Marine intelligence yields better brews

A tributary place to drink craft beer

SpecHops brewery in Vista has a mission to honor service and serve tasty beer.
  • SpecHops brewery in Vista has a mission to honor service and serve tasty beer.

As any recruiter will tell you, military service provides on-the-job training and work experience that may be applied to future careers. While those recruiters likely don't have brewing in mind, David Casperson makes a convincing case the discipline instilled by his time in the USMC helps him make better beer. "If you're organized and you have a little bit of discipline," he says, "you can keep things clean, which is the key to good beer."

SpecHops Brewing Company

1280 Activity Drive, Vista

Casperson and his wife Stephanie soft-opened SpecHops Brewing Company in late February. The Vista brewery produces clean beers, with a relatively "conservative" atmosphere, all aimed toward bringing the greater military community into the craft beer fold. "We're sticking with BJCP recipes," Casperson says, "just straight and narrow right now. Mostly because we want the beers to be approachable."

He also attributes the cleanliness to the precise temperature control that comes with brewing on a 15-barrel, steam-driven system powered by an electric boiler, rather than a more common gas powered rig. In setting up the system, Casperson got help from SpecHops equity partner Rich Walther, an experienced brewing engineer who's designed systems for Stone Brewing, and even Anheuser-Busch. So Casperson is not joking when he points out that this is the smallest brewery Walther has built.

The name SpecHops, of course, is a play on SpecOps, aka special operations, and Casperson has the résumé to back it up. During his ten years in the Corps, he worked as an intelligence officer, including time served on loan with Army Special Forces in Iraq. However, he began his career as a pilot, which brought the Seattle native to Miramar, where he picked up the Top Gun-like call sign, Spook. "You usually get a call sign for doing something stupid," he notes with a laugh, adding, "it usually has something to do with alcohol."

Spook says he got into craft beer drinking at Pizza Port while stationed at Camp Pendleton, where he's continued working as a civilian with an Antiterrorism Team the past eight years. Once he got into homebrewing, he attended a UC Davis summer program to learn from renowned beer experts Charles Bamforth and Michael Lewis.

He and Stephanie have been developing SpecHops since 2010, and actually debuted a few beers at Aztec Brewing back in 2012. Hovering around 5% ABV, each beer has a name referring to intel or special forces. For example, Culper Ring stout may be familiar to fans of the TV show Turn as a reference to America's original, revolutionary war spy ring. Meanwhile, a beer dubbed The Activity is a nod to the low-key name given an Army special forces unit that works with the CIA. "It's a super, super secret organization," Casperson explains, half-joking. "They have black budgets inside of black budgets to do stuff." Fittingly, The Activity is a black IPA.

U.S. marines are a humble bunch, and while he hopes to someday establish localized SpecHops breweries near military bases across the country, Casperson would rather bring attention to a larger world of public servants. The brewery features a "Story Room," where war vets, or surviving family members of those lost in combat, may record video interviews recounting stories of their service. "Seals, special operators, medal of honor winners — those folks get their stories told," he points out. "But in this county, there are lot of people who have served their time honorably…we want to be able to start capturing the everyman's story, and honor that."

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