There are no official holidays in the month of August. Given that, one might expect it to be a pretty humdrum month from an events standpoint, but local breweries are taking charge of their—and your—destiny, offering a plentitude of good times for all to enjoy. Check out some of these higher-profile affairs, then refer to our events page for even more craft-beer happenings.
August 5 | The Full Pint 10th Anniversary: Sure, you get your local beer news from the pages (both paper and web) of West Coaster, but online beer-news site The Full Pint has been doing this even longer than us, and will celebrate a decade of slinging suds stories with an epic tap-list of rarities from esteemed breweries that includes more than 20 beers brewed just for this party. | Toronado San Diego, 4026 30th Street, North Park, 9 p.m. (general admission session)
August 6 | Hop-Picking Picnic: Join the Womens Craft Beer Collective and the folks from Pure Project Brewing at a Fallbrook farm to help pick hops that the latter entity will use to brew a beer. It’s a free-form event where you can come and go as you please (a brewery visit will follow for those who last to the end). All you have to do is bring a picnic item (and perhaps some beer) to share. | San Diego Golden Hop Farm, 467 Solana Real, Fallbrook, 9 a.m.
August 12 | Anniversary IPA Fest: To celebrate their first year of business, the staff at North Park Beer Company are taking advantage of their ability to pour guest beers, and stocking their taps with more than 30 IPAs of varying strengths, styles and hop bills, including their own impressive stock of hoppy delights. It doesn’t get much more San Diego than that. | North Park Beer Company, 3038 University Avenue, North Park, 11 a.m.
August 18 & 19 | Stone 21st Anniversary Celebration: Stone Brewing continues to show beer fans how to take a festival to the next level, inviting breweries from all over the country to help take over a college campus over a two-day span that includes a Friday night VIP session replete with brewer meet-and-greet possibilities. Join them at this charity event as they celebrate finally being of legal age to drink. | California State University, 333 South Twin Oaks Valley Road, San Marcos, Times Vary
August 27 | Treasure Chest Beer & Food Fest: Green Flash Brewing Company is holding the seventh edition of its charity festival benefiting Susan G. Komen, and everyone will get lucky at this luau featuring 20-plus rare and exotic beers (including brews from Alpine Beer Company) plus food from beer-centric eateries including Urge Gastropub, Carnitas’ Snack Shack and Nomad Donuts. | Green Flash Cellar 3, 12260 Crosthwaite Circle, Poway, 12 p.m.
When I first met Alex Van Horne he was looking to install a sci-fi-themed brewery in Poway. The plot reminded me of that of Jim Crute, who installed his science-themed Lightning Brewery in Poway a half-decade or so before. Crute sold his manufacturing assets to Orange County-based Cismontane Brewing Company earlier this month after failing to find a buyer for his struggling operation. Though Van Horne eventually opened his Intergalactic Brewing Company in the Miramar community, his plot-line remains similar to Crute’s. Today, the business-owner and brewmaster announced that he is beginning the process of “exploring all options” for the future of his brewery, “including, but not limited to, putting the business assets up for sale.”
Van Horne says he opened his business with insufficient capital; a mere $25,000. In spite of this, Intergalactic earned a strong cult following, enough that the award-winning brewery was able to take over a larger suite in Intergalactic’s business-park home and convert it to a tasting room, in turn expanding brewing operations at the original location. Still, Van Horne says that over the past year “it has become increasingly obvious that the brewery in its current formulation is not able to provide a stable economic foundation [for him and his wife] to begin the next chapters of [their] lives.”
Van Horne has sought out investors, but did not secure enough money to sufficiently modernize his brewery. So the boot-strapping continued, and it went rather well, but this may be the end for Intergalactic in its current form. He will be fielding inquiries from interested parties and, with any luck, the brand will survive, but Intergalactic may go the way of Lightning, and Van Horne may bow out of the brewing industry altogether. But for now, the business remains open. Van Horne hopes to see long-time fans in the coming months, so they—and he—can enjoy the brewery in its current form. Van Horne says he is “infinitely grateful” for the help and support he has received from his contemporaries in the craft-beer industry. He is keen to stay aboard for his brewery’s next chapter, but will be alright even if that’s not in the cards. “At the end of the day, it’s a business,” he says. “I’ll still have my friends, colleagues and many customers supporting me wherever I go or whatever I do. That’s the most rewarding part.”
Yesterday, news broke that all manufacturing assets of Poway’s Lightning Brewery had been purchased by Santa Ana interest Cismontane Brewing. Lightning owner Jim Crute put his 10-year-old business up for sale last December and had hoped to hand it over to someone who would carry it forward, turnkey style, under its existing identity. After months of meeting with interested parties, he came to the realization that he’d need to go another route. Under the deal, Cismontane gains ownership of brewing and cellaring equipment (the tasting room and brand remain with Crute). A portion of those mechanisms will be installed as part of its new 10,000-square-foot production facility, which is currently under construction in Santa Ana. Cismontane will sell the remaining equipment, and will be holding open-house-style sessions for interested buyers to inspect that equipment on June 9 and 10 at Lightning. On June 17, Crute will host a cellar beer release and tasting featuring taster-sized pours of legacy beers, including Old Tempest Ale, Black Lightning Porter, Ionizer Lager and Electrostatic Ale. We consulted Crute directly for his thoughts on this major development.
