From the Beer Writer: If there’s any gringo brewer that’s going to do right by both San Diego and Baja, it’s Ryan Brooks. He has lived a cross-cultural life, residing in Tijuana and working with brewers spanning as far east as Mexicali, soaking up the cross-border brewing culture along the way. Brooks is so enamored with the exciting things happening in his adopted region’s brewing scene that his new business, SouthNorte Beer Company (a spin-off brand of parent-operation Coronado Brewing Company), aims to celebrate the flavors and ingredients of Mexico along with the personal brewing heritage he amassed in Southern California. A key component to doing so is forging a flagship Mexican-style lager, and Brooks has done so with SouthNorte Sea Señor. Rather than rely on bells, whistles and adjuncts to add extra character, this inaugural 4.5% alcohol-by-volume offering is as true-to-form as it gets, relying on traditional ingredients to produce a crystal-clear, clean and incredibly refreshing beer. Tinged with the slightest bit of sweetness and complimentary herbal notes (think thyme and marjoram), it has what it takes to serve as an ambassador to the glories of craft beer for Latinos, who until recently, haven’t been marketed to all that well nor given much reason to give locally produced ales and lagers a shot. That changes here and now. Viva la revolución de la cerveza artesanal!
From the Brewers: “Sea Señor is the flagship beer that really kickstarted the idea of SouthNorte Beer Co. I was experimenting with the flavors and ingredients of Mexico, and brewing my take on a Mexican lager. I wanted something refreshing and easy to drink—like the beers I was enjoying in Baja—but brewed locally with quality ingredients. I use crisp pilsner malt and a classic yeast strain to get the smoothness typical of the style, but with a fuller flavor. We use European Noble hops at low hopping rates so the beer is balanced but not overly bitter. We then lager for three weeks so the beer is incredibly smooth and goes down easy, whether it’s by the pool or over a meal with friends. I’m excited for people to experience what SouthNorte is all about. Sea Señor is just the first of what’s to come—I am so inspired by our border culture and I can’t wait to brew recipes that showcase our ‘crossroads of cultures’ style.”—Ryan Brooks, Founder/Head Brewer, SouthNorte Beer Company
Kurt Bach began homebrewing with his friends in 1983 in Portland, Oregon. They may or may not have been of legal drinking age at the time, but they kept at the hobby until they were…and far beyond. Fifteen years ago, Bach really wanted to open a brewery in The Beaver State, but he felt it was too saturated. There were 50 breweries in Oregon at the time, with roughly 10 opening each year. Fast-forward and there are now more than 230 breweries there. He kicks himself regularly. But instead of wondering what could have been, Bach, now a San Diego resident, is finally in the process of building his passion project, Attitude Brewing Company, at the Mercado Del Barrio development at 1985 National Avenue in Barrio Logan. He says it was “now or never.”
Specifics such as system size, cellar capacity and exact styles are still being worked out, but Bach has a lot in store for his 4,500-square-foot space. In addition to the brewing component, Bach is installing a quick-service food venue called Attitude Gourmet Wraps, Burgers and Beers. It will be the first of several planned locations for that eventual chain, all of which will serve beers produced at the Barrio Logan progenitor. Those beers will combine American and Mexican suds sensibilities with the goal to someday distribute them in Mexico. Bach sees Barrio Logan as the perfect neighborhood to base this sort of cross-cultural operation, but there are many other positives that drew Bach to Mercado Del Barrio. Chief among them were its accessibility to freeways and an abundance of parking. A five-story parking garage will be available to patrons directly across the street.
Bach has participated in many brew days at professional breweries over the years, doing it for both joy and education, but he is particularly excited to mash in on his own system. He remembers the “cool guy at the party” effect beer had for him back in those maybe-legal days, and hopes to build a warm, down-to-earth place where employees make customers feel like the cool ones. That feeling will also be available to go care of crowlers. Attitude is currently on-track for a December soft opening.
