Stone Brewing is working on a plan to bring its own themed hotel to Escondido. No, you haven’t accidentally stumbled upon a news clip from 2011, when San Diego County’s largest brewing company originally unveiled its intentions to construct a hotel across the street from its Escondido brewery. This is an update on what many believed was a dead project. I’d say “most people”, but during my time working at Stone—which included monitoring social-media—we were regularly asked when the hotel was going to open. This, despite the fact there were no visible signs of construction, and in fact, no construction to speak of save for an intersection leading to a driveway (named “Lupulin Lane”) outfitted to look like beer being poured from a tap when viewed on GoogleEarth (seriously, check it out).
What I was able to ascertain from those constant inquiries was that there was a significant amount of interest and that this was a “worthy” project. Stone ownership agreed with said worthiness, but with so many construction projects going on (breweries in Richmond, Virginia and Berlin, Germany plus a brewpub in Point Loma’s Liberty Station development as well as company stores, bars and other eateries throughout Southern California) they lacked sufficient funds to pursue what would be a rather gargantuan undertaking and one, it must be added, that would do little to grow its beer business and nothing to increase beer-production.
Not a lot has changed over the past half-decade. Stone still doesn’t possess the capital necessary to pursue its hotel project. But before those eager for a beer-equipped, ecologically sound, gargoyle-ensconced lodging experience jump off a 1,000-barrel fermenter into a river of expired Enjoy By IPA, there’s good news. Stone recently entered into a licensing agreement with Untitled Hospitality to get Stone Hotel built and open by early 2018. Stone ownership recognized years ago that, in addition to the expense, it would be difficult to get a hotel constructed and operational without the experience and knowhow of hospitality professionals. It took years to find the right corporation to work with, but now Untitled is set to get to work building a hotel that it will both own and operate.
Stone co-founders Greg Koch and Steve Wagner are trusting Untitled to bring their vision to life. Much of that has to do with outfitting the eventual $26 million, 100,000-square-foot building in an aesthetic that is true to Stone’s image and brand of architecture. That’s no small feat, but helping with this will be award-winning interior designer Paul Basile of San Diego’s BASILE Studio. And the build-out of Stone Hotel will be done in partnership with McMillin LLC. Together, the team will erect a lodging venue consisting of 99 “oversized” guest rooms (six of which will be suites), an 8,000-square-foot ballroom, a 10,000-square-foot rooftop garden, bar-style lobby, fitness center, walking trails and nearly an acre of additional outdoor event-space.
On the suds side, guests will receive complimentary beer when they check-in. Additionally, archived, rare, cask and specialty beers will regularly be tapped at a trio of service areas throughout the property. And though the method of delivery has not been disclosed of yet, a press-release states that beer will be “available upon a moment’s notice”. A night’s stay will also entitle guests to priority-seating and “a unique culinary experience” at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Escondido. Stone Hotel will be located at 1990 Citracado Parkway, directly across from Stone’s Packaging Hall and cattycorner to Stone’s Escondido brewery and restaurant.
This article has been more than three years coming, but finally—after much work from founder and (former) homebrewer-extraordinaire Kelsey McNair and his team—North Park Beer Co. (3038 University Avenue, North Park) is open to the public. Installed in the much-renovated shell of a former mixed-martial-arts gymnasium, it offers a great deal of space. The 9,000-square-foot, two-story tasting room can handle 130 visitors on the first-floor and an additional 80 or so via an upstairs mezzanine. It’s a good thing, because NPBC has been the most buzzed about upcoming brewery project in San Diego for quite some time. It’s a sure bet it’ll be rather packed for the foreseeable future.
