From the Beer Writer: Last year, Benchmark Brewing Company began canning beers in its Parks Collection series. The first to get the cylinder treatment was an extra pale ale (or XPA, acronym purism be damned) called Benchmark Beaten Path. Like the vast majority of this Grantville brewery’s beers, it is beautiful in its simplicity, relying on nothing more than traditional ale-brewing ingredients to carry the day. And while Citra hops are at the forefront of this sunny seasonal, they are in perfect balance, enough that rather than shove their way to the forefront, they casually make their presence known from sip to swallow care of citrus notes lifted by light carbonation and accentuated by a hint of malt sweetness. Four-packs of the beer recently went on sale at Benchmark’s tasting room, making this the perfect time to give this fresh, rather silky pale ale a try. Last year, it was a beer I consumed more than just about any other of its kind. It’s an ideal summertime beer for those who value balanced craftsmanship and hops presented in perfect proportions.
From the Brewers: “This beer was originally designed to celebrate the fifth anniversary of SD DrinkAbout: five percent alcohol-by-volume, five ingredients, five years. It was brewed totally Iron Chef style, because the turnaround on the beer needed to be fast, so we could only use ingredients we already had in-house. The five ingredients are oats, California Ale yeast, water, pale malt and Citra hops. Beaten Path highlights and celebrates the amazing flavor and aroma of this hop. The resulting beer is something that is just so easy to drink, bright and juicy with a smooth body, it is totally crushable. It comes in 16-ounce cans and is available on draft. We make this beer about four times a year, and the entire team here just itches for the next brew every time it runs out.”—Matt Akin, Co-owner & Brewmaster, Benchmark Brewing Company
Back in March, we introduced you to key personnel from Viewpoint Brewing Company (2201 San Dieguito Drive, Del Mar), Charles Koll and Gunnar Plantar. The former conceptualized the business and brought on the latter to lead the kitchen, but both are chefs with white-linen backgrounds. Over the past four months, they’ve been busy putting finishing touches on their brewpub (Del Mar’s first-ever beer manufacturer), which included hiring a head brewer. Not surprisingly, that individual, Moe Katomski, amassed years of chef experience before transitioning to the fermentation industry via a job with Vista’s Bear Roots Brewing. As soon as next week, the general public will be able to see what this trio of toques has been working on when Viewpoint opens its doors.
The opening has been a long time coming—more than three years, in fact. Having recently toured the space, that time was put to good use. Viewpoint is in a simultaneously great and not-ideal location. Located across the San Dieguito Lagoon from the Del Mar Fairgrounds, it is highly visible and should receive plenty of patronage, not only from San Diego County Fair and Del Mar Racetrack visitors, but Del Mar residents, in general, and walkers on the trail abutting Viewpoint’s shaded outdoor patio. The latter area is outfitted in a mixture of concrete and artificial turf, with live-edge, wooden communal tables and banquettes with tabletop fire features, as well as large, open, globe-shaped swings and corn-hole setups. These contemporary SoCal environs are particularly inviting and will surely inspire would-be exercisers to sit a spell and shift from calorie-burning to consumption.
Those dropping in by car might find themselves a little less enamored rolling into a parking lot that, with Viewpoint’s industrial roots fully exposed (perhaps to too great an extent, aesthetically), doesn’t appear to house a restaurant. The front door is small and inauspicious, but upon stepping through it, guests figure to be glad they did. While not as luxurious as the patio, the main dining room is neatly situated and comfortable. A zig-zagging bar gives way to two high-top communal tables and additional bar-seating bordering Viewpoint’s fermenter tanks. Roll-up garage-style doors provide access to the outdoor area as well as a pair of Skee Ball tables, further increasing the family-friendly aspect.
Viewpoint’s license allows for sale of guest beers to supplement a selection of house brews currently coming in at five. Katomski’s wares include a single-malt-and-single-hop (SMASH) beer made with Maris Otter and Chinook hops, a rye IPA with Red X malt that lends a chocolate-like character washed away by a dank finish, and a light-bodied Belgian-style saison that’s herbaceous and lemony with a hint of bubble gum. There is also a pair of pale ales. The first, Pleasant Surprise, was the initial beer run through Viewpoint’s 15-barrel system and didn’t turn out exactly as planned, but is not without its charms. Built on a Kölsch-recipe base with minimal infusion of Chinook hops for bittering, it may actually be a big hit with Del Martians. The second go at that beer is big on citrusy Mandarina Bavaria hops and a much more successful iteration in Katomski’s opinion. That recipe is now set in stone.
Drinkability and approachability were strived for and achieved with Viewpoint’s first beers, but Katomski also plans to follow some suggestions from Plantar, who regularly turns him on to exotic ingredients from the culinary world. For now, he’s fighting the urge to get “too crazy” and that seems a good game-plan for a community that has yet to have much exposure to craft beer.
