In January, Mark Purciel decided to shut down his 11-year-old passion project, Oceanside Ale Works (1800 Ord Way. Oceanside). At the time, Purciel expected to reopen the business once he got past legal issues with his former business partner, Scott Thomas. A recent social-media post from Oceanside Ale Works announced a grand reopening event at the company’s tasting room on Saturday, March 17, signaling the expected revival of the North County interest. There’s just one thing—Purciel might not be a part of this event or anything else OAW-related moving forward.
As part of the aforementioned legal proceedings, Purciel may be required to sign a non-compete clause. That document could prohibit him from operating a brewery. Because of this, he has opted to sell the Oceanside Ale Works brand—for a whopping $250—to people he believes will do right by the business he’s built. Those new OAW stewards are Richard Bell, his fiancé Leah Dardis and brewer Lance Jergensen. Bell was looking to start a business focusing on small-batch, Mexican-inspired beers called Papi Chulo Brew Works, and was in search of a turnkey facility to take over when he met Jergensen on a related internet forum.
Jergensen is returning to Southern California, where he brewed at Pasadena’s Crown City Brewing from 1988 to 1991, before spending a decade working for New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colorado, during the formative years of iconic Belgian-style amber ale, Fat Tire. In addition to his work with New Belgium, he was one of the original brewers for the Vista Oggi‘s brewpub. He has also operated his own company, Rebel Malting, which supplied his Adelanto, California-based family business Jergensen Brewing before focusing on a largely Nevadan customer base. The most recent chapters of his career saw him heading Piegon Head Brewing and Tonopah Brewing outside Reno.
Bell and Jergensen are leasing OAW’s tasting-room-equipped facility from Purciel and, while there are plans to expand production, for now, they intend to stick with what’s worked for the business. This includes continuing to brew OAW recipes, while also endeavoring to be active, productive members of the Oceanside community. Bell would very much like to maintain a working relationship with Purciel, who he says is the face of OAW as far as he’s concerned. There is a chance that Purciel’s non-compete may be composed in a manner that allows him to be involved with OAW in some capacity in the future, but for now he has zero involvement with operations, and says he is looking forward to some time off and enjoying beer from the other side of the bar with friends.
Last Thursday, I shared the news that Oceanside Ale Works would hold its last service two days later before closing its doors for good. That was the truth—but not the whole truth. That day, I reached out to co-owner Mark Purciel, who later in the day said there was more to the story, but he couldn’t share details until after January 8 due to a “court date.” That date has come and passed, providing Purciel the opportunity to legally disclose his side of the story, as well as the news that, while OAW may be finished, his tenure in the brewing industry is far from over.
To adequately tell this tale, we’ll need to go back to 2013 when an OAW double IPA, Dude, won gold in the Imperial India Pale Ale category at the San Diego International Beer Festival. This created a great deal of buzz, to the point where distributors and retail establishments were requesting the beer. The problem was, it had never been packaged. So, Purciel and company went to work getting the beer brewed and bottled stat. This included designing bottle art and getting it approved as rapidly as possible. The artwork ended up being a depiction of Purciel posing as The Dude from the film The Big Lebowski presented a la Barack Obama in the “hope posters” from his days as a presidential candidate.
It was a quick fix, and one that did not sit well with OAW’s other owner, Scott Thomas. It wasn’t the first time Thomas expressed dislike for a design decision. Purciel has taken the lead on the business’ marketing from the get-go, seldom developing concepts that worked for Thomas. But the Dude IPA label struck enough of a nerve that Thomas backed away from the business completely (despite the fact that, according to Purciel, Line 64 of their partnership agreement says there will be a beer with his likeness on it). It wasn’t until February of 2015 that he came back in the picture, virtually at least, sending an email from him and his wife to Purciel. According to its addressee, it stated the following:
“We (Scott Thomas and Dawn Thomas) believe in OAW but we do not have the passion. Our energies need to be focused on our children. We truly feel that stepping out of the business completely will give you the autonomy to do things.”