McNair is most known for his award-winning Hop Fu! India pale ale (IPA), which is currently fermenting away in one of NPBC’s tanks, but the first-draft beer-board currently consists of four offerings, none of which are all that hop-forward. In that sense, they are indicative of what patrons can expect from the operation. McNair’s goal is to brew to-style beers rather than envelope- and palate-pushing oddities. On tap now is a balanced Red called Ray Street featuring plenty of malty toffee and caramely appeal, a Scottish ale that doesn’t rely on wee heaviness to deliver nice flavors (at under 4% alcohol-by-volume it comes in at the 70-schilling classification), a bittersweet and abundantly roasty stout called Beaufort Black, and a crisp and a citrusy pale ale. All four are well-made and what one would expect from such styles. Such straightforward traditionalism is refreshing in a day and age when so many are going against the grain (which, for the record, I have absolutely nothing against).
In addition to Hop Fu!, McNair will soon debut a cream ale, rye-infused Pilsner, double IPA and imperial porter with Baltic characteristics (but no lagering). This will put more of the tasting-room’s 32 taps to use, but only six-to-eight of them will dispense house-beers at any one time. The rest of the taps will be hooked up to kegs of guest-beers and wine once Mastiff Sausage Company installs its on-site kitchen in a space with a walk-up order window located directly beneath the mezzanine. Their license will make it possible to serve beverages from outside entities and further enhance the come-one-come-all feel NPBC already features.
A sign above the front-door reads Ales & Lagers, Friends & Neighbors and the floor-plan of the craftsman-inspired, wood-paneled first-floor features seating geared toward the making of new acquaintances over a pint. Wooden chairs line windows looking out onto University, giving way to communal high-tables followed by table-seating like one would expect from a restaurant. Seating options include 100-year-old chairs brought in from an ancient library. A long-bar resembling (to this casual observer) a judge’s bench is furnished with the largest, cushiest bar-stools anywhere. This is the sort of place where guests will feel encouraged to stick around, which seems important in North Park, the craft-beer crawl capital of San Diego. It takes a lot to extinguish an urbanite’s urge to move on, but tasty beer and the polished design of Basile Studio, which includes cool lamppost lighting with globe-like fixtures, just might do the trick.
The upstairs area is currently unfurnished and nondescript, but offers plenty of space for stand-up imbibing. The entire downstairs is visible from the mezzanine, which also features a crow’s-nest with a clear view of the 15-barrel brewhouse and cellar below. Very soon, a four-tap bar will be installed up there along with furnishings that will deliver a “North Park residential feel”. Once complete, the area will be leasable for private events. On the official NPBC events front, classes of sorts revolving around certain types of beers (English, German, Belgian, etc.) will be offered. They will be an extension of the considerable beer-education program disseminated to NPBC staff. Emphasis is placed on beer-knowledge here. Every NPBC employee has already earned Beer Server status care of the Cicerone Certification Program, and three of them are fully certified Cicerones (the beer-industry equivalent of the wine world’s sommeliers).
NPBC is open seven days a week, closing at 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and midnight Fridays and Saturdays. Mastiff’s estimated time of arrival has yet to be finalized, but the mezzanine area should be completed in late-summer or early-autumn. Still, there is plenty in place to put NPBC within the upper-echelon of North Park beer tasting spaces, which is saying something for a business that’s just a day into its lifespan in such a vibrant, suds-geared community.
Dustin Hauck has had a hand in a great many local brewery projects, more than possibly any single consultant in San Diego County. That level of experience has many coming his way for advice, both here at home and outside the region. Though it wasn’t easy to find much time on his busy schedule, we managed to corral him from the day-to-day long enough to ask him about the services he provides for brewery clients, how he got started and where the local brewing industry is headed.
What services does Hauck Architecture provide to brewery owners?
We provide complete architectural, structural, mechanical, plumbing and electrical engineering services for our clients. This is everything they need to get their building in shape for their brewing equipment. We also handle all the plans necessary for building permits along with most other construction-related permits that apply to brewery projects. Many brewers understand their brewing equipment but may not understand the building codes, fire codes and ADA issues they will face when building out their brewery. We close that gap, working with the client and any consultants they may have such as brewery equipment suppliers, contractors and installers. We can even provide steam, glycol, grain conveyance and other process piping design on an as-needed basis. What separates us from other architects is that we specialize in brewery projects. We understand the unique requirements of a brewery and the complications of adding a tasting room or restaurant to a manufacturing facility. We also understand the brewery equipment. There is no learning curve to explain what a mash tun is or why a room is needed for a future whirlpool tank as production grows over time.
