jack Brewing Company (3801 Oceanic Drive, Oceanside). Nearing this new brewery’s business-park home, I was reminded of doing so many times when visiting Oceanside Ale Works from 2007 to 2009. It was one of the first local breweries I visited (after larger, more obvious stops like Stone Brewing, Pizza Port and Karl Strauss Brewing Company), and the smallest of my early batch. Midnight Jack owner and brewmaster John Scheri has history with OAW, as well. He used to volunteer there back in his homebrewing days. So opening his own brewery in the spot he selected is equal parts next-chapter and homecoming.
Much like OAW, Midnight Jack (named after a family member who did the mechanical work for New Jersey bootleggers during the Prohibition era) has a party-vibe to it, and that has everything to do with Scheri. Shortly after I arrived, he came to the bar and hoisted up family-size bags of snacks before heading to the rear of the tasting room to grill up burgers and hot-dogs, both of which were available to customers free-of-charge. A row of picnic tables encourage the making of new friends while corn-hole (they hold a tourney every Tuesday), giant-sized Jenga and Thursday trivia-nights provide fun things to do beyond imbibing. That said, imbibing is the whole reason Midnight Jack exists, so on to the beer.
The day I was in, 11 beers were on-tap, three of which were served on nitro. The hands-down star of the bunch was a 7.5% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) Azacca IPA. Its tropical-fruit character jumped out of the glass and onto my taste-buds. As quaffable as a blonde or lager yet poignantly hoppy, it’s a standout in multiple regards. And if you are into peanut-butter beers or entrenched in a nostalgic search for a beer that brings jammy fruit into the equation, Jack’s PB&J is the beer for you. Others have tried, but few, if any, more succinctly convey the exact flavor of peanut-butter-and-jelly in beer-form than this stout.
The rest of the beer-list was more hit-and-miss. Tropiweizen, a hefe brewed with Mosaic hops, tasted more of those hops than anything, leaving me wanting the trademark banana and clove yeastiness associated with this style. An eponymous pale ale was palatable and bitter enough, but Lucky No. 7 IPA, despite a nice tangerine nose, was a bit grainy and sweet. A nitrogenized Russian Imperial Stout had plenty of cocoa flavor but wasn’t all that palatable, but another nitro-beer, Barnstormer Brown Ale, was mild and satisfying in its traditional composition.
Unfortunately, there were instances where the undeniable butteriness of diacetyl reared its popcorny head. It was most noticeable in the Bombshell Belgian Blonde and Running Board Milk Stout. It was particularly disappointing to discover it in the latter, given how roasted malts help to cover the presence of diacetyl. Ditto the nitro delivery system.
Midnight Jack is less than two months into its young lifespan, and there is much yet to come. First off, an official grand-opening celebration, which is slated for July 2 and 3, and will include new beer releases, live music, contests, food vendors and more. Sunday’s event is ticketed and will include access to prime firework-watching real estate (tickets are available online). Further down the line, an area will be available for private events, and a kitchenette just off the brewery will be renovated for provision of in-house food. For now, Scheri’s barbecue grill fills in just fine, especially when food from it is paired with that Azacca IPA.