Chula Vista is experiencing a bona fide craft-beer boom. Not only have two breweries opened on downtown’s main drag over the past year—Chula Vista Brewery and Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing—but an existing San Diego County brewing company has opened a tasting room directly across the street from the latter. That newly opened sampling space comes courtesy of Groundswell Brewing, a business that started small in Grantville before acquiring a much larger brewing facility in Santee from defunct Twisted Manzanita Ales and Spirits.
Satellite venues are nothing new for local breweries. Currently there are 27 throughout the county, but this while most have been established in North Park, Ocean Beach and, most recently, Encinitas, this is the first to be placed in Chula Vista. Groundswell owners Kevin Rhodes and Christianne Penunuri have lived in Chula Vista for 17 years and say a location in their hometown has been in the business plan since they first opened their doors in Grantville. At the same time they were ready to pull the trigger on the project, a building adorned with front and back patios became available. They snapped it up and have spent several months renovating it.
The tasting room comes in at 1,500 interior square feet with an additional 900 square feet of outdoor space. The bar is equipped with 21 taps as well as large, cushioned stools like those at Groundswell’s original location. The front window retracts revealing seating overlooking the sidewalk. The back patio includes seating as well as a play area with activities such as corn hole. Inside, vintage pinball and video games make up the non-liquid entertainment options. Televisions and artwork, including photographs of iconic South Bay landmarks are on the way, as well. Also en route is a kitchen in a space adjacent to the Chula Vista tasting room, which will prepare a menu of light fare that can be served at all three Groundswell locations.
The Chula Vista tasting room is located at 258 Third Avenue. An official grand opening is planned for Sunday, December 17, from 12 to 9 p.m. It will consist of three sessions and include branded glassware and a raffle. The day before, Groundswell will have its first can release for Oathkeeper, an imperial stout, and Oathbreaker, that same stout aged in Four Roses bourbon whiskey barrels. The cans will be available in four-packs at all of Groundswell’s tasting rooms.
The “South Bay Uprising”—an influx of banded-together breweries and beer-centric venues spanning Chula Vista to Barrio Logan—has been picking up steam for years. Last weekend, the most formidable beer-making member of that growing movement opened its doors after two years of construction on downtown Chula Vista’s main drag, Third Avenue. Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing Company (259 Third Avenue, Chula Vista) has brought its ambitious vision for a multi-story brewery and tasting room simultaneously celebrating anarchic rock and the city its founders call home. In doing so, it’s given the community the type of business it can rally behind and build upon.
When we first met the Chula Vistans behind this business, they were renting space at Santee’s Butcher’s Brewing (since renamed to Finest Made Ales) to create their first batches of mostly-hoppy beers, but their dream was to secure space to make an artisanal impact on their home turf. They were able to do so in 2015 when they secured the building that formerly housed The Highlander. A rare basement-equipped structure it was first coveted by Fall Brewing Company, but elevated enthusiasm and hometown espirit de corps inspired the landlord to opt for Thr3e Punk Ales. At last weekend’s friends-and-family pre-open party, the landlord felt vindicated in that decision and bullish on the future of Third Avenue’s business district with the debut of Thr3e Punk Ales as well as the impending arrival of a tasting room for Santee-based Groundswell Brewing Company in another of his properties across the street, and the recent opening of Chula Vista Brewery on the same block.
While Bay Bridge Brewing Company and Novo Brazil Brewing Company have been making beer in Chula Vista for years, quality has been an issue and neither are centrally located enough to make the number of impressions and aid in revitalization the way Thr3e Punk Ales can. In addition to being smack dab in the middle of downtown, Thr3e Punk Ales is an attractive space with a fully conveyed thematic. The north wall is covered from basement to ceiling in a punk rock collage intermingled with iconic imagery. Tour poster artwork from the likes of Suicidal Tendencies, Bad Religion, the Sex Pistols and Dead Kennedys share space with the logos of Thr3e Punk Ales and the City of Chula Vista and the original Highlander sign augmented by the anarchy “A” utilized in the brewery’s wordmark. The brewhouse and fermenter tanks jut up from the basement into the tasting room opposite an L-shaped bar flanked by a roll-down screen illuminated by a ceiling-mounted projector. Rail bars line the north and roll-up garage door-equipped west side of the tasting room while a large wooden table provides a second, more communal seating option.
The opening beer list consisted of five offerings. Of them, the hoppy stock—what the company made its name on in its fledgling period—was the best. Needle in the Hey double IPA has the nose of a dispensary with flavors of clementine, melon, orange zest and pine resin. While it isn’t heavy, it is purposely sweet in a nod to old-school imperial IPAs. Conversely, their 6.5% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) IPA Hole has intense mango-and-papaya-like hop-bite up front and a sharp yet tacky finish. Morning After Pilz has such vibrant hop character it almost blots out its Pilsner foundation, but as its first-pour chill wears off, a bit of honey-ish earhiness and yeast character enter into the equation. A Mexican-style lager and 9.5% ABV imperial stout with flavors evocative of bittersweet chocolate, coffee and cinnamon bark round out the menu. Both would benefit from added carbonation, but taste nice and provide increased variety.
