Jeff Silver has many fond memories of his time attending the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Though he’s 23 years removed from graduation day, he’s maintained ties with his alma mater via its alumni organization and work with the Graduate Student Association. His involvement with the latter formed the connection for a project involving his Mira Mesa-based business that came to fruition last month when the Rough Draft Brewing Company Pub debuted at UCSD’s new Mesa Nueva student-housing complex.
Silver remembers the intense hours of study he put in as a college student and how vital having a place to socialize and blow off steam was. His favorite haunt at the time was the Round Table Pizza at the centrally located Price Center. Mesa Nueva residents won’t even need to venture that far. Rough Draft’s bar is equipped with 12 taps and a small bar with indoor seating. A roll-up door gives way to an outdoor patio that includes a pool with two Jacuzzis. The latter are available for use by residents and beer may be consumed within them, however no glassware is allowed in the area.
Silver utilized one of Rough Draft’s duplicate Type 23 licenses, which required the blessing of regulatory agencies such as the local office of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). As one might expect, there were those who were skeptical about installing a venue serving alcoholic beverages on campus, but in the end UCSD elected to trust in the responsibility of its student body. But Rough Draft’s is not the only project of its kind happening on campus. Consortium Holdings is also in the process of renovating the former site of Porter’s Pub into an additional iteration of its popular bar-and-restaurant concept, Soda and Swine.
In 2014, Ed O’Sullivan became the first graduate of UCSD Extension’s Brewing Certificate program to open his own brewery. That interest, O’Sullivan Bros. Brewing Company, is located in a business park suite at 9879 Hibert Street in San Diego’s Scripps Ranch neighborhood. The brewery specializes in dark beers, specifically porters, stouts and barrel-aged versions of both styles. A number of O’Sullivan Bros.’ beers have won awards regionally and Ed now teaches a course called “The Brewery Startup” as part of the program he graduated from. Ed owns several other business’ and due to increasing demands from those, he is actively seeking a purchaser for his brewery business.
Ed says he has built a solid fan-base that frequents his tasting room and is not interested in closing. His hope is that an entrepreneur will pick up where he left off and acquire the brewery turnkey style. One of the most impressive features of the facility is a sizable quality-control laboratory that has been in operation from the start. Labs tend to be an afterthought or something slated for construction once revenues reach the point where they are more economically feasible. O’Sullivan is the only independent brewery in Scripps Ranch, though the nation’s 13th largest brewing interest, Ballast Point Brewing, operates a production brewery and tasting room in the community as well.
The official advertisement reads as follows:
Turnkey Nano Brewery for Sale in San Diego. Includes brewery, lab and tasting room. 3bbl all electric, plc controlled 3 vessel brew house, with 7 3bbl fermenters and 1 3bbl brite. Production output is about 400 bbls/yr. Facility is approx. 1700 sq/ft. All supporting equipment, i.e. water treatment, chemical cleaning, Glycol Chiller, Cold Room, bottling equipment, kegs, keg washer, spare parts, tasting room furniture and fixtures are all in place and operating. All equipment is less than 3 years old and was purchased new. Cooperage, bottles and raw material inventory included along with an established local clientele. Perfect opportunity for the husband and wife team or couple of friends looking to break into the industry, or a larger brewery looking for an offsite R&D facility for new project, or a restaurant chain looking to supply its own beer. This is the cleanest, most technically sophisticated nano-brewery on the west coast. See www.osullivan-brothers.com for general info. Contact Ed O’Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Serious inquiries only.
There’s more to the San Diego County Fair than tilt-a-whirls, geode collections, hot-tub shows and deep-fried everything. It also plays host to one of the largest annual craft-beer festivals, here or anywhere on the West Coast, the San Diego International Beer Festival (SDIBF). This year’s event will feature hundreds of beers from multiple states and countries, all of which can be sampled in an all-you-can-drink (responsibly) format during five sessions taking place over three days from June 17 to 19. In addition to fun for the general public, there is also a brewing-competition component, the winners of which were recently announced. For the second straight year, AleSmith Brewing Company earned Champion Brewery bragging rights, with 23 gold medals (and 41 medals total) awarded to local breweries. It’s quite an event with a rich history and promising future. For more on both, we sat down with event organizer Tom Nickel (who also owns Nickel Beer Company, O’Brien’s Pub and West Coast Barbecue and Brews).
What was the impetus for the SDIBF?
The original idea came from Chad Stevens, who was a member of (local homebrew club) QUAFF. He’d been running the homebrew competition at the fair for a number of years and felt there should be a professional competition there as well. He brought me in because he felt he needed someone on the professional side to legitimize the idea it was a professional competition. The vision was for a competition for professional brewers by professional brewers. We had like 200 entries the first year and thought it was highly successful. We held it in the paddock area and it was a one-day afternoon festival. It was fun, and it’s grown from there.
