Construction, permitting and the majority of trial-run services are in the books, and North Park-based Eppig Brewing is ready to open its new Point Loma tasting room to the public. That will officially take place noon this Friday, February 9. While most breweries’ satellites are smaller than their home bases, the Eppig Brewing Waterfront Biergarten is significantly larger than its North Park Brewery Igniter progenitor, solving what has been the company’s biggest problem in its just-over-a-year of existence—providing enough space for the many that wish to consume its beers.
With 1,200 square feet of interior space, much of which is taken up by a cold box and service space, the Biergarten’s public space is comparable to North Park, but this venue is not about indoor drinking. Ownership selected it (outbidding other breweries in the process) for its immense outdoor space and position right along the water. Eppig’s Biergarten is the first-ever harborside brewery-owned venue in the county. Though currently in the midst of phase-construction that will eventually expand the patio to a whopping 2,000 square feet and introduce sculptured pillars supporting shade sails mounted to the building’s exterior, even in its current truncated state, there is plenty of room for patrons to imbibe al fresco, on rail bars overlooking the water or German-style Biergarten tables offering cross-bay views of the downtown San Diego skyline.
Back inside, approximately 16 beers will be available, including one brewed specifically to celebrate the Biergarten’s launch—Buoyancy Control, a 7.4% alcohol-by-volume IPA with peach and pear notes brought about by Citra and El Dorado hops. Food will also be available on-site by the end of February once ownership has finalized details of that service aspect. Punching up the interior design is inclusion of the recipe for Eppig’s San Diego summer ale, Civility, which is penned in its entirety on the inside walls for any homebrewers who care to try their hand at it.
Eppig Brewing Waterfront Biergarten is located at 2817 Dickens Street and will be open daily from noon to 8 p.m. Parking is available in a large lot south of the venue next to The Brigantine restaurant. That lot gives way to a waterfront walkway leading directly to the tasting room. An official grand-opening event is planned for early March, right around the time patio construction is scheduled for completion.
From the Beer Writer: Beer festivals happen nearly every weekend in San Diego County. Yes, it is truly a magnificent time to be alive. With such a multitude of beer-drinking extravaganzas, many can come across rather similar and maybe even a bit blah. Granted these are first-world problems, but fests that register a cut above incorporate unique value-addeds, interesting tap lists and, in the best cases, really great humanitarian causes. For me, the annual event that checks all these boxes and is easily one of the best brew-hahas in a county overflowing with them is the Brewbies Festival. Put on by the Keep A Breast Foundation, this festival takes place at Oceanside’s Bagby Beer Co. and includes a robust, thoughtfully curated ensemble of largely Southern California breweries. Each of those businesses is asked to produce a special, pink-colored beer in honor of the non-profit’s mission to fight breast cancer and assist those effected by it. Attendees can spend a day sampling delightful pink one-offs they’re unlikely to encounter anywhere else. One of the beers that’ll be at Brewbies, Bagby Faint of Tart, is already available at the brewpub that birthed it. This blonde-turned-magenta ale is fortified with multiple red fruits, resulting in a complex, well-rounded fruit flavor. Slightly sweet and dry like rosé wine in the finish, it’s a delightful thirst-quencher that’s bound to find plenty of esteemed company at the festival it was brewed for, tickets for which can be purchased online.
