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Posts Tagged nanobrewery

Beer of the Week: Bear Roots Bear Cookie

Feb 24

Bear Cookie Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout seved on nitro at Vista’s Bear Roots Brewing

From the Beer Writer: Peanut-butter beers enjoyed a brief boom two or three years ago, but even at the height of their popularity, they were polarizing. Adventurous drinkers and fans of the flavor of peanut-butter embraced them with open arms while “beer purists” denounced them as nutty bastardizations of their beloved beverage of choice. While there are few I’ve enjoyed, I’ve never had anything against these brews. Made with various (in the best cases, all-natural) peanut additives, they are usually dark beers that are brewed with deeply-kilned malts, and sometimes cacao or chocolate, to bring on a dessert-like flavor-profile. I approach these beers the same way I approach the last course of a meal, in search of a luscious, sweet sensation. But because it’s beer versus a hibernation-inducing slab of cake, drinkability is important. It can’t be overly sugary and has to balance that peanut-butter essence. Most breweries’ attempts at this come up short, but this is not so at Vista’s Bear Roots Brewing. This one-year-old nano’s Bear Cookie chocolate peanut butter stout is like a well-made truffle filled with nut-infused nougat. These flavors are presented in just the right proportions in a 6.4% alcohol-by-volume beer that has a gently satisfying presence on the palate that’s soft and velvety when dispensed on nitrogen. It is hands-down the best peanut-butter beer being made in San Diego County right now.

From the Brewer: “When I first started home-brewing and dreaming of the idea of opening a brewery, I made a lot of beer around the styles my wife and I enjoyed drinking. Bear Cookie was one that was brewed for my wife and inspired by other great versions on this style. When we first opened our doors, we had not planned on coming to market with this style, as North County had a few already, but given this was my wife’s favorite of my home-brews, it was hard not to eventually put it on tap. Originally, we poked fun at ourselves by calling it ‘We Made One Too”. One thing we love about the craft industry is that you can run a serious business but have a lot of fun doing it along the way! After all, we make beer for a living. Eventually, we realized that coming up with actual names for our beer would be important as we grew, so we turned to our most trusted source for some naming advicec…our then three-year-old. Anytime I would work late nights at the brewery, he would ask if I was going to the Bear Cookie store. Given our name, Bear Roots, our sons’s love for cookies, and the fact that our beer has cookie elements in it, my wife and I thought “Bear Cookie” was very fitting. We use eight different malts, including chocolate, roasted barley, Munich, oats and a few more. The base of the beer is bready, but has a lighter body and crisp finish. On nitro, I think the flavors really blend nicely and it’s one of my go to beers when enjoying a pint at the brewery. Given the fact we are attached to a homebrew store, we have been able to experiment and refine this recipe over the last year, making it one of our most popular beers. I love that we have a completely different take on the style, yet it is enjoyed by many craft-beer fans who dabble in chocolate peanut butter goodness!”Terry Little, Owner & Brewmaster, Bear Roots Brewing Company

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Littles going big bear route with Bear Roots Brewing

Aug 16

bearroots_AWhen we first met Terry and Page Little, they were installing a nano-brewery into their business, Vista’s Home Brew Supply. They weren’t the first to do so (ever heard of a wee operation called Home Brew Mart which spawned the fairly sizeable billion-dollar Ballast Point Brewery & Spirits?), but of the recent crop of suppliers-turned-manufacturers—including The Home Brewer’s Home Brewing Company and Carlsbad Brew Supply’s Guadalupe Brewery—their Bear Roots Brewing Company has gained the most and fastest traction with customers. As previously reported, it’s inspired the Littles to think bigger, enough that they have made the concrete decision to expand their brewery. Now, all they have to do is decide how they want to go about doing that.

