Bay Bridge co-founder Jim Shirey tends bar in his new tasting room.
A recent social-media surge around the hashtag #southbayuprising has been calling attention to the proliferation of craft beer in the South Bay. While the recent addition of Border X Brewing, Novo Brazil Brewing, and a slew of tap houses have made the region beer-friendlier, one brewery has called the area home for nine years. It just didn't have a tasting room — until now.
688 Marsat Court, Chula Vista
Bay Bridge Brewing officially opened to customers in late July but has been making beer since 2006, quietly distributing to local bars and restaurants, including Romesco and Coronado area yacht clubs. Founder Jim Shirey says he and head brewer/cofounder Doug Chase never considered opening a tasting room until 2013.
"We were doing a lot of distribution, and we really didn't think much about it," Shirey says, "Then everybody and their brother started opening tasting rooms, so that's when we decided maybe we should, too."
Prior to the tasting room, the brewing partners established the Brewhouse at Eastlake brewpub — which has since closed — but have consistently turned out beers in Chula Vista under the Bay Bridge name. In fact, to become the first Chula Vista brewery, they had to overcome longstanding city codes prohibiting breweries.
"It went back to the ’50s," Chase says of the prohibition. "I think it was a lot to do with flammability, because the law said no brewing, distilling, or perfume manufacturing." While distillers and perfumers are still out of luck, Bay Bridge got a conditional permit to make beer. "I think they tacked on brewing with distilling because you've gotta brew before you can distill," Chase continues. "I wrote this nice long letter explaining you couldn't blow up a brewery if you tried."
That process took them two years a decade ago, and the tasting room eventually took just as long as the city worked out its approach to tasting-room requirements. "We went for two years thinking we were just a month away from getting our permit," Shirey says, "and then they'd come up with something else."
Shirey and Chase started homebrewing together in 1996 and started the company when Shirey — a retired auctioneer — found a 15-barrel brew system at the bankruptcy auction for La Jolla's defunct Sport City Café and Brewery.
Bay Bridge still operates on that system today, turning out seven core beers and several seasonal each year. Shirey says the best seller has been their Bonita Blonde, while their newest release, the Bill of Rights Red IPA, has proven most popular since the tasting room opened. Arguably the brewery's most successful beer is the Wolf Canyon American Wheat, which won a gold medal in the 2012 San Diego International Beer Competition.
Despite the company's successes, Bay Bridge's straightforward approach has left it off a lot of connoisseurs’ radar. "We pretty much do traditional style," says Shirey, "Some of the tap houses downtown, we don't sell to because we're not funky enough." #Southbayuprising could change that.