With so many cooks in the kitchen, one might expect a for-chefs-by-chefs menu that’s overly extensive and out of control. Viewpoint’s is relatively brief but offers variety, including an assortment of appetizers that includes riffs on poutine and Jidori chicken wings served by the dozen with house sauces, charcuterie, salads, sandwiches, entrées (steak frites, salmon) and desserts. Beer and its ingredients make it into accoutrements such as a hop vinaigrette and milk stout demi-glace. Then there’s a rare first for the local beer scene, a beer-and-food flight wherein three of Viewpoint’s beers are served with a trio of pretzel bao buns stuffed with ingredients selected to match their liquid counterparts.
Following its debut, Viewpoint will be open seven days a week. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. it will operate as a tasting room offering light bites, before converting to a full-on restaurant from 4 to 11 p.m.
A lot goes with trying to open San Diego County’s first all-organic brewery—sourcing ingredients, all of which are more costly than non-organic, securing enough of them, finding price-points that work for patrons and, of course, making quality beer. These are all very real challenges, but pale in comparison to the obstacles and consequences the founders of Protector Brewery faced in their former lives as Navy SEALs. By comparison, this should be a fairly straightforward mission. One thing is for sure. They’re going to war fully prepared.
Sean Haggerty is leading the charge from a base of operations located at 8680 Miralani Drive. If that address sounds familiar, it’s because the business park Protector calls home has become well known as a center of artisanality. Other businesses sited there include 2kids Brewing, Align Brewing, Setting Sun Sake Brewery and several urban wineries, with Thunderhawk Alements, a cidery and meadery in the works directly across the street. The fact Protector can bring something completely unique to such a saturated complex is impressive.
Haggerty—who produces beer with fellow brewer Ben Betz—brewed his first beer seven years ago in the most unlikely of places…while on deployment in Iraq. His team had just returned from a direct-action raid at 3 a.m. and he really wanted to drink a good beer to toast his team’s success. The only problem was, being at a military installation halfway across the world, there was no beer to be had. It was then Haggerty had the epiphany that he should make his own. He had ingredients shipped to him and used a five-gallon Gatorade jug for his debut brew. He’s significantly upgraded his equipment at Protector, where beers are brewed on a direct-fire stainless system that figures to produce 200 barrels of beer annually.
Protector’s portfolio will include a hefeweizen, imperial stout, a pair of pale ales (one of which is New World in its hop profundity) and a pair of IPAs (English and West Coast). The hardest part about creating the latter quartet is sourcing quality hops, but Haggerty is confident in the stock he’s secured. He has Cascade, Centennial, Citra, Mosaic, Simcoe and Zeus in cold storage. Only five states house organic hop purveyors and the price of those hops is three times higher than non-organic hops, on average, with highly coveted varietals like Nelson Sauvin going for as much as ten times its garden-variety counterparts. And unlike other local brewers, Haggerty can’t just head to White Labs when he needs yeast. He currently gets his strains from an Oregan-based company.
Given the increased costs, one would expect extremely expensive beers at Protector, but prices are competitive and Haggerty says even his costliest beers will never go higher than seven or eight bucks. He knows an organic brewery wouldn’t be feasible at the size of a Ballast Point or Stone, but believes he can make it work at his smaller size. And if he is successful, he’ll look to expand.
For now, it’s about producing four barrels of beer per week, teaching people about organic beer and showing them it can taste every bit as good as everyday craft ales and lagers. Initially, that will be done exclusively at Protector’s tasting room, a neutral-toned spot punched up with organic color from a framed piece of art made of black barley and hops, depicting a Spartan helmet. Sketched artwork of fantasy-style defenders lines one wall while the brewery’s motto, “people, planet, progression, protector” is painted on the wall beside the bar. Haggerty and company hope to improve the planet through their actions, pushing the organic movement and market forward, not just for themselves, but for farmers, their families, wildlife and the environment.
Protector’s soft-open period begins June 2. The tasting room will be open from 2 to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, leading up to a grand opening in July.
Brian Scott is living a brewer’s dream. After a lengthy career including stints at Firehouse Brewing Co., Mission Brewery and Karl Strauss Brewing Co., he is calling the shots as the head of SR76. That brewing interest is owned by the economic development arm of the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians and installed within the master-structure of Harrah’s Southern California Resort (777 Harrah’s Rincon Way, Valley Center). It’s the first brewery of its kind in the county and, given its business efficiencies, Scott and his associates see it as a duplicatable model, both locally and abroad.
