Having seen the undeniable impact and growth of the local brewing industry, local colleges have developed craft beer curriculums covering the science and business of opening a brewery. The first to do so was the University of California, San Diego with the UCSD Extension Brewing Certificate program, and the first graduate to open his own brewery was Ed O’Sullivan with the 2014 debut of O’Sullivan Bros. Brewing Company in Scripps Ranch. A year into the business of brewing, O’Sullivan has put much of his instructors’ teachings to use and even joined the faculty fold. We dropped in on him to find out more about the program and what it—and his brewery—have to offer the beer curious masses.
How was the UCSD program helpful in founding and operating your brewery?
Ed O’Sullivan: I think we’re the ultimate experiment because we studied under the masters of the craft and implemented what was taught in the program. I mean, I was a sponge for knowledge and we were quite literal in putting things in place that they recommended. I didn’t have commercial brewing experience coming into the program, so it was extremely helpful to have the advice and counsel of experts who could assist me in the planning, construction and operational start-up phases of the brewery. As a molecular biologist, I was able to understand a lot of science behind brewing and fermentation, but I had no experience with HVAC, filtration, PLC controls, tanks and pressures, CIP, cleaning chemicals and so on. But the feedback I got was very relevant and succinct. I put everything I learned into practice from the layout of the brewery to our brewing fermentation equipment to our lab, quality control program and more. Our beer is being well received and, after just nine months of operation, we were awarded two silver medals at this summer’s San Diego International Beer Competition. I owe a lot of our success to what the instructors passed on.
Who were some of the instructors you learned from?
EOS: The cool thing is that the instructors I learned from were Mitch Steele (brewmaster, Stone Brewing Co.), Lee Chase (brewmaster, Automatic Brewing Co.), Chris White (owner, White Labs), Gwen Conley (QA director, Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey/The Hop Concept), Peter Zien (brewmaster, AleSmith Brewing Co.), Yuseff Cherney (brewmaster, Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits), Arlan Arnsten (former sales VP, Stone), Tomme Arthur (director of brewery operations, Port/Lost Abbey/Hop Concept), Patrick Rue (brewmaster, The Bruery), Matt Brynildson (brewmaster, Firestone Walker Brewing Co.) and a host of other great instructors. I remember Yuseff telling me, “It’s not fair. It took me 20 years to figure some of this stuff out and you guys are getting it all in a few months.” I bristle with pride whenever I get a visit from one of the instructors.
And now you’re one of those instructors, right?
EOS: After I got the brewery up and running, the folks at UCSD asked me if I might be interested in teaching a class based on my experiences building a new brewery. Now I teach a class called The Brewery Start Up, which is one segment of a three-part class called The Business of Craft Beer. Peter Zien and Candace Moon (the Craft Beer Attorney) teach the other two segments. It seems like the program has now gone full-circle.
Who are some other graduates of note from the program?
EOS: You’ll see a lot of UCSD brewing graduates at many of the larger local breweries. Ballast Point, Stone and The Lost Abbey scooped up a lot of my classmates. O’Sullivan Bros. has also been fortunate to attract a number of graduates of the program. Currently, four out of six of us either graduated or are in the process of completing their Professional Brewers Certificate at the brewery today. We’ve been hosting interns from the program as well. We are on our third at the moment. I think our brewery tends to be attractive to graduates, especially if they are technical or science-oriented (aka, beer nerds). We not only have the brewery, but the lab with a bunch of equipment for testing and experimenting. We also have seven fermenters, so we can make a lot of different beers and keep everyone’s interest piqued for new brews, so there’s something for everyone.
What’s new with O’Sullivan Bros. and what’s next for the business?
EOS: We just finished our first year. It was a heck of a year and the result was 16 new beers, two silver medals, 60-plus retailers and a bunch of great tasting room customers. We just released our first lager, a nice California common called Steady Lad, that’s about to be followed by a new Bohemian Pilsner called Tooraloo (Irish lullaby). The brewery is nearing its maximum capacity and at our current size we’re only able to supply a select few. So, we are seriously looking at ways we can expand to keep up with growing demand.
