On January 2 the first new San Diego brewery of 2016 opens its doors. Bitter Brothers Brewing Co. has been a long time coming, building out its BayHo brewhouse and tasting room since spring of 2014. Various delays kept pushing back its opening day, chief among them last year's port slowdown in Long Beach, which stranded incoming brewing equipment for months offshore.
But Bill and Kurt Warnke, the brothers in question, stuck to their gameplan. Along with founding partner Monica Andresen and a brew team led by former Karl Strauss and 32 North brewer John Hunter, they endured equipment delays, vendor issues, and property improvements to see their vision through.
"It took a while to put the nuts and bolts together," says Bill Warnke. "By it taking so long, we were able to get the feel and look and everything we wanted with the brewery." The tasting room features white subway tile, a poured-in-place concrete bar with rusted patina veneers and a mural of the company logo — two men in silhouette, back to back, with their arms crossed.
That imagery matches the Bitter Brothers name, which refers more to the Warnke brothers' sardonic humor than flavor profiles. "It's not about bitter beer," Bill insists. "It's more of a lifestyle. We grew up bitter."
While several of the four or five beers Bitter Brothers will open with happen to be IPAs — including a citra session ale and a malt-balanced northwest style — they're not aggressively hop forward. "Are we gong to have IPAs?" Bill posits, "Absolutely. Are we going to go out trying to wreck peoples' palate with high IBUs? No. We want the beer to be well-balanced."
Other styles rolling out the first month include a Berliner Weisse flavored with either ginger or pomegranate, an ESB, a coffee porter, and chocolaty dunkelweizen. Making food friendly beer is a priority, but part of of the lineup's variety reflects the diverse interests of the brewing team. Recipes originate from Hunter as well as Bruce McSurdy, formerly of Poway's Lightning Brewery, and Kurt Warnke, who says his interest in homebrewing took an unusual course.
"I actually did it backwards," says Kurt, a facility operations manager in his day job. "Most people homebrew first, and then go into the commercial part of the brewing industry. I started out volunteering at Lightning with Bill, and once I'd been in the commercial side for a while I said, 'Hey, I want to try to develop some of my own beer.'"
Bill Warnke also was an investor in Lightning for a time, following an unlikely assortment of careers — first as a U.S. Marine, then 30 years as home security firm owner and the past decade-plus as a chef. This latest venture reflects a lately developed passion he and Kurt have nurtured since 2009, leading to a tagline that perfectly sums up the personality of San Diego's newest brewery: "We grew up with our glass half empty. We discovered craft beer and now it's half full."