Before Ballast Point Brewing was a company capable of commanding decuple figures, before it grew into San Diego County’s largest brewery and one of the biggest beer-producers in the country, before there even was a brewery called Ballast Point, there was Home Brew Mart (HBM). That Linda Vista hobby shop—one of the first to grace America’s Finest City—opened quietly in 1992 and, over the following quarter-century, has ignited a fire for recreational fermentation within a great many ale-and-lager neophytes. That includes individuals who now own breweries and brew professionally. Some of that contingent even worked for HBM in its early days. In celebration of the big two-five, Ballast Point is creating Family Reunion collaboration beers with those ex-employees as well as former BP brewers, an impressive assemblage of well-known, award-winning talent.
Several of the beers have already been released, while others are scheduled to be brewed in time for them to all be on-tap at HBM’s 25th anniversary event on September 24. The following is a breakdown of the collaborators, their creations and their past.
In an effort to increase its current employee base’s knowledge on the history of BP and its eldest venue, vice president Colby Chandler asked each collaborator to speak to present-day brewers about their time with the company, how it was then and how it prepared them to venture out on their own. Many said that making beer at such a fast-growing brewing company provided them wide-ranging experience as well as reference points for overcoming myriad obstacles. According to Chandler, many brewery owners, in particular, felt their time with BP made it much easier once they were working for themselves.
In addition to the HBM anniversary event, BP is also holding a series of beer-pairing dinners incorporating the aforementioned collaboration brews at HBM. The next will take place on August 24 and include five courses served with Swemiceros, Bay to Bay, Scripps Tease and various other BP beers. Chandler, Tweet, Stephens, LeBlanc and Ceniceros will all be in attendance.
In San Diego County, brewery-touring is such a popular activity that even businesses that are off the beaten path garner a good deal of traffic from fans who seek them out. While our neighbors to the north in Temecula enjoy a burgeoning beer scene as well, it has yet to progress to the point where citizens and visitors chart courses for far-off business parks. Though one of the municipality’s most popular fermentation operations, Ironfire Brewing Company receives zero walk- or drive-by patronage, but it has multiple plans to fix that, and they involve projects in both Riverside and San Diego Counties.
The first—a satellite tasting room in Temecula’s well-traversed Old Town area—is more fleshed out at present. Located at 42081 Third Street, the site is adjacent to the cul-de-sac on the west end of the street backing up to Murrieta Creek, and in immediate proximity to City Hall’s free parking garage. The tasting room will be installed in a brand-new, 2,000-square-foot space that will be outfitted in an old-west motif mimicking that of Ironfire’s original tasting room. The facility will be equipped with two-dozen taps, two of which will be nitro in nature with another devoted to sour, funky beers.
This will be Old Town Temecula’s first brewery tasting room. The brewery will look to team with nearby restaurants to provide multiple food options to patrons. While Ironfire vice president and lead brewer Greg Webb would like to install a pilot system, the site is not zoned for manufacturing. With any luck, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) will approve plans for an outdoor patio looking out onto Third Street and the hills west of Old Town.
Meanwhile, down in San Diego County’s southernmost city, Imperial Beach, Ironfire has partnered with chef-entrepreneur Steve Brown, who aims to install a large restaurant project called The Shipping Yard on the corner of Date Avenue and Seacoast Drive. Planned as a campus constructed out of repurposed shipping containers, it has yet to take shape. According to Webb, his and Brown’s teams continue to discuss details about the project, but have yet to come to a final determination. The only thing they know at present is that it will be “like nowhere else and all-out epic.”
Native American-owned family business Indian Joe Brewing was a hit in a municipality drenched in craft-beer. Despite capacity issues, the small Vista brewery gained a cult-following while pushing the envelope beyond the limits of conventional beer. It was a sweet success story squashed by landlord issues roughly two years into the business’ existence. But owners Max Moran and Geri Lawson were determined to carry on. Come January 23, they will open the doors to Indian Joe Brewing 2.0 (2123 Industrial Court, Vista), a much larger, two-story facility with a double-decker tasting room, outdoor patio and lots more beer. We caught up with Lawson to find out what’s in store for long lost fans and newcomers alike.