Earlier this month a for-lease sign went up beside the signage for Little Miss Brewing’s much-anticipated tasting room on Ocean Beach’s Newport Avenue. The conversion of the site’s interior into a French World War II-themed sampling space is roughly halfway complete and the company’s logo has been mounted outside, making this an unexpected turn of events for everyone, including owners Greg and Jade Malkin. The marrieds behind this Miramar-based company’s satellite project have been paying rent on the space since last December and, in the time it has taken to attempt to obtain approval from the local faction of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), have opened another tasting room in Normal Heights. But the ABC process for their would-be OB interest has been nothing short of a bureaucratic nightmare.
The Malkins submitted their ABC application for the OB tasting room a week after sending the same paperwork for the Normal Heights project. Early on, things went as expected, including receipt of protests during the 30-day period when residents are allowed to formally raise issues. The majority of the protests were rescinded once the Malkins reached out to the individuals who had initiated them. What the Malkins were unaware of, however, is that a private meeting had been held without their notification or knowledge in late-April—outside of the public-protest period—between ABC supervisors, representatives of the San Diego Police Department (SDPD), a State Assembly member and additional OB residents not in favor of the tasting room. ABC representatives claimed the meeting was not specifically about Little Miss, but rather all tasting-room licenses pending on Newport Avenue, but Little Miss’ was the only license of that type pending at the time. The negatives that came out of that meeting, where the project was scrutinized without the applicants being able to defend their business, followed the Little Miss project file through its lifespan without the Malkins even knowing. But this constitutes only a portion of the obstacles.
While the Malkins respect the job and authority of the ABC and appreciate the hard-working nature of ABC employees, they echo the opinion of most (including ABC employees) that the department and its local offices are severely understaffed during this time of unprecedented brewery openings. During the many months they spent trying to open the OB tasting room, meetings with ABC agents typically yielded little in the way of concrete answers or reliable advice. Often, one agent would contradict the other. In the cases where they agreed, other governmental factions saw things differently. Additionally, the Malkins were told to call ABC reps at different offices as well as various individuals at the City of San Diego offices and SDPD. Most calls went unanswered, as did requests for information.
The key piece of info they coveted during the process were crime logs. During a meeting with the ABC on July 20, the Malkins were shown a letter from the SDPD dated June 29 stating it would not support the issuance of Little Miss’ OB license. The reason: the neighborhoods the Western Patrol Division serves (Ocean Beach, Hillcrest, La Playa, Linda Vista, Loma Portal, Midtown, Midway District, Mission Hills, Mission Valley West, Morena, Old Town, Point Loma Heights, Roseville-Fleetridge, Sunset Cliffs, University Heights and “Wooded Area”) had experienced an overall increase in crime and could not handle another ABC license issued in the area. The ABC said they would not go against the SDPD’s recommendation because they felt it was impossible to change their opinion. Determined to give that a try on their own, the Malkins asked to see the crime reports for the aforementioned communities. The ABC had those reports, but said they were not allowed to provide them to the Malkins, and directed them to obtain the data from the City. They attempted to do so, but after more unanswered calls, ended up downloading the information they needed from the City of San Diego’s website instead.
Through this fact-finding exercise, they discovered that, although alcohol-related crime had gone up in the Western Patrol Division’s patrol area as a whole, it had gone down in OB by a whopping 40% since the November 2014 introduction of the neighborhood’s first brewery tasting room—Culture Brewing Company on Newport Avenue. Also, the number-one alcohol-related crime in OB is open-container violations, primarily on the beach. They presented this information to multiple City Councilmembers, the Mayor’s office and ABC, even going so far as to waive Little Miss’ ability to sell packaged beer or growlers to go, but never received an answer. The final straw was a call earlier this week when the Malkins say it seemed like someone at the ABC had decided they were going to deny the license long ago—possibly as far back as the meeting that they weren’t given the opportunity to attend—but nobody wanted to be the bearer of bad news. It prompted them to officially pull the plug on the OB project.
