From the Beer Writer: Of the most recent entrants to the San Diego brewing industry, few have been so impressive from the get-go as Eppig Brewing. The first interest to open in North Park’s Craft by Brewery Igniter complex, it has a lot to offer. There are currently well over a dozen beers on-tap, but even when they had less than half of that available early on, that handful included some real winners. Tops among those first drafts was Eppig Natural Bridge Festbier. Much like Christmas ales or Lent beers, most brewers only produce this lager-style during a certain period, in this case Germany’s Oktoberfest season. But not at Eppig, where they smartly realize their Festbier’s quality is such that it should be a year-round offering. Bready yet light with bristly mineral notes, it’s a study in balance and elegance that comes in at 6% alcohol-by-volume. Behind this and the other members of Eppig’s Natural Bridge family of lagers (Baltic porter, hoppy Pilsner, schwarzbier, zwickelbier and, soon, a lightly oak-smoked Vienna lager), this young brewery belongs among the small number of breweries brewing top-notch lagers in ale-heavy San Diego. Read more »
I’ve interviewed many brewers in my day, and when asked about their portfolios, nearly every one of them rifles off the same statement: “We brew beers that we want to brew.” This answer’s ubiquity in no way detracts from its authenticity, but it means a lot more for the most recent fermentationist to say it to me, Brian Mitchell of Pariah Brewing Company (3052 El Cajon Boulevard, North Park). Doing things his way doesn’t mean daring to brew a lager in ale-town San Diego, brewing gluten-free beers or shooting for extreme alcohol-by-volume. His family of beers—which will make their official debut at a trio of grand-opening sessions (which are nearly sold out) next weekend, before Pariah’s tasting room opens to the public on Sunday, February 12—are unlike anything being brewed anywhere in San Diego, or pretty much anywhere else.
Of the six beers that will be on-tap when Pariah opens, the tamest is Off-White Wit, a Belgian-style witbier inspired by Taiwanese boba tea. Honey, green tea, lemongrass, ginger and orange find their way into this exotic brew, but Mitchell leaves out one of this style’s most traditional ingredients, coriander. The result is a wheat beer with herbal notes versus overbearing citrus character. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Uni Stout…and it’s just what it sounds like, a take on an oyster stout brewed with lacto-sugar, sea salt and fresh sea urchin gonads from Catalina Offshore Products. The sea fare (added in the whirlpool) combats some of the sweetness, drying things out and leaving flavors of chocolate and pumpernickel behind. It makes Dorcha, a nicely balanced stout brewed with molasses, cacao nibs and a proprietary blend of coffee from Bird Rock Coffee Roasters seem everyday by comparison.
There is one traditional beer on the board, a West Coast IPA fortified with Amarillo and Mosaic hops that’s been cleverly dubbed Dank Drank. Dry with a lasting lemon pithiness, it’s 6.66% ABV and comes in at 66 on the IBU (international bittering unit) scale. But even it is offset by a more avant-garde IPA that’s brewed with mangoes, peach-flesh and hemp oil. Mitchell hates fruit IPAs produced by “certain local companies” and aimed to use real fruit (versus extract) to marry with and amplify the qualities of the hops used for this beer. The result is an IPA with malt character reminiscent of a Pacific Northwest IPA and heavy tropical flavors.
The most ambitious of the lot is Erotic City. The name is inspired by the dearly departed “Purple One”, while the recipe for this strong ale resulted from a challenge issued by Mitchell’s wife, who wanted a beer brewed with Muscat grapes, honey and grains of paradise. The resulting beer is big on grape flavor, but low on the mustiness that typically accompanies wine-grape beers. There is some sweetness, as one would expect, but I’ts earthy and honey-like as opposed to cloying. This is a beer for adventurous drinkers, but that seems to be the point at Pariah.
And these aren’t specialties or one-offs. The beers described above comprise Pariah’s core-beer line-up. That’s gutsiness that bleeds over into Dogfish Head territory. (Erotic City actually closely resembles Dogfish’s “ancient ale” Midas Touch.) That Delaware-based veteran brewing company has been manufacturing “off-centered ales for off-centered people” for 21 years, growing into the 16th largest craft brewery in the country in the process. Mitchell’s aspirations aren’t that large, however, he does want to grow his business. As such, he has hired employees to handle sales and distribution, something not that many new breweries devote start-up funds to. His business practices seem sounder than many, lending method to what, to beer purists might seem light outright madness.
With new breweries opening at a rapid clip and nearly 140 operating brewhouses, many wonder if our county needs any more brewing companies. This opinion is fueled mostly by people who feel the majority of each business’ offerings are nearly identical, especially where hoppy beers are concerned. Pariah’s wares soundly answer any questions about why this interest exists—because without Pariah, beers like this wouldn’t exist…anywhere. It’s refreshing to come across a new brewery with so many unique offerings, and even those who don’t take to Mitchell’s creations will likely agree with that sentiment.
Pariah’s out-there line-up offers an advantage to a pair of other breweries—Eppig Brewing and San Diego Brewing Company. Those businesses are located on either side of Pariah in the second of H.G. Fenton’s Brewery Igniter complexes. All three companies entered these ready-to-brew, tasting room-supplied spots with equal brewing and cellar capacity. It was up to each to differentiate themselves and that’s just what’s happened. San Diego serves its vanguard staples plus worldly one-offs, while Eppig is gaining a good name behind high-quality lagers and a mixed-bag of hoppy beers and kettle-sours. Then there’s Pariah, which also features the most jarringly disparate environs. Purple (more Prince influence) is the main color in the dimly lit space, which San Diego Brewing co-owner Lee Doxtader has taken to (respectfully) calling “the dungeon”. But how many captive environments are so nerdy about glassware that every beverage served there comes in its own specific type of glassware (including the aromatic-enhancing Spiegelau IPA glass)?
