The first time I visited Thorn St. Brewery (3176 Thorn Street, North Park), I was enamored with the place. A former homebrew supply store that’s been converted into a brewery with indoor and semi-outdoor tasting bars, it’s simple, warm, and inviting; a lovely place to spend an evening with friends, particularly if you’re a North Park resident. What I wasn’t as taken with were the beers being produced there. But like any good beer journalist, I’ve made return visits and, in doing so, noticed marked improvement in Thorn St.’s offerings.
Whereas before, almost every beer looked and tasted very similar—orangey-gold to amber in color and muddled in their hop character—a recent run-through of the on-tap selection turned up an unfiltered hefeweizen, copper-colored ESB on nitro, golden saison, roasty coffee porter, and several beers that, though similar in style, could be discerned from each other by sight, smell, or flavor. There was even an intensely spicy chili pale ale brewed with jalapeño peppers and cobra chilies grown at one of the brewers' North Park residences several blocks away.
The chili pale was a tasty treat that seemed engineered for my heat-seeking palate, but my favorite beer, by far, was Thorn St. Imperial IPA. Bright, tropical and refreshing, it was unlike anything I’d had from Thorn St. preceding this visit and exactly the type of bee they’ll need to make to hold their own among the dozens of other San Diego breweries hitting the mark with beers of this nature. Kudos to brewers Dennis O’Connor, Dan Carrico, and Eric O’Connor for making enough progress to show some serious potential moving forward.
I’m not the only one to document the quality of the trio’s wares. At the recent San Diego International Beer Festival, their Golden Hill Pilsner won a bronze medal. I sampled that beer, as well, and enjoyed it. Thorn St. produces it using 100% reverse osmosis water. It has a bit more body than traditional pilsners, but it helps balanced out equally increased hopping while keeping the beer very drinkable.
Thorn St. is in the midst of an expansion that will increase its production from 700 barrels to 1,300 barrels. Those are small numbers for most breweries, but for one Thorn St.'s size, it’s huge. Especially considering how popular the venue has become with locals. Every time I’ve been to Thorn St., the place has been alive with locavorian bustle. This, despite the fact that, they are still in their soft open stage. That lengthy trial period will come to an end during the brewery’s grand opening festivities on July 27. Additionally, they weren't allowed to serve full pints of beer, but that changed this week and should cement the pub-like feel of their venue.
The brewing team recently ordered some bourbon, brandy and tequila barrels, and brewed an imperial stout for the whiskey barrels. The brandy barrels will have American strong ale and barleywine funneled into them, and the barrels that once house the agave spirit will be used to craft a double version of their Agave Amber Ale. Improved beers and big barrel aspirations provide ample reason to further track this operation’s upward trajectory.