Shortly before the ball dropped in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, a Vista-based brewery announced it was closing its doors forever. Earlier in the day, SpecHops Brewing Company (an operation reviewed by West Coaster just three weeks ago) announced via social media that December 31 would be its last day in business. That post cited the company had been active since 2010, however, it wasn’t until last spring that it opened its location at 1280 Activity Drive. Though the operation aimed to pay homage to military veterans as well as public-service professionals, the web-based platform it set up for that purpose is inactive. SpecHops opened with an impressive brewhouse that will surely be coveted by current and aspiring brewery owners.
SpecHops’ departure came less than a week after another North County fermentation interest announced its farewell. Charles Perkins posted a Facebook message communicating his decision to close his Kuracali Beer & Sake Brewery. Based in San Marcos, that business opened roughly three years ago and was San Diego County’s first-ever sake producer.
Perkins started building Kuracali in 2012. It took him two years to complete the dual brewing components and he opened his doors in 2014. He says it was an enjoyable and rewarding experience serving people and turning them on to sake, but in the end, his location was off the beaten path. This led to insufficient patronage and lack of required revenue to stay in the black. When his lease expired last month and it was time to resign or vacate, he chose the latter. Perkins says he hopes to reopen at a more strategically situated location sometime in the future, but that it will require investment from an outside party. Interested parties can reach Perkins here.
SpecHops and Kuracali both closing the final week of 2017 punctuate something of a new normal. For a decade, new breweries have opened in San Diego County in increasingly large droves, but few closed. A total of eight local breweries closed last year. While most had been open for years, such as Offbeat Brewing, On The Tracks Brewery, La Jolla Brewing, The Beer Co. (which indicated it will reopen) and Magnetic Brewing, one, Wiseguy Brewing, has something in common with SpecHops. It was open less than a year before shuttering. Additionally, several are for sale, most notably Helm’s Brewing, Intergalactic Brewing and Finest Made Ales.
In May, O’Sullivan Bros. Brewing Company owner Ed O’Sullivan put his two-year-old Scripps Ranch brewery up for sale. Shortly after, Darrel Brown, the owner of Savagewood Brewing Company came to take a look. Earlier in the year he had toured defunct Escondido business Offbeat Brewing Company. He also took a look at Helm’s Brewing Company in Kearny Mesa, but passed on all three due to his desire to settle his interest in Rancho Bernardo. But as the months passed, he came to realize the best place for the community- and family-focused venue he aimed to establish was right in his backyard. He and O’Sullivan reconnected and forged a deal that makes Brown the new owner of O’Sullivan Bros.’ brewery and tasting room. And while others might wipe the slate completely clean, Brown will integrate the O’Sullivan Bros. brand into his own.
Brown’s plan—which is already underway—is to remove all O’Sullivan Bros. branding from the exterior and interior of the facility, which is located on the west side of an industrial park on Hibert Street catty-corner to a large shopping area that includes a grocery store and numerous restaurants. All branding will be changed to reflect Savagewood Brewing and his beers will take up the lion’s share of the faucets in the tasting room, but he will also keep on some of O’Sullivan Bros.’ best-selling beers, including Catholic Guilt smoked porter, Our Father’s Stout and Finn McCool’s Big Thirsty red ale. A Scripps Ranch resident who lives mere blocks away, Brown patronized the brewery he now owns and believed in the product and the people behind the brand. He was saddened that the O’Sullivan family had to exit the industry—not due to poor quality, but personal issues that couldn’t be avoided—and feels strongly that their legacy should live on.
While O’Sullivan Bros. beers largely fell on the darker side, Savagewood ales come in lighter on the SRM spectrum. Brown’s recipes are hoppy, fruity and light on malt to produce a dry finish associated with Southern California offerings. That said, he’s not afraid to dabble in the East Coast arts, and is planning to brew a West Coast-Northeast India pale ale hybrid using yeast used for hazy IPAs against a decidedly “San Diego-style” grain bill. That will join his pineapple pale ale and other beers that, up until now, have been contract brewed at Groundswell Brewing Company’s Santee headquarters. Since the total annual production capability of his new facility is just 550 barrels, he will continue to utilize his contract relationship to increase yearly barrelage to between 1,600 and 1,700 barrels.
But it’s not all about the adult beverages. Savagewood will have cold-brew coffee and house-made craft sodas on tap. It will also hold various youth-oriented events such as movie nights featuring ‘80’s movies and popcorn. Also on-tap will be at least one event raising money for local charities per month. A portion of proceeds from one of his beers, Exquisite Blonde, already go to the cancer non-profit Keep A Breast Foundation. “Scripps Ranch is my home and I want Savagewood to be the neighborhood brewery,” says Brown. “Every decision I make will center around that.”
Brown will open the revamped tasting room on November 2, just in time for San Diego Beer Week, which takes place November 3-12. He plans to hold events throughout that span, including beer-release promotions, a trivia night and a beer-brunch event. And near the end of November, Savagewood will hold its official grand-opening party. In the meantime, he’ll work on expanding the floor-plan of the tasting room and cinch up negotiations with a brewer he intends to bring on. As for the rest of his staff, he is keeping all of O’Sullivan Bros.’ existing employees, making for one of the true feel-good stories of this year in local craft beer.
