Matthew Lickona 12:30 p.m., March 4
Tales from the north: Ironfire Brewing
I have family in Riverside County. For years, before driving up for visits, I loaded down the trunk with six-packs, 22-ouncers, and growlers of good beer to sustain weekend-long stints in what used to be a largely craft beer-less county. But no more!
Slowly, but surely, hand-crafted ales and lagers have seeped their way into the backyards of our nearby neighbors. Last weekend, when I ventured north, I took a Saturday to tour the 215 and check out a number of varied spots, all of which are easily accessible for San Diegans visiting the southerly expanses of Riverside County or en route to Las Vegas.
The first spot I visited was kind enough to let me in right before their friends-and-family coming-out party, which was fitting since I’d met the duo behind the business—John Maino and Greggory Webb—at the tail-end of a holiday party at Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits last December. At that time, Maino and Webb had recently resigned from their posts as brewers at BP to get to work on their shared aspiration of opening their own brewery. They weren’t able to disclose much about the budding business back then, but knew where they’d be based—Temecula. They also had a name picked out: Ironfire Brewing Company.
I reported about Ironfire being on the horizon the following day. Ten months later, it’s nice to be able to share a lot more about Temecula’s second operating brewhouse. The space is located in a business park suite (42095 Zevo Drive, Suite 1) that’s been converted from office space into a production space that currently houses a 15-barrel system with 30 barrels worth of tank space. They have the capacity to install a total of 20 tanks and produce 8,600 barrels a year, but are taking their time early on.
It’s a calculated approach unexpected from a business with the tagline “ales for outlaws,” but a sensible approach prompted by lessons learned working for their former employer. Though the machinery and number of accounts Ironfire has under its bullet-stocked belt are much smaller, many of the same practices and propensities from Ballast Point are at work. Key among them is variety. Maino and Webb are coming straight out of the gate with a diverse selection of beer styles, some of which are reminiscent of brews available at BP.
Chief among those is a Habañero Pale Ale with the same balanced Scoville appeal of BP’s cultish heartwarmer, Habañero Sculpin IPA. Only 5% ABV, but packing the 49 IBUs of Ironfire’s Synner Pale Ale (one of the company’s four core beers), it goes down easy and can be drunk in greater quantity than the more alcoholic and much hoppier Sculpin.
Ironfire’s other core beers are a sharp, somewhat pilsner-esque cream ale called Gunfighter Golden, 51/50 IPA (an 83 IBU currently made with Summit hops until the Simcoe secured via the company’s recently inked three-year hop contract comes in), and 6-Killer Stout. The latter tastes like breakfast in a pint glass thanks to 60 pounds of hazelnut coffee sourced from a San Diego Roasting Company in Oceanside.
A coconut version of 6-Killer was also on tap along with a heavy vanilla imperial obsidian ale called Devil’s Due Triple Chocolate Stout. That one incorporates alternative oaking with American oak chips soaked for two months in Maker’s Mark Bourbon. The beer was left to soak in that whiskey character for five months before kegging, and the result is a beverage that tastes more like the base spirit than the base beer. Definitely one worth taking time to savor from an olfactory perspective before sipping.
Visitors to Ironfire will be able to take-in the “bad-assery” of old west outlaw style driven home by saloon-style wood, plus custom-designed furniture—including a chair built to look like a scorpion—incorporating barrels (the frontage of the bar is constructed using four used whiskey barrels), iron, and even bullet casings.
For those who want to try the beer but don’t have a northbound trip scheduled, the company has its beers on-tap at over a dozen high profile San Diego accounts including The High Dive (where they have a permanent handle), Neighborhood, Monkey Paw Pub and Brewery, Urge Gastropub, Sublime Alehouse, and all three Pizza Port locations. In the more distant future, they will fill 22-ounce bottles for distribution to retail outlets.