A colorful taster flight at Indian Joe Brewing in Vista heralds a variety of beers on tap for San Diego.
Over the past five months, news of brewery closings, layoffs, and sales have seemed to outpace the opening of new breweries in San Diego. With only six new brewhouses opening in that time, it was starting to look like the trend of accelerated growth — more than 20 new brewhouses launching in each of the past two years — had started to move the other direction, even as heavy rains moved in for an uncharacteristically wet winter.
But as spring approaches, and we now return to our regularly scheduled craft-beer boom. Over the next three months, San Diego beer fans will get as many as nine new brewhouses to visit, including the return of a couple favorites.
Indian Joe Brewing returns in early March following a two-year hiatus. Contentious leasing issues forced the Vista brewery out of its original location in 2015. Getting back to brewing has been slow, but Indian Joe returns with several upgrades, including ownership of a two-story tasting room visible from SR-78, aka the "hops highway," and a 15-barrel brewhouse, up from the 20-gallon homebrew rig used in its first go-round.
Thr3e Punk Ales will also soon return, as the first Chula Vista brewery to open on Third Avenue. The brand didn't lie dormant long — it launched late 2015, making beer as an alternating proprietorship at Butcher's Brewing in Santee. Thr3e Punks stopped distributing beer last spring, when Butcher's upgraded its system and changed its name to Finest Made Ales. The Punks are currently putting the finishing touches on its tasting room and ten-barrel brewhouse, where it will serve multiple takes on Mexican lager and continue its series of rock-band collaboration beers.
Back in Vista, SpecHops Brewing Company has soft-opened with a trio of clean, to style, sessionable beers brewed on a 15-barrel, electric-powered steam-brew system. Operated by a former Marine Corps intelligence officer, the brewery provides a welcoming environment for military and other public servants and vets to connect over beer.
Brewing began in late February at the next two beer companies to launch in turnkey brewhouses assembled by Brewery Igniter, located in the burgeoning beer district around El Camino Real and Palomar Airport Road in Carlsbad. Wiseguy Brewing got underway on a mission to brew a mix of beers led by hoppy and German styles.
Meanwhile, neighbor Rouleur Brewing broke in its identical ten-barrel brewhouse a day later. While its cycling enthusiast founder spent many years as a BJCP certified beer judge, as a brewer he favors tweaking styles, often through variations of Belgian yeast. Both breweries aim to soft-open ahead of official launches in March.
Del Mar's first brewery, originally hoping to open last year as Vigilante Brewing, has made its way through the red tape and will reportedly launch April 1st as Viewpoint Brewing. The 15-barrel brewpub is the vision of a brewer with high-end restaurant experience, which should serve the Del Mar culinary scene well.
Finally, while Vista has been one of the most brewery-dense communities in the county for years, since 2014 it's been relatively quiet on the new brewery front. But a new wave of breweries in 2017 make it even more of a hotbed for beer. In addition to SpecHops and Indian Joe, two new Vista companies received ABC approval to start brewing in February: Battlemage Brewing, and the originally intended for San Marcos Ebullition Brew Works. Meanwhile, the pro-skater-affiliated Black Plague Brewing has also received permits to brew in Oceanside.
Questions may remain on how sustainable the market will be for 140-plus county brewhouses, but those looking to call the craft bubble burst may have to wait until next year.