From the Brewery: “We don’t make a lot of beer that has ingredients that stray too far from the core four. We jumped really out of our normal set last year with our first ever fruit beer. It was pretty well-liked and we have received some requests for its return. Instead of shooting for the same thing, we went for something a little different this time around. We took a really simple, mild blonde ale and added cranberries, pomegranates, raspberries and cherries into it. The result is a beer that has a great fruit aroma, a light blonde-ale character and a ‘faint’ tartness that comes through the fruit flavors. This beer is a bright, reddish-pink and will be our ‘pink beer’ offering at the Brewbies Festival. What is Brewbies? Well, years ago while working with me at Pizza Port, Melanie Pierce wanted to start a festival that would benefit Keep-A-Breast. She asked me what she needed to do and went to work creating this event, which is now in its ninth year and a very successful fundraiser for the non-profit. Each year, Melanie hand picks the breweries that are invited to pour and has always asked those breweries to bring at least one pink beer to help represent the breast cancer awareness at the core of the festival. It is pretty cool that breweries make special beers just for this event, even more so when they make full batches of pink beer without using any dyes or food coloring. This year we were able to get Faint of Tart ready in time, and a nice bonus is that we made a full batch so the beer is available now and will remain so for a while. There are several beers like this that will be poured at the festival. Some of these beers you may only see at this event so be sure to come check out Brewbies!”—Jeff Bagby, Owner & Brewmaster, Bagby Beer Company
More San Diegans became familiar with Orange County’s Cismontane Brewing earlier this year when it purchased the majority of Poway interest Lightning Brewery’s equipment. Those mechanisms will be installed in Cismontane’s eventual Santa Ana brewery, which is currently under construction (the company’s original production facility is now the property of Laguna Beach Beer Co.), but there’s even more on the horizon for this eight-year-old company, including the establishment of a new brand…in Escondido.
Co-founders Evan Weinberg and Ross Stewart, who both grew up in North San Diego County and recently moved back, have secured a space at 239 East Valley Parkway, where are working to install a beer-and-coffee hybrid concept that will go by the name of Knø Beverage House.
Weinberg says the duo was drawn to Escondido by its charm and “old-school vibe,” the municipality’s business-friendly attitude and the venue’s amenities. Among the latter is a 1,200-square-foot back patio. Weinberg envisions Knø as a creative hub where artists, radicals, visionaries and aficionados can hang out, get a beverage—including specialty drinks from a full-service espresso bar—and a snack.
The term Knø, which is sure to confound those unfamiliar with Norse terms (or the Danish guitarist going by that stage name), is pronounced “new,” and refers to the concept. Although Cismontane beers will be produced at the Escondido facility, this will be a place for Weinberg and Stewart, as well as their friends and brewing-industry contemporaries, to go outside the box. They expect to produce a number of collaboration beers and more out-there recipes. It’s an homage to their current “drifter-slash-gypsy” brewer status while they wait for the Santa Ana facility to be completed.
If construction stays on its current track, Knø Beverage House will open in or around February. When asked if this is the first of several such venues for Cismontane Brewing, Weinberg says they will wait to see how well Knø does. If they are happy with its performance and the experience, he is sure they will do it again.
In reading a list of most-improved breweries, one can make the assumption that in order to make that roster these interests must have been pumping out bad beer at some point. While this certainly could be true, it is not always the case with brewing companies that find themselves a part of this annually shifting assemblage. In most cases this year, the operations mentioned were already making good beer—or even great beer—but are now performing even better from a manufacturing standpoint. There is always room for improvement, proof of which is provided below.
2kids Brewing | Miramar: This nano-brewery has actually been on an upward trajectory over the past few years, but this year, the level of refinement in this Miralani OG’s beers jumped quite a bit. Hoppy beers exhibit more vibrancy in their aromas and flavors, while maltier beers seem more cohesive and balanced overall. It’s no wonder this operation’s cultish fan base continues to grow, and a pleasure to see this husband-wife venture continue its steady ascent.
Alpine Beer Co. | Alpine: Alpine makes great beer. Tell you something you didn’t already know, right? Since being acquired by Green Flash Brewing Company in 2014, many have complained about perceiving a drop-off in quality between beers brewed in Alpine and those brewed on a larger scale and packaged for distribution, but this year, numerous canned offerings tasted better, more consistent and truer to the beers that inspired the purchase of that famed East County interest.
