We stand on the threshold of another month chock-full of exceptional reasons to crack a cold one in the presence of others. Yes, it’s a great time to be alive, but to do things up right requires some planning. We’ve started you off with some standout San Diego beer events for March, but don’t limit yourself. Click here to check out our full local calendar.
March | Beer to the Rescue Fundraisers: As part of a year-long campaign benefiting locals living with lupus, Gordon Biersch will hold a release party for a Mexican lager brewed with Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing, complete with a taco bar, live band and piñatas on June 1. On March 13, Pure Project Brewing is holding Beer to the Rescue Day at its Miramar tasting room. On March 28, Pariah Brewing will release This Is New IPA, and on March 29, North Park Beer Co. will tap a specialty cask, with portions of proceeds from both beers going to the Lupus Foundation of Southern California. | Various Locations, All Events Start at 5 p.m.
March 2 | Crowler Awareness Day: Gone are the days when the only conveyance vessel for draft beer was a glass jug requiring constant sterilization. Compact, disposable and often quite attractive, crowlers have changed the industry and, for the first edition of this made-up annual holiday, brewery tasting rooms offering these modern marvels will offer them at discounted rates. | Participating Breweries: Amplified Ale Works (Pacific Beach, Miramar), Bay City Brewing (Point Loma), Coronado Brewing (Bay Park), Council Brewing (Kearny Mesa), Eppig Brewing (North Park, Point Loma), Intergalactic Brewing (Miramar), Mikkeller Brewing San Diego (Miramar), North Park Beer Co. (North Park), Resident Brewing (Downtown), Thunderhawk Alements (Miramar)
March 4 | Renaissance: Epic tap lists and next-level ale-and-lager free-for-alls are nothing new for Churchill’s Pub, but this venerable North County beer bastion sets aside one day each year to really go all out. Tons of rare beers, including some brewed just for the occasion, will be on tap, and bottles of whale pod leader Churchill’s Finest Hour imperial stout will be for sale. | Churchill’s Pub & Grille, 887 W. San Marcos Boulevard, San Marcos, 11 a.m
March 10 | SD Homebrew Festival & Competition: The richness of San Diego’s commercial beer and brewing scene is a result of the county’s vibrant, thriving and always-evolving homebrew culture, something celebrated via more than 35 homebrewed beers at this festival devoted to the recreational—yet very serious—pursuit of the beer-making sciences. | The Observatory, 2891 University Avenue, North Park, 12 p.m
March 31 | Second Anniversary: El Cajon’s Burning Beard Brewing opened its back lot and a can of celebratory whoop-ass for its first anniversary last year, and this year they’re aiming to outdo themselves. Expect multiple beer stations stocked with a wide variety of liquid stein fodder, a raffle, take-home stein and three bands (including The Creepy Creeps) rocking out live. | Burning Beard Brewing, 785 Vernon Way, El Cajon, 1 p.m
Prime geography in San Diego proper nabs the rapidly expanding hospitality empires of the Consortium Holdings and Cohn Restaurant Groups of the world a lot of attention. Meanwhile, 3 Local Brothers Restaurant Group has rather quietly built itself up from a soft-spoken wine-centric neighborhood eatery in Rancho Bernardo to a half-dozen diverse concepts that includes multiple brewpubs, a coffee roaster and one of the largest restaurants in the county. And, oh yeah, they have a combination resto and tasting room launching in Carmel Valley this spring, another restaurant under construction in Baja and a newly established beer distribution company. With all that going on, we sat down with co-founder Grant Tondro to inquire about the latest and greatest in the 3LB universe.
What will the Carmel Valley project entail?
We’ve always wanted to do a second location of our first place, The Barrel Room, but have been pretty busy growing Urge and launching Mason Ale Works the last couple of years. Our new spots will be at 5550 Carmel Mountain Road. The Barrel Room will be about 5,000 square feet, which is about 50% larger than its predecessor with a nice patio that wraps around the dining room. It will have a full liquor license, unlike the first location, and a banquet room. Chef Trevor Chappell will leave his post at the original Barrel Room to helm kitchen operations at the new spot. Attached to the new space will be a Mason Tap Works and Kitchen, a tasting room for all things Mason Ale Works but with a small, streamlined kitchen for patrons. Chef Trevor will be overseeing an in-house charcuterie program inside the space, so we will have some amazing meats and cheeses as well as flatbreads, sandwiches and a few other small, shareable items that pair well with our beers. We were careful to select a location for Tap Works that was far away from accounts that are currently buying our beers. We don’t want to be competition for our supporters, but want to bring awesome craft beer to a beer desert while familiarizing more people with Mason. It will also give us an outlet for more of our small-batch beers that our head brewer Matt Webster has been working on and aging in barrels for the last year.
What will the Carmel Valley tasting room look like and when is its projected opening time frame?
A lot of the design will be inspired by the San Marcos Urge Common House location—industrial with rolled steel and rivets, Edison bulbs, some white subway tile and some of my favorites like black walnut table tops from North Carolina and these hand-hammered, distressed yellow table bases for a pop of color. There will be 20 taps of core and specialty beers as well as plenty of one-off beers to go. It’s projected to open in late March or early April.
What led 3LB to start a distribution company and open a bar across the border?
Mexico is a fascinating market and I will be the first to admit that I was skeptical. It was really my business partner, Zak Higson, who was banging the drum in the beginning of 2017 to get things going. There is a very underrepresented segment of the market down there that is thirsty for craft beer, and some great up-and-coming breweries that are responding to that demand. That being said, there are some challenges with starting a craft brewery in Mexico and quality assurance can be a challenge. We’d already had a few bars bring our beer south the old-fashioned way, so we felt like starting a distributorship was the next logical step. Once we were working on that, the conversation led to the types of things we would have liked to have seen from a distributor in the US, and a spinoff conversation started around doing a tap room to show off the brands in our portfolio. That, in true 3LB fashion, grew to what is currently under construction, which is a full restaurant with 20 taps.
