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.
Two days ago I recapped last year’s brewery closures, citing eight that had shut their doors, including two that did so the final week of 2017. Just four days into 2018, it’s already time to cover the New Year’s first impending closure. This time it’s Oceanside Ale Works (1800 Ord Way, Oceanside), which announced yesterday via social media that it will be shutting down, but not before a final service on Saturday, January 6. OAW holds the dubious distinction of being the longest tenured local brewery to go out of business in the modern brewery era.
Inquiries to ownership were not immediately answered.
Established in 2006, OAW rose to popularity as an after-hours industrial-suite hangout, gaining enough of a mostly-local following to substantiate a move to a second location roughly a half-decade later. At that point, ownership upped its available square-footage and brewing capacity while adding a barrel-aging program that went on to earn critical acclaim. After the move, OAW’s traditionally low prices remained below the industry average, but heavy patronage made the math work.
When OAW opened, Breakwater Brewing was its only competition in the City of Oceanside. Now, fermentation operations of all sizes dot the landscape from the renowned Bagby Beer Co. to large-scale operations like Belching Beaver Brewery and Mason Ale Works to Camp Pendleton-adjacent Legacy Brewing to more recent additions such as Black Plague Brewing, Midnight Jack Brewing and Northern Pine Brewing to rival for municipality-namesake status Oceanside Brewing. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the 20-plus breweries in the neighboring Vista and Carlsbad communities.
On a personal note, OAW was one of the very first breweries I visited when I really began getting into locally-produced craft beer; venturing to production facilities to find out who made my beer and experience the full breadth of their creations versus simply drinking whatever I encountered on tap at retail establishments. From the moment I walked into OAW, owner Mark Purciel and his staff made me feel right at home and excited about beer. Keep in mind that I was not yet a journalist, simply an eager enthusiast, so the treatment I received was the type afforded every customer.
Having shared conversations with many OAW patrons, including professional brewers such as Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station brewing manager Kris Ketcham, who participated in his first professional brew with Purciel at the company’s original location on Oceanic Drive, Purciel was a positive driving force that reeled them in and kept them coming back. A former school teacher with a fun brand of mentorship at the core of his being, he was the face of the business, and he will surely be missed in the San Diego brewing scene.
Shortly before the ball dropped in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, a Vista-based brewery announced it was closing its doors forever. Earlier in the day, SpecHops Brewing Company (an operation reviewed by West Coaster just three weeks ago) announced via social media that December 31 would be its last day in business. That post cited the company had been active since 2010, however, it wasn’t until last spring that it opened its location at 1280 Activity Drive. Though the operation aimed to pay homage to military veterans as well as public-service professionals, the web-based platform it set up for that purpose is inactive. SpecHops opened with an impressive brewhouse that will surely be coveted by current and aspiring brewery owners.
SpecHops’ departure came less than a week after another North County fermentation interest announced its farewell. Charles Perkins posted a Facebook message communicating his decision to close his Kuracali Beer & Sake Brewery. Based in San Marcos, that business opened roughly three years ago and was San Diego County’s first-ever sake producer.
Perkins started building Kuracali in 2012. It took him two years to complete the dual brewing components and he opened his doors in 2014. He says it was an enjoyable and rewarding experience serving people and turning them on to sake, but in the end, his location was off the beaten path. This led to insufficient patronage and lack of required revenue to stay in the black. When his lease expired last month and it was time to resign or vacate, he chose the latter. Perkins says he hopes to reopen at a more strategically situated location sometime in the future, but that it will require investment from an outside party. Interested parties can reach Perkins here.
SpecHops and Kuracali both closing the final week of 2017 punctuate something of a new normal. For a decade, new breweries have opened in San Diego County in increasingly large droves, but few closed. A total of eight local breweries closed last year. While most had been open for years, such as Offbeat Brewing, On The Tracks Brewery, La Jolla Brewing, The Beer Co. (which indicated it will reopen) and Magnetic Brewing, one, Wiseguy Brewing, has something in common with SpecHops. It was open less than a year before shuttering. Additionally, several are for sale, most notably Helm’s Brewing, Intergalactic Brewing and Finest Made Ales.
In reading a list of most-improved breweries, one can make the assumption that in order to make that roster these interests must have been pumping out bad beer at some point. While this certainly could be true, it is not always the case with brewing companies that find themselves a part of this annually shifting assemblage. In most cases this year, the operations mentioned were already making good beer—or even great beer—but are now performing even better from a manufacturing standpoint. There is always room for improvement, proof of which is provided below.
2kids Brewing | Miramar: This nano-brewery has actually been on an upward trajectory over the past few years, but this year, the level of refinement in this Miralani OG’s beers jumped quite a bit. Hoppy beers exhibit more vibrancy in their aromas and flavors, while maltier beers seem more cohesive and balanced overall. It’s no wonder this operation’s cultish fan base continues to grow, and a pleasure to see this husband-wife venture continue its steady ascent.
Alpine Beer Co. | Alpine: Alpine makes great beer. Tell you something you didn’t already know, right? Since being acquired by Green Flash Brewing Company in 2014, many have complained about perceiving a drop-off in quality between beers brewed in Alpine and those brewed on a larger scale and packaged for distribution, but this year, numerous canned offerings tasted better, more consistent and truer to the beers that inspired the purchase of that famed East County interest.
Bear Roots Brewing | Vista: Though a tiny nano built into a homebrew shop, this family-run brewery has been churning out enjoyable beer from the get-go. As such, the grizzly interest has earned a solid reputation and following, enough that ownership considered expanding brewing capabilities. Even though it opted against getting a bigger, more sophisticated brewhouse (instead fortifying the business with an outdoor patio), it has still managed to up the brightness and flavor of its beers.
Burning Beard Brewing | El Cajon: One of the most buzzed-about new breweries to open in the past two years, El Cajon’s best (and only) fermentation facility opened with an impressive beer line-up that only keeps getting better. The key is the brewing team’s devotion to fine-tuning until they get beers where they and their fans want them. Throw in this year’s barrel-aged specialties and you have an operation that managed to increase its angle of ascension in 2017.
Council Brewing | Kearny Mesa: When this husband-wife business first opened, its little-guy charm and friendly staffers made up for occasional inconsistencies. As it grew, sour beers of varied composition expanded the business’ rep and reach while taking center stage, portfolio-wise. The deliciousness of those brews continues to increase. Ditto non-sour beers, most impressively Council’s hoppy stock, which used to be a tad hit-and-miss, but now wows on a regular basis.
Division 23 Brewing | Miramar: This lesser-known brewery has had numerous head fermentationists since debuting in 2015, leading to varying quality across the beer-board. This year saw continued vocational movement within the brewhouse, but as of now, this operation’s beers are tasting better as a whole than they have at any point, making the long, winding road one must take to get to this tucked-away industrial park venue worth the maneuvering.
Indian Joe Brewing | Vista: The beer at this native American-owned brewery was at its best right before it shuttered in 2015. After a lengthy search for an ideal, much larger base of operations, the business reopened this year with a new head brewer and a laundry list of house beers coming in at 30. Variety remains the name of the game, making it harder to keep every member of the diverse line-up in check; still, Indian Joe’s beers are the finest they’ve been during either of its iterations.
Kilowatt Brewing | Kearny Mesa & Ocean Beach: This business is in the process of expanding its brewing capabilities, but before trading up to a larger brewhouse, they took the wise step of bringing on a head brewer with experience garnered over years spent at AleSmith Brewing. He has tinkered with several beer recipes and the early results are extremely promising. This should be a fun brewery to keep an eye on over the coming year.