Vista-based Barrel Harbor Brewing opened in 2013 with a 10-barrel brewing system owner Tim St. Martin hoped would allow the company to produce enough beer to compete on store shelves and at hospitality venues throughout San Diego County. Over the past half-decade, he has been made all too aware that shelf, cooler and tap space, though plentiful, is finite, and that larger breweries have an easier path to entry with all three. But he still believes in his beers, rather than throw in the towel, he is seeking investment in the company via an active fundraising campaign on the Wefunder website.
St. Martin’s stated goal is between $100,000 and $250,000. According to the campaign page, those funds will be used to increase marketing efforts to raise brand awareness, establish robust canning capabilities, and build an extensive sales and distribution team. While Barrel Harbor beers are available in dozens of local bars and restaurants, the company sells most of its product through a pair of tasting rooms—one at its Vista production facility and another that shares branding with a tabletop gaming interest in Miramar. The latter opened in January of 2017 and has always operated at a loss. The former, and the company as a whole, is also operating at a loss, necessitating the pursuit of additional funding and generation of a sales-and-marketing strategy.
When listing the positives of his brewery, St. Martin is particularly bullish on his Belgian-style dark strong ale, Rungnir, which won a gold medal at the 2017 San Diego International Beer Festival. It’s one of four medals the company has won in four years, which St. Martin touts at Wefunder, though they are not of the stature of awards issued at the Great American Beer Festival or World Beer Cup, which are highly recognized and typically cited as proof of exceptional brewing prowess. Despite the success of Rungnir, St. Martin says he doesn’t want to further build the company’s reputation on the back of a single beer, but rather offer a variety of beers; something for everyone. Barrel Harbor’s total revenue for 2017 was just over $709,000. St. Martin has control over enough square-footage that he can still increase production, and hopes to do so year over year.
Last Thursday, I shared the news that Oceanside Ale Works would hold its last service two days later before closing its doors for good. That was the truth—but not the whole truth. That day, I reached out to co-owner Mark Purciel, who later in the day said there was more to the story, but he couldn’t share details until after January 8 due to a “court date.” That date has come and passed, providing Purciel the opportunity to legally disclose his side of the story, as well as the news that, while OAW may be finished, his tenure in the brewing industry is far from over.
To adequately tell this tale, we’ll need to go back to 2013 when an OAW double IPA, Dude, won gold in the Imperial India Pale Ale category at the San Diego International Beer Festival. This created a great deal of buzz, to the point where distributors and retail establishments were requesting the beer. The problem was, it had never been packaged. So, Purciel and company went to work getting the beer brewed and bottled stat. This included designing bottle art and getting it approved as rapidly as possible. The artwork ended up being a depiction of Purciel posing as The Dude from the film The Big Lebowski presented a la Barack Obama in the “hope posters” from his days as a presidential candidate.
It was a quick fix, and one that did not sit well with OAW’s other owner, Scott Thomas. It wasn’t the first time Thomas expressed dislike for a design decision. Purciel has taken the lead on the business’ marketing from the get-go, seldom developing concepts that worked for Thomas. But the Dude IPA label struck enough of a nerve that Thomas backed away from the business completely (despite the fact that, according to Purciel, Line 64 of their partnership agreement says there will be a beer with his likeness on it). It wasn’t until February of 2015 that he came back in the picture, virtually at least, sending an email from him and his wife to Purciel. According to its addressee, it stated the following:
“We (Scott Thomas and Dawn Thomas) believe in OAW but we do not have the passion. Our energies need to be focused on our children. We truly feel that stepping out of the business completely will give you the autonomy to do things.”
Upon receipt of this email, Purciel says he offered to buy the Thomases out at a sum that was more than three times their initial investment. Thomas called it insulting and proceeded to file a lawsuit against Purciel in December of that year. In the two years that have followed, Purciel says no buyout negotiations have been initiated by the Thomases or their lawyer, though that is what he’s wanted to focus on from the start. It came to the point where he felt his only choice was to close down the business, dissolve the partnership and move on to the next chapter. Given that Purciel owns the building in which OAW was housed, as well as a portion of the brewery equipment, he feels it will be relatively simple to let some necessary time pass then reopen, most likely under an entirely new name. That moniker may turn out to be Irrational Ales, as Purciel (a former math teacher of 17 years) already holds a trademark on it. He is currently in the process of selling assets, and has already selected a IDD Process & Packaging HEBS (high efficiency brewing system) brewhouse to usher him into the next chapter of his brewing career.
