A lot goes with trying to open San Diego County’s first all-organic brewery—sourcing ingredients, all of which are more costly than non-organic, securing enough of them, finding price-points that work for patrons and, of course, making quality beer. These are all very real challenges, but pale in comparison to the obstacles and consequences the founders of Protector Brewery faced in their former lives as Navy SEALs. By comparison, this should be a fairly straightforward mission. One thing is for sure. They’re going to war fully prepared.
Sean Haggerty is leading the charge from a base of operations located at 8680 Miralani Drive. If that address sounds familiar, it’s because the business park Protector calls home has become well known as a center of artisanality. Other businesses sited there include 2kids Brewing, Align Brewing, Setting Sun Sake Brewery and several urban wineries, with Thunderhawk Alements, a cidery and meadery in the works directly across the street. The fact Protector can bring something completely unique to such a saturated complex is impressive.
Haggerty—who produces beer with fellow brewer Ben Betz—brewed his first beer seven years ago in the most unlikely of places…while on deployment in Iraq. His team had just returned from a direct-action raid at 3 a.m. and he really wanted to drink a good beer to toast his team’s success. The only problem was, being at a military installation halfway across the world, there was no beer to be had. It was then Haggerty had the epiphany that he should make his own. He had ingredients shipped to him and used a five-gallon Gatorade jug for his debut brew. He’s significantly upgraded his equipment at Protector, where beers are brewed on a direct-fire stainless system that figures to produce 200 barrels of beer annually.
Protector’s portfolio will include a hefeweizen, imperial stout, a pair of pale ales (one of which is New World in its hop profundity) and a pair of IPAs (English and West Coast). The hardest part about creating the latter quartet is sourcing quality hops, but Haggerty is confident in the stock he’s secured. He has Cascade, Centennial, Citra, Mosaic, Simcoe and Zeus in cold storage. Only five states house organic hop purveyors and the price of those hops is three times higher than non-organic hops, on average, with highly coveted varietals like Nelson Sauvin going for as much as ten times its garden-variety counterparts. And unlike other local brewers, Haggerty can’t just head to White Labs when he needs yeast. He currently gets his strains from an Oregan-based company.
Given the increased costs, one would expect extremely expensive beers at Protector, but prices are competitive and Haggerty says even his costliest beers will never go higher than seven or eight bucks. He knows an organic brewery wouldn’t be feasible at the size of a Ballast Point or Stone, but believes he can make it work at his smaller size. And if he is successful, he’ll look to expand.
For now, it’s about producing four barrels of beer per week, teaching people about organic beer and showing them it can taste every bit as good as everyday craft ales and lagers. Initially, that will be done exclusively at Protector’s tasting room, a neutral-toned spot punched up with organic color from a framed piece of art made of black barley and hops, depicting a Spartan helmet. Sketched artwork of fantasy-style defenders lines one wall while the brewery’s motto, “people, planet, progression, protector” is painted on the wall beside the bar. Haggerty and company hope to improve the planet through their actions, pushing the organic movement and market forward, not just for themselves, but for farmers, their families, wildlife and the environment.
Protector’s soft-open period begins June 2. The tasting room will be open from 2 to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, leading up to a grand opening in July.
Last week, we examined some of the most promising work-in-progress beer projects in the eastern portions of San Diego County. Today, as part of this bi-annual four-part series, I am offering up information on the most intriguing brewery-owned venues coming to the western communities.
Thorn St. Brewery, Barrio Logan: In building a facility to up production and meet demand, one of North Park’s most popular breweries is taking over two identical former factory spaces on National Avenue, stocking one with tons of stainless and an intimate tasting room, and the other with a distillery, restaurant, retail space and a large patio area. It’s the type of grand project that figures to keep Barrio Logan’s artisanal renaissance chugging right along.
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Protector Brewery, Miramar: Beeramar’s most brewery-saturated area (and that’s saying a lot), the Miralani Drive industrial park just west of Camino Ruiz, is getting its fourth fermentation operation (joining 2kids Brewing, Align Brewing and Setting Sun Sake Brewing) care of former Navy SEALs who are installing San Diego’s first all-organic brewery in an effort to produce quality beer while helping American farm workers and preserving the environment.
