Many were those who felt for Tom Garcia when he announced he was closing his business, Offbeat Brewing Company, last March. The Escondido shuttered following one last hurrah on St. Patrick’s Day after five years of presenting mostly English-inspired ales along with art from local creators. A former employee at nearby Stone Brewing before going out on his own, Garcia has been absent from the brewing scene since closing Offbeat, but he is making his return. Today, Iron Fist Brewing announced they have hired Garcia to serve as brewing production manager at its Vista headquarters.
“I’m very excited to have been given the opportunity to work with Iron Fist,” said Garcia in a press release. “We have great beer with a high potential for growth and innovation. I’m looking forward to helping push the boundaries of deliciousness with [the company].”
This addition comes nine months after Iron Fist brought on a new investor with ties to San Diego Padres ownership. This infusion of capital has allowed the company to look forward rather than tread water. It has also provided added visibility in the marketplace, most notably at Petco Park, where Iron Fist’s beers are readily available via multiple venues and dedicated, branded carts.
Though she spent a relatively short period helming fermentation operations at Pizza Port’s original Solana Beach location, Devon Randall brewed up a good name and following. Many were disappointed in 2015, when she left that position and San Diego County to assume the head-brewer role at a start-up brewpub in Los Angeles. Named for the downtown La La Land neighborhood it inhabits, Arts District Brewing Company is where Randall currently hangs her hat, as well as the Great American Beer Festival silver-medal she won in the Smoke Beer category this summer. That hardware went to Cowboy Curtis, a smooth-drinking smoked porter that’s one of a great many beers Randall has concocted since Arts District went live a year ago. It’s a good beer and indicative of what one can expect when visiting Arts District—balanced, extremely drinkabile brews with nice but not overblown upstrokes of flavor. It’s fair to say that the beers she brewed at Pizza Port were bolder, but subtlety is most prominently on display at Arts District; something that’s arguably more difficult to achieve and essential at her new stomping grounds.
In Solana Beach, Randall worked at a craft-beer Mecca known across the country as the first link in a chain displaying legendary brewing prowess. There was no one to convert. Everybody who showed up were hallelujah-shouting members of the hop-head choir. Though there is a burgeoning and swiftly growing craft-beer scene in Los Angeles, Randall is right to dial things back to a small degree. Doing so should help win a larger percentage of patrons over during Arts District’s infancy. Most Angelenos don’t arrive at Arts District aware of Randall’s solid reputation, so they’re getting to know her through her beer-list, which is highly varied, offering ales ranging from session to the low-end of high-octane.
When visiting last month, 17 house-beers were on-tap. Seventeen! Holy Bagby Beer, Batman! On the lighter, more introductory end were an English summer ale, golden ale, Belgian singel, wheat amber ale, oatmeal stout, and an Irish-style dry stout and red (on nitro). Each of them are extremely to-style and only two come in above 5% alcohol-by-volume. The smoothest of the bunch is the aptly named Velveteen Rabbit oatmeal stout, while the best of the thirst-quenchers in this group is the singel, which goes by the name Francois. A Bavarian pilsner (a new addition to the line-up) is a light yet potent archetype of this en vogue style that also hits the spot.
Experience across various styles is one of the key attributes a good brewer picks up working within the Pizza Port structure. So, too, is the ability to brew a mean IPA! Randall’s were some of the best in San Diego and often incorporated one of her favorite ingredients: rye. Arts District had five India pale ales on tap when I was there. My favorite was Redbird, a red rye IPA (a version of which was available in Solana Beach under the name “Ghost Fire Spider”) with a citrusy hop-bill supported by a malt-bill rife with peppery rye-spice. Even with all that complexity, it goes down (maybe a little too) easy. A wheat-infused IPA called Expo Line is similarly drinkable, but flagship IPA Traction is where it’s at for those seeking a little more body to go with an onslaught of orange and stone fruit-like flavors.
All of Randall’s beers are served (along with a succinct but admirable list of guest-beers) at a long rectangular bar erected around stainless steel tanks. Seating is provided indoors and outdoors, plus there are myriad games—Skee-ball, ping-pong, darts—and a pair of food options. A small eatery called Fritzi is attached to Arts District, but because there is no passage from one venue to the other and only a handful of house-beers are available there, I’d recommend ordering from the limited food-menu offered at a walk-up window inside the main space. Or just skip the food, but make sure to sample through a decent number of Randall’s ales. They’re definitely worth the trip.