Including your own distribution company’s territory, where all is Mason available now?
We are currently distributed throughout Southern California, Arizona and Mexico—predominantly Baja for now. We just launched Colorado and Northern California, and are planning on adding Idaho and Nevada distribution by the third quarter of this year. We’ve had conversations about additional states, but we are probably in a wait-and-see mode after this additional pickup.
It sounds odd to ask, but is there anything else exciting going on?
This year will be about growing our selections, both in-house and for distribution. Each month in 2018, Mason Ale Works will release one new beer into the general market and one new beer each week into our restaurants. The barrel-aged beers and sours will start to come out in April. We are working on getting our retail license in San Marcos as well so that we can do brewery releases, too.
From the Beer Writer: Once upon a time, the term “hoppy” simply meant “bitter,” and all craft-beer fans seemed to want was hoppy IPAs. These days, imbibers still crave hoppy IPAs, but the term has come to mean so much more, referring to the more nuanced aromatic and flavor features that hops bring to the table. Craft enthusiasts want to dissect hop bills and get the most vibrant tropical, citrus, herbal, floral and spice characteristics from each varietal. But the bitterness…not so much. This shift in tastes really picked up steam when hazy, Northeast-style IPAs bringing on oodles of the aforementioned hop attributes with nary any bitterness burst onto the scene. Recently a company specializing in haze-craze-appropriate ales, Offshoot Beer Co. (an offshoot of Orange County’s The Bruery) collaborated with North San Diego County’s Mason Ale Works to create an IPA so low in bitterness they call it “zero IBU.” The acronym stands for international bittering units, the measurement by which beers’ bitterness is calculated. In doing so, the brewers added zero hops during the brewing process. Ditto flaked oats, wheat and other haze-inducing ingredients, so the finished product, Mason / Offshoot Zero Moustafa IPA, is a traditional, clear IPA. The experiment makes good on its promise to present myriad hop flavors undeterred by even a hint of bitterness. It really is a mind-blowing experience; enough so that anybody who is into hops should try it, even if as an everyday beer (which it definitely is not) it comes up a bit short. There isn’t enough body for IPA lovers, but this beer will do its best work as a “gateway” beer for those who are scared off by the aggressive nature of IBU-laden IPAs or think of hops solely as bite-you-back botanicals. I can easily envision lupulin-averse blonde and wheat ale drinkers having a-ha moments care of this creation.
From the Brewery: “I’ve got to give a ton of credit to Eagle Rock Brewery co-owner Ting Su, who came to [Mason Ale Works head brewer] Matt Webster with the idea for this beer up at the Craft Beer Summit in Sacramento last year. Matt and I were both very intrigued. It sounded like a challenge: a beer that can be just as juicy as a hazy IPA, but without all the yeast particulate. We did a pale ale first as a collab with Eagle Rock and were intrigued by the results, but we wanted to turn things up a notch. So Zero Moustafa was formulated at the Great American Beer Festival with Andrew Bell and Patrick Rue from Offshoot Beer Co. over some drinks. We talked as much about brewing theory as anything else; there’s a lot about timing and temperature that make this beer what it is. Patrick mentioned that they were running some in-house experiments with terpenes to accentuate certain flavors and aromas. So we messed around with some grapefruit and citrus terpenes in this beer until we got it just right. The finished product is a trip. The nose is huge (especially as it warms) with big orange, grapefruit and lemon as well as a touch of pine. The body is on the lighter side of the spectrum which makes it super crushable at 7% alcohol-by-volume. I think brewers will appreciate the challenge of making a beer like this while craft fans will like the ‘juice.'”—Grant Tondro, Co-owner, Mason Ale Works
Shortly before the ball dropped in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, a Vista-based brewery announced it was closing its doors forever. Earlier in the day, SpecHops Brewing Company (an operation reviewed by West Coaster just three weeks ago) announced via social media that December 31 would be its last day in business. That post cited the company had been active since 2010, however, it wasn’t until last spring that it opened its location at 1280 Activity Drive. Though the operation aimed to pay homage to military veterans as well as public-service professionals, the web-based platform it set up for that purpose is inactive. SpecHops opened with an impressive brewhouse that will surely be coveted by current and aspiring brewery owners.
SpecHops’ departure came less than a week after another North County fermentation interest announced its farewell. Charles Perkins posted a Facebook message communicating his decision to close his Kuracali Beer & Sake Brewery. Based in San Marcos, that business opened roughly three years ago and was San Diego County’s first-ever sake producer.
Perkins started building Kuracali in 2012. It took him two years to complete the dual brewing components and he opened his doors in 2014. He says it was an enjoyable and rewarding experience serving people and turning them on to sake, but in the end, his location was off the beaten path. This led to insufficient patronage and lack of required revenue to stay in the black. When his lease expired last month and it was time to resign or vacate, he chose the latter. Perkins says he hopes to reopen at a more strategically situated location sometime in the future, but that it will require investment from an outside party. Interested parties can reach Perkins here.
SpecHops and Kuracali both closing the final week of 2017 punctuate something of a new normal. For a decade, new breweries have opened in San Diego County in increasingly large droves, but few closed. A total of eight local breweries closed last year. While most had been open for years, such as Offbeat Brewing, On The Tracks Brewery, La Jolla Brewing, The Beer Co. (which indicated it will reopen) and Magnetic Brewing, one, Wiseguy Brewing, has something in common with SpecHops. It was open less than a year before shuttering. Additionally, several are for sale, most notably Helm’s Brewing, Intergalactic Brewing and Finest Made Ales.