110 N. Magnolia, El Cajon
(Has gone out of business since this article was published.)
Just four guys sitting around the brewery drinking beer…and, yes, we all have beards. This was the Facebook post describing the first media tasting session for the beers of URBN St. Brewery (110 North Magnolia Avenue, El Cajon). The brewpub is owned by the business entity behind URBN Coal-Fired Pizza and BASIC and located in the former El Cajon Brewing Company space.
It is also undergoing renovations, leaving brewmaster Callaway Ryan unable to work on the rough drafts of his opening day lineup on the system that will eventually birth them. Instead, he’s getting back to his brewing roots, using stock pots and carboys. Having worked for larger production breweries including Surly Brewing Co. and, more recently, Stone Brewing Co., it’s the first time he’s gone the homebrew route in roughly five years. As such, his first drafts aren’t perfect, but they are indicative of the direction he wants to go and promising enough that, once dialed-in, they’ll provide enough reason for beer enthusiasts to venture east on Interstate 8.
The three beers he allowed me to try were an English-style best bitter, India pale ale, and mysterious brown ale he refused to label. The bitter was extremely mild at 3.8% alcohol-by-volume and creamy as a result of the inclusion of flaked wheat in the malt bill. Dubbed a “pub-friendly” beer by its crafter, it was designed to be approachable. Ryan understands that being in El Cajon, a community that's been less exposed to craft beer, will provide the opportunity to convert folks to the medium.
The IPA, obligatory in hop-hungry San Diego, is made with hops rarely seen in India pale ales — Pacifica and Glacier. This beer represents the challenge facing many new brewing operations: brewing beers without access to popular hop varieties. With craft beer booming the way it is, most contracts for hops like Cascade, Citra, and Centennial are set, leaving very little for fledgling companies just getting their feet. As such, rare and experimental hops are what the little guys can get their hands on. Considering this, Ryan did a nice job, coaxing out orange notes and a grassy character to go with bitterness from Warrior hops added early in the brewing process.
Then there’s that baffling brown ale, which comes in at 5.2%, tastes like a deeply browned pretzel, and exhibits a nice, hefty mouthfeel. It’s unlike any beer being made in San Diego, Ryan wanted a beer with food flavor and the ability to pair well with URBN St.’s fare, which will include the Connecticut-style pies of the brewpub’s sister restaus as well as pub fare developed by former Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Escondido executive chef Alex Carballo. All in all, it was a decent showing that’s bound to be followed by an even better display once Ryan can start working off his 15-barrel system, which will hopefully happen later this month.