The Littles are mulling two options. The first would see them assembling a three-barrel system in their current building on Santa Fe Avenue near Vista’s Old Town area. It would also entail implementation of a program called “brewing success and changing the culture”, which would involve corporate and small-business teams coming to Bear Roots for private brewing sessions. A team-building exercise of sorts, with participants being taught about brewing; everything from logistics to ingredients to processes and even marketing of the finished product. The Littles foresee release-parties for beers produced via this program, wherein program participants reassemble with friends and family to taste the fruits of their brew-day. While there is a brew-it-yourself operation called Citizen Brewers in Grantville, this would be the only local production operation offering such an experience.

Option-number-two would involve the Littles moving the brewery off-site to a larger production-geared facility that would house a 10- or 15-barrel brewhouse. This would include construction of a small tasting room and the ability to distribute Bear Roots beers into the market. The homebrew store would continue to operate as it currently does were this plan to be enacted. Should they go this route and the operation prove successful, the Littles would aim to open a larger tasting room and brewery “training center” in adjacent business suites that would include a “very interactive” homebrew store.

Aside from production, the Littles site a strong desire to share their passion for craft-beer with as many people as possible, hence the team-building and educational endeavors built into both of their plans. Terry has professional background in business and team management from the day-job he will be walking away from to go all-in with Bear Roots. The Littles estimate having their expansion plans completed by October. Timing on debut of the next phase of their business will depend on which direction they go at this meaningful fork in the road.

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Meet Little Miss Brewing

May 9

littlemisslogo2Recently, 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).

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Into The Brew: Nano Diego

May 1

Take a look at the recently-released Brewers Association Top Craft Brewers list and you’ll see several local names pushing the limits of beer produced locally in San Diego. Green Flash is even undertaking a new brewery location on the East Coast. Everywhere you look, there is growth and expansion. Local beer is booming, with seemingly no end in sight. Amongst this bonanza, several of the local breweries that have opened in the past few years have taken a decidedly more local and intimate focus. Since Hess Brewing and Automatic Brewing Co. first opened in 2010, an ever-growing group of brewers in San Diego have chosen to focus on extremely small-batch brewing. These nanobrewers, sometimes producing as little as 20 gallons of beer at a time, are redefining what local, artisan beer can be.

Intergalactic Brewing Company

Intergalactic Brewing Company

While there is no clear origin for the dividing line, most nanobrewers consider a nanobrewery to top out at about three barrels (93 gallons) of beer per batch. On the low side, some nanobrewers still use the same 10-gallon homebrew system that they worked out their original recipes on. Sam Calagione famously started Dogfish Head of Delaware on a 10-gallon system, and they have since grown to producing over 200,000 barrels of beer a year. While still not legally recognized as a distinct class, “nano” simply came into use as a descriptor for a brewery that is, well, smaller than a microbrewery. For comparison, most brewpubs have a brewhouse that makes seven-10 barrels of beer per batch, and most distributing microbreweries start in the 15-20 barrel range, with regional breweries like Stone pumping out about 120 barrels at a time from their brewhouse, typically brewing multiple times into even larger fermentation tanks.

Common industry wisdom several years ago was that if you weren’t a brewpub, you were wasting your startup cash, as well as remaining sanity, by opening with anything smaller than 15 barrels. This idea was based on the assumption that you would distribute your beer in kegs to draught accounts, and possibly also bottles to bars and stores, either by yourself or a third party wholesaler/distributor. You might have a tasting room, but it wouldn’t be very significant as far as the volume of your beer that you would move out of it. This sizing rationale is based on the analysis of fixed versus variable costs.

Prohibition's new system

Prohibition’s new system

A batch of beer takes the same amount of time to make on a one barrel or 15 barrel system, and the amount of space needed is not significantly different between seven and 15 barrels (though one barrel can be made in a much smaller space). So your fixed costs, including the same licensing and fees for starting up, would not change much, though your variable costs, mainly ingredients, would. At under 15 barrels per batch, the idea was that your cost-per-unit would be too high for you to charge what the market would bear and still make a profit. Your fixed costs would essentially eat your profit and you would eventually be forced to upgrade to a larger-sized brewery in order to become profitable enough to survive, or you would go under.

