“We’re getting the band back together,” says Ray Astamendi, owner and brewmaster of Fall Brewing Co. Ray and his team of merry misfits fell on the northern end of 30th Street on the northern edge of North Park, opening the brewery late 2014. During his time at Mission Brewery, Ray won two GABF medals in 2007 for El Camino IPA (Bronze: Category 44, India Style Pale Ale) and El Amigo Light (Gold: Category 23 Münchner (Munich) Style Helles). Ray has worked for several other breweries in town, including Saint Archer. After leaving St. Archer, Ray scoured SD looking for a location to start his own brewery. His departures from previous breweries has not always been smooth. “In life, we fall from grace many times. No matter how many times we fall, we must get back up.” Fall Brewing is the first time Ray is completely in control. “I’ve never had the ability to play and experiment. We’re answering to no-one nor any conventional wisdom. We’re into beer, and we’re making what we like.” Ray is working to impress the discerning beer drinker.
He’s not alone. The other bandmates? Dave Lively and Mike Mellow.
Dave Lively, a talented graphic designer, has created album covers for local bands The Heartaches + Rocket From the Crypt to National acts such as Jack Johnson + G. Love and Special Sauce. In the local beer world, he’s responsible for the cool visual stylings of Livewire, The Casbah, The Station and Starlight – and has designed for both with Mission Brewery + Saint Archer. He’s now the “Creative Bad Ass” at Fall.
Mike Mellow is a skilled beer salesman that has worked for Ballast Point, Mission Brewery, Saint Archer and Mike Hess. Armed with years of beer slinging experience for some of the best in the local beer business, Mike’s excited to be part of the small, 7-human strong Fall.
As a trio, Astamendi, Lively and Mellow worked together at both Mission and Saint Archer. Hence, “getting the band back together.”
After signing the lease in January 2013, build out commenced that May and lasted until 15 minutes after the City of San Diego code inspector left the building in just before November 2014’s Beer Week. “We took the tape off the windows and people started trickling in,” Ray recalls. Their first beers have been well received, with standouts including Plenty for All Pilsner, 2AM Bike Ride Stout and Spirit of ‘77 IPA. Making good beer right out of the gate is tough for a new brewery, and Fall’s beers have started out great. They’re also improving.
The aesthetics are cool, too. The bar area is being slowly taken over by SoCal punk band posters, including many from Dave Lively’s stash. “We created a space we wanted to exist in,” he explains. “In creating the brand, I wanted a classic, positive theme: the harder you fall, the better you get.”
Plans are in the works to begin packaging in the future. For now, the focus is on developing the beer while modestly earning tap handles at bars. “We have over 52 draft accounts,” says Mellow. “We want to keep the level low and manageable at first, so we’re being picky.” Fall has enjoyed huge support from the Uptown beer community, with handles at Small Bar, Tiger!Tiger!, Blind Lady, Live Wire, Hamilton’s and Monkey Paw.
Events are going to be a focus as well for the new brewery. Already, a hot-dog competition was held between Fathom Bistro and Carnitas Snack Shack. Keep an eye on their events page for more info.
San Diego’s craft beer scene has come full circle before Arsalun Tafazoli’s eyes.
When Tafazoli opened Neighborhood Ale House in 2006, he didn’t want it to be another bar in Downtown where shiny-shirts came to get hammered. Instead, the 25-year-old San Diego native wanted a place where beer would be appreciated for having substance.
“When we were starting out, young brewers would come in and tell stories about how they mortgaged their houses—put everything on the line to get their product out there,” says Tafazoli. “There was so much passion behind it. It was incredible to me that it didn’t have the same credibility as wine.”
Tafazoli made moves. His staff of mostly women were pros on the ins and outs of beer styles and food pairings. He regularly hosted meet-the-brewer nights―with out of towners like the venerable Dogfish Head and Allagash. Lee Chase (Blind Lady Ale House, Automatic Brewing Co., Tiger! Tiger!) was hired as Neighborhood’s first beverage manager.
“If Lee’s behind the bar pouring you a beer—to this day—he’ll get you behind it. It’s amazing to watch,” says Tafazoli of Chase, a mad beer scientist of sorts who worked as head brewer at Stone for nearly 10 years until 2006. “That got really hip; people would come in to taste more stuff. We’d get letters saying ‘I didn’t know what good beer was before.’ We really built a community one person at a time.”
Around the time of the housing market crash, there was a boom of creativity among brewers, says Tafazoli. And newly-broke winos took note. This is when Neighborhood took off, and gave rise to a new order of local establishments.