What is a key difference for Indian Joe Brewing this time around?
The second coming of Indian Joe is going to be awesome; the same great people, the same great beers, but with more convenience and a lot more capacity. We were so fortunate to have so many loyal fans and followers at the old facility. We just couldn’t keep up with the demand. We regularly brewed around-the-clock, praying not to hear that dreaded burst of foamy air come through the tap-head, signaling another blown keg in our small tasting room. When the new Indian Joe opens, we will not only have the capacity to satisfy loyal patrons of our tasting room, but we will have the ability to bottle or can the customer-favorites for distribution.
What are the advantages of your new brewing system?
The new brewhouse includes the best industry tools and equipment, which are capable of producing 60 times the beer that our old system could. This includes a state-of-the-art water treatment and analytics system so that precise water profiles can be used on each and every batch. Not only do we have the additional capacity we so desperately needed to produce our great beers, but we also have the additional space required to hold our fruit-beers and sours isolated from our standard IPAs, stouts, porters and our other ales to ensure customers get served the highest quality product available.
Please tell us about the new brewer you hired.
Max is teaming up with Grant Heuer, who developed his expertise in brewing at Big Dogs Brewing Company in Las Vegas, and closer to home at Refuge Brewery and Relentless Brewing, both of which are in Temecula. He’s a native Texan, but went to college in Holland, which helped him achieve a very broad palate and earn his Cicerone certification. We chose Grant because, not only does he have a fun-loving, outgoing personality (similar to us), but he’s very knowledgeable on a variety of beer styles. Grant’s passion is IPAs, and he loves a variety of hop, so expect to see lots of IPA offerings. But he also loves wild sours as much as we do, so expect to see plenty of those. If you have a chance to meet Grant, you’ll see why we love him.
What will the public component of the new facility be like?
We are as excited about the added capacity and technology that the new campus brings as we are about the new tasting room. It was important that we not lose that close-knit, comfortable “speakeasy” feel of the old tasting room, so it was considered with every decision on the new tasting room. Amenities will accommodate all types of consumers, and include a private-event space, huge-screen TVs, high-fidelity digital audio, heated outdoor patio, high-capacity restrooms, pub tables and loungers, all of which are ADA accessible. For those of you that came to our old location and loved our beers, you can expect our Joe Rita, White Sage IPA, our award-winning Apricot/Peach Hefeweizen, as well as our award-winning Mango Sour to be ready and waiting to tantalize your taste buds.
Until this month, the farthest I’d driven to check out locally owned brewery properties was Nickel Beer Company in Julian or Pizza Port’s San Clemente brewpub. But I easily eclipsed the distance to those out-there spots when, while on vacation in Washington, DC, I rented a car and drove south to Richmond, Virginia, to see the 14-acre East Coast incarnation of Stone Brewing.
It sounds funny, but I knew I was there when I saw the huge brown building with no sign. Stone CEO Greg Koch has a rule against such markers, wanting the company’s venues to be enough of a destination that they aren’t simply happened upon. That has worked in the past on Escondido’s Citracado Parkway. When the company’s current headquarters was built, there was little else on that road. Such is the case in the Fulton section of Richmond, where the intent is for Stone to play a major role in revitalizing an area of the city that has been mostly ignored or forgotten.
Guests can approach Stone Brewing – RVA from unattached parking lots on the east or north side of the sprawling 200,000-square-foot brewery. Both routes take visitors across bridges of varying lengths and designs. From the north, a covered bridge takes one under an operating set of railroad tracks. On the east, an angled and enclosed two-part bridge traverses a tall-grassed lawn leading to the beginnings of a garden, including vegetation and a retaining pond. Both bring imbibers to a patio area featuring umbrella-equipped picnic benches, most of which were packed with people the Saturday afternoon I stopped by.
