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.
As any unincorporated entrepreneur will tell you, opening a brewery in a small community on the outskirts of San Diego County is a risky proposition. Some, such as Alpine Beer Company and Nickel Beer Company manage to draw ale aficionados to the boonies behind good beer, but even quality product can’t guarantee enough patronage to sustain a business long-term. Add questionable or downright poor-quality brews to the equation, and the prospects of backwoods beer dreams being realized slim considerably. Such was the case for Valley Center Brewery, which recently closed.
Founded in its eponymous extreme North County community in 2014, Valley Center was a family-run business that started out on said family’s residential property in a structure they built especially for the business. Roughly a year later, the bulk of the operation was moved to a restaurant on Lilac Road, complete with barrel-aging on a covered patio. A work-in-progress for much of its life-span, the business became a full-on beer-and-food venue earlier this year, but it would appear that, by then, it was too little too late, as mostly negative reviews of the company’s beers had taken their toll. The business went out much like it came in, with nary a whimper.
Valley Center Brewery joins the 2016 class of beer-manufacturer closures that includes Pacific Brewing Company, Twisted Manzanita Ales & Spirits and URBN St. Brewing Company. Valley Center’s closure came right around the arrival of SR76 Beer Works, a brewpub constructed within Harrah’s Southern California Resort and operated by the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians. So, Valley Center is still in the local craft-beer mix along with similar unincorporated communities such as Alpine, Fallbrook, Jamul, Ramona and Julian, where Julian Brewing Company shut-down but is currently being renovated to reopen in 2017.
Last Friday, West Coaster broke the news that Miramar-based Pacific Brewing Company had closed its doors for good. After communicating with both of the company’s founders, Chris Chalmers and Andrew Heino, the shuttering comes after a number of difference between the two ranging from company identity to day-to-day operations to growth and production goals. In the end, those differences and a lack of profitability led to a parting of ways and the decision to shut down.
Both Chalmers and Heino voiced regret and even “heartbreak” over this development. The former has moved on, while the latter has three years remaining on the lease for Pacific Brewing’s Miralani Drive facility. Heino says he is planning on opening a new brewery operation and associated tasting-room, he is not ready to disclose details of that operation.
But visitors to the small business-park Pacific Brewing called home won’t want for beer. 2Kids Brewing Company, a husband-wife venture that opened around the same time as Pacific Brewing, remains as the lone brewery tenant…for now. Protector Brewery, an all-organic brewing operation headed by Navy SEALs, is in the works in the same park, which will also welcome Setting Sun Sake Brewing Company later this year. And right across the street is the long-awaited Thunderhawk Alements, which is facing delays but hopes to begin brewing in a matter of weeks.
“To all our loyal customers and enthusiasts, it is with great regret that we must announce that Pacific Brewing is permanently closing its doors,” says Chalmers. “We have enjoyed some fantastic years due to your patronage and we are thankful to have the honor and pleasure of your company and continued presence with us as we developed our beers as well as our commitment to deliver an outstanding product. We are forever indebted to all of the goodwill, support and appreciation from all who have joined us in the PBC family. Cheers to beers and much thanks from the bottom of our hearts!”
In closing out my bi-annual preview of upcoming brewer-owned businesses showing the most potential, I’m focusing on the East County. Problem is, the list hasn’t changed since the last time I previewed the expansive east in September 2015. Back then, La Mesa’s long-delayed (and suddenly controversial) Depot Springs Beer Company, the future Santee headquarters of Karl Strauss Brewing Company and Lakeside’s first brewery-to-be Knox Corners Brewing Company appeared to have the best legs…and they still do. So, instead of rehashing those, I’m sharing three honorable-mentions from the west, since that is the region with the most exciting projects going on right now.
Barrel Rescue Brewing Company, Kearny Mesa: It’ll be really tiny with extremely sporadic releases of super-small-batch offerings, but with barrels “rescued” from becoming garden planters and plans for some very interesting beers, this figures to be a really cool operation. And big-time bonus points go to the owners for carrying the rescue theme through to local canines due to their mutual love of supporting adoption organizations focused on the preservation of at-risk dogs.
Thunderhawk Alements, Miramar: Sure, the sign outside the building slates its delivery date as…2015. Despite thinking that was a bit too wishful, this figures to be a quality addition to the local brewing scene that will play nicely with cross-street neighbors 2kids Brewing Company and Pacific Brewing Company. Having tried Thunderhawk’s coffee pale ale awhile back, I can attest to its standout character and hope the rest of their beers are in line with that tasty sneak-preview.
Fighter Town Brewing Company, Sorrento Valley: People don’t really talk a lot about La Jolla Brewing Company, the founders of which are behind this contract-brewing project. But there is a buzz around this work-in-progress facility, which could bring beers of notable brewing operations from other parts of the country—or other countries entirely. If the right folks sign a contract, this could turn into something really intriguing.
Past Promising Projects: East
2013: Nickel Beer Company (Julian; Grade—A; a variety of quality beers provides way more than pie and snow in SD’s getaway town)
Many who’ve traveled down Miralani Drive en route to Miramar breweries AleSmith Brewing Co., 2kids Brewing Co. or Pacific Brewing Co. have likely spied a turquoise and orange sign proclaiming the 2015 arrival of Thunderhawk Alements. A sign has been up and prevalent across the street from the business suites housing 2kids and Pacific since last year, but little is known about the interest, including whether or not it will actually open this year.
According to co-founders Jonathan Barbarin and Bill Lindsay, Thunderhawk should take flight in December, rewarding the crowd-funding donors who saw fit to trade funding for the promise of local craft beer. It’s fitting it should occur during the yuletide season, given the company’s beginnings. Barbarin and Lindsay are life-long friends who started homebrewing together five years ago. Over that span, they would share their beers with family and friends at annual ugly holiday sweater parties. The 2014 edition of that soiree served as the launch of their Kickstarter campaign, which went on to raise nearly $20,000.
That money has been funneled into a former office space measuring 1,500 square feet, 700 of which will be dedicated to Thunderhawk’s tasting room. Upping the service area is a 1,000-square-foot outdoor patio. Barbarin and Lindsay hope to drive home the artisan feel of the business via a rustic aesthetic featuring reclaimed wood and copper, accented with hand-finished touches. To date, one of the hardest parts of bringing their vision to life was sourcing a one-barrel electric brewhouse from Blichmann Engineering, which they will use to double-batch brew into a quartet of four-barrel fermenters. The Year One production goal for this nanobrewery will be 200 barrels.
Lindsay will serve as the brewmaster, producing a core line-up of traditional styles augmented by more interesting specialties incorporating locally sourced ingredients such as honey, ginger, pomegranates and coffee. The last one made its way into a recent test batch for a bright, citrusy pale ale. The year-rounds figure to include a dunkelweizen, extra special bitter, milk stout and San Diego-style pale ale. All of the beer will be sold solely from Thunderhawk’s tasting room, with canning as the ultimate goal, packaging-wise. Another goal is to operate in an environmentally friendly manner. A key future initiative to accomplish that will be installation of a solar photovoltaic energy system and water monitoring devices to help minimize the business’ water-to-beer ratio.