What are some of the first projects you worked on?
Two of our first brewery projects were Plan 9 Alehouse in Escondido and Benchmark Brewing Company in the Grantville area of San Diego. Since then, we have worked on over 35 brewery projects and multiple craft beer-related bars, tasting rooms and restaurants.
What are some exciting work-in-progress projects that you’re currently involved with?
Right now, I have to say one of our most exciting projects is North Park Beer Co. There is a lot of deserved anticipation for Kelsey McNair and this project. We are very excited to be collaborating with acclaimed designer Paul Basile and are looking forward to this project coming to fruition.
What regions do you serve?
Most of our brewery work is in the San Diego region, with several projects in other parts of California such as Los Angeles, Ventura and San Leandro. We are expanding our service area outside of California with a brewery in Woodinville, Washington and Carlisle, Pennsylvania. So we can work anywhere. We are even talking to a potential client about a brewery in Italy.
How have you helped brewery owners?
We have been called in on a few projects where owners hired someone not familiar with brewery projects. They ran into issues such as waste water, air pollution, hazardous materials and zoning regulations they were not familiar with or how to deal with them. We are our client’s advocate, even names as their consigliere by one past client, acting in their best interest when dealing with authorities having jurisdiction over their brewery.
What are some potential obstacles you foresee for people looking to get into the craft brewing industry?
A lack of awareness of what it takes to open a brewery. There are myriad building code issues that have to be dealt with. The barrier to entry can be quite high when you consider all that is necessary. We see too many clients getting locked into leases before they have done their due diligence by talking with us early to assess the feasibility of a site and potential issues.
What are some candidates to be the next “it thing” within the brewing industry?
The high cost barrier to entry is something I see as being mitigated, to some extent, by an incubator model. We are currently working on a project called Brewery Igniter that intends to lower this barrier by providing turnkey production breweries that are ready to brew. The rent is higher but the start-up cost is much less. This allows for someone to come in and test their business to find out if they have what it takes to make it. I think this is an exciting model. We are also seeing growth in similar fermented beverage industries such as mead, cider and distilled spirits. Expect this trend to continue as we rise from the suppression that was caused by Prohibition. It took the U.S. a long time but American palates are evolving and there is an entire world of flavors out there to be explored.
San Diego’s craft beer scene has come full circle before Arsalun Tafazoli’s eyes.
When Tafazoli opened Neighborhood Ale House in 2006, he didn’t want it to be another bar in Downtown where shiny-shirts came to get hammered. Instead, the 25-year-old San Diego native wanted a place where beer would be appreciated for having substance.
“When we were starting out, young brewers would come in and tell stories about how they mortgaged their houses—put everything on the line to get their product out there,” says Tafazoli. “There was so much passion behind it. It was incredible to me that it didn’t have the same credibility as wine.”
Tafazoli made moves. His staff of mostly women were pros on the ins and outs of beer styles and food pairings. He regularly hosted meet-the-brewer nights―with out of towners like the venerable Dogfish Head and Allagash. Lee Chase (Blind Lady Ale House, Automatic Brewing Co., Tiger! Tiger!) was hired as Neighborhood’s first beverage manager.
“If Lee’s behind the bar pouring you a beer—to this day—he’ll get you behind it. It’s amazing to watch,” says Tafazoli of Chase, a mad beer scientist of sorts who worked as head brewer at Stone for nearly 10 years until 2006. “That got really hip; people would come in to taste more stuff. We’d get letters saying ‘I didn’t know what good beer was before.’ We really built a community one person at a time.”
