New breweries in San Diego join a crowded field. With over 150 brewhouses at work in the county, there's a growing sense that the time has passed for startup breweries to achieve the scope of success enjoyed by Stone Brewing, Green Flash Brewing, and Ballast Point.
1983 Julian Avenue, Barrio Logan
That is, if they're in it for the money. That's less the case with Alta Brewing, which started pouring beer for the public in Logan Heights this week. According to brewer and cofounder Brett Stampf, Alta's business plan isn't about getting rich in beer.
"At some point I'd like to think I have enough money to have a sustainable lifestyle," he says, "but if I can maintain this existence for the rest of my life, I'm cool. I don't need to make a million bucks."
Stampf has worked in beer since 1995, including time brewing at Stone, Green Flash, and another craft-beer success story out of Delaware, Dogfish Head Brewery. However, whenever one of these companies made the leap from a small regional brewery into a large production facility, he decided to move on.
"I don't want to go corporate," he says. So, while Green Flash grew into a 250-barrel brewhouse in Mira Mesa, Stampf went a different way, moving on to brew on a ten-barrel system at La Jolla Brewing Company.
When he started working out a business plan for Alta more than two years ago, he reasoned that pursuing a business model that relies on distribution creates the need to expand wider while selling beer cheaper. He partnered up with John Bull, a general contractor who worked on La Jolla Brewing, as well as structural engineer Josh Gilko and architect Christopher Bittner; the group decided to focus on a neighborhood brewery model that means moving smaller volume at higher margins by selling beer directly to tasting-room customers.
"Someone's going to capture retail profitability, so why not us?" says Stampf. "Why not be in front of customers building our relationships? Selling kegs for 600 bucks instead of 200 through a distributor and running around, having a sales force, a larger footprint in the world."
That model meant opening in an urban neighborhood rather than an industrial park. "No, there's no culture, no art in places like that," Stampf says. "And down here there's all of that."
Built into a back corner of Logan Heights art gallery and events space Bread & Salt, Alta Brewing serves the resurgent community around adjacent Barrio Logan. The five-barrel brewhouse and breezy little taproom extends to an open lot behind the building that's tabbed for additional retail development.
While Alta Brewing hopes to expand into another neighborhood tasting room or two down the line, for now, Stampf says, "The focus is really just do killer beers, not reinvent the wheel."
Stampf adds that the five beers brewed for the August 8th opening — a stout, pale, brown, gold ale, and IPA — are meant "to capture as many palates in five glasses as possible."