Earlier this month a for-lease sign went up beside the signage for Little Miss Brewing’s much-anticipated tasting room on Ocean Beach’s Newport Avenue. The conversion of the site’s interior into a French World War II-themed sampling space is roughly halfway complete and the company’s logo has been mounted outside, making this an unexpected turn of events for everyone, including owners Greg and Jade Malkin. The marrieds behind this Miramar-based company’s satellite project have been paying rent on the space since last December and, in the time it has taken to attempt to obtain approval from the local faction of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), have opened another tasting room in Normal Heights. But the ABC process for their would-be OB interest has been nothing short of a bureaucratic nightmare.
The Malkins submitted their ABC application for the OB tasting room a week after sending the same paperwork for the Normal Heights project. Early on, things went as expected, including receipt of protests during the 30-day period when residents are allowed to formally raise issues. The majority of the protests were rescinded once the Malkins reached out to the individuals who had initiated them. What the Malkins were unaware of, however, is that a private meeting had been held without their notification or knowledge in late-April—outside of the public-protest period—between ABC supervisors, representatives of the San Diego Police Department (SDPD), a State Assembly member and additional OB residents not in favor of the tasting room. ABC representatives claimed the meeting was not specifically about Little Miss, but rather all tasting-room licenses pending on Newport Avenue, but Little Miss’ was the only license of that type pending at the time. The negatives that came out of that meeting, where the project was scrutinized without the applicants being able to defend their business, followed the Little Miss project file through its lifespan without the Malkins even knowing. But this constitutes only a portion of the obstacles.
While the Malkins respect the job and authority of the ABC and appreciate the hard-working nature of ABC employees, they echo the opinion of most (including ABC employees) that the department and its local offices are severely understaffed during this time of unprecedented brewery openings. During the many months they spent trying to open the OB tasting room, meetings with ABC agents typically yielded little in the way of concrete answers or reliable advice. Often, one agent would contradict the other. In the cases where they agreed, other governmental factions saw things differently. Additionally, the Malkins were told to call ABC reps at different offices as well as various individuals at the City of San Diego offices and SDPD. Most calls went unanswered, as did requests for information.
The key piece of info they coveted during the process were crime logs. During a meeting with the ABC on July 20, the Malkins were shown a letter from the SDPD dated June 29 stating it would not support the issuance of Little Miss’ OB license. The reason: the neighborhoods the Western Patrol Division serves (Ocean Beach, Hillcrest, La Playa, Linda Vista, Loma Portal, Midtown, Midway District, Mission Hills, Mission Valley West, Morena, Old Town, Point Loma Heights, Roseville-Fleetridge, Sunset Cliffs, University Heights and “Wooded Area”) had experienced an overall increase in crime and could not handle another ABC license issued in the area. The ABC said they would not go against the SDPD’s recommendation because they felt it was impossible to change their opinion. Determined to give that a try on their own, the Malkins asked to see the crime reports for the aforementioned communities. The ABC had those reports, but said they were not allowed to provide them to the Malkins, and directed them to obtain the data from the City. They attempted to do so, but after more unanswered calls, ended up downloading the information they needed from the City of San Diego’s website instead.
Through this fact-finding exercise, they discovered that, although alcohol-related crime had gone up in the Western Patrol Division’s patrol area as a whole, it had gone down in OB by a whopping 40% since the November 2014 introduction of the neighborhood’s first brewery tasting room—Culture Brewing Company on Newport Avenue. Also, the number-one alcohol-related crime in OB is open-container violations, primarily on the beach. They presented this information to multiple City Councilmembers, the Mayor’s office and ABC, even going so far as to waive Little Miss’ ability to sell packaged beer or growlers to go, but never received an answer. The final straw was a call earlier this week when the Malkins say it seemed like someone at the ABC had decided they were going to deny the license long ago—possibly as far back as the meeting that they weren’t given the opportunity to attend—but nobody wanted to be the bearer of bad news. It prompted them to officially pull the plug on the OB project.
This drama isn’t the only turbulence for the company, which last week parted ways with the only brewmaster it has known during its first year of existence. This seems a much easier hurdle to get over than ABC issues. Former Green Flash Brewing Company brewer Joe Lisica spearheaded brewery and tasting room construction and beer production for Little Miss. His desire was to create clean, clear beers, including an assortment of single-malt-and-single-hop (SMASH) beers. While quality was never an issue and ownership appreciated Lisica and his beers, their vision for Little Miss’ portfolio was vastly different, leading to an amicable parting of ways. Mike Morbitzer, a fellow Green Flash alum Lisica hired as his assistant, has been promoted to brewmaster and will be responsible for reshaping Little Miss’ offerings to match the Malkin’s desires, which includes more new-school beers such as hazy IPAs and beers brewed with fruits and other adjuncts across varying styles. Meanwhile, Lisica is taking a brief hiatus from the industry to contemplate his next move, while entertaining offers from companies in need of his services.