It’s been the talk of the Internet for days, but for me, it started a month ago when a trusted source in Northern California informed me that sales reps from a certain Big Beer company were crowing about how psyched they were about the impending acquisition of an undisclosed “San Diego craft brewery.” Like many who have since heard this recent rumor, I started considering which of the county’s brewing companies would be the first to sell-out to the big guys. And like many, my short-list was headed by Saint Archer Brewery. There were other potential sellers, but if ever there were a significantly sized San Diego brewery built to be sold and primed to cash in, it was this one.
In the two-plus years since Saint Archer debuted, the company has often courted controversy. Within its first several months of existence, it jettisoned one of the county’s veteran salespeople and cut ties with brewmaster Ray Astamendi, an industry trouper who has since gone on to wow local beer fans at his own operation, Fall Brewing Co., while rising to stud status as a brewhouse consultant for Premier Stainless. Upon doing so, they proceeded to hire away Pizza Port standout brewer Yiga Miyashiro to revive credibility. Thanks to he and brewmaster Kim Lutz, Saint Archer’s reputation improved, though the majority of beer nerd die-hards never bought into a marketing campaign nearly devoid of beer (mostly skateboards, beachscapes, lifestyle pics and shots of alt-sports athletes), especially when the company went against its “brewed in San Diego” branding, angering many San Diegans with a post professing the company’s affections for Dodger Stadium, while subsequently trashing Petco Park and engaging in insulting back-and-forth messages with dissenting social media users. The company released an apology about a month later, in May.
Many will not be surprised to learn that London-headquartered MillerCoors announced it will acquire a majority-share of Saint Archer. (After being denied when asked directly more than a month prior). Macrobreweries purchasing or acquiring majority shares in legitimate craft brewing companies to increase sales and market share while simultaneously chipping away at its competitor base is nothing new. It’s been occurring for some time and ramping up over the past few years with acquisitions of companies like Elysian Brewing Co., 10 Barrel Brewing Co., Goose Island Beer and, most recently, Lagunitas. This, however, is the first time this has occurred in San Diego County.
Most within the craft beer industry and its growing legions of fans concede that it was only a matter of time before a local interest sold out. San Diego is a market with a stellar reputation for the manufacture of artisan ales and lagers, as well as a population that consumes a great deal of craft beer. There was much to be gained by purchasing a willing San Diego craft brewery, including an instant foothold in the local and national industry. Many are the drinkers who don’t know or don’t care who owns or controls a brewery, providing the opportunity for MillerCoors to build off of the Saint Archer brand and San Diego’s good name immediately.
Of course, it’s within any business’ right to sell to anyone. That’s their prerogative, but that’s not the problem. Big Beer actively pushes legislation meant to hurt the small guys, as we’ve seen in Florida. Big Beer also controls many of the distribution channels in the United States, so expect to see more Saint Archer at the Coors-focused bars.
Many local, long-tenured breweries I’ve spoken to are not happy Big Beer is now in their backyard. Some of them claim they would never sell, most vocally (my employer) Stone Brewing Co., the owners of which have guaranteed that to their employee base on multiple occasions. These are breweries whose beers won the awards and hearts of beer drinkers the world over, laying the foundation for San Diego County’s reputation as an epicenter for craft beer innovation and quality. The same reputation that Saint Archer leveraged to look attractive to MillerCoors. The same reputation MillerCoors hopes to leverage to look attractive to consumers. Many are worried Big Beer’s presence will taint that reputation. Only time will tell in this latest “first” for San Diego’s brewing industry.
A press release with additional information is below.
SAN DIEGO and CHICAGO – Tenth and Blake, the craft and import division of MillerCoors, announced today an agreement to acquire a majority interest in Saint Archer Brewing Company.
Founded in San Diego in 2013 by a talented group of entrepreneurs, artists, skateboarders and surfers, Saint Archer brews an award-winning range of ales including Blonde Ale, IPA, White Ale and Pale Ale. Saint Archer expects to sell 35,000 barrels of beer in 2015, up more than 100 percent over 2014, making it one of the fastest-growing breweries in California. Tenth and Blake plans to support its continued growth under the ongoing leadership of Josh Landan, Saint Archer co-founder and president.