“San Diego is littered with gastro pubs now,” Tafazoli says. “Nowadays, the word “craft,” the term “farm to table”—it’s all been commodified. It’s a trend that people exploit. You see these banners hanging in front of places everywhere say “craft beer.” It’s more than getting a tap system installed; that’s just one component in the context of this bigger picture. You have to make sure the whole story makes sense or else it doesn’t work.”
Having grown from 33 breweries in 2007 to 88 at time of print, some of the craft beer scene’s original players are wary of its sustainability.
“It used to be that there was this young guy starting a brewery, and you’d want to support it. And now every day it’s someone else. It’s great for the proliferation of the culture, but I think some people are getting into the business for the wrong reasons.”
Tafazoli’s approach to success has launched what is today one of San Diego’s most ambitious and talked about hospitality brands, Consortium Holdings (CH). In 2008 he joined forces with Nate Stanton (El Dorado), when both of their businesses were gaining momentum in the up and coming East Village. Since, the two have undeniably elevated drinking and dining culture in San Diego with eight successful concepts and counting.
It doesn’t hurt to have a dream team behind their backs, with two-star Michelin Chef, Jason McLeod, helming kitchen operations for all the projects, and highly reputed bartenders like Erick Castro (Polite Provisions) and Anthony Schmidt (formerly of Noble Experiment, now headed to new project Rare Form). Then there’s local designer Paul Basile, whose past projects include Bankers Hill Restaurant + Bar and Acme Southern Kitchen.
Just last year, CH won national praise for two of its projects. The speakeasy Noble Experiment (designed by Mauricio Couturier) made Esquire Magazine’s top 100 bars list and Polite Provisions won Imbibe Magazine’s Cocktail Bar of the Year. The James Beard Foundation also loved Erick Castro’s Mayan Concubine cocktail at Polite, naming it one of their favorites of 2013, from a spot that opened the same year, no less.
“We want our spaces to promote our core values. It’s why we don’t do vodka or shit beer, and think about every aspect of a space—because it’s a reflection of who we are and what we want to perpetuate to our community,” says Tafazoli. “It was the Greg Kochs [Stone CEO] and the Lee Chases who reaffirmed what I thought. At first, people were coming in to Neighborhood and not getting it, and sticking to our identity and not watering it down—back when everything was on the line—that’s what made us.”
CH’s first all-out culinary endeavor, Ironside Oyster, has been packed since opening in early May. In the works are North Park’s Underbelly, an East Village juice bar, and Rare Form, a Jewish Deli that will share space with a Stone tasting room in the historic Simon Levi building next to Petco Park.
Tafazoli says of the perceived “seasonal” neighborhood, “The stadium has shaped the cultural geography of East Village, and not in a good way. Too many businesses cater to the stadium crowd. It’s not about walk-by traffic for us, it’s about the great community of people who live there,” he says. “We’ll create a synergy there with the two different businesses. The idea is that our core values are very much alike. Stone knows who they are, they stuck to it, and it’s been effective. They paved the way for a lot of people. You have to respect it.”
No one could have predicted the force that craft beer would play in the trajectory of Tafazoli’s businesses, let alone its tremendous impact on the local economy. Tafazoli points out that the proof lies in a craft beer newspaper like West Coaster—something most people wouldn’t have looked twice at a decade ago.
Still, Tafazoli remains cautiously optimistic about San Diego’s brewing future.
“A lot of brewing companies have popped up without understanding the soul and economics of the business. Unfortunately, I don’t think a lot of these guys will be able to sustain,” he says. “In the end, I want everyone in the community to be successful, but unfortunately capitalism is harsh. I think there is a lot of local talent sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see how things play out. I see them stepping up as other people phase out. Then, we’re going to experience a stronger renaissance.”
Still looking for Mother’s Day plans? Well, luckily the San Diego beer community has you covered.
One nice option is the “Bring Mom Out For A Beer Day” hop on/hop off bus that will shuttle you and mom, for free, to these bars between 11am and 3:30pm: Blind Lady Ale House in Normal Heights, Tiger!Tiger! Tavern in North Park, Small Bar in University Heights, Hamiltons Tavern in South Park, and Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery in the East Village. There will be fresh roses at Monkey Paw, and drink/food specials around the circuit. This is a great way to show mom all the places she knows you already frequent, and it will make for lasting, or not so lasting, memories.