From a brewing perspective, Scott cites numerous advantages at his inland North County anomaly. Chief among them is having his biggest customer—the resort—right next door. Rather than distribute product across or outside San Diego County, Scott can focus all of his attention on close-knit colleagues, meaning he can maintain first-hand quality control regarding beers and the lines they are dispensed through, and help the resort trouble-shoot and repair any problems that come about. SR76’s beers are available at the resort’s family of bars and restaurants, which go through enough kegs that there is currently no need to explore selling product to outside accounts. Additionally, the resort selecting the beers that fill out the rest of its taps and fridges, allows for control of competing brands.
Even so, Scott is not looking to go head-to-head with big boys like Ballast Point, Stone or Green Flash. He doesn’t even brew an IPA. Instead, he’s aiming for approachability and producing a line of session beers that will be compatible with the tastes of the resort’s diverse—and largely new-to-craft—clientele. The way he sees it, having his beers predominantly featured at a resort with the size and scope of Harrah’s allows him to touch tons of people other craft breweries have little or no access to, so he doesn’t want to lose them with massive bitterness, big-alcohol or outlandish adjuncts. As such, SR76’s current quartet of core beers consists of a German-style wheat beer featuring traditional notes of banana and clove, a light-bodied Kölsch, and pale ale built to scratch the IPA itch care of Mosaic hops and 70 IBUs (international bittering units). His most avant-garde offering might actually be the best shot at converting oenophiles and the beer-averse. Dubbed Supul (translating to “one”, signifying it being the first beer brewed by SR76), it’s a sub-4% alcohol-by-volume saison that, with floral notes of violet, lavender and honeysuckle, comes across like the ale-equivalent of viognier. The body of this beer, as well as that of the wheat and Kölsch, is thin by traditional standards, but that may be advantageous once temperatures reach the extremes that are the norm during Valley Center summers.
SR76’s tasting room is in a separate ground-floor structure across from the hotel’s main entrance. A condition of the business’ manufacturing license dictates that it can’t be connected to Harrah’s, but Scott sees advantages there, as well, stating that it renders his sampling space as an “oasis” of sorts. While the casino and hotel pool-area are typically high-energy, loud and even a bit raucous (particularly during the sunny season), SR76 is lounge-like with its bevy of comfortable seating options and lack of gaming or TVs. Most of the customers who venture there are looking for beer, a break or both. Like most local tasting rooms, beers are sold below at-large prices, which was important to Scott, who wants a visit to the source to be as authentic as any other. The smell of steeping grains on brew-days really helps hammer that home. Another bonus: guests are allowed to bring food in from the resort’s plethora of dining spots.
A prime reason the tribe opted to get into the brewing business was to be able to spotlight San Diego’s brewing culture while keeping beer-seekers on property. Harrah’s has historically been a key supporter of the San Diego Brewers Guild by sponsoring the Rhythm and Brews Music and Craft Beer Festival, and putting on its own Hop Heads and Dreads Craft Beer and Reggae Festival. By constructing a brewery, the resort now has increased ability to put on large-scale events, and they are exploring ways in which to do so.
Thus far, SR76 is performing to tribal expectations, albeit during the slow-season for tourism and beer-consumption. Time and data collected during peak months will tell the true tale, but if the operation is successful, the SR76 team sees this as a model that can be duplicated at resorts throughout Southern California and beyond—citing Northern California, Arizona, Oklahoma and North Carolina as potential regions for on-property brewery infusion.
Large-scale hospitality projects tend to be hammered into existence one of two ways—really fast thanks to large capital backing, business savvy and political sway, or slow as molasses due to grand and multi-faceted scale and ambition. Count Depot Springs Beer Company in the latter category. In the works for roughly two years, the combination restaurant, brewery, distillery and public-events-space project continues to creep toward completion after numerous major delays. But owner Aaron Dean says the business is on-pace to debut in La Mesa come December.
While navigating through the aforementioned delays, Dean and company redesigned several elements of the project, moving the brewery from the rear of the venue to the front, allowing for better visibility thanks mostly in part to a large logo-affixed grain-silo that will now be front-and-center. The area that was to house the brewery will now be a kid-zone called “Playcation” which will come in at more than 2,500 square feet. Completely media-free, it will be designed for kids ages three-to-twelve and offer multiple activities, including some involving multiple artistic mediums—glass, paint, ceramic, etc.
The following is a quartet of house-beers from head-brewer Stuart Long, complete with descriptions from Dean:
As far as the menu goes, a draft bill-of-fare from executive chef Matt Richman (formerly of Pacific Beach’s Table 926) lists smoked chicken wings with a trio of sauces including gochujang barbecue; cheese, charcuterie and sausage platters; shrimp and grits, seafood paella, buttermilk fried chicken, tacos al pastor and lager-steamed black mussels. There is a clear focus on local ingredients and contemporary preparations. In addition to the restaurant, Depot Springs will have four bars and offer live entertainment throughout the day, ranging from an eclectic range of live-music to comedy and fashion exhibitions..