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.
Breweries make the best margin by far when selling their beer in their taprooms. With a county expansive as San Diego, getting customers to a single location can be a challenge, but the satellite tasting room model—one where a brewery opens a non-brewing sampling space in a geographically removed community—has proven quite successful in helping brewing companies reach new customers, move inventory and generate additional revenue. Many satellites have been sent into orbit throughout the county in recent years, and quite a few are in different states of planning at present. Here is a breakdown of such projects by the neighborhoods they may someday call home.
Bay Park: As announced earlier this week, Grantville-based Benchmark Brewing Company has signed a lease on a space. The family-run business had been exploring the prospect of opening a satellite in Oceanside, but ultimately decided to stay within the City of San Diego.
Carlsbad: A collective of artisans will someday share space with crops of produce, wine grapes and hops at the North 40 development. Numerous tenants have been reeled in over the past two years (and many have walked away), but Miramar’s AleSmith Brewing Company and Carmel Mountain’s Second Chance Beer Company are signed up, with the former hoping to sell house-made cheese with its beer.
Chula Vista: Fresh off the high of moving into Twisted Manzanita Ales’ former production brewery (and distillery) in Santee, Groundswell Brewing Company is working to open a sampling space on downtown Chula Vista’s main drag, Third Avenue…right across the street from soon-to-debut Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing Company.
Encinitas: Though a community that’s openly resisted brewery-owned venues, this beachy berg has two breweries slogging against the tide for space on Coast Highway 101: Point Loma’s Modern Times Beer Company (across from La Paloma Theatre) and Solana Beach’s Culture Brewing Company (next to Bier Garden of Encinitas).
Marina District: Developers have spent the better part of the past year curating a list of breweries to share space at The Headquarters at Seaport Village. Planned as a central courtyard surrounded by six identical yet uniquely appointed brewery tasting rooms, it has proven challenging for a variety of reasons, but would create a concept unique to San Diego.
Normal Heights: Longtime craft-beer champion Blind Lady Ale House will soon have some sudsy company in their ‘hood care of Miramar-based Little Miss Brewing, which is hard at work on two fun-and-games equipped tasting rooms within San Diego proper.
North Park: Another interest with two satellites in the works is Second Chance, who recently revealed plans to open a tasting room on 30th Street in North Park, across the street from popular beer-bar Toronado and doors down from the site of Ritual Kitchen, which announced last week that it will soon shut its doors after 10 years in business.
Ocean Beach: Little Miss Brewing’s other upcoming satellite will join the county’s most tasting room-dense community, on the same block as Belching Beaver Brewery, Culture, Helm’s Brewing Company and Kilowatt Brewing Company; and a short walk from OB Brewery and Pizza Port OB; and a quick drive from Mike Hess Brewing Company’s sampler.
Pacific Beach: Downtown’s Mission Brewery is geared to cash in on partygoers’ thirst for beer, installing a tasting room on Garnet Avenue where it intersects with Gresham Street. PB is currently without a brewery satellite after Twisted Manzanita’s closed down when the company folded last year.
This May is packed with beery events covering everything from local brews and grooves to sours and Belgian beers to the age-old question, “Mother may I…drink beer!” Check out some of these highlighted happenings, then consult our full list of local beer events here.
May 9 | O’Brien’s Loves Craft Beer Mamas: No offense, ma, but Mother’s Day has been known to drive me to drink. Turn the tables and drive mom to drink by driving her to O’Brien’s Pub to toast motherhood with roughly a dozen female parental powerhouses from San Diego’s brewing industry, all of which will tap and toast some of their favorite beers. | O’Brien’s Pub, 4646 Convoy Street, Kearny Mesa, 5 p.m.
May 14 | Rhythm & Brews Festival: This one might sound familiar. The San Diego Brewers Guild‘s beer-and-music festival was originally scheduled for last month, but (the threat of) rain washed it clean into may. Let’s hope April showers yield May flowers in the form of a bouquet of awesome local beers paired with a variety of high-powered musical acts. | Vista Village District, Vista, VIP: 12 p.m., General Admission: 1 p.m.
May 14 | Amps & Ales: The #SouthBayUprising is real and a great chance to experience it will be during this festival from Chula Vista’s Third Avenue Village Association, which has assembled dozens of San Diego breweries, including the South Bay’s own Border X Brewing, Bay Bridge Brewing, Novo Brazil Brewing and Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing for one enchanted afternoon. | 353 Third Avenue, Chula Vista, 12 p.m.
May 15 | Stone Belgian Fest: Being San Diego County’s largest brewing company and running the city’s largest restaurant makes for a lot of pull, and on this day, Stone Brewing will pull Trappist beers, strong ales, wits, sours and more all the way from Belgium to Liberty Station for a festival of epic, international proportions. | Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station, 2816 Historic Decatur Road, #116, Point Loma, 12 p.m.
May 26 | Toolbox Beer Dinner: Surprisingly many are the chefs who claim sour beers aren’t good for pairing with food. This is nonsense, but it can be challenging to compose a multi-course feast using only sours. Churchill’s Pub exec chef A.G. Warfield has the gastro goods to go with Toolbox Brewing Company’s variety of Brett-borne and fruited-sour delights. | Churchill’s Pub & Grlle, 887 West San Marcos Boulevard, San Marcos, 7 p.m.
In this continuing, four-part series attempting to predict the most exciting upcoming brewery projects in San Diego County, I’m offering my most educated guesses as to what businesses figure to be of higher-quality once open, and looking at my track record in assessing the futures of such businesses over the past three-plus years. Last week, I tackled North County, followed by the Western portions of SD. Today is all about San Diego’s more southerly expanses.
North Park Beer Co., North Park: This operation has been on the list for the entire time I’ve been tracking this sort of thing, but finally…finally…it looks to be very close to actually opening. The former MMA gym this long-anticipated brewery and tasting room calls home is almost completely converted, much to the elation of the denizens of its namesake community. Once open, look for the coveted Hop Fu IPA and, eventually, some barrel-aged treats from the cellar.
Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing Company, Chula Vista: This punk-rock themed business has been producing beers through a unique rotating-proprietorship agreement with Santee’s Butchers Brewing Company, but recently took over a two-story (three if you count the basement) spot right on Chula Vista’s main drag. It’ll be the municipality’s first downtown brewery and with as much support as they’re providing these punks, the place should turn out quite nice.
Brewery Igniter, North Park: Developer H.G. Fenton built its initial “Brewery Igniter” complex (a pair of ready-to-use brewery/tasting room suites) in Miramar, the success of which has them constructing a trio of similar but larger spots on El Cajon Boulevard. Only one tenant is official so far, Pariah Brewing Company, but this is a fiscally sound model that should appeal to numerous aspiring brewery owners, offering reason for optimism.
Past Promising Projects: North
2013: Ballast Point Tasting Room & Kitchen (Little Italy; Grade—A; at the time, the most beers of any of the former craft-brewery’s venues), Mike Hess Brewing Company – North Park (North Park; Grade—B; a uniquely appealing tasting room with views of the brewery below), Birifficio Calabria (North Park; Grade: N/A; Caffe Calabria’s nano never came to fruition)
2014: South Park Brewing Company (South Park; Grade—A; straightforward, award-winning beer out of the gate); Half Door Brewing Company (East Village; Grade—B; started slow, but a great addition to the Petco Park area)
2015: ChuckAlek Independent Brewers – North Park (North Park; Grade: N/A; opens tomorrow!)