The whopping return of Indian Joe

After two years dormant, the Vista brand comes back big time

A taster flight at Indian Joe Brewing shows how varied and colorful it's 30+ beers get.
  • A taster flight at Indian Joe Brewing shows how varied and colorful it's 30+ beers get.

In most cases, shutting down a business for two years would probably not be good for its growth. But don't tell Max Moran and Geri Lawson. When their Vista nanobrewery, Indian Joe Brewing, reached the end of its three year lease back in 2015, several unfortunate factors prevented them from renewing for another three years, as planned.

Proudly a native-owned business

Proudly a native-owned business

Suddenly without a licensed brewery, it would have been easy for the couple to get discouraged, but Moran says, emphatically, giving up wasn't an option. "No, no, no! We knew we were already too far into the whole process to give up… You have to have love and passion to be a brewer, and I had that love and passion that we were going to make this business work!"

Somehow, with the first chapter of Indian Joe abruptly coming to a close, investors popped up to give the business renewed life, and then some. While the small brewery initially subsided on a 20-gallon homebrewing system tucked away in a business park, its new 15-barrel brewhouse and two-story tasting room sits in an 18,000-square-foot Vista property that's visible from the 78 freeway — purchased, not leased.

Visible from the 78 freeway

Visible from the 78 freeway

There's 5000 square feet of tasting room, including a wheelchair lift to the second floor, a private events space, central air, and a heated patio to host food trucks. Eventually, Moran and Lawson hope to establish a restaurant on site, but first they plan to continue building out the brewhouse, adding foeders and a quality assurance lab to a setup that already includes a reverse osmosis water filtration and an expanded barrel aging program.

"We still are a native owned business," notes Moran, a Luiseño who named Indian Joe after his great uncle, a veteran of both world wars who introduced beer as a family interest when he began brewing beer on the reservation a hundred years ago. While Moran and Lawson still own a majority stake of Indian Joe, the influx of investor capital has brought the business much further than they might ever have, had they not been forced out of their leased property.

"You're not going to be able to scale up unless you get the money to scale up," acknowledges Moran. "You won't ever be able to come up just from sales from a 20-gallon system." So, Moran and Lawson decided to embrace the opportunity to bring in partners who backed their vision, and go big. Otherwise, he adds, "It's really that you own 100 percent of nothing, and you're just working."

Indian Joe Brewing

2123 Industrial Court, Vista

Moran became accustomed to long brew days his first time out, populating Indian Joe's old tasting room with endless small batches, including fruited beers, tarts, and sours — before such styles gained the popularity they enjoy today. Now Indian Joe is staffed with a brewing team, including his and Lawson's two sons, and headed by veteran brewer Grant Heuer, who previously brewed at companies in Las Vegas and Temecula.

Consequently, when Indian Joe returns to Vista the first weekend of March, it will already serve a comprehensive 30 beer variety, with at least ten styles in reserve. And later this year, thanks to Indian Joe's unlikely trajectory, some of them may even wind up in bottles and cans.

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