I entered to the sound of construction, but instead of a crew of burly dudes hammering and sanding away, I encountered a kindly looking couple wearing matching gear made dusty yet stylish by the addition of the logo for their work-in-progress business, Council Brewing Company (7705 Convoy Court, Kearny Mesa).
These marrieds, Curtis and Liz Chism, have been hard at work with brewing partner Jeff Crane for the better part of a year to bring their idea for a communal hub centered around the lure of quality beer to life. They’re only a month or so out from reaching the finish line — the floor was being readied for installation of their three-barrel brewhouse, and the foundation for the cold box and tasting bar was complete — and were ready to give me a glimpse of the project and the preliminary homebrewed versions of some of their beers.
Council is installing a dozen taps in its tasting room, which is spacious and will include long, high tables, and a rail bar strategically engineered to create the border for a merchandise area that, if Liz is able to realize her artistic idea, will be illuminated by a chandelier made up of mason jars. On opening day, which is currently scheduled for May, the beer offerings are likely to consist of a Nelson-based IPA, saison, pale ale, imperial stout, and a surprisingly dry orange honey wheat. Other brews may make the inaugural roster, but it will take a while for all of the taps to be stocked.
The imperial stout is brewed with a high percentage of oatmeal (currently two pounds for each five-gallon batch), which gives it a creamy mouth feel and adds a nice differentiating aspect to this popular style. A base of British Pale Malt lends some biscuit notes to go with big chocolate and malted milk ball flavors. A slight fruitiness is also present from the use of Irish Ale Yeast. A bourbon barrel-aged version of the beer provided a mostly savory (which was impressive) expression of the spirit that was nicely complemented by the base beer. A Belgian dark strong ale was both sweeter and, not coincidentally, higher in alcohol (13.3% ABV to the stout’s rather low 8%), yet quite drinkable and rich with caramel, apple, date, and even grape nuances.
The trio also aims to start a sour beer program. It’s an ambitious undertaking for a start-up brewery, but they have a plan. Already they have a pair each of red blend and Chardonnay wine barrels. The former will be used to age a variation of Crane’s Flemish-style sour red ale. Having tasted the homebrew version, it has a great deal of potential, both for providing flavor and education. After aging, Crane says this style of beer loses most of its malt character, so he blends in a small amount of imperial stout to lend depth and body. It’s a technique that might someday be put on display at Council.
Citing beer education as one of their primary missions, Crane and the Chisms also hope to offer both a standard and soured version of their saison (that’s what the Chard barrels are for), regular and Brettanomyces-infused versions of IPAs (Crane has 30 strains at home and fermenter space is being set aside for “bugs”), and different versions of a Berliner-Weiss (unaged, oaked, fruited, etc.). That low alcohol wheat beer will be kept in several five-gallon drums in order to keep the lacto that gives it its tartness alive. Crane will periodically replace 10 gallons of the beer with 10 gallons of second runnings from other creations to build a strong strain of bacteria, allowing Council to produce sours at a quicker pace.
When asked about names for the beers, with the exception of Pirate’s Breakfast, they’re wide open to the point of crowd-sourcing. Expect a section of the tasting room wall to sport a chalkboard where visitors can leave potential names for future beers. With as much room as their space provides, they should have no shortage of suggestions. And, though one can’t tell at first glance, there is actually plenty of parking space for those stopping by for a taste, thanks to an overflow parking lot behind Council’s business park base of operations.