The “South Bay Uprising”—an influx of banded-together breweries and beer-centric venues spanning Chula Vista to Barrio Logan—has been picking up steam for years. Last weekend, the most formidable beer-making member of that growing movement opened its doors after two years of construction on downtown Chula Vista’s main drag, Third Avenue. Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing Company (259 Third Avenue, Chula Vista) has brought its ambitious vision for a multi-story brewery and tasting room simultaneously celebrating anarchic rock and the city its founders call home. In doing so, it’s given the community the type of business it can rally behind and build upon.
When we first met the Chula Vistans behind this business, they were renting space at Santee’s Butcher’s Brewing (since renamed to Finest Made Ales) to create their first batches of mostly-hoppy beers, but their dream was to secure space to make an artisanal impact on their home turf. They were able to do so in 2015 when they secured the building that formerly housed The Highlander. A rare basement-equipped structure it was first coveted by Fall Brewing Company, but elevated enthusiasm and hometown espirit de corps inspired the landlord to opt for Thr3e Punk Ales. At last weekend’s friends-and-family pre-open party, the landlord felt vindicated in that decision and bullish on the future of Third Avenue’s business district with the debut of Thr3e Punk Ales as well as the impending arrival of a tasting room for Santee-based Groundswell Brewing Company in another of his properties across the street, and the recent opening of Chula Vista Brewery on the same block.
While Bay Bridge Brewing Company and Novo Brazil Brewing Company have been making beer in Chula Vista for years, quality has been an issue and neither are centrally located enough to make the number of impressions and aid in revitalization the way Thr3e Punk Ales can. In addition to being smack dab in the middle of downtown, Thr3e Punk Ales is an attractive space with a fully conveyed thematic. The north wall is covered from basement to ceiling in a punk rock collage intermingled with iconic imagery. Tour poster artwork from the likes of Suicidal Tendencies, Bad Religion, the Sex Pistols and Dead Kennedys share space with the logos of Thr3e Punk Ales and the City of Chula Vista and the original Highlander sign augmented by the anarchy “A” utilized in the brewery’s wordmark. The brewhouse and fermenter tanks jut up from the basement into the tasting room opposite an L-shaped bar flanked by a roll-down screen illuminated by a ceiling-mounted projector. Rail bars line the north and roll-up garage door-equipped west side of the tasting room while a large wooden table provides a second, more communal seating option.
The opening beer list consisted of five offerings. Of them, the hoppy stock—what the company made its name on in its fledgling period—was the best. Needle in the Hey double IPA has the nose of a dispensary with flavors of clementine, melon, orange zest and pine resin. While it isn’t heavy, it is purposely sweet in a nod to old-school imperial IPAs. Conversely, their 6.5% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) IPA Hole has intense mango-and-papaya-like hop-bite up front and a sharp yet tacky finish. Morning After Pilz has such vibrant hop character it almost blots out its Pilsner foundation, but as its first-pour chill wears off, a bit of honey-ish earhiness and yeast character enter into the equation. A Mexican-style lager and 9.5% ABV imperial stout with flavors evocative of bittersweet chocolate, coffee and cinnamon bark round out the menu. Both would benefit from added carbonation, but taste nice and provide increased variety.
Overall, this much-anticipated project has made good on its intentions to bring a vibrant business in line with current trends and San Diego’s craft-beer scene to downtown Chula Vista. It will be interesting to see how a community less indoctrinated and inundated on the independent beer front will react, but if any brewery in the area has a chance to change the tastes of the city’s denizens, it’s this one.
From the Beer Writer: One goal of the West Coaster Beer of the Week is to help people discover special, high-quality beers they might not otherwise come across (and in some cases sadly find out about after they tap out). In the case of this week’s featured beer, there were plenty of people in the know and willing to point me in its direction. The day I was headed to the East Village’s Half Door Brewing Company, I shared my eventual destination with a pair of beer drinkers. Their eyes lit up as they blurted out the same thing: “Buzzwords!” It was the beer I was en route to sample. Nothing like finding out you’re on the right track. If you haven’t yet heard of this beer (or been keyed in by the aforementioned boisterous brew fans), allow me to introduce you to Half Door #Buzzwords. This highly-hopped pale ale revels in its en vogue nature (i.e., it’s hazy, bro). Pop-culture adjectives like “juicy” and “dank” fully apply, as the beer comes across more like grapefruit juice or a mimosa on the front-end, before a pleasant punch of pine finishes things out, reminding you that you are, in fact, enjoying a beer, and a delicious one at that. #Buzzwords revels in appealing to craft fans’ current tastes while staying true to traditional flavors from household-name hops.
From the Brewers: “#Buzzwords is our super-dank, 8.7% (alcohol-by-volume) India pale ale. It was the first hazy double IPA that we made, using a simple grain bill of Pilsner malt and flaked wheat. We use hops throughout the hot and cold side starting with mash-hopping, first wort hops and a generous dose in the whirlpool. On the cold side, depending on scheduling with yeast, we will either do one or two dry hops and the beer finishes around two-and-a-half to three pounds per barrel total. We ferment #Buzzwords with London Ale 3 yeast and adjust the water profile to a 2.5 to 1 ratio of chloride to sulfate. We mix as many hops as we have on hand but make sure to go heavy with Chinook or Simcoe, then balance using numerous hops of New Zealand origin, mostly Southern Cross and Motueka. The result is a beer with notes of tropical fruit…mostly pineapple and mango…plus some lingering pine and grapefruit citrus in the finish.”—Daniel Drayne, Head Brewer, Half Door Brewing Company
More than a decade-and-a-half ago, Andrew Campbell took a trip to the Czech Republic, where he ventured to Plzen and tasted fresh, unfiltered Pilsner Urquell on tap. It was delicious enough to send him searching for the beer or a brew of equal or greater quality when he returned to the States. Alas, the craft-beer movement was still gaining momentum and Pilsners weren’t nearly as en vogue as they are at present. Unimpressed but not one to cast aspersions on all local takes on Bohemian Pilsners, he returned to Plzen the following year, just to make sure the original was as incredible as he remembered. It was, and he decided if he was going to enjoy beer like that back home, he was going to have to make it himself. Campbell has been brewing ever since, but he’s about to go from fermentation hobbyist to vocational beer-man along with fellow long-time homebrewer Darren Baker, when they open Circle Nine Brewing (7292 Opportunity Road, Kearny Mesa).
