The last 10 days have been busy for Curtis and Liz Chism, the owners of Kearny Mesa’s Council Brewing Company. After reading an article right here in West Coaster about Santee’s Finest Made Ales being up for bid as a turnkey brewery, they contacted the house in charge of the auction and were told there was already a good deal of interest; enough that if they were interested they would have to venture to East County to tour the space that afternoon. Having explored numerous expansion options over the years, but struggling to find one that was ideal, they headed out and were pleased with what they found.
“It was beautiful. An almost brand-new Glacier seven-barrel three-vessel brewhouse with automation, five 30-barrel tanks, a pair of 15-barrel tanks and a seven-barrel fermenter, plus everything we would need to make more Council beer. I think my favorite part was the rakes in the mash tun,” says Liz with the type of giddiness only a professional brewer can experience over automated brewing equipment.
The duo returned the next day to take one more look and place an offer. An hour later, that offer was accepted and now Council Brewing owns the aforementioned equipment and has taken over owner Rey Knight’s lease on an eight-year-old Santee brewery that, prior to Finest Made Ales (established as Butcher’s Brewing in 2011), housed Twisted Manzanita Ales (originally opened as Manzanita Brewing in 2010). They are currently working on ABC and TTB licensing so they can open the new spot. The Chisms estimate it will take 60-90 days to be cleared and operational.
This is a return to Santee for the Chisms, who sold their home in Santee and moved to San Diego proper when funding Council in 2013. The business produced roughly 1,000 barrels of beer on its three-barrel system in 2017. The new brewery should allow Council to increase its production by 2,700 barrels annually. Additionally, acquiring Finest Made Ales’ space allows the Chisms to accomplish another goal they’d fostered—opening a second tasting room. Unlike most acquisitions of this nature, the outgoing brewery was left in good condition, so all that will be necessary prior to reopening are cosmetic changes, most notably rebranding. The Chisms will address that during their licensing period while working on scaling up their recipes.
The majority of the beer produced at the Santee facility will be India pale ales, though the tasting room will feature a broad variety of the company’s offerings, including sour beers (all of which will be produced in Kearny Mesa) and house-made kombucha. The Chisms are also purchasing a canning line to allow them to expand their packaged product line. Like Council’s other satellite location, a sour-beer production facility called “The Magic Factory,” the Santee space figures to get a fun nickname. Nothing is set in stone, but so far “The Lupulin Lounge” is the front-runner. Council’s Santee brewery is located at 9962 Prospect Avenue, Suite E.
Last October, Finest Made Ales announced a shift in its business model, telling fans via social media that the Santee-based interest would no longer operate a tasting room at its brewery. Owner Rey Knight added that Finest Made Ales would continue to produce beer to serve his interest’s distribution channels. Meanwhile, word on the street was that he was in search of a buyer. It would appear that pursuit was fruitless, as Fischer Auction Company is currently shopping the company’s assets via auction.
The auction is taking place online through March 13, with bidding closing at 10 a.m. local time. Items up for bid include everything from Finest Made’s seven-barrel brewhouse and pair of 15-barrel fermenters to numerous Premier Stainless Systems products, including 30-barrel hot- and cold-liquor tanks, fermenters, a whirlpool, auger, mill and grist case. Cold boxes, pallet racking, chillers, valves, hoses, sinks and a deli case round things out and display the wide-ranging breadth and full-sale nature of the auction.
Fischer is including a bulk-sale option that would include additional options, such as acquisition of the company’s brand, recipes and a distribution agreement. The bulk-sale price for the business is $250,000 (or best offer). Finest Made’s 5,000-square-foot facility at 9962 Prospect Avenue, Suite E is also up for lease at a price of $4,500 per month. Those interested can participate in the auction by clicking here.
Finest Made Ales started out as Butcher’s Brewing in 2011 when Knight opened the business, contract brewing his recipes and building a client base large enough to validate taking over the brewery vacated by Manzanita Brewing Company (which went on to rebrand as Twisted Manzanita Ales before going out of business in 2016) in 2013. In 2016, Knight rebranded the business as Finest Made Ales, with the plan to expand into other beverage lines that would also operate under the “Finest Made” handle.
Last year, Groundswell Brewing Company took large, highly visible steps toward increasing the size and scope of its operations by purchasing the 12,000-square-foot brewing and distilling facility vacated by defunct Santee business, Twisted Manzanita Ales and Spirits. This move came shortly after Groundswell brought on veteran brewer Callaway Ryan (Surly Brewing, Stone Brewing, URBN St. Brewing) to shore up its fermentation operations. With him on-board, ownership felt comfortable taking this step forward. After months of work transforming its new environs, Groundswell is ready to debut its Santee tasting room to the public at a grand-opening event taking place Sunday, February 12.
A few pieces of décor remain to be placed in the facility’s public-area, but on the brewing-side, company president Kevin Rhodes says his team is hitting their stride, brewing roughly every other day after cleaning out and modernizing the space to fit their needs. Ryan has overseen the transition from the company’s original, much smaller location in Grantville. Groundswell has also brought on additional talent in the form of ex-Toolbox Brewing Company brewer Brent Donovan, who will be charged with implementing programs for sour and barrel-aged beers.
Groundswell plans to hold on to its Grantville venue, converting the brewery into storage space while reconfiguring the tasting room so that it includes additional seating. Tickets to the opening event for the Santee tasting room will go on sale online, tomorrow at 6 a.m.. That venue is located at 10151 Prospect Avenue and the event will take place from 12 to 8:30 p.m. That tasting room’s regular hours are 1 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays.