Though unorchestrated, the timing of this post works out well in that Randall and her beers made guest appearances at Toronado in North Park during last night’s Drinkabout festivities, meaning there’s a good chance the latter can be sampled by locals who, like me, miss this talented brewer and liken losing her to the City of Angels, to seeing former Padres player and coach/current National League Manager of the Year Dave Roberts sporting Dodger blue. Of course, SD-homerism isn’t required to enjoy Randall’s brews. All you really need is a simple appreciation for good beer.
Over the past seven years, Iron Fist Brewing Company has grown into one of the most steady-running breweries in Vista, second only to Mother Earth Brew Co. in size and visibility. The brewery-rich municipality’s second-oldest brewing interest (to Backstreet Brewery), it now includes a satellite tasting-room in San Diego’s Logan Heights community, but according to founding co-owner Eve Siemenski, there’s more on the horizon for the family-run, combination Belgian-inspired and West Coast hopped op.
Recently, the Siemenskis invited on new investors, Wayne and Cindy Seltzer. The Seltzers bring diverse backgrounds in the food-and-beverage distribution and manufacturing industries. The couple sold its 30-year-old nutritional solutions interest business, Seltzer Companies, to Glanbia PLC in 2006 for $105 million. The Seltzers are involved in other business interests in the county, most notably the San Diego Padres ownership group.
Siemenski says welcoming the Seltzers aboard will position Iron Fist for future growth financially, and also enhance its business operations, sales, marketing and manufacturing capabilities. “We feel we are better positioned to implement our long-range strategies for growth in the highly competitive craft beverage industry,” she says.
In the near-term, Iron Fist’s upcoming projects include the release of six-packs of three of its beers in bottles—Renegade Blonde Ale, Nelson the ImPALEr and Counter Strike IPA. Further down the road, the company hopes to construct additional tasting rooms. Siemenski cites reaching greatly differing demographics at its Vista and Logan Heights locations as a great advantage to operating multiple venues. There is also the possibility of opening a brewpub and moving into a larger production headquarters.
On Tuesday, May 21, Stone Brewing Co. CEO Greg Koch met with San Diego Padres catcher John Baker, relief pitcher Luke Gregerson, infielder/outfielder Kyle Blanks and utility infielder Logan Forsythe at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station to share a unique beer Brewing Manager Kris Ketcham brewed on the venue’s new 10-barrel brewhouse. Dubbed Operation Homefront IPA, it was brewed as part of the Hops For Heroes initiative borne from non-profit organization Operation Homefront which supports U.S. military families. Several brewing companies from around the country brewed a batch of Operation Homefront IPA to raise money and awareness for the cause. In addition to participating breweries, partners of Hops for Heroes include Louisville Slugger and Major League Baseball.
Operation Homefront IPA is an India pale ale brewed with orange and hopped with Chinook and Cascade which then rested in fermenter tanks with untreated maple Louisville Slugger bats. The result is a beer with plenty of citrus overtones and a multi-faceted woody character.
When it was time to remove the bats from the tank, the aforementioned Padres players came over from PETCO Park to do the honors. When the bats came out, they were coated in hop residue, and smelled so richly of inviting hops that Gregerson couldn’t resist the urge to take a taste. Soon, his teammates followed suit. Forsythe proved the biggest hophead of the bunch, going in for seconds.
In between licks of the bat, Baker took time to share why participating in the Hops For Heroes program was so important to him, noting that, although baseball players are often looked on as heroes, it’s the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces who protect our liberties and way of life that are the ultimate heroes. Like us, Baker and company were thrilled to have the opportunity to show our respect for our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and take a step toward reciprocity for their sacrifices in some small way.
Stone Operation Homefront IPA will go on sale at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Escondido, Stone Company Store – Liberty Station, Stone Company Store – Escondido and Stone Company Store – Oceanside on Memorial Day, May 27, and at Stone Company Store – South Park on May 26. For more information about Hops For Heroes, visit their official website http://hopsforheroes.com/.
Information obtained via press release