Ken Leighton 5 p.m., Jan. 18
So long La Jolla Brew House
Why parting is sweet minus the sorrow
Faye Avenue brewpub La Jolla Brew House has closed and will reopen under new ownership in several months. Under the old regime that ran it over the past decade, the business gained notoriety ...but not as a brewhouse.
La Jolla Brew House was most famous as a raucous late-night boozing spot and, unfortunately, the starting point for the tragic 2007 Emery Kauanui murder incident. On the beer front, there was little for people to judge them on. Over the past four or five years, despite hiring a number of brewers, they produced very little and, for long spans, no beer, making this brewhouse just another bar, and a poorly run one at that.
They say you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but during the business’ former life, people in the industry and the media spoke poorly of it all the time. In my opinion, one’s eulogy should be truthful, so allow me to tell you why La Jolla Brew House’s death and impending rebirth is such a good thing for San Diego.
As mentioned, La Jolla Brew House spent the better part of the past half-decade hiring and parting ways with brewers. I know of four that entered and exited through The Jewel's revolving door. That’s an alarming rate of turnover that would lead one to the logical assumption that either those brewers weren’t very skilled or the brewpub’s management was flawed. In this case, the substantial skill of the brewers actually proves the fact that management is to blame for the constant state of staff fluctuation.
La Jolla Brew House bid adieu to brewer Pat Korn, then hired Travis Smith a veteran of vaunted California breweries Russian River Brewing Co. and The Bruery. After a short-lived association during which Smith introduced a lovely IPA, Smith hit the road. The brewpub later lured in another veteran, this time from local standout AleSmith, Matt Akin. He spent several months at La Jolla Brew House, spending most of that time coming up for a business plan for his own brewery, which he eventually left to pursue. Next up in the queue was a young brewer named Brian Mitchell, who lasted awhile but, like the rest, got frustrated and moved on.
What were these guys so frustrated about? It’s really quite simple. Brewers get into their line of work because they want to brew. Most brewpub owners get into the business of owning a brewpub because they want to offer their customers house beers. But not the previous owners of La Jolla Brew House, who seemed content to lure good craftsmen away from secure ventures merely to have them sit dormant rather than pay for ingredients or create an environment where they could brew, much less brew well. It’s one of the oddest things I’ve seen during my many years covering the brewing and restaurant scene. The only things in this odd drama that made any sense were that La Jolla Brew House went out of business and that all of the talented people it treated like low-value pawns in a nonsensical game went on to succeed within their industry.
Smith teamed up with former The Bruery colleague Doug Constantiner to establish one of San Diego’s most promising new operations, Societe Brewing Co.. Korn is doing great things as a member of the brew crew at rapidly expanding Green Flash Brewing Company. Akin teamed up with his father to bring his dream to life and is very close to serving up the very first beers from his Grantville-based Benchmark Brewing. And Mitchell has moved on to take the helm at Kearny Mesa’s Helms Brewing Co..
Had any of them been subpar, their time at La Jolla Brew House might have ruined their reputation and derailed their careers, but with the exception of young Mitchell, these are some serious brewing industry veterans. Their skills are making names for their new businesses and employers, and they could have easily made La Jolla Brew House a big name rather than a laughable footnote in San Diego's brewing history...if someone had let them.
It became clear years ago that the only thing capable of ending this preposterous cycle of broken promises and shattered dreams would be the business going under. And that’s why it’s, quite frankly, great to see that this has finally come to pass. A brewpub with brewers who don’t brew and no beers—what good does that do San Diego or visitors to our region? Answer: no good at all. And that’s what La Jolla Brew House was. No good. Whatever initial authenticity existed when this place was conceived died years ago and that was a primary driver to the business’ extinction. Good bye, good riddance, and cheers to the next chapter, which is sure to be much better!