I pride myself on being on the bleeding edge of San Diego’s incoming brewery class. Often, I’ll report on new operations months or even over a year before they open their doors. I was the first to get the scoop on Indian Joe Brewing (2379 La Mirada Drive, Vista), a nanobrewery run by former electrician and native American, Max Moran. Moran has Luiseño blood coursing through his veins. His heart’s also pumping an unbridled brand of creativity that shows up via one of the most prolific house-only tap lists in town.
When I first spoke with Moran last summer, he told me he had over 20 taps, but it would take him awhile to brew enough beer to get kegs hooked up to all of them. Yet, during my first visit to Indian Joe last weekend, that system was near capacity and pouring two pages worth of brews running the gamut of styles, including some varieties I haven’t seen outside of Moran’s tasting room. Producing that many beers requires him to brew six 20-gallon batches of beer six days per week. It’s an incredible workload, but with the beer being consumed as fast as it’s being produced, the labor’s paid off so far.
And speaking of that tasting room, it’s quite a place. The main bar is old-timey, featuring bright lacquered woods, Moran’s native American family memorabilia, and bright neon, including custom-made Indian Joe signage crafted by a friend of his. There’s also a large marquee sign shipped from an electrician friend in New York City and a cool-looking fireplace feature several feet from the bar. It’s a nicely designed space that’s easy to settle into. Hats off to Moran, who built it all himself.
As for the beers, I sampled a varied set of ten. There were several different “Indian” pale ales (a play on the India pale ale, aka IPA, style) made using different hops. The best of the three I tried was an IPA made using Summit hops that had plenty of hop presence up front and a very dry, bitter finish that reminded me of a traditional pilsner. Other winners included a black IPA and a chocolate hazelnut coffee stout that smelled like poking one’s nose into a bag of warm, freshly roasted hazelnuts and tasted like dessert.
Even with all its meal-ending appeal, it wasn’t the most desert-like beer. Two others—a blueberry hefeweizen and a pumpkin ale—best fit that bill. And not just because of flavor (though the blueberry tastes like a cocktail and is bound to register nicely with fans of Cosmos and Apple-tinis). These beers were the first garnished brews I’ve ever laid eyes on. The blueberry hef is served with fresh blueberries while the pumpkin ale comes in a sugar- and pumpkin spice-rimmed glass. It’s a ballsy move that, in my mind, doesn’t really pay off, but nothing ventured, right?
I like my beer straight, but certainly there are people out there that will appreciate the fresh fruit or the whipped cream they typically spray atop the chocolate hazelnut coffee stout. I’m too much of a purist and believe that those additions actually subtract from a well made beer. However, the garnishing is very much in keeping with Indian Joe’s style. Their beers adhere more closely to typical food flavor combinations versus brewing styles. Visitors will find familiar taste profiles even if they do find themselves searching for beer that tastes and feels like what they are used to from San Diego’s other breweries.
One patron who took notice of and enjoyed the foodie-friendliness of Moran’s beers is Graydon Orr, a chef from local company Campine Catering. He was so taken that he’s coming back this Friday, April 19 to cook and serve up over a half-dozen dishes at the Indian Joe tasting room. Those dishes include slow-roasted lamb shank over smoked potato puree with onion marmalade, seared sea scallops on candied butternut squash with wild rocket and pomegranate, and a chocolate hazelnut stout float. Moran will pair several of his beers against those, making for a prime opportunity to check out his new business. Food will be available from 3:30 to 9:30 p.m.