While the rest of the country waits for summer, San Diegans get a leg up on the season thanks to eternal sunshine. Take advantage of this benefit of Southern California residence by getting out ad drinking in local beer at any of the many events taking place in June. Start with the following featured happenings, then check out even more on our events page.
June 1 | Beer to the Rescue Extra Innings: So you missed the 43 May events raising funds for the Lupus Foundation of Southern California via sales of special beers from local breweries? No problem. There’s one more bonus event with charity beers from Bay City Brewing, Mason Ale Works, Nickel Beer and Resident Brewing plus lip-smacking, rib-sticking barbecue fare! | West Coast BBQ & Brew, 6126 Lake Murray Boulevard, La Mesa, 5 p.m.
June 3 | Pink Boots 10th Anniversary Beer Festival: The Pink Boots Society is celebrating a decade of promoting the inclusion and importance of women in the brewing industry with a great big beer festival featuring a bevy of breweries bringing their A-game—including numerous beers brewed by PBS members—in honor of the great work and impact of this fine organization. | Ingram Plaza at Liberty Station, 2751 Dewey Road, Point Loma, 12 p.m.
June 10 | 3rd Anniversary Party: Council Brewing Company is going big with its anniversary festivities, breaking out a beer list 50-plus strong. More than 30 of those brews will be barrel-aged. They’ll also debut an 11.2% ABV biere de miel (a bubbly, honey-infused French-style farmhouse ale) in corked, caged bottles during a celebratory toast taking place at 1:30 p.m. | Council Brewing Company, 7705 Convoy Court, Kearny Mesa; VIP: 11 a.m., General Admission: 12 p.m.
June 16-18 | San Diego International Beer Festival: The San Diego County Fair’s salute to suds is our region’s largest annual beer festival. Start the day with funnel cakes, carnival rides and jacuzzi shopping, then get your fill of unlimited samples of beers from all over the world, many of which took home awards in the competition component of this grand-scale summertime stalwart. | Del Mar Fairgrounds, 2260 Jimmy Durante Boulevard, Del Mar, Times Vary
June 24 | SOCIETE 5: This two-phased beer festival and multi-coursed feast has been sold out for months. So why is it listed here? Because Societe Brewing rarely debuts new draft offerings, but they’ll tap four at this event and all of them will be available to the public the next day. If you’re going, great. If not, no biggie. Those beers will taste just as good on Sunday! | Societe Brewing Company, 8262 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Kearny Mesa, 1 p.m.
Winners of the San Diego International Beer Festival’s professional brewing competition were released today. A component of the San Diego County Fair’s annual festivities, the competition included entries from across the globe judged by professional beer judges and Southern California brewing professionals in late-April. A total of 68 medals were awarded to San Diego-based breweries. Of that number, 23 were gold, 21 were silver and 24 were bronze.
San Diego breweries won all three medals in eight categories: American-style Red/Amber Ale, Bitter, Bold Stout, Brett and Other Sour Beer, German-style Ale, German-style Weiss, Imperial Stout and Pilsener. Miramar-based AleSmith Brewing Company once again took home Champion Brewery honors behind three medals—a gold and silver in the same category (one of which was awarded to a Scotch ale) and a gold in the Barley Wine category.
The most local medals went to Pizza Port. That brewpub’s Carlsbad brewpub also won a gold and two silvers. Its Ocean Beach arm won two (one gold, one bronze) and Bressi Ranch production brewery earned a silver. The most medals awarded to a single brewery went to San Marcos’ Rip Current Brewing Company and less-than-a-year-old North Park interest Eppig Brewing. Both of those companies earned a gold, silver and two bronzes. San Marcos’ The Lost Abbey and South Park Brewing Company earned three medals apiece, as well. Also impressive was Rip Current winning two of three medals in the German-style Bock category.
The following is a complete list of the winners from this years SDIBF…
The three-day public beer-fest portion of the SDIBF will take place at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, Friday, June 16 through Sunday, June 18. Tickets and information can be found online.