Despite being ravaged by a fire in 2015, Pacific Beach Ale House will celebrate its tenth anniversary brewing beer by the beach on April 25th, and its beer is getting an upgrade.
721 Grand Avenue, Pacific Beach
The business known to most as PB Ale House was not the first brewery at 721 Grand Avenue. First it was Terrific Pacific Brewery & Grill, then Taylor’s Restaurant & Brewery. Brewery licenses for the location date back to 1995, making it one of the oldest brewhouses in town. And until recently, its brewhouse went back even further than that.
“It was close to 30 years old,” tells head brewer Jonathon Rielly, who’s been told it pre-dated PB Ale House, originally bought from another brewery in Ontario.
Rielly, an Oceanside native who previously brewed at Prohibition Brewery in Vista, started here in May 2015, not long after the President’s Day fire that forced the restaurant to shut down for half a year. Somehow, that old brewhouse survived, while everything else was destroyed.
PB Ale’s brewhouse sits on the other side of a glass wall from its main dining room, and though some electronics were damaged, its tanks remained intact, if outdated. Once the business re-opened, Rielly could be seen back there, manually stirring in grains in an open-top, 14-barrel brew vessel.
“There was a lot of condensation coming off the top when you’re mashing in, a lot of hand stirring,” he explains, “It’s good for showmanship I guess, because you see a lot of activity, but as far as production you lose a lot of heat, lose a lot of moisture, so it was very inefficient.”
This January, PB Ale House finally updated it brew tank, installing a new Premier Stainless system that gives Rielly a chance to produce a better and more consistent product. And way more efficient. Despite downsizing from a 14-barrel tank to one half its size, the new seven-barrel rig is reducing both cost of goods and brew time.
“We were using twice as much grain to produce the same wort,” Rielly says of the old, larger system, which was tough to work around, and took longer to clean. Even though Rielly must now double batch to fill up his 14-barrel fermenters, it still takes him less time to get the job done. “We’re brewing twice,” he says, “but our brew day’s two hours shorter, with cleanup.”
He’s also getting a chance to expand PB Ale House offerings. Only a half block from the sand of Pacific Beach, the brewpub’s customers are more likely to be beach tourists and college students, here to enjoy the rooftop deck, where they may drink and dine with an open view of the ocean. Their tastes differ from the beer enthusiasts visiting most San Diego breweries, favoring what Rielly likes to call “blue collar” beer. They more often stick to non-bitter styles such as blonde ale, red ale, and stout, in addition to the occasional IPA.
While these remain among the business’s top sellers, the improved brewing efficiency is allowing Rielly to rotate in beers requiring softer water profiles: for example, he’s got a hefeweizen just about ready for release.
Since reopening after the fire, PB Ale House reportedly has done better business than ever before, and Rielly usually has to focus on keeping its most popular beers in stock. However, once the tourist season is done, he looks forward to really seeing what this new brewhouse can do. “Summer… we keep it on and keep it turning,” the brewer says, “We get to play around in the winter.”