Fifteen years ago, recent college grad Ignacio Cervantes moved to San Diego for what was supposed to be a six-month adventure living rent-free near the beach at a friend’s place around Del Mar. He didn’t plan to brew any beer at the time, let alone make a career out of it.
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But when he decided to put his restaurant experience to use to make a little money, he got a part-time gig at a local brewpub, and inadvertently found his niche. Cervantes, who goes by the nickname Nacho, is a morning person, and reasoned the earlier he showed up, the earlier he could clock out and enjoy the rest of his day.
The brewpub was Pizza Port Solana Beach, and first person to work every day was its award-winning head brewer, Tomme Arthur. Cervantes started showing up when Arthur did, and when the brewer, working alone, needed assistance with something, Nacho would step in to help.
Cervantes remained working with Pizza Port until earlier this year, learning about the craft from Arthur and another big time medal winner, Jeff Bagby. Between his work ethic and talent, Nacho kept getting promoted, becoming head brewer of Pizza Port’s brewpubs in Carlsbad and Ocean Beach, and ultimately its production brewhouse in Bressi Ranch, where he learned the executive side of his profession means being involved in sales, marketing, and management. It turns out, making beer was the part of the job he loves.
“It’s different from the brewpub side,” he says about heading up a production brewery. “You have deadlines. You have people working under you.” We’re speaking over a flight of his beers at The Bell Marker. Cervantes took the head brewer job at the downtown brewpub in February, looking to get back to the creativity and simplicity of being a pub brewer. “There’s only so much work you can do behind a computer,” he adds, “before you start to bang your head on a table.”
The Bell Marker had been in pursuit of Cervantes, who in February finally agreed to take its brewhouse over from fellow Pizza Port alum Noah Regnery, the director of brewing operations for Artisanal Brewers Collective, the Los Angeles company that operates it.
These days, it's Cervantes working alone, tweaking recipes and experimenting with ideas and techniques. Being downtown offers a change of scenery compared to the “No shirt, no shoes, no problem” ethos of Pizza Port’s coastal brewpubs, but the beer-making tradition remains the same, and as he settles into his groove, Cervantes hopes to pass it on to the next generation.
But for the moment, he’s still enjoying the freedom of being a one-man show, behind a mashing paddle instead of a computer screen. “It’s been a lot of work being the only one working here,” Cervantes says, “but it’s definitely rewarding at the end of the day. I feel happy putting in a good hard day of making beer.”