This economic model has changed somewhat in the past several years as brewery taprooms have become more prevalent and popular. Many locales, San Diego included, allow breweries with a certain license to sell full pints of beer and growlers to go out of their tasting rooms. This turns the old thinking on its head because small breweries can now make a survivable profit on a smaller amount of beer due to the higher margins on pints and growlers versus wholesale bottles and kegs. When going this route you are essentially a brewpub without a kitchen that may or may not also distribute some of your beer. Add on regular visits from the plethora of awesome local food trucks now doing business, and you have some of the benefit of a kitchen without the risk and cost of starting a restaurant, a decidedly more risky venture these days. Most nanos are selling all or most of their beer out of their taproom, though some, like Cold Bore Brewing Company of Jamul, are packaging all of their beer for local distribution.

Amongst brewers, there is essentially a consensus that the nano step is chosen mainly because it’s simply far less expensive than a 15-20 barrel brewery. Without a sizeable trust fund, it can be very daunting to go into massive debt or give up control to investors in order to get started. Starting small allows for more personal control and less risk. At the same time, almost all of them agree that their first brewing system is only a launching pad to larger capacity and production down the road. Dave Hyndman of Wet ‘N Reckless embodies this enthusiastic outlook. He enjoys the freedom of artistic experimentation that brewing on a 45-gallon system provides, but also acknowledges the downsides. “The disadvantage is that for every keg of beer I produce there is much more time and labor that goes into it,” he says. “It’s a labor of love but it’s also a reality of the business model.” As demand for his beers grows, he plans to expand capacity in his current space.

Vista brewpub Prohibition Brewing Company brewed 350 barrels of beer last year on a three-barrel system, though they already realized the need for more brewing capacity and have just installed a 10-barrel brewhouse built by local San Marcos brewing industry equipment supplier Premier Stainless, on which they plan to brew over 1,000 barrels this year. To head brewers Matthew Adams and Jonathon Rielly, nano is less about the absolute size and more about the local distribution of beer and connection to the community. “In our minds a nano brewery is an establishment that brews beer for their friends and family in their local community,” they said, adding, “between the two of us we agree that nano signifies a connection to the community that you are brewing for. Nano is connecting with the people who drink your beer and catering your product to their tastes, even if it conflicts with style guidelines.” While many consider nano to be all about size, I do think there is something to be said for the local state of mind.

Amplified Ale Works

Amplified Ale Works

Another brewery that walks the line is Amplified Ale Works in Pacific Beach. Located inside California Kebab, they were limited by the amount of space they had to build a brewery. They were able to fit a 3.5-barrel brewhouse in a former office, and two seven-barrel fermentation / conditioning tanks behind the bar. They double-batch on brew days, producing seven barrels at a time, so owner JC Hill is reluctant to use the nano label, preferring to call Amplified a “small craft brewery.” Right now, they can brew about 150 barrels a year, a nano-amount by most measures. Hill hopes that will change. “If we can add another seven barrel fermenter and some brite tanks to carbonate in, we’ll be able to brew a lot more” he says. Even within this limited capacity, Hill and head brewer Cy Henley have already experimented with bourbon barrel aging and plan to get into more sour and wild experiments in the future. Nano or not, Amplified is exemplifying creative brewing engineered to fit the constraints of a given space.

