November 2nd marks five years since Amplified Ale Works debuted in Pacific Beach, and the beer company will be celebrating its biggest year yet with a Friday night live-music event at the Lafayette Hotel in North Park. While it's not unusual that Amplified has steadily grown since opening in 2012, the path it's taken has been one of the most unlikely in San Diego beer.
For one, it started out as a restaurant just trying to get a license to serve alcohol. Alex Pierson and JC Hill first opened their fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant, California Kebab, next to SDSU, in 2009. After a few successful years in business, they aimed to open a second location at a Pacific Beach property with an ocean-view patio.
"We knew there would be a craft-beer component," remembers Pierson, "but didn't really plan on the brewery." Initially, the restaurateurs hit a wall trying to get a license to serve alcohol in PB. When a consultant commented that they'd have an easier time as a beer manufacturer, the seeds for Amplified were planted.
"We had been homebrewing in JC's garage a couple of years," Pierson recalls. "We thought, This is kind of in our wheelhouse.”
It worked. They got their license and hired an Alpine Beer Company brewer, Cy Henley, to lead the beermaking effort on a small three-barrel system with the goal of selling house beers to restaurant customers. "Looking back," Pierson laughs, "I thought we had already jumped the shark with the number of breweries in San Diego." At the time, Amplified counted as San Diego brewery number 54. More than a hundred have opened since.
While Pierson and Hill remain close friends, Hill left town to found another brewery in 2014, opening Alvarado Street Brewery in downtown Monterey, where he's also head brewer.
Meanwhile, Amplified beers were selling as fast as Henley could make them, so Pierson signed on to lease a turn-key brewhouse offered by HG Fenton's Brewery Igniter program. He credits Amplified moving into the seven-barrel Miramar brewhouse to the company being able to ride the momentum of what he calls San Diego's "peak beer moment."
It's allowed Amplified to go from 350 barrels in annual production to 1200 this year, effectively maxing out its capacity. Pierson's embraced the role of brewery owner — he's on the verge of completing the brewer’s certificate program at UCSD — and the plan has evolved to grow Amplified into a 15- or 20-barrel brewhouse in the future.
However, he estimates 75 percent of Amplified beer is served at the restaurant, and he's working to add a dedicated tasting-room component at the Pacific Beach restaurant — license pending.
Amplified has increased distribution to 30 or 40 outside accounts, primarily chosen to reinforce the rock-music association implicit with its guitar-amplifier branding. For its anniversary, Amplified is also adding to its roster of rock-band collaboration beers.
Local act Western Settings will be taking cases of the newly released DIYPA collaboration on tour this month. Meanwhile, Live to Win IPA is the second beer the company has cobranded with seminal heavy-metal band Motörhead, following up its earlier Born to Lose IPA. Amplified has previously released a beer with ska-punk band Reel Big Fish and funky local group Sure Fire Soul Ensemble, which will be headlining the anniversary party.