President, San Diego Brewers Guild
Each year, the San Diego Brewers Guild elevates a member of the local brewing industry to the role of president. Unlike the American presidency, candidate selection comes without muckraking, spouting of platitudes or child-like behavior. The Guild is all for one and one for all, with this year’s one-for-all being Mike Sardina. The assistant executive officer for Kearny Mesa’s Societe Brewing Company, Sardina volunteered for the position, serving first as vice president under last year’s leader, Kevin Hopkins (Mother Earth Brew Co.) to get a feel for the position before taking it on. A trip to the SDBG’s oval office resulted in the following presidential interview outlining some of Sardina’s initiatives for 2016.
What inspired you to throw your hat in the ring for Guild presidency?
Mike Sardina: Even before I transitioned into the industry, I was a fan of the beer community and the camaraderie among the brewers here in San Diego. Coming down here from San Francisco to visit and explore all-things-beer, it was clear that the Guild played a big role in making San Diego a magical place for beer. After I joined Societe, I started attending Guild meetings. At an early meeting, I saw (California Craft Brewers Association executive director) Tom McCormick present his legislative update and I knew then and there that I wanted to be as involved as possible with the Guild to help promote San Diego beer and the interests of local brewers. This led me to the Board of Directors and into the position of vice president in 2015.
What does being president of the Guild entail?
MS: There are many facets to the position, but it ultimately comes down to working as hard as possible at every opportunity to achieve the mission of the Guild, which was founded in 1997 in order to promote San Diego breweries, create an open line of communication between brewers and advocate for more modern beer laws. I am involved with fielding media inquiries, hosting folks from out of town and sharing my favorite San Diego breweries with beer tourists. I host the Guild’s general meetings and organize formal and informal meetings between brewers. I also work on legislative issues facing brewers at the local, state and national levels.
What are some initiatives you are excited to introduce and work on?
MS: I am excited to push harder this year to get more people involved and working collectively toward advancing the idea and the story of San Diego beer. Two specific areas of interest are establishing working committees within the Guild, one that focuses on technical brewing and quality, and another that focuses on beer tourism, hospitality and marketing the concept of “San Diego beer” at the national level. I fully believe that if we all focus on quality beer and technical brewing proficiency at each San Diego brewery, and if we all focus on promoting San Diego and the incredible beers being brewed here, we can help our county achieve the recognition that it deserves as being the best beer city in the world.
What are some opportunities for success for local brewers that the Guild can help with?
MS: Getting exposure for breweries, introducing beer drinkers to their beers and stories. The Guild publishes the San Diego Brewers map, an important resource and tool to help promote beer tourism and brewery visits in San Diego. Third is San Diego Beer Week. Get involved with the Guild during San Diego’s biggest annual celebration of beer. SDBW should be a highlight for beer brewed and poured locally, and the brewers and bars here are directly responsible for that.
What is a major problem facing local brewers?
MS: First and foremost is beer quality. If you’re not brewing good beer, that is an issue, and you are doing a disservice to the entire community in San Diego. We can’t accept bad (or even mediocre) beer. If we want San Diego beer to be representative of the best beers in the world, then every brewery here needs to be brewing world-class beer. Fortunately, there are members of the Guild who are willing and able to help fix quality issues. Be open and honest about your beer and don’t be afraid to ask for help. One bad glass of San Diego beer reflects poorly on us all. Don’t cut corners.
The rumors of Indian Joe’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Such is the case in a realm as prone to rumors as San Diego’s craft beer industry. Despite asserting Indian Joe Brewing Company would be back even before they closed the doors to their Vista brewery and tasting room this February, owners Max Moran and Geri Lawson heard many first- and second-hand misinformation that their business was dead. But like the ringing of a bell by a mistakenly buried but plenty lively individual, the couple has proof of life in the form of a banner proclaiming Indian Joe’s return on the façade of its new building at Vista’s Industrial Court business park.
Two stories and coming in at 18,000 square feet, Moran’s and Lawson’s new spot is far larger than its predecessor. This will allow for the installation of a 15-barrel brewing system from Premier Stainless, another component that’s much bigger than what came before. Back at Indian Joe’s old spot on La Mirada Drive, Moran was brewing several times a day, seven days a week on a meager 20-gallon system. When opening the business he thought it would be sufficient, remembering a similar setup he saw at Mother Earth Brew Co., but soon discovered it wasn’t sustainable. The problem was, the La Mirada facility wasn’t big enough to house a system and cellar of significant size. In spite of that, they were determined to stay in their building until they found a new home, but a series of contentious dealings with their landlord led to them having to vacate quickly and unexpectedly, leading to the rumors that Indian Joe had gone out of business despite having a strong following of loyalists and interest from outside investors wanting to take the brand to the next level.