Overall, this much-anticipated project has made good on its intentions to bring a vibrant business in line with current trends and San Diego’s craft-beer scene to downtown Chula Vista. It will be interesting to see how a community less indoctrinated and inundated on the independent beer front will react, but if any brewery in the area has a chance to change the tastes of the city’s denizens, it’s this one.
Craft beer’s “South Bay Uprising” has slowly been picking up steam over the past few years, but now things are getting real. The uprising is finally hitting the main drag in Chula Vista, the municipality where it’s most important that it make an impact—Third Avenue. That thoroughfare is already home to Third Avenue Alehouse and will soon be joined by the area’s first fully functioning brewery and tasting room, Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing Company. Much fanfare has surrounded the latter while another interest bearing the city’s name has quietly gone about the business of going into business right across the street: Chula Vista Brewery.
Located at 294 Third Avenue, Chula Vista Brewery is the product of Timothy and Dali Parker, a couple who live in the area. As the company’s name suggests, the Parkers aim to be ultra-local, which will include teaming with other Chula Vista businesses. They feel there is a misconception that Chula Vista lacks craft-beer drinkers, which has led to the community’s underserviced status from a brewing perspective. So, they’re taking it upon themselves to give their community the ales they feel it deserves.
Russell Clements, a veteran brewer who worked at Rock Bottom‘s La Jolla brewpub under (current Second Chance Beer Company brewmaster) Marty Mendiola before moving on to Ballast Point Brewing, will be the one manning the brewhouse. He will be assisted by Timothy, whose brewing background has all been gained on the home-front. Together, the duo will craft enough beers to stock CVB’s dozen taps. They are currently developing a blonde, red ale, American pale ale, IPA and stout on their five-barrel Premier Stainless system. A double IPA, porter, imperial stout and hoppy lager will come later.
While the business may open as soon as this weekend (the Parkers advise that they will post information about any soft-opening on their website), the official grand opening will take place on Friday, May 5. CVB will have Third Avenue to themselves for a little while. Their cross-street colleagues at Thr3e Punk Ales are currently scheduled to open to the public by the end of June.
From the Beer Writer: I received an email a few months back from a friend of mine who was working with Mexican-seafood stalwart Karina’s Restaurant Group. An institution preparing to celebrate its 35th year in business, it was looking to go beyond typical offerings and embrace local craft-beer. In doing so, ownership wanted to challenge a quintet of San Diego breweries to come up with a beer meeting their exacting flavor and body specifications. I made some recommendations for some brewers that might be interested and, shortly thereafter, they had willing combatants for Karina’s Cerveza Showdown—Aztec Brewery, Bay Bridge Brewing, Coronado Brewing, Mission Brewery and Novo Brazil Brewing. Their goal was to create an easygoing lager that would appeal to the Dos Equis crowd while simultaneously exposing that demographic to the fact that quality beer is being made right in their backyards. Fan’s blind-judged Novo Brazil’s entrant the champion, and that beer, Karina’s Lager, is now on tap at all six of Karina’s locations. I tasted it earlier this week and it reminded me of a trip to Cancun beating the heat with Bohemia after my supply of smuggled craft-beer ran out. It is crisp, clear and carries with it a bit of the limestone-ish lager yeast flavor one expects plus a spike of bitterness that hangs out in the finish. Definitely a beer to please newcomers’ palates, but a pretty good one that makes for a nice first-step for a quality San Diego family of eateries.
From the Restaurant: “We were very pleased by the top brewers who chose to compete in our Cerveza Showdown. We especially like that the association with Novo Brazil not only allows us to serve our guests a unique, ours-alone beer, but puts us together with a fellow South Bay enterprise. It proves how dynamic Chula Vista, our home-base, has become.”—Arnulfo Contreras-Curiel, Principal, Karina’s Group
From the Brewery: “Events like Karina’s Cerveza Showdown are the kind of stuff we pay lots of attention to. First, it’s real-time, real-life feedback, without any prejudice, pre-established brand popularity or opinion. The beer gets to speak. Social media is out there, and can distort views, both positively and negatively, so we like situations when final-result is objective, when the beer gets speaks for itself on a neutral field without any pre-established preferences. Secondly, we were up against other great local breweries, it could have been anybody’s game. To me, that elevates it even further. We have to celebrate each and every victory in this competitive beers business. What a better way to celebrate than to come up with their own beer! So, we listened to Karina’s group very closely, we ate some of their great ceviches and decided to create Karina’s Lager. We captured the ‘Mexican Lager’ character, but we kept it with it’s own personality; very drinkable and smooth. Perfect to complement their food style. We also have it in our tasting room, and it’s selling fast.”—Morise Gusmao, Brewer/General Manager, Novo Brazil Brewing Company