8665 Argent Street, Suite B, Santee
Following a year of buildup and private tasting events, Pacific Islander Brewing Company (PIB) became the latest craft entity to open in Santee, opening the doors of its Polynesian-style tasting room and patio to the public on June 15. By the end of June it ran into a problem most start-up breweries would like to have — they're worried they can't make beer fast enough. "I'm not sure we want any more publicity right now," said co-owner Ku'uipo Lawler when I first called to set up an interview.
By the time I met with him, barely two weeks after opening, he estimated roughly 4500 people had already come in looking for beer. A week later, PIB put a two-week moratorium on growler fills to ensure guests could at least taste the two kinds of beer they still had in reserve — the resinous DaKine IPA and Li'ke Li'ke Honey Blond (pronounced likey likey). "We have two beers," Lawler says, "and people are just knocking the door down."
Will Fox, Lawler's nephew and PIB's head brewer, is working to remedy the situation, but production is limited while PIB waits on its own commercial gear. In the meantime, he's been brewing available days on the equipment at nearby Twisted Manzanita. The beer company's brewed-in-house offerings have been small batches, a stout and nelson hopped IPA made in 20-gallon batches. Lawler says that even when limiting service of these beers to 4-ounce tasters they barely last a day.
The good news is, PIB planned for rapid growth. Lawler says they were originally going to move into a smaller space, but quickly realized scalability would be key to keeping the business going. "The math didn't work out. That's what's happening with a lot of the small microbreweries. They're working 12 hours a day, and after a year or two they're getting burnt out. If you don't have a big enough building to expand, the cost is so prohibitive that you have to work it all the time. If you don't get up to 5000 barrels a year, fast, you're going to struggle. At 3000 you're probably barely breaking even."
Lawler expects PIB's own system to be installed and in production by the end of summer; in the meantime, Fox will continue to oversee contract brews at Twisted Manzanita, just one of many Santee businesses that have stepped up to make PIB feel welcome. Local businesses have contributed electrical work, sprinkler installation, and turf for the oasis-like patio that looks beyond Santee to the sunbaked hills of east county. "The community has been outstanding," he says, "the city, outstanding." And, judging by the rate PIB has been burning through its supply, the immediate thirst of beer enthusiasts in the area has also been outstanding.