Bear Roots Brewing | Vista: Though a tiny nano built into a homebrew shop, this family-run brewery has been churning out enjoyable beer from the get-go. As such, the grizzly interest has earned a solid reputation and following, enough that ownership considered expanding brewing capabilities. Even though it opted against getting a bigger, more sophisticated brewhouse (instead fortifying the business with an outdoor patio), it has still managed to up the brightness and flavor of its beers.
Burning Beard Brewing | El Cajon: One of the most buzzed-about new breweries to open in the past two years, El Cajon’s best (and only) fermentation facility opened with an impressive beer line-up that only keeps getting better. The key is the brewing team’s devotion to fine-tuning until they get beers where they and their fans want them. Throw in this year’s barrel-aged specialties and you have an operation that managed to increase its angle of ascension in 2017.
Council Brewing | Kearny Mesa: When this husband-wife business first opened, its little-guy charm and friendly staffers made up for occasional inconsistencies. As it grew, sour beers of varied composition expanded the business’ rep and reach while taking center stage, portfolio-wise. The deliciousness of those brews continues to increase. Ditto non-sour beers, most impressively Council’s hoppy stock, which used to be a tad hit-and-miss, but now wows on a regular basis.
Division 23 Brewing | Miramar: This lesser-known brewery has had numerous head fermentationists since debuting in 2015, leading to varying quality across the beer-board. This year saw continued vocational movement within the brewhouse, but as of now, this operation’s beers are tasting better as a whole than they have at any point, making the long, winding road one must take to get to this tucked-away industrial park venue worth the maneuvering.
Indian Joe Brewing | Vista: The beer at this native American-owned brewery was at its best right before it shuttered in 2015. After a lengthy search for an ideal, much larger base of operations, the business reopened this year with a new head brewer and a laundry list of house beers coming in at 30. Variety remains the name of the game, making it harder to keep every member of the diverse line-up in check; still, Indian Joe’s beers are the finest they’ve been during either of its iterations.
Kilowatt Brewing | Kearny Mesa & Ocean Beach: This business is in the process of expanding its brewing capabilities, but before trading up to a larger brewhouse, they took the wise step of bringing on a head brewer with experience garnered over years spent at AleSmith Brewing. He has tinkered with several beer recipes and the early results are extremely promising. This should be a fun brewery to keep an eye on over the coming year.
This year saw more new-brewery openings than any in San Diego County’s history. Happily, in this reporter’s opinion, more of them were of good quality than in year’s past. Enough that whittling down a list of the top half-dozen was extremely difficult, and ranking that sextet even harder. At least three breweries were on the bubble for the last spot, so if you’re using this as any sort of guide to the good stuff, don’t feel encouraged to limit your brewery touring to these selections. These are just your best bets based on the opinion of one well-researched individual. In that spirit, feel free to leave comments about any exceptional new breweries you’ve discovered over the past 12 months in the comments section. (Author’s Note: Breweries marked with an asterisk opened in 2016, but too late to be considered for the list of best new breweries for that calendar year.)
Eppig Brewing * | North Park: Nathan Stephens and Clayton LeBlanc, the duo producing the beers at this Brewery Igniter standout have a tasting room exhibiting the variety of the Little Italy outpost of their previous employers, Ballast Point Brewing. That’s saying something, especially since brewing days there resemble a game of life-sized Tetris. Still, some of the finest, most consistent lagers, plus an array of nice hoppy and even sour ales provide glimpses of what seems a very bright future for this reincarnation of a nineteenth-century family fermentation business.
Wild Barrel Brewing | San Marcos: Beer fans everywhere couldn’t help but wonder how well infinitely popular ale-and-lager expert “Dr.” Bill Sysak would fare as a brewery owner. Commenting on beer is one thing, but manufacturing it is a different game entirely. With the help of head brewer Bill Sobieski, he’s fared extremely well, hitting the ground running this fall with quality IPAs, an effective entry-level witbier and a brilliant coffee stout. Throw in a stellar tasting room complete with a gargantuan barrel at its center, and you have something special.
