It’s been a work in progress for more than a year, and they already celebrate their future digs care of a Mexican-style brew called Barrio Lager, but now Thorn Street Brewery’s brewing and cellaring equipment has arrived at its satellite facility in Barrio Logan. While the brewhouse is a month or so from being put to use, this is a significant milestone and the current estimate for public-debut of the venue’s tasting room is June.
Located at 1735 National Avenue, the 10,500-square-foot brewery is equipped with a 30-barrel brew system with a mix of 30-, 60- and 120-barrel fermenters. This will significantly increase Thorn Street’s production capacity to the tune of 30,000 barrels annually, allowing the formerly small operation ensconced in the quaint, two-story shell of a former North Park homebrew-supply store to grow beyond its humble, well-received beginnings. Thorn Street has signed on with Stone Brewing’s distribution company. The plan is to focus on San Diego County before considering new territories to go after.
But the brewery is only half the story here. Thorn Street also took over an identical warehouse next-door and has big plans for it that include the potential installation of a distillery, restaurant and retail collective. That’s a lot to fit into 10,500 square feet, but installation of a 6,000-square-foot outdoor patio is planned to help make room for the aforementioned concepts that are brought to fruition.
As for the brewery and its 750-square-foot tasting room, exact plans for opening festivities have yet to be finalized, but Thorn Street hopes to do something that really celebrates the community as well as the people and businesses who call it home. Something taking place in or for Chicano Park is something they would welcome. For now, it’s all about getting through the home-stretch; producing beer, finishing interiors and joining Border X Brewing and Iron Fist Brewing (who operate tasting rooms in the neighborhood) as Barrio Logan’s local-beer representatives by bringing the community its first brewery.
In its short life-span, the only brewmaster Mason Ale Works has ever known has been Mike Rodriguez. A veteran brewer with years of experience at Boulevard Brewing and Port Brewing Company/The Lost Abbey, Rodriguez was a logical choice to get Mason (the in-house brewing arm of the 3LB Restaurant Concepts family of venues that includes both Urge Gastropubs and Brothers Provisions) constructed, operational and churning out beer both for distribution and barrel-aging. Today, 3LB announced that Rodriguez has resigned to pursue a new brewery project in Santa Cruz, California.
In hiring someone to replace Rodriguez, Mason Ale Works’ owners have taken a rather familiar route, hiring another former head brewer from Port/The Lost Abbey, Matt Webster, to be its new director of brewery operations. Webster will head all brewing at 3LB’s upcoming Urge Common House, a 21,000-square-foot venue in San Marcos’ North City development that will include a 15-barrel brewhouse. He will also oversee brewing operations at the original Oceanside brewery within Urge Gastropub and Whiskey Bank. Day-to-day brewing in Oceanside will be the responsibility of Jason De La Torre, who has been promoted from within to the role of head brewer.
Mason Ale Works debuted its beers in late 2015 and has since secured Southern California distribution of its kegged and canned products via Stone Distributing. Much of the decision to expand brewing and cellaring capabilities via the Common House location was to keep up with demand while providing the ability to expand distribution sooner than later.
We’ve reached the halfway mark of 2016. Over the past six months, roughly a dozen new breweries have opened (including one that had been producing beer without a tasting room for a couple of years). This seems a good time to assess this field of newcomers and pick out those that are producing the best beer thus far. It’s but one writer’s opinion, so feel free to disagree and share who you think is best in the comment section. And if you haven’t checked any of these places out just yet, they’re definitely worth a visit.
Burning Beard Brewing, El Cajon: At a time when El Cajon needed a suds-savior like never before, this op touched down like a caped superhero, bringing with it a beer list offering great diversity plus quality across styles. The pilsner, pale, IPAs and coffee-stout are standouts but don’t overlook the ESB or Belgian singel. All are made even better when enjoyed in a rockin’ tasting room by a staff that’s as exuberant as the punk power chords pumping out of the sound-system. And they have foudres!
Resident Brewing Company, Downtown: Does this operation’s coconut IPA taste as good as the award-winning batch its brewmaster created as an amateur. Yes, but there’s so much more to this newbie than that. Abutting its parent-business, the Gaslamp’s long-running watering hole, The Local, the brewhouse is pumping out Americanized takes on English styles that are crisp, balanced and refreshing yet big on hop-driven flavors. It’s good to see them starting to trickle to outside accounts.
Pure Project Brewing, Miramar: This One Percent for the Planet operation (1% of profits to go to non-profit organizations) has endeared itself to beer-lovers behind a beautiful earth-and-elemental tasting room motif, friendly service and beers that go down easy while bringing forth lesser-seen adjuncts and flavor combinations (coconut quad or strawberry-vanilla cream ale, anyone?). The majority of the beers are sessionable, making it easy to taste their rotating rainbow of selections.
Bitter Brothers Brewing Co., Bay Ho: They’re the fastest success story of the upstarts, getting signed by Stone Distribution straight out of the gate and selling enough beer that they’re already adding fermentation space. The interest’s name might lead you to believe they are all about hoppy beers (they have some and they’re quite tasty), but theirs is a varied young tap list offering numerous flavor-oddities, and their subtler wheat ales are very enjoyable…and not the least bit bitter.
Mikkeller Brewing San Diego, Miramar: There’s a lot of pressure for a gypsy brewer opening their first brick-and-mortar, especially half-a-world away from their home, but the brew-crew assisting said nomad, Mikkel Borg-Bjergso, has stepped up admirably. Numerous takes on java-rich Beer Geek Breakfast and a Brett IPA have been fab, but most people are still waiting to be wowed by beers exhibiting the ingenuity and whimsy that Bjergso built his reputation on over the past decade.
Mason Ale Works, Oceanside: So the restaurant- and bar-owners behind Urge Gastropub & Whiskey Bank love beer, but what do they know about brewing it? Not enough, so they went out and got an industry veteran who once headed The Lost Abbey‘s production. That key move allowed the brewpub to put out solid beers from the start. Mason has also secured early distribution and its array of hoppy, dark and Belgian-inspired beers are doing well, though they face stiff competition from impressive guest beers on a daily basis.
The first expansion outside the Escondido location of the Stone Brewing Co. empire, the Stone Company Store South Park, is turning 1 this Friday, June 15th. According to Stone Media Lynchpin (actual title) Randy Clemens, “To celebrate, they’re putting some killer beers on tap, and sending some goodies out to surrounding bars, restaurants, and bottle shops on Friday, June 15th!”
Goodies indeed, as Mazarra Trattora (my favorite bottle shop in South Park) is going to have the venerable Cherry Chocolate Stout in bottles this Friday. Check out the poster to the right for the breakdown of the beer distribution for tomorrow – essentially they’re dropping great beer on all of their restaurant, bar, and bottleshop accounts in the area. At 6PM, Greg Koch (and his epic beard) will be at the Store to tap a “surprise” keg.
While always in the shadow of its trendier, cooler brother North Park, South Park is one of the finest neighborhoods in town. It’s coming alive this weekend with Stone’s celebration on Friday and the Old House Fair on Saturday.
For this South Park-based writer, it’s been very interesting to watch Stone’s first expansion into my community. With two more bottleshop/tasting room stores in the works in Oceanside and Pasadena materializing rapidly that will be powered by the very impressive Stone Distribution – it’s safe to say the South Park store was the test model. With European colonization plans in a holding pattern until further notice, Stone seems perfectly content expanding on their home turf: Southern California.