Even with craft beer available in the many restaurants dotting 30th Street and its bar- and eatery-packed cross-streets, North Park residents are salivating over the upcoming arrival of a long-awaited project touching down in a building that once housed a bible bookstore. That highly anticipated business is the production facility for Hess Brewing (3812 Grim Avenue, North Park).
Owner Mike Hess first announced having secured the building in March of last year. It was widely regarded as great news for local beer fans who have enjoyed the beers Hess has so far produced from a small Miramar industrial suite. His is the nanobrewery that convinced many how successful a nano can be so long as said tiny operation is producing good beer. Despite its small size, Hess has regularly packed beer tourists in for the past two years. Part of that was due to the fact that Hess’ beers were barely available outside the company’s tasting room. All that will change once the North Park facility is up and running.
During a recent visit to the work-in-progress facility, Hess was working with brewery engineering contractors to put the finishing touches on his 30-barrel brewhouse designed by Newlands Systems, Inc. Once up-and-running, it will allow him to produce far more beer than he was able to from the 1.6-barrel system at the original Hess facility. Having so much more beer will allow Hess to fulfill requests from many of the bar and restaurant accounts that he's had to deny thus far due to capacity issues.
But kegs aren’t the only way the beer will make it to market. I was also granted a gander at a canning line that will allow patrons to enjoy Hess’ products at home. Hess is the latest of a small handful of local breweries going the aluminum route (Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits, Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery, Pizza Port, Modern Times Beer), bucking the negative stigma unfairly lumped on canned beers. Most consumers let their memories of canned, tinny-tasting, low-quality American adjunct lagers convince them that today’s canned beers are inferior, but advances in interior linings have essentially eliminated the tininess and cans have always been superior to bottles when it comes to keeping beer fresh. Cans keep out air and light and, bonus, are lightweight, cheaper to ship, and easier to dispose of.
Originally, the canning line was going to abut the facility’s upstairs tasting room, but due to height issues, it’s been moved downstairs across from the cold room. On the bright side, that should leave patrons with a better view of the top half of the brewhouse and fermentation tanks. And if that visage isn’t good enough for the most curious of beer geeks, no problem. A pair of catwalks and an outlook running along the building’s façade will provide bird’s-eye views of all the brewery action. It’s a thoughtful layout made even more fun and educational by Hess’ upcoming installation of boards displaying infographics and explanations of the equipment mounted along the catwalks, similar to displays included in exhibits at museums and zoos.
Back in the tasting room, Hess’ architectural crew has gone to great lengths to create something that’s not only different, but better. Having the cold box located directly under the second-story tasting room bar allows them to draw the beer straight up to taps that, instead of being affixed to a cold box behind the bar, are installed just beyond the customer-bartender interface. Because of this, servers will avoid repetitive back-and-forth movements, will not have to turn their backs on customers and will be able explain the beers face-to-face as the draw them.
Once served, guests will be able to sample Hess’ beers from stool-equipped high tables, long track-lit tables spreading out from the bar in a sun ray arc pattern, a shuffleboard table, or either of two dart match areas (a bold first for this amenity in local tasting rooms). Beers will be served in four types of glasses—0.3-litre kölsch glass, 12-ounce Belgo-style tulip glass, 13-ounce stem glass, 16-ounce Munique chalice.
Hess has been brewing beer on the new system for roughly a month. He is projecting 3,000 barrels in the first 12 months from the new location, but says the company may produce as much as 50 or 75 percent more than that over that period. Ultimately, the North Park facility will be able to produce 15,000 barrels annually, but in order to achieve that, storage issues will need to be solved. For now, he—and beer fans in North Park and beyond—is just happy the doors will soon be open. The current estimation for that is a soft open in late July with a grand opening to follow shortly after.