Batten Beer now served at TapRoom Beer Co. include an ESB and American stout.
When TapRoom Beer Co. hired Bill Batten, the North Park brewpub was months from opening: its corner suite in a new, mixed-use development on El Cajon Boulevard still under construction. Freshly unemployed following a stint as head brewer for Mikkeller Brewing, Batten knew he’d need to pick up a little freelance work to make ends meet in the meantime. “Okay, I can figure out something to do for the next six months,” he recalls thinking.
Murals at TapRoom Beer Co. brewpub include this nod to the Boulevard's growing brewery scene.
Except that was May of 2017, and it would be 30 months before the TapRoom brewhouse was ready for Batten to brew its first batch. As construction issues repeatedly pushed back TapRoom’s debut, Batten ended up working as a brewery consultant and fill-in brewer for two and a half years, and no fewer than five different beer companies.
That’s in stark contrast to the first 14 years of his beer career. Those were all spent at AleSmith Brewing, including a dozen years brewing with owner Peter Zien and brewmaster Tod Fitzsimmons. “Working under Peter and Tod,” Batten reflects, “I learned a lot more than most people would get by going to school.”
It’s exactly that experience that found the veteran brewer in such demand among newer breweries aspiring to AleSmith’s high standards. Batten consulted for Oceanside’s Black Plague Brewing, the Palm Springs-area Coachella Valley Brewing Company, and Del Mar’s Viewpoint Brewing Company. Mainly at these stops he offered guidance to less experienced brewers, who were using larger commercial systems for the first time.
“I came in, showed them the ropes a little bit,” Batten explains, “Taught them best practices... Best practices always prevail.”
Ironically, the large, commercial brewhouses grew smaller with each job: a 20-barrel system at Black Plague, 17 at Coachella, 15 at Viewpoint. But going smaller suited Batten fine. Back in 2016, when AleSmith grew out of its original Cabot Drive, Miramar location into a massive, new, automated, 80-barrel brewhouse down the road, Batten didn’t go with it. “At that size, you have to have that automation,” he explains. “Even Peter [Zien] knew that once they hit that point, that was not where my love lies. I love making beer. I love being the one dealing with this tangible product. Getting it from grain to fermenter to keg to glass."
Of course, a brewer with Batten’s skill set could make beer plenty of places. Black Plague, founded by a group of pro skaters, would have seemed a good fit. “That was an amazing opportunity for me, being a skateboarder,” Batten says, naming several skating icons he got a chance to meet while working there, including a trailblazer. “Very surreal to have Steve Caballero tell me he likes a beer that I made.”
TapRoom founders Kevin and Kyle Conover did start paying Batten a modest retainer in 2019, to keep others from hiring him permanently. But ultimately TapRoom offered the type of job Batten has worked his whole career for: a neighborhood brewpub gig, within skating or biking distance of home.
2000 El Cajon Blvd., San Diego
He finally got to work on its seven-barrel system in the new year, producing his preferred West Coast IPAs, and classic styles he might not get a chance to as part of a brewing team at a larger company. Early brews on the TapRoom menu include an American brown ale, American stout, and an ESB. The wait was longer than he'd hoped, but holding out for TapRoom has gotten him right where he wants to be. “Now I can sleep at night and know that I get up in the morning and have a job that I love to come to.”
TapRoom is serving beer now, with a grand opening of its restaurant and wraparound patio slated for early spring.