“Believe it or not,” said Douglas Hasker, “Once upon a time this was the hot shit brewery in town.”
Hasker was speaking to a crowd assembled at the Gordon Biersch brewpub in Mission Valley, where he’s been head brewer for more than 20 years, since moving to San Diego to help open the restaurant in 1998. Ostensibly, the friends, fellow brewers, and former employees had gathered to celebrate the release of the brewpub’s seasonal Sommerbrau Kolsch. But really, they’d come to say goodbye and pay tribute: earlier this month, Gordon Biersch announced the restaurant would be closing at the end of business on July 14.
“We try to tell stories about what it was like here twenty years ago,” Hasker told the gathering, “From the host stand to the bar was about a thirty minute walk, through all the people. No kidding!” He went on to recall that demand for brewed on-site beers was such that, “We could stand in the back on a Friday night and watch the levels of the tanks go down.”
Two decades later, a heavily saturated local beer market is credited with the shuttering of the mainstay brewpub, part of a national chain that has closed several Gordon Biersch restaurants in recent years. As the number of breweries and brewery taprooms within San Diego has surged past 200, newer generations of beer drinkers have favored newer, younger brands, seeking out trendy new beer styles over the traditional German-style brews that are Biersch’s — and Hasker’s — specialty.
Speaking with me in a corner booth, Hasker discussed the difficulty established beer brands face in attracting a new generation of beer drinkers. “We’ve become the beer their parents drank,” he said, “It’s a tough marketing hurdle to get over, especially if there’s a new brewery every week.”
The announcement Gordon Biersch would close came as a shock to beer enthusiasts, one drenched with the particular irony that lagers have been enjoying a local resurgence. And that, during the last twenty years, when San Diego brewers have always had Hasker to turn to for guidance in producing a beer style known to be especially unforgiving of mistakes. Some call him the godfather of lagers, and many follow the lead of Societe Brewing Company, which named its smoked helles lager in Hasker’s honor, dubbing it The Mentor.
“I don’t think anybody put it better than Societe,” said Thr3e Punk Ales head brewer Ivan Maldonado, one of dozens of local brewers and industry professionals attending the Sommerbrau party. “He’s our mentor.”
Rock Bottom La Jolla head brewer Dan Anderson worked with Hasker as a brewer for five years. “I took a lot of influence from this place,” he said, “in terms of recipe development, the way things are done. And I owe most of them to Doug.”
Owned by the same parent company as Biersch, the transition to Rock Bottom was a natural move for Anderson, and some members of the Gordon Biersch staff may follow suit once the restaurant closes in July. Others may have an opportunity with the brewpub’s new owner: Puesto. The Mexican restaurant brand will take possession of the building and its brewhouse, which it intends to operate by the end of the year as Puesto Mexican Artisan Kitchen and Bar. Puesto management has posted job opportunities for Biersch employees, both front of house and kitchen staff.
They’ve extended an offer to Hasker to have him produce beer for its Puesto Cerveceria. The mentor now finds himself tapping the knowledge of Maldonado and other brewers about best practices in brewing Mexican lagers, which figure to be a big factor in pairing with Puesto’s taco-centric menu.