Around the time of the housing market crash, there was a boom of creativity among brewers, says Tafazoli. And newly-broke winos took note. This is when Neighborhood took off, and gave rise to a new order of local establishments.
“San Diego is littered with gastro pubs now,” Tafazoli says. “Nowadays, the word “craft,” the term “farm to table”—it’s all been commodified. It’s a trend that people exploit. You see these banners hanging in front of places everywhere say “craft beer.” It’s more than getting a tap system installed; that’s just one component in the context of this bigger picture. You have to make sure the whole story makes sense or else it doesn’t work.”
Having grown from 33 breweries in 2007 to 88 at time of print, some of the craft beer scene’s original players are wary of its sustainability.
“It used to be that there was this young guy starting a brewery, and you’d want to support it. And now every day it’s someone else. It’s great for the proliferation of the culture, but I think some people are getting into the business for the wrong reasons.”
Tafazoli’s approach to success has launched what is today one of San Diego’s most ambitious and talked about hospitality brands, Consortium Holdings (CH). In 2008 he joined forces with Nate Stanton (El Dorado), when both of their businesses were gaining momentum in the up and coming East Village. Since, the two have undeniably elevated drinking and dining culture in San Diego with eight successful concepts and counting.
It doesn’t hurt to have a dream team behind their backs, with two-star Michelin Chef, Jason McLeod, helming kitchen operations for all the projects, and highly reputed bartenders like Erick Castro (Polite Provisions) and Anthony Schmidt (formerly of Noble Experiment, now headed to new project Rare Form). Then there’s local designer Paul Basile, whose past projects include Bankers Hill Restaurant + Bar and Acme Southern Kitchen.
Just last year, CH won national praise for two of its projects. The speakeasy Noble Experiment (designed by Mauricio Couturier) made Esquire Magazine’s top 100 bars list and Polite Provisions won Imbibe Magazine’s Cocktail Bar of the Year. The James Beard Foundation also loved Erick Castro’s Mayan Concubine cocktail at Polite, naming it one of their favorites of 2013, from a spot that opened the same year, no less.
“We want our spaces to promote our core values. It’s why we don’t do vodka or shit beer, and think about every aspect of a space—because it’s a reflection of who we are and what we want to perpetuate to our community,” says Tafazoli. “It was the Greg Kochs [Stone CEO] and the Lee Chases who reaffirmed what I thought. At first, people were coming in to Neighborhood and not getting it, and sticking to our identity and not watering it down—back when everything was on the line—that’s what made us.”
CH’s first all-out culinary endeavor, Ironside Oyster, has been packed since opening in early May. In the works are North Park’s Underbelly, an East Village juice bar, and Rare Form, a Jewish Deli that will share space with a Stone tasting room in the historic Simon Levi building next to Petco Park.
Tafazoli says of the perceived “seasonal” neighborhood, “The stadium has shaped the cultural geography of East Village, and not in a good way. Too many businesses cater to the stadium crowd. It’s not about walk-by traffic for us, it’s about the great community of people who live there,” he says. “We’ll create a synergy there with the two different businesses. The idea is that our core values are very much alike. Stone knows who they are, they stuck to it, and it’s been effective. They paved the way for a lot of people. You have to respect it.”
No one could have predicted the force that craft beer would play in the trajectory of Tafazoli’s businesses, let alone its tremendous impact on the local economy. Tafazoli points out that the proof lies in a craft beer newspaper like West Coaster—something most people wouldn’t have looked twice at a decade ago.
Still, Tafazoli remains cautiously optimistic about San Diego’s brewing future.
“A lot of brewing companies have popped up without understanding the soul and economics of the business. Unfortunately, I don’t think a lot of these guys will be able to sustain,” he says. “In the end, I want everyone in the community to be successful, but unfortunately capitalism is harsh. I think there is a lot of local talent sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see how things play out. I see them stepping up as other people phase out. Then, we’re going to experience a stronger renaissance.”