According to West Coaster, the number of brew houses operating in the county, from downtown to Alpine, exceeds 90, with more than 35 new breweries about to or planning to open in 2014 or early next year. The trend is particularly in evidence in North County, home to successful businesses including Stone Brewing Co. in Escondido and Karl Strauss in both Carlsbad and 4S Ranch.
But there’s more on the way. Among the half-dozen or so new brew houses coming are a Poway location of the Mira Mesa-based Green Flash Brewing Co., the Toolbox Brewing Co. in Vista, Jeff and Dande Bagby’s Bagby Beer Co. in Oceanside, Chuck Perkins’ Kuracali in San Marcos and the family-run Valley Center Brewery.
Why the surge in North County?
“It might have something to do with lower real estate costs and greater availability of space,” said Dande Bagby, whose Bagby Beer Co. will offer house-made beer, guest beer, spirits and a fully equipped kitchen. “Breweries can take up a lot of room, so finding a location that can accommodate all the necessary components, I imagine, might be trickier in greater San Diego.”
Bagby calls beer “the great equalizer.”
“It is approachable for almost everyone, yet complex enough to remain interesting,” he said. “While there are a lot of craft breweries and more places offering craft beer in their portfolios in North County (and San Diego in general), there are precious few brew pubs where the house-made beer is complemented with house-made food.”
Bagby’s 8,000-square-foot space in Oceanside is opening this month (August) in Oceanside.
Chuck Perkins’ Kuracali, planned for San Marcos, will be a packaging and distribution brewery with two tasting rooms -- one for beer and one for sake. “We will have a particular emphasis on sushi, fusion and other chef-driven restaurants to whom we will provide fresh, locally crafted sake and beer,” he said.
Perkins attributes the attractiveness of North County as a location to “the receptiveness of the cities to new brewing enterprises. Appropriately zoned warehouse space is not prohibitive, and the brewing community helps each other.”
Opening day for Kuracali is uncertain; Perkins says it “depends on receiving federal brewer’s notices for our brewery and our winery, both of which are squeezed inside our 1,200-square-foot facility. That’s why our tasting rooms are so small -- we are allowed only 11 people at a time.”
Valley Center Brewery, which plans to open in October in Valley Center, sprung from the longtime dream of Bob Marek, along with his son, Alex. They’d been home-brewing and decided in 2010 to turn their hobby into a business. It has taken four years for Bob’s dream to come to fruition.
Marek and son are setting up in what was used to be the Eagle’s Nest restaurant. “We’re using the restaurant part of the building as a tasting room, and later we’re going to transfer our brewing equipment to the kitchen area and we’ll eventually do our brewing there,” Bob said. “Total, we’re probably going to have 1,500 square feet of tasting room space. When we open the shop we’re going to have seven beers.”
Alex may be the son, but he’s the head brewer. “We’re gearing our beers to being about 3.5 percent and 5 percent alcohol by volume, which is designed more for Valley Center because it’s hot up here. We’re not shooting for seriously heavy beers, but developing a beer for Valley Center that is a good transition from what they’re used to, which is Coors Light, Bud Light.”
In case you’ve ever wondered what “smoking” means in the brewing biz, Alex explains: “What we do is take the grain and smoke it over various wood chips, and depending on what chip you use it will impart that flavor on it.”
The Mareks, like Kuracali’s Perkins, believe that the craft-beer boom in North County benefits from business owners’ mutual support. “We noticed the wine culture followed a similar model when trying to capture the American wine market,” Alex Marek said. “They all worked together instead of viewing each other as competition. That seems to be carrying over to the craft-beer industry.
“Stone’s (in Escondido) has been kind of the flagship brewery that has paved the way for a lot of this. That’s why I think it’s blowing up so much.”
Cherie Marek -- Bob’s wife and Alex’s mom -- insists she’s “behind the scenes” of the business, but “I’m excited for them both. This has been something my husband’s been wanting to do for so long.”