Double doors lead into a spacious tasting room. To the right are more tables and more gargoyle merchandise than you can shake a mash-paddle at. To the left is the main-event, a bar stocked with beers from Stone and its sister-operation, Arrogant Brewing. Although the brewery was constructed to handle heavy-duty brewing of core beers such as Stone IPA (a new recipe for which is currently in circulation, replacing the original flagship) and Stone Ruination Double IPA 2.0, a number of rare and seasonal beers are regularly shipped there from the Escondido brewery to keep things interesting and give fans a reason to return.
Brewery tours are offered, in which guests are escorted up a staircase and ushered through a set of gargoyle horn-adorned wooden doors leading to the deck of the facility’s 250-barrel Krones brewhouse. Coming in at the size of competitor Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits’ newest brewing apparatus, it is built for the same purpose—to pump out beer in multiple batches and keep a nation of beer consumers supplied with ales. Currently, Stone Brewing – RVA has eight 1,000-barrel fermenter tanks and as many 250-barrel fermenters, plus four 1,000-barrel bright tanks up and operational. But there’s room for an eventual 40 tanks.
Peter Wiens (formerly of Anheuser Busch-InBev and, more locally, Temecula’s Wiens Brewing Company) is in charge of brewing operations in Richmond. He and roughly eight other employees from the Escondido facility came over to take up various roles in RVA. And a number of other brewing and packaging employees came over from the nearby Budweiser facility in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Beyond the brewery lies a wealth of packaging muscle. Modern technology is everywhere, providing more automation than the Escondido facility. That machinery includes a state-of-the-art Krones bottling line capable of filling 600 bottles-per-minute. In the not-too-distant future, a canning line will be added to the mix. Also on the production floor is a sizeable quality assurance lab that Stone allows lab-less local breweries to use. But that isn’t where RVA brewing camaraderie ends. Already, Stone has brewed collaboration beers with and at numerous Richmond operations.
The projected production goal for Stone Brewing – RVA’s first 12 months of operation is forecast at 100,000 barrels of beer. This will allow the company to distribute that product to all states east of the Mississippi by the end of this summer. Having spent a great deal of time at Stone’s Escondido brewery, I found the layout and innovation behind its Richmond counterpart to be both impressive and encouraging. So, too, was the fact that the seven-days-a-week operation has garnered a good amount of business, while establishing a solid stock of regulars.
Seeing Stone through a new set of eyes—the eyes of the Richmond employees as well as the city’s denizens—felt different…and really good. It reminded me of what it was like to discover Stone back in the late ‘90s, where people found themselves in awe that something so cool was right in their backyard. Best of all—and I mean no disrespect to fans of Arrogant Bastard Ale (it was my first craft-beer, after all)—none of the “Arrogance” has settled into the Richmond facility as of yet. There is no leftover air of you’re not worthy pompousness that needs to be wiped clean. The roughly 60 RVA employees are mostly brand-new and extremely excited to be part of this venture, as well they should be. That leads to a great level-of-service and overall friendliness that I very much enjoyed.
I found myself rather proud to see Virginians enjoying an authentically hoppy and justifiably proud taste of San Diego County, more than 2,600 miles removed from my hometown. Even without the two-story Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens restaurant that will debut down the hill near the James River sometime next year, Stone Brewing – RVA provides plenty of reasons to visit and a great deal of promise for the future.
Green Flash Virginia Beach Update
Just as this article was going to press, Mira Mesa-based Green Flash Brewing Company announced that its East Coast facility in nearby Virginia Beach, Virginia, would open to the public on November 13. In celebration, the company will offer a full week of events, including the third annual East Coast iteration of its Treasure Chest Fest benefiting the Susan G. Komen breast-cancer charity organization the day prior to the official debut, November 12. The estimated annual production capacity for the Virginia Beach facility will be 100,000 barrels. Construction of the brewery can be viewed via an online live-cam.