Or, take a short road trip out to Ramona with mom and visit the guys from Liquid Glass Co., whose tap handles you read about on page 20 of the April 2012 issue of West Coaster. Glass art experts Greg Hosterman and Dan McStocker host an open studio event every Mother’s Day weekend with catered lunch, live glass blowing demonstrations and plenty of glass art to admire or shop from. The event is open to all ages, and goes from 10am – 4pm on Saturday as well as Sunday.
After a dispute with the owner, Greg Tavangar and George Thornton walked out of their jobs two weeks ago at Home Brews & Gardens, according to Thornton. The two served as managers and also instructors at the home brew supply shop located on Thorn Street in North Park. Their popular home brew classes took place behind the store, in a cool open-air, semi-covered garage space covered with talented graffiti. The future of the home brew shop is unknown. Thornton mentioned that there were plans to transform the shop into a brewpub. Calls to Dennis O’Conner, the shop’s owner, had not been returned as of Monday afternoon.
Both Thornton and Tavangar will continue working in the home brew shop scene.
Thornton confirmed that he’s opening The Homebrewer in North Park. Located at 2911 El Cajon Blvd., near Pacific Liquor and a block away from Tiger!Tiger!, Thornton has signed the lease and plans to open early March. The Homebrewer will be the 2nd home brew supply shop that has opened in 2012. The first: Smokin Beaver in Escondido.
Tavangar has headed east, where he’s been working at All About Brewing in El Cajon. The shop’s owner Jim Nunnally couldn’t be more thrilled. “He needed a job, and I needed help,” said Nunnally, who had high praise of Tavangar. “He’s going to help my store get to the next level.”
Updated 2/6/12 2:36PM
Dennis O’ Conner returned my phone call and we spoke about the past, present, and future of Home Brews and Gardens.
The past: regarding the departure of employees: O’Conner said “I wish them the best of luck.” Apparently the store hadn’t turned a profit and changes needed to be made, but there’s no hard feelings.
The present: the area that was formerly the home brew and gardening shop is currently gutted. Home brew classes are unaffected, and the next classes are Saturday at noon (taught by Tom Cook). O’Conner highly recommends RSVPing soon as the 40 person classes have been popular.
The future: the plan is to renovate the space and open a nano brewery with a small tasting room. The tasting room will be inspired by Stone’s model of limited tastings (Stone South Park allows for a flight, but not much more). There will be a nano brewery named Thorn Street Brewery. Optimistic plans include a Summer opening date. Once opened, the focus of the business will have shifted from home brew supplies and towards brewing, hosting beer education events, and holding community events. O’Conner states he has a top notch brewer lined up, but he’s not saying who just yet.
Tiger!Tiger!‘s “Belated-Ultra-Grand Opening” began last night with a barrel-aged beer showcase and continued this morning with a visit from Mayor Jerry Sanders, who performed the ribbon-cutting ceremony with owner Lee Chase. Mayor Sanders, who just a few days ago held his staff holiday party at Blind Lady Ale House, Tiger!Tiger!’s sister bar a mile away, commented to Chase that he wasn’t able to find the new El Cajon Boulevard tavern because there was no sign. Chase responded that a sign would be going up on Friday as part of their grand opening weekend, and Mayor Sanders needed no further invitation to stop by and take a tour of the premises. Ironically, Chase also received the beer and wine serving license for the establishment just this morning (they had been working on a temporary license transferred from the previous owners). Next week, Chase and company will apply for a new license that would allow beer and wine to be consumed in the back patio area.
The festivities continue through the weekend. Tonight, if you dress festive enough, $2 Green Flash Winter Warmers are available at the Holiday El Ca-Ho-Ho-Ho-n Happy Hour from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. or until supplies run out. Tomorrow from 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. an event with local non-profit dog rescue The Barking Lot and Lagunitas Brewing will see a big raffle and some goodies on tap. At 9 p.m. the highly-coveted Firestone Walker 14th and 15th Anniversary beers will be tapped side-by-side, and for quite the deal: $10 for both or one for $7. Sunday morning (11:30 a.m.) starts off with Coffee, Beer & Doughnuts, featuring Mission Dark Seas Imperial Stout blended with goodness from local roasters Cafe Calabria and house-made doughnuts. New “late morning” menu items will also be debuted. Then at noon you’re invited to embark on a bicycle beer run to Pizza Port OB to pick up their new Pilsner, the first from head brewer Yiga Miyashiro. For $30 you get a very limited first edition Tiger!Tiger! cycling cap, a beer and doughnuts before the ride, a beer at Pizza Port, and then the PP Pilsner back at Tiger!Tiger!. More info on these events can be found here.