Little Miss’ business model from the get-go has been to open six satellite tasting rooms under their manufacturing license, focusing on unsaturated neighborhoods — besides the planned OB location. The Malkins are leery of filing through the San Diego office again. A local ABC agent advised them to apply in La Mesa, a municipality that only recently began encouraging brewing companies to lay down stakes, but they will also likely look north once they have some time to gain some distance and lick their wounds.
This weekend, West Coaster obtained official communications from representatives of Helm’s Brewing Company (5640 Kearny Mesa Road, Suites C & N, Kearny Mesa) stating that the five-year-old business is accepting offers from interested parties. Ownership will entertain offers of $500,000 and above.
Helm’s Brewing opened its doors in 2012. Founded by a homebrewer and associates from his primary career, the company’s first head brewer was Brian Mitchell, who went on to work as a small-batch brewer for Stone Brewing before opening his own project, Pariah Brewing Company, at North Park’s Brewery Igniter complex on El Cajon Boulevard earlier this year. Under Mitchell and subsequent brewing personnel, Helm’s’ beer quality has fluctuated, leading to something of a hit-or-miss reputation among consumers. Still, the company was able to add a satellite tasting room in 2016, becoming the third to open in now satellite-saturated Ocean Beach.
The OB tasting room, which is located at the corner of Newport Avenue and Cable Street (the same block as tasting rooms for Belching Beaver Brewery, Culture Brewing Company and Kilowatt Brewing Company) will be included as an acquired asset should Helm’s sell. Among attributes listed for that venue in the company’s solicitation communique are the fact it faces the neighborhood’s Wednesday farmer’s market and “has posted strong revenue numbers through its first year-and-a-half in existence.”
It took more than three years to open, standing as a three-story enigma on the western end of Newport Avenue. But OB Brewery (5041 Newport Avenue, Ocean Beach) finally debuted with the bang of fireworks last Independence Day weekend. When conceived, there was only one other brewery in town, the southernmost porthole of local brewpub chain Pizza Port. Now, this sister-business of craft-beer early-adopter Newport Pizza and Ale House is one of seven brewery-owned venues within a half-mile of each other…and that doesn’t even count the recently opened Voltaire Beach House and its on-site tasting room for Santa Clara-based Golden State Brewery, or beer-centric businesses like Bar 1502, Wonderland, Raglan Public House or The Joint. Competition for imbiber interest is fiercer than ever, and it would seem the neighborhood’s namesake brewery is ill-equipped to put up much of a fight.
The major appeal of OB Brewery is its triple-decker architecture. The venue provides three unique environments in which to relax with a cold one, be it house-beers or ales and lagers from guest taps. As one would expect, the most popular of those options is an open-air, tiered deck on the top-floor providing fantastic views of the ocean and the eclectic mix of comers-and-goers on Newport…at least during the sunny season. Of late it’s been far too cold for this choice value-added to factor in, requiring beer-quality to carry the day. After a recent visit, I feel comfortable venturing the theory that OB Brewery’s scarce patronage is directly attributable to its lackluster wares.
The house India pale ale (IPA), Hop On Board, was low on carbonation and had competing notes of pine, kumquat (odd, but not off-putting)…and butter. The latter is an off-flavor associated with the presence of diacetyl. An oatmeal stout started off nice and coffee-like but quickly devolved into an ashy finish that was like kissing a chain-smoker. A red IPA had no nose to speak of, but did exhibit some tea-like hop notes on the palate. If anything, it came across as an amplified version of an English-style extra special bitter (ESB). The beer with the most redeeming qualities was Roll Wit’ It, a Belgian-style witbier that had plenty of trademark citrus character plus a touch of earthy notes from the addition of coriander. It will do well with the Blue Moon and Shock Top crowd—something an OB watering hole must consider—but a legitimate San Diego beer experience requires mastery of more than a lone wheat ale.
Were this superiorly cool venue to touch-down in a community under-served from a craft-beer perspective, it would fare much better. The same would be true if this business could have taken less than an entire high-school career to open. But smack-dab in the heart of current-day OB, a neighborhood that is, frankly, over-saturated with local beer options at present, the odds of this place competing (even against its parent business), much less emerging victorious, are rail-thin.
Though a last bastion of quirk versus a hotbed of commerce, Ocean Beach now rivals most San Diego communities when it comes to craft-beer. The out-there community is now home to two brewing facilities, satellite tasting rooms owned by five local brewing companies, and a restaurant sporting a tasting room supplied by an out-of-town brewery (Santa Clara’s Golden State Brewery). That’s a lot of beer, especially for such a small neighborhood. Four of those satellite operations are situated on one block (and it’ll be five once Little Miss Brewing goes live later this year). But of them all, the space best-suited for its OB environs is the one that officially opens to the public this Friday, January 27—Kilowatt Beer Company (1875 Cable Street, Ocean Beach).
In bringing the second-coming of his Kearny Mesa-based interest to Ocean Beach, owners Steve Kozyk and Rachel Fischer aimed to celebrate the community’s artistic side in tandem with their own. Kozyk is a lighting aficionado and black-light artist whose mastery of illumination transformed his original tasting room into as much a feast for the visual senses as a place to grab a cold one. That was his MO when pondering a second-location, and taking over a 1,800-square-foot motorcycle-repair shop a half-block off Newport Avenue provided him a large—and rather perfect—canvass with which to work.