Viewpoint Brewing Co., Del Mar: While San Diego has breweries owned by chefs, this brewpub will be the county’s first purely chef-driven interest. Years in the making, it will give purpose and life to a rundown building along the banks of the San Dieguito Lagoon while providing Del Mar its first ever brewery. Culinary innovations and beers built to pair with cuisine is what this place is all about. At last check, owner Charles Koll was planning to soft-open this Friday.
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For more than a year-and-a-half, a sign visible to drivers on Miralani Drive proclaimed the 2015 opening of a new brewery. 2015 came and went, then the first eight months of 2016 elapsed—but that brewery’s doors remained closed to the public. Beer geeks wondered, beer journalists inquired—it seemed this operation might be doomed to fade away before ever pouring a beer. And that seemed a shame considering the nice and clearly beloved folks behind the business, which was partially crowd-funded by people who believed in ownership. Then, this weekend, it finally happened: Thunderhawk Alements (8675 Miralani Drive, #100, Miramar) soft-opened over the weekend.
Co-founder Jon Barbarin says a number of TTB delays and many sleepless nights preceded their unannounced debut, but seeing word-of-mouth and insider-alerts fill Thunderhawk’s tasting room Saturday and Sunday, probably helped give him a shot in the arm.
Thunderhawk’s bar is equipped with 14 taps, and opened with seven of them pouring the following:
Thunderhawk’s bar-top is forged from a 31-foot live-edge California Redwood, and the overall thematic is described as “western-slash-Americana”. Barbarin and company sourced a collection of 1950s copper relief pieces portraying the Old West and installed light fixtures from antique plates and bowls made of that same metal. A full 1,300-square-feet of public-space is offered on an outdoor patio. Ownership plans to install TVs out there for the purpose of showing local sports events and soccer matches.
For now, Thunderhawk Alements will be open Saturdays, 12 to 10 p.m. and Sundays, 12 to 8 p.m. Additional days of operation will be added as they are able, starting with Friday, but there is no separation from the brewhouse to the tasting-room, so production will sometimes prohibit the business from being open to visitors. The owners also hope to work with other Miralani businesses such as 2kids Brewing Company and Setting Sun Sake Brewing Company to hold events displaying the wealth of craftsmanship in the immediate area.
Last Friday, West Coaster broke the news that Miramar-based Pacific Brewing Company had closed its doors for good. After communicating with both of the company’s founders, Chris Chalmers and Andrew Heino, the shuttering comes after a number of difference between the two ranging from company identity to day-to-day operations to growth and production goals. In the end, those differences and a lack of profitability led to a parting of ways and the decision to shut down.
Both Chalmers and Heino voiced regret and even “heartbreak” over this development. The former has moved on, while the latter has three years remaining on the lease for Pacific Brewing’s Miralani Drive facility. Heino says he is planning on opening a new brewery operation and associated tasting-room, he is not ready to disclose details of that operation.
But visitors to the small business-park Pacific Brewing called home won’t want for beer. 2Kids Brewing Company, a husband-wife venture that opened around the same time as Pacific Brewing, remains as the lone brewery tenant…for now. Protector Brewery, an all-organic brewing operation headed by Navy SEALs, is in the works in the same park, which will also welcome Setting Sun Sake Brewing Company later this year. And right across the street is the long-awaited Thunderhawk Alements, which is facing delays but hopes to begin brewing in a matter of weeks.
“To all our loyal customers and enthusiasts, it is with great regret that we must announce that Pacific Brewing is permanently closing its doors,” says Chalmers. “We have enjoyed some fantastic years due to your patronage and we are thankful to have the honor and pleasure of your company and continued presence with us as we developed our beers as well as our commitment to deliver an outstanding product. We are forever indebted to all of the goodwill, support and appreciation from all who have joined us in the PBC family. Cheers to beers and much thanks from the bottom of our hearts!”