Pariah’s tasting room will be open Monday through Wednesday from 12 to 9 p.m., Thursday through Saturday from noon to midnight and Sundays from 12 to 7 p.m. The tasting room is equipped with 13 taps that will soon be filled. Bottled wild ales are also in the works, as is a three-way collaboration between the North Park Brewery Igniter’s tenants.
With three companies building out breweries within its confines, CRAFT by Brewery Igniter (3052 El Cajon Boulevard, North Park) has provided me a great deal of material for my beer-writings. It will eventually be the only place in all of San Diego County where one can visit three breweries in one fell swoop. But before that can happen, those businesses need to open. The first to do so will be Eppig Brewing Company, the soft-opening for which will take place this Wednesday, November 2. Following Wednesday’s debut, Eppig will be open during limited hours seven-days-a-week.
Last week, I had the opportunity to check out Eppig’s recently completed tasting-room and check out its first five beers. Often, pre-open beer tastings turn up multiple beers that could use some work—often by the admission of the brewers themselves—but Eppig’s brewer duo of Nathan Stephens and Clayton LeBlanc (hailing from Ballast Point Brewing’s Little Italy and Scripps Ranch breweries, respectively) are rather happy with their initial offerings. And so was I.
Despite the fact they are brewing in an environment that requires a bit of process-ingenuity and implementation of “Jenga-like” shifting of hoses and other equipment, they have put together a solid line-up of traditional lagers (referred to as “Natural Bridge” beers) and New World creations that I look forward to returning to. The following are my initial impressions of each…
The next beer to hit the menu will be a single IPA called “Factory of Dreams” in reference to a nearby business on El Cajon Boulevard. Similarly, the aforementioned “Glitz & Glam” shares its name with the Friday night show performed at Eppig’s next-door neighbor biz, Lips. The entire Eppig team says their neighbors have been extremely friendly and supportive, and they’re as pleased as can be about being a part of the community developer H.G. Fenton selected for CRAFT.
One thing that makes Eppig different from its fellow CRAFT tenants, Pariah Brewing Company and San Diego Brewing Company, is the addition of a small pilot-system that will be used for experimenting with new recipes before ramping them up to full-batch production. Working on developmental brews in this manner is old-hat for Stephens, who completed roughly 350 brews on Ballast Point’s (much larger) pilot-system over a three-year span. Doing so lent him great experience with a vast array of ingredients from suppliers the world over, knowledge he and LeBlanc put to use at their new stomping grounds.
In February, I shared news of H.G. Fenton’s upcoming triad of leasable turn-key brewery-tasting room combos coming to the city of San Diego’s beeriest community, North Park. Now, that facility has a name—CRAFT by Brewery Igniter—and a new tenant. Joining previously reported operation Pariah Brewing Company will be J&L Eppig Brewing, a heritage interest dating back a century-and-a-half.
Originally founded in Brooklyn, New York by Bavarian immigrant Leonhard Eppig in 1866, the operation grew to a lager-beer empire of sorts comprising multiple breweries (Leonhard Eppig Germania and his brother’s biz, Joseph Eppig Brewery). The brewery survived the Prohibition Era. As rumor has it, that had something to do with noted gangster Dutch Schultz. After the repeal of Prohibition, business recommenced, but the brewery was sold in 1935 to the Ehret family. It’s believed gang influence was responsible for that development, as well.
The second-coming of the brand is being initiated by great granddaughter Stephanie Eppig, who is looking to produce German-style lagers inspired by the original brewery’s 19th century recipes while also exploring modern-day brewing trends and techniques. To help with the latter, she and her husband-slash-business partner, Todd Warshaw, have signed on two brewers hailing from Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits—Clayton LeBlanc and Nathan Stephens
LeBlanc is a co-founder of Eppig 2.0. He bartended at Karl Strauss Brewing Company for five years before embarking on a four-year career with Ballast Point that saw him starting out on the bottling-line at its Scripps Ranch facility before advancing to the point where he became a brewer who also assisted with grain-management and the training of new brewers. Stephens will serve as principal brewer for the new business, overseeing brewery operations, after three years serving as Ballast Point’s lead research-and-development brewer primarily working out of the company’s Little Italy brewpub.
Like others within the CRAFT campus, LeBlanc and Stephens will utilize a 10-barrel Premier Stainless brewhouse. That apparatus will be used to produce a varied line of beers ranging from IPAs to kettle-sours, barrel-aged high-gravity beers to the aforementioned lagers. Overall, Eppig says her brewery’s beers will be balanced and approachable. The company’s annual production goal for its first full year in business sits at approximately 1,000 barrels, but provided demand increases as they hope, yearly production is projected to rise to 2,500 barrels by 2019.
H.G. Fenton is currently in negotiations with its third and final CRAFT tenant. By year’s end, the campus should provide a rare craft-beer first for San Diego—a single building where people can visit three completely different breweries without ever leaving the premises. In addition to convenience, it also solves potential transportation problems for the brewery-hopping sect while allowing them to save on car-services (or make it easier on their gracious DDs).