“We have always wanted to get great beer into more people’s hands,” said Landan. “We were fortunate that brewers big and small were interested in partnering with us, but Tenth and Blake was the clear choice. Tenth and Blake shares our passion for putting great beer first. Joining Tenth and Blake allows us to keep doing what we love right here in San Diego, but now with more resources to innovate and grow. With Tenth and Blake’s help, we hope to one day be a national brand.”
Saint Archer’s management and their team will continue to brew, package, ship, and sell Saint Archer’s outstanding portfolio of high-quality brands. Saint Archer will be run as a separate business unit of Tenth and Blake.
“We’re really excited about our partnership with Saint Archer,” said Scott Whitley, president and CEO of Tenth and Blake. “Saint Archer is consistent with our strategy of building our high-end portfolio while driving topline growth. Josh and his team represent everything we look for in a partner. Saint Archer brews award-winning ales across a variety of styles that are complementary to our current portfolio—including some outstanding IPAs. We’re excited at the prospect of working together to support the continued success of Saint Archer.”
Saint Archer picked up two gold medals at the 2014 San Diego International Beer Festival and a gold medal at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival.
Saint Archer joins other leading crafts in the Tenth and Blake portfolio, including Blue Moon Brewing Company, Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company, Crispin Cider Company and a minority equity stake in Terrapin Beer Company.
The transaction is expected to complete in October 2015. The terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
About Saint Archer Brewing Company:
Saint Archer Brewing Company was founded on a unique strain of creative talent: World-class brewers, Artists and Musicians, Surfers, Skateboarders and Snowboarders; all coming together with passion and commitment to express our collective true love – handcrafted beer. Saint Archer has been a long time in the tank and we hope you taste our appreciation and gratitude in every sip.www.saintarcherbrewery.com
About Tenth and Blake Beer Company:
Tenth and Blake is the craft and import division of MillerCoors. The Tenth and Blake family includes Blue Moon Brewing Co. at the SandLot in Denver, Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co. in Chippewa Falls, Wis., 10th Street Brewery in Milwaukee, Crispin Cider Company in Colfax, Calif., AC Golden in Golden, Colorado, Birra Peroni in Rome, Plzeňský Prazdroj (Pilsner Urquell) in Pilsen, Czech Republic, and a minority equity stake in Terrapin Beer Co. Tenth and Blake beers and ciders include Blue Moon Belgian White, Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy, Crispin Original, Peroni Nastro Azzurro, Pilsner Urquell, George Killian’s Irish Red, Colorado Native and Grolsch. You can find out more at www.Facebook.com/TenthAndBlake.
Studies of San Diego’s brewing industry have shown that there has been a 40% increase in the number of local craft beer-related jobs dating back to 2011. Additionally, local breweries reported a whopping $781.5 million in total beer sales in 2013. Statistics like these bolster the legitimacy and importance of San Diego’s brewing industry. Those numbers—and numerous high-quality local beers—have the full attention of City Councilman Chris Cate, who aims to work with the many brewers in his district (which covers the communities of Miramar, Kearny Mesa. Mira Mesa and Sorrento Valley) to help bring even more attention to their companies and help rise the proverbial tide. We caught up with him—over beer, of course—and asked about his inspiration and early efforts on his initiatives.
How did you become aware of the impact of brewing companies to San Diego’s economy, particularly in District 6?
I am a lifelong San Diegan and I’ve witnessed firsthand the craft beer industry thrive and small local craft breweries become nationally-known brands. There is a movement and desire both in and out of San Diego for our craft beer and I feel fortunate to represent a district that produces a majority of the beer. San Diego is the epicenter of the craft brewing industry and my goal is to brand District 6 as the go-to destination for craft beer.
Please explain the genesis of your plan to assist local breweries and help raise their visibility and prominence.
From Day One of my campaign, this has been a priority. I am an advocate for small business, job creation and economic development, and this is a serious industry that creates jobs and generates revenue for the City via sales and business tax. In addition to promoting entrepreneurship, there is a significant market for craft beer tourism. As a City leader, I feel I can provide a pathway to bring breweries together and highlight the great beer they make. We have a lot of breweries that are operating close to each other and an increase of visitors to the area will benefit everyone. My vision is to make these clusters a craft beer destination for beer lovers across the country.