To their former regulars, Moran and Lawson emphatically promise to recreate the very same fun, relaxed, inviting and entertaining experience they were able to establish at their old digs. Best of all, they’ll have a lot more room in which to provide that type of ambiance. Upon entering the building, visitors will find themselves on the bottom floor of a two-story tasting room measuring around 4,000 total square feet. Two-thirds of that area is downstairs where a long bar running the length of the south wall is being constructed to include more than 20 taps. A gift shop is being built to the left of that, and a 190-inch (not a typo) Samsung big-screen will be mounted on the wall between the retail and bar areas. Two staircases (and eventually a lift for handicapped patrons) lead upstairs to an area that will have a separate bar and get outfitted in cushy furniture providing a homey feel.
The entire north side of the upstairs level is outfitted with windows looking out onto State Route 78. The best part of that, for Moran and Lawson, is that just as that east-west thoroughfare is visible to them, Indian Joe will be easy to see off the freeway. That was a big part of the appeal of the building. Moran reports that a total of 480,000 vehicles pass by their new home per day. Other positives include the fact that the entire building is air-conditioned, solar equipment is installed to assist with utility efficiency, there is a large upstairs room they will be able to convert to private event space, there is plenty of parking and the City of Vista will allow them to construct outdoor seating just beyond the front entrance which will be serviceable by mobile food vendors.
On the industrial side, Moran intends to hire a head brewer to help fill 60- and 30-barrel fermenters. With the ability to brew much more beer, Moran will work to secure distribution, and bottle and can Indian Joe beers for the first time. Having more beer will also allow for a simple but important first—filling growlers. Back when he was producing a single keg at a time, Moran was unable to sell beer-to-go for fear of running out too quickly and leaving his tasting room taps dry. Beers that will be produced when Indian Joe reopens will be a mixture of to-style brews and more outlandish creations. So it’ll be same as it ever was come Indian Joe’s second coming.
Though one of San Diego County’s biggest brewing successes, Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits, started out as an ale-and-lager outfit based in the back room of a home brew store back in 1996, that model wasn’t imitated locally for nearly two decades (with the exception of Mother Earth Brew Co., which opened as a nano-brewery and homebrew supply store hybrid before moving the latter to a satellite tasting room). Yet, in the past year alone, two homebrew outlets, The Homebrewer and Carlsbad Brew Supply have added brewery components to the mix—Home Brewing Co. and Guadalupe Brewery. And now, Vista’s Home Brew Supply (1213 South Santa Fe Avenue, Vista) is on the cusp of doing the same thing with the projected November introduction of Bear Roots Brewing Co.
Mom-and-pop owners Terry and Page Little’s plan for the brewery follows much of the same inspiration behind their store, which they built because, as homebrewers with jobs and a family, they found it difficult to fit their hobby into their busy lifestyle. Home Brew Supply aimed to provide a reliable source for people like them to get everything they needed to brew. But eventually, they realized one of the most useful resources they could provide was time—as in four-to-five hours I a space outfitted for on-site recreational brewing. So, in addition to brewmaster Terry cooking up his own beers, he will also assist homebrewers in brewing their own recipes at Bear Roots.
Of Home Brew Supply’s 2,200 square feet, 760 will be subtracted for an eventual lounge-themed tasting room while 160 will be devoted to brewing. Nano to the core, a one-barrel system double-batching into two-barrel fermenters comprises Bear Roots’ brewing program. Customers going the brew-it-yourself route, will utilize the same system as Little, and he hopes it helps to provide an experience that lasts with them beyond the brew day. Should they catch the brewing bug, the very same equipment is available for purchase along with more than 40 malts and grains, a vast variety of hops and local yeast from Miramar’s White Labs. Home Brew Supply is currently open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., daily.
