It’s no secret. San Diego beer is a cut above; something to both enjoy and celebrate. Everybody in the imbibing community says it, hundreds of bar and restaurant owners profess it in words and with the beer running through their taps, but is any business owner out there willing to go all the way and put it all on the line by offering only San Diego beers at their venue in a big way? I'm happy to say that, with the recent soft opening of a new venue, the answer is now yes.
Young entrepreneurs Beau Schmitt and Kyle Chaykowski established the newly open San Diego Brew Project inside 57 Degrees (1735 Hancock Street, Five Points). It’s mission is to provide exposure to all of our county’s 60-plus brewhouses while giving visitors a wide-ranging taste of everything the San Diego craft beer scene has to offer. I had a chance to visit before their official debut and, as someone who has made a living professing love for local beer and adoration of those who produce it, I was extremely impressed with the shrine to America’s Finest ales and lagers these guys have erected.
San Diego Brew Project essentially offers patrons a scaled down local craft beer festival any time they wish to partake. Thirty-one different brewing companies’ wares were on tap when I came in, many from nanobreweries that receive very little if any exposure beyond their own tasting rooms. There are varying reasons for this, but in many cases, bar and restaurant owners aren’t willing to take a chance on a company that’s either unknown or has a spotty reputation. This leaves such companies in a tricky spot as the only opportunities for them to get in front of drinkers at that point is to somehow lure them into their tasting rooms or engage them at festivals and events. San Diego Brew Project changes all that.
On my visit, I could have had proven five-star beers like Ballast Point Sculpin IPA or AleSmith Speedway Stout, but instead, my trusty photographer and I combined our efforts, selecting a pair of taster flights that, when combined, included ten beers from the likes of little guys including Prohibition Brewing Company in Vista, Wet 'N Reckless in Mira Mesa, Mad Lab Craft Brewing in Otay Mesa, Poor House Brewing Company in North Park, and On-The-Tracks Brewery in Carlsbad. To find one of any of these breweries’ beers on tap would be a rarity, but to have them all available in one place is unheard of. I tip my hat to Schmitt and Chaykowski because, quite frankly, this is gutsy. But it falls right in line with their passion for San Diego beer and drives home the authenticity of that amour.
The tasting bar takes up one half of the expansive circular bar in the center of the building. Currently, beers are only servable in taster-sized glasses but as soon as a license is approved by the City of San Diego (any day now) full pints will be available. Beers are also for sale in bottles. Like the taps, the packaged beer includes selections from smaller operations like Aztec Brewing Company, Mother Earth Brew Co. and Oceanside Ale Works, with product scheduled to hit shelves from Hillcrest Brewing Company and Stumblefoot Brewing Company as soon as both begin bottling their beer.
New furniture has been installed around the bar and off in the southwest corner of the building where walls will be demolished so a pair of floor-to-ceiling garage doors can be installed, and offer guests a view of the airport and the downtown skyline. They also have big plans for the venue’s fenced-off parking lot, one of the neighborhood’s largest. Two-to-three times a year, that space can be used to host philanthropic events. Already, Schmitt and Chaykowski are working with local craft beer industry Susan G. Komen 3-Day team Beer For Boobs to host a fundraiser festival. Additionally, they are working with local craft beer enthusiast venture Brews Up to start an artisanal suds education program, and hope to hold meet-the-brewer homebrewing classes hosted by local brewers who are known for having gone from being residential tinkerers to professional beermakers.
Even with all that next-level foresight, Schmitt’s paramount goal is basic. He wants people to know when they sit down and order something at San Diego Brew Project, that anything they’re drinking comes from someplace within a 40-minute drive of his establishment. He and Chaykowski even went to the work of putting together a three-ring binder filled with one-page descriptions of every brewery in San Diego County. No place in San Diego offers such a level playing field for all of our region’s players (and otherwise would-be players). This business is a great idea that’s been executed exceptionally well, and I can’t remember encountering a new craft beer spot I’ve been this excited about in years.
NOTE: All photos by Tyler Graham.