Where are you in this process currently?
I am in the process of meeting with every one of the nearly 30 breweries in my district. I have met with over half and have received great feedback regarding our ideas. They all have different challenges and priorities depending on size, years of operation and the type of beer they brew, but they understand what is good for the industry as a whole is good for them. The one consistent thing I hear is that they are doing what they love to do and want to continue to do business here is San Diego.
What do you see as an ideal future for local breweries and how can the City help get those businesses there?
More and more entrepreneurs and enthusiasts are finding reasons to relocate and call San Diego home. As we continue to develop the craft beer sector of San Diego’s innovation economy, the City must continue to advance comprehensive economic development policies to attract, retain and expand these manufacturers. I believe there is an opportunity for the City to create strategic partnerships with industry leaders and local universities to educate and equip the next generation of craft brewers. San Diego is an extraordinary, growing market. There is only room to grow and I see a bright future for this industry.
What can San Diegans do to help breweries?
San Diegans are doing a great job supporting this industry already. It is great when you go to Petco Park or the San Diego County Fair and see craft beer being served and enjoyed. I would encourage San Diegans to visit some of the smaller breweries that do not get the attention of the larger breweries like Stone and AleSmith. Visiting the actual breweries is a way to try some of the experimental and off-the-shelf creations that you cannot get at the market. I also encourage folks to enjoy beer responsibly and in moderation.
What are some favorite beers from your district and where in your district do you like to enjoy them?
I’m always learning about different types of beer and what I enjoy, but if I had to choose a couple of “go-to” beers, they would probably be AleSmith’s X extra pale ale or Societe’s The Publican hoppy ale. A great spot where you’ll more than likely find me meeting with folks is Common Theory Public House on Convoy Street in Kearny Mesa. They showcase great beers and have delicious food.
In San Diego, there are more than 100 operating brewhouses putting out hundreds of award-winning beers, and each month features a plethora of quality beer fests. Given this, what would make San Diego craft enthusiasts sit at their computers, hitting refresh like heroine-charged rats at a feeder bar, trying feverishly to get tickets to a beer festival roughly 350 miles away? Why go to so much trouble with so much beery goodness here at home on a daily basis? All it takes is one visit to the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival (FWIBF) to figure it out.
Last weekend marked the fourth annual edition of this event, which always sells out mere minutes after tickets become available. Hosted by Firestone Walker Brewing Company at the Paso Robles Event Center, a short drive from its brewery headquarters, this was the first year I was able to attend. It required going through the narcotic-fueled vermin scenario, but it was worth it for a number of reasons—first and foremost, the beer. The 53 breweries that participated in this year’s FWIBF didn’t just bring their A-game, they scored A-pluses with college credit; the stuff 5.0s are made of.
Upon entering the event area, the first booth I encountered belonged to beer geek heroes 3 Floyds Brewing Company, an interest that doesn’t distribute its wares to Southern California, making the chance to try the various versions of its vaunted Dark Lord barrel-aged imperial stout, Zombie Dust pale ale and a Flemish sour playfully dubbed Big Tiddy Assassin, all the more exciting. Firestone Walker co-founder David Walker echoed that when stating a big motivation of the FWIBF—a mammoth undertaking that causes a great deal of thrash for the company’s employees—is attracting the breweries and beers he and his colleagues want to have around.
Among the far-off producers on-hand in Paso Robles this go-round were Vermont’s Alchemist, North Carolina’s Wicked Weed Brewing, Florida’s Cigar City Brewing, Colorado’s Funkwerks, Texas’ Jester King Brewery, New Mexico’s Marble Brewery, Missouri’s Side Project Brewing, Indiana’s Sun King Brewing, Germany’s Braufactum, Australia’s Bridge Road Brewers, Italian outfits Birrificio Del Ducato and Birrificio Italiano, and New Zealand’s 8 Wired Brewing Company and Garage Project. They joined the likes of darlings both enduring—Russian River Brewing Company, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery—and youthful—The Rare Barrel, FiftyFifty Brewing Company, Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project. It was all killer no filler, and that extended to the beers.
