SD TapRoom celebrated its tenth anniversary in February. The bar and restaurant was one of the first businesses to champion the charge of craft beer in its home community of Pacific Beach. That area has a big reputation as a party-town fueled by happy hours and discount brews, so trying to adapt mostly young, non-affluent locals and college-age visitors to the glories of a higher-priced but abundantly superior artisan ales was challenging, but fraternal owners Kevin and Kyle Conover stuck with it and gained the respect of the brewing community and the drinkers it caters to in the process. Now, that duo is ready to take things a step further via a new project: TapRoom Beer Company.
Equipped with a seven-barrel brewhouse and 50 taps, this brewpub will be located at 2000 El Cajon Boulevard, on the corner of El Cajon and Florida Street in University Heights. The Conovers have wanted to get into brewing for some time. It took a year to select and secure the spot they have. It was important that they find a location that was right for a brewpub as they were not interested in running a production brewery. The Conovers aim to keep this business true to the spirit of their flagship, citing a focus on community as an attribute that will carry over from PB.
But what about the beer? That will be the charge of local brewing-industry veteran Bill Batten. Batten resigned from his post as head brewer at Miramar’s Mikkeller Brewing San Diego in March. He opened that operation after transitioning over from AleSmith Brewing Company, the interest he worked for from 2002 to 2016. AleSmith owners Peter and Vicky Zien hold a minority ownership stake in Mikkeller SD, so entrusting that business’ brewing operations to Batten was a logical step, making it all the more surprising that he would voluntarily walk away after 15 years of loyalty.
Batten cited creative differences with majority owner Mikkel Borg Bjergsø when announcing his departure, but the likelihood of encountering those at TapRoom Beer seems slim. The Conovers say they are looking forward to Batten unleashing his skill and creativity, and are excited to see the direction he takes their brewpub. According to the team, the venue’s beers will run the gamut from a style standpoint. Classic English-style extra special bitters to San Diego-style hop-bombs and a variety of experimental beers will all be explored, but creating a mix of traditional and innovative ales and lagers is the goal.
Key features of the two-story project include a beer-cellar that will be located on a top-level mezzanine that is visible to customers. Half of the total space’s 5,000 total square feet is outdoors, providing opportunities to enjoy San Diego beer in tandem with its amicable trademark weather. Beers will primarily be available on draft, with occasional releases of bottles and/or cans. TapRoom Brewing is slated for a December 2017 or January 2018 opening.
We’ve reached the halfway mark of 2016. Over the past six months, roughly a dozen new breweries have opened (including one that had been producing beer without a tasting room for a couple of years). This seems a good time to assess this field of newcomers and pick out those that are producing the best beer thus far. It’s but one writer’s opinion, so feel free to disagree and share who you think is best in the comment section. And if you haven’t checked any of these places out just yet, they’re definitely worth a visit.
Burning Beard Brewing, El Cajon: At a time when El Cajon needed a suds-savior like never before, this op touched down like a caped superhero, bringing with it a beer list offering great diversity plus quality across styles. The pilsner, pale, IPAs and coffee-stout are standouts but don’t overlook the ESB or Belgian singel. All are made even better when enjoyed in a rockin’ tasting room by a staff that’s as exuberant as the punk power chords pumping out of the sound-system. And they have foudres!
Resident Brewing Company, Downtown: Does this operation’s coconut IPA taste as good as the award-winning batch its brewmaster created as an amateur. Yes, but there’s so much more to this newbie than that. Abutting its parent-business, the Gaslamp’s long-running watering hole, The Local, the brewhouse is pumping out Americanized takes on English styles that are crisp, balanced and refreshing yet big on hop-driven flavors. It’s good to see them starting to trickle to outside accounts.
Pure Project Brewing, Miramar: This One Percent for the Planet operation (1% of profits to go to non-profit organizations) has endeared itself to beer-lovers behind a beautiful earth-and-elemental tasting room motif, friendly service and beers that go down easy while bringing forth lesser-seen adjuncts and flavor combinations (coconut quad or strawberry-vanilla cream ale, anyone?). The majority of the beers are sessionable, making it easy to taste their rotating rainbow of selections.
Bitter Brothers Brewing Co., Bay Ho: They’re the fastest success story of the upstarts, getting signed by Stone Distribution straight out of the gate and selling enough beer that they’re already adding fermentation space. The interest’s name might lead you to believe they are all about hoppy beers (they have some and they’re quite tasty), but theirs is a varied young tap list offering numerous flavor-oddities, and their subtler wheat ales are very enjoyable…and not the least bit bitter.
Mikkeller Brewing San Diego, Miramar: There’s a lot of pressure for a gypsy brewer opening their first brick-and-mortar, especially half-a-world away from their home, but the brew-crew assisting said nomad, Mikkel Borg-Bjergso, has stepped up admirably. Numerous takes on java-rich Beer Geek Breakfast and a Brett IPA have been fab, but most people are still waiting to be wowed by beers exhibiting the ingenuity and whimsy that Bjergso built his reputation on over the past decade.
Mason Ale Works, Oceanside: So the restaurant- and bar-owners behind Urge Gastropub & Whiskey Bank love beer, but what do they know about brewing it? Not enough, so they went out and got an industry veteran who once headed The Lost Abbey‘s production. That key move allowed the brewpub to put out solid beers from the start. Mason has also secured early distribution and its array of hoppy, dark and Belgian-inspired beers are doing well, though they face stiff competition from impressive guest beers on a daily basis.
