A couple of young children run past as I walk in the door, chasing each other around the window bar counter where their parents sit, waving, laughing over beers.
Inside Thr3e Punk Ales, a Thursday evening crowd includes professionally attired coworkers filling out the community table near the front, enjoying a game of Cards Against Humanity, each with beers of a different hue. On one side of me at the bar, a couple of fashionable young women caught up on each other’s lives between sips of pale lager. On the other, four men kept up a lively series of conversations over IPAs, bouncing seamlessly between English and Spanish.
Bilingualism is woven into the fabric here in Chula Vista, where Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing Co. has opened along with several beer establishments to bring fresh life to Third Avenue, the city’s main drag. This brewery founded by local boys embraces the duality. A t-shirt for sale works the brewery’s anarchy logo into the word chela, a Mexican slang term for beer. A Fox TV broadcast of tonight’s Padres game projects on a large screen, while the television behind the bar is tuned to a Spanish language broadcast of the same game, aired on Univision.
The past couple years, the rising stars of American beer sales haven’t been craft beers, but Mexican imports, which means many domestic breweries — both craft and big beer — have invested in trying to capture a surging market of Chicano beer drinkers. Usually they come to the same conclusions: emulate the imported Mexican-style lagers, or infuse beers with popular flavors from Mexican culture, such as horchata, or jamaica.
But, judging by a few visits to Thr3e Punk Ales, the industry might be overthinking it.
Yes, one of the Punks’ most popular beers is La Flama Blanca, among San Diego’s top representations of the Mexican lager style, which is loosely defined but typically involves the addition of flaked corn to a pale malt lager. It was my first choice of the evening, and worth the visit just for its sweet malt base made crisp by the balancing brace of Germanic hops.
But I wouldn’t say the menu caters to demographics. The vast majority of beers made in Thr3e Punks’ basement brewery below are winning representations of a range of beer styles. And they require no translation: the majority Latino crowd orders to individual tastes.
There was Foam Party, a dry-hopped Belgian pale ale produced in collaboration with North Park Beer Co., offers notes of bubble gum and clove, with hops becoming more prevalent as the beer warms. Or Rye You Trippin?, a recent gold medalist at the San Diego International beer competition, a restrained rye, rye IPA bursting with fragrant citrus aromas. This Charming Stout, one of Thr3e Punk’s trio of gold medalists at last month’s Los Angeles International beer contest, delivered an easy drinking, low-ABV dark beer that would resonate with fans of Benchmark Brewing’s comparable Oatmeal Stout.
Despite any antisocialism implied by its name and logo, Thr3e Punk Ales furnishes a welcoming, environment that illustrates why neighborhood breweries are the future of craft beer. It’s simple really: make good beer, serve your community.