Upon approach from any direction, patrons will spy multiple artistic touches, the most prominent of which is a host of murals from multiple artists painted on the exterior walls. Out front, Kilowatt’s light-bulb logo casts a rainbow array of beams onto a motorcycle rider, an iconic holdover that has graced the wall bordering the business’ front patio for years. Kozyk and Fischer kept it as a nod to neighbors who begged them to not to paint over it. Meandering down the alley on the building’s south-side, one is treated to murals of a titanic wave, flora sprouting ingredients used in the brewing of Kilowatt’s beers (e.g., hops and cacao pods), and UFOs scouring the earth for hops to fuel the powers of mythical goddess “Kohatu the Hop Abductor”. (Check with Kozyk for the full-story on that mysterious character.)
Like a number of the artistic touches at “Kilowatt West”, the ingredient mural is a nod to famed black-light artist, Clint Cary, AKA: The Space Man of Ocean Beach. In addition to being a progenitor in his area of artistic specialization, Cary, an OB resident, was famous for his claiming to have been abducted by aliens in the mid-‘40s. Kozyk has scored some of Cary’s original pieces on lease from his estate, and plans to have them locked up but in full view in the main sampling space in the near-future. That area consists of an L-shaped bar with 24 taps arranged in a wavy pattern against a steel sheet engineered to change colors on command. Bright green, orange and teal are painted on walls which will soon showcase a regularly changing assortment of art. Kozyk initiated such an art program at his original brewery, but found it challenging. Given the number of local artists who call OB home, he is confident it will be easier to curate sufficient creative stock there. That goes for contracting local graffiti-artists to have their creative way with Kilowatt West’s bathrooms, and securing pieces to grace a black-light lounge in the back-portion of the venue. That area will include a “life-size” Lite-Brite setup that’s six-feet-by-five-feet and uses plastic water-bottles filled with colored H2O as pegs and a design painted in clear black-light paint running the length of the back hallway.
The front of the building will soon sport a large bulb-lit carnival-meets-old-Vegas metal Kilowatt sign Kozyk has outfitted with LED technology. Even without that component, the front-patio is well-branded thanks to fencing plasma-cut to show-off elaborate Kilowatt-artwork hand-drawn by Kozyk’s mother, an artist in her own right. Taped lighting will allow that sign to shine brightly in an array of hues. That same color-control will extend to the Kilowatt sign and the lighting on the patio itself.
And for those who’ve frequented Kilowatt’s original tasting-room and missed the presence of a VW bug coated in Kilowatt-themed paintings (another product of Mother Kozyk’s creativity), it figures to find a home in OB. Could there be a more fitting mascot of sorts? Kozyk says it’s another example of something he and Fischer felt was of the utmost importance in coming to OB—“bringing something vastly unique to a vastly unique community.”
Additional reporting by Katie Conner
Known as much for its clever lighting design as its avant-garde beers, Kearny Mesa-based Kilowatt Beer is looking to bring both to the popular seaside community of Ocean Beach with a satellite tasting room being constructed under the internal project-name, Kilowatt West (1875 Cable Street, Ocean Beach). Intended to be inviting to all, including children and pets, the space is scheduled to open in early-2017.
The 1,800-square-foot building was built in the 1950s and previously occupied by a motorcycle repair shop. Two glass roll-up doors will be installed in the front of the building, but that’s where Kilowatt West’s adherence to the common tasting-room model will cut off. The back area, where repair bays were once located, will be converted into a lounge area with both permanent and rotating black-light installments. Co-owner Steve Kozyk envisions it as “black-light basement meets psychedelic art gallery.” The lounge area will be curated by a trio from The Ancient Gallery art-collective. Kozyk, a veteran of the illumination trade, will install the black-lights and some of his own kinetic art.
As far as design goes, the Kilowatt team will stay true to the original architecture and feel of the building to avoid being too much like the rapidly growing number of tasting-only brewery venues in the county. While the back-end will be purposely dark to allow the art to shine, the front area will be made bright thanks to natural light. That said, it will feature a number of interesting light fixtures courtesy of Kozyk. The tasting room will be outfitted with 20 taps, with the ability to add more should demand dictate a line expansion.
Located near the intersection of Newport Avenue and Cable Street, it will be very near existing offshoot sampling spaces for Culture Brewing Company and Helm’s Brewing Company. And just down the street is the newly opened OB Brewery and Pizza Port’s six-year-old OB brewpub. Kozyk is aware of the recent tasting-room boom in OB (which includes an existing venue from Mike Hess Brewing and a soon-to-debut spot from Belching Beaver Brewery), but says he actually chose this quirky community because it suits Kilowatt’s personality. It would seem black-lights and kinetic art will go well with neighbors like Stuff 2 Puff, tattoo parlors and certain “medicinal” outlets.