What led you to sell Lightning to Cismontane?
I have searched for a partner or outright purchaser of the brewery since December of last year. After seeing many looky-loos and folks that were still “just looking,” I had yet to identify any purchasers. Cismontane is building a new brewery in Santa Ana and needs some equipment to make that happen. Their plan is to resell the [equipment they do not need to earn enough money to] make the overall deal work.
Why was a sale to Cismontane attractive to you and what other types of suitors were interested in Lightning?
We had done some contract brewing for Cismontane last year, so when they came to us about an asset sale [I had already had positive dealings with them]. We have had folks stop by Lightning that run the gambit from brothers looking to get into the beer trade (that did not think through their business needs), to experienced brewers that simply did not have the cash nor the creativity necessary to make something work. In the end, it all came down to cash, and in the beer trade cash is essential.
Is this the end of your brewing career?
During this transition, I am thinking strongly about nano-brewing and selling 100% direct to retail from our location. Of course, I may still be employable in the biotech field or within the broader brewing trade in San Diego.
How satisfied are you with this outcome?
There are pluses and minuses associated with this outcome. We erase our debt, but it’s a shame we have been unable to identify a partner to make the business work as a business.
Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs looking to enter the industry in the midst of its current climate?
I would not open a brewery in San Diego if you are planning on packaging in six-packs or other formats and expect to sell enough beer to make it work. The [retail] space is very crowded, which means it will cost much, much more to have enough volume to be revenue-positive. By much, much more, I would say $5-10 million over a period of several years will be the cost of becoming a new regional brewery.
From the Beer Writer: I have been fortunate enough to participate in a number of collaboration brews with San Diego breweries. My participation has ranged from lending elbow-grease on brew-days to conceptualizing beer styles. It doesn’t get much better for a beer-nerd like me and each has been an honor to take part in, not to mention a learning experience. But it was an extra-special privilege coming up with a fun idea with Green Flash Brewing Company barrelmaster Pat Korn earlier this year. That brewery’s flagship beer, West Coast IPA, has been a long-time icon that helped define and communicate the hop-centric nature of San Diego beer. Many are the beer enthusiast who have memorized its dank, tropical, citrus-like flavors and aromas, myself included. Which made me all the more eager to find out what this beer would taste like fermented exclusively with Brettanomyces. Green Flash Brett Coast IPA answered that question when it debuted earlier this week at an event for Beer to the Rescue, the anti-lupus campaign it was brewed to raise funds for. For an in-depth description of this lovely beer’s characteristics, I will turn things over to the man who coaxed it into reality.
From the Brewer: “When Brandon approached me about being involved in Beer to the Rescue, I immediately said ‘yes.’ You see, my mother Barbara has Lupus, and I have never lived a day of my life without it being a part of my life. My mom is a tough lady, someone you don’t mess with, but I have spent many days watching her deal with the horrible effects of the disease. So for me, being involved in this great fundraising endeavor was a no-brainer. For this beer, we decided to harken back to our roots and re-brew a classic IPA that has a long history with Green Flash. But instead of using boring old Cal Ale yeast, we fermented the beer with our house strain of Brettanomyces. Two-row and C30/37 Crystal are the malt base and the beer is hopped with Simcoe, CTZ and Cascade, then dry-hopped with Simcoe, Citra, Centennial and Cascade. And just to enhance that good old Vista flavor, the beer was then racked onto two-pounds-per-barrel of whole-leaf Simcoe. It clocks in at 7.1% alcohol-by-volume and is a classic West Coast IPA, but the use of our house Brett adds flavors not usually associated with those beers. Dark gold in color with a full, crisp head, the beer has aromas of pine and grapefruit from the dry-hopping with verbena and horse blanket from the Brett. The flavors are an alluring mixture of pine, lemon, verbena and grapefruit; with a strong Brett character of phenol austerity and a seashell mineral-ity that adds a slight brininess to the beer.”—Pat Korn, Barrelmaster, Green Flash Brewing Company
Amid a glut of new brewery openings, a beer interest of more than six years quietly shuttered recently. That business is Carlsbad’s On-The-Tracks Brewery. The family-run business had soldiered on within a business park that later welcomed two other breweries—Arcana Brewing Company (opened as Fezziwig’s Brewing Company in 2012) and Guadalupe Brewery (installed inside Carlsbad Brew Supply in 2015).
This development comes on the heels of news that two San Diego County brewery owners are selling their businesses. As reported in December, Jim Crute, the owner and brewmaster at Poway’s Lightning Brewery, is actively searching for an entrepreneur interested in a turnkey-brewery opportunity. Meanwhile, the owners of San Marcos’ Stumblefoot Brewing Company have sold their six-year-old brand. The last local brewery to sell was Kearny Mesa’s Quantum Brewing, which changed hands last summer.
Some might see these news items as signs of bad times to come for local craft breweries, but I see it as a coming of age. This industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade, consistently blowing beyond all estimates. No boom is eternal. At some point, every manufacturing-based industry must come down to Earth. And that’s where San Diego craft beer is. Some businesses will thrive and some will work desperately to eke out an existence. Some will fail and go out of business, and they will be replaced by new businesses or handed over to new owners. Companies shutting their doors or selling their operations is not cause for alarm. It’s simply how business is done.