North County’s Belching Beaver Brewery boasts five locations throughout San Diego County—a large production facility in Oceanside, an indoor-outdoor brewpub in Old Town Vista, tasting rooms in North Park and Ocean Beach, and its original Vista brewery. With so many properties and ownership’s eyes on potential future facilities north of San Diego, there were plans to let go of the latter, but an idea from creative employees of the five-year-old company to add an in-house food component to the spot where it all began for the Beav’ saved it from being sold. After eight months of design and construction, that concept, Pub980 (980 Park Center Drive, Vista) is set to debut to the public on Monday, January 15.
Much like when the company took over a former bank and converted it into Belching Beaver Brewery Tavern and Grill, one can’t help but speculate at how well an interest most known for fermentation will do with a restaurant concept. And much as with its first foray into food service, Belching Beaver has come through with flying colors with Pub980. What was once a single-suite combination brewery and tasting room now utilizes double the indoor square-footage to deliver a split concept that relies on a shared bar to deliver a choose-your-own-adventure experience.
Visitors to Pub980 who merely want to sample through Belching Beaver’s beers can do so in the original tasting room on the right side of the space, while those who wish to dine can head left where high-top wooden tables of varying sizes await, dressed with red, lumberjack flannel runners conveying a camping theme that’s driven home by numerous clever elements. Those include a beautiful living wall with a pair of tents pitched above it that hovers over a stone-enclosed fish pond, tree branches bundled into a wall in front of the restrooms and the pièce de résistance, a fully operational kitchen made to look like a towed-in trailer complete with white-wall tires. These elements mesh nicely with oak-occupied barrel racks, strands of hanging bulbs and a large Chuck E. Cheese-like beaver statue (the non-creepy audio-animatronic type).
Additionally, the Belching Beaver team has done a great job incorporating a pre-existing outdoor patio complete with fire-pits and Adirondack chairs (a design staple that can also be found at its original brewpub). To really bring home the camping motif, the kitchen offers hot-dog and s’mores kits complete with lengthy skewers so patrons can prepare their own vittles over open flames should the mood strike them. Those are offered on top of a robust menu of pub grub ranging from hot wings, cheese curds, fish tacos and sandwiches to a surprisingly wide array of salads. The menu isn’t a huge departure from the original pub (it was developed by the same chef), but it is intentionally different. Owner Tom Vogel and company aren’t naïve to the fact Belching Beaver’s pair of eateries are a mere six miles apart, and want to offer unique experiences at each.
On the food side, particularly impressive are the cheesesteaks, which are authentic in their use of shaved quality ribeye, but upgrade the fromage element, going with real cheese and “Beaver beer cheese” versus Philly-preferred Whiz. A Classic, SoCal (avocado, Swiss and jalapeño-avocado sauce) Hawaiian (Kalua pork, pineapple and teriyaki sauce) and chicken-bacon versions are available. Burgers, a Chicago dog, assorted wraps and Troy’s corn dog (named after brewmaster Troy Smith) round out the hand-held mains. The latter isn’t the only item named for someone. Vogel dug in his heels to get Tom’s fried clams on the menu. They can be had with a beer for a discounted price the Friday during week-long grand-opening festivities, January 15-20, when a different $9.80 food-and-drink deal will be offered each day.
Pub980 is very well done, especially given the relatively modest size of the project. Vogel says the new venue is all about family, and that creating a place where parents can bring their kids to do more than sit around while their parents drank beer was a big focus during the design phase. Having visited during a rehearsal dinner service where children were present (and having made s’mores with several of them outside) I can say with confidence they’ve come through in spades on this objective. Pub980 should serve those who venture to it, as well as the clientele lured from the many nearby business and industrial parks, quite well.
Pub980’s hours of operation will be 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 11 am. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays.
North County’s Belching Beaver Brewery has spent much of the past two years focused on a multi-pronged expansion that’s seen it open a headquarters and production facility in Oceanside, brewpub in Vista and tasting room in Ocean Beach. Now that those pieces are in place, the company is ready to shift its attention to a new slate of rather large undertakings.
The first of those initiatives is a brand refresh. The company will roll-out its new logo in March, but West Coaster has been granted a sneak-peek at it as well as packaging and advertisements the new design will grace. The new mark represents a paring down of the original beaver. Now his head carries the day surrounded by arched typography. Together, these elements provide a circular visual that should work for the brand from a utilitarian placement standpoint.
As far as packaging goes, 22- and 12-ounce bottles, plus the cardboard holders for the latter, give the beaver back a bit of body. Each beer-style features graphic elements pertaining to the liquid inside. The refresh is the work of Belching Beaver artist Tyler Soule. Owner Tom Vogel brought him on specifically for this job and told him to “have some fun”. It would appear he did just that.
