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.
Ryan Brooks is the Head Brewer at Coronado Brewing Co.
You just brewed a collaboration beer on Wednesday. How’d that come about?
Sebastian (Sauer, from Cologne, Germany’s Freigeist Bierkultur) and I had been e-mailing back and forth for a week and a half or so. I knew he was coming out to California to do some touring and we thought it’d be fun to brew something. He had the idea of brewing a German-style beer, a hefeweizen, with fruity West Coast hops. It’s totally not to style by any means, but we’ll see how it tastes in just over a week.
What limited releases do you have coming up?
We just brewed some Stupid Stout that will be going into bourbon barrels. We’re really trying to hit the barrel program hard, and we’ve got some sour ales going into red wine barrels that I’m pretty excited about.
Do you have any travel opportunities coming up?
In July we’ll be flying out to Cigar City to brew a twist on a California Common. Then those guys will be visiting us in August or September to brew on our system. Later in the fall we’re headed to Germany for the big Brau Beviale exhibition.
Where else have you brewed?
I first started at Black Market in Temecula and was there for about a year as an assistant. Then I moved to Australia and brewed at a big facility in Sydney called Malt Shovel Brewery. I was on a six-month visa, and then moved back to California and was head brewer at Black Market for almost a year. It was in December, 2011 that I came down to Coronado where I’m head brewer as well.
What breweries are you enjoying these days?
I’m a huge fan of AleSmith. Also, I went out to Santee and visited Manzanita a few weeks ago. I knew Garry from when he was a homebrewer in Temecula and I was at Black Market. I’m really impressed by his growth and the size of the operation he’s running these days.
Read a more complete story on the CBC/Freigeist Bierkultur collaboration over at the Coronado Patch.