This drama isn’t the only turbulence for the company, which last week parted ways with the only brewmaster it has known during its first year of existence. This seems a much easier hurdle to get over than ABC issues. Former Green Flash Brewing Company brewer Joe Lisica spearheaded brewery and tasting room construction and beer production for Little Miss. His desire was to create clean, clear beers, including an assortment of single-malt-and-single-hop (SMASH) beers. While quality was never an issue and ownership appreciated Lisica and his beers, their vision for Little Miss’ portfolio was vastly different, leading to an amicable parting of ways. Mike Morbitzer, a fellow Green Flash alum Lisica hired as his assistant, has been promoted to brewmaster and will be responsible for reshaping Little Miss’ offerings to match the Malkin’s desires, which includes more new-school beers such as hazy IPAs and beers brewed with fruits and other adjuncts across varying styles. Meanwhile, Lisica is taking a brief hiatus from the industry to contemplate his next move, while entertaining offers from companies in need of his services.
Little Miss’ business model from the get-go has been to open six satellite tasting rooms under their manufacturing license, focusing on unsaturated neighborhoods — besides the planned OB location. The Malkins are leery of filing through the San Diego office again. A local ABC agent advised them to apply in La Mesa, a municipality that only recently began encouraging brewing companies to lay down stakes, but they will also likely look north once they have some time to gain some distance and lick their wounds.
The collection of artisanal producers in the pair of business parks near the corner of Miralani Drive and Camino Ruiz in Miramar already interact like partners. Home to four breweries, two wineries and a sake brewery, this is the most craft-saturated ultra-micro locale in all of San Diego County. And soon it will welcome its first actual partnership—a trio of businesses sharing a 3,500-square-foot space with a collective mindset and completely unique, hand-forged consumables. Lost Cause Meadery, Serpentine Cider and The Good Seed Food Company comprise this hand-in-hand threesome, all of which are on pace to open at different points within the month of October at 8665 Miralani Drive, Suite 100.
While they were searching for a site for their meadery, Lost Cause founders Billy and Suzanna Beltz met and hit it off with Serpentine headman Sean Harris at a brewery event. The entrepreneurs stayed in touch and, two months later, Harris asked if the Beltzes would like to join him and chef Chuy De La Torre as a third tenant in the space they intended to share. The marrieds followed in the footsteps of De La Torre, formerly the chef at Rancho Bernardo’s Urge Gastropub, and signed on. To a person, the quartet believe they are in the perfect geographical situation. This pertains to their individual facility, where all of their wares will appeal to artisanal-minded locavores, as well as their immediate surroundings.
The closest similar business to the shared space is Thunderhawk Alements, and the Beltzes say its owners have been extremely helpful. It’s the “Miralani Makers District”’s tangible colleagues-versus-competitors vibe that continues to lure so many small businesses to the area. A distillery is also en route for the area. It is reminiscent of San Diego’s roots from a brewery perspective and, in some ways, evokes memories of simpler times for that industry.
The Beltzes like the prospect of leveraging cider and, to some extent, beer, wine, sake and spirits from neighbors to attract cross-drinkers who might not specifically seek out mead, but will be more than happy to try it during an expansive tasting expedition. They realize mead is not as popular or understood as other beverages and aim to do a great deal of educating rom their tasting room (Serpentine will have its own sampling bar within the space, as well).
Lost Cause’s meads will be produced in 20- and 15-barrel batches located near the entrance to their tasting room. Billy has earned more than 35 medals for his meads in the past three years alone, and the Beltz’s research and techniques have been published in the American Homebrewer’s Association‘s Zymurgy Magazine and American Mead Maker, the official journal of the American Mead Maker Association. An integral part of their production process is a technique which allows them to control a slow, steady, healthy fermentation that retains extremely delicate honey flavors and aromas as alcohol builds.
Lost Cause’s initial line-up will all come in at 11% alcohol-by-volume and include:
The aesthetic of the shared facility will pay homage to Southern California and the Southwest region as a whole care of shared plants and furniture. For more information on each of the businesses’ debuts, follow each on social media.