Also having fun will be Peter Perrecone, the brewer in charge of Belching Beaver’s barrel-aged sour-beer program. Vogel says the company is adding fermentation capacity by installing a pair of 60-barrel oak foudres at its original brewery on Park Center Drive in Vista. If all goes as planned, Belching Beaver will release new sour ales on a monthly basis.
But that’s far from all. The company is also taking steps to get into both the spirits and cider business. Vogel has been pushing for the former for years, while the head of his brewpub, Thomas Peters, has wanted to experiment with the latter. The decision was made to explore both last year. Vogel expects the spirits to come on first, with vodka as its introductory product, followed by whiskey.
Liquor and cider production will take place at the original Vista brewery, which will be gutted and reconfigured. Much of this was motivated by Belching Beaver acquiring the space next-door to that venue. In addition to mechanical and storage upgrades, expect a redesigned, upgraded tasting room.
Belching Beaver Brewery’s growth has been some of the fastest and most obvious of any local brewing company. What started as a single, Vista-based brewery operation has come to include (in order of construction) a North Park tasting room, Oceanside production brewery, Vista indoor-outdoor brewpub and, as of last month, a second satellite tasting room in Ocean Beach. It’s a lot of properties to manage. Might there be some sort of potential consolidation in the works…or perhaps even more expansion. A recent conversation with Belching Beaver owner Tom Vogel confirms that anything is possible, but nothing has been decided.
Even with two brewhouses in Vista—a 15-barrel system at the original headquarters plus a 10-barrel system at the brewpub—and 60,000 annual production capacity at its current Oceanside base of operations, Vogel would like to add a small production facility to his empire. This one would be outside San Diego, within Los Angeles’ budding beer-scene. He would also like to see a tasting room or two connecting the dots from SD to LA in Orange County.
Belching Beaver is currently scouting both LA and the OC for potential sites. Vogel is currently focusing on Tustin and Huntington Beach on the tasting-room front, and sees Culver City as an advantageous spot for a production facility. He actually attempted to sign a lease on a space within that community, but parking issues squashed the deal. Should a brewery be installed in LA, it will be much smaller than Belching Beaver’s others, likely a system coming in at under 5,000 barrels in batch-size.
Last week, we provided a sneak peek of Belching Beaver Brewery‘s upcoming Vista brewpub. This week’s follow-up post is about the North County brewing company’s new production facility at 1334 Rocky Point in Oceanside. The new brewery, which is much larger than Belching Beaver’s original location, is equipped with a 30-barrel Prospero System designed by Speakeasy Ales and Lagers, that was selected for its consistency and high-tech software package. The system can pump out 120 barrels in 11-to-12 hours, which is a far cry from what its 15-barrel Vista brewhouse could brew up. That vessel is now under the charge of brewer Peter Perrecone, who will utilize it for production of barrel-aged sour beers, a number of which are maturing in oak at the Oceanside facility.
Meanwhile, master brewer Troy Smith is full-time at the new brewery, which he, his father and a single assistant assembled, piped, welded and got up-and-running mostly with their own six hands. Completion of the Oceanside brewery will allow Belching Beaver to up its production to 40,000-barrels-per-year. Should they max-out the facility, they’ll be able to get to 100,000 barrels annually. Now, they are able to distribute beers to Northern California, a territory they’ve eyed for a long time. They will start with the Bay Area, then simultaneously expand into Sacramento and Bakersfield as well as Idaho and Washington. The idea of opening a facility in Arizona and self-distributing is also appealing to ownership.
Currently the Oceanside facility is not open to the public, however, that will be rectified in the near future. A tasting room is planned, initially as a small patio at the front of the building, though they hope to eventually install a second-story catwalk that will allow visitors to tour the brewery from above and view all brewing, cellaring and packaging operations. The latter will be done using an atmosphere-controlled GAI bottling system (replacing Belching Beaver’s Meheen bottling line at its original brewery) that can fill a palate’s worth of glass in 30 minutes. It will allow the company to finally launch six-packs of 12-ounce bottles of company mainstays, Peanut Butter Milk Stout, Hop Highway IPA and Me So Honey, followed later by Beaver’s Milk milk-stout, Dammed and Great Lei IPA. Also coming are more 22-ounce beers, including a chocolate-peanut butter stout called Viva Le Beaver and brews from a rotating milk-stout series as well as a rotating coffee-beer series.
When Belching Beaver’s impressive growth is pointed out—the company plans to grow to 80 employees by the close of April—co-founder Tom Vogel downplays it, citing the much faster growth of entities such as Modern Times Beer, Saint Archer Brewery and, more recently, Coronado Brewing Company. According to Vogel, Belching Beaver is still a little company just trying to make its way while striving to make better beer. And as for those who might see production-growth and new venues as signs of a potential sale, he says that will never happen, stating, “First off, no one will want to buy a company called Belching Beaver. Secondly, I’d be the first one they’d replace and I happen to love my job.”