There are few San Diego County businesses viewed to be as locally focused and engrained in their community’s fibrous being as Mother Earth Brew Co. This family-run operation started as a tiny nano-sized brewery and homebrew supply store in a single business suite measuring just over 2,000 square feet. It has since taken over most of its home-base business park, moved the recreational retail component to a large combo homebrew store and bar in the heart of Vista’s old town area, grown into a “mid-sized brewery” (per classification of industry group, the Brewers Association) with a staff of nearly 50 employees, and upped distribution to seven states. All that without leaving what has become one of the county’s densest municipalities, brewery-wise (with 11 operating brewhouses, it’s second only to the City of San Diego). But the next step in Mother Earth’s evolution will take it far from Vista—namely…Idaho?
MEBC chief branding officer Kevin Hopkins reports that the company is building a second, much larger brewery in Nampa, about 20 miles west of Boise. At first, it may seem a bit of an odd choice, constructing a second production facility so far from home, and in a part of the country that lacks a defined craft beer culture. But the decision falls in line with Mother Earth’s geographically strategic growth plan, which sees the company attempting to build out across the country in a regional manner. Idaho presents a cost-effective option with the potential for increased distribution to the Pacific Northwest and various markets where MEBC beer is not currently sold west of the Mississippi.
The Nampa facility will come in at 40,000 square feet and include room and options for expansion. A four-vessel, 40-barel Mueller brewing system will also be configured for add-ons, as needed. There will also be a public tasting room and corporate office space. Adding the second brewery should allow MEBC to double its current beer barrelage. Initially, Nampa production should mirror that of Vista—which will support distribution throughout California, Arizona and Hawaii, with remaining markets being supplied by the new brewery—but should demand justify it, the Idaho facility can ramp up so that total annual totals exceed 100,000 barrels.
Mother Earth founder and CEO Dan Love and head brewer Chris Baker will relocate to Nampa to head the new project. Back in Vista, expansion will continue until maximum capacity is reached. Hopkins estimates that will occur sometime next year. Items on the nearer horizon for the company include the release of several limited-edition beers, including a barrel-aged Belgian-style quadrupel and barrel-aged version of MEBC’s Sin Tax imperial peanut butter stout for the autumn and winter editions of its Four Seasons of Mother Earth line, plus the return of a Russian imperial stout called Quit Stalin during San Diego Beer Week.
Over the month of September, we’ll single out some of the most promising upcoming brewing industry projects on deck in San Diego County. With roughly 60 such work-in-progress breweries, brewpubs and tasting rooms on deck, splitting the standouts is a necessity, so this series will break them down by geographic region, beginning with those in the North County area. Check back over the next several weeks for summaries on exciting enterprises in the west, east and south portions of the county.
North 40, Carlsbad: It’s a project that’s been in planning for some time, but once realized, will provide a site housing an artisanal collective of sorts near the iconic Carlsbad flower fields. This 43-acre “urban farm experience” will be home to fruit and olive groves, vineyards and hop fields, the cones from which will be provided to a trio of local breweries that will occupy satellite space within the North 40’s 110,000 square feet of commercial space: AleSmith Brewing Co., Iron Fist Brewing Co. and Mother Earth Brew Co. The caliber of those resident brewers lends added worth to a concept that is plenty exciting all on its own.
Mason Ale Works, Oceanside: The team behind Rancho Bernardo’s Urge Gastropub and Brothers Provisions are putting the finishing touches on a second, North County coastal version of the former. Located along the popular Coast Highway the O-side version of Urge will be a brewpub where former Port Brewing Co./The Lost Abbey head brewer Mike Rodriguez will make a long-awaited comeback with mostly West Coast-style ales brewed on a 10-barrel system. Barrel-aged and sour ales are also in the business plan, as is are plenty of guest taps, an innovative cocktail program and an on-site speakeasy.
Belching Beaver Projects, Vista & Oceanside: Never underestimate the power of hoppy ales and peanut butter-flavored stouts. Belching Beaver Brewery has used both to rapidly expand its three-years-young empire, first to include a North Park satellite tasting room and, soon, a 6,600-square-foot brewpub installed in a former Vista bank building and, more importantly, a new brewery in Oceanside that will up annual production to as much as 60,000 barrels. Throw in a soon-to-be-established wild ale program headed by former Toolbox Brewing Co. head brewer Peter Perrecone and there’s lots to look forward to with this company.
NOTE: The items above have been selected from a list of public projects. There are a number of projects that are quite exciting throughout San Diego, but cannot be disclosed as they are confidential in nature and must be kept under wraps by request of the business owners.