8179 Center Street, La Mesa
They say it’s what's inside that counts and that’s true of any business, including Bolt Brewery (8179 Center Street, La Mesa). After all, it’s inside that soon-to-open operation’s Quonset hut brewhouse where the beer is made, and that’s what will ultimately be Bolt’s calling card. But, it’s what’s on the outside that really sets this brewing company apart. Unlike most San Diego beer makers, Bolt boasts a wealth of outdoor space. In fact, the square footage of its sprawling, multi-level beer garden far exceeds that of its primary structures.
I had a chance to tour the space this weekend and, though the garden has yet to be completed, it already makes for a cool place to kick back with a beer and comes across as a frontrunner to become one of the best spots to enjoy a brew in San Diego County. That’s pretty impressive considering this is the first brewery built within the La Mesa city limits. In blazing a trail, ownership has gone all-in, converting a former junkyard into something special and grand enough that its closest comparable contemporary is the fabulously appointed outdoor beer garden archetype, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens. It sounds almost preposterous, but it’s true.
Whereas Stone is prettier and focused on more natural elements — greenery, water and, of course, stone — Bolt’s outdoor area features industrial components and snaking concrete sidewalks leading from the brewhouse (which will remain open during business hours so visitors can watch brewing in action) to a soon-to-be-grassy patch that will feature a long communal table with a tasting bar installed in a converted shipping container. The bar includes 20 taps (including four nitro nozzles) and serves as a buffer between the lower garden area, which will be family-friendly, and the upper half, which will be adults-only. Many local breweries allow children in, but few, if any, let a kid be a kid while letting a grown-up be a grown-up. This would seem a nice win-win.
The driving force behind Bolt is brewmaster Clint Stromberg, a co-founder of the original Bolt Brewery, which opened way back in 1987 (two years ahead of the oldest continuously operating brewery in San Diego, Karl Strauss Brewing Company). Back then, the business was based in Fallbrook. It also operated out of a Quonset hut. That’s why that same structure is part of the new property. It was important to Stromberg to bring along a feel of the original operation to his new digs. Back then, he and his partners were just kids, but after years of building breweries at home and abroad and doing plenty of brewing, Stromberg brings a great deal of experience to the table.
But Stromberg’s pedigree isn’t the only thing that’s advanced in the past 27 years. So, too, he says, have brewing styles, the quality of beers available, and the savvy of the people drinking those beers. In the olden days, Stromberg had to sell people on why they should pay more for Bolt’s brews and assortment of craft options from the likes of Anchor Brewing Company ($2 for a pint of those versus $1.75 for a bottle of Heineken…I think my wallet just shed a tear). Nowadays…not so much. Thirsty people drive by his business every day, asking when it will finally open. This has gone on for a year while Stromberg and company work to get the approvals they need to start selling beer. But the end — or more accurately, the beginning — appears to be in sight.
If all goes as planned, Bolt will begin its soft-open period the Friday after Thanksgiving. When that occurs, a dectet of beers will be on tap, including a 75 IBU IPA brewed with Cascade, Chinook, and Columbus hops as well as a pilsner (Stromberg’s specialty) that just may be the best being produced in San Diego County. The inaugural slate of beers will also include a Citra-based pale ale, brown and red ales, light wheat, and chocolate stout. The best place to find out whether Bolt is open is the company’s Facebook page. The brewery is also in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign soliciting funds to help finish the garden area as quickly as possible and complete what they’re deeming “the hoppiest comeback ever.”