Photo by photo by Paul Body
The Barrel Room at New English, debuting to the public July 8th.
New English Brewing Company marks its tenth anniversary July 8, celebrating with a party debuting its capacious new taproom and events space to the public.
11545 Sorrento Valley Road #305, San Diego
Located in the suite next door to its Sorrento Valley brewery and tasting room, the Barrel Room gets its name in part by affording the brewery storage space to grow its barrel-aging program. More importantly, its 20 tap handles and 2700 square feet add much-needed elbow room to the popular after-work destination.
"We were getting so busy in the tasting room," says brewer Simon Lacey, who owns and operates New English along with his wife, Nina O'Hara-Lacey. The couple said that on Thursday and Friday nights they regularly see lines out the door.
However, the rise in demand for New English beer extends beyond its doorstep. Most of its beer goes out in kegs and bottles. "Our primary goal and our mission is to be a packaging, wholesaling brewery," says Lacey, "and that was our mission statement from day one, ten years ago."
That's a business model that was more common in 2007, when there were fewer than two dozen breweries throughout San Diego County. Today, that many open in a single year. "We're in a fortunate position in that we're an established brand. The whole business has completely transformed itself in the past year or two." He points to the trend among newer breweries to open satellite tasting rooms in popular neighborhoods so they can maximize profit margins by selling beer by the glass.
While New English briefly considered opening a tasting-room location in North Park two years ago, Lacey recommitted to the wholesale model. "I was uncomfortable with opening a tasting room next to an established bar that we're trying to sell beer to," he explains. "I think there's an inherent conflict of interest there."
Instead, the brewery grew in place and brought on a second full-time sales rep to increase the brand's distribution. Despite increasing competition, Lacey remains bullish on continuing to grow locally, with no plans to ship beer past county lines.
"Don't get me wrong — there's a lot of breweries in San Diego County," he says, "but it's a big county." Citing trade statistics showing the region consumes around one million barrels annually, he insists, "There's still a lot of upside for us here." Thus far, he's been right. This year, Lacey anticipates New English will make and sell close to 3000 barrels — a 50 percent increase over 2016.
However, he also says the recent success follows years of hard work and sacrifice. "We were bootstrapping for a very long time," he recalls. Determined to remain fully independent, O'Hara-Lacey have grown the company without taking on outside investors. Consequently, they ran the brewery eight years before they could afford to give up their respective tech-industry jobs.
While they acknowledge it would have been great to have that freedom sooner, for a couple of reasons, Lacey values the path they've taken. "You're going to make mistakes," he says with a laugh. "It's better to make mistakes when you're small, when each mistake only costs you a few hundred bucks."
"You also have the time to learn the craft," he adds, suggesting New English's reputation for quality had to be earned. "It's not just craft brewing because it's funny-colored beer with lots of hops in it; we're learning all the time."