For as congenial and laden with heartfelt camaraderie as the brewing industry is, it is also extremely competitive. Proof of that is provided in the form of the World Beer Cup and other professional brewing competitions. Dubbed the “Olympics of Beer”, the World Beer Cup pits breweries from across the globe against each other for bragging rights where to-style brewing prowess is concerned. It’s one of the few times you really see brewers tense up in their open and fervent yen for recognition. Rather than subject their colleagues to this intense brand of stress, Societe Brewing Company (8262 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Kearny Mesa) is getting brewers together in a much more fun environment as part of its annual anniversary festivities. Enter, Societe Four.
Scheduled for noon on Saturday, June 11, Societe Four will feature teams of brewers from a variety of local and far-off craft breweries competing in a septet of beer-themed events. Confirmed teams thus include “ale-theletes” from AleSmith Brewing Company, Benchmark Brewing Company, Bitter Brothers Brewing Company, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company, Mikkeller Brewing San Diego, Modern Times Beer Company, Pizza Port, The Rare Barrel and Second Chance Beer Company. The events they will participate in are as follows:
Gold, silver and bronze medals will be presented to winners in each event. All are welcomed to attend the event. Tickets can be purchased online, and include anniversary glassware. Every tap line at Societe’s tasting room will have a different beer pouring out of it and, while no beer was brewed specifically for the company’s anniversary, guests can expect some sudsy surprises to go with a day of outlandish (and no doubt very fun) competition.
Recently, word trickled to my neck of the social-sphere that long-time Green Flash Brewing Company brewer Joe Liscia had a new gig as the head fermentation specialist for a start-up venture. He’d spent the past five years working for San Diego County’s third-largest craft-brewery (preceded by four years at Oggi’s in Carmel Mountain Ranch and a prior stint helping out Green Flash’s bottling line in 2007), but like many brewers, had dreams of heading his own operation. That opportunity was presented to him in the form of Little Miss Brewing (7949 Stromesa Court, Suite Y, Miramar).
Located a skootch north of Mikkeller Brewing San Diego, AleSmith Brewing Company and Mike Hess Brewing Company’s original nanobrewery, Little Miss has secured a 4,700-square-foot facility. But despite it being somewhere geographically advantageous from a beer-touring perspective, don’t plan on stopping by. This will be a production-only site. Eventually, the familial owners (who own multiple bars), Valerie Fuller, Greg and Jade Malkin, hope to open the brewery to visitors, but their immediate plan is to set up tasting rooms throughout San Diego proper. Those sampling venues are projected to be between 800 and 1,500 square feet and equipped with fun activities (think projector-screen Nintendo, life-size kid’s classics, card and board games).
Liscia plans to begin brewing in five weeks and says a significant portion of his portfolio will be “transitional beers”; the type that non-craft people can get their heads around while developing a taste for something more complex. There will also be an India pale ale (of course) as well as some barrel-aged offerings scheduled for release down the road. These beers will be produced on a 15-barrel steam system and cellared in seven 15-barrel fermenters plus a single 20-barrel tank. Liscia projects Little Miss to produce roughly 1,500 barrels in its first full year, then aim for steady, gradual increases each following year. But the intention with this miss is to stay little (no more than 20 employees).
Earlier this week, news broke that Twisted Manzanita Ales and Spirits (10151 Prospect Avenue, Santee) had shuttered its satellite tasting room in Pacific Beach. Today, the company’s employees were notified that the business is actually folding its brewing operations entirely. Twisted Manzanita’s spirit production will continue, but Friday will be the last day for production at what was the incorporated East County’s first and largest brewery. The last day for the tasting room will be Sunday.
Established as Manzanita Brewing Company in 2010, the interest originally opened in a combination brewery-tasting room in a business suite at 9962 Mission Gorge Road. After two years of solid growth, Manzanita took over a much-larger, 12,000 square-foot facility on the same block, where it was able to increase its production significantly while spreading its beers to numerous new states and territories. Its original facility was turn-keyed to Rey Knight where he installed Butcher’s Brewing.
In 2012, Manzanita won a bronze medal in the experimental beer category at the World Beer Cup for Where There’s Smoke…, a smoked rye ale with chile peppers. In 2013, original brewmaster Garry Pittman left the business and the brewing industry altogether. In 2014, owner Jeff Trevaskis launched a distillery side of operations and renamed the company Twisted Manzanita Ales & Spirits. In 2015, Twisted Manzanita partnered with Fat Cat Beer Co., forming a parent-company that aimed to provide strength in numbers. That interest intended to take on additional brands, though that never came to pass. The company’s most recent head brewer, Daniel Cady, left the company a few weeks ago to begin work at Mikkeller Brewing San Diego. Twisted Manzanita also signed a number of contract-brewing deals to help boost production for such brands as URBN St. Brewing Co., Thorn St. Brewery and Pacific Islander Beer Co.
Twisted Manzanita Ales is survived in the City of Santee by Butcher’s, Pacific Islander and BNS Brewing and Distilling Co., operations it most certainly helped pave the way for in East County.