New San Diego beer brands will debut in June, pandemic shutdown or otherwise.
Counted among the world’s top amateur brewers, national and state homebrew champion Nick Corona has steadily worked toward opening his own brewery, somewhere in North County. He came close on locations in San Marcos and Escondido, but finally sealed the deal early this year when he agreed to take over recently closed Vista brewery, Barrel Harbor Brewing (2575 Pioneer Avenue, Suite 104).
When the pandemic struck, it was only natural to question the wisdom of pressing forward with his new business, Five Suits Brewing. Even under normal circumstances, Corona tells me, that would be the case. “Through the whole process there are second thoughts,” he says, “I would think a lot of brewery owners have had the same feelings in the process of opening.”
But opening a brewery doesn’t happen overnight, and can’t stop on a dime. There are many moving parts, from bank loans to licensing and inspections covering every level of government. So last week, as planned, Corona brewed the first beers of his new business.
He won’t throw a June 1 grand opening party as he’d hoped, but Five Suits will open for curbside take-out. Resources intended to create a unique tasting room ambiance have been diverted to securing a palette of crowlers and a machine to seal them. “Packaging is huge right now,” Corona notes. A few months ago he considered glass growlers all but obsolete, now, as crowler cans have become tough to find, glass is back in play. “All of those things that were not in any scope of our thought process are now front of mind.”
Across the county, Trevor Anderson, Andy Lloyd, and Jarren Zeferjahn have found themselves facing similar decisions. Collectively known as Three Frogs Beer Company, the trio of longtime homebrew partners have been planning their business since 2016. Well over a year ago, they leased a location in that would make Three Frogs the first brewery to operate within a commercial district in Santee.
However, due to circumstances beyond their control, Three Frogs only received its final license to brew on April 21, weeks after the pandemic shutdown hamstrung local brewing industry. First, their license application was delayed by last year’s federal government shutdown. Subsequently, it was misplaced for months, and when it was finally located, the agent put in charge of their file went on extended leave.
Ironically, the city of Santee had sought to speed up Three Frogs’ opening by pushing through regulatory changes to allow breweries in commercial zones for the first time. The brewery brings an 800 square foot tasting room and more than 500 square feet of patio space to the east county city’s downtown area (10366 Mission Gorge Road).
With their license finally in hand, Three Frogs has little choice but to proceed in opening their business, despite the challenges of opening during a pandemic. They need income. “The bank account is really itchin' for us to go,” says Anderson, “There’s only so many dollars left for rent, so we’ve got to generate something.”
While trying to secure their own crowler machine, they will likely open in June using whatever packaging works. “We will grab up whatever containers we can,” says Lloyd, from growlers to mason jars. “We’ll encourage customers to bring their own empty containers… we’ll sanitize them.”
An exact opening date will be determined when Three Frogs has four beers ready to pour, including a wheat IPA, nutmeg blonde ale, and hibiscus wheat beer.
Likewise, Five Suits will open with three or four beers to pour, including a Vienna lager, coconut vanilla stout, and at least one or two of the perennial award winner’s IPAs.
Five Suits and Three Frogs will hold off opening their tasting rooms until the governor allows it. But waiting till after the shutdown ends to brew beer was never a realistic option.
“This is something that you have to start months and possibly years in advance in planning,” Corona says, “if you’re going to put on the brakes and pull that rip chord, you’re throwing everything away in terms of cash and capital.”