Upon receipt of this email, Purciel says he offered to buy the Thomases out at a sum that was more than three times their initial investment. Thomas called it insulting and proceeded to file a lawsuit against Purciel in December of that year. In the two years that have followed, Purciel says no buyout negotiations have been initiated by the Thomases or their lawyer, though that is what he’s wanted to focus on from the start. It came to the point where he felt his only choice was to close down the business, dissolve the partnership and move on to the next chapter. Given that Purciel owns the building in which OAW was housed, as well as a portion of the brewery equipment, he feels it will be relatively simple to let some necessary time pass then reopen, most likely under an entirely new name. That moniker may turn out to be Irrational Ales, as Purciel (a former math teacher of 17 years) already holds a trademark on it. He is currently in the process of selling assets, and has already selected a IDD Process & Packaging HEBS (high efficiency brewing system) brewhouse to usher him into the next chapter of his brewing career.
Two days ago I recapped last year’s brewery closures, citing eight that had shut their doors, including two that did so the final week of 2017. Just four days into 2018, it’s already time to cover the New Year’s first impending closure. This time it’s Oceanside Ale Works (1800 Ord Way, Oceanside), which announced yesterday via social media that it will be shutting down, but not before a final service on Saturday, January 6. OAW holds the dubious distinction of being the longest tenured local brewery to go out of business in the modern brewery era.
Inquiries to ownership were not immediately answered.
Established in 2006, OAW rose to popularity as an after-hours industrial-suite hangout, gaining enough of a mostly-local following to substantiate a move to a second location roughly a half-decade later. At that point, ownership upped its available square-footage and brewing capacity while adding a barrel-aging program that went on to earn critical acclaim. After the move, OAW’s traditionally low prices remained below the industry average, but heavy patronage made the math work.
When OAW opened, Breakwater Brewing was its only competition in the City of Oceanside. Now, fermentation operations of all sizes dot the landscape from the renowned Bagby Beer Co. to large-scale operations like Belching Beaver Brewery and Mason Ale Works to Camp Pendleton-adjacent Legacy Brewing to more recent additions such as Black Plague Brewing, Midnight Jack Brewing and Northern Pine Brewing to rival for municipality-namesake status Oceanside Brewing. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the 20-plus breweries in the neighboring Vista and Carlsbad communities.
On a personal note, OAW was one of the very first breweries I visited when I really began getting into locally-produced craft beer; venturing to production facilities to find out who made my beer and experience the full breadth of their creations versus simply drinking whatever I encountered on tap at retail establishments. From the moment I walked into OAW, owner Mark Purciel and his staff made me feel right at home and excited about beer. Keep in mind that I was not yet a journalist, simply an eager enthusiast, so the treatment I received was the type afforded every customer.
Having shared conversations with many OAW patrons, including professional brewers such as Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station brewing manager Kris Ketcham, who participated in his first professional brew with Purciel at the company’s original location on Oceanic Drive, Purciel was a positive driving force that reeled them in and kept them coming back. A former school teacher with a fun brand of mentorship at the core of his being, he was the face of the business, and he will surely be missed in the San Diego brewing scene.
Last year, personal differences led to long-time friends and Pacific Brewing Company co-founders Andrew Heino and Chris Chalmers shutting down their business and heading their separate ways. At that time, Heino shared his interest in picking up the pieces and building a new brewery. It wasn’t long before he set out on that mission and, now, his Align Brewing Company is an estimated month or two away from making its debut at Pacific’s former home in Miramar. We summoned him from the construction-site long enough to ask about his phoenix-from-the-ashes interest.
West Coaster: What motivated you to start work on Align so soon after closing Pacific Brewing?
Andrew Heino: I’ve been trying to open a brewery since 2008. All four of my first attempts were with brewer-partners. The fact that Pacific opened was only because I had learned so much from the first three tries and never gave up. Unfortunately, it was short lived, but I still view Pacific as a success and huge learning experience. Partnerships are very difficult especially as time goes by and people change. It’s not uncommon for partnerships to end poorly. But I picked myself up, held my head high, directed all my focus on a fifth brewery attempt and here we are now, close to opening Align. I could not have done it without the support of my wife, family and friends. And if brewery number five doesn’t work out, I’ll probably try to open another one.
WC: Tell me about the team behind Align.
AH: I’ve been working in the brewing industry and homebrewing non-stop for 10 years. I started out as a volunteer at Oceanside Ale Works, then got hired on at Stone Brewing as, I believe, their first assistant brewer. I worked in various positions there, learning every day and becoming more and more knowledgeable. I decided to start my own brewery about eight years ago and I’ve never looked back. I am mainly doing everything myself at Align, and am extremely fortunate and very grateful for having some amazingly talented and generous people in my life who have helped me in many ways throughout the rebuilding process; from making my logo-art, to some plumbing and electrical, and a number of other areas.