Many were those who felt for Tom Garcia when he announced he was closing his business, Offbeat Brewing Company, last March. The Escondido shuttered following one last hurrah on St. Patrick’s Day after five years of presenting mostly English-inspired ales along with art from local creators. A former employee at nearby Stone Brewing before going out on his own, Garcia has been absent from the brewing scene since closing Offbeat, but he is making his return. Today, Iron Fist Brewing announced they have hired Garcia to serve as brewing production manager at its Vista headquarters.
“I’m very excited to have been given the opportunity to work with Iron Fist,” said Garcia in a press release. “We have great beer with a high potential for growth and innovation. I’m looking forward to helping push the boundaries of deliciousness with [the company].”
This addition comes nine months after Iron Fist brought on a new investor with ties to San Diego Padres ownership. This infusion of capital has allowed the company to look forward rather than tread water. It has also provided added visibility in the marketplace, most notably at Petco Park, where Iron Fist’s beers are readily available via multiple venues and dedicated, branded carts.
Back when I worked Stone Brewing’s Escondido headquarters, many were the nights when me and my marketing colleagues would walk over to the much smaller brewery down the street and knock off with a pint or two. That operation, Offbeat Brewing Company, was the family-run project of an ex-Stone cellar man following his own muse, crafting mostly sessionable beers, many of which had English roots. So it’s sad to hear that today will be Offbeat’s swan song.
Yesterday, owner and brewmaster Tom Garcia announced he has made the difficult decision to close the doors to his brewery, but not before one last St. Patrick’s Day hurrah. So if you’re looking for a farewell-taste of Bear Arms Brown Ale or Girafficopter Pale Ale, this is it. Garcia says with his lease up, it made sense to close the book on Offbeat. That said, the 15-year industry veteran says he’s not against the idea of trying his hand at the brewing business again.
Offbeat opened in 2012 with a bar built from wood from old pallets and discarded furniture, plus a makeshift brewery Garcia described as “the Millennium Falcon of brewhouses.” From the get-go, the space was punched-up from an artistic aspect. The upper portion of the west wall featured a colorful mural with outlandish characters, while the bottom half and many of the other walls regularly featured art from an array of local artists. That art was for sale with 100% of proceeds going to the artist, so that outlet will surely be missed by the creative sect. And painted portraits of outlandish characters like Deer Grandpa and the aforementioned Bear Arms looked good behind the bar.
In the end, what made Offbeat’s location so great for Team Stone, likely hurt the business in the long run. Surviving in an obscure business park on a side-road a half-mile from a major destination like Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Escondido must have been challenging. Choosing between the two equates to a no-brainer of sorts for beer-tourists who’ve come any nominal distance to visit Escondido. But plenty of locals enjoyed Offbeat during its time, mostly for its polar-opposite, laidback vibe and beers.
Offbeat joins other San Diego County breweries that have closed their doors since last summer, including On-The-Tracks Brewery, Lightning Brewery, Valley Center Brewery and Pacific Brewing.
Though they’re not related by blood, Ketchen Smith and Evan Smith are bound by their love of craft-beer and their shared project for getting into the business of producing it, Escondido Brewing Company (649 Rock Springs Road, Suite B, Escondido). Longtime Escondido residents, Evan owns and operates his 38-year-old family-business, Escondido Feed and Pet Supply. That is where the new business will be sited, with the 1.5-barrel brewing system installed in a small space in front of the store. Escondido Brewing will epitomize the term nano-brewery…and that’s just the way the non-fraternal Smiths like it.
“We will be one of, if not the smallest brewery in San Diego. This will be both in physical size as well as production quantity,” says Ketchen, who will serve as president and head brewer. (Evan will manage business operations). “The interior space will be almost completely occupied by the brewery and seating will be on an outside patio.”
Ketchen is an engineering manager for a company specializing in spinal-implants. He has been homebrewering for a dozen years, racking up awards at the San Diego County Fair, Southern California Fair and National Homebrewers Conference. His most notable achievement, and one that bled into the realm of professional brewing, was having an American ale he brewed 40 barrels of with Coachella Valley Brewing Company entered into the pro-am competition at Denver’s Great American Beer Festival.
The majority of Ketchen’s awards were garnered by hop-driven beers, but he hopes to have variety that goes beyond lupulin-rich ales. In addition to multiple IPAs, he will brew blondes, ambers and stouts, with a wheat or Belgian-style beer mixed in every now and then. Each offering’s name will bear some form of tie to the community (e.g., Hopcondido IPA, 1888 Stout). Escondido’s tagline illustrates the company’s intended approach—small batch beers from the heart of the Hidden City. The “Hidden City” (which is already home to Stone Brewing, Offbeat Brewing Company and Plan 9 Alehouse) can expect its newest resident to open to the public in early-2017.