Burgeon Beer Co. * | Carlsbad: After gaining experience at Stone Brewing, Rough Draft Brewing and Back Street Brewery, Anthony Tallman united with long-time friends to forge his own business, and it’s been going strong since day one. Built around a smart, modern-day business model combining outside keg sales with regular in-house can releases, this newcomer has built a solid following around an array of multi-faceted IPAs and dark beers. No trend is off limits for them. That said, they’re at their best when they stay true to tradition.
Pariah Brewing | North Park: Some say this Prince-ly purple, dungeon-esque Brewery Igniter spot is no place for beer purists, and while it’s true that Stone and Helm’s Brewing alum Brian Mitchell specializes in beers that go outside the box by incorporating an array of flavorful adjuncts as simple as coffee and orange peel to as oddball as fenugreek and uni (yes, sea urchin), there are to-style gems like Indie Or Bust IPA. But this place is geared to adventurous drinkers and provides an impressive departure from the everyday, even in a town soaked in beer.
Battlemage Brewing | Vista: Role-playing game enthusiasts got a brewery playing to their passions when yet another former Ballast Point duo, Ryan Sather and Chris Barry, teamed to open this testament to the communal power of beers and broadswords. It’s become an ideal backdrop for fans of RPG and tabletop enterprises, but you don’t have to know the difference between a Halfling and a half-orc to appreciate the beers, which flow into rarely charted territory (dark mild, old ale) and come across clean and tasty. Perfect sustenance for a lengthy campaign.
Black Plague Brewing | Oceanside: An operation that looked like it might veer off course at the onset of its journey steered its way into veteran leadership when it contracted former AleSmith Brewing and Mikkeller Brewing San Diego brewer Bill Batten to assist with its fermentation operations. The resulting line-up of beers, including multi-fruited takes on an IPA that’s best on its own, plus myriad other styles, is fun and highly drinkable. The name, plague-doctor motif and black-walled tasting room are strange, but the beer provides a guiding light.
This Year’s Other Contenders: Align Brewing (Miramar), Alta Brewing (Barrio Logan), Chula Vista Brewery (Chula Vista), Circle 9 Brewing (Kearny Mesa), Ebullition Brew Works (Vista), Escondido Brewing (Escondido), Jacked Up Brewing (Escondido), Knotty Brewing * (East Village), OB Brewery * (Ocean Beach), Protector Brewery (Miramar), Rouleur Brewing (Carlsbad), Smoking Cannon Brewery (Ramona), SpecHops Brewing (Vista), SR76 Beerworks (Valley Center), Thunderhawk Alements * (Miramar), Viewpoint Brewing (Del Mar)
Maybe Next Year (Late Additions): California Wild Ales (Sorrento Valley), Deft Brewing (Bay Park), Horus Aged Ales (Oceanside), Northern Pine Brewing (Oceanside), Oeuvre Artisan Ales (Miramar), Savagewood Brewing (Scripps Ranch)
Previous Top-Ranked New Breweries
2016: Burning Beard Brewing (El Cajon), North Park Beer Co. (North Park), Resident Brewing (Downtown), Pure Project Brewing (Miramar), Bear Roots Brewing (Vista), Bitter Brothers Brewing (Bay Ho)
2015: Fall Brewing (North Park), Second Chance Beer Co. (Carmel Mountain), South Park Brewing (South Park), Abnormal Beer Co. (Rancho Bernardo), Duck Foot Brewing (Miramar)
2014: Bagby Beer Co. (Oceanside), Nickel Beer Co. (Julian), Council Brewing (Kearny Mesa), URBN St. Brewing (El Cajon), Toolbox Brewing (Vista)
2013: Rip Current Brewing (San Marcos), Benchmark Brewing (Grantville), Amplified Ale Works (Pacific Beach), Belching Beaver Brewery (Vista), Modern Times Beer (Point Loma)
2012: Societe Brewing (Kearny Mesa), Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery (East Village), Latitude 33 Brewing (Vista)