WC: How will Align differ from Pacific Brewing?
AH: Since it’s just me now, I can make whatever I want whenever I want. I have total creative freedom and I’m excited to try making some exceptional beers…and maybe a few weird and wacky beers. You’ll be seeing a lot of experimental beers as well as seasonal recipes, and we are planning to do a lot of collaborations with other brewers. More emphasis will be focused on expansion of the company and distributing these amazing beers to more people. On the brewery-side, every piece been changed and upgraded to a seven-barrel system. The brewhouse kettle is a new, innovative system that no one else in San Diego has. The only parts of that location that are the same are the cold-box and the bar-top that I built in 2013. Everything else has been revamped for the better.
WC: What styles of beer will Align offer?
AH: Our year-round core beers will be well-rounded to accommodate all tastes, and will most likely include a cerveza-style Pilsner, stout, pale ale and many IPAs. The seasonal brews will be the higher-ABV styles and weird-addition types. Because we’re not a niche or specialty brewery, we are not going to be focusing mainly on one style. That said, we are true hop-heads and consider IPA to be the pinnacle of beer in many ways. So, we will certainly be offering many new and unique IPAs and hop-forward beers over time.
WC: What will the tasting room be like and when will it open to the public?
AH: The tasting room will feature sacred geometry, interesting lighting, local art, ocean, stars and comfortable chairs. It will be very clean and streamlined, and feel more like a brewery than a restaurant. We’re currently waiting on the final government OK to start brewing, then we’ll brew nonstop for about three weeks until we have our core-beers. Provided all goes well, the soft-opening will be followed by our grand-opening. It’s hard to say a specific date, but I think April is a good possibility.
For a number of years, two breweries—Oceanside Ale Works and Breakwater Brewing Company—called the City of Oceanside home. Then, seemingly overnight, the North County coastal community found itself in the midst of a food-and-drink revolution. Adventurous restaurants began opening at a rapid clip, and with them have come numerous brewing operations (Bagby Beer Company, Legacy Brewing Company, Belching Beaver Brewery, Midnight Jack Brewing Company, Urge Gastropub’s Mason Ale Works and the open-and-soon-shut Beer Brewing Company), as well as the county’s only meadery, Golden Coast Mead. Last month, O-side welcomed another into its suddenly sudsy scene, Oceanside Brewing Company (312 Via Del Norte, Oceanside).
Though the latest addition, this project goes back further than any of the others. Master brewer Greg Distefano (who has been brewing for 25 years, served as master brewer for Stuffed Pizza—now Oggi’s—and founded local homebrew club San Diego Brew Techs) purchased the name Oceanside Brewing Company 15 years ago with the dream of starting a world-class brewery. Now, he and co-founder/head brewer Tomas Bryant have brought it to life in a 2,100-square-foot space with a three-and-a-half-barrel brewhouse and 1,900-square-foot outdoor patio. Both share a love of Oceanside’s diverse population and hometown feel, and hope to contribute something of quality to the community. One thing’s for sure, they’ve certainly brought quantity with 18 taps, all pumping out different and widely varied beer styles.
Core beers include an American pale ale, India pale ale (IPA), amber ale, cream ale, hefeweizen and English-style porter. Those share space beside a pineapple-infused IPA, double IPA, black IPA (or Cascadian dark ale, as they prefer to refer to it), barley-wine, tropical hefe, imperial stout, Belgian-style strong ale and witbier. Honey-wines and braggots are also something they will produce with great regularity. Distefano and Bryant utilize more than 20 yeast strains from nearby Real Brewer’s Yeast to ferment these and their other beers.
What might look like a beer-board populated by randomly landing spitballs actually has quite a bit of reason behind it. Distefano and Bryant are self-proclaimed historical brewers, and say each beer has a historical reason for being on-tap, calling their style “classic-meets-innovation”. They are enthused that this is the only time in the history of the world that literally every beer ingredient known to mankind is at brewers’ disposal, cautiously adding that this may not always be the case. While it is, they intend to take advantage of the current state of the fermentation arts.