It’s been more than six months since Twisted Manzanita Ales & Spirits shut down its Santee base of brewing operations and pulled out of its satellite tasting room in Pacific Beach. Though ownership there implied the business would be back in some form—and it still may—that will not happen at its former headquarters. That facility—both the brewery and distillery components—have been purchased by another San Diego brewery…and it’s not one that most would have expected. Today, Grantville-based Groundswell Brewing Company announced its acquisition of the former Twisted Manzanita facility at 10151 Prospect Avenue.
Founded in 2013 and having called a space at 6304 Riverdale Street in the Grantville neighborhood home over its lifespan, Groundswell will move its brewing operations to Santee upon receiving licensing approval. In doing so, the company will transition from its current three-and-a-half-barrel system to Twisted Manzanita’s 30-barrel brewery. Operation of this new-used asset will be the charge of brewmaster Callaway Ryan, who has been with the company since March of this year after stints at Stone Brewing and the defunct URBN St. Brewery.
This acquisition also brings with it Twisted Manzanita’s distilling equipment, which includes a combination alembic continuous still. Groundswell owner Kevin Rhodes says the company intends to begin distilling within the next 12 months, and says the business, which is approaching 1,000 barrels produced in 2016, anticipates growing to 2,500-3,000 barrels of beer per year courtesy of this acquisition.
Groundswell will hold on to its Grantville space, converting it to a satellite tasting-room. Meanwhile, back in Santee, Twisted Manzanita’s former tasting-room will be wiped clean and renovated to fit its new owner’s identity and aesthetic, which to-date can best be described as kickback and comfortable.
Last month, I shared that the business formerly known as Butcher’s Brewing would be reconcepting and coming out the other side of the branding machine as Finest Made Ales (9962 Prospect Avenue, Santee). Earlier today, I was afforded a sneak-peek at the business, and the difference from its former identity is day-and-Knight. Forgive the pun, but the business-founder and brewmaster’s name is Rey Knight. Before going into brewing, he was a chef with a very specific set of skills where charcuterie and butchery are concerned. It was his yen to get back into the culinary world and do more with food, plus the installation of improved brewing-equipment and a soon-to-be-expanded cellar operation, which led him to shift gears toward the Finest Made model.
Knight now brews his beers on a 15-barrel pro-style brewhouse that feeds a pair of 15-barrel fermenters. In two weeks, those tanks will be joined by five 30-barrel models. This should result in Finest Made producing roughly 4,000 barrels of beer, annually. Knight says that as he upped the quality of his tools—which includes a U/V water stabilizer and what he believes is the first HEPA filter clean-lab in a local brewery of his’ size—he aimed to make the best quality beers possible, hence the name Finest Made Ales.
The quality of the visitor experience has also been upgraded. Though he always owned two adjoining suites in his business-park home, the front-facing side of one of those units was utilized as office-space. Now, the wall separating the former administrative component from the tasting-room is gone, expanding the latter to double its previous size. The main reason Knight did this was to have room for a long, communal table capable of seating up to a dozen people. Growing up, Knight remembers the dinner table being a daily sanctuary come meal-time; a place where life’s biggest decisions were made. Now, he wants Finest Made’s 12-seater to serve the same purpose during regular beer-and-food-pairing dinners, which he hopes to hold on a monthly basis following the brewery’s August 19 grand opening shindig.
In addition to the doubling in square-footage, the tasting-room looks completely different. The walls have been painted white and will soon sport local artwork. There is an expanded bar on the north wall of the building plus a beer-board that will display up to 22 house-beers once a new tap-system is put in. Knight says he has designed those beers with food pairability in mind. The aforementioned dinners will showcase those attributes using dishes comprised of ingredients from local growers and purveyors. A pre-open dinner is taking place this week as a dry-run of sorts, so I asked Knight to explain his pairing logic on each of that event’s four courses.
Watermelon, Heirloom Tomato and Arugula Salad with Feta Cheese and Red Wine Vinaigrette paired with Hefeweizen: The Hefeweizen has a lot of clove, allspice and coriander notes, plus good effervescence and carbonation to break up the salad’s sweet-and-sour combo. The cheese brings a creaminess and some salt, which I believes makes the beer’s flavor pop.
Bratwurst, German-style Potato Salad and Horseradish-Whole Grain Mustard Sauce paired with Brown Ale: The Brown Ale has bread crustiness that goes well with the Maillard reaction (caramelization of an ingredient’s sugars during heating) from grilling the bratwurst, which prior to that step is braised in the beer. And the bacon-fat used in the potato salad dressing is balanced by the Brown Ale’s bitterness.
Braised Pork Belly, Sorrel and Golden Beets paired with Rye India Pale Ale: This dish is designed as a take on sweet-and-sour pork, with the sweetness coming from the beets and the sourness from the sorrel. The pork belly is marinated with salt, pepper, garlic and thyme, then sous vide for 12 hours. The rye spice of the IPA compliments the dish while the character from Citra hops melds with the other ingredients to create a third flavor that’s like some sort of fruit ganache.
Vanilla-Bean Panna Cotta with Raspberries and Rhubarb paired with Stout: Our Stout, which is a hybrid of a milk and oatmeal stout, has big coffee phenols. I wanted to create a deconstructed pairing of sorts that comes across as a perfect cup of coffee. The panna cotta—which is made using vanilla beans I aged in a nitrogen bag in our cold-box for two years—is like the cream while rhubarb pickled in ginger-spiked simple-syrup is like flavored sweetener.
Once open, Finest Made Ales’ hours will be 2 to 8 p.m., Monday through Thursday and 12 to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays.