In the Hopper, Part 1: The Top Five

With over 30 brewing companies opening their doors or constructing new locations, there's a lot to look forward to in the San Diego sudscape. A popular local publication recently touted Point Loma's work-in-progress Modern Times Beer as the new San Diego brewery opening they’re most looking forward to. Many craft beer enthusiasts read this and subsequently posed the question to me: what new place are you most excited about? It's prompted me to take a look on the horizon and rank the incoming class. The following are my top five...

Bagby Beer: Opening in the former home of an Oceanside auto dealership will provide Pizza Port expat Jeff Bagby plenty of room to both brew beer and pack in the thousands of people (here and outside the county) who have been jonesing for his to-style suds since his sudden departure from the Port to set sail on his own terms. The Great American Beer Festival's most decorated entrant and his wife, Dande, are brimming over with enthusiasm that figures to translate to fantastic beer. It’s all I’ve ever known him to make. Throw in the fact the Bagbys intend to utilize their gimungous facility to host festivals akin to the Strong Ale Festival and Belgian Beer Party events he helped put on back at Pizza Port Carlsbad and how can this not be the new venture I’m most excited about?

Dande and Jeff Bagby of the WIP Bagby Beer

Dande and Jeff Bagby of the WIP Bagby Beer

Pizza Port Bressi Ranch: Even down a blue chip like Bagby, this local chain remains ahead of the pack thanks to its ability to secure and foster young talents like Yiga Miyashiro, Sean Farrell, Ignacio Cervantes, and Devon Randall. The first two are hard at work readying the system for Pizza Port’s fifth and largest spot, a combination restaurant, brewing facility, and warehouse that will be located in Carlsbad’s Bressi Ranch development. In 2011, during his first year at the controls of Pizza Port Ocean Beach, Miyashiro earned that venue Best Small Brewpub in the country honors. Farrell was a standout at Coronado Brewing Company before jumping ship and eventually helming Pizza Port Solana Beach. Together, they make for a formidable tandem.

A rendering of Pizza Port's upcoming Bressi Ranch facility

A rendering of Pizza Port's upcoming Bressi Ranch facility

Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station: Yes, I work at Stone Brewing Co., but even if I didn’t, I’d be psyched about the installation of a second iteration of the company’s farm-to-table, beer-centric Escondido eatery, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens. For one thing, it’s not in the far-off northeasternmost corner of the county. Secondly, taking over the historic NTC mess hall will make it one of, if not the largest restaurant in all of San Diego. Most importantly, it will be a brewpub equipped with a 10-barrel system that will pump out new beers from a rotating staff of Stone brewers overseen by recently transferred veteran brewer Kris Ketcham. Those creations will only be available at the Liberty Station location and should nicely diversify Stone’s beer portfolio.

Nickel Beer Company: Most people know Tom Nickel merely as the owner of O’Brien’s Pub. That’s plenty respectable, but way before he became a publican, he brewed with local legend Tomme Arthur (Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey) at Pizza Port Solana Beach and, shortly after, earned Oggi’s Pizza & Brewing world-class status in 2004’s edition of the Olympics of brewing, the World Beer Cup. In 2011, he made a brief comeback, manning the brewhouse at Julian Brewing Company until early 2012 when a dispute with his co-owners brought that venture to a premature end. But later this year, he’ll be returning to Julian to open a brewery and tasting room that figures to provide plenty of good reason for a weekend jaunt to apple country.

Benchmark Brewing Company: By now, you’re seeing a trend. I value experience. There’s a lot to be said for an operation backed by people with proven track records and companies with roots in the community. Matt Akin, the owner and head brewer at this soon-to-open operation, spent several years churning out quality beers like Horny Devil, Old Numbskull, and Speedway Stout at renowned brewery, AleSmith, before moving on to take over La Jolla Brew House. Through no fault of his own, that gig didn’t work out, but fortunately, lots of down time in The Jewel gave him the time to develop a business plan to open his own brewery in Grantville, and I’m jazzed to see what he does with it.

Check back next week for a half-dozen more of the local brewing companies I'm anxiously awaiting.

In the Hopper, Part 2

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