The craft-brewing industry is in a state of flux, forcing companies within it to reexamine their business models and, in the case of larger operations, alter them in order to thrive or, in some cases survive. Larger operations such as Stone Brewing, Green Flash Brewing and Karl Strauss Brewing have all had to adjust course as consumer preferences shift to smaller, local, independent breweries, and active consumer demographics begin to skew toward younger factions, many of which have only ever drunk craft beer. It’s to be expected of interests that are among the country’s 50 largest brewing companies. Though it is considerably smaller and, at its heart still a family-run business, Coronado Brewing Company has been quite vigilant over the past several years, keeping an eye on the rapidly changing market and making moves to weather an uncertain storm. The latest of those moves includes today’s announcement that CBC will purchase East Village-based brand Monkey Paw Brewing. Owner Scot Blair‘s other businesses, South Park Brewing and Hamiltons Tavern, are not part of the deal.
Blair has had lofty aspirations for his beer-making business since opening it in 2011, but was not satisfied with progress toward increased production and distribution. He examined a number of options for meeting those goals, including acquisition, but says he wouldn’t have sold to just anybody. A stalwart figure within the craft-beer world for more than a decade, Blair knows the industry and the individuals within it, and says it was his long-standing respect for and friendship with CBC owners Ron and Rick Chapman that distinguished this as the right move for him and his business. Another key factor is control. Blair has a vision for Monkey Paw and its beers, and will remain intimately involved with the brand, focusing solely on beer—conceptualization and growth of the entire portfolio.
This deal is reminiscent of Green Flash’s 2014 acquisition of Alpine Beer Company. That move allowed for increased production of Alpine beers at Green Flash’s much-larger brewing facilities. Likewise, Monkey Paw, which produced less than 700 barrels last year, will now have the majority of its beers produced at CBC’s Bay Park headquarters, while still making beer on the 15-barrel system at its East Village pub. CBC began brewing its beers at that site—affectionately referred to as “Knoxville” for the street it occupies—in 2013, a year after taking over the 14,000-square-foot property. Since then, it has taken over several other buildings bordering the brewery, creating a rather impressive cul-de-sac campus. CBC is also in the process of installing a kitchen at Knoxville to increase the draw of its tasting room. This is particularly important with the impending arrival of a satellite tasting room from Benchmark Brewing Company and a new brewery, Deft Brewing Company, slated for arrival in Bay Park this year.
CBC is also changing up its game in the southerly municipality of Imperial Beach. The company opened a bar and restaurant there in 2014, and recently signed on to construct a 7,500-square-foot brewpub at the upcoming Bikeway Village on Florence Street. This will increase brewing capacity in a more high-profile location not far from CBC’s original brewpub on its namesake island. Meanwhile, CBC has ceased distribution to certain states, strategically tightening things up to better compete in the marketplace and maximize profits and expenditures.
And two months ago, the company announced the Chapmans’ investment in SouthNorte Brewing Company, a new venture headed by CBC head brewer Ryan Brooks. That operation, basically a CBC offshoot or sub-brand, will meld the brewing cultures of Baja California and Southern California, but there’s more to that fermentation fusion than mere ingenuity. An MO like that figures to appeal to demographics CBC does not currently reach in as great a quantity as they would like. Ditto Monkey Paw’s liquid wares, which skew to a younger demographic more interested in locavorianism, that likely wishes to support an edgier brand versus a company that recently celebrated its 21st anniversary. While this acquisition (which is set to be completed by September) may seem odd to those not paying attention, a look at CBC’s recent body of work where business-model adjustment is concerned shows the logic behind it and how it fits into a large and intricate puzzle.
Many know Ryan Brooks for his work as brewmaster at Coronado Brewing Company. During his tenure, that interest has won numerous awards, including Champion Mid-Size Brewing Company at the 2014 World Beer Cup. That’s dream-come-true territory, but Brooks isn’t finished dreaming. He’s about to realize another long-held aspiration—opening his own brewery. The name of that business will be SouthNorte Beer Company, and it’s scheduled to debut this summer.
Brooks will get by with a little help from his friends, most ostensibly his family at Coronado Brewing. That company’s founders, brothers Ron and Rick Chapman, are key investors and that’s where the initial brewing of SouthNorte’s beers will be done (the search is on for a separate facility to house the business). But he’ll also garner inspiration from friends he’s made spending a great deal of time exploring the craft-brewing culture south of the border. As the name implies, SouthNorte will combine elements of Mexico’s burgeoning beer scene with the craft culture here in San Diego. A press release describes the business as “an American brewery that blends the rustic flair of Mexico with the art of San Diego craft brewing.” Brooks sees pulling from two cultures as a way to extract the best from both and end up with the finest end-result.
In the course of my reporting on the San Diego brewing industry, I have met a number of brewers from Baja locales including Tijuana, Ensenada and Mexicali. Nearly all of them have mentioned receiving assistance, tutelage or encouragement from Brooks. He is something of a cult figure down there who has forged many legitimate friendships during innumerable cross-border visits. Few would be better suited to bring this intercultural vision to life and it should be exciting to watch…and taste.