Tell me about the tremendous growth of the field and competition over the years.
Twice before we’ve had exponential growth where we’ve reached another plateau. We slowly grew by a hundred or so each year, then four-or-five years ago, when the real boom of brewery openings occurred, we had a jump from 600 to 900 and we hovered at just under 1,000 for the last three years. This year, we jumped from 979 to 1,356 total entries, over 1,300 of which were beers—a 44% increase overall.
Who are some of the individuals who’ve been integral to the SDIBF’s success?
Chad was with us the first three years, then moved on. That’s when I brought (Bagby Beer Company founder) Jeff Bagby in to help me. He was there a number of years, and the last two years that slot’s been filled by (O’Brien’s Pub general manager) Tyson Blake. Throughout the whole time—from Chad to now—Chris Shadrick has run the homebrew competition and served as judging coordinator. He helps coordinate all the judges for the competition, as well. Tyson and I do the festival and entries, marketing and promotion of the competition and festival.
How are judges solicited for the competition?
We have two avenues. One is registering in the competition with the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program). The SDIBF is posted on their website so all BJCP judges can see and access the event. What really sets SDIBF apart from most events is most BJCP-certified homebrewers don’t have the opportunity to judge professional beers. That’s a real carrot as far as enticing the judges. Secondly, we solicit through the local professional brewing community; from people who enter through the San Diego Brewers Guild and also, for the first time ever this year, through the craft-beer programs at UCSD and SDSU.
What can attendees to this year’s SDIBF look forward to?
There’ll be an expanded VIP area with food pairings and more space on the festival floor as we continually grow our footprint. We’re expecting beers from 15 countries, and the selection of beer in terms of number of different places it’s sent from will be unparalleled compared to any festival west of Denver’s Great American Beer Festival. Ditto the number of different beers and the diversity of international beers that we’ll have. We’ll also have a special beer, Steampunk Ale, a California common brewed specifically for the SDIBF by Abnormal Beer Company, and rare beer tappings throughout the festival.
Where is the SDIBF going?
The competition component is only going to continue to grow and we’re expanding our paid staff to accommodate that. The Del Mar Fairgrounds are doing everything they can to keep SDIBF growing at whatever pace it naturally grows at. If it doubled in the next 10 years, I don’t feel like there will end up being a cap. With the festival itself, there are a lot of interesting ideas. It’s always been my belief that the SDIBF will become enough of an event that, eventually, it won’t be part of the fair, but will instead take place as its own event over a weekend. I feel like for some connoisseurs, they don’t want to deal with the fair crowds, tickets, etc., but I do see us easily doing an independent festival. But having a presence at the fair is always important, so maybe we’ll do two events. I feel like part of the benefit for brewers is not only getting to expose their products to die-hard beer-fans, but also make new converts in an all-you-can-taste setting.
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.
Amid the eclectic music emanating from multiple stages at the 2014 Coachella Valley Music Festival—this was where the idea for and partnership behind Palomar Brewing Company came to be. The brainchild of Ben Fairweather and Mike Stevenson, two entrepreneurs who had individual plans to get open breweries before deciding their goals would best be achieved by pooling their energies and ambitions, the business is scheduled to open in Carlsbad by year’s end so long as all goes smoothly.
Located just north of the intersection of El Camino Real and Palomar Airport Road (across from a Staples and Starbucks not far from Pizza Port’s Bressi Ranch facility for those who prefer landmarks to street names), the business is being installed in a warehouse at 2719 West Loker Avenue. Fairweather works for the printing company that previously occupied that storage facility. From the get-go, he knew he wanted to place his brewery in Carlsbad, the city where he grew up and built his first business, a recording studio.
Stevenson’s road to PBC is washed over in local and international beeriness. His immersion in suds started with having a father who homebrewed. After college, the North County native worked at a small brewery in Germany before returning to San Diego and taking a job at Twisted Manzanita Ales in Santee. He is also enrolled in UCSD’s Brewing Science Program and is lined up for an internship at White Labs this fall. But that’s not all. He recently completed a three-week stint assisting at a nanobrewery on the Italian island of Sardinia.
Once open, Stevenson will be in charge of brewing while Fairweather continues to oversee the business aspects of PBC. There are no plans for offering “core beers.” Instead, Stevenson will brew a variety of styles on the business’ 15-barrel system, allowing feedback from customers to help carve out his ultimate direction. He says he realizes IPAs are engrained in the San Diego beer culture, but wants to brew styles hailing from Belgium, Germany and the U.K. That said, numerous all-American brews will also be on tap, including a hoppy blonde, session IPA and stout. With plenty of room for barrel-aging, that will also be a focus as soon as PBC begins brewing.