A different sort of brewery has opened in North Park. Brewing supply store the Homebrewer soft-opened a tasting room in February. The 21-tap room has a few design revisions in store before its official summer opening, but already has a number of brewed-on-site beers showcasing the variety of yeasts, malts, and hops offered for sale in the nearly three-and-a-half-year-old shop.
2911 El Cajon Boulevard, North Park
"Everybody asked that in the beginning if we were going to do a brewery eventually," says owner George Thornton, referring to the fact Ballast Point famously grew out of the Home Brew Mart supply store 20 years ago. "It wasn't really my intention."
But after a couple of years meeting and working with others in the industry, the unique logistical opportunities gave the idea some legs. "We felt like our brewery could do stuff that was focused on the quality of the beer," Thornton says, "but also could experiment." The Homebrewer's beers — released under the name Home Brew Co. — do play around with different brewing recipes and techniques. Perhaps more important, Thornton and his team diligently document each process, sharing recipes and brew methods, even those that don't turn out well.
He calls it "open-sourcing," sharing information like, "This is what we did, this is what went wrong, this is what we're going to do to fix it." These insights, alongside beer tastings, offer an educational component for enthusiasts. For example, a Saison offered in conjunction with June's Home Brewer's Conference features a yeast strain newly released by White Labs, giving brewers a chance to taste the new ingredient in action.
Taking the concept further, Home Brew Co. brews alternate batches of many of its beers, highlighting how different decisions might affect the outcome. "Our brewery is built kind of backwards," Thornton points out, "We have a seven-barrel brew house, and then we have several 3.5-barrel fermenters. So, usually you would do that inverse. You would have your fermenters twice as large." That's if he were trying to maximize efficiency, as a regular production brewery would. "But by doing that," he adds, "we can have a brew day where everything is completely the same, and then in one fermenter we can put one type of yeast, and the other fermenter we can put a different type of yeast, so we can showcase that difference."
A similar approach may be applied with malt or hops. Any given week, the tasting room might include several SMaSH beers, valued by home brewers for highlighting Single Malt and Single Hop flavors. Still, Home Brew Co. isn't strictly an educational platform — great beer is a priority, and the team is currently developing a roster of flagship beers because, as Thornton puts it, "People also want to know you can brew the same thing over and over — that's a skill." Besides, they can always demonstrate how the consistency of these beers change with minor adjustments: "We'll have it the consistent way we always do it, and then we'll always do something else different to it," Thornton says, "and we'll have them both on tap side-by-side."