From the Beer Writer: For me, one of the most fun, non-alcohol-related aspects of beer-culture is how the taste, or even the mere mention of a beer can transport me to a specific moment. When I first heard that Coronado Brewing Company was releasing bottles of a whiskey barrel-aged version of a stout originally brewed for Bottlecraft’s 3rd Anniversary, I instantly remembered the first time I tasted it. I was at Embarcadero Marina Park North for a beer festival. As often happens at such affairs, I had the pleasure of conversing with numerous industry friends and colleagues. A number of those individuals referenced a beer crafted to taste like a popular dessert, German chocolate cake, lauding it as a “must-try”. When I finally came across the beer at Coronado’s tent, I eagerly consumed my sample. Fortified with chocolate malt and toasted coconut, it did right by its namesake. So I was glad to see it resurface with a touch of spirits-soaked oakiness added to the equation along with bold vanilla-character that enhances this beer’s likeness to its edible inspiration. Like its predecessor, Coronado Barrel-Aged German Chocolate Cake does not disappoint. But one has to take it quite a bit easier with this version, as it chimes in at 9% alcohol-by-volume, lest they find themselves unable to remember the first time they tasted it due to the brain-erasing power of imperial beer.
From the Brewer: “The original German Chocolate Cake was a beer that we had brewed a few years ago. I liked the beer, but this time around, while preparing to create a barrel-aged version, I wanted to make the beer with a much fuller body. I mashed the beer at 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and we only brewed 20 barrels in a 30-barrel batch, so I only collected the strong wort runnings. After fermentation, I added 200 pounds of coconut that our head-chef, Kasey Chapman, hand-toasted at our original Coronado Island brewpub. I also added 100 pounds of cacao nibs before blending with beer that had been aged in whiskey barrels we procured from Smooth Ambler Spirits in West Virginia.”—Ryan Brooks, Brewmaster, Coronado Brewing Company
From the Beer Writer: It’s easy to take the longevity of a long-time brewing institution for granted, especially with so many bright, shiny flavors-of-the-month entering the market. Fortunately, breweries that have been faithfully supplying beer-fans with quality ales and lagers for as far back as we can remember have a tool for asserting their elder-status and putting themselves top of minds and palates—the anniversary ale. In celebration of a whopping two decades in business, Coronado Brewing Company just released such a beer, a behemoth imperial India pale ale (IPA). Available on-draft and in appropriately gold-decorated 22-ounce bottles, it’s the latest in a line of anniversary IPAs that have registered as some of my favorite beers from this island-born pillar of the brewing community. Rife with flavors akin to citrus and tropical fruit, it brings large amounts of hoppiness and alcohol to any party, including Coronado Brewing’s upcoming anniversary bash. Taking place from 4 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, July 30 at the company’s mainland tasting room (1205 Knoxville Street, Bay Park), it’ll include specialty beers, a commemorative glass, live music and food from an array of gastro-trucks. Tickets are currently available online.
From the Brewer: “When I started at Coronado Brewing five years ago, our anniversary beer was the first beer I was able to create from start-to-finish and see packaged in bottles. Every year since, we’ve brewed a different take on an imperial IPA. This year’s version is special because we bumped up the beer’s ABV (alcohol-by-volume) to 10% and dry-hopped it with a really tropical and fruity blend of hops, including Citra, Galaxy, Comet and Simcoe. I love how this beer sneaks up on you—it’s hard to tell its 10% ABV because it drinks so smooth. I think people are going to dig it, and that’s a great way to celebrate 20 years of brewing good beer.”—Ryan Brooks, Head Brewer, Coronado Brewing Company
One morning, standing in a green room awaiting a television segment with the owners of Fallbrook Brewing Company and Bolt Brewery, I watched both gentlemen take a shine to each other. It made sense. After all, they represent the only two breweries to be established in the extreme North County town of Fallbrook. While Chuck McLaughlin’s FBC has been holding down the civic fort for the past two years, the initial version of Bolt opened in Fallbrook back in 1987, with current owner Clint Stromberg acting as assistant brewer to then-founder Paul Holborn. That was the first brewery to open in San Diego post-Prohibition (yep, even before Karl Strauss Brewing Company came along in 1989), and though it closed less than a year into its original life, it held a spot in the hearts and history of San Diego beer and its fans. In late-2014, Bolt and Stromberg resurfaced in La Mesa, but it still has plenty of love for the old neighborhood. Enough that, in that green room, Stromberg and McLaughlin came up with the idea to collaborate on a locals-only Fallbrook beer.
Many months have passed and Stromberg fell out of the equation, but McLaughlin ran with the idea and other friends with Fallbrook roots. That group included his FBC lead brewer Lucas Nelson, Coronado Brewing Company brewmaster Ryan Brooks and Ironfire Brewing Company president John Maino, who came together to brew a dry, “San Diego-style” saison. Coming in 7% alcohol-by-volume, the beer gets its SD-ness care of an assemblage of hops introduced via a BYOH method that saw each brewer bring their own pellets to the party. Polaris, Equinox and Citra coalesce along with a variety of Fallbrook-grown ingredients, including avocado blossom honey as well as citrus—grapefruit, oranges, lemons and prickly pears—the quartet took a field trip to a local grove to pick themselves. McLaughlin’s enjoyment of the collaborative process went far beyond the beer-making. Each of the members of the aforementioned team were instrumental to him as he worked to open—and keep open—his small-town main-street brewery.
Dubbed Fallbrook Homegrown, the beer will make its official debut at FBC’s second anniversary celebration, a three-day affair taking place from August 21 to 23. Admission is free and live music and food from mobile vendors will be available each day. Musical acts will include Lee Koch, Tackey Little Hat Shop, Dulaney and Miller, plus Nelson’s band, Moonpool. Sunday’s festivities will start earlier than the other days (11 a.m.) and go by a “Sunday beer brunch” theme that includes coffee from The Swell Cafe, “beermosas” made with FBC beer and fresh squeezed juices, and a blend of kombucha and beer called “beerbucha.” Information about the anniversary events can be found on FBC’s website.
Editor’s note: The first paragraph has been revised to include mention of Paul Holborn, Bolt’s original founder.