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..
A quartet that seems well-fitted for erecting and operating a successful brewery is looking to do just that in Barrio Logan. Currently in planning, that business will go by the name Alta Brewing Company and be located in the Bread and Salt building on Julian Avenue just east of the Interstate 5 freeway. That venue is being converted into an art-centric hub for the fast-gentrifying neighborhood. Three of the aforementioned founders will be putting their skills to use on this project—John Bull, owner of general contractor Blueprint Contracting, Josh Gliko of structural engineering firm Shop Engineering, and Branded Woodworks co-owner and operator Mike Franck. But who will do the brewing? Answer: Brett Stampf.
Stampf started his brewing career 20 years ago and has the likes of Stone Brewing, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and Green Flash Brewing Company on his résumé, as well as a stint as the opening head-brewer for La Jolla Brewing Company. Since departing the latter, Stampf has focused his attention on the Alta project. As such, the game-plan for that brewery, which aims to be open by spring of 2017, is more developed than most in-progress brewing interests.
Stampf expects to brew five core-beers capable of satisfying a wide-ranging array of palates—a golden ale brewed with English yeast, a dry-hopped brown ale, San Diego-style pale ale with “old-school” hops, an India pale ale and a dry Irish-style stout. Armed with a five-barrel system, the goal will not be to flood the market with these beers via distribution, but rather supply the on-site tasting room while ramping up to service future satellite, sampling-only venues. Stampf estimates he can keep up to two such spots in beer with his system, and his team has identified North Park and Chula Vista as particularly attractive communities.
Originally, the founders considered pursuing the traditional craft-brewery model—a 15-barrel brewhouse with 30- and 60-barrel fermenters and distribution as a primary revenue-source. In the end, following the footsteps of Stampf’s previous employers (including La Jolla Brewing, which is attempting to graduate to greater distribution) wasn’t what they wanted. So they are opting to stay ultra-local. The financial risk is lower, as is the stress-level for Stampf.
From the Beer Writer: It’s that time of year again—the time when brewmasters’ Instagram posts clog our feeds with shot after shot of vibrant green hop-buds, fields and good-times had visiting the Pacific Northwest for the purpose of hop-selection. Yes, it’s hop-harvest, and with that annual tradition comes a bounty of wet-hop beers. What are wet-hop beer? They are beers given extra hop aroma and oomph thanks to the addition of freshly harvested (or “wet”) whole hops. It’s a magical time of year both for brewers and drinkers, but not all of the hops come from the upper-left corner of the country. Some come from within our county. Case in point, the Cascade and Galena hops used to create Fallbrook Homegrown Pale Ale. Coming in at 5.6% alcohol-by-volume, the beer’s malt bill lends a touch of toastiness in the finish, but is dialed back enough to let the newly reaped botanicals from SD Golden Hop Farm shine. That operation is based in the same community as the business that nurtured this beer into thirst-quenching reality, Fallbrook Brewing Company. In its three years of existence, that brewery has made a point of sourcing as many ingredients as possible from in and around its namesake berg, while also pulling in brewing talent with roots in Fallbrook to help on collaboration beers.
From the Brewer: “Every year we invite a few individuals from the industry to participate in brewing our anniversary beer. The common-denominator between these individuals is a tie to Fallbrook itself. Some have lived here, some have family here and a few have graduated from Fallbrook High School. Each year the group gets bigger and the beer gets better. This year, we decided to brew a wet-hop beer using locally grown hops from SD Golden Hop Farm. It’s a pale ale that has a very distinctive wet-hop aroma giving way to a candied-orange flavor that’s more sweet than bitter and ending with a nice clean finish. A big thanks to all that participated in this beer. We hope you enjoy it.”—Chuck McLaughlin, Owner/Brewmaster, Fallbrook Brewing Company
From the Beer Writer: There was a time when pretty much the only way I was going to get my hands on prime Pizza Port beers like Swami’s, Chronic or Kook, was by going to one of that storied chain’s brewpubs. Having lived my entire life in inland San Diego, that constituted a special (and always well-worth-it) trip. So, it was a good day, indeed, when Pizza Port’s Bressi Ranch started canning those beers and distributing them all over San Diego County. More recently, the company has started developing new beers specifically for canning, and the latest is perhaps my new favorite canned offering—Pizza Port Graveyard’s Pale Ale. A “strong pale ale,” it comes in at 6.2% alcohol-by-volume and comes on strong up-front fruitiness from Mosaic, Ella, Vic Secret, Super Pride and Amarillo hops. But for me, Graveyard’s real beauty and differentiating factor is its balancing and complex maltiness, the product of a blend of Munich and CaraRed—which presents itself courtesy of toasty, biscuit undertones. Each sip smacks not only of San Diego brewing sensibilities, but Pizza Port’s specific and unmistakable trademark combination of flavor and drinkability. It’s the kind of pale ale I could spend the day drinking pint after pint of at an indoor picnic bench while consuming a basket of Beer Buddies…were I not gratefully able to do all that sipping from the comfort of my own (inland) backyard.
From the Brewer: “Graveyard’s is the first limited-release can to come out of our Bressi Ranch brewery. We decided to go with a stronger pale ale, a style that we all drink a lot of in the pubs and was currently missing from our portfolio. This year, we were lucky to get a healthy amount of Mosaic and Australian hops on contract, and those hops are a perfect fit with each other and for that style of beer. When fermenting it, we blended California Ale yeast with our house La Cruda straing. The Cal-Ale accentuates the hops, while La Cruda showcases the malt. We had also been talking with long-time regular and distinguished surf photographer Steve Sherman on using his photography on a can. All these things came together at the right time for Graveyard’s to get done. The name and label comes from Steve’s shot of the Oceanside break with the same name. It was an empty lot where surfers used to bury their broken boards in the ground, making it look like a graveyard. The photo is from October 2001, during a once-in-a-lifetime south swell.”—Sean Farrell, Director of Brewing, Pizza Port Brewing Company