After being closed for nearly a year, Align Brewing has reopened with 16-ounce crowlers, growler fills, and outdoor, on-premise service.
Even if you’re a devoted San Diego beer fan, it wouldn’t be totally surprising if you were under the impression Align Brewing had closed its doors for good. Back in the spring of 2019, word got out that owner Andrew Heino was leaving San Diego for a brewing opportunity in Hawaii and hoping to sell the small Miramar brewery he’d opened in the Miralani Makers District.
8680 Miralani Drive, San Diego
A sale did take place, and buyer Guillermo Nasser inconspicuously took the reins over the course of that summer. “The transition was very quiet,” Nasser acknowledges. “It just happened, and people thought we were closed.”
Nasser hadn’t intended to buy a brewery. A biochemist by trade, he joined the Miralani business park to pursue his passion for fermentation with his own brand, Collective Culture. The plan was — and still is — to brew kombucha, and produce a range of fermented products ranging from kefir to kimchi.
“These are all ferments that have been around for millennia, and we take them for granted,” says Nasser. “A lot of people don’t realize a third of most people’s diets have formed from fermentation. Understanding the science behind it, it’s something for me to geek out on.”
He was building out the Collective Culture kitchen, when he got in the habit of drinking beers at Align. And when Heino suggested the biochemist buy a majority share of the brewery (Heino continues to own a portion), Nasser embraced the opportunity. It wasn’t entirely out of character: he had been homebrewing beer for 12 years, and remains one elective shy of completing the UC San Diego Extension brewing program he entered in 2017.
However, as 2019 came to a close, Nasser found himself juggling roles: learning an unfamiliar brewing system, continuing to build Collective Culture, and keeping up with his day job as a consultant for the local biotech industry. He was at the brewery late one night in February 2020, when around 5 am his wife called to let him know she was going into labor. A week later, with a newborn at home, and covid on the verge of being declared a pandemic, he shut down the brewery, indefinitely. That was March 7.
“When we had to shut down, I was a little relieved, to be honest,” Nasser says. But it wasn’t without significant losses. “We had to dump about 700 gallons,” he recalls, “That was painful.”
Align would remain dark for more than 11 months. Nasser recalls challenging moments, “Sitting in this dusty brewery figuring out what I’m going to do. A couple times, I thought we were going to quit.”
But he resolved to stick with it, and the brewery reopened on February 11. In the meantime, Nasser finally found the time to make upgrades he’d earmarked for the brewery: replacing and reconfiguring equipment, and adding two new fermenters. Though Align missed out on the fun of the state’s shifting taproom requirements, he took the opportunity to re-open with outdoor seating only, to start.
Beer-wise, Nasser has updated a few of the brewery’s flagships, including the customer favorite Octo Rye IPA, which dates back to the days of Pacific Brewing Company, the brewery venture Heino originally cofounded in this space, back in 2014. Nasser has tweaked another Align beer, Cuatro Casas, shifting it from amber to dark lager. He’s also plied his brewing science on new offerings: including Mercurial IPA, a traditional English IPA made with American ingredients, and the first in a series of SMASH (Single Malt And Single Hop) beers. There’s also the earthy and floral LoTiCo Pale Ale, the first of Nasser’s homebrew recipes to be adapted to the Align brewhouse.
The name LoTiCo stands for “Long Time Coming.” It’s an apt description for the return of Align Brewing. And for the new brewery owner, who, nearly two years after buying the place, finally has a chance celebrate his first anniversary, on May 15. As Nasser tells me over the phone, “I have been shut down for longer than I have been operating the damn place!”