Campbell and Baker selected their Kearny Mesa business-park location based on their respect for the area’s extensive line-up of good breweries and beer-centric retailers, specifically citing Council Brewing, Societe Brewing, O’Brien’s Pub and Common Theory Public House. They hope their operation can fit into visitors’ beer- and pub-crawl itineraries, and hope to provide “a complete portfolio and something for every craft-beer lover, even those who don’t really like craft beer.”
That’s a pretty tall order, but when Circle Nine opens in late-July or early-August, its beer list figures to be fairly varied. Scheduled to be on tap are a rice lager, pale ale, India pale ale (IPA), double IPA, stout and barrel-aged stout. The names for those beers range from Circle One for the lager and Circle Nine for an upcoming whiskey barrel-aged imperial stout. That nomenclature evokes Italian poet Dante Alighieri’s epic, Divine Comedy, which artfully and meticulously diagrams the author’s vision of the afterlife; the more robust the beer, the further along in the order it falls.
Those beers will be produced on Circle Nine’s three-and-a-half barrel brewhouse. Campbell and Baker will double-batch into three seven-barrel fermenters, a pair of bright tanks of equal capacity, plus two single-barrel fermenters for experimental and specialty beers. More seven-barrel fermentation tanks will be added after the brewery opens, and will help them achieve an estimated 300-400 barrels of annual beer production.
Picture it: You sit down at a bar, enjoy two or three IPAs rich with the fruity, piney aromas and flavors of hops, then get right up and immediately drive home. This is ill-advised, irresponsible and downright illegal behavior. But the information I didn’t supply you with before introducing this scenario is that those hypothetical beers are non-alcoholic. And though it sounds like a riddle based on fiction—c’mon, there’s no such thing as a vibrantly hoppy non-alcoholic IPA—this is a real-world situation that can be played out at the U.S. Grant Hotel’s bar, lounge and restaurant, Grant Grill, where level two Cicerone Jeff Josenhans has taken to removing alcohol from cask ales, before recarbonating, bottling and adding them to the menu. It’s the latest step in the venue’s non-alcoholic craft beverage program, which also includes spirits and cocktails. We sat down with Josenhans to find out more about his methods and what could be perceived by some purists as madness.
West Coaster: What inspired you to explore non-alcoholic beers in this manner?
Jeff Josenhans: It literally just dawned on me how there are no craft non-alcoholic beers on the market, and I thought to myself “how can this be possible?” The non-alcoholic quality beverage segment as a whole—wine, cocktails, etc.—is growing as well, so I just put two and two together. There’s really no reason you can’t drink craft beer at work in a non-alcoholic form.
WC: Walk us through the process of removing alcohol from traditional beers.
JJ: Basically, we maintain the temperature of the beer at 180 degrees Fahrenheit using an immersion circulator, which also keeps the beer in motion. We keep that process going for about 30 minutes or until we can’t detect any alcohol fumes for at least five minutes. Like other commercial non-alcoholic beers or kombucha, there is still a minute amount of alcohol expected to remain in the beer, albeit less than one percent. There really is no such thing as 100% guaranteed no-alcohol beer. O’Doul’s states 0.5% alcohol-by-volume (ABV), Becks Non-Alcoholic states 0.3% ABV and, similarly, when reducing wine into a sauce, you cannot completely guarantee there is no alcohol and that it is at a level which is considered safe to consume and drive, for example. What we do is measure the volume of the liquid and equate it with the loss in volume per the original ABV. For example, if we have 10 liters of 6% ABV pale ale, after the 30-minute process we should have 9.4 liters left.
WC: What styles do you offer and what led you to select them?
JJ: Our current bottled beers are Office IPA, Strawberry Blonde, PC Pilsner, Safe and Sour, and Button-Down Beer. The selection process is directly correlated to the casks we run at Grant Grill. If we don’t have enough left over from a cask at the end of a night, we do not produce any non-alcoholic beer. If there is at least one-third of the cask left, we make a decision to bottle and start the process. We are creating craft-beverage offerings and avoiding waste at the same time.
WC: You’re using local cask ales. Where are you procuring them?
JJ: We always have cask ale on Fridays and Saturdays, and currently partner with New English Brewing, 32 North Brewing, Mike Hess Brewing, Acoustic Ales Brewing Experiment, Fall Brewing and Modern Times Beer.
WC: What would you say to those who don’t see a need for non-alcoholic craft beer?
JJ: There’s no shame in offering people who can’t drink for whatever reason—designated driver, pregnant, religion, whatever—a craft-beer alternative. To be honest, I really don’t understand how the craft market hasn’t got to this yet. It think it’s about time!