Whereas most festivals are a chance for companies to acquaint themselves with potential customers, many of which may be new to craft beer, this event is for nth-level ale and lager fans looking for rarer, more out-there offerings. As such, there were sours galore, a wide variety of barrel-aged beers, vintage library selections, one-offs and prototype brews. This extended to the San Diego breweries at the FWIBF. Green Flash Brewing Company busted out the barrel-aged ales of its newly debuted Cellar 3 facility, The Lost Abbey uncorked bottles of its Track 8 barrel-aged “oatmeal cookie” quadrupel, Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits poured an apricot and raspberry stoked version of Sour Wench, and Stone Brewing Co. treated attendees to archived cult fave collab Chris Banker/Stone/Insurgente Xocoveza Mocha Stout.
What makes these breweries go all out? Aside from being a part of something extraordinary and helping raise funds for Paso Robles Pioneer Day and the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, Firestone Walker makes it well worth their while. Brewers are granted accommodations that include meals and fun events including a brewers-only barbecue and a morning-after “wine down” at a local winery, complete with food, drink and games (competitive team-structured corn-hole, anyone?). It’s an event that’s every bit, if not more fun for the brewers as it is the people who come from far and wide to sample their suds. The latter receive unlimited beer samples and food from an assortment of Central Coast restaurants plus live music. Because the event isn’t oversold, there is enough room to move about the fairgrounds, and though there are some very long lines (the Alchemist line went more than 60 people deep most of the day), it’s never tough to get not only a beer, but a very good beer.
Even for someone living in the beer wonderland that is San Diego County, the FWIBF provides unique flavors and prized offerings in a multitude no local beer festival can match. It’s difficult to get in on, but most truly special things require a little extra work. Rest assured, effort expended on this endeavor will not be in vain.
From the Beer Writer: By day, I work at Stone Brewing Co. Among my many tasks is perpetual perusal of the company’s social media accounts. There is no one sentence I’ve read on our Facebook and Instagram feeds more than, “Bring back the DayMan!” This comes courtesy of the many, many beer enthusiasts who fell in love with the coffee India pale ale (IPA) of the same name Stone brewed collaboratively with Two Brothers Brewing Company and award-winning (then) Chicago homebrewers from Aleman Brewing Website back in 2012. Despite constant pleas from the public, the beer hasn’t been rebrewed, but the closest thing to it is currently on tap at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station. In celebration of that venue’s two-year anniversary, Liberty Station Brewing Manager Kris Ketcham used DayMan and other beers as inspiration for a “Mocha IPA” incorporating coffee, chocolate and milk sugar to give the hoppy concoction the flavor of an altogether different kind of “brew.” Cascade, Amarillo and Citra hops add interesting citrus notes to a roasty, semisweet beer that’s anything but ordinary and will go over well with Stone fans who’ve been jonesing for its co-inspiration like Starbucks addicts a week into caffeine withdrawals.
From the Brewer: “I’ve been contemplating this beer for a long time. I’m a fan of previous Stone collaboration beers, Aleman/Two Brothers/Stone DayMan Coffee IPA and Bodebrown/Stone Cacau IPA, as well as Stone Stochasticity Project Master of Disguise—a golden imperial stout incorporating coffee and cacao nibs. I decided I wanted to take all these great flavors and put them in one glass in hope of making something that resembled a mocha espresso you get from a local coffee shop. We used lactose in the brew to get a creamy base, golden espresso from San Marcos’ Ryan Bros. Coffee for the java flavor and a blend of stone-ground chocolate used in Stone w00tstout 2.0 plus some sent to me from my friends at Fort Myers Brewing Co. (that they use to brew their award-winning chocolate stout) to make everything sing together. The result is a beer that hits your nose with chocolate, followed by coffee and nice, hoppy citrus notes. It’s like someone took a coffee stout and an imperial IPA and made a love child. Some say it reminds them of a Mars candy bar on the palate.” —Kris Ketcham, Brewing Manager, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station