One of San Diego’s newest breweries, Intergalactic Brewing Company, is set to host their grand opening party on May 4, but owner Alex Van Horne already understands the freedom as well as constraint that starting nano has placed on them. He’s decided to start on a 20-gallon system, and would like to be able to brew 100 barrels in the first year, with expansion allowing more after that. “I am constantly changing recipes and improving the beer,” he says of the advantages of brewing on a small scale. “So the more I brew, the more opportunities I will have to make my beer better.” At the same time, Van Horne has a keen eye for expanding capacity as the business grows. “I don’t think anyone starts nano with the thought that they are going to stay that way. There is always some other end goal.” He says, finishing with an assessment that I think sums up the essence of brewing on such a small scale:

Intergalactic Brewing Company

Intergalactic Brewing Company

“Nano is great for starting out, getting a name, getting credit and a following. But when you start to realize it takes about the same amount of time to do 15 gallons as it does 15 barrels or 150 barrels and you have to hire 10 employees to keep up with demand on a small system you know that nano is not sustainable. I will add one thing, San Diego is different. With the tasting room culture that is here, nano can work. Just prepare to work 80+ hours a week if you want to make it work.”

So all you aspiring homebrewers thinking of starting a nanobrewery in the future, get ready for long hours, mountains of paperwork, and pressure to grow. We brewers are generally a crazy-determined bunch though, and I know more than a few who are up to the challenge.

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Honestly Hess

Oct 13

Slightly north of Miramar Road and just off the 15, you find yourself in a daze of furniture stores, fast-food restaurants and nondescript industrial parks reminiscent of the most mundane of tract housing.  But there are a few diamonds in the rough.

Hess Brewing's Grand Opening in August

Amongst the area’s big boys of AleSmith, Ballast Point, and a future site of Green Flash, Hess Brewing takes to the stage as San Diego’s first licensed nano brewery.  Strolling into the tasting room, the atmosphere is evocative of your best friend’s garage; however, this skilled friend has just finished brewing some of the best beer in town on a custom-built system.  Whichever of Hess’ five or six brews you try on tap, it’s as though that pint were painstakingly created with you in mind. This is fitting as it could very well be the case. Mike Hess and his talented team are offering a service that’s innovative and inspiring: “a unique beer specially brewed just for you and your occasion…If you give us six weeks notice, we can brew-to-order your own special batch.” That’s right – your very own Build-A-Beer to keep you warm at night. For a brewery whose 51-gallon batches are relatively small, their ideas prove to be anything but.

Hess’ glassware doesn’t lack in stature, either. Weighing – or voluming – in at 21.5oz when filled to the brim, these behemoths are known as Willi Becher pub glasses.  They angle outwards until about 2/3 the way up, employ a striking green-and-gold color scheme and are free with the purchase of a taster set last we checked.  The result: plenty of room for a frothy white head on your Claritas Kölsch.

There’s so much room in the glass, in fact, that a one-half liter (0,5L) line has them seeking certification with the Honest Pint Project.  Bred out of contempt for falsely advertised “pints,” this project wants the customer to be sure they are getting the sixteen ounces they’ve paid for.  Typical shaker glasses only contain about fourteen ounces of beer with a proper head.  There are only two other establishments in San Diego that are officially certified. One of them is also the only other licensed nano brewery: Automatic Brewing Co. at Blind Lady Ale House.  Let’s hope the nano-trend goes macro.

The Honest Pint in action

The Honest Pint in action. Photo courtesy of Hess Brewing

Hess is built for customer satisfaction.  If you have a group of five or more, tasting room schedule be damned – they will open their tasting room, again, just for you (but don’t go banging on the door, call 619.887.6453 to make an appointment).  Inside, Michael Skubic, the tasting room manager, sales representative and social media whiz can show you their hip iPad cash register.  You’ll see other pieces of artwork as well, including two black walnut beams suspended from the ceiling that, if anything, can be used to spark small chat with fellow patrons.  Just above the tap handles, an eleven-foot leather pistol holster by local artist Matt Mahoney looms.  And yes, the barrel extends the entire length.  Responding to a curious customer, Skubic aptly commented, “Every good bar has a gun behind it.”  The bigger the gun, the better the bar? Looks like it.

Don’t miss Hess Brewing’s OktoberHess on Saturday, October 23rd, from 12p.m.-6p.m  A new German “Festivus Dusseldorf Altbier”, Original Gravity